What's the best digital camera? It all depends upon your needs and experience. Want speed, portability and lightning-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. Looking for something that you can stuff in your pocket and take on a vacation? Consider a compact point-and-shoot. Or maybe you just want a fun instant camera.
We've tested dozens of digital cameras across all these categories, and narrowed them down to this list of the best cameras. We've limited our recommendations to cameras that cost $1,500 or less, as we think these picks will appeal to the broadest range of consumers.
1. Nikon D5600
Best DSLR Under $1,000
Megapixels: 24.2 MP CMOS DX-format sensor | Lens Type: Interchangable | ISO Range: ISO 100-25600 | Image Stabilization: In-lens | Video (Max Resolution): 1920 x 1080 at 60 fps | Shooting Speed: 5 fps | Display: 3.2-inch swiveling touchscreen | Wi-Fi: 802.11 b,g and Bluetooth 4.1 | Battery Life: 970 shots | Size/Weight: 4.9 x 3.8 x 2.8 inches/16.4 ounces
Sporting a 24-megapixel sensor, 3.2-inch swiveling touchscreen and compatibility with a huge range of lenses, the Nikon D5600 DSLR is our favorite camera on the market. 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. And with video capture at up to 1080p at 60 FPS and a dedicated mic in jack, the D5600 is a great tool for budding filmmakers too.
Also consider: Canon EOS Rebel T7i
2. Nikon D3500
Best DSLR for Beginners
Megapixels/Sensor: 24.3/APS-C | ISO: ISO 100-25,600 | Video (Max Resolution): 1080p/60 fps | Shooting Speed: 5 fps | Autofocus: 11 points/Phase, Contrast, Face Detection | Connections: USB, mini HDMI | Display: 3-inch LCD 921,000 dots | Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/NFC: Yes/Yes/No | Battery Life (CIPA): 1,550 shots | Size and Weight: 4.9 x 3.9 x 2.8 inches/12.9 ounces
Like its predecessor, the Nikon D3500 has a 24.3MP sensor, but it has a faster processor and a refreshed design that makes it easier to use, longer battery life, and the ability to control the camera (somewhat) from your smartphone via Bluetooth. Its sub-$400 price is a great entry point for those new to DSLRs, and it has a bunch of in-camera guides that help explain its more advanced features. It will shoot great photos in almost any situation, too.
Also consider: Canon EOS Rebel SL3
3. Sony Alpha a6000
Best Mirrorless Camera for Beginners
Megapixels: 24.3 APS-C CMOS | Lens Type: Interchangeable | ISO Range: 100-25,600 | Image Stabilization: In-lens | Video (Max Resolution): 1080p/60 fps | Shooting Speed: 11 fps | Display: Articulating 3-inch LCD | Wi-Fi: Yes | Battery Life: 400 shots | Size/Weight: 4.8 x 2.9 x 1.9 inches; 12 ounces
The Sony A6000 gives you a lot for the price. In addition to superfast autofocus, a 11fps shooting speed that matches or beats pricier DSLRs and excellent low-light quality (up to about ISO 1600), you also get fantastic 1080p video at 60 and 24 fps. It also has an electronic viewfinder in addition to an articulating LCD. All this in a package that weighs just 12 ounces; this is one compact and powerful camera.
However, more advanced shooters may find the A6000 a bit limiting; be sure to check out our best mirrorless cameras page for other top picks.
Also consider: Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II
4. Sony A7 II
The best full-frame mirrorless camera
Megapixels: 24.7 full-frame CMOS | Lens Type: Interchangeable | ISO Range: 100-25,600 | Image Stabilization: 5-axis in-body | Video (Max Resolution): 1080p/30 fps | Shooting Speed: 11 fps | Display: Articulating 3-inch LCD | Wi-Fi: Yes | Battery Life: 350 shots | Size/Weight: 5 × 3.87 × 2.37 inches, 1 pound, 3.6 ounces (body only)
Now that it's a few years old, the Sony A7 II's price has come down to less than $1,000, making this the best full-frame mirrorless camera for most consumers. Its 24.7-MP sensor and 5-axis in-body stabilization combine to produce some amazing photos, even in darker conditions.
However, this camera does show its age: 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.
Also consider: Canon EOS RP.
5. Panasonic Lumix ZS200
A great pocketable travel camera
Megapixels: 20/1-inch sensor | Lens Type: 15x optical zoom (24mm-360mm equivalent) | ISO Range: 100-25,600 | Video (Max Resolution): 4K/30 fps | Shooting Speed: 10 fps | Display: 3-inches | Wi-Fi: Yes | Battery Life: 370 shots | Size/Weight: 4.4 x 2.6 x 1.8 inches/12 ounces
Packing a fantastic, sharp 20-megapixel sensor and 15x optical zoom lens in a pocket-friendly body makes the Panasonic Lumix ZS200 an the best camera for those who want to take great vacation photos, but don't want to schlep a larger mirrorless or DSLR. The ZS200 performs well in a variety of situations, including low-light, has a pretty robust built-in flash, and takes 4K video as well. We wish that its 3-inch touchscreen could swivel out, but it's a tradeoff we can live with.
Read our full review of the Panasonic Lumix ZS200.
Also consider: Canon PowerShot SX740
6. Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W800
The best camera under $100
Resolution: 20.1 MP | Optical Zoom: 5x | Focal Length: 26 - 130mm (35mm equiv.) | Video (Max): 720p (1280p x 720p) | Size: 2.1 x 2 x 0.9 inches | Weight: 3.5 ounces
At less than $100, the Sony W800 is the best cheap camera you can find. 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 (26-130mm equivalent) zoom lens with optical image stabilization. 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. But it's fine for bright afternoons or night shots with flash.
Read our full Sony W800 review.
7. Olympus Tough TG-5
Best Waterproof Camera
Megapixels: 12MP | Lens Type: 24mm-100mm | ISO Range: 100-12800 | Image Stabilization: Sensor-shift | Video (Max Resolution): 4K/30 fps | Shooting Speed: 5 fps | Display: 3-inch/460,000 dots | Wi-Fi: Yes | Battery Life: 380 shots | Size/Weight: 4.4 x 2.6 x 1.3 inches/8.8 ounces
The Olympus Tough TG-5 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-5'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. In our tests, the TG-5 took better photos and video than other compact underwater cameras, whether above or below the seas. 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-5 includes an electronic compass.
The TG-5's successor, the Olympus TG-6 ($449) is mostly the same, but has a higher-resolution display (1.04 million dots), as well as improvements to its Microscope modes for both above- and underwater shooting.
8. Polaroid Snap
Best instant camera
Megapixels: 10-MP | Lens Type: 25mm | ISO Range: n/a | Image Stabilization: no | Video (Max Resolution): n/a | Shooting Speed: n/a | Display: n/a | Wi-Fi: none | Battery Life: n/a | Size/Weight: 6.5 x 6 x 1.9 inches/14 ounces
It's one part camera, one part printer and 100 percent fun; the Polaroid Snap is one of the best instant cameras, and 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 Zink printer, or take them home so you can save them or upload your photos to social media. And priced at less than $90, the Snap is a perfect gift any time of year.