Buying a digital camera is a very different experience than it was a few years ago. Smartphone cameras keep getting better, so there are a lot fewer buyers out there for budget pocket shooters. And because of that, there aren’t that many goods, inexpensive point-and-shoots. Meanwhile, SLRs have taken a back seat to smaller, lighter mirrorless cameras in performance thanks to wider autofocus coverage and superior video performance on average.
You can still buy a pocket-friendly camera if you want, but you’ll need to spend a bit to get one that offers significantly better imaging than a flagship smartphone. We’ve included a waterproof model on our list, the Olympus TG-6, as well as a pair of point-and-shoots with image sensors much larger than smartphones, both members of Canon’s G series, so you get a bit more zoom power and comparable quality in dim light.
There are still a few pocket superzooms on the market, but if you want to get a camera with incredible zoom power, you’re better off buying a bridge model like the mainstream Canon SX70 HS or high-end Sony RX10 IV. They’re a little bit larger, but that allows room for better lenses to bring distant subjects into clear view.
For more serious photographers, full-frame cameras are typically the way to go. The Sony a7 III tops our picks, and while it’s not the latest, it goes toe to toe with newer, pricier picks. We also love the Canon EOS R6, and while we’ve not included Nikon Z or Panasonic L-mount models here, you’ll find them among our more targeted picks for full-frame shoppers.
We test and rate hundreds of cameras each year, and we’ve highlighted some of our favorite models here. We’ve tried to cover a bevy of price points in this more general overview, which means some fantastic cameras, like the 5-star Nikon D850, aren’t listed here. We have more targeted recommendation lists for photographers who know which type of camera you want to buy, which will serve you better once you’ve set your sights on a specific type of camera to buy. You can click through to any of them in the forthcoming sections.
Pocket Friendly: Entry-Level Point-and-Shoot Cameras
It’s no secret that smartphones have seriously hurt the demand for entry-level point-and-shoot cameras. The latest from Apple, the iPhone 12 Pro Max, is a better camera than any low-cost model, and Android fans can net great snapshots with handsets like the Samsung Galaxy S21 and the Hasselblad-powered OnePlus 9. It carries a high-end price tag, but if you’re already buying a fancy phone, there’s no reason to buy a low-end camera too. If you’ve embraced smartphone photography, peruse our top camera phone picks to help find your next phone.
If you aren’t a smartphone user, you can buy any number of sub-$100 no-name cameras at online retailers, but I’d avoid them like the plague. If you can spend more than a $100, you can get a model from a name brand like Canon, Fujifilm, or Nikon.
These slimline shooters pack zoom lenses, which set them apart from smartphones, but for the most part, use dated CCD sensor technology, which limits image quality when shooting at high ISO settings and cuts the maximum video quality to 720p.
Moving up to the $200 to $400 price nets more modern CMOS image sensors and very long zoom lenses—30x is the standard at this point. For the most part, the video is still 1080p, and you’ll also see some cameras with small electronic viewfinders, Raw shooting capability, and very quick autofocus. Pure image quality isn’t any better than a smartphone, with the real advantage being the zoom lens. There are also several models that are waterproof available in this price range.
Though it isn’t the super-star headline-grabber of the EOS R series (that honour belongs to the EOS R5), we reckon the Canon EOS R6 is the best all-around camera you can buy right now. A superbly speedy machine, it takes full advantage of the sophisticated RF lens mount to deliver lightning-fast autofocus, with exceptional communication between camera and lens.
With twin card slots and some of the best in-body stabilisation in the business, the Canon EOS R6 ticks pretty much all the boxes for any working professional or enthusiast photographer. It lacks the 8K video and 45MP resolution of the EOS R5, meaning it’s a substantial cost-saving for those who don’t need such things. One could argue that 20.1MP is perhaps a smidge too low, but as long as you aren’t committed to making huge prints of all of your images, this should be more than enough for most purposes.
Lightweight, snappy and sophisticated, the Canon EOS R6 is on the cutting edge of photo technology. We can’t wait to see what comes next!
The Nikon D850 is still top dog in the DSLR world, and unchallenged by Canon when you consider just how many things it gets right. Normally such cameras are intended to excel in one area, such as speed or resolution, but the D850 delivers in all of them. Its 45.7MP sensor produces richly detailed images, particularly as it lacks an anti-aliasing filter, while 7fps burst shooting can be boosted to 9fps with an optional grip and battery. The 153-point AF system, meanwhile, is still Nikon’s most comprehensive iteration. And naturally, 4K video is on board too.
Around its solid core, this camera is ready for unlimited creativity, with time-lapse shooting, slow-motion video output in Full HD, in-camera Raw processing and a raft of other post-capture adjustments all falling to hand. Shooting at night? Many of the camera’s controls light up, and the ISO range stretches to a setting equivalent to 102,400 – a rarity on a camera with such a populated sensor. Need to shoot silently? This is not possible on many other DSLRs, but here you can fire 30fps bursts in complete silence.
Targeted at photography pros – and as at home in the studio as it is in the field – the Nikon D850’s body usually comes on its own. But if you don’t already own a lens you’ll be well served by partnering it with the excellent AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR for general use.
The world of APS-C mirrorless cameras is a fiercely competitive one, but the Fujifilm X-T4 might still be top of the pile. With its retro-cool looks and dial-led controls that characterise the X series, this stylish shooter backs up its fashion credentials with serious capable imaging technology.
It’s hard to think of a box this camera doesn’t tick. The combination of a 26.1MP X-Trans sensor with the X Processor Pro 4 results in a camera that produces gorgeous images at enviable speeds. While you can shoot in JPEG or RAW, one thing Fuji cameras are famous for is how good their JPEGs look straight out of camera, making this camera a perfect choice for anyone who doesn’t want to spend a lot of time in Photoshop. The inclusion of in-body stabilisation also expands the camera’s utility in low light, removing blur caused by camera shake at slow shutter speeds.
What’s not to like? Very little! Okay, it’s a fair amount of money for an APS-C camera, and you could probably spend a similar amount to go full frame. But Fujifilm has put so much work into making this mirrorless camera that it more than justifies its price tag with its extensive list of features, and we reckon it’s still one of the best buys you can make right now.
The flagship full-frame mirrorless camera from Nikon, the Z7 II, is designed to woo photographers who might have been swayed by showboaty mirrorless models from Canon and Sony. So it’s got similar specs to the likes of the EOS R5 or A7R IV, with 45MP of resolution, speedy burst shooting and high-quality 4K video. It may not have headline-grabbing specs like 8K video, but it is more affordable than its rivals in the same class.
Overall, the Nikon Z7 II is a very impressive all-around package. It handles like a dream and produces images that look seriously impressive. Any pro or serious enthusiast photographer will find this camera does everything they could need and more, and does so with welcome extras like an upgraded battery that lasts longer compared to the original Z7. Dual card slots too! Very nice.
Any negatives? The monitoring situation is a little disappointing, with an LCD screen that only tilts and isn’t fully articulated, and an EVF that’s lower resolution than some rival cameras. None of this is deal-breaking though, and if you’re looking for a full-frame mirrorless system to jump into, Nikon’s Z series is definitely worth considering.
Canon has been making really affordable digital SLR cameras for years, and with the EOS Rebel SL3 it has best entry-level DSLR around. Known as the EOS 250D outside North America, the Rebel SL3’s design is sophisticated while still being friendly to the novice – boasting the guided Creative Assist mode to help you get to grips with what the camera can do. It’s fully connected, with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for super-fast shot transfer and remote control, and it also can now shoot 4K UHD video at 25p, further expanding your creative options.
Another big plus is the Live View functionality – composing and focusing using the rear screen rather than the viewfinder – which has been radically overhauled from the previous model and is now much improved, with whip-fast Dual Pixel autofocus that’s actually much better than the 9-point system offered in the viewfinder. Composing with Live View can be useful in all sorts of creative situations – if for example you’re photographing human subjects, it’s much easier to give directions without a camera pressed up in your face. The Rebel SL3 is also extremely small and light for a DSLR, weighing just 451g, and won’t take up too much space in your bag.
The EOS 250D blends many of the advantages of DSLR cameras with those of mirrorless models, creating a fantastic DSLR that’s suitable for everyone from entry-level users to more advanced shooters – for an excellent price, too.
You can grab it as a body-only option, although most people just getting started will no doubt want to spend a shade more to pair it with the EF-S 18-55mm f/4-5.6 IS STM lens. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even opt for a kit with the all-encompassing EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM instead, and if you fancy something similar but with a bit more powerful, take a look at the Canon EOS 90D, which has a more solid construction and better-suited to experienced photographers.
It’s difficult to know where to start with the Panasonic Lumix GH5; it’s such a good camera that there’s a lot to pique the videographer’s interest. 4K footage can be recorded in both DCI 4K and UHD 4K flavours without the heavy crop factors that plague other 4K models, and this is captured in high-quality 10-bit 4:2:2 (internally). You can also use focus peaking to get focus bitingly sharp, call on an anamorphic shooting option, capture at high speeds for slow-motion output and opt for a (paid-for) log option. Video aside, there’s plenty more to love, from the excellent 3.6 million dot viewfinder and articulating LCD through to 9fps shooting and 225 AF points, all inside a sturdy, weather-sealed body.
Not quite what you need? The newer Panasonic Lumix GH5S variant opts for a 10.2MP sensor for better dynamic range and low-light performance, but misses out on sensor-based image stabilisation and is more of a video-only option.
Next on our list is the Nikon Z6. After Nikon joined the Great Full-Frame Rush of 2018, where it felt like practically all the major manufacturers were unveiling new full-frame mirrorless systems, photographers everywhere were keen to know where they’d go next. The Z6 and Z7 were and are excellent – and expensive – cameras. What next?
The answer: the exceptional Z50. An APS-C model, the Z50 is no mere slimmed-down version of its flagship siblings, but is an excellent mirrorless camera in its own right. Its physical handling is simply superb, with a chunky grip that makes the camera easy to operate one-handed. On the inside too it’s just as sophisticated, with a gorgeous sensor and sophisticated autofocus, and what’s more it comes at a price specifically tailored to undercut its close competition like the Fujifilm X-T30. What’s more, thanks to the FTZ mount adapter, users can also enjoy the incredible legacy of Nikon F-mount lenses. Shooting as fast as professional DSLRs, the Nikon Z50 isn’t just a good camera – it represents amazing value and a truly sublime shooting experience for any creative. Look out for the twin-lens Z50 kit, which is a superbly-priced bundle.
Just as Nikon’s D850 quickly became the DSLR that everyone wanted to switch to, Sony Alpha A7 III has mirrorless users saving up their pennies. While many models have their specific focus and target audience, the A7 III really is a camera for all. A 24MP full-frame sensor, hybrid AF system that covers a staggering 93 per cent of the frame and 4K video from oversampled footage are just a sliver of the highlights. Sony has focused on the details too, installing the useful AF joystick that found fans on previous models, and boosting battery life to a very respectable (by mirrorless standards) 710 frames.
The A7 III is a great all-rounder, with a versatile feature-set that makes it a great fit for a range of applications, but the older Sony A7 II is still very much on a sale and worth considering if you fancy something more keenly priced. Either way, grab it with the FE 28-70mm F3.5-5.6 OSS if you’re just getting started, unless you already own a lens or two.
Nikon proves the DSLR is well and truly alive and kicking with its 2020 release, the Nikon D780. A mid-range full-frame DSLR, this camera has that rugged, chunky handling that DSLR photographers love but also packs in loads of great features cribbed from mirrorless cameras, making it a superb combination of the two. And access to the incredible stable of F-mount lenses is the icing on the cake that makes the D780 a truly tempting choice for creatives looking for a camera with real versatility to it.
It’s designed to handle both stills and movies with aplomb, producing uncropped 4K video that’s downsampled from 6K capture. If your work involves video content in any way, this is a superb choice of camera; if it doesn’t, consider the lower-priced Nikon D750 which is a great low-cost full-frame DSLR that is still in production.
The D780 borrows a few top-of-the-line features from its more expensive siblings, including the 180k RGB metering and scene recognition system from the D850 above, so you can be sure you are still getting plenty of bang for your buck. As it’s a DSLR, the body is unavoidably large, so those who want a more portable system will want to consider one of the mirrorless or compact options on our list. It’s also still going roughly at launch time, so if your needs aren’t urgent, it may be worth waiting a little while and keeping an eye out for any limited-time offers or deals.
Small, light, fast and high-quality, Sony’s RX100 series of compacts is hailed by many as the best of best in terms of what compact cameras have to offer. Whether or not you agree, you can’t deny there’s a compelling case for it. Two standout pieces of evidence are, first, the fact that Sony keeps all the older models in production even when newer ones come out, and second, that they’ve produced seven of the things and show no signs of slowing down.
So why have we plumped for the RX100 VI – why not the more expensive VII or the cheaper V or IV? We think this model offers the best balance between price and quality, providing frankly amazing functionality and features in a body that costs less than £1,000. A key advantage of this model over older ones is its bigger zoom lens – that gives you the coverage equivalent to a 24-200mm superzoom, which will allow you to tackle practically any picture opportunity that presents itself.
It’s capable of burst shooting at a mega-impressive 24fps in both JPEG and Raw formats with full autofocus. It inherits the winning combination of a 1-inch sensor an a 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 lens, and captures incredibly detailed 4K video, as well as super-slow-motion footage,
Really, there’s not a huge amount this camera can’t do, and the fact that Sony packed all this tech into such a tiny, pocketable body is nothing short of a miracle. The high-resolution screen also flips around, making it a great camera for vlogging if this is a string you’d like to add to your bow, and it’s got all the wireless and connectivity functionality you’d expect from a modern camera.