Not long ago, hobbyist photographers who wanted a “serious” camera looked solely to the DSLR. But today, compact cameras and mirrorless bodies complement DSLRs as legitimate options for photography enthusiasts. We’ve now got cameras that pack the power of “serious” DSLRs into the compact form factor of a point-and-shoot.
Whereas photographers used to have to choose between convenience and quality, the two worlds have come together. We now have compact camera options with more features and image quality than many top-notch DSLRs a decade ago. It’s really an exciting time to be a photographer—and a fun time to go camera shopping.
Here’s a quick look at the latest and most enticing features, as well as a roundup of compact cameras and bodies sure to appeal to photography enthusiasts.
The Features To Look For
The best thing about camera shopping in 2019 is that you practically can’t buy a bad camera. The models listed below all share the capability to produce high-quality image files, but they do it in a variety of form factors. Whatever type of camera you’re most comfortable with, you can find one that will produce beautiful pictures.
Though there may be a camera for every taste, they share many of the same state-of-the-art features. Smaller sensors and mirrorless designs, for instance, allow cameras and lenses to get smaller and lighter. Speaking of sensors, whether it’s APS-C, Micro Four Thirds or full frame, they incorporate new technologies such as dual-pixel designs that position two photoreceptors beneath a single microlens. That makes for more pixels for higher resolution, as well as improved phase detection autofocus that provides the smooth focus necessary to shoot video.
Design and build improvements are also popular. Today’s cameras are sturdier than ever and more resistant to dust and moisture. This makes them better for outdoor use and travel.
Other popular improvements include integrated wireless and Bluetooth connectivity that opens up a new world of camera controls from smartphones and other wireless devices. And while batteries are getting smaller and lighter, they’re lasting longer between charges, too.
Video shooters will be pleased to know that still cameras are increasingly incorporating 4K-resolution video as well as HD capture at increasing frame rates. The latter puts high-def slow-motion video on the table (at frame rates above 60p and 120p) while the former not only increases resolution but also opens up a world of editing options. With 4K capture, for instance, video can be significantly cropped without loss of quality for output at 1080p HD.
Frame rates in mirrorless cameras have increased as well because of the lack of a moving mirror and mechanical shutter. That makes the models great for high-speed photography. Fast frame rates, upwards of five and 10 frames-per-second (fps), are the kind of thing sports photographers love. Also, in-camera image stabilization makes every lens sharper by making every shot more stable.
Improvements to signal-to-noise ratio have opened up new horizons on the ISO-sensitivity front, making low-light photography at astronomical ISOs more practical than ever. That means cameras are incorporating higher ISOs by default, and improved dynamic range offers the ability to shoot in more contrasty scenarios without the need for augmented lighting.
Both of these features can be improved by, among other things, backlit sensor technology that shifts circuitry to the back of the sensor in order to minimize noise and increase resolution.
All of these advancements—especially when it comes to high-resolution images with little to no visible noise—require faster-than-ever in-camera processing. And while every manufacturer calls its in-camera computer something different, rest assured that they’re all working to enable less buffering and minimal waiting for those who want to work fast without sacrificing the image quality that comes with high-resolution, pro-caliber RAW image files.
Enthusiast Cameras And Bodies
Nikon Z 50: This camera is Nikon’s first Z-series mirrorless camera with a DX (APS-C) sensor. It still has the same flange distance as on the Z 6 and Z 7 but has a 20.8 MP sensor that Nikon says was inspired by the D500 DSLR.
There are other impressive specs as well, including an ISO range of 100-51,200, the ability to shoot 4K-resolution video, and WiFi and Bluetooth capability, plus it has a big, new grip but weighs just 12.9 ounces. It also comes with a 3.2-inch swiveling touchscreen LCD and can fire off a burst of photos at 11 fps.
Prices: $859 (for body only) and $999 (with a NIKKOR Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR kit lens)
Fujifilm X-Pro3: The updated rangefinder will feature titanium construction that’s light, sturdy and scratch resistant; a movable LCD screen that can be hidden, positioned as usual or rotated for waist-level shooting; and built-in film-simulation image options meant to complement the old-school camera package. We don’t know the price yet, nor other specifications, including resolution.
Sigma FP: This model is a unique subcompact full-frame camera about the size of a small point-and-shoot. In fact, this interchangeable lens mirrorless camera measures just 4.4 inches wide by 2.75 inches tall and about 1.75 inches thick. It also weighs just 13 ounces.
Sigma calls it the world’s smallest and lightest full-frame camera. The FP body features an L-mount for lenses from Leica, Sigma and Panasonic, as well as touchscreen controls, face detect autofocus, full-time electronic shutter, built-in microphone, and HDMI and USB 3.1 connectivity. The FP will produce 24.6 megapixel still photos with the ability to capture RAW 4K-resolution video suitable for making movies. It’s an ideal camera for photographers and cinematographers alike.
Canon EOS 90D and EOS M6 Mark II: In late August, Canon announced a pair of cameras built around the same 32.5-megapixel APS-C sensor and Digic 8 processor, but in two different form factors.
Those who still love traditional DSLRs should consider the EOS 90D. It delivers up to 10 frames-per-second with no time lag when using the optical viewfinder and autofocus, with an increase to 11 fps with focus locked. The camera also features face detection autofocus plus WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity. Video shooters are sure to love 4K capture at 30p, with full HD capture available at up to 120p frame rates.
Those same connectivity and video features are also found in Canon’s newest mirrorless body—the EOS M6 Mark II. Its 3-inch swiveling touchscreen LCD makes selecting AF positions easy and accurate, too, while the compact size of the mirrorless system lends itself to traveling photographers.
Prices: $1,199 (EOS 90D) $849 (EOS M6 Mark II)
Nikon D3500: Photographers looking to step up from compact cameras to interchangeable lenses have for years looked to entry-level DSLRs, and that’s still an ideal choice today. From Nikon, that entry-level DSLR is the 24-megapixel D3500—an affordable camera that sports an APS-C sensor and HD video capture, all wrapped up in a design that puts the most important functions at the photographer’s fingertips. The D3500 is designed to be especially easy to learn and use. The built-in guide mode makes learning camera and exposure controls easier while shooting up to five frames per second benefits those who want to shoot sports and fast action as well. Paired with the Nikon SnapBridge app, the camera can automatically and wirelessly transfer 2-megapixel images to smartphones and tablets for instant sharing.
Price: $499 (which includes the AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR kit lens)
Olympus Tough TG-6: One of the most unique cameras in this roundup is the Olympus Tough TG-6—an all-in-one compact point-and-shoot camera built to withstand the rigors of use everywhere from the campsite to the job site.
This heavy-duty waterproof camera remains light and compact, however, weighing in at just over half a pound and measuring 4.5 inches wide, 2.5 inches tall and 1.25 inches thick. Still, it’s crushproof up to 220 pounds; seriously rugged.
Because it’s waterproof to a depth of 50 feet and sports a fast ƒ/2 maximum aperture, the Tough TG-6 serves as a capable underwater camera, too. The 12-megapixel sensor may not sound impressive, but coupled with the 25-100mm equivalent lens’ close-focus capability means the camera can produce 7:1 enlargements, making tiny subjects much larger than life size.
Panasonic Lumix G95: The G95 is an updated Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera from Panasonic that provides better build quality and higher resolution than previous models.
The camera’s 20.3-megapixel sensor has no low-pass filter, so images are sharper and more true to life, while in-body optical-image stabilization provides up to five stops of added handholding ability, and ultra-fast autofocus makes stills and video even sharper. The 4K-resolution video capture at 24p and 30p is possible with a slight sensor crop, though high-speed mode offers a maximum slo-mo frame rate of 120 fps.
Headphone and microphone jacks further demonstrate the camera’s usefulness for video, and Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity make it easy to control with a smartphone or transfer photos to smartphones and tablets.
Ricoh GR III: Photographers who want to travel light with a camera that’s long on features and image quality should consider the Ricoh GR III.
This compact camera features a fixed 18mm lens (equivalent to a 28mm prime) with a plenty-fast ƒ/2.8 maximum aperture and close-focusing capability to 2.4 inches. Smaller than its predecessor, the GR III has a 24-megapixel APS-C image sensor with a hybrid autofocus system and vibration reduction to help it produce better, sharper photographs.
Street photographers are sure to love the low-key look and feel of the camera while traveling photographers will relish its 4-inch size and half-pound weight.
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VII: Sony’s RX100 VII is a high-end compact camera that packs quite a few powerful and unique features into a camera that easily fits in a pocket.
The RX1000 VII features a Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 24-200mm zoom (equivalent) built-in, with a variable f/2.8-4.5 maximum aperture that helps keep the camera compact even when zoomed to 200mm. Phase-detection autofocus and an optimized lens drive control produce what Sony says is the world’s fastest autofocus acquisition time—just two one-hundredths of a second.
Speed is paramount in this camera, which can deliver continuous 20 fps shooting in live view mode, as well as burst shooting up to a whopping 90 fps. Real-time focus tracking plus eye AF that works on humans and animals gives the camera the kind of tack-sharp autofocus for stills and 4K-resolution video that isn’t found on many prosumer mirrorless cameras and DSLRs. Interval shooting and 960 fps super slow-motion functions (albeit at just 1240×420 resolution for up to 4 seconds) open up even more unique video opportunities.
For A Blast From The Past—Fujifilm X-Pro2: While not the newest camera in this list, certainly one of the most popular is the Fujifilm X-Pro2—an old-school mirrorless rangefinder that sports 24.3-megapixel resolution from its APS-C sensor and a wealth of features and design elements that traditionalist photographers in particular enjoy. The mechanical dials and manual switches used to adjust exposure and other camera controls make the camera feel like a high-tech throwback to a time when cameras functioned more simply. Of course, these old-school controls belie the state-of-the-art image-making elements inside—including an X-Trans CMOS III sensor and a viewfinder that can be optical, electronic or both. Improved image processing speed, phase detection autofocus, microphone input jack and 1080/60p capture make the camera useful for video shooters as well. Fujifilm plans to announce an update to the popular X-Pro this fall. As such, the price of this model has recently fallen significantly.