When you're looking for the best camera, there are a lot of options to consider. First, what are your needs? If you're looking to do a lot of in-studio portrait photography, a DSLR could be your ticket. If, however, you're planning to take your camera out and about, a mirrorless camera or more compact shooter may be the best option.
Because everyone's needs and experience levels are different, "the best camera" is a pretty subjective term, but within each type of camera—mirrorless, DSLR, compact, point-and-shoot, waterproof, and instant—there are some models that are clearly better than others. We evaluated them for picture and video quality, handling, features, and value to come up with our recommendations.
What are the best cameras?
We think the best camera for most people is the Sony Alpha a6100. This mirrorless camera is compact, delivers excellent-quality photos and video, and can be had for $700, which includes a 16-50mm lens. The Sony a6100 has a 24-MP sensor, records sharp 4K video, and has a fast autofocus system. Its battery life is a reasonable 420 shots, but you'll want to invest in an extra battery if you're planning to use it a lot.
If you're looking for a DSLR camera, we think the best option for most people is the Nikon D5600; this midrange camera boasts a 24-megapixel sensor, a wide ISO range (100-25600), and a very good rated battery life of up to 970 shots. We also liked how the D5600 handled; while it's a DSLR, it was very comfortable, and with Nikon's traditional d-pad and a number of dials and knobs — as well as a 3.2-inch swiveling touchscreen — it's great for experienced photographers looking for full-featured manual controls, while still including a number of assisted shooting modes to help teach and educate beginners.
However, because the D5600 is a little bit older, it can only capture video at a max resolution of 1080p/60 FPS. You can typically find the D5600 for less than $700 as a kit with two lenses included. A newer, better option may be the Canon EOS Rebel T8i ($749, body only), which has a 24MP sensor and the ability to shoot in 4K at up to 24 fps. Stay tuned for our full review.
Read on for all of our top picks for the best cameras.
The best cameras you can buy today
If you're looking for one of the best all-around mirrorless cameras, you can't do better than the Sony a6100. It continues the same compact design of previous models, making it easy to carry around. But it still has excellent ergonomics, fitting comfortably into your hand, with all the controls easy to reach.
We were impressed with the Sony a6100's ability to take sharp, clear photos no matter the situation; its intelligent, fast autofocus certainly helped, as did its 11fps shooting speed. And, with a rated battery life of 420 shots, you should be able to get through an entire day without needing a recharge. With a price of less than $700, it's the best camera for those who want a mirrorless setup.
The a6100 can also record 4K video, and has a microphone jack for picking up better audio. However, you'll need to look to the Sony a6500 or the a6600 if you want in-body image stabilization.
Sporting a 24-megapixel sensor, 3.2-inch swiveling touchscreen and compatibility with a huge range of lenses, the Nikon D5600 is the best camera for most people looking for a DSLR. In our tests, we found it took great photos, and has a nice wide usable ISO range. We also liked its battery life; rated at 970 shots, we were able to easily make it through a day's worth of shooting. With Nikon's traditional d-pad and a number of dials and knobs, it's great for experienced photographers looking for full-featured manual controls, while still including a number of assisted shooting modes to help teach and educate beginners.
One of our quibbles with the D5600 is that it can only capture video at a maximum resolution of 1080p/60 fps. However, that's not unreasonable for a camera at this price, and it has a dedicated microphone jack. All in all, it's a great kit.
Read our full Nikon D5600 review.
At less than $500 — and that's with a lens — the Canon EOS Rebel SL3 is the least expensive DSLR that can shoot 4K video. More than that, though, this camera, which is aimed at beginners, is also very small and light, and has a bevy of in-camera guides to help novice shooters. We also like the EOS Rebel SL3's articulating 3-inch touch screen, which makes it easier to take photos from odd angles.
In general, this camera takes good photos and video, but its internal image stabilization is only moderately effective, and its hot shoe doesn't work with third-party flash units. Also, this model is aimed at beginners, so it has a limited number of autofocus points, and a fairly slow shooting speed. But, for the price, it's a great DSLR for those new to photography.
Read our full Canon EOS Rebel SL3 review.
If you're just starting out and prefer Nikon DSLRs, one of the best cameras is the Nikon D3500. This entry-level model has a sub-$400 price—which includes a lens—and lots of in-camera guides which help explain advanced features to beginners.
We also liked the D3500's 24.3MP sensor, long battery life, and the ability to control the camera (somewhat) from your smartphone via Bluetooth. The D3500 has a 3-inch display, but it doesn't fold outward, and lacks touch capabilities, but Nikons have long held a reputation for excellent physical controls. The D3500 is no different.
If you're looking for the ability to shoot 4K video, we recommend the Canon EOS Rebel SL3, which is a bit more expensive. Still, the Nikon D3500 will shoot great photos in almost any situation, too. And its price can't be beat.
Read our full Nikon D3500 review.
At the top end of Sony's Alpha line of APS-C mirrorless cameras is the Sony a6600, which has everything you want: An excellent processor that delivers a wide ISO range (100-32,000), AI-enabled eye autofocusing in both still and video, 5-axis in-body image stabilization, 4K/60 fps video, and a speedy 11 fps shooting speed. Top that with a battery that can last up to 720 shots, and you've got one of the best mirrorless cameras for the price.
In our Sony a6600 review, we were impressed with the image and video quality, as well as the camera's handling. It's made of a solid magnesium-alloy frame, and is both dust and moisture-resistant. It has a large, bright electronic viewfinder, as well as a 3-inch touchscreen that flips up a full 180 degrees and down 74 degrees. If you don't want to pay full freight for one of Sony's full-frame a7 cameras, the a6600 is the one to check out.
Read our full Sony Alpha a6600 review.
Looking for a great starter camera for your child? The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W800 is the best camera you can find for less than $100. At this price, it's nearly an impulse buy, and not such a financial hardship if you lose it or your kid drops it. Its sturdy metal chassis packs a great suite of features, including an easy panoramic shooting mode and a 5X zoom lens (26-130mm equivalent). And, measuring just 2.1 x 2 x 0.9 inches, it can slip into your pants pocket without a problem.
The W800's 20.1MP image sensor uses the older CCD technology that tends to not perform as well in dark conditions as today's dominant CMOS sensors. And while it can record video, its resolution tops out at 720p (1280 x 720), so things won't look as defined as what you'd get even with a smartphone. But it's fine for bright afternoons or night shots with flash. If you want a longer zoom, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W830 has an 8X zoom, but costs slightly more. Be sure to check out all our picks for the best cheap cameras.
Sony pioneered the full-frame mirrorless camera, and one of its older models, the Sony A7 II, has come down in price to less than $1,000, making It the best camera for those who want a full-frame mirrorless system without paying through the nose. The A7 II has a 24.7-MP sensor and 5-axis in-body stabilization, which combine to produce some amazing photos, even in darker conditions.
We also liked how compact the A7 II is, as well as its sturdy magnesium body. Controls are easy to access, and several buttons are customizable, allowing you to have your favorite settings just one push away. However, this camera does show its age: Its 3-inch display lacks a touchscreen, its max video resolution is 1080p/30 fps, and its battery life is a pretty weak 350 shots. At this price, though, you'll be able to afford an extra battery or two.
Read our full Sony A7 II review.
Packing a fantastic, sharp 20-MP 1-inch sensor and 15x optical zoom lens in a pocket-friendly body makes the Panasonic Lumix ZS200 as the best camera for those who want to take great vacation photos, but don't want to schlep a larger mirrorless or DSLR around. This camera measures just 4.4 x 2.6 x 1.8 inches and weighs 12 ounces, so you can stuff it in a pocket with ease.
The ZS200 has plenty of physical controls for its size, and still manages to pack in an electronic viewfinder — a must for those days when the sun washes out the camera's non-swiveling 3-inch touchscreen. We found that the ZS200 performed well in a variety of situations, including low-light photography; we were able to shoot as high as ISO 6400 without image noise becoming too much of a distraction. While there's no hot shoe, the camera does have a pretty robust built-in flash. And, the ZS200 can record 4K video as well, which should get you some really nice vacation home movies.
Read our full Panasonic Lumix ZS200 review.
Boasting many of the features as the more expensive X-T3, the Fujifilm X-T30 is one of the best mirrorless cameras you can find for less than $1,000. We love its retro look and abundance of dials, as well as its more modern articulating touchscreen.
The X-T30 took fantastic pictures in a wide variety of lighting settings, and there are an abundance of settings and artistic filters to get more out of your photos. It has a fast processor that allows you to take DCI 4K video at 30 fps. However, you're limited to 10-minute clips, so if your main purpose is video, check out the Sony a6600 instead.
Read our full Fujifilm X-T30 review.
The Olympus Tough TG-6 is the best waterproof camera, able to withstand depths of up to 50 feet, which isn't the deepest among compact point-and-shoots, but will suffice for snorklers. With its 4x optical zoom lens (24mm-100mm), which has a wide, f/2.0 maximum aperture, the TG-6's lens offers very good quality photos and beautiful video at 4K-resolution. It can also shoot RAW photos, which means it will do a better job than most in darker underwater scenes, and the Olympus features several special underwater modes, as well.
It comes with a versatile flash that lets you adjust the amount of illumination, which is a rare feature on a point-and-shoot. This camera can also survive almost any kind of abuse on land, including up to 220 pounds of pressure, 7-foot drops and temperatures down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition to Wi-Fi and GPS, the TG-6 includes an electronic compass.
It's one part camera, one part printer and 100 percent fun; the Polaroid Snap Touch is one of the best instant cameras, and brings the joy of instant film into the 21st century. To be sure, you're not going to get Ansel Adams-quality photos out of the Polaroid Snap, but the images it does make with its 13-MP sensor aren't bad for the money. The Snap Touch has a 3.5-inch LCD touch screen, letting you preview your photos, and it has three color modes — black and white, color, and vintage sepia. The camera also records 1080p and 720p video.
Because the Snap Touch has a built-in Zink printer, you can get a hard copy of your photos within a minute. Unlike many other instant cameras, the Snap Touch lets you select which photos you want to print out, which saves you money from wasted paper if you take a bad shot. The Polaroid Snap Touch also has a 32GB memory card slot, so the camera can also save digital copies of your photos, letting you share them to social media.
The camera can pair with your smartphone via Bluetooth and has an app (iOS and Android) that offers additional photographic options, like text, borders, emojis and stickers. You can also use the app to print images shot from your smartphone when connected to the camera via Bluetooth.
How to choose the best camera for you
There are a lot of factors that go into choosing the best camera for you. The first question you should ask yourself is what do you plan to shoot? If you're doing more portrait photography, and don't plan on moving the camera around a lot, a DSLR may be the best way to go. If you're looking for something more mobile, a mirrorless camera is probably a better bet. Be sure to check out our DSLR vs. mirrorless camera guide, which goes into detail about those to camera systems.
If you're looking for something you can bring on vacations, a travel or compact camera takes up very little room, but can still produce photos much better than you'd get with most smartphones.
It's important to be realistic about your abilities and your intended use, as you can easily spend thousands of dollars on equipment that you don't need, or don't know how to use. Before making a purchase, it's also worth your time to go to a camera store to see how a particular model feels in your hands, and how comfortable you are holding it.
How we test cameras
Regardless of the type of camera we review, they're all subjected to a similar testing regimen: We use them in a variety of settings, including low light, outdoors, indoors and more. We also photograph a number of subjects, such as people and pets, to see how well the camera captures skin tones. If a camera comes with a kit lens, we generally use that lens with the camera, to more closely emulate the same experience as consumers purchasing the camera.
In addition to still and video quality, we also rate the camera based on its ease of use: Are the physical controls easy to access, and are the menus logically laid out? Finally, we evaluate the camera's battery life and other features, such as wireless control.