NOTE: Clicking on the links below will take you to our advertising partners, who may pay a commission (at no additional cost to you) should you make a subsequent purchase. Thanks for your support!
It’s time for my Official Somewhat Annual Ok Not Really Annual But I’m Doing It This Year 2018 Andy’s Travel Blog Camera Buying Guide!
The holiday season is fast approaching, and no doubt every single one of you either want a camera or know someone who does. My goal with this guide is to point you to some great cameras that I’ve either used myself or have enough friends who use them that I can vouch for them. I’m going to split it up into a lot of different categories that should meet almost any budget. Yes, these are all affiliate links, but hopefully you find the information valuable enough that you don’t mind supporting your friendly neighborhood travel blogger.
First off: should I just stick with my smartphone?
Honestly? It’s not a bad idea. Awesome new tech like Portrait Mode on the Apple iPhone and Google Pixel make it possible to get the nice blurry background which people usually associate with “professional cameras”. You’ll typically always have a smartphone with you and most people are pretty adept with them.
As far as smartphones go, the iPhone XS and the Google Pixel 3 are the bellwethers of the smartphone photography world, but almost any manufacturer will have capable smartphone cameras at this point.
I’ll say this, as someone who still takes a lot of pictures with my smartphone: you really need to be comfortable with your phone making a lot of decisions for you. If you’re shooting in a high dynamic range situation (towards the sun, for example) it’s going to be hard for your smartphone camera to keep up.
For those of you who’d like a little more control over your pictures, read on!
A quick note before we get into the recommendations
These are all based on my personal opinion. No manufacturer has paid for, reviewed, or otherwise affected any of the following. If your favorite camera maker isn’t mentioned, it doesn’t mean I think they’re garbage or that I’m insulting your mother, it just means I’m sharing my personal opinions.
The point-and-shoot market largely died when smartphone cameras achieved a certain level of quality. That said, there are some good values here, although none as cheap as just using the phone you already have.
Fuji XF-10 – $499
The XF10 is a unique little point-and-shoot that retails for around $500. It has a fixed lens with a focal length equivalent to 28mm, which is the same as most smartphones. I like this camera because it’s ruthlessly simple and has a 24megapixel APS-C sensor. I did a full review of this camera here. The con to this camera is the fixed focal length, but 24 megapixels will give you much more digital zoom capability (which is just fancytalk for cropping) than the typical 12-megapixel phone sensor.
Sony RX-100 Mark III – $650
The RX-100 line from Sony has a confusing amount of “marks” or editions, but I think the Mark III provides a great balance of affordability and capability. It has a 20-megapixel 1″ sensor (slightly smaller sensor than the Fuji above) but has a zoom lens equivalent to the venerable 24-70 focal length on a DSLR. It has good autofocus, a wonderful Zeiss lens, and retails for roughly $650 at the time of this post. The RX-100 Mark V and VI have better video capabilities as well as a bigger zoom lens, but they also cost a ridiculous amount of money. I think the RX100 III gives you a really well-balanced camera with many features you’d expect to see on more expensive DSLRs without requiring you to carry around a bunch of lenses for a reasonable price.
Starter Kits: $500-750
I kinda jumped right into the deep end of photography and invested a ton of money very quickly. I do not recommend this, particularly if you like…well…having money.
Anyway, here are some options for those wanting to get started with interchangeable lens cameras.
Fuji X-A5 – $500-750
This great little camera made its debut in early 2018 chock-full of features. If you buy it during a major sale season (like Black Friday, for example) you can get the camera and lens combo for $500, which is a smoking deal. Fuji cameras tend to have great colors and incredibly sharp lenses. This camera has a 180-degree tilt screen for selfies/vlogging and a unique style to it. Combine all of that with a 24.2-megapixel APS-C sensor and it’s a very compelling camera!
Sony a6000 – usually around $450-650
The a6000 is a tried and true masterpiece. It’s been on the market for quite a while and for great reason: it’s affordable, it’s tiny, and it’s incredibly capable. It has a 24-megapixel APS-C sensor and the kit above comes with a 16-50mm zoom lens. Sony packed a lot of technology into this little beast, including on-board Wifi to transmit your images to your phone to share quickly to the social medias.
Why I’m not recommending the Canon T6/7 or Nikon D3400
Canon and Nikon have world-class cameras but I just don’t think their starter cameras are very good. I’m a firm believer in mirrorless cameras and think they’re the future of the industry. Yes, you can take great pictures with the Canon and Nikon starter cameras, and they’re perfectly capable, but the Fuji and Sony are just more exciting to me.
This section will draw some controversy but you all can handle it. The big omissions are the new mirrorless cameras from Canon and Nikon. They’re good cameras but there are better ones out there. The next version of their mirrorless cameras, though, I predict will be excellent. A lot of this section will depend on what you currently use simply because of lens selection as well, so your hands might already be tied unless you want to switch camera systems (or adapt your DSLR lenses to a mirrorless system).
The Sony a7III: $2000-2198
The a7III is the best overall camera of 2018. It has a 24-megapixel full-frame camera, shoots up to 11 frames per second, has dual memory card slots, shoots 4k video, and is reasonably priced around $2000 ($2200 if you want the kit lens along with the camera).
I’ve owned an a7III and it’s just wonderful. It’s the perfect blend of versatility and somewhat reasonable pricing. Sony’s lens lineup has gotten significantly better over the years (although their lenses are typically more expensive than other brands) and you can also adapt other system’s lenses to the Sony pretty easily (I regularly use 4 different Canon lenses on my Sony cameras).
Fuji X-T3: $1500-1900
If the Sony a7III is the #1 overall camera of 2018, the X-T3 is 1B. It has a 26-megapixel APS-C sensor, shoots 4K video (at up to 60p!), and can shoot pictures all the way up to 30 frames per second with electronic shutter enabled!
It’s not a knock, in my opinion, but others would say that the difference between the a7III and the X-T3 is the sensor size: the a7III has a full-frame sensor and the X-T3 has an APS-C sensor (which is a little smaller). I personally don’t see any sort of significant real-world difference between APS-C and full-frame sensors but others do, I’ll leave that up to you all!
Canon 6D Mark II: $1300-1700
The Mark II edition of Canon’s full-frame 6D line came out recently to muted fanfare. The big knock on the 6DII was a lack of 4K video shooting. If you can set that aside (it shoots perfectly good 1080p) the 6DII is an incredible value pick. Black Friday 2018 brings the price down to an incredible $1300 for the camera body. It also can come with a great 24-105 lens, which covers some great focal lengths. In addition to a 26-megapixel full-frame sensor the 6DII has a built-in intervalometer for timelapse videos and built-in wifi to transmit pictures to your phone instantly.
Nikon D750: $1350-1900
The D750 is one of the best overall cameras…of 2014. It’s a bit long in the tooth but is an incredibly versatile camera for photos. Its 24-megapixel full-frame sensor has oodles of dynamic range and its autofocus, while not great compared to other current-date systems, is perfectly fine. While this is a great camera I have to think Nikon will be replacing it soon, so think twice or maybe wait through next summer before getting this one.
Ok, at this point you probably know what you’re looking for and you already have a camera system you like and/or have invested heavily in. These are all incredible cameras, do not take my ordering to imply some sort of ranking, especially since these will be so system-dependent.
Sony a7rIII: $2800-3200
The a7rIII is my favorite camera I’ve ever owned (so far). I’ve done a review of it and spoken about it constantly on this blog so it’s probably old news to you by now, but I’ll rattle off its greatness once again: 42-megapixel full-frame sensor, 4K video, great autofocus, wonderful low-light image quality, and it can shoot raw images at 11 frames per second! It does everything well, has two memory card slots, and also features the new Sony batteries, which basically ended the “mirrorless have poor battery life” argument once and for all.
Nikon D850: $3200-4000
The D850 is the best DSLR camera ever made. It shoots 46 megapixel images with incredible dynamic range for landscapes, has incredible burst rates of up to 9 frames per second for sports, and handles low-light incredibly well for events. It’s versatile, weather-sealed, and a proven winner. If you shoot Nikon already there’s simply nothing better.
Canon 5D Mark IV: $2800-3200
The Canon 5D Mark II was one of the best DSLR cameras in history, and the Mark III version was even better. The 5D Mark IV brings evolutionary (not revolutionary) improvements like 4K video, an improved 30-megapixel full-frame sensor, and improved burst rate. Its magic is in the autofocus system, it’s just wonderful. It may not have the extreme megapixels of Sony and Nikon but it’s as solid a camera as ever, I think it’s almost a shame that it doesn’t get the hype of the other cameras when it really is a stellar camera.
Professional “fit for purpose” gear: $3800-6000
Ok if I wasn’t telling you anything you didn’t already know in the last section this part will really be that. If you’re looking at these types of cameras I hope you know what you’re looking for and will not blindly trust the opinion of some random travel blogger, I’m mainly just including this section to be thorough. That said…
Canon 5DS R: $3600-3800
This is a phenomenal studio and architecture camera from Canon. The dynamic range isn’t the best, nor is the high-ISO capabilities, but it’s Canon’s response to the megapixel wars of Nikon and Sony. It has a 50-megapixel full frame sensor and produces absolutely beautiful images in a lighting-controlled or tripod environment. I was very close to getting one of these recently for my architecture photography business (but ended up getting something else).
Sony a9: $3500-4000
The a9 is a technological marvel from Sony aimed at sports and wildlife photographers. Its electronic shutter can shoot at a mind-bending 20 frames per second completely silently with no blackout of the LCD. Having shot with one a few times it really is a masterpiece of a camera for sports and wildlife shooters. Give me my a7rIII for versatility and affordability any day of the week.
Nikon D5 and Canon 1DXII: $5500-6500
There’s little I can add to these cameras by attempting to describe them. There’s a reason 98% of cameras you will see on sports sidelines are one of these. They’re the best of the best for sports and wildlife photography and are built like tanks.
Medium Format: $4500-54990
Medium format cameras have a bigger sensor than full-frame cameras. There are variations of how big the sensors can be, but in any case at this point you’re talking serious money. Car money. Nice car money.
Fuji GFX 50r and 50s: $4500-5500
The mirrorless medium format revolution has brought prices from insane down to just kinda insane for most consumers. Fuji has two powerful medium format cameras: the GFX 50r and GFX 50s. They both have a 51.4 megapixel 44x33mm sensor, allowing for epic levels of dynamic range and the beautiful 4:3 aspect ratio. The cameras are similar in functionality, although the 50r loses the 3-way tilt LCD screen and some of the customizability of the 50s (but it’s also $1000 cheaper and is in a smaller rangefinder form factor). I recently purchased the 50s and it’s an incredible camera!
Hasselblad X1D-50c: $6500-7500
This camera actually has the same 51.4 megapixel sensor as the Fujis above (although each manufacturer tends to put their own spin on the sensor). The benefit here is the long line of Hasselblad lenses (many manufactured, oddly enough, by Fuji) which can be used on the X1D.
And just for fun, the Hasselblad H6D-100c: $22000
This is a monster of a camera. Each image captures 100 megapixels of information (100 million pixels!) and Hasselblad even created a pixel shift mode to capture up to 400 megapixels for super resolution shots! The only thing nicer than this are the new Phase One IQ4 150-megapixel cameras that retail for a cool $54,990. Honestly though, I think Fuji and mirrorless medium format is going to mean the end of these super high prices.
I hope this is helpful!
I know I’ve needed to update my camera recommendations for a long time, I hope this has been worth the wait! As always, I’m happy to answer any questions in the comments below, even if you’re calling me out for leaving your favorite camera off the list.