It’s the time of year when a lot of people get new gear, so it’s time for a shopping guide. What makes this article different from most of similar ones is that I will recommend gear I have reviewed personally and liked it enough that I would consider buying it myself. That means I will skip a lot of good cameras because they have something that would bother me if I had them; it doesn’t mean cameras not listed here suck: they are just not to my personal taste. If for some camera category I think there are no good cameras I will simply recommend avoiding purchase and saving the money towards something better.
I will focus down to what is available on the market right now and at current price points. That means some good but currently in my opinion overpriced cameras might not be recommended at all. Sorry but for most of us money dictates what we can afford.
COMPACT ON THE BUDGET (under $200)
Sorry guys, but there is no camera at this price point I think is worthy buying. There are worse and better options, but none of them actually deserve my recommendations. A better choice is getting a used DSLR (even 7-8 years old DSLR are more than good if you are ready to learn about photography and master RAW file format and can be bought at $150-200). Or simply buy a really good bottle of wine and open it for Christmas
ADVANCED COMPACTS ($250-$500)
Now we’re talking! If the camera needs to be really small, still affordable and deliver results, I would choose Nikon Coolpix P340. It still has a tiny sensor but Nikon gave its best to make it a great performer. In good light and RAW format image quality can be similar to much more expensive cameras. It is simple to use, has great set of features, bright lens (at least on the wide end) and retails for around $330 at this time.
For a bit more money I would choose Fujifilm X30 ($500). This is one special camera in pretty much any aspect. Starting from that gorgeous design and build quality, features set and image quality, it is a great choice. What makes it absolutely unique is mechanically linked optical zoom. It is a faster, more precise and more durable way to use zoom. It also makes it more “analog”; I feel more connected to camera compared to using motorized zoom. It also has one of the best batteries – around 600 shots out of a single charge is DSLR territory. Lens is sharp with bright aperture for low light and it even has electronic viewfinder and tilt-LCD. Beautiful camera!
From all ultrazooms ever made Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 is the only one I would consider buying myself. It has constant aperture of F/2.8 in a versatile zoom range (24-600mm) which actually is enough for anyone. Optics is excellent, image quality is also great (for such a small senor) and 4K video is flawless. Also, it is the only ultra zoom that has weather seals, has first grade articulated touch LCD and quite good electronic viewfinder. Grip shape and materials are better than found on other similar cameras.
For a little more cash you can get Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1000 which actually was a blueprint for FZ300. FZ1000 has less zoom range but will get you superb 1″ sensor with 20 megapixels which makes a drastic difference in image quality – especially in low light. All the other goodies are still there – 4K video, articulated LCD and electronic viewfinder, great ergonomics and a lot of advanced features. People looking for one camera to do it all should strongly consider this one. It is great for travel because of versatile zoom range, has close-to-DSLR image quality (even in low light) and all advanced features you would want. It is also superb choice for video thanks to its 4K video, articulated LCD, microphone input and all manual controls. Price is very attractive these days, so if DSLR or mirrorless confuse you because all this interchangeable-lens nonsense, FZ1000 is the camera to have.
ENTRY DSLR &MIRRORLESS
No matter what anyone says or thinks, when image quality is imperative nothing can replace sensor size yet and that’s why you would want to buy interchangeable lens camera with 4/3 or APS-C sensors.
Nikon D3200 is a bit older camera but still worth buying. It has 24 megapixels APS-C sensor which produces excellent photos; it is easy to use and quite small for a DSLR. I prefer it mostly for its simple interface – it does not have any of the modern instagram-like filters, creative effect and other annoyances – it is just a good old camera and that is what I like. Once you master exposure triangle and RAW processing, you will understand why this camera is so good. My choice of lenses for it (besides the multi-purpose 18-55 kit) would the 35mm F/1.8 lens as walk around lens and 50mm F/1.8 for portraits.
In mirrorless world, Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM1 would be my camera of choice. It is the smallest mirrorless you can buy and with 12-32mm collapsible zoom just a bit bigger than most compact cameras. It will get you excellent 16 megapixels 4/3 sensor and superb full HD video (all Panasonic cameras have better than average video). It is completely silent in use and can serve as a great carry anywhere camera. There is also the newer GM5 with built-in EVF, but it costs more. I would rather buy GM1 and use saved money for another lens.
Sony A6000 may not be entry level but the price has come down recently and you can have it for around $550. For that amount of cash you get one of the best mirrorless cameras overall. The best thing I like about is electronic finder which is way to the left of the camera just like on rangefinder film cameras. With the right eye on the finder, left one is free to scan surroundings and makes it a great street camera.
PRO-LEVEL DSLR & MIRRORLESS (APS-C)
Another Nikon gets to my recommendations list: D7200. Image quality delivered by this camera is one of the best ever and in some situations even better than full frame cameras like Canon 5D mark III – the ability to lift shadows is beyond belief. For landscape photography, D7200 is everything you ever wanted.
If I was a sports shooter, Canon 7D mark II would be my choice. D7200 is not bad, but 7DM2 speed and buffer size is unrivaled. It can hold around 1000 JPEG’s shooting at 10 frames per second! Other things that would make me lean toward Canon are better ergonomics (circular back dial and front dial positioned above shutter button), easier menu system and silent shutter, which really is silent!
In mirrorless land, Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 is the best choice. I reviewed it just recently and was very pleased with performance and features. There is a lot to like about it, but I would like to point out several that made me fall in love after only few hours: silent operation (electronic shutter), tiltable electronic viewfinder, fully articulated touch LCD, superb 4K video, built-in stabilization, highly customizable controls and auto focus speed which is actually faster than some professional DSLR cameras. Lens choice for micro 4/3 system is excellent and anyone should be able to build a dream system.
PRO-LEVEL DSLR & MIRRORLESS (FULL-FRAME)
For absolute image quality, high ISO and subject separation, full frame is still best solution. It may be expensive, but once you buy a camera with this level of performance you will not need to change it for years to come. In this category and price level pretty much any camera could be recommended; there are no bad performers here, but I believe Nikon D750 to have the most versatile feature set.
For landscape, macro or studio work Nikon D810 is the best choice. Image quality delivered by 36 megapixels sensor at ISO 64 is unrivalled.
Last but not forgotten is the Canon EOS 6D – this camera is referred as a bit of an underdog in some circles and I’m still not sure why. After all this is what I have for the last year and a half and am absolutely happy with my choice. It is very simple to use, has superb ergonomics, great video implementation and one of the best low light sensors ever – I use it for night street photography – ISO 12000 is not a problem for 6D. I could get better dynamic range with Nikon but I simply prefer the way Canon handles and some of the lenses offered – that’s why I will keep using 6D for a long time and what makes this cameras one of the best on the market.
So, that’s about it. This is the list of cameras that would be in my shopping list these days. There are many other cameras out there that could be even better choice for you but as I wrote at the begging of this article – this is personal subjective list. Happy shopping and merry Christmas!