High Product: Sony A7-III | $1,998 | Amazon
Never has the world of photography been so diverse, but figuring out where you belong in it can be confusing. Almost everything has a camera now, so contemplating the best digital cameras is like trying on a new pair of jeans. Those you love won’t fit right, and some will have you saying, “Meh, I can make it work.” And make it work you will.
Likewise, the best camera is usually the one you have with you. For most people, this is a smartphone, but if you’re looking to graduate to something that affords more creative freedom, you’ll want a separate digital camera, and many are available for the cause.
There’s just one problem: with so many cameras to choose from, most of which are fantastic, even after you’ve settled on a particular brand or form factor, it’s hard enough to decide. For the first rendition of this list, we’ve highlighted five great digital cameras that fit a variety of budgets and needs, and we’ll be updating it over time to introduce more options from each of the top brands.
Best Overall: Sony A7-III Full-Frame Mirrorless Camera
Sony spearheaded the mirrorless market with a meaty lineup including both APS-C and full frame options. After several years of maturation, the company has created what I feel is one of the most impressive cameras in its range. Especially if you can find it on sale around $1,800 (body only), the Sony A7 III—while not the newest of the camp—is a great value for full-frame mirrorless. The 24.2MP sensor has an insane ISO range. It reaches 204,800, and while it won’t produce what I’d call a “pleasant” photo that high, you’ll get very little noise up to ISO 51,200. Put simply, this thing is a beast in low light conditions. It bests most cameras on the market by at least one or two stops, which could be the difference between a usable photo a snapshot bound for the trash bin.
The Sony A7-III fits a variety of needs. With a 10fps silent shutter, you’ll be able to shoot sports, children playing, and other fast-motion scenes in a powerful buffer-filling burst. Its impressive autofocus system has up to 693 focus points in its phase-detection system covering about 93% of your screen, and with features like Eye-AF, Sony makes it easy to produce sharp photos. It also has some of the best battery life you’ll find in a mirrorless camera thanks to Sony’s upgraded NP-FZ100 battery.
For video users, the Sony A7 III offers full-frame 4K at 24fps with in-body image stabilization (meaning your lens won’t need it!), and you can sacrifice some of those pixels to reach 30fps. If you stick to 1080p, you’ll be able to reach up to 120fps for slow-motion editing. Although considered “entry-level” gear by seasoned photographers, the A7-III packs plenty of pro features like a dual microSD slot, a dedicated exposure dial, and tons of customizable buttons. You’ll need to contend with a messy and confusing menu system, but once set up and mastered, the Sony A7-III is a delight to use.
Greatest for Novices: Sony A6100
If you like the Sony A7-III but find it’s overkill for you needs, consider the Sony A6100. A great beginner’s option at its price, Sony has a rare advantage in offering the same mount system across both its APS-C and full frame bodies to date. That means you can buy this thing and get some great E-mount lenses for it, plus you’ll be able to take that glass with you no problem whenever you’re due for an upgrade.
Better yet, the Sony A6100 boasts the same impressive autofocus performance as its bigger siblings (albeit with a 10% cut to usable focus points) all while pushing a respectable image quality in its own right. Many would opt in for size alone. Smaller than the full-frame options, it’s the perfect walk-around camera for taking both photos and video. And with a flip-up LCD screen that even the more expensive A7-III lacks, it’s one of the better cameras for 4K vlogging.
Greatest for Streaming Video: Fujifilm XT-4
The Fujifilm XT-4 is a very popular choice for video. This APS-C camera is nice and petite with a fully articulating display, and that alone is a win in some books, but the fact it achieves a full 4K at 60 frames per second with some of the most flexible color grading profiles available makes it an excellent choice for videographers. Step down to 1080p, and you’ll be able to record at up to 240 frames per second for silky smooth slow motion. In-body image stabilization is included to help if you can’t use a gimbal, too.
This classically designed camera is also top-notch for stills. It has a 26.1MP CMOS 4 sensor that stretches to ISO 12,800, and with the help of a powerhouse processor inside, you can fill a buffer at up to 30 frames per second (albeit with a 1.25x crop at those speeds). A hybrid autofocus system uses both contrast and 425 dedicated phase-detection points for speedy target acquisition. But you want to know my favorite feature? It’s got a 3.69-million dot OLED electronic viewfinder, one of the few on the market rivaling that of typical DSLRs.
Greatest Level-and-Shoot: Panasonic Lumix ZS200
If you’re looking for something akin to traditional point-and-shoots of old, look no further than the viewfinder of the Panasonic ZS200. Unlike the options we presented above, the ZS200 doesn’t have an interchangeable lens system, but that doesn’t doom you from an image quality standpoint either. While it won’t match a solid cylinder of removable glass, the 15x zoom Leica DC lens (equivalent to 24-360mm on a 35mm body) can produce decent bokeh (background blur) effects thanks to its f/3.3-6.4 max aperture. Combined with a 12,800 maximum ISO, the one-inch MOS sensor has surprisingly potent low light performance. The Lumix ZS200 supports 4K video recording at up to 30 frames per second, all of it kept steady with built-in stabilization.
Don’t let looks fool you, either: this is an exceptionally versatile camera in terms of options and features. You can set and forget with its wide variety of preset modes; however, you’ll also get manual shooting modes to dial in the perfect settings for exposure or artistic effect. The Panasonic ZS200 is a fantastic bridge to give you more control over your photography if you’re not ready to leave this convenient form factor behind.
Greatest Motion Cam: GoPro Hero8 Black
When you’re roaming the unbeaten path, there’s no substitution for a GoPro. Although it’s praised mostly for its 4K video recording capabilities, the GoPro Hero8 Black also snaps decent photos. It’s not as flexible as other action cam options given its single focal length and noted lack of manual controls, but you’re still afforded a respectable suite of customizable settings to match your scene. And don’t forget, that includes underwater shots. Alongside dust and shock resistance, you can submerge the GoPro Hero 8 in waters up to 33 meters deep, ideal for capturing modest aquatic adventures.
The GoPro Hero 8 includes the company’s HyperSmooth 2.0 image stabilization, and while it can’t deliver gimbal-level stability, you’ll be surprised how much camera shake it eliminates. That means you can simply strap one to your helmet or chest strap, hit the road, and then share your exciting life with built-in live streaming and cloud uploads.
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