Shooting with a stand-alone camera instead of a smartphone can make your memories vivid and special. You'll improve the quality of your photos with better lenses and image sensors as well as improve how you shoot, since stand-alone cameras are often constructed ergonomically and include physical dials and controls for changing modes and settings. Which one is right for you? We’ve tested dozens of models to give you our top recommendations for the money in five categories.
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. 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.
Looking for a fun instant camera to give to your kids, or to just have fun with yourself? We've reviewed and ranked 11 of the top instant cameras.
This guide will help you find a reasonably priced camera that meets your needs.
Latest News & Updates (September 2018)
- After months of speculation, Nikon announced two full-frame mirrorless cameras: The 45.7MP Nikon Z7 and the 24.5MP Nikon Z6, which will both include a full-frame (or Nikon FX–format) CMOS sensor. Each camera has a high-quality OLED electronic viewfinder (3,690k dots), a 5-axis sensor-based image stabilization system, a hot-shoe for external flashes, and a 3.2-inch touch-sensitive swiveling LCD (2,100k dots). You’ll find broad ISO ranges on each, as well: The Z7’s sensitivity range is ISO 64–25,600; the Z6’s range is ISO 100–51,200. Each can shoot 4K HD-resolution video at 30 frames per second and will have built-in Wi-Fi for connecting to mobile devices. Unlike most consumer models, though, each model will store photos and video on XQD-memory cards, instead of SD memory cards. The Nikon Z 7 will be available September 27 for $3,399 (body only) or $3999.95 with the 24-70mm f/4 S kit lens. The Nikon Z6, available in late November, will cost $1,995 (body only) or $2,599 with the 24-70mm f/4 S kit lens.
- Canon also launched a full-frame mirrorless camera system: The EOS R includes a 30.3-MP CMOS sensor, Canon’s DIGIC 8 image processor, which allows for up to 8.0 frames per second, 4K UHD-resolution video up to 30fps (and the ability to record in 10-bit 4:2:2 with an external recorder), Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS Auto Focus with 5,655 manually selectable AF points, a built-in EVF (3.69 million dots), a swiveling touchscreen LCD, and a dot-matrix LCD panel. The ISO range runs from ISO 100 to ISO 40,000, and is expandable to ISO 102,400. It also has built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. The Canon EOS R will be available in October for $2,299 (body only) and as a kit with the new RF 24-105mm F4 L IS USM lens for $3,399. Here's how the EOS R compares to the Nikon Z6 and Z7.
- Nikon's new entry-level DSLR, the D3500, has a new camera-body style that looks much like the step-up Nikon D5600. It has many of the same features found on the D3400, including a 24.2MP CMOS image sensor, a 5 fps burst mode, and the ability to capture 1080p HD-resolution video at 60 fps. Another enhancement is that you can wirelessly control the D3500 from your mobile device, via the Nikon mobile app, SnapBridge. The camera will be available in late September in two configurations: A two-lens kit will include the AF-P DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR and AF-P DX Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED for $849.95. A single-lens kit will ship with only the AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR for $499.95.
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 less than $90, the Snap is a perfect gift any time of year.
Tips for Capturing Photos at Outdoor Events
As the weather gets warmer, we tend to spend more time outside, and we generally bring our cameras along with us. But sometimes, if you’re looking to capture a street fair, an outdoor music festival, a parade, or simply a get together in a park with family and friends, you might not get the results you’d hoped for. Here are some tips for shooting better shots outside.
Look for Patterns: Natural or man-made patterns, or maybe even both, such as vine growing on a brick wall, can provide a powerful visual element in your photo.
Simplify the Composition: Oftentimes, we’re more focused on our subjects when we shoot. But in a photo, you’ll see everything, including the background. So, consider what’s behind your subjects, and then move to simplify the background. Also, keep on the lookout for those who will photo-bomb your shot.
Study the Light: While we tend to focus on faces or figures in many candid photos, pro photographers are always considering the light to see how it affects the subject. Is the light warm or cool and is it diffused or direct? What direction is the light coming from? Make sure you notice how the light appears on your photos, and see if it helps clarify or confuse the composition.
Help Tell a Story: Sometimes, when we capture an image, we want to tell some kind of narrative. To do this, great photographers looks for powerful facial expressions. Body languages and gestures can also provide help create an interesting narrative. For instance, if you’re at a music festival, look for how musicians stand on stage. Often, they’re gestures and facial expressions can make for fantastic photos.
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