Camera choices for beginners - Gift ideas for christmas

Around this time of year I get a lot of people asking me what types of cameras I can recommend.  The truth is it really really depends on who you are buying for and what they want to use the camera for.  The main choice for people starting in photography is whether to go for a compact camera or a DSLR?

There are lots of technical points that make these two different and actually if you are into specs and performance then you should look into these (viewfinder/ sensor size / megapixels/ widest aperture etc) before you make a decision.  But for people that are literally starting out and aren’t sure how far they want to take their photography, I have listed the key PRACTICAL advantages and disadvantages of both, below.

Compact cameras are, as their name suggests, compact, generally smaller and don’t have interchangeable lenses.


+ They are smaller so can fit in your bag easily without being damaged or taking up room.

+They are generally much cheaper.

+More options of pre programmed/ automatic settings (easier to use if you don’t want to learn and just want to point and shoot).

+ You don’t have to worry about lens choices if you aren’t shooting lots of different things.

+ Not as scary to some!

+ have zoom capability despite no interchangeable lenses so you can still use them for different situations (if you want to use them for travelling then it’s worth checking what the zoom capability is).


-Less options to get varied styles of shots (you aren’t using a lens that was made for specific styles or scenarios).

-Most don’t have a viewfinder so it can be harder to take a picture if you’re used to looking through one.

DSLR cameras are usually larger, and mean you can change lenses (you can choose from prime lenses (a fixed focal length i.e 50mm) or zoom lenses (I.e 70-200mm).


+ More flexibility with Interchangeable lenses – More on this below.

+  Better sensitivity to light (ISO) which means more options when shooting in the dark.

+ More opportunity to learn through different modes / lenses /shooting  opportunities.

+ Better opportunity to get those lovely blurry backgrounds with wider apertures on most lenses.

– You need to change lenses when changing your shooting style.

-Larger to carry and more to store (need a case that carries camera body and lenses).

-More expensive than compact cameras (plus most prices don’t include a lens).

From reading the above, it would seem that compact cameras have a lot more advantages than DSLR’s.

This is certainly true if:

You just want to take better day to day photos (like the ones on your iPhone but better quality with more options to print).
You aren’t likely to want to upgrade and learn more about photography in the near future.
You don’t want to carry a lot with you, want something easy to fit into your bag.
Photography seems scary and you’d rather use automatic settings.

However, for those that want to develop their photography skills, a DSLR is a great tool to have when combined with the enormous amount of free material there is out there to get you started.

It’s also a huge benefit having the option to change lenses.  Here is why:

You’ll be able to use lenses specific to the job in hand (telephoto for long distance, wide angle to take in more of the scene, macro to take super sharp close ups).
Portrait photography is undeniably better with prime lenses such as 50mm / 35mm.
You can use wider apertures i.e f2.8 in order to get really shallow depth of field (focus) and create a lovely blurry background.
Should you catch the photography bug, you can keep all your lenses and just upgrade your camera body.  Camera lenses are an investment for life.
SLR or DSLR’s also usually have much higher ISO capability (sensitivity to light, basically your cameras ability to see an image when it’s really dark).

There are so many technical specifications these days to consider; wifi / viewfinders/live view/ megapixels/ flip out screens but ultimately if you are starting out this is the way I would personally decide:

USE: Do you just want to point and shoot or do you want to have more control over the outcome?

SIZE: Do you want something lightweight and self sufficient or are you ok to have something slightly heavier and the additional lenses that you might choose?

PRICE: What is your budget?  Compact cameras are usually priced around £80- 350 with DSLR’s starting at around £280 and going up in their thousands.

Other things to consider if you are specific about your camera use:

Are you a fan of selfies?  If so then look for flip out screens so that you can see the view whilst the camera is pointing at you.

Are you wanting to use video?  You’ll want to ensure you choose a camera that includes a minimum of 1080p HD shooting as a minimum.

Do you like sharing quickly on Social Media? Then look out for a camera with built in wifi.

Looking on Amazon, here are some of the top reviewed cameras in each category:








Entry level DSLr

1 NIKON D3500

£349 for body only (lenses needed are extras)

2 NIKON D3400

£399 for body only (lenses needed are extras)


£559 for body only (lenses needed are extras)

Also, keep in mind that you will come across ‘bridge’ camera which have the capabilities of early level DSLRS with better manual functions, whilst having a fixed lens rather than interchangeable lenses.  This might suit some people who are in between.

An example of a bridge camera would be this one CANON 2395 Powershot

Buying a camera?  Why not also treat the person to a workshop on how to use it and take great photos?

If you know of someone who would benefit from a workshop on how to use their camera you might want to check out my camera workshops.

Priced at £99 these are a really exciting gift as they take you from having no confidence with your camera to understanding the settings and exactly what makes a good photo.

Click HERE to find out more