OK, we admit it, it’s an impossible question. The best camera for a pro photographer is a million miles from the best camera for an adventure sports nut. So what we’ve done is pick out what we think are the standout cameras in their fields. This may be because they have the most amazing features and specifications, because they’re amazing value for what they offer or because they are just brilliant at the job they’ve been designed for.
Along the way we’ll explain some of the jargon and the differences between cameras, though if you need a bit more help deciding what kind of camera you need, you can get a lot more information from our special step-by-step guide: What camera should I buy?
On the other hand, you may already have a clear idea of the kind of camera you want, in which case you could go straight to one of our more specific camera buying guides:
New and exciting cameras are coming out all the time, of course, and we’ve got a whole bunch on our shortlist that we want to get in for a proper review, including the latest models from Nikon, Olympus, Canon and Fuji.
If you want to know what else might be coming along during 2016, take a look at our in-depth Camera Rumors 2016 article.
But if you just want to know what we think are the top ten standout cameras you can buy right now – regardless of user level or price point – then keep on reading. These are cameras we’ve tried and tested ourselves, so if you want to know any more about any of them, just click the link to the full review.
1. Sony A7R II
Sony’s top mirrorless camera is a real show-stopper
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor size: full frame, 42.4Mp | Lens: Sony E mount (full frame) | Monitor: 3-inch tilting, 1,229k dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 5fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Expert
Once, if you wanted a professional quality full frame camera it had to be a Nikon or Canon DSLR. But Sony has changed all that with its mirrorless A7 series cameras, and the A7R II is its highest resolution model. Its 42.4 megapixel sensor is second only to the 50-megapixel sensor in the Canon 5DS for resolution, yet the A7R II is only two-thirds the size and weight of the Canon. It has a high-resolution electronic viewfinder and 5-axis image stabilization built into the camera body, and the full-time live view that’s integral to the mirrorless design gives Sony’s A7-series cameras a real advantage for video.
Read the full review: Sony Alpha A7R II
2. Olympus OM-D E-M10 II
It’s the baby of the range but the Olympus is a little gem
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor size: Micro Four Thirds, 16.1MP | Lens: Micro Four Thirds | Monitor: 3-inch tilting, 1,037k dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 8.5fps | Movies: 1080 | User level: Enthusiast
The OM-D E-M10 II is another mirrorless camera but at the opposite end of the scale to the Sony. It’s small, neat and rather beautiful and designed for beginners and enthusiasts rather than pros. It’s looks and handles like a miniaturised DSLR, complete with a top-quality electronic viewfinder and extensive external controls – yet despite its small size, it doesn’t feel unwieldy or cluttered. It uses the Micro Four Thirds format, which means that the sensor is a little smaller than those in other mirrorless cameras – but it means the lenses are smaller and lighter too, and there’s a really good range to choose from.
Read the full review: Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II
3. TomTom Bandit
It’s the action cam with everything, even motion sensors!
Type: action cam | Weight: 190g | Waterproofing: Splashproof, with lens swap | 4K video: 15fps | 1080: up to 60fps | 720: up to 120fps | Stills resolution: 16Mp | Battery life: 3hrs
In third place we’ve chosen a camera that’s even more different. You might expect our top action cam to be a GoPro, since that brand name has become practically synonymous with the action cam market as a whole. Instead, we’ve chosen the TomTom Bandit for its bullet-shaped design – perfect for helmet mounting – and its in-built GPS and G-force sensors. The way these are used is really clever – when they detect that something exciting just happened, producing G-force spikes, they automatically tag that section of video. Later on, you just give your phone a shake and the TomTom app will automatically combine the best bits into a movie, ready for sharing.
Read the full review: TomTom Bandit
4. Sony RX100 III
Premium performance in a super-small package
Type: high-end compact | Sensor size: 1-inch, CMOS | Megapixels: 20.1 | Lens: 24-70mm-equivalent, f1.8-2.8 | Screen: 3-inch tilting, 1,228,800 dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 5fps | Video: 1080p | User level: Enthusiast/expert
The problem with DSLRs and mirrorless cameras is that they don’t fit in your pocket. They’re fine if you’re going out on a proper photo expedition with all the gear, but impractical on a day out with family or friends. That’s why high-end compact cameras are so popular – they combine DSLR-style manual controls with a bigger sensor and better image quality than you’ll get from a regular pocket-sized compact. And Sony’s RX100 series cameras pull off that combination of compactness and quality brilliantly. The latest model is the RX100 IV, but we’ve chosen the older RX100 III because it’s practically as good but a whole lot cheaper. You get a 1-inch sensor and a 2.9x zoom lens with a large maximum aperture plus a high resolution pop-up EVF, Wi-Fi with NFC, 10fps continuous shooting and a customisable control ring around the lens. Brilliant.
Read the full review: Sony Cyber-shot RX100 III
5. Panasonic TZ70/ZS50
The perfect travel camera – small but versatile and with a big zoom
Type: Compact travel camera: Sensor: 1/2.3-inch, 12.1Mp | Lens: 24-720mm, f/3.3-6.4 | Monitor: 3-inch, 1,040K dots | Viewfinder: Electronic | Continuous shooting: 10fps | Movies: 1080 | User level:Beginner/enthusiast
The problem with the RX100 III, and high-end compact cameras like it, is that the zoom range is limited. This means you’re a bit restricted to subject matter, and you might be happy to sacrifice just a little image quality in exchange for a longer zoom range. This is why so-called ‘travel compacts’ are so popular. These are like regular point and shoot cameras – perfect for novices and casual photographers – but with souped 20x or even 30x zoom lenses. The best examples add some more powerful controls, and the TZ70 is the best of the best. In fact, it’s half way to being a full-on high-end compact, with manual exposure modes and the ability to shoot raw files too – it even has an electronic viewfinder built in. We can’t wait to take a look at the brand new TZ80 and TZ100, though.
Read the full review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ70
6. Leica Q
Not just a brilliant camera, but a thing of beauty too
Type: high-end compact | Sensor size: Full frame | Megapixels: 24MP | Lens: 28mm, f/1.7 | Screen: 3-inch touch-screen, 1,040K dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 10fps | Video: 1080p | User level: Expert
Going from one extreme to another, the Leica Q costs ten times more than the TZ70 and its fixed focal length lens offers a fraction of its versatility. Leica also has a reputation for producing absurdly overpriced cameras with specifications that can be matched by regular cameras costing a fraction as much. But the Leica Q does have a 24-megapixel full frame sensor, it does have a Leica Summilux lens and it does handle like a dream. It’s also capable of producing beautiful quality images. It’s far too expensive for all but the most affluent consumers, but then you can say the same thing about a Ferrari. The difference is that you might (if you win the Lottery) just about be able to afford the Leica Q.
Read the full review: Leica Q
7. Nikon D7200
Versatile, powerful and capable of excellent results
Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C, 24.2Mp | Lenses: Nikon DX, FX | Monitor: 3.2-inch, 1,229K dots | Viewfinder: Optical | Continuous shooting: 6fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Enthusiast
We’ve come a long way down this list without mentioning a single DSLR, and there was a time when this was the camera of choice for any keen photographer. So this is where we put this right, with a pat on the back for the Nikon D7200. This is one of Nikon’s most advanced APS-C format cameras and offers compelling blend of power, performance and price. It has a 24-megapixel APS-C format sensor with no anti-aliasing filter to produce some of the sharpest images you’ll see outside of professional full-frame cameras. The D7200 can shoot at 6 frames per second for up to 100 JPEG photos or 27 raw files, and it uses a 51-point autofocus system taken straight from Nikon’s pro DSLR range. The only other APS-C Nikon to beat it is the brand new D500, and that costs a lot more money.
Read the full review: Nikon D7200
8. Canon EOS 760D
Canon’s best entry-level DSLR yet offers power and performance
Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C, 24.2Mp | Lenses: Canon EF/EF-S | Monitor: 3-inch articulating, 1,040K dots | Viewfinder: Optical | Continuous shooting: 5fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Beginner/enthusiast
We like the Nikon D7200 and we like the Canon EOS 760D for much the same reasons. These cameras offer a level of performance, features and image quality that are not so far behind much more expensive professional cameras, but at a price which the average photo enthusiast can afford – and maybe have enough cash left over for a couple of decent lenses, too. There is a cheaper alternative, the EOS 750D, which uses the same sensor, but we prefer the EOS 760D for its more advanced external controls and its additional status LCD on the top plate.
Read the full review: Canon EOS 760D
9. Panasonic LX100
Amazing big-sensor quality and classic controls in a pocket-sized camera
Type: High-end compact | Sensor: Micro Four Thirds, 12.8MP | Lens: 24-75mm, f/1.7-2.8 | Monitor: 3-inch, 921K dots | Viewfinder: Electronic | Continuous shooting: 11fps | Movies: 4K | User level:Expert
We’ve already featured one high-end compact camera on our list and here’s another. The LX100 would be a lot higher on our list if it wasn’t for just a couple of little gripes. Its multi-aspect ratio sensor only delivers 12 million pixels, even though the sensor has 16 million, and it’s just a little too big for the average pocket. Otherwise, it’s a dream. Somehow, Panasonic has squeezed a mirrorless camera sized Micro Four Thirds sensor into its compact camera sized body, and a 4x zoom lens to go with it with a maximum aperture of f/1.7-2.8. It’s topped off with traditional external controls for lens aperture and shutter speed, and it’s like using a beautiful classic camera with all the advantages of modern digital imaging.
Read the full review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100
10. Panasonic FZ1000
The bridge camera for the photographer who wants quality too
Type: Bridge camera | Sensor: 1-inch, 20.1Mp | Lens: 25-400mm, f/2.8-4.0 | Monitor: 3-inch articulating, 921K dots | Viewfinder: Electronic | Continuous shooting: 12fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Enthusiast
Our final camera is a ‘bridge’ camera, a type that we don’t normally like very much because the ultra-zoom design forces the makers to use titchy 1/2.3-inch sensors the same size as those in point-and-shoot cameras. You get the look and feel of a digital SLR, but you certainly don’t get the image quality. But the Panasonic FZ1000 is different. It sacrifices a huge zoom range in favour of a much larger 1-inch sensor. It’s a compromise most serious photographers will applaud. You get a 16x 25-400mm effective zoom range, which is pretty handy even if it doesn’t match the 50x or 60x zooms of most bridge cameras, but you also get a massive jump in quality – this is the same size sensor you get in the Sony RX100 III. The FZ1000 also offers full manual and semi-manual controls, the ability to shoot raw files and 4K video. It’s big and pretty expensive, but it’s in a class of its own amongst bridge cameras.
Read the full review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1000