Photo Cameras

photo cameras

Advanced Point-and-shoot cameraPhotography has always been a crucial part of telling stories. Since the earliest cameras were invented, photographs have been used to document events and depict moments in time in ways that words often cannot. But through the years, photography has advanced technologically allowing journalists more capability to take better pictures more quickly and more efficiently. This tutorial will cover some of the primary technologies in current cameras and will describe some of the key differences in camera types.

In digital photography there are hundreds of different types of cameras for various specialties and purposes. But in the scope of this tutorial, we have whittled it down the journalistic use of cameras into three basic camera types:

  • Single Lens Reflex (SLR) cameras
  • Advanced Point-and-Shoot cameras
  • Consumer Point-and-Shoot cameras

Each camera comes with different prices points and advantages. This tutorial will cover the key differences between these camera types and will include some buying guides to purchasing these cameras for the newsroom.

The Single Lens Reflex (SLR)

The Single Lens Reflex (SLR)

Canon 5d Digital Camera: photo camera

A Single Lens Reflex camera works by using a mirror in the camera which reflects the image up through a viewfinder to the eye. When the shutter button is pressed, the mirror quickly flips out of the way and allows the sensor (or film) to capture the image as a reflex action mechanism. This animation describes how an SLR works:

Generally speaking, SLRs are great for professional or serious photographers wishing to have total control over the image. Because SLR cameras use a mirror, there is generally no live preview of the image on the back LCD with these cameras. (A few models have recently been introduced which now include this feature however) Digital SLR cameras use many of the same mechanisms from the days of film and carry over many of benefits like quick response, durability, and precision images. Some of the basic characteristics of an SLR include:

  • Removable lenses that can be switched out to include a variety of situations
  • More control over focus and zoom, as well as better granularity in these controls
  • Better flexibility and capability with exposure which allows for more creativity with how the picture is taken
  • Little or no lag time when taking pictures
  • Generally better quality pictures since the lenses are made of higher precision glass
  • Usually no video or features normally found on consumer-level cameras
  • Typically very expensive, especially lenses and accessories.

At the SLR level, we have tested and recommend two camera brands: Canon and Nikon. Both brands have a variety of camera model selections at different price points. Most photojournalists will use either of these two brands and both are well known as standards in the photojournalism industry.

Models and approximate prices (as of March 2009)
Canon Nikon
Rebel XSi ~ $800EOS 50d ~ $1,400EOS 5d Mark II ~ $2,700EOS 1d Mark III ~ $3,000 D40 ~ $500D80 ~ $750D90 ~ $1,200D3 ~ $4,400

We personally recommend the Canon Rebel camera for traditional journalists who are actively pursuing photography as a regular part of their workflow. The camera is flexible enough to grow with the user (with additional lenses and an external flash mount).

Advanced Point-and-Shoot

Canon SX1 IS advanced point-and-shoot camera

In response to a growing market for people wanting better cameras at a lower cost, the camera industry began producing a new line-up of cameras we’re calling “advanced point-and-shoot.” These cameras typically do not have removable lenses, and are not SLRs in the definition of the term (there is no reflex mirror,) however they include many of the benefits of an SLR including better zoom, higher quality glass lenses, and usually more control over the exposure. These cameras are great for amateur photographers, or people who are serious about photography but know little about the components of exposure. Here are some features of these camera types:

  • Camera uses many automatic functions to make it easy to use for even the most basic user
  • Even though it has basic automatic features, controls remain highly customizable and include advanced features
  • Lenses are generally higher quality than regular point-and-shoots and have better zoom capabilities
  • These cameras have video capabilities which most SLRs do not have
  • Drawbacks include long delays and lag time when taking pictures
  • Zoom it still not as good as being able to switch lenses like an SLR

Again, with this level of camera, there are many options to choose from – even more so than in the SLR category – however from the models we have tested, we believe the two best brands out there in terms of quality and ease of use are Canon and Nikon.

Models and approximate prices (as of March 2009)
Canon Nikon
PowerShot SX1 ~ $600PowerShot G10 ~ $450PowerShot SX10 ~ $400 CoolPix P6000 ~ $600CoolPix P90 ~ $400CoolPix P80 ~ $350

If you do not intend to go with Canon or Nikon, we recommend going with brands that have historically produced cameras, like Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Leica. We also recommend Panasonic and Sony, which have traditionally built video cameras and are standards in the broadcast industry. We suggest avoiding Casio, Fujifilm, Kodak and other camera brands that have not traditionally built cameras before.


Canon point-and-shoot camera

Sometimes all you need is a camera that can do the job. Point-and-shoot cameras have made amazing technological leaps in terms of quality and capability in recent years. Many consumer-level cameras are capturing high-resolution images and videos while maintaining good color rendition. While there are a still lots of technical drawbacks to using these cameras, they are a great option for journalists who know little about photography or simply need a backup in case a breaking news even occurs.

  • Very easy to use, fully automatic features
  • Very small and compact. Less intrusive to some sources
  • Cheap(er) than advanced point-and-shoots and SLRs.
  • Does video, consumer features sometimes not found on higher end cameras
  • Drawbacks include sluggish usage when taking pictures, lots of shutter delay
  • Limited zoom, you are forced to get near a subject
  • Tiny flash that has maximum effectiveness of only 5-10 feet away
  • Limited capability in controlling exposure, focus or other aspects of the photo

In the point-and-shoot category, we recommend choosing brands of cameras that have historically worked in photography. These brands include Nikon, Canon, Olympus, and Leica. There are a few other companies that have traditionally built video cameras, and are industry standards in the broadcast world, but also make decent cameras. These companies include Sony and Panasonic. We do not recommend electronic companies or photographic film companies that have ventured into the still photography market due largely to quality and durability issues. These companies we do not recommend include Casio, Fujifilm, Kodak, Hewlett-Packard and various off-brand companies.

Hybrid Cameras

Nikon D90 SLR camera with video recording capability

Very recently, a series of hybrid cameras have hit the market that allow both the benefits of an SLR still camera and a professional HD video camera. These cameras are technically an SLR camera, but will allow the mirror to stay open in order for the camera to capture video. As of writing this tutorial, both Canon and Nikon had several models out that allow for both video and photo capture. We have tested a couple of these models and have found that the quality of video capture to be exceptional, but the device falls short in many areas such as the ability to autofocus, audio capture and other features typically found only in traditional video cameras.


  • Video recording using traditional camera controls and lenses
  • Record directly to a memory card in standard format, no logging required in video editing software
  • Maximum control over aperture and exposure
  • Great color saturation


  • No built-in microphone input on some of the cameras
  • Manual focus only
  • Missing many features found on professional video cameras
  • Limited audio recording capabilities (multiple channels, etc)
Models and approximate prices (as of March 2009)
Canon Nikon
Canon EOS 5D Mark II ~ $3,500Canon EOS Rebel T1i ~ $900 Nikon D90 ~ $900

Nikon also makes several cameras that do “live view” meaning you can see the image on the back of the camera much like a point-and-shoot camera would. Although these cameras don’t capture video directly, some of them contain an HDMI video out connector that would allow a person to plug into a computer or video recording system. At this time, such a setup would be rather bulky and complex and we do not recommend it.

See a sample video from the Canon 5d by New York Times photographer Vince LaForet:

Our take: These cameras are emblematic of the direction the industry is going. Soon, there will be a single device of truly capturing high quality HD video while maintaining the benefits of still digital SLR cameras. But for now, using one of these video SLR cameras requires lots of effort and sacrifices. Until the industry produces a quality product that caters to both video and still photo professionals (and we believe it’s coming soon) our recommendation is to wait for the next iteration of these devices.

About this Tutorial

This tutorial was written by Jeremy Rue.

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