You don’t need an expensive camera to capture memories or create art. In many cases, the camera in your smartphone is good enough, but other times, a little extra equipment could take your photo to the next level. We’ve tested dozens of models to give you our top recommendations for the money in five categories.
Want speed, portability and lighting fast focus? A mirrorless camera is the way to go. Want awesome detail, better low-light photos and a super wide range of lenses? Get a DSLR. Bridge cameras are easier and less expensive than big DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, while waterproof cameras are essential for avid adventurers and outdoor explorers. Or check out our list of compact cameras if you're looking for something portable to take with you on your travels.
This guide will help you find a reasonably-priced camera that meets your needs.
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The Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III ($1,299), a bridge-type camera, sports a large 24.3-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, which is Canon's first point-and-shoot to include such a large sensor. It also includes dual pixel CMOS AF, a 24-72mm (f/2.8-f/5.6) 3x optical zoom lens, HD-resolution video (1080p at 60 fps), high quality electronic viewfinder and built-in Wi-Fi.
One of the larger types of camera, DSLRs (Digital Single Lens Reflex) are so named because the photographer sees the image directly through the lens that will be used to take the image. When the shutter is pressed, a mirror flips up to expose the sensor to light. DSLRs also have the largest sensors, which in general will allow you to get the best quality pictures, especially in low-light conditions. The size of the sensors in DSLRs will also enable you to make larger prints than you would from other types of cameras.
Mirrorless (also known as compact system or micro four-thirds) cameras have many of the same features as larger DSLRs--such as interchangeable lenses--but in a more portable form, making them generally a better choice for travel. They’re called “mirrorless” because they don’t use a mirror to direct light through the lens to the viewfinder. Their image sensors aren’t quite as big, but image quality is nearly on a par with their larger brethren. Here's a guide for taking better pictures with the Sony Alpha a6000 and a6300.
MORE: Best Mirrorless Cameras
The term “Bridge” is somewhat nebulous, and is used to describe cameras that have more features than a point-and-shoot (such as Ultrazoom or enthusiast-level controls), but don’t have interchangeable lenses like mirrorless cameras. As such, there’s a wide range of cameras that fall into this category. Ultrazooms are a good choice for those who want to shoot a lot of nature photography or your kid’s soccer game, without having to invest a lot of money in telephoto lenses.
MORE: Best Bridge Cameras
The smallest (and usually cheapest) of all cameras, compact cameras can usually be stuffed easily into your pocket, and can cost as little as $50. Also known as point-and-shoot cameras, they will often have limited features and are best for impromptu photo shoots where you don’t have your smartphone handy. After testing 10 cameras that cost less than $160, the Sony W800 came out on top for its price and performance.
MORE: Best Compact Cameras
Essentially point-and-shoot cameras with waterproofing, these devices can be used when swimming, scuba diving, or wherever you’re afraid of your camera getting wet. Often, they will have some ruggedness built in, so you can drop or knock them around without too much fear of breaking the camera. They’re ideal for backpacking or outdoor trips when weight is a primary concern, or as a starter camera for a child who might have a tendency to drop things.
The iPhone takes pretty good pictures on its own, but there are a number of accessories that can boost its capabilities even further. A good many are lens attachments, which lets you take photos of very small objects or things that are far away. Other attachments, such as the DxO One, have their own sensors, and can take photos much better than what you'd get from your phone.
MORE: Best iPhone Lens Kits
Best Camera Under $100
It's one part camera, one part printer and 100 percent fun. The Polaroid Snap brings the joy of instant film into the 21st century. Featuring a 10-megapixel sensor and a 32GB microSD card slot, the Snap makes it easy to to capture moments, share them immediately via its onboard Zero Ink printer, or take them home so you can save them or upload your photos to social media. And priced at just $99, the Snap is a perfect gift for the holidays too.
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