Capturing that perfect photo is partly a game of chance, and partly about being prepared.
I mean, you have to be there, and you have to take the photo, so that’s not completely down to chance. . but if it’s an action shot, and the pic was taken just a millisecond before or after the action, well, that might be all the difference..
Action shots in particular are hard to capture, because usually the subject is moving fast. Is the shutter going to be fast enough to capture it without blur? Does your camera support burst shooting with continuous auto focus? Will pulling a frame from a video be enough to do the job?
Newer smartphones have great cameras that can produce incredible photos and rival SLRs in some instances. Some can take multiple images and stack them into a composite for clear handheld night shots, or they might have multi-lenses and use software to create creamy out-of-focus backgrounds for portraits. But of all the places smartphone cameras excel, they still can’t compete with the high speed sports action shot. In some instances there is just no substitute for a real camera and a fast lens.
There are a lot of variables to consider if you’re considering a real camera, and the perfect choice simply doesn’t exist. Whatever you choose is going to be a compromise, and you have to weigh up the pros and cons before making your choice.
If you want my completely subjective opinion, these are the main categories to consider
- Camera Size
- A goliath of a camera is likely going to stay at home, gathering dust in some drawer.
- Small cameras are better suited to carry on adventures.
- Small cameras, with big camera specs, tend to cost as much as big cameras. Sorry, they just do.
- Sensor Size
- Full frame cameras are great, but only a few come in a small body, and they tend to be ridiculously expensive too. Leica Q or Sony RX1R come to mind. Great cameras, but serious money. €2 – 3k.
- APS-C is the next size down, still amazing quality and at a premium price point, but we’re talking high hundreds here, instead of thousands. Ricoh GR II, Canon G1X, or Fuji X100F. €500+
- M43, more affordable still, very good quality, and a great choice of lenses. Panasonic and Olympus make these. Around €500 ish.
- 1 inch. Most brands have a premium compact in their range, have a look and see what you find. New models can be expensive, but older models in the series can be got for reasonable prices. The latest RX100VII might be over €1,000, but a RX100III should be around €400. I’d get the slightly older one. Think of the tyres and petrol you can buy with the savings.
- Under 1″ – 1/1.7″ or 1/2.3″ or smaller. Most consumer compacts are in here. They might be on special offer, and have 4k video and 25x optical zoom, or built in wifi, but it’s all just marketing. If you have a good mobile phone you might be able to take comparable photos to these.
- You’ll nearly always see a ‘mm’ number and an ‘f’ number on a lens. The mm is the focal length and the ‘f’ number refers to the maximum aperture size. It’s a ratio factor of how much light the lens can let in. You’ll ofter seen f1:1.7 or f1:2.8.
- Generally speaking, the lower the ‘f’ number, the faster the lens. For fast action shots you’ll normally need to be at maximum aperture.
- The aperture factor number is relative the your sensor size. A full frame camera at f3.5 is still faster than a M43 at f1.7, and even though your new smartphone might say f2.0 on it, on it’s tiny sensor, it doesn’t make a lot of difference.
- There’s also a crop factor, which is the same idea, in a different way, kinda. Your full frame 24-70 lens will be written as 18-55 on an APS-C or 12-35 in M43 speak. The crop factor for each sensor is relative to full frame so it’s a simple factor of 2 for M43 – so a M43 42.5mm lens is the full frame equivalent of 85mm. 14mm is 28mm, 25mm (50mm) and so on. APS-C is 1.6 crop factor, M43 is 2 crop factor, 1″ is 2.7 crop factor, smartphone is around a 6 crop factor.
- Zoom lenses offer flexibility at a price. Your 24-70 equivalent kit lens is more than likely f3.5-5.6. If you want to get a faster zoom most manufacturers will offer a 24-70 f2.8 but it will have a price tag attached.
- Fixed focal length ‘prime’ lenses are generally faster and cheaper, but lack the flexibility of a zoom.
- You’ve decided on your sensor size, lens and price point. Now you need to figure out some other features. Like will you have off-road bikes coming towards you at speed? If you do you’ll need continuous autofocus and burst shooting.
- Megapixels are a farce. As long as your camera has 10mp or more it doesn’t matter much. Don’t be sucked in by huge Megapixel numbers.
- Wifi and NFC are cool, but again, it’s only fluff. Don’t part with hard earned money for panorama modes or 3D features or other such BS.
- Actually useful features to have, are things like continuous autofocus, built in ND filter, electronic shutter, image stabilisation, and RAW shooting.
If everything above is just too complicated, let me break it down into what I use when choosing a camera.
- Will it fit in my pocket?
- Is the sensor at least 1″ or bigger?
- Will I lose my shit if I smash it off a rock?
Who cares if it doesn’t shoot RAW or if the screen doesn’t tilt. Small size, good sensor, reasonable price, that’s what counts.
There’s a few pictures above showing a general what to expect, as well as a 1:1 crop, from a smartphone, a compact camera and a M43 camera. All of these cameras have the same number of megapixels, so the real difference you’re seeing is sensor size. You’ll see for yourself the quality difference. Going to a bigger sensor like an APS or full frame will produce better results, but it’ll also cost more and be bigger. Personally I think a 1″ premium compact is about as big as you want to go. I push it bringing a M43 around but I think the result is worth it.