As a person accused of spending way too much time and money on photography, I’m usually the one that my friends and family reach out to when they are planning to get a new camera. They are either graduating from their phone camera or looking to upgrade their current camera to a better one but surprisingly almost all of them have the same thought, that if they get a DSLR their pictures will magically transform from snapshots to masterpieces. A few of them in their wisdom even went to the big box store and bought the the Nikon/Canon DSLR with a kit lens and after shooting for few days in “P” (Professional ? 🙂 ) mode wondered why their pictures are no better than before or in some cases even worse.
I think this is a very common misconception that the only way to get better pictures is to get a DSLR and this was probably true few years ago but with the advancements in sensor and processing technologies there are a lot more options nowadays. These include large sensor point and shoots, bridge and mirrorless cameras. Following are some my pick for each category.
Point and Shoot (P&S) Cameras:
Thanks to cell phones cameras this category is about to suffer the same fate as the Dodo but there are still few cameras that are keeping this category alive and kicking.
- Sony RX100 III
As the name implies, this is the third camera of Sony’s RX100 line up that is packed with the usual host of features like 1″ 20.1 megapixel sensor, 3″ tilting screen, Wifi and NFC but he crown jewel is the integrated pop-up EVF.
Sony RX100 III is currently my favorite point and shoot camera because it not only has all the features that I look for in a camera but and it produces amazing results but also because it does all this while still remaining pocketable. This camera not only outputs good quality jpegs but also has an option for RAW output for people who like to have full control over their pictures. You can find my complete review of the camera here.
- Panasonic LX100
If it wasn’t for the the RX100 III’s small form factor and tilting LCD LX100 would have been my choice of point and shoot camera. It features a large 4/3 sensor coupled with fast 24-75mm (35mm equivalent) f1.7 – f2.8 lens, 3″ fixed LCD screen, EVF, Wifi, NFC and hotshoe. LX100 features multi-aspect sensor that produces 12.1 megapixel photos. On the video side, Panasonic LX100 is currently the only point and shoot camera in the market that can record high quality 4K videos.
Panasonic LX100 is a joy to use and it is definitely a camera made for people who prefer manual controls as the camera features direct control for aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation. Other functions can be controlled via custom buttons. LX100 does not feature the traditional PASM dial but it can be put into complete auto by setting up both Aperture ring and shutter speed dial to “A” position.
- Ricoh GR
Most people have probably never heard of this camera as it is not as mainstream as the Panasonic or Sony but people who want DSLR quality in a pocket camera are well aware of the awesomeness that Ricoh GR brings to the point and shoot genre. Unlike the other two cameras mentioned above it does not have many bells or whistles and does not even have EVF or Wifi but what it does have is an amazing 16.2 megapixel APS-C sensor mated with a sharp 28mm (35mm equivalent) f2.8 prime lens. Though I would have preferred a more traditional 35mm focal length.
GR has the largest sensor out of all the P&S camera (same sized sensor as Nikon D5500 mentioned below) mentioned in this list and still it manages to be pocketable. GR produces jpeg that are balanced but the color tend to be on the muted side so I prefer shooting raw and then editing according to taste.
- Sony RX1 / RX1R
When it comes to point and shoot cameras (though it can in a category of its own) Sony RX1 is the king of the hill featuring 24 megapixel Full Frame sensor with an amazing 35mm f2.0 Carl Zeiss prime lens. Like the Ricoh GR, RX1 does not have any bells and whistles to distract the photographer away from what can simply be described as the ultimate photography machine. Both RX1 and RX1R are identical cameras except for that the later one does not have a Optical Low Pass Filter (OLPF) so (in theory) it is capable of producing even sharper pictures. Sony RX1 is without doubt not only the best point and shoot but also the most expensive. At the eye watering $2800 (as for 6/1/2015) is not your mama’s P&S but if it’s the ultimate picture quality you require without dealing with inter-changeable lens cameras, this is your ONLY option.
The only two improvements that I would really like to see in the next generation of this camera is a built-in EVF and a tilting LCD.
As the name implies bridge cameras are in between P&S cameras and DSLR/Mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. Though this segment is also seeing a decline in sales it as not as bad as P&S category because it has a niche of high megapixel and high zoom range that appeals to people looking for a compact camera for wildlife or outdoor photography.
- Sony RX10
Sony RX10 is the elder brother of RX100 and features similar processor and 20.2 megapixel 1″ sensor but in a large body featuring 24-200mm f/2.8 (35mm equivalent) lens. Camera has a 3″ tiltable LCD on the back. This camera made similar waves in the bridge camera market like the RX100 did in the P&S market. Before the Sony RX10 there have been other cameras in the market that featured a fixed f2.8 lens (like Panasonic FZ200) but they had smaller 1/2.3″ sensor.
RX1 not only produces excellent 20.2 megapixel stills, it also has the ability to record full HD videos in 60 and 24p. RX10 also features similar host of connectivity options like the rest of Sony camera which includes Wifi, NFC etc. The combination of large 1″ sensor and good zoom range makes RX10 a very capable travel camera.
- Panasonic FZ1000
Panasonic FZ1000 is the Panasonic’s answer to Sony RX10. Though It features similar 20.1 megapixel 1″ sensor as the RX10 Panasonic added a lot of features that makes it even better choice than the RX10. First of all it has Leica branded 25-400mm f/2.8-4 (35mm Equivalent) lens and even though it is not constant f.28 like the Sony it provides double the zoom range. Secondly, it has fully articulating screen and to top all that Panasonic also added the ability to to record 4K QFHD video at 30 fps. Panasonic FZ1000 also features the DFD (Depth From Defocus) technology that was first seen on the Panasonic GH4. This enables super fast focusing. The fully articulating LCD is very helpful for video recording and shooting from various angles. The only thing that I miss in this camera is the awesome implementation of touch screen that Panasonic has done on it’s micro 4/3 cameras.
If I was in the market for a bridge camera FZ1000 would have definitely been my first choice.
- Nikon Coolpix P900
If you are OK with giving away some of the IQ of RX10/FZ1000 in favor of ridiculous amount of reach then look no further than the Nikon Coolpix P900 that features a humongous 83x zoom that ranges from 24-2000mm (35mm equivalent). Unlike RX10 and FZ1000 Nikon camera features the traditional 1/2.3″ sensor that produces 16 megapixels images. It can also record full HD (1920 x 1080) video in multiple frame rates. It also offers a cool 120 fps video recording mode but the resolution is restricted to 640 x 480p. Like other cameras in this category P900 also features an EVF and host of connectivity options like Wifi and NFC but it the only camera to feature built-in GPS.
On the image front P900 produces good results (for the sensor size) but don’t expect it to compete against cameras with larger sensors (especially in low light) but what it does cannot be replicated by other larger sensor bridge cameras. With it’s massive 83x optical zoom range, it is an excellent wildlife and birding camera. If you mostly shoot outdoors in good light then Nikon Coolpix P900 is definitely worth checking out.
Note: Due to massive demand for the camera, it is currently not available anywhere in the US but Nikon is expected to ship out more cameras in the coming months.
I’m a big fan of mirrorless cameras as they offer the most options when it comes to camera and sensor sizes. From the tiny 1/2.3″ all the way up to full frame you can find a mirrorless camera to suit your needs. Over the years I have used many mirrroless cameras including Micro 4/3, APS-C and full frame one and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. If portability and quality is your main goal then nothing beats micro 4/3 cameras and lens but on the other hand if you want the absolute IQ of a full frame camera you can find that in mirrorless as well, though you’ll most likely lose the portability and lightness that usually associated with mirrorless cameras.
- Fuji X-T1
Without doubt Fuji X-T1 is one of my most favorite camera out of the bunch that I’ve used. It’s a perfect combination of retro styling with modern soul. Fuji X-T1 features 16 megapixel sensor with a Fuji’s proprietary X-Trans color filter on top that gives Fuji output a unique look. Couple that with the ever expending Fuji’s lens line up and you’ve got a perfect image making machine that is just a joy to use.
Fuji X-T1 features 0.5″ 2,360k-Dot 0.77x OLED Viewfinder that is hands down the best and biggest EVF that I’ve used in any mirrorless camera. It is bright and provides very details view of the scene. The only issue I’ve found with it is that in very low light it becomes very grainy but unlike other EVFs it does not lag. Other than the EVF there is also a run of the mill 3″ tilting LCD on the back.
Unlike other mirrorless camera the most unique feature X-T1 is that there are external dials for shutter speed, ISO and exposure compensation and in addition to this almost all Fuji lenses feature an aperture ring (except for XC series lenses). Fuji X-T1 also has wifi functionality but no NFC. It does not have a built-in flash but one is provided with it so you can attach it to the hotshoe.
Fuji X-T1 produces one of the best out of camera jpegs that I’ve ever seen from any camera. Coupled that with various film simulation modes and there is hardly any need to do any post processing or shooting RAW. On the negative side, the video from this camera (in fact any Fuji camera) is just plain horrible with lots of artifacts and moire. You are better off shooting video with one of the newer phones than this camera, it is that bad.
- Sony A7 II
When Sony released the original Sony A7 back in 2013 it created a big stir in the camera industry because it was the first ever auto focusing full frame mirrorless camera. In the end of 2014 so unveiled the follow up of A7 camera which was an evolution of the original. It featured the same 24 megapixel full frame sensor but body design was changed to incorporate a better grip and more custom functions. The biggest update that Sony A7 II brought was the inclusion of IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization) which meant that any lens that is attached to the camera will become stabilized. This single feature alone made A7 II an instant hit with the people who had a large collection of legacy lenses or people who prefer using light weight manual legacy glass. Other than the IBIS, A7 II also brought some improvements in the AF department and overall camera performance.
I currently own Sony A7 II and use with some few manual lenses. Thanks to the focus peaking, magnified view and stabilization manual lenses are a joy to use Sony A7 II. Sony A7 II features built-in EVF, 3″ tilting LCD, Wifi and NFC. Unfortunately, it neither has a built-in flash nor one comes with it so if that should be one of the first accessories you should get with it.
The biggest issues with Sony A7 series (FE mount) is the lack of native lenses. Though Sony is working hard to bring out new lenses there isn’t a lot of choice out there, if you want native AF lenses. This issues can somewhat be mitigated by using A-Mount (Sony/Minolta mount) with an adapter. This opens up a lot more choices but due to the adapter the camera system isn’t as small as it is with native lenses. Also, the adapter (Sony LE-EA4) has it’s own AF module and is based on SLT technology so it completely by passes Sony A7 II’s native AF module. On the other hand, if auto focusing is not important, you have a lot more options and you can use almost any lenses from any manufacture with the help of cheap adapters. This include lenses from Nikon, Canon, Leica, Contax, Zeiss, Olympus etc.
- Olympus OM-D E-M1
With the availability of large sensor mirrorless cameras available in similar (and cheaper) price range it is difficult to recommend E-M1 based on the ultimate IQ but as a system Micro 4/3 delivers the best portability, lens and body options than any other mirrroless system in the market. I started my photographic journey with Micro 4/3 and through out the years I’ve kept many Micro 4/3 cameras and E-M1 is without doubt was one of the best.
Olympus advertised E-M1 as a “Pro” camera and rightfully so. It features a magnesium alloy body that is dust, splash and freeze proof. It features the typical 16.3 megapixel sensor found in most Micro 4/3 bodies. It also has built-in EVF, a 3″ tilting touchscreen LCD along with the host of connectivity features including Wifi. E-M1 is probably the only camera that was built from ground up to provide better focusing with the legacy 4/3 lenses. Though I’m not sure if there is a very big number of them out there but it did open up a lot more high end lens possibilities for the Micro 4/3 users.
Even though the OM-D E-M1 has the smallest sensor out of the the mirrorless cameras that I have on this list, it is no way incapable of producing exceptional results. In good light it produces results that are on par with the rest of the camera but in low light it does lag behind a bit compared to the others. Like Fuji, Olympus jpegs are really nice as well (though I prefer Fuji ones) but if you want the most out of your 16 megapixel images, it is better to shoot RAW specially in low light situation where excessive noise causes lack of detail and other issues.
Like other recent Micro 4/3 cameras Olympus E-M1 is the fastest focusing mirrorless camera out of all cameras in this list and it is the only one that has touchscreen. Also, this camera is one of the most customizable camera that I’ve ever used. You can customized almost all aspects of the camera down to which way the dials should rotate for changing settings.
One of the biggest advantage of Olympus E-M1 over the other mirrorless cameras is the massive lens library that Mirco 4/3 format offers. Everything from pro level f2.8 zooms to fast f1.2 prime lenses, pancake and power zoom lenses Micro 4/3 has it all.
Using a DSLR is a new thing for me as I’ve been shooting mirrorless cameras since I started photography but as I get more comfortable with seeing the world from a window (OVF) instead of a TV (EVF) and learning to expose correctly without the instant feedback of WYSIWYG EVF/LCD, I’m really enjoying the benefits it offers over the mirrorless systems.
- Nikon D750
Considered to be one of the best DSLR that Nikon has produced in a long time, Nikon D750 feature 24.3 megapixel full frame sensor that outputs amazing results in both good and low light. This is Nikon’s first DSLR to feature a 3.2″ tilting screen and built-in Wifi. The camera also offers excellent 51 point auto focusing system that works marvelously for static subjects as well as tracking moving ones. On the video front it offers multiple options included 1920 x 1080p at 60 fps and unlike the cheaper D6xx model it also has power aperture feature (you can change aperture during video recording without existing the Live View).
This is the first DSLR that made me switch from my long term mirrorless systems and from what I’ve read on the forums, I’m not the only mirrorless user who was pulled to the “dark side” by Nikon D750. I currently also own the Sony A7 II that has the same sensor as the D750 but thanks to Nikon processing I’ve found that D750 produces better results specially in low light and when it comes to auto focusing speed, accuracy and operational speed there is simply no comparison Nikon D750 is better in every way.
- Nikon 5500
Though Nikon D5500 is an enthusiast level model it is the most technology filled camera model that Nikon has produced. It features an excellent 24.2 megapixel sensor as the D7100/D7200 with no low pass filter that results in exceptionally sharp pictures. Mated with the excellent 39 AF system D5500 is a very capable camera to capture both static and moving subjects. D5500 is Nikon’s first camera to feature fully articulating 3.2″ touch screen that is perfect for video recording and taking pictures from various angles. It also has built-in Wifi but no NFC.
Unfortunately, not everything is rosy as Nikon continues its trend to purposefully exclude certain functions from the lower end bodies to sell more expensive ones. For example even in this day and age when almost all similarly priced (and even cheaper cameras) have built-in support for controlling off-camera flashes D5500 does not have it. Also, there is no power aperture or the ability to fine tune AF. So if your lenses ever need fine tune, you’ll have to send them to Nikon (along with the camera). Similarly, there is built-in Wifi but no NFC, even though D7200 offers both.
With that said, don’t let the negatives scare you away from a very capable camera that offers excellent image quality and enough modern feature to make any camera enthusiast happy.
I’m sure I’ll get a lot of complaints from my photographer friends because I did not include their favorite camera in the list but just to reiterate that I complied the above list based on my hands on experience with most of the cameras and my research. I haven’t included excellent cameras like Sony A6000, Nikon D7100/D7200, Panasonic GH4, Panaosnic GX7, Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II and others because I don’t have any personal experience with them but they are all excellent cameras as well and should be included in everyone’s list of new camera research.
With that said, depending on what level you are as a photographer you’ll find a camera in the above list that will suit your requirements. For beginners, I would highly recommend getting a bridge or a mirrroless camera as it would not only be easier to use compared to DSLRs but will also help in learning photography (specially with the WYSIWYG EVF/LCD).