As a locally famous automotive photographer (I don’t have an ego about it, I swear), I get asked advice on which camera to purchase fairly regularly. Sometimes it’s someone who wants to take pictures of cars like me. Usually it’s someone who wants to take better photos of their kids, or pets, or they’re looking to get into sports photography or travel photography, or just step up their Instagram game. So after hearing the question “what camera should I get” more times than I can count over the past few years, I suppose it’s time to come up with some sort of guide on just this very topic.
Since it’s quite the monumental task to define the best camera for each genre, especially when you’r talking about DSLRs where lenses make a far bigger difference than which body you’re using, I’ll pick a few situations and outline a few options for each that cover a wide range of prices so there’s something for nearly every budget. We’ll start with user- and budget-friendly point-and-shoots and work up to more complicated and expensive DSLRS.
Anyway, let’s start with The Best Camera Gear for Taking Action Photos (sports, kids, wildlife, etc)
Entry Level: Fujifilm FinePix S9900W – With a huge 50x zoom, the ability to shoot at 10 frames-per-second, and 5-axis image stabilization, the Fujifilm FinePix S9900W offers great bang-for-the-buck for under $200.
Intermediate: Nikon D500 – Nikon’s latest DX-format DSLR is tough and rugged, while offering great low-light performance and an astonishing 10 frames-per-second burst speeds at full 20.9 MP resolution for up to 200 frames. Although it doesn’t come out until the end of April 2016, that means you’ve got a couple of months to save up for its $2,000 price tag. That’s just for the camera body so you’ll want to set aside some money for some equally fast lenses like the $2,100 Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED AF-S VRII.
Serious Hobbyist/Professional: Canon EOS-1D X Mark II – Although I’m a die-hard Nikon user (and I’d insist the new Nikon D5 is every bit on par with this Canon) if you’ve got the need for speed, it’s hard to beat 16 frames per second at a full 20 MP of resolution. Although the Nikon trumps the Canon in low-light performance, the Canon is a step up in the video department, making this decision even harder. Another factor here is lenses, and when you need the best of the best, you’re talking about at least another $5,000-6,000 for the fastest lenses. Let’s just say you can’t go wrong either way if you’ve got a budget of $10,000-15,000 burning a hole in your pocket.
Next up is The Best Camera Gear for Taking Still Life Photos (portraits, cars, food, etc)
Entry Level: Samsung NX500 – While $500 is stretching our entry level budget, the compact Samsung NX500 offers outstanding image quality in a slick package in an attempt to justify its price. With a 28.1 MP image sensor capable of incredibly color rich images, and a handy tilt-out screen, this camera could serve any aspiring photographer well for years to come.
Intermediate: Sony A7R II – The latest version of the Sony A7R is looking to be one of the best all-around cameras of the year. With a whopping 48.4 MP on tap from an incredibly rich full-frame sensor, there’s plenty of reasons why many Canon and Nikon power users are dumping their decades’ worth of acquired gear to pick up this new Sony. At $3,200, this is again touching the limit of what most amateur photographers would be willing to spend, but those of you with aspirations to do more will surely find the value in this camera. Just make sure you sock away a little extra cash for an lens adapter to allow you to use lenses you might already have laying around since Sony’s Carl Zeiss glass is far from cheap.
Serious Hobbyist/Professional: Phase One XF100MP – Since we’re just breaking budgets left and right in this segment, it’s time to really max out those credit cards, cash in the kids’ college fund and take out a second (or third) mortgage. The Phase One XF100MP isn’t a camera you can just go pick up at your local Best Buy, or even a dedicated camera shop like National Camera Exchange. This is a $50,000 special order camera specifically for the kind of person that not just wants, but NEEDS the highest possible image quality. But if you’re planning on shooting with this 100 MP beast, you might want to set aside a few grand to invest in some spare hard drives and extra memory for your computer to handle the MASSIVE files as well.
Lastly, here is The Best Camera Gear For Capturing Daily Life (traveling, selfies, etc)
Entry Level: Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 – Because there’s nothing more fun than a cheap, compact Polaroid-type camera that spits out a real print for you. The only downsides are that it makes it harder to share with friends and the cost of film does play a factor after awhile. Still, for $60 for the camera and $15 for two packs of film (each cartridge is good for 10 photos), it’s almost a no-brainer given how fun it is to use.
Intermediate: Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 – Although it’s a couple years old now, this Panasonic offers a great value in terms of image quality, low-light capability, and speed to be a great all-around camera that can do just about anything. By offering a fixed lens, it also minimizes a lot of the complications a typical user would have with a similarly-priced entry level DSLR for around $600.
Serious Hobbyist/Professional: Sony RX1R II – The name is a bit complicated but this takes the same 42.2 MP sensor we loved in the Sony A7R II and sticks it in a slightly more compact, fixed lens uber-point-and-shoot. With that kind of imaging capability in a small, portable camera, it’s tough to beat for a day-to-day camera. At $3,200 though, having the best all-rounder on the market will cost you dearly though.
One thing to keep in mind with any of these cameras is that ergonomics and a deep understanding of how to use whichever camera you have is far more important for getting the shot than having the latest and greatest or most expensive kit out there. So spend some time reading the manual, learning what all the buttons and menus are for, and practice, practice, practice.