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Best camera 2021

Best camera 2021: The very best DSLRs, mirrorless cameras and compacts
(Image credit: Phil Hall)

The best camera for one person might not be for another, so if you're on the hunt for your ideal shooter, this is the right place. Here you will find all the best camera options laid out with their special skills front and center so you can pick out the one you need.

You may be on the lookout for a camera for beginners or perhaps you're making the jump to a professional mirrorless camera. Either way you'll likely be taking into account the camera form, your budget, lens compatibility, sensor size and perhaps video quality. We've done the same here so all that information is easy to see.

Of the bunch below, all of which are excellent, the Sony Alpha A7 III is the best camera out there for most people. This is because it works across the range from beginner to pro, is compact and portable, delivers top photos and video and all with great potential for lens upgrades.

If a camera has made it onto this list it's because after all our testing hours it's made the cut – and plenty were cut – so whichever you choose here, you're going to have a winner. And if it's long range shooting you're doing you might also want to check out our best telescopes for beginners guide.


1. Sony Alpha A7 III: Best camera overall

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Sony Alpha A7 III

Sony Alpha A7 III (Image credit: Sony)
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Sony Alpha A7 III

Sony Alpha A7 III (Image credit: Sony)
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Sony Alpha A7 III

Sony Alpha A7 III (Image credit: Sony)
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Sony Alpha A7 III

Sony Alpha A7 III (Image credit: Sony)
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Sony Alpha A7 III

Sony Alpha A7 III (Image credit: Sony)
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Sony Alpha A7 III

Sony Alpha A7 III (Image credit: Sony)
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Sony Alpha A7 III

Sony Alpha A7 III (Image credit: Sony)

Sony Alpha A7 III

A perfect all-rounder at a great price

SPECIFICATIONS

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Sony E | Screen: 3-inch tilting touchscreen, 921k dots | Continuous shooting speed: 10fps | Viewfinder: Electronic, approx. 2.3 million dots | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Enthusiast/professional

Reasons to Buy

Great image and video quality
Sensor-based image stabilisation is a huge bonus

Reasons to Avoid

EVF could be higher in resolution
Menu system could be better

The Sony Alpha A7 III is the camera that many DSLR users have ended up switching too - it's that good. Aside from its headline features (above), it offers sensor-based image stabilization, a hybrid autofocus system that covers around 93 percent of the frame and far better battery life than before. Sony has also been crafting some impressive lenses alongside, and now has more than 50 native options available.

Sony offers a stunning 693-point autofocus system that works with the 15-stop dynamic range and 5-axis image stabilization. The result is that the 24.2MP full-frame back-illuminated CMOS sensor makes the most of any scene. All that means even in the hands of a novice this camera will make any photo have the potential to the look the best it can be. But in reality this is definitely a camera with enough performance to suit even a pro. This also has the power to capture 4K video and since this uses WiFi all that video can be quickly uploaded directly to where you need it to go.

If you don’t quite have the budget for the body and one of these lenses, the older Alpha A7 II would be a good alternative still offering plenty of power and performance. 


2. Nikon Z6: Best mirrorless camera

Nikon Z6

(Image credit: Nikon)

Nikon Z6

Best full-frame mirrorless camera right now

SPECIFICATIONS

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 24.5MP | Lens mount: Nikon Z | Screen: 3.2-inch tilting touchscreen, 2.1 million dots | Continuous shooting speed: 12fps | Viewfinder: Electronic, 3.69 million dots | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Enthusiast/professional

Reasons to Buy

Superb handling
Touchscreen interface
High-res EVF

Reasons to Avoid

Limited buffer depth
XQD card format has limited support

The Nikon Z6 is one of two cameras that kickstarted the company’s latest Z series, the Z7 being the other. It's the Z6 that offers slightly less power, saving you a grand or so. This blends an excellent 24.5MP full-frame sensor with 4K video recording at 30fps, a beautiful viewfinder and great handling thanks to a generously proportioned grip. 

This features a body that’s lighter and more compact than the company’s equivalent DSLRs, thanks to that mirrorless design. You can use it with F-mount lenses thanks to the FTZ adapter, although partnering it with the NIKKOR Z 24–70mm f/2.8 S makes for a killer combination. 

The 273 phase-detect AF pixels help with focusing but don't stand up to the Sony A7 III offering. This also doesn't offer NFC, but with Bluetooth and WiFi that's more than enough wireless connectivity for most. For the pros there's a 5-axis stabilization system built right into the camera – as opposed to the lens – effective to five stops. 

Want something similar but different? The Sony Alpha A7R III is perhaps its closest rival right now.


3. Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III: Best Micro Four Thirds camera

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III

(Image credit: Olympus)

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III

Micro Four Thirds at its best

SPECIFICATIONS

Sensor size: Micro Four Thirds | Resolution: 20.4MP | Viewfinder: EVF, 2,360,000 dots | Monitor: 3-inch tilting touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 10fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Beginner/Intermediate

Reasons to Buy

Upgraded sensor power
Superb image stabilization
Enhanced 4K video specs 

Reasons to Avoid

Smaller sensor than rivals
No metal shell
Bigger grip might be nice

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III is a very stylish and portable way to shoot without sacrificing a lot of power. This Micro Four Thirds shooter features the same 20.4MP sensor as the higher-level OM-D E-M1 Mark II. That's backed by some of the most impressive image stabilization and fantastic processing on any camera at this price point. The on-chip phase detection autofocus is a really nice addition which helps to make even the most rushed shots look the best they can be.

Video has had an upgrade here too with Cinema 4K recording (4096 x 2160) at 24fps and a 237Mbps bit-rate. Impressive stuff. Or go slow-motion with Full HD video at 120fps, and plenty more settings in between the two.

The form is compact which makes this portable but the lack of metallic frame of previous models and smaller hand grip than larger equivalents, may be negative points for some users. 


4. Nikon D850: Best DSLR

(Image credit: Nikon)

Nikon D850

A robust and rugged powerhouse that delivers on all fronts

SPECIFICATIONS

Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 45.4MP | Lens mount: Nikon F | Screen: 3.2-inch tilting touchscreen, 2.36 million dots | Continuous shooting speed: 7fps | Viewfinder: Optical, approx 100% coverage | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Enthusiast/professional

Reasons to Buy

High MP with fast burst rate
Supremely solid build 

Reasons to Avoid

Live view and video AF could be better
SnapBridge system needs work

Probably one of the most well-rounded, versatile DSLR options out there, there D850 caters for enthusiast and professional photographers who need everything from speed and resolution through to high-quality video. 

The body is built from a weather-resistant magnesium alloy and is finished with buttons that can be illuminated for use in low light, while the generous 153-point AF system has 99 cross-type points to help keep things extra sensitive. 

Its age has meant it’s dropped quite some way in price too, making it a cost-effective option for the landscape, wedding, sports or nature photographer - but if you don’t own any optics already, the AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR would be a perfect partner. And if you need a full-frame Nikon DSLR but money won't stretch this far, check out the Nikon D750.


5. Canon EOS Rebel SL3: Best cheap DSLR

Canon EOS Rebel SL3

(Image credit: Canon)

Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / EOS 250D

Best DSLR for beginners on a budget

SPECIFICATIONS

Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.1MP | Lens mount: Canon EF | Screen: 3in vari-angle touchscreen, 1.04 million dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Viewfinder: Optical, approx. 95% coverage | Max video resolution: 4K UHD | User level: Beginner

Reasons to Buy

Superb battery life
Top Dual Pixel CMOS Af system
Great touch controls

Reasons to Avoid

AF system is a bit dated
4K video crop

The Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / EOS 250D is one of the best cameras you can buy as a beginner. Despite being priced at a welcoming level, this crams in lots of tech including that powerful 24.1MP APS-C sensor which works with Dual Pixel CMOS AF and the DIGIC 8 processing engine. All that means you can use this as a point and shoot camera for great results, or dive deeper into the manual settings and have a play to learn too.

Burst shots are kept to 5fps which isn't that high but will serve most well. But it's the video we were impressed by, capturing 4K resolution at 24p. The only downside is there is a little cropping of the full wide screen at that top quality level.

While metering is covered by a 63-zone sensor, the AF system being limited to 9-points is on the low side when compared to most other cameras these days. What is very modern is the connectivity with USB 2.0, HDMI, Bluetooth LE and Wi-Fi onboard.

The EF lens mount gives you lots of options, that 3-inch vari-angle touchscreen is easy to use and with lots of Picture Styles to pick from this is fun right out of the box. 


6. Sony Alpha A7 II: Best cheap full-frame camera

Sony Alpha A7 II

(Image credit: Sony)

Sony Alpha A7 II

Best for the budget-conscious enthusiast

SPECIFICATIONS

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 24.3MP | Lens mount: Sony E | Screen: 3-inch tilting, 1.23 million dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Viewfinder: Electronic, approx. 2.36 million dots | Max video resolution: Full HD | User level: Enthusiast/professional

Reasons to Buy

Great image quality from the sensor
Sensor-based stabilisation a huge plus

Reasons to Avoid

LCD not touch-sensitive
No 4K video recording

While Nikon’s Z6 may be a great, affordable full-frame camera that many users have switched to, we reckon Sony’s A7 II is a great all-round option if you’re really looking to save money without compromising on quality. Right now, it’s significantly cheaper than the Z6 and offers such the same idea, such as a 24MP full-frame, a tilting LCD and sensor-based image stabilisation. 

It doesn’t have 4K video and its EVF isn’t quite as detailed by comparison, but in terms of value for money you’re not going to find a better full-frame option this cheap. The fact that it works with a healthy range of high-quality lenses from Sony and third parties also means that the case you save on the body can be put towards some tasty glass. We love it, but the A7 III (position 1) is a stronger option if you can stretch to it.


7. Fujifilm X-T30: Best cheap 4K camera for video

Fujifilm X-T30

(Image credit: Fujifilm)

Fujifilm X-T30

Best tiny and powerful video tool at a nice price

SPECIFICATIONS

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 26.1MP | Lens mount: Fujifilm X | Screen: 3-inch tilting touchscreen, 1.04-million dots | Continuous shooting speed: 8fps | Viewfinder: Electronic, approx. 2.36 million dots | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Enthusiast

Reasons to Buy

Excellent image quality and great videos too
Comprehensive AF system with wide coverage 

Reasons to Avoid

Small body a bit fiddly at times
No sensor-based image stabilisation

The X-T30 takes the best bites from the excellent X-T3 and packs them into a learner and more affordable body. Indeed, it’s surprising just how much you get from the more senior camera here, from the 26.1MP X-Trans APS-C sensor and X-Processor 4 engine though to 4K video recording and a collection of popular Film Simulation modes. 

It’s nicely balanced with the XC 15-45mm F3.5-5.6 OIS PZ kit lens but if your budget has a little stretch, the XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS would be recommended. Need something more powerful? The X-T3 is where to turn, although you get far better value for money here.


8. Nikon D3500: Best for beginners

Nikon D3500

(Image credit: Nikon)

Nikon D3500

Best for beginners

SPECIFICATIONS

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Nikon F | Screen: 3-inch fixed display, 921,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Viewfinder: Optical | Max video resolution: Full HD 1080p | User level: Beginner

Reasons to Buy

Very long battery life
Compact wit great handling
Excellent image quality

Reasons to Avoid

No 4K video
No touchscreen
No Wi-Fi

The Nikon 3500 is the company’s latest and greatest budget DSLR, and it’s a lovely camera for the price. It’s a relatively inexpensive body that supports the DX sensor system, and is compatible with most of Nikon’s F lens system. The F series has a large number of compatible lenses available for new or - even better - second hand, which is perfect for the beginner or someone with less money to invest in their photography. 

We love the shape and handling of the D3500. Yes, it’s heavier than mirrorless counterparts (although it’s light for a DSLR) but we find this offers more stability for handheld shooting, especially when combined with Nikon’s excellent VR lenses. The deep grip makes it easy to handle and carry, the control wheel is well placed, and changing lenses on the go is extremely easy. Button layout is simple to navigate and, despite not being touch-compatible, the digital display on the reverse of the camera is sharp and clear.

In terms of specs, it has an effective resolution of 24.2MP, which is plenty. For beginners there are a range of pre-set shooting modes including ‘Effects’ that will over saturate images, make colors more vivid, and even offer selective-color shooting. This is in addition to Manual, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and Exposure / Programed Auto mode, which you’ll find on most cameras. The autofocus is responsive, and you get a decent 5fps shooting, which is great for budget DSLRs.

The D3500 has an excellent set of features, but does lack a few settings that you may want to graduate to, like batch exposure. Battery life is average, at around 1500 shots per charge, and there’s a single SD card slot. The kit lens that comes with the camera - a 15-55mm VR AF-P lens - is excellent, and versatile enough for newbies. For the cost of less than $500, you get a LOT of camera here for your money, and plenty of features to help newcomers get started.


9. Panasonic Lumix G100: Best for vlogging

Panasonic Lumix G100

(Image credit: Panasonic)

Panasonic Lumix G100

Best for vlogging

SPECIFICATIONS

Type: Micro Four Thirds | Sensor: MOS | Megapixels: 20.3MP | Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds lenses | Screen: 3-inch fully articulating touchscreen, 1840K-dot | Continuous shooting speed: 30fps | Viewfinder: EVF / LCD 3680K-dot | Max video resolution: 4K 30fps | User level: Beginner / intermediate

Reasons to Buy

Triple microphone recording system
Fully articulating display
4K and 30fps video

Reasons to Avoid

4K video is cropped
Older autofocus system

The Panasonic Lumix G100 is the mirrorless camera of choice for vloggers and YouTubers. This is thanks to its ability to shoot in 4K at 30fps, albeit with a crop, but also to show yourself on the fully articulating screen. But it doesn't stop there, this also has a world first in that this is a Micro Four Thirds camera which also crams in a Nokia Ozo audio-equipped microphone system. That means the three built-in microphones pick up sound from all directions and do a great job of prioritizing voice over background traffic or wind interference. 

The 20.3MP MOS sensor is backed by 5-axis hybrid image stabilization and a great selection of lens options. As such colors are punchy and detail is excellent. It's only when you go into low light situations that this doesn't perform as well as some of the other cameras on this list. 

The compact size makes this ideally portable for vloggers and the battery life of real-world 45 minutes for 4K video recording isn't bad for that form factor. The fact this can charge via USB is a really big appeal, meaning a battery pack can keep you going as long as you need without stopping to find mains power.


What are the main camera types?

While there are still analogue film cameras and digital, we're just going to focus on the digital options. Even these break down into categories including DSLR and mirrorless. These come in sub-forms too including compact and zoom.

A DSLR uses mirrors to let in light, allowing you to see through the viewfinder at the real scene – this makes a click sound as the light is let into the sensor. All that means these are some of the largest cameras out there.

A mirrorless camera is similar but uses a digital system to let in the light directly. That means no noise but a bit more battery consumption. The real positive here though is the fact mirrorless cameras can be far more compact. 

While quality between the two was once a point of debate, now mirrorless and DSLR are largely accepted as on a par.

What types of camera lens are there?

While there are many types of camera lens, it pays to know the lens mount your camera uses. This mounting system varies between brands meaning you're usually limited to the lenses made by your camera manufacturer and some third-party options. There are various types.

Standard lenses
These can come bundled with new cameras, and are those with a mid-range focal length of between 35mm and 85mm. This is very similar to how the human eye sees and so should produce life-like images well. These are great for portrait, travel, and general documentary shots. The 50mm prime (fixed length) lens, is a great all-rounder used by both pros and amateurs.

Telephoto lenses
This is the lens you need if you want zoom. As such the focal length starts at 85mm and goes up from there depending on how big or how expensive you want your lens. The higher the number, the further you can see. These are great for nature and sports photography but can also produce lovely portrait shots with extra depth for that blurry background finish.

Macro lenses
These are used for close-ups, making them ideal for nature. Focal length is between 35mm and 200mm which can help for zoom but only works on single objects, like insects or birds for example, and won't focus on wider areas like a telephoto lens.

Wide angle lenses
These lenses range from 14mm to 35mm and are useful for taking shots in close quarters thanks to the broad field of view they offer. This is great for indoor photography and offers everything sharply in focus.

Fish eye lenses
These are more specifically built for certain needs since they go as low as 4mm and top out at 14mm. This means you have a circular image that pulls in lots, again ideal for very small spaces. But they can also create a fun and distinct style for creative shots.