Top Product: Sony ZV-1 Camera | $748 | Amazon
The world of photography has never been so diverse, but it can be tough to figure out where you belong in it. Nearly everything packs a camera these days, so figuring out the right digital camera for you is like trying on a fresh pair of jeans. Not everything will fit right, while others you can probably make work.
Still, the best camera is usually the one that’s with you. And while most people will do just fine with a smartphone, a dedicated digital camera allows more creative freedom and many are available to meet that need. Maybe too many, or at least it might seem that way. It’s a tough decision, so we’ve highlighted several of the best options out there for varying budgets and needs.
Best Overall: Sony A7-III Full-Frame Mirrorless Camera
Sony spearheaded the mirrorless market with both APS-C and full-frame devices, and after several years of maturation, the company has launched one of the more impressive cameras in its range. The Sony A7 III is a sharp value for a full-frame mirrorless camera. The 24.2-megapixel sensor has an incredible ISO range, reaching up to 204,800. You won’t get a particularly great-looking shot that high, but you can get something with little noise up to about ISO 51,200.
Essentially, it’s a beast in low light, beating most rivals by at least a stop or two, which could be the difference between a photo being a keeper or in the trash bin. The 10fps silent shutter is also great for fast-moving scenes in a buffer-filling burst, such as when shooting sports or children playing, while the impressive autofocus system uses up to 693 focus points in a phase-detection system that covers nearly the full screen. It also has superb battery life for a mirrorless camera.
Video shooters will appreciate the full-frame 4K at 24fps with in-body image stabilization, and you can trade off some pixels to hit 30fps. Meanwhile, at 1080p, you can hit up to 120fps for slo-mo edits. Pro photographers might consider the A7 III an entry-level option, but for the rest of us, the added perks, dedicated exposure dial, and customizable buttons put it a step ahead. The menus can be messy and confusing, mind you, but the Sony A7 III is a joy to use once you get past the learning curve.
Best Mirrorless Camera: Fujifilm X-T4
Fujifilm continues to excel on the mirrorless front, and the Fujifilm X-T4 is the best one to date. It packs a new shutter system, a longer-lasting battery, and in-body image stabilization amongst other useful enhancements, making it one of the best mirrorless cameras you can buy today.
Gizmodo’s Sam Rutherford went hands-on last 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
If you’re not quite hardcore enough to spend well over a grand on a camera body but still want something that can smash out brilliant shots, consider the Fujifilm X-S10 instead. It essentially takes the heart of the aforementioned X-T4 and somehow crams it into a more compact shell. The revised controls might rub Fujifilm aficionados the wrong way, but it’s not meant for the die-hards: it’s arguably better suited for the less-hardcore snappers out there.
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 for Content Creators: Sony ZV-1
With YouTube, Twitch, TikTok, and other platforms offering the potential for a wide audience and internet fame, there are oodles of content creators doing their thing these days. And Sony saw the opportunity for creators who want something more capable than a smartphone for mobile creation, yet is specifically attuned to their needs.
The Sony ZV-1 is just that, with creator-centric aspects such as an auto-exposure algorithm that highlights your face above all, plus speedy autofocus and a forward-focused directional mic with a detachable windscreen. It all seems pretty foolproof! As one Amazon customer wrote:
“The highlight of this camera is the ease of use. You really don’t need to know technical things like which aperture to choose, which ISO or shutter speed, it does everything for you. It has auto focus (which is much better than on DSLRs) and the flip screen makes it easy to monitor yourself while you’re recording.”
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 360-Degree Camera: Vecnos IQUI
While 360-degree cameras remain a decidedly niche device, the Vecnos IQUI solves one of the biggest problems with past gadgets: it’s incredibly compact. Barely larger than a Sharpie market, it’s easy to tuck into your pocket so that you’re not weighed down by carrying an additional gadget.
Given the emphasis on size, it’s no shock that the Vecnos IQUI can’t produce image quality on par with larger, pricier models, but it does a fair job with its three primary lenses along with one pointed upwards. It’s still very niche, but if you’re looking for a 360-degree camera, this one has big perks. As Gizmodo’s Andrew Liszewski writes:
“The IQUI is a compelling redesign of camera technology that most consumers have probably forgotten about, and it genuinely solves some of the problems that made them forgettable in the first place. But $300 is a lot to spend for what is probably most consumers’ second or third camera, particularly when the technology is still kind of a novelty.”
As of this writing, it’s $30 off the list price with a coupon clip at Amazon.
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.
This article was originally published by Quentyn Kennemer in October 2020 and updated with new information by Andrew Hayward on 04/07/2021.