Differences between Cheap and Expensive camera – Which One is Better and When?

Photography is the universal language of our era. Speaking in that language isn’t easy though.

Especially if you’re just about to enter into this nearly unfathomable world of technicalities and possibilities. It’s just about enough to make your heart pump and jump into this realm where you get to ‘Draw with Light.’

However, you can’t straightway create poetry in this language. First, you need to learn the language…breathe in the basics. To do that, you don’t necessarily need heavy machinery. Just get a camera that you can afford which has the potential to grow with you as well.

A high-end camera can make you rely too much on technology, not that it’s bad, but your skill as a photographer might take longer than necessary to improve if you do so. Therefore, focus on yourself while you’re behind the camera…rather than vice versa.

Still confused? Let’s dissect few of the cameras that represent each end of the spectrum and see which is better than which.

Nikon D800 vs Nikon D40x

Nikon D800 36.3 MP CMOS FX-Format Digital SLR Camera (Body Only) (OLD MODEL) (Renewed)
Nikon D40X 10.2MP Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)

I’ve dissected these two models and tried my best to highlight all the contrastive features that go hand in hand. Allow me to discuss in detail.

Similarities and dissimilarities

Both Nikon D800 and Nikon D40x are digital cameras. They came to the market, respectively, in February 2012 and March 2007. The Nikon D40x is based on APS-C and the D800 on a full frame sensor. The D40x’s resolution is 10 megapixels, where the D800 provides 36.2 megapixels.

Considering the resolution advantage, the D800 can offer flexibility for cropping images on the possibility to print larger pictures. Also, it uses a very advanced image processing engine (EXPEED 3) than the D40x (EXPEED).

Don’t worry too much. Your photos aren’t going to be examined under electron-microscope. The clients won’t check your photos for pixel sharpness… Either they like the photos or they don’t. It’s as simple as that.

Yet, both these cameras are similar in one sense, which is the optical viewfinder. In the D800 (100 percent), viewfinder offers a wider field of view than the one in D40x (95 percent). The difference is not that big if you consider the time of production of D40x.

Let’s be frank. The Nikon D40x is no match for Nikon D800. The latter has better image quality, more dynamic range, better low light sensitivity…. the list goes on and on…but the D40x is not a camera that can be tossed away in the presence of a superior counterpart.

The Tests

The setting is in a place when the sun is high in the sky at about 3PM. The setup consists of a strobe, fired remotely with PocketWizards, modified by a Photek Softlighter. So, the workflow won’t be interrupted while switching between the cameras.

The purpose of this experiment was not to see which camera is superior and which isn’t. For an eight-year-old 150$, cropped sensor camera can’t possibly compete with a 36MP beast. The purpose is to see, whether the D40x can keep up with the D800.

The answer is both YES and NO. Why the answer is ‘NO’ is very obvious. The long line of features that the D800 has in its bag easily overpowers the D40x by a long shot.

The point is not to pixel peep. As already mentioned, buyers don’t check images in for pixel sharpness. That’s why there’s no showcase of the RAW files. Everything is kept as real to life as possible.

In the beginning, getting the camera (read affordable) that’ll do the trick for you is reasonable. Whereas, spending a fortune for the high-end camera isn’t. Because the photos will be judged by the buyers, agents, and laypeople who’ll provide the feedback.

Ironically, they don’t have the eyes to tell whether a photo has better resolution or not. Well…they don’t need to. Photos, especially web-sized, don’t need to be pixel perfect. They just need to look good.

Even a few professionals were contacted to provide some input. One professional had worked in the fashion industry for almost 20 years, starting as a buyer and merchandiser for Hermes, Dolce & Gabbana, Christian Dior, and Chanel.

She’s also the fashion editor for 5280 Magazine, one of the top five city publications in the country. Hundreds of images go through them per week. They also receive many, many submissions every month for consideration in the magazine.

They couldn’t tell the difference.

So, should you buy a high-end camera or a camera that can get the job done, is a decision that totally up to you.

How to make D40x work in your favor

In fact, right out of the box at default settings, the D40x does a great job as long as you pre-set the exposure compensation to -0.7. Not only that, it also adjusts its contrast and dynamic range to each and every shot. So, rest assured, the D40x will deliver quality photos in time of need.

You have to keep in mind that D40x was introduced into a lower priced category. This makes it more affordable for newbies who are just starting to peek into the world of photography. Also, the Nikon D40x is more compact and less heavy than D800. So, it’s relatively easy to carry around and shoot according to your will.

But if you possess extreme determination to tell a story through transcendent images…then would it really matter much whether you have a good camera or not?

Yes, when you’re shooting through Nikon D40x instead of Nikon D800, your options will be limited. But, making something out of ordinary, especially when your hands are tied by limited resources, is a feeling that nothing can eclipse.

So, invest in a decent camera and a good lens rather than going all out for an expensive machine.

Here’s the Verdict in this case:

How different is a picture taken by a cheap vs an expensive camera? It really depends on how you classify a cheap or an expensive camera. The nature of this question is not really about something that’s easily answered.

What About the Old-Style Film Cameras then?

Let’s take a look at an expensive film camera and its low-cost brother. This will give you guys an idea about which one topples the other. Let’s see if the expenses bear any sort of effect on “Performance.”

Holga 120N

Holga 120N Medium Format Film Camera (Black) with 120 Film Bundle

Invented and manufactured in Hong Kong in the early 80s, Holga is a camera that is designed to bring the fun back in the photography. This classic toy camera is a fun and inexpensive way to get into medium format photography and create dreamy, intense, lo-fi images that seem to be from a different era.

Characterized by the ability to create unique lo-fi aesthetic, Holga comes with a modest design and minimal controls. It has a standard length of 60mm f/8 plastic lens coupled with inherent vignetting and light leaks, which are caused by the plastic body and simple construction.

It also has a tripod mount incorporated into the base of the camera for stable-long exposure shooting. In addition, the top hot shoe is right there for optional electronic flashes.

Naturally, there’s not much freedom in this camera. You have two aperture settings in your disposal, f/8 or f/11. There’s a bulb shutter speed setting and a pretty standard zone focus system for focusing as close as 3’ away. What more can we ask from a 40$ camera, right?

Let’s talk about Holga’s picture quality.

To be honest, the results aren’t that bad. If you know how to use it, you could get very good photos. They aren’t exactly as sharp as you would expect, but they are sharp enough and have beautiful depth as well.

Basically, Holga is a point and shoot camera. Later on, you still have to develop film and make prints or scan which can get expensive but, for $40, you get a camera that can really make magic happen.

However, you might run into problems shooting movable object with this. Also, low light photography isn’t something that this camera is made for. So, better avoid it in that manner.

Leica M10

Leica M10 Monochrom Digital Rangefinder Camera Body 20050

Considering a similar sized camera to Holga, the Leica M10 would be a fine choice. Now, this is an Expensive camera. The body alone costs $6600. You can forget about the lens because you have to buy them separately.

German engineered, built to last Leica M10 is a beautifully designed piece of history. It’s 24 megapixels, full frame, and manual focus camera that has a rangefinder focusing system and a tunnel-type optical viewfinder.

When you hold the M10, it just feels right. The dense metal plates they use rather than modern lighter-weight alloys not only give it a stunning look, but screams “Class.” It also has sealing to protect against dust and water.

Unluckily, the lens doesn’t have that. So, you just have to be extra careful if the weather is a little shy.

This camera might be solid but it can’t withstand much of a mechanical shock or vibration. So, there’s always a risk that any sort of shock or vibration will dissipate the rangefinder out of calibration. With a digital sensor, even small focus errors are significant when shooting wide-open.

The M10’s interface is clean and easy to navigate. The rear-panel controls are also minimalistic. There are just three main buttons alongside the LCD for live-view, playback and menu access. The simple on-off switch around the shutter button greatly increases the ease of handling the camera.

What defines the Leica M10 is its rangefinder. This particular feature lets you take two images and overlap them until they’re in sharp focus. It’s very clear and there’s no “blackout” when the shutter (the sound is so satisfying) is fired.

Leica is a camera that you want to bring everywhere with you. It’s an extremely adaptable piece of machinery. It can produce great pictures in almost any situations. You can shoot wonderful landscapes, night time shots, dark portraits…anything.

Remember, there’s no autofocus. Well, it’s fun to shoot using manual focus, but sometimes it can really get annoying. Also, the sensor performance doesn’t do justice to its high price tag. Resolution is average and the low-ISO dynamic range isn’t satisfactory enough.

Note: These are all things that are readily available in much cheaper rival mirrorless cameras today.

From time to time we seem to forget that, photography isn’t about just a click and relying totally on the technology. It’s about carefully picking up a moment of the world from time and space, and making it absolutely still… more organic and less engineered.

So, the question you have to ask yourself is - Do you really need to have a $6600 camera to paint a picture that you can paint with a $40 or so toy camera?

Yes, the latter picture would be a little messy. But who cares? Let the chaos be a part of your painting…and see what happens.

What About the Average Cameras?

Let’s just take a breather from all these tantrums of which camera is cheap and which is not. Let’s just assume, you just want good photos and you’re interested in digital. In that case, it would be a good idea to settle in the middle, and go with what you might already know as ‘Average Camera.’

By average camera we mean-the smartphone, the point and shoot compact camera, DSLRs and last but no least mirrorless cameras. These four come in all price ranges, shapes, sizes. Price is usually going to function with a few variables.

The variables

Firstly, the durability. The more durable your device is, the costlier it would be. If you want a better built device then you have to spend a little more.

Secondly, the size. There are couple things to keep in check, like...is it portable enough, does it take too much of your space to become a nuisance? Now, if the camera is smaller, the glass’s quality will be better. Also, if there are a lot of features, the camera will be naturally more expensive.

Thirdly, the flexibility of the device. Is your desired camera fully automatic or is it fully manual? Can it do both, can it only do one? The more automatic your camera is – usually the cheaper.

Besides, when you get into more hybrid camera modes like shutter priority, aperture priority, manual; you’ll find cameras become more expensive.

Fourthly, the sensor…the soul of the camera. It determines how good your image would look and how large you can scale them or even print them. The size of the sensor matters too. It affects what you see through the viewfinder. Larger sensor gives better resolution.

Low-light performance, colour accuracy, depth of field, dynamic range, lenses and even the camera’s physical size depend on the sensor.

Lastly, Glass – The lens, the most important part of a camera. The most basic camera body fitted with a good lens can make a great photo. On the other hand, best camera body in the world cannot make good photo if the lens is of poor quality.

It dictates how clearly focused your images will be. Cheaper lenses are going to use cheaper glass. That means, you’ll have limited or no focus, and difficulties while maintaining sharp images at fast speeds from the centre of the lens to the edges.

More expensive glass gives fast shutter speeds with excellent focus from the center to edge, adding to the cost will be magnification factor. Lenses outside the 35mm to 50mm range tend to start to increase in price steeply.

Dumbing My Points Down Further

Too many things to consider for a camera, right? I know! Let’s try to simplify those points. Eventually, it all comes down to this: the level of flexibility the camera provides. Your device should be able to help you to adopt to the environment that you’re currently in.

If the lighting isn’t a concern or you take portraits and not much moving objects, then any camera will get the job done for you…even that 40$ Holga.

Then again, let’s assume you want to up your photography game. Say…you want to freeze frame and capture stunning sharp photos in low-light.

In that case, you will be needing heavy machinery; something that’s capable of 10,000’s of frames a second, with a lens that is faster than f1/2…more like f/.85. Naturally, that type of camera costs a fortune!

Let’s dial it down a bit and discuss the regular stuff that people want to shoot with their cameras. Like, landscapes, travel photos, portraits, and wedding ceremonies.

What About Smartphones and Point and Shoot Cameras?

Smartphones and point and shoot cameras are pretty similar. However, they can’t do everything like, “Taking photos that are well exposed or sharp images with low noise.” They’re relatively cheap and asking all of these from a single camera, is really asking for quite a bit.

Nevertheless, if the condition suits the camera, you’ll get good results. If not…you’ve to just accept it and move on or save money to upgrade your gear.

Now a days, it’s become a common practice that expensive smartphone companies boast of their camera’s low-light capabilities. But taking quality photos under those conditions is a difficult task. In that case, you need DSLR or Mirrorless camera.

What About DSLRs and Mirrorless Cameras?

DSLR’s and mirrorless cameras are expensive. There are cheap DSLRs in the market too. Such as, Nikon 3300 kit which costs about $300. But the expensive ones are more than just a camera.

These things offer so much flexibility that you can easily adopt to any situation. Also, you can customize them in a number of ways according to your need.

Now, high quality body with low noise at high ISO (graininess of a photo) are going to cost quite a lot. The faster the shutter can open and close, raises the price too.

Don’t forget the lens! A fast f/1.8 or f/2.8 zoom or prime lens will improve focus at wide apertures by a lot. It will also enable you to shoot in low-light at higher speeds and give you clear image.

If you consider all of these attributes, the $300 Nikon 3300 isn’t a bad choice at all. It might not be fast but still can deliver quality photos in low-light. The kit lens is fine for most things. Just get a flash while shooting indoors unless you want noisier or less sharp photos.

What Do I Have to Say in the End?

I guess you’ve already figured out by now about difference in pictures. That is, it depends on the environment you’re taking the picture in.

If the lighting and subject’s mobility is on your side, then cheap camera can almost in a same level can compete with an expensive camera. The only difference is that, the expensive camera will do the job with ease while performing better under difficult circumstances.

Last but not least, knowledge is everything. If you know your device in and out, you can create exquisite photos no matter what the price of your device is.

 

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