Choosing the right camera brand is the most important part of buying a camera, especially if you’re opting for a DSLR or any camera with interchangeable lenses. Buying into a particular brand means buying into that entire brand’s ecosystem of camera bodies, lenses, and accessories.
For instance, with Canon cameras, you get access to the most robust lens manufacturer as well. With Nikon, the bodies are generally a bit better (particularly for photography), but the lens selection isn’t as robust or affordable. One of the best, affordable lenses ever made is Canon’s “nifty fifty,” a beautiful portrait lens that’s only $125. That’s the kind of thing you get when going with Canon. There are tons of accessories, lenses, and a huge selection. Of course, Nikon isn’t far behind.
For every brand, there are a few perks and downsides. At this point, Sony is the king of the dual stills/video shooter, at least in terms of raw specs. Sony cameras have great numbers. That said, there are serious issues when shooting or taking pictures on Sony cameras and some of these are dealbreakers for certain users. Some people hate the menus. Some people hate the way these cameras fit in their hands. That said, they offer a lot of bang for the buck.
There are plenty of options in terms of camera brands. Depending on your use case, your best bet is going to vary. Here’s the top 5 best camera brands. In this list, we cover the most popular brands and a few of the best models for consumer and prosumer users. We have, however, excluded high-end brands like Hasselblad; ostensibly most people reading this will find spending $9,000 on a camera a touch high.
Ask anyone the world over to name the most famous camera company, and chances are they’ll call out Canon. Known for easy interfaces and intuitive features, Canon is your best bet for camera brands if you’re new to photography. In addition to being user-friendly, Canon products tend to be relatively user-proof, and are apt to outlive their technological significance. Canon has built its brand on simplicity, ease-of-use and their products range from beginner cameras to professional.
On the beginner side, there’s cameras like the EOS-M, a mirrorless 18 megapixel camera ($450) and the t7i, a DSLR with a crop sensor that’s great for beginners and leaves a lot of room to grow ($749).
For those looking to shoot more high level photography, Canon’s 5D Mark IV is the top of its prosumer class of cameras. It’s $3,0999 and it shoots 7FPS stills and 4K video. It’s a camera that will let few people down, though we’d be remiss to admit that Sony and Nikon have made huge gains on Canon recently. Still, they remain the easiest cameras to pick up and shoot. They have excellent ergonomics and consistent controls.
If you’re a beginner to photography, look no further than Canon or Nikon. Canon is the safest bet because it’s the most popular brand. It has the most robust ecosystem on every side. However, my personal favorite beginner camera is the D3400, a Nikon camera.
That said, my number one recommendation for a Canon DSLR for beginners is the t7i. This crop sensor camera shoots beautiful stills, RAW photos, and takes solid video. Check it out on Amazon for $749. That said, if your budget is closer to $500, head straight to the Nikon section for the D3400 (which has considerably better image quality!).
Check out this t7i still:
In terms of video, Canon has fallen into an odd spot in the market and is more difficult to recommend. For digital media companies and even reality TV shows, their C300 Mark II is the go-to standard. It shoots 4K, but at $9,999, it’s not with the range of most consumer or prosumer shooters. It’s also, for the most part, a camcorder. The footage falls apart fairly quickly when graded. It’s popular because for applications where a cinematic look isn’t important, it’s an insanely practical camera. The battery life is long. It has superb ergonomics, built-in ND filters, and accepts normal Canon lenses. It’s called a workhorse for these reasons. If you’re looking for a workhorse camcorder, the C100 may be old, and it may not capture cinematic images, but people still buy them. They’re simply ridiculously practical with long battery times, small file sizes, and flawless ergonomics. This is very much a “videographers” camera and at $2,836, it’s not very sexy, but it is a tank.
On the more consumer side, The 5D Mark IV takes sharp 4K video, but it has serious drawbacks, namely massive file sizes, and not particularly flexible footage. The Canon 1D X Mark II has gained some popularity in the YouTube space, but at around $5,500 and missing tons of features on Sony cameras that are half the price, it’s a hard sell for most, and out of many’s price range.
There’s no reason to go with Canon for video, unless of course you’re willing to tinker. You may know that Canon previously revolutionized indy filmmaking with their 5D Mark II. It was an affordable full frame camera and creators loved it for its shallow depth of field. So again, a 5D has risen the ranks. What’s shocking is that it’s not the 5D Mark IV but the 5D Mark III. For stills shooters, it’s still reasonably formidable, but for video, this camera has been tricked out using software called “Magic Lantern” which allows it to shoot raw video at 1080P. For those unfamiliar with RAW video, this is the same as RAW stills except at 24 FPS. Using this functionality (and somewhat unwieldy footage) one can shoot feature film quality color on a fairly affordable basis. There is some setup, but at this point, Magic Lantern is simply doing due diligence by letting you know it voids your warranty; this is stable software.
Nikon has made serious inroads on Canon in recent years in virtually every aspect. The above camera, the D3400, however is the ultimate triumph for beginners looking to shop at a value price. This camera simply takes stunning images and is very affordable.
As you can see in the image above, Nikon’s sensors (particular when using RAW) have really come a long way, especially for such a cheap camera. While this photo still looks realistic, you can bet that it can be dramatically pushed in a variety of ways. The D3400 is the best crop sensor deal on the market by objective standards; check out DXOmark.com to see that it has one of the best sensors on the market, better than cameras that are significantly more expensive than it. It’s plainly a great deal.
In terms of high-end DSLRs, the Nikon D850 is the best stills DSLR on the market by objective standards. DXOmark confirms that it’s the best in the business in terms of bit-depth (color flexibility, accuracy) and dynamic range (how much light it can see between the darkest and lightest parts of the image. Check it out on Amazon here for $3,296.
Nikon has made less inroads in terms of video and is not as popular with video shooters. However, many Nikon cameras are equipped with acceptable cameras that are fine for casual use. Filmmakers, however, have not adopted Nikons like they have Canon. You can see in the D850 footage below that it’s very nice, but the ridiculous specs for photography are simply not present. The dynamic range and color are good, but not by 2018 standards.
At some point, Sony because one of the biggest for the entire market in terms of camera brands. Sony makes popular cameras in every price range for every kind of user. The only real trade-off with Sony is that their cameras are notoriously clunky in terms of usability. They have lots of menus and are not very ergonomic. That said, you’ll move past this, if you’re after particular types of images. The a7rIII, Sony’s high-end DSLR is seen by many as one of the best stills cameras out there. In terms of objective sensor testing, it’s the second best (sub-$8000) on the market, falling right below the D850 according to DXOmark.com.
Here’s a photo taken by the a7r III:
Sony isn’t just conquering the stills world. Their a7sII is becoming very popular as a film camera for its superb dynamic range and insane low light capability.
On the lower end side, Sony has also eaten up some serious market share with their A6000 series of cameras. Check out the a6000 on Amazon for $548.
Pentax may not be Canon or Nikon in terms of name brand, but in terms of image quality, the K1 in particular, is an excellent deal. If you don’t want to spend upwards of $3000 on a camera, the K1 holds its own at almost half of the price.
The stills speak for themselves. This is a camera with great dynamic range and color.
According to DXOmark.com, the K1 is the fifth best camera (sub-$8000). It has comparable dynamic range performance to the very best cameras on the list! Now you might be confused, how can the fifth best sensor on the market be half as much as the first and 95% as good, spec for spec? Well, that’s Pentax’s amazing technology, but it is mitigated by the trade-offs.
The biggest trade-off in not going with a Nikon or Canon is lens selection. Pentax simply doesn’t make as much glass as Canon and they do have their own proprietary mount. Therefore, you are stuck in their system, unless you use an adapter (which entails other trade-offs). Still, a nifty fifty, for instance is a comparable price, at about $120.
In terms of video, the K1 has serious limitations. Check out the video below:
While the video is fine, it is decidedly video-y, and not very filmic. The dynamic range that you see in the stills simply isn’t present in the footage. In short, the footage looks pretty cheap. Therefore, Pentax is a great way to go if you’re on a budget for stills-only shooting, but probably not the right move if you need video capability to be robust. Pentax is also a bit of a short term solution. While the K1 is sure to last you a good amount of time, if you think photography is more than a passing trend in your life, it may be best to go with a Canon or Sony. In the end, bodies come and go, but lenses tend to last forever.
Another option is to invest in an adapter ring. This $20 adapter ring will allow you to use Canon EF-S glass on a Pentax camera. This will be a more cost-effective route in the long term in terms of lens purchasing.
The K1 retails for about $1696 on Amazon. There is also the option of the K1 Mark II. Despite the title, however, the Mark II isn’t a true sequel and really more of a vague upgrade. A reviewer notes that the two biggest upgrades are 2 stops of ISO, some noise reduction, and enhanced pixel shifting (which should make images sharper). For an extra $400 or so, it’s certainly worth looking at, but lacks the killer features to be a must, especially with the K1 being such a good value.
Maybe you thought you’d read “Olympus” or one of the much more popular camera brands. Despite the massive popularity of the MFT format, its affordability, and convenience, the fact remains: MFT cameras simply don’t take as good of images. While the GH5 is a great option for video and stills shooters, it’s really not a very good camera for people who are focused on stills.
Hence, Samsung places an unlikely 5th on our list of camera brands. While the selection is limited, this particular offering quite simply rocks. According to DXOmark, Samsung’s classic NX500 is still among the best sensors and therefore cameras on the market. While it places 34th on the list, it’s surrounded by much more expensive cameras. Of course, the only cheap camera in its vicinity is the D3400, and if you’re looking to go for that form factor (the NX500 is a lot smaller), that’s simply the camera to buy.
However, if you want something a bit smaller than a full-fledged DSLR with excellent image quality, the NX500 takes excellent pictures and at a reasonable price. Check it out:
At this price and form factor, the NX500 is tough to beat. That said, you could get a Sony a6000 for almost half the price, and it’d be almost as good. Here’s another image sample: