What Size Camera to Buy

Considering a camera means thinking about the output or what you are going to do with the photographs you are taking. This will determine the size of the camera and sensor. I like to think of camera size in the following categories iPhone cameras, point and shoot, one-inch sensor, 4/3 sensor, APSC, Full Frame and Medium Format. You will notice that these categories follow sensor size primarily, as sensor size is critical to determining image quality. The other key items that determine image quality are lenses and the processing engine in the camera. The illustration below shows the size relationship between sensors.

You can see that the three smallest sizes are those found in phone cameras and point-and-shoot cameras. So in so unless you need a telephoto lens, the image quality in point and shoot cameras is similar to your phone’s camera.

Phone Cameras

The iPhone with the three cameras is an excellent choice for most purposes, especially if you only post images on the internet. You can get great prints from an iPhone as well, but as the size of the print increases, the weakness of the image quality will become more and more apparent. This is true of other phone cameras as well, no matter what they advertise. If you love taking photographs of birds or wildlife at a distance, phone cameras are problematic as they do not have telephoto lenses. If you like this kind of photograph or are interested in high-quality prints, then you may need to consider a camera.

iPhone 12 Pro Max

Point and Shoots

The advantage of point-and-shoot cameras over your phone’s camera is the telephoto lens that allows you to zoom in on a distant object. Most people do not use their cameras most of the time for this purpose. If you love taking pictures of birds or other images at a distance, you may want to consider buying a camera with a telescopic build-in lens. They are really a camera with almost a telescopic lens or superzoom. I personally would not recommend a camera with this size sensor, with the exception of what you might call cameras with superzoom or telescopic lenses.

Superzoom Telescopic Cameras

There are three cameras of this sort you might want to consider. The Nikon has a smaller sensor in order to give it the longest reach. The Sony has a one-inch sensor with a shorter zoom range, which will give better image quality. Then there is the Leica which has the shortest zoom but also has a one-inch sensor. The Nikon Coolpix P950 was designed in January of 2020. It is a 16-megapixel camera with a 1/2.3 size sensor. It has a stunning 24 -2000mm f zoom lens f2.8-6.5 at $999 Cdn. The other camera of interest designed in September of 2017 is the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC RX10 IV $2100 Cdn. It is a 20-megapixel camera with a one-inch BSI Sensor and a 24-600mm zoom f2.4-4. It has an extensive zoom range of 24-600mm. Leica also makes a similar 20-megapixel camera with a 24-400mm f2.8-4 lens and a one-inch sensor for $1899 Cdn, designed in July of 2019. You can see a side-by-side comparison of these three cameras on the DPReview site.
Side by Side Comparison. I would be most interested in the Leica as it is a newer design and with a shorter zoom range likely has better optics in the lens and a one-inch sensor.

The downside of these cameras is their limitations to producing larger prints, and they are very bulky cameras bigger than cameras with full-size sensors. Definitely not a camera you can put in your pocket or even a handbag.

One Inch Sensor Cameras

These cameras are great for the internet and have much better resolution than the smaller sensors in point-and-shoot cameras or phones. Most are pocketable and easy to carry around. The disadvantage is that at 16 to 20mp, you are pushing the sensor, and therefore if you are printing larger than eight by ten, it may look slightly cartoon-like in the details. The camera to consider in this size sensor is the Sony RX100 VII which has a 24-200mm (f2.8-f4.8 zoom lens at $1599 Cdn, or the Sony RX100 V, which has a 24-70 f1.8 -f2.8 zoom lens $1049 Cdn. It does have a viewfinder, but it is a popup that is a little awkward. The downside, perhaps, is it is tiny and might feel awkward to operate. Remember, all cameras are a compromise, and often photographers own different size cameras for different purposes.

4/3 cameras

These cameras are also relatively small and, unlike the previous camera, allow you (in most cases) to remove the lens if you want to use a few different types of lenses. This means you can use lenses that are better in low light and are sharper. They also have IBIS, which is in-body stabilization vital if you want to capture things in low light and don’t what to use a tripod. (Keep in mind IBIS does not work if things are moving a lot in the scene). The two main manufactures of 4/3 cameras are Panasonic and Olympus. These are all mirrorless cameras with lots of advanced features. Although they are typically tiny as the Olympus Pen E-PL9 $750 Cdn, they can also be larger than some cameras with larger sensors like the Olympus OM-D E M1X $2900 Cdn.

Panasonic makes a fixed lens camera in this sensor size called the LX100 II with a 24-75mm lens at $999. Its advantage is it is small enough for a small bag and almost pocketable, and discrete.

APSC mirrorless cameras 

APSC cameras have a sensor more than twice the size of the 4/3 camera. This is the most popular camera, with amateur photographers and professionals often using it (broader depth of field and the telephoto advantage). The top camera manufacturer in this space is Fujifilm, a very high-end lens manufacturing company. The professionals prefer this brand. Unlike other brands, it has the best lens quality, with the smallest size lenses and camera bodies. All other manufacturers produce APSC cameras, but the lens flange is designed for full-frame lenses. The advantage here is you can purchase full-frame lenses for these cameras. The disadvantage is the lenses are larger as because of the flange size, and often the APSC lenses designed for these cameras suffer in quality. If you purchase full frame better quality lenses for these cameras, they are larger, heavier and in most cases more expensive, sometimes twice as much.

Fujifilm produces cameras for all budgets in this sensor size and at all prices, but the higher quality cameras are the X series. Here are the two newest cameras you might want to consider as they both have IBIS in-camera stabilization: the X-s10 $1274 Cdn and the X-T4 $2299 Cdn. Both have the same sensor in them and the same processing engine. So the image quality is the same.

https://www.dpreview.com/search/?query=lx100&product=panasonic_dclx100ii

Print wise, you should get perfect images at 13 by 19 and perhaps at 22 by 17. 

They have dials to operate the camera, so they are easy to learn, so you rarely use the menu system. They are also very quickly set to automatic and have the best JPG’s on the market if you don’t want to post-process images.

Full Frame Mirrorless Cameras

Full Frame cameras can have the highest resolution, so if you want to print wall-size images, this is the sensor size you will want. The other advantage, of course, is a crop of 50% is still slightly sharper than an APSC camera. The top cameras in this area are the Sony A7R IV at 60 megapixels at $4499 Cdn and the Sony A1 at 50 megapixels at $8499. These are the most advanced cameras in this sensor size. Sony manufactures most camera sensors and often does not release the new sensors to other manufacturers immediately. These cameras also have IBIS in-body-stabilization.

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Medium Format

Medium format cameras are the next sensor size up. Still, now you are over 5000 dollars just for the camera, so I will not get into this size except to point out that the most versatile and most reasonable camera in this space is the Fujifilm’s X100s 100-megapixel camera with IBIS at $7800 Cdn.

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Things to keep in mind.

  • More light gets into the camera as the sensor size increases, and the colours and resolution improve.
  • As the sensor size increases, the depth of field decreases, so in low light situations, you often have to choose what is in focus (unless you have a tripod). This is less of an issue with the APSC cameras and those with smaller sensors.
  • As the sensor size decreases, the camera does more guessing, especially with 4/3 sensors or smaller, so there is an increased likelihood of artifacts.
  • As the sensor size increases, the size and expense of the lens increases. A typical APSC kit with a few lenses is usually half the size and cost of a Full Frame camera.
  • Size does make a difference, if the camera is too big, you many not use it as much, and when you get to full-frame, often people ask you to stop taking pictures.

My Personal Preference

I love the APSC Fujifilm cameras and feel it is a sweet spot. You get excellent image quality, but the camera is not too big. The best buy, in my opinion, is the X-S10 because of the grip, IBIS, image quality, price and compact size.

They also make smaller cameras with the same image quality but without IBIS. My two favourite smaller cameras are the X-E4 at $1199 Cdn and the X100V at $1774 Cdn. I can carry both of these cameras in a small bag. The X100V is a fixed 35 mm lens camera, and the X-E4 is an interchangeable lens camera. If I put a 75mm equivalent lens on the X-E4, I have both a wide and telephoto lens in my bag, and no lens changes are required.

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