I am new to the camera game. I have a 2 year old and a 7 month old, and would like to invest in a camera for capturing memories. I would like a camera that:

  • Can capture fast moving kids
  • Photographs well in low light (our house is very dim)
  • preferably with a tilting 180 screen for taking selfies
  • a viewfinder

My main debate is between a digital compact and a mirrorless. I don't know much about mirrorless cameras, except that they are highly recommended these days. Do I always need to carry around the lenses for a mirrorless? Will it work without the attachable lense? Will it zoom without a lense? How do I know when to change to a different size lense?

Thank you, Samantha


3 Answers 3


Regarding your questions about mirrorless cameras — mirrorless cameras (sometimes called MILC, for mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera) are basically just like SLR (single-lens reflex) cameras that have been around for decades, when it comes to the following:

Do I always need to carry around the lenses for a mirrorless?

You need to carry around the lenses you want to have available. If you only intend on using a certain zoom lens all the time, then you only need to have that lens with the camera.

Will it work without the attachable lens?

No. Without the lens, the camera has no ability to focus on anything. The lens is required to focus light to create, well, an in-focus image that the camera can capture.

Will it zoom without a lens?

No. Zooming is a function of the lens — if the lens is capable of zooming. Not all lenses are zoom lenses. Lenses that have a single focal length, such as "50mm", do not zoom. Their field of view has a fixed width.

Zoom lenses have a focal length range, such as "18-105mm", or something along those lines.

Note: Most digital cameras have a so-called "digital zoom" feature, which is in addition to the optical zooming of the camera's lens (if the lens or lenses do in fact zoom). This is nothing more than cropping the image (usually the center area) and enlarging it, which results in loss of resolution. The exact same thing can be achieved outside of the camera (on your computer, or your phone, wherever you choose to edit images) by cropping and enlarging the image. Personally, I ignore in-camera digital zoom — I don't consider it a useful feature, because as I said, it offers nothing that I can't do by editing anyways.

How do I know when to change to a different size lens?

Generally, when you want a wide field of view, you would use a lens with a shorter focal length. When you want to capture something that's further away, which also narrows your field of view, you would use a lens with a longer (larger) focal length.

Zoom lenses allow you to achieve what multiple single-focal-lengths lenses are required to do: when you "zoom out", you are selecting a shorter focal length. When you "zoom in", you are selecting a longer focal length.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd probably include something about maximum aperture when shooting moving subjects in low light, and the fact that prime lenses generally have wider apertures and are often better suited for low light situations. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Nov 3, 2018 at 17:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelClark I considered expanding along those lines, but based on the fundamental questions, I chose to not add anything more than focal length and zoom. Based on the use case and questioning, I actually think Clickety Ricket's answer is the right way to go. \$\endgroup\$
    – scottbb
    Nov 3, 2018 at 17:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, except that Voigtlander prime is manual focus and manual exposure, so it's not going to be very useful in the hands of a newbie for catching moving kids in a dark house... and at f/2.8 the 12-40 is probably still too slow. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Nov 3, 2018 at 18:01

Well, I hate to say this, but an iPhone is actually a pretty viable option. The reason for this is that the lens system in an iPhone is composed of highly specialized plastic molded aspherical lenses. To make comparable lenses for a full size camera would be fantastically expensive. The drawback to phones is that they are poor in low light.

For low light, there is nothing like a full frame camera. The drawback is that full frame cameras are big, heavy, expensive and complicated to operate.

Personally, if it was me and I had to do a shoot at your home with the least possible set of equipment what I would bring would be:

  • Olympus Pen F body
  • Zuiko MFT PRO 12-40mm lens 2.8
  • Voigtlander Nokton 42.5mm MFT 0.95

The Pen F is small and relatively portable camera with near professional image quality. It is mirrorless. The zoom lens is very useful for composing shots in different situations. The Voigtlander is a heavy lens, but very bright. You can shoot in dim light with it. You want the 42.5mm because that is the portrait type lens. With that focal length you can get nice close, zero-distortion shots of the kids' faces even in a pretty dark room. Also, the Voigtlander has incredible image quality; the pictures look like they were taken in a studio by a professional.

The advantage of the mirrorless is that it is less susceptible to vibration and allows the camera to be smaller than a comparable SLR; the Pen F is a perfect example of how mirrorless technology can be used to make a super high quality camera in a small form factor. The Pen F has a 180-degree LCD screen that can be turned around for selfies.

Note that this is not a point-and-shoot system. You have to learn how to use the camera to get good results. Compact digitals are inferior in every way to MFT systems, except that they are easier to use.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ The Voigtlander is a great lens in the hands of a seasoned pro that can handle manual focus and manual exposure in challenging shooting scenarios such as kids running around in a dim house. Not so much for a new photographer. And while a MILC is obviously less susceptible to mirror vibration, the lighter weight of most MILCs also makes them more susceptible to camera movement due to handheld shooting. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Nov 3, 2018 at 18:05

You want to "capture memories". With a high quality large sensor camera, you will be creating memorabilia rather than capturing memories since your focus will be on creating the best picture and not the happenings of the moment. You take such a camera into your hands with the intent to create great pictures, and you put them aside when you feel you have done so.

For "capturing memories", a point-and-shoot is a better option. Since they are worse working with light, consider using a flash (or rather let the camera decide whether it wants to use one). Get one with a size that makes it a no-brainer to carry around.

And there is one additional consideration: get a box to put in your room. Burn your photographs to read-only CDs, label them and make prints from them you put in that box. Alternatively, fill that box with film negatives and prints. When one day you are gone, nobody will look for memorable things on your hard disk. Even when you are not gone one day, you might have a hard disk crash or lose the pesky little media the pictures are on or they just decide to become unreadable by themselves or because nobody has a device for reading them any more.

People look at pictures that are 100 years old. Those are captured memories. Nobody will look at some strange flash memory in 100 years.


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