Camera Buying Guide: March 2016
The Best Camera Under $50 USD
In short: don’t bother. There isn’t much you’ll find under $50 USD that is better than your mobile phone. In fact, chances are your mobile phone camera is significantly better than almost anything you’ll find for under $50.
If you insist on buying the cheapest camera possible, the $35 Gearbest F23 seems like the best choice at the moment. What’s so special about this camera is the inclusion of the Novatek Processor + AR0330 sensor. Assuming this information is factually correct, you’ll actually end up with an actually usable go-pro like camera with a screen! The downside is that the sensor is actually only 3 MP, and the camera eschews some essential features such as Wi-Fi, but the image quality is acceptable and the video is fantastic for the price. You can find some other similar cameras in the USA, but browse with caution because not all budget action cameras are made the same even if the cases are identical.
You may also be able to find a good deal on an older point and shoot on Ebay. The Canon Powershot ELPH SD1400 IS goes for around $40 USD – an absolute steal for a solid older camera.
A tip: if you are searching for a camera in this price range, avoid anything that includes a “Sunplus” chip or advertises MJPG video. Also avoid those cheap Vivitar, Casio, etc. cameras that you’ll find on Amazon – they are just awful.
The Best Camera $50 – $100 USD
In this price range there still isn’t much to recommend (spending a little more money will get you a significantly better camera), but at least it’s possible to get some decent equipment if you look around and find sales.
Good quality point-and-shoot cameras are still a little hard to come by in this price range, but take a look at the Sony W800 (or even occasionally the Sony W830). If Canon is your fancy, at the high end of this price bracket is the the Canon Powershot Elph 160 IS. You’ll only get 720p video with either option, but the photo quality in daylight will be acceptable.
For action cameras, your best bet if you can stand not having a screen is probably the Xiaomi Yi. The Xiaomi has a Sony sensor inside, which means significantly better image and video quality than most budget action cams. If you need a screen, the SJCam SJ4000 is a great performer based on the aforementioned Novatek + AR0330 combo, but there’s a bunch of cheap knockoffs out there so be careful!
The Best Camera $100 – $200 USD
Now we’re starting to get into a viable range with many different options for decent performance equipment.
For compact point-and-shoots, we’ve got the Sony DSCWX220 – a point and shoot that offers 18MP stills, 1080p video at 60fps and 10x optical zoom. At $150, you can’t go wrong. If you want to spend a little less than that, the Canon Powershot 350 HS regularly goes on sale for less than $150 USD (for example they go for about $120 USD on eBay right now). The image quality isn’t as good as the Sony, but the camera will perform adequately for most users.
If you’re interested in something a little bit bigger with more optical zoom, check out the Canon SX410 IS. For the most part I recommend avoiding this category at this price point, but the Canon is adequate enough. The camera is made cheaper by lacking 1080p video or anything fancy like a flip out screen. It’s a little bit slower and clunkier than its competitors, but the images will be good enough for most people.
Waterproof point-and-shoot cameras are few and far between at this price point, but if you absolutely must, check out the Nikon S33. For just over $100, it doesn’t offer much to stand out, but if you need a cheap waterproof camera that will stand up to abuse, it’ll do the trick. I advise spending a little bit more money and grabbing the Panasonic TS20 even though it is an older model.
Action cameras have a TON of choice in this category, and I highly recommend spending no more than $150 on an action camera. I recommend the Gitup Git2 Pro, as it has respectable video and still image quality at a sub $150 price point. *Use the Coupon Code GitUp2 at checkout on Gearbest to bring the price to $104.99!*
If money is no issue ($200+)
Since we’re out of the budget camera category now, there are so many options to choose from. I’ve narrowed it down to my personal picks in each category. If you have any suggestions I’ve missed here, please let me know in the comments.
Point-and-shoot cameras are hard to recommend in this category. Stick with the Sony DSCWX220.
High end point-and-shoots have a ton of great options. Recently I’ve been using the Canon G7x, because of its fast lens and large 1″ sensor. It is a fantastic camera with excellent image quality in all situations. If you can spend the money the G7x is worth it over any other point and shoot I’ve suggested so far.
For big zoom point-and-shoots, I would highly recommend the older Panasonic DMC-FZ200 since this camera has an f2.8 lens throughout the entire zoom range. This makes it far better in low light than competing cameras. If you want the largest zoom of the bunch, look for the Nikon P900. 83x Optical Zoom should be enough for just about any user although you pay a premium for this body.
If you’re interested in a waterproof point-and-shoot try the Panasonic TS5. Out of all the waterproof cameras I have tried, the Panasonic has the best image quality and ease of use. There’s not much else to be said about this category.
Action cameras, again, there’s no point in spending more than $150 USD. Get the Gitup Git2 Pro. Unless you are a professional who requires 4k video there’s really no reason to spend any more than that.
Mirrorless cameras offer so many options and I haven’t done enough research to recommend many specific models. Almost all of the professionals I’ve talked to are using Sony mirrorless cameras for photos and video, and I’ve personally had good luck with the Panasonic GH4 – the 4k video this camera takes is fantastic and it is no slouch for photos either. If that is a little too much camera for you, I also like what I’ve seen from the Canon EOS M3 and the price is right.
Consumer DSLRs is a category that Nikon is absolutely killing. The Nikon D3200 is a fantastic camera and all you’ll really ever need. If you want the latest model, the D3300 is practically the same camera, and the D5300 is the same camera with a flip out screen. Need something a little more professional? The D7200 is more robust, with faster focus and more options. Basically you can’t go wrong with any of the Nikon DSLRs. If Canon is your fancy, any of their recent 24 MP DSLRs have similar performance. I recommend avoiding any of the 18 MP Canon DSLRs as they are built on technology that is nearly six years old.
Professional DSLRs don’t have as many options as the other categories. Here, the best option is the Nikon D750! In my opinion it has the perfect balance between resolution, speed and features. 24MP is the sweet spot for full frame cameras offering an excellent balance between photo quality, file size and image noise. If you need excessively high resolution, go for the Nikon D810 or the Canon EOS 5DSr, though for most people they are absolutely overkill.
Hopefully this post was helpful! If you have any suggestions for cameras I may have missed, please post them in the comments below and I’ll take a look.