There is no denying that cameras have come a long way since their first incarnation. Though let’s face it, the technology was a little slow in advancing until the 1980s. Prior to this time, changes came at a snail’s pace, and they usually only affected professional models. Minolta introduced Aperture Priority into the world and their XD-11 camera was the first SLR with both Aperture and Shutter priority. Minolta shook up the photographic world in 1985 with the first autofocus camera, the Minolta Maxxum 7000AF.
They quickly took the professional world of photography by storm by introducing their first professional camera model since their XK Motor camera which was first introduced in 1976. Even though it was every bit as good as its competitors, it never made much headway against Canon or Nikon, or any of the other pro line-ups. Now it commands high prices when it goes up for sale. Usually it is the more common non-motor drive model the XK-1 which goes up for sale.
So it was with a great deal of trepidation that Minolta introduced their professional model, Maxxum 9000. Of course, there was a great deal of furor about how autofocus would never replace manual focus. Probably the same arguments were made when metering was introduced into the camera body, instead of being done by handheld meters. The Topcon RE Super was the first SLR with Through-The-Lens (TTL) metering.
The battle about autofocus went on for several years as Minolta kept on adding new and improved cameras to their lineup. They came out with the intelligent line up, the 7000i in 1988. The 8000i came out two years later in 1990. I promptly bought two of them. You could pre-program the cameras with specialized cards. I used them for my wedding photography business. The flash that came out for the camera was something else. The Minolta Maxxum 5200i was as close to perfection as you could get. It not only was fast and powerful, it virtualy never misfired. I still have one of the 8000i bodies and the 5200i flash. In rapid order they came out with xi and the si lineups, each one offering more enhancements and better and more accurate autofocusing.
Unlike some other big players in the photographic industry, Minolta was not caught unawares by the digital revolution. Indeed they launched their first digital camera way back in 1995, the 1.75mp Minolta RD-175. Not only was this a digital camera, but it was also a DLSR. It was not the first DSLR, that honor went to Kodak but it was the first DSLR that was hand portable and more importantly, affordable to the consumer market.
Even in the early days of digital, Minolta’s innovation could not be held back. Another feature commonly found on modern cameras is sensor based stabilization. This stems from Minolta’s Dimage A1, a 5mp bridge camera released in 2003.
Being one of the smaller camera companies, Minolta struggled financially, to keep up with the big players. In 2003, in an attempt to boost funds, they merged with the much larger film company, Konica, becoming Konica Minolta Ltd.
However, Minolta’s earlier failed attempts to capture a segment of the professional film camera market signaled its eventual downfall. Minolta’s digital cameras were mainly aimed at the consumer market at a time when the big digital players realized it would be the professional market that would drive initial demand.
When Sony came out with its digital camera line, instead of starting from scratch, they bought out Konica Minolta in 2006.
By the early years of the millennium, Sony was a massive, global electronic brand manufacturing a diverse range of products from audio to televisions. Their relatively small digital camera business was, like Minolta, focussed on the consumer market.
They did, however, recognize the wealth of innovation and engineering talent that Konica Minolta still possessed and in 2006 created a new partnership with them. Six months later, Konica took the decision to leave the camera business altogether and sold it to Sony.
Sony had been looking to get into the DSLR market and Minolta was a perfect match and in particular Minolta’s technologically advanced Alpha mount.
Within a year, Sony had their first DLSR ready for the market, the Alpha A100. It was a 10.2mp camera, very much built around an older Minolta design and featuring many of Minolta’s innovations. These included in-camera stabilization and eye start autofocus.
The A100 was the launch pad. Sony’s vast wealth allowed them to create an ambitious roadmap of camera releases. This culminated in 2008 with the announcement of a full frame DSLR with the largest pixel count yet seen, 24.6mp, the Alpha 900.
It signalled Sony’s intent to play with the big boys.
So I was in hog heaven because it meant that all of my autofocus equipment would work on the new cameras. I am amazed that they stayed true to the Minolta heritage until 2013 when they introduced their first mirrorless camera with a revolutionary mount, the e-mount. They just came out with an old alpha mount camera, the Sony A99ii camera which I am sad to say will probably be the last of that line-up.
Realizing the potential of the emerging mirrorless market, Sony went all out on producing the world’s first full frame mirrorless camera, the Alpha 7. By now the fabled Minolta Alpha mount had been superseded by Sony’s own E-mount but, if you dig deep, you’ll find a significant amount of the DNA of the Alpha 7 comes from the innovation of Minolta.
I have included a brief history of Minolta/ Konica/ Sony mainly because that is what I shoot. I also used to shoot in medium format and to do that I used the Bronica camera line. Unfortunately for me, Bronica failed to see the importance of digital and they fell hopelessly behind in the digital race. Even after being purchased by Tamron they were still not able to catch up, and the line was eventually closed down.
For decades, they were the king of professional wedding photgraphers. This example shows how complacency and inaction can spell the demise of a major corporation. Minolta failed because they just did not have the financial wherewithal to compete with the big boys.
Prior to the advent of the digital age if you wanted to shoot videos, you needed to purchase dedicated video equipment. With digital cameras becoming more sophisticated, they are also making a dent in the video market. Many of these DSLRs do a fine job shooting videos, even cellphones are taking nibbles at the video industry. However, there still remains those videographers that demand even greater quality and they still keep the video market funded. Companies like Sony made huge profits on the video industry. However, they could read the writing on the wall and that is one of the reasons they got into digital photography, they simply wanted to hedge their bets, so to speak.
In our technologically advanced society those that do not stay abreast of changing markets will eventually perish. The story of Corporate America is littered with the corpses of expired businesses. Sheer size and complexity of these corporations and businesses does not ensure their longevity. Sears at one time was the largest retailer in the US. Now, it is just a mere shadow of itself and will most likely follow the way of the carrier pigeon and the dodo bird.
The final type of camera that I will talk about is the View Camera or Large Format. These were the first cameras. Since there were no enlargers to increase the size of the negative when it was printed the negative by necessity larger in size. These cameras became quite large with negatives being as big as 11 x 14 inches. The most common one used in the past and today is either the 5 x 7 or 8 x 10 format. It is also the only format where film is still king. This mainly is because the processing power necessary to process the image and the cost to make an 8×10 inch or larger cmos chip would be simply astronomical. Since the negative is so large, the resolution of these photos is unbelievable. Unfortunately, these cameras are quite expensive especially the lenses.
Since they are very heavy, they are mainly used in the studio and for still lifes, though there are field versions of this camera in the 5×7 and 8×10 size ranges. Because of their need for sturdiness, they are less flexible than their studio brothers. Since they are made using bellows and the film plane is adjustable, they were the first perspective control cameras. When you specialize in this form of photography, you are lucky to get 6 or 7 photos a day, mainly because it takes so much time to set the camera up. A heavy duty tripod is a must, so spontaneous photography is not an option. Since this format is so rarely used today, I will not devote any more time to it. Needless to say, that anyone using these cameras are true artists and are at the top of their game.
Now that I have discussed the advancements made in cameras, let us spend the rest of this chapter discussing the all too daunting task of choosing your first DSLR.
The easiest way to decide on which digital camera is right for you is to consider budget, size, features, and a few more things.
How to Choose Your First Digital Camera
There are so many digital cameras on the market now with a plethora of features that it can be difficult to decide on which one is right for you, especially if you’re starting out in photography for the first time. But there are some basic principles you can abide by and specific limitations to consider, and this guide is here to help steer you in the right direction.
Probably the biggest factor when it comes to picking your first digital camera is price. Photography is an expensive hobby to get into, and it’s wise not to spend too much money on your first camera. There are a few reasons for this. The first is that you may find that photography isn’t right for you, so the initial outlay of money sits in a box unused. There’s also the fact you may find photography difficult at first, learning all the settings and rules, but then soon realize that you’ve outgrown the camera and need something with more features. That’s also true of photographers who discover they’d like to concentrate on one area of photography with specific or specialist equipment that may only be available on certain cameras.
If money is no object then you may want to head down to the other options for choosing your first digital camera below, as this will give you a better idea of what sort of camera you want.
Size and Weight
After money comes the physical size of the digital camera you want to buy. At this point, it’s worth heading into a shop to try out a few cameras in person. Most photographers will tell you that they’ve opted for a specific camera brand or model because of how it feels in their hands.
Of course, if the stores are closed due to local restrictions, then you may have to try friends’ cameras or simply go by stated dimensions and weight instead. Generally, the lighter and smaller the camera, the more portable it’ll be and easier it is to travel with it, such as the Olympus Tough TG-6 as above. However, you might prefer to have something chunky, heavy, and legitimate-feeling in your hands, even if this means less moving around. Take note of how the buttons are laid out on the camera as well as its size. Smaller cameras will have less space for buttons and switches and therefore rely on menu screens within the camera to alter settings, something that can get frustrating quite quickly.
In its simplest form, there are two types of lens systems used on digital cameras: fixed or interchangeable. Fixed lens systems have just one lens that can’t be removed from the camera body, so you’re stuck with whatever the camera manufacturer has decided to build the camera with, whereas interchangeable lens systems open up a world of possibilities when it comes to shooting different types of subjects.
Fixed lens cameras may have prime lenses (which cannot zoom in or out) or zoom lenses (which can). Prime lenses are typically smaller, lighter, and can occasionally be sharper and more detailed than zoom lenses due to the simpler manufacturing process, but zoom lenses offer greater flexibility when it comes to composition and suitability for different types of photographic subjects. The Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Art lens above is versatile in focal length and offers a wide aperture for low-light shooting. Many fixed lens cameras such as point-and-shoot or bridge cameras come with zoom lenses that range from wide-angle to telephoto ranges, meaning wide vistas and close-ups of far-away subjects are both possible.
If you choose a camera with an interchangeable lens system, then it’s worth researching the camera’s compatibility. For example, not all Canon lenses fit on all Canon camera bodies, and the same is true for almost every camera brand out there. There are a few manufacturers that have wider compatibility of lenses for a greater breadth of camera models due to the fact that they haven’t changed lens mounts/design in a long time (Nikon F-mount lenses, for example), but if wide lens compatibility is important, then double-check this before purchasing.
There are two popular types of digital cameras on the market at the time of writing: mirrorless and DSLR. I’m discounting smartphones here because I’m focusing on traditional camera devices. DSLRs are slowly being phased out in place of mirrorless cameras. The main advantages mirrorless cameras have over DSLRs are their smaller form factor, lighter weight, have more recently developed and refined lens mounts, feature in-body image stabilization (IBIS) much more often than DSLRs, and have electronic viewfinders.
So why would you want to choose one over another? DSLRs generally have optical viewfinders and, for traditionalists, this might be a deal-breaker. Electronic viewfinders are essentially small LCD screens in the viewfinder box and represent the digital image captured through the lens. The downside is that it’s a limited, digitally represented image and not the true scene in front of you. But the advantage of that is you can ramp up sensitivity in low light, making it easier to compose photographs and actually see what you’re about to capture rather than guess and check the rear screen. In terms of future-proofing, mirrorless is the way to go, though DSLRs won’t disappear off the face of the earth for some time to come.
What Are You Going to Shoot?
The subject matter you’re interested in photographing will have an impact on the type of digital camera you aim for. Whether it’s landscapes, portraits, weddings, events, products, macro subjects, wildlife, or sports each genre has its own requirements when it comes to feature demands and hardware essentials.
For example, it’s no use getting a point-and-shoot or compact camera when you want to shoot wildlife or sports photography, because you need to be able to change lenses based on the subject. Sports athletes running around the field require the use of a long telephoto lens to get in close to the action as do birds in flights, so a point-and-shoot that zooms to a maximum of 50mm in focal length is next to useless. However, that type of camera might benefit someone who wants to do some holiday/travel photography capturing architecture and landmarks.
The higher the number, the better the photo, right? Well, no. The more pixels you have to work with, then the more detailed large prints or reproductions of your photos can be, but it doesn’t equate to dynamic range, sharpness, or quality of images. Most beginner photographers fall into the trap of buying a camera based on image resolution, but you can pretty much discount that notion nowadays. Digital cameras have been out long enough now that you can pick up any of them off the shelf, and they’ll all be good enough for you to use to print large, display online, or pretty much any other publishing style you need when it comes to image resolution.
There are a couple of reasons why you might want higher-resolution stills, though. For example, you may need to use an extreme crop on a photo but still retain enough detail for a clear image. For this reason, you might want something a bit beefier on the pixel count, but there’s also an argument that perhaps you should get closer to your subject or use a longer lens.
Stills and Video?
Are you only interested in stills photography or do you want to dabble in making some video content too? Bear in mind that unless you’re happy editing footage together or know someone who can do this for you, then you probably won’t be doing much video if your main aim is to have a camera for stills. So, don’t go to town purchasing a camera that shoots high-resolution stills and 8K video footage in the raw format right away (unless you want to splash the cash, in which case you can’t go wrong with the Canon EOS R5). If you want to play with video but mainly concentrate on stills, then you’re better off finding a camera that has focuses more on stills than video but still has some video capability (that’s almost all of them these days).
lightstalking.com, “How The Death Of Minolta Gave Rise To Sony Cameras.” By Jason Row; fstoppers.com, “How to Choose Your First Digital Camera.” by Jason Parnell-Brookes;