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Alamy’s rough guide to digital cameras

H698WD Collection of old analogue different camera's

If you’re new to photography, deciding what camera’s best for you can be confusing, particularly as there are now so many options out there. Our guidelines on what we call a suitable/unsuitable camera can also be confusing. In an attempt to help with all this, here’s Alamy’s rough guide to digital cameras.

Quality Control

At Alamy we don’t actually review cameras but our Quality Control Team (QC) do review the images they create. QC check images against our guidelines and as long as they don’t have any of these faults we’ll accept them.

QC may not review individual cameras but there are some that aren’t suitable for Alamy as they consistently produce images that don’t fit our requirements.

FCRME4 - Confused man choosing a camera
Iuliia Timchenko / Alamy Stock Vector

Why we reject images for unsuitable camera

We identify an unsuitable camera via the problems we see within the image, not from the camera itself.

There’s a cut-off point where the image quality a camera can produce falls below our requirements. If you see the failure reason “unsuitable camera” it’s likely that the camera used will never be able to produce good enough quality to pass our QC checks.

  • An unsuitable camera is something that doesn’t compare to a standard DSLR
  • It could be unsuitable for multiple reasons, with the most important being sensor size
  • Most DSLR’s have sensors big enough to create an image of suitable quality

Image sensor sizes

Digital cameras contain electronic sensors to capture images by detecting light focused by a lens and converting the information into an electronic signal (as opposed to an analogue camera and exposure on photographic film).

Different cameras have different image sensors and their size is mainly determined by how big the camera body itself is.

  • Alamy recommend using cameras with four thirds sensors as a minimum requirement (see below infographic… the sensor in the middle)
  • The larger the sensor, the more detail captured over wider dynamic range (dark and light area detail), with superior low-light performance and ability to focus sharply on moving objects
  • The smaller the sensor, the more you’ll see issues such as: excessive noise, softness and poor exposure

The graphic below shows the comparison sensor sizes compared to 35mm (full frame). Some top-end DSLR’s have full frame sensors, but the majority sold have “cropped sensors” that vary in size.

Digital image sensor sizes – Comparison against 35mm “full frame” (black rectangles)

The image sensor in high-end mobile phones tend to be around 1/3″, which if you refer to the infographic above, highlight how much smaller they are than DSLR sensors.

For more info and visual examples of noise, softness and other technical problems we see with images, read our guide on how to pass QC.

For more info on different sizes and types of image sensors you might want to check out this Wikipedia article.

Suitable Cameras

When we say “suitable” we mean cameras that are able to produce images that meet our guidelines.

  • We don’t endorse or recommend any particular brand or product
  • Most well-known brand DSLRs will have a large enough sensor and can utilise different lenses to produce high quality images
  • You still need to take care when using them to get optimum photo quality (they won’t take the photo for you)
  • Some high-end compact cameras are also able to produce good enough quality images to meet our QC guidelines. However, the majority of these will need extra care and attention when using to achieve optimum photo quality

We do also accept scanned images from analogue SLR cameras, where grain is not too noticeable and the scanning is of a professional quality.

Unsuitable Cameras

When we say “unsuitable” we mean cameras that are consistently unable to produce images that meet our guidelines.

  • Forget megapixel count, mobile phones and compact cameras are designed to be small and manageable and that means less room for large sensors and lenses
  • Almost all compact cameras, fixed lens cameras – SLR-like Bridge Cameras and all mobile phones cannot produce images that meet our guidelines
  • Some older DSLRs are also unsuitable due to their overall poor quality, small sensors and age

We see images from a large range of mobile phones in QC, especially newer models such as the iPhone X and other high-end Android devices. No doubt, mobile image quality is getting better and better, but in relation to a standard DSLR… they still don’t compare.

If you consider yourself a dab hand at phone photography you can still submit to Alamy, but it’s a slightly different process and only via our iPhone App Stockimo.

For more info see the Stockimo website and download the app from the App Store.

FYR2H4 - Collection, Flatlay of different types of photo cameras, some in toy form
imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo

Conclusion:

Alamy’s rough guide to digital cameras is just that, a rough guide. Ultimately it’s down to you to decide what camera is right for your needs, or even multiple cameras for different needs. The advice we give here is to help explain what type of cameras are more likely to produce good enough quality images for our requirements. That said, having a suitable high-end camera doesn’t always guarantee a QC pass, so for more info you might want to read up on these:

Comment below, tell us what’s in your kit bag and share any camera advice for anyone starting out in photography.

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