Top 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 seven 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.
Best Mirrorless Camera: Fujifilm X-T4
Fujifilm’s excellent mirrorless cameras just keep getting better and better, and this year’s Fujifilm X-T4 is the best yet. With a new shutter system, an extended battery, in-body image stabilization, and other handy upgrades, it’s one of the most capable mirrorless options on the market today.
Gizmodo’s Sam Rutherford went hands-on earlier this year and shared his impressions:
“When I got a chance to test the X-T4 briefly in and around Grand Central Station, I simply had a blast. [...] And despite the lousy weather outside and the dim lighting inside the train station, the X-T4 impressed with some good looking photos that captured a lot of the fine details like the brickwork and intricate celestial mural painted on Grand Central’s ceiling.”
Best Mirrorless Camera for Beginners: Fujifilm X-S10
Releasing in mid-November, the Fujifilm X-S10 takes the heart of the X-X4 and crams it into a smaller body with revised controls, which might bother Fujifilm purists but is meant to appeal to a much wider and less-hardcore section of the snapshot-snagging public.
Gizmodo’s Sam Rutherford came away impressed after his time with it and explains:
“For me, while the X-S10 might not make a great choice as my main workhorse camera, the combination of its size and features make a great choice for travel or a beginner who doesn’t want to lug around a big and heavy full-frame cam. And with the X-S10 starting at just $1,000 (body-only), or as a kit for $1,400 or $1,500 with either a 18-55mm or a 16-80mm lens, it’s not too expensive to be someone’s first big upgrade from a smartphone.”
Best Point-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.
Best Digital Video Camera: Sony A7Siii
We’ve got a handful of smartphones shooting 8K video now, and most of the top ones shoot 4K with ease. Why, then, would you spend $3,500 on a dedicated 4K video camera? How about incredible autofocus and low-light shooting capabilities, stellar slow-mo skills, and excellent design and battery life?
Those are among the perks of Sony’s A7Siii, which is one serious beast of a video camera. It’s not the best for stills and it won’t record audio on its own, but if you’re looking for something that’ll shoot pro-grade 4K video — more than your smartphone will deliver — there’s nothing better. Let Gizmodo’s Brent Rose convince you in his full review, which concludes:
“It’s the best camera for video that I’ve ever used by a huge margin. The only thing that’s keeping me from running out and selling my organs to buy this $3,500 camera is that I have dreams of one day blowing up my nature photos and seeing them on a gallery wall, and I just don’t think that’s possible with a 12MP sensor. [...] Basically if I were primarily a video shooter, and/or my photos would only live online or on Instagram, then yes, this camera is a no brainer.”
Best Action 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.
Best for Kids: VTech KidiZoom Duo DX
The idea of handing off your digital camera or smartphone to a young child for some on-the-move snapping is frankly terrifying, so why not get your kid something more his or her speed? VTech’s KidiZoom Duo DX is an affordable, durable digital camera that lets kids take real photos and transfer them to a computer, if desired.
With a 5-megapixel main camera onboard alongside a 2MP selfie cam, the KidiZoom Duo DX is more suited for entertainment than snagging any truly noteworthy shots, but it’s an ideal way to get young photographers familiar with camera functionality without fretting about the hardware itself. It’s available in multiple styles too, and it’ll give your kid a true sense of ownership over his or her camera rather than having you helicopter overhead while handling your device.