Choosing the best camera is in some ways harder than ever. Cameras these days come in a multitude of forms, from mirrorless to DSLRs, compact to instant and more. The best camera for you won't necessarily be the best one for someone else — and it might not even be the best camera overall.
The first thing to do is figure out what's important to you in terms of the type of photography you do. DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, for instance, both offer the chance to swap lenses for specific shooting situations and typically have bigger sensors. This makes them ideal for portrait photography, landscapes and more specialist photography such as macro and astrophotography.
A compact point-and-shoot camera, meanwhile, might be a better bet for travel photography — and some are also waterproof, making them great for the beach. Plus there are also instant cameras and action cameras to consider, plus sub-sections such as the best cameras for vlogging.
And you have to factor in cost, too: the best cheap cameras can cost under $100, while a full-frame mirrorless model could set you back $10,000.
As a result, "the best camera" is a pretty subjective term — but within each type of camera 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. Note also that
What are the best cameras?
We think the best camera for most people is the Sony Alpha a6100. This mirrorless camera is compact, shoots excellent photos and video, and can be had for around $750 with a 16-50mm lens. The Sony a6100 has a 24MP 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 Canon EOS Rebel T8i; this midrange camera boasts a 24-megapixel sensor, a wide ISO range (100-25600, expandable to 51,200), and a very good rated battery life of up to 1240 shots. It has a number of built-in guides for helping novices, and it can record video at 4K/24 fps; still a rarity for DSLRs in this price range. What's more, the T8i can record vertical video and has a microphone jack, so you can get better audio.
If you prefer Nikons, we suggest the D5600, which also takes excellent photos, handles well, and has 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. We expect its successor, the D5700, sometime this year.
Read on for all of our top picks for the best camera.
The best cameras you can buy today
With its excellent image quality, great feature set and bargain price, the Sony a6100 isn't just the best mirrorless camera — it's also the best camera overall.
The a6100 is compact and well built, with excellent ergonomics: it'll fit comfortably into your hand and all of the controls are easy to reach. In our testing, we were also 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. Plus, with a rated battery life of 420 shots, you should be able to get through an entire day without needing a recharge.
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.
Still, that's a fair compromise at a price of around $700 — it really is a photographic bargain.
Most casual photographers will find the Canon EOS Rebel T8i to be the best camera for them if they're looking for a DSLR-style system. Like its predecessors, the T8i takes excellent photos and has a number of handy built-in guides to help newbies learn the ins and outs of the camera.
The EOS Rebel T8i can also shoot video at a resolution of 4K; while the framerate is capped at 24 fps, it should suffice for those who want to capture higher-quality movies. It also has a microphone jack for better audio and can even shoot vertical video, ideal for social media.
Read our full Canon EOS Rebel T8i review.
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 Nikon 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 $700 — and that's with a lens — the Canon EOS Rebel SL3 is one of the least expensive DSLRs 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-$600 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 camera options 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.
Though it's now five years old, the Nikon D500 remains Nikon's premier DX-series DSLR and puts many a newer camera to shame. It's a big, solid and fairly weighty thing, so if you're after something to stick in a bag and take out for a day at the beach, you might be better off with a mirrorless camera. But as semi-pro enthusiast models go, it's hard to beat. Much of that is down to its superb image quality: its 20MP stills are as good as you can get outside of more expensive full-frame models. It also has excellent autofocus and a fast shooting speed of 10 fps.
The Nikon D500 was one of the first DSLRs that could shoot 4K video, but that maxes out at 30 fps — though you do get 60 fps at 1080p. Newer (and cheaper) models will likely trump it on that front, and if video is your primary concern you'll want to look elsewhere. But for stills photographers who shoot a lot of sports or wildlife and prefer a DSLR to a mirrorless camera, it's a great option.
Read our full Nikon D500 review.
The Sony ZV-1 is the only entry in our best camera list that's aimed squarely at vloggers — and if filming yourself for videos on YouTube or similar is important to you, then it's well worth considering.
Although based on Sony's RX series of high-end point-and-shoot cameras, it comes with a number of features to make vlogging that bit easier. For instance, it has a swiveling touchscreen LCD screen that opens on the side rather than vertically, so it doesn't get in the way while filming. And it has several specialist modes, including one that smooths out skin and one that swiftly switches focus from person to product. There's also a directional mic and an included wind muff to improve audio performance.
Autofocus is generally good and the 4K video and 20MP stills are high quality too, but image stabilization isn't the best — if you're shooting on the go, a DSLR or mirrorless camera on a gimbal will be a better bet. Still, it's well priced and can also act as a webcam thanks to a firmware upgrade.
Read our full Sony ZV-1 review.
Looking for a great starter camera for your child? The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W800 is the best camera you can find for around $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 around the $900 mark, 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.
The GoPro Hero9 Black is more than just the best action camera — it's also one of best camera options full stop. One of the big improvements over its predecessor the GoPro Hero8 Black is the addition of a small front-facing display that shows a live preview, making it much easier to frame yourself in its 20MP photos and 5K videos.
It also has a removable lens, allowing you to add filters such as GoPro's new Max Lens Mod — for ultra-wide and stabilized video. A larger battery for increased staying power is another bonus, and our only real criticism is that its increased weight doesn't make it the best option for attaching to helmets.
Read our full GoPro Hero9 Black review.
The Nikon Z50 isn't a full-frame mirrorless camera like the Z6 and Z7 models, but it's available at a much cheaper price of around $850 (body only) and comes in a much smaller package, making it a great choice for Nikon fans who don't want to spend upwards of $1,000.
It offers a solid feature set including a 3.2-inch touchscreen that flips down by 180-degrees and a sharp 3-inch electronic viewfinder, and its 20.9MP stills are detailed and colorful. It's a fine performer in low light, too, handling noise well up to ISO 6400. The lack of in-body image stabilization counts against it, but otherwise it's an impressive option in an increasingly crowded space.
Read our full Nikon Z 50 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 and well deserving of its place on our best camera overall list. 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.
Sony proudly boasts that its mirrorless A7C is the smallest and lightest interchangeable lens full-frame camera in the world, and it really is a marvel of engineering. Gone are the days when you'd get shoulder-ache from carrying around a hefty full-frame DSLR — with a weight of just 17 ounces, you'd hardly know the A7C was even there. Add in the similarly featherweight 28-60mm kit lens and you have a quality camera that you can easily take with you on trips out. Sony has made some compromises to achieve that small footprint, though; it lacks some of the controls you might expect and the EVF could be bigger. It's not cheap, either — but on the plus side it's a great performer, serving up sharp images and video with a wide dynamic range. If size is you main consideration, it's well worth a look.
Read our full Sony A7C review
The Mini 40 is more than just an instant camera — it's an instant camera in a seriously cool retro body. Alright, so that alone isn't enough to make it worthy of recommendation, but the fact that you'll actually want to take it out and show it off certainly doesn't hurt. Fortunately, Fujifilm hasn't forgotten the really important stuff here: the Instax Mini 40 is incredibly simple to use and takes lovely photos, with vibrant colors and good exposures. And while it lacks the bells and whistles of some instant cameras — there's no smartphone app and it can't double as a printer, for instance — it's not without any features at all. So, you do get a selfie mode, plus a constantly firing flash that gives it better skills in low-light conditions. At less than $100, it's the kind of camera you could treat yourself to for a holiday or special occasion and have lots of fun with.
Read our full Fujifilm Instax Mini 40 review
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 two 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.
Cameras vs smartphones: Do you even need a digital camera?
These days, almost everyone has a very capable camera in their pocket, in the form of a smartphone. So is there still a need for a dedicated camera in 2021? To an extent, that depends on what type of camera you're talking about.
The best camera phones have now reached a level that would have seemed impossible a few years, with the likes of the iPhone 12 Pro Max and Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra packing multiple lenses, large sensors (for a phone) and advanced software tricks. People can and do take incredible photos with their phone every day, and in some situations there really is no need for a dedicated camera.
But some types of camera still have key advantages over a phone. DSLRs and mirrorless cams, for instance, are still capable of taking better images than a smartphone in many situations.
That's partly due to sensor size — even the biggest smartphone sensors are many times smaller than those in an enthusiast DSLR. And because sensor size plays a key role in how much light a camera gathers, that has a massive effect on the overall quality of an image.
Lenses are another factor: while smartphones may have one or two wide-angle lens plus one telephoto lens, mirrorless cams and DSLRs have a choice of dozens, each optimized for its specific focal length or task.
Instant cameras can also do something that smartphones can't, while rugged cameras also have an advantage in one specific area (namely that they won't break if dropped down a mountain). With compact cameras, it's a different matter though, and unless you're looking for a really long zoom range, a smartphone may now be a perfectly good alternative.
Of course as the old adage has it, the best camera is the one you have with you — so either way, just make sure you get out there and use it.
How we test the best 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. Once we've done all that, we're in a position to decide whether a model deserves to be on our best camera list.
Be sure to check out all of our camera picks:
Best DSLR cameras | Best action cameras | Best waterproof cameras | Best point-and-shoot cameras | Best instant cameras | Best mirrorless cameras | Best cheap cameras | Best GoPro camera | Best GoPro accessories | Best drones | Best 360 cameras | Best iPhone lenses | Best iPhone tripods |DSLR vs. mirrorless | Best Nikon accessories | Best Sony a6000 accessories | Best ring lights | Best ring lights for phones | best cameras for vlogging
The best apps and software for editing, managing, and sharing your photos:
Best photo organizer apps | Best photo storage sites | Best photo editing software | Best photo editing apps | Best photo collage apps