“Which Camera Should I Buy?” is a question that I get asked on almost a daily basis. The answer to that question is neither a simple nor linear one, or the same for everyone. It actually has a lot to do with how, what, and where you normally shoot. It also depends if weight, megapixels, and cost are of a concern. Since the answer varies depending on what your needs are, I am going to give a few different options here, which I think will fit for most of the camera users out there.
Many who are not so familiar with the equipment options that are available at present are probably just wanting something with the versatility to change lenses, light in weight, good portability in terms of size, and in the mid range in terms of cost.
In general, these days, the best type of cameras that check all those boxes are probably going to be the newer mirrorless type cameras instead of the heavier and larger traditional digital SLR (DSLR) type cameras. I had previously written another article about my thoughts on mirrorless cameras and their shortcomings. My opinions have not since changed on their few weak points, but, for many people, a mirrorless camera is a really great option. If you want to read my previous article though titled “The Mirrorless Camera Revolution“, and hear my thoughts on the shortcomings of mirrorless cameras in general, then you can find the article here.
The reason I suggest mirrorless cameras for the generalist (non-commercial) photographer though is because the cameras themselves are significantly smaller and lighter weight than DSLR cameras, and in many cases more affordable too. This means they are going to fit easier into a travel bag and are going to be more comfortable to hold in your hand, or hang around your neck for longer periods of time when on the move.
So let’s talk about the options in mirrorless. The two main manufacturers that are really making a strong presence in the mirrorless market are Sony and Fujifilm. Olympus, and particularly Panasonic, are also offering a great number of mirrorless options, but their systems, known as Micro Four Thirds, are built around a very small sized sensor design, which I am not a big fan of because smaller sensors typically capture lower quality pixels and really show their weakness in low light situations. So let’s cross them both off the list.
Sony actually makes a couple of full frame 35mm mirrorless cameras, and Fujifilm makes most of their mirrorless cameras using at least APS-C sized sensors, which are the same as the sensors you find in most DSLR cropped-frame cameras. So both Sony and Fujifilm are making mirrorless cameras with very adequate sized sensors.
Canon and Nikon have also entered the interchangeable lens mirrorless camera market. Nikon with their Nikon 1 series and Canon with their Canon EOS M series. But both Nikon and Canon have not really gone into this camera segment in full force since their mainstay is the DSLR market. So they don’t want to cannibalize their existing market I assume by offering high quality, lighter and cheaper camera options with interchangeable lenses. So it is fair to say both of their mirrorless systems have their shortcomings and are overpriced for what they offer. This knocks them out of the running for me too on mirrorless all together.
Sony makes many different mirrorless cameras, both with and without interchangeable lenses, and Fujifilm has a number of both of these types as well. But I will focus just on interchangeable lens cameras for now and will eventually write another article focusing just on point and shoot mirrorless bodies with unchangeable fixed lenses for people that are wanting something at a lower cost and that are even smaller in terms of size and weight. But on the interchangeable mirrorless body type I am going to suggest you don’t buy a camera with anything less than at least 16 million pixels. So this is going to narrow down the options more quickly too.
At the top of the food chain is the Sony A7R which has a full frame 35mm sensor and was announced in October 2013, but Sony does not offer a lot of different Sony made E-Mount lenses for this camera body, and it is likely to be replaced soon by Sony with a newer model in the near future. There are various E-Mount lenses made by Zeiss for the A7R, but are also very expensive. Plus, the image capture resolution is very high on the A7R, too high in fact for most people at a whopping 36MP. This makes file processing and storage more of a challenge for many. And because the pictures are at such high resolution, it is more challenging to get a sharp picture using this camera, unless you are shooting with a tripod at all times. Thus, I would not recommend this camera for a person’s first real camera.
A better option would be the Sony A7 II announced in November of 2014, which replaced the original A7 released in 2013, also has a full frame sensor, but only has 24MP, which is more manageable in terms of resolution. It can use Sony E-Mount lenses, but there might be a bit of vignetting with E lenses so Sony has also developed an additional line of FE-Mount lenses specifically for the A7 II. The A7R and A7 II are priced nearly the same with the A7R being just under US$2,000 and the A7 II being just a bit less, but the A7 II having the advantage of being much newer technology.
As a lower cost Sony alternative to the A7R and the A7 II, I would recommend looking at the Sony Alpha a6000, which was announced in February of 2014. It also offers the same 24MP resolution, but it has an APS-C crop factor sensor instead of full frame. The advantage is that it is smaller and lighter weight than the A7 II, can shoot at 11 frames per second (making it superb for sports and action photography), and about 1/3 of the price of the A7 II at only US$600. If you are really looking for a light weight and inexpensive travel body, and are not worried about it being full frame or not, then this would be a fantastic option. It takes E-Mount lenses like the A7R, but will have a crop factor of 1.5 on the focal length of any E-Mount lens.
Moving over to Fujifilm, the advantage Fujifilm has over Sony in some respects is the fact that they offer a much wider range of lenses for their mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. Fujifilm has not entered the DSLR market at all like Sony has. So Fujifilm is fully committed to just building mirrorless cameras. Their lenses are very sharp too and offer some great lens options throughout all the focal ranges.
Fujifilm’s flagship mirrorless body with interchangeable lens capabilities is their X-T1 announced in January of 2014. It is only 16MP though, and not full frame, which also puts it at the lower end of interchangeable lens cameras in terms of resolution being at sub 20MP. The build quality of the body is very high and rugged though, and it produces some beautiful pictures. If resolution above 20MP isn’t critical to you then price is only about US$1,300, which is about 1/3 less than Sony’s A7R and A7 II.
For a bit less money and sub $1,000 Fujifilm also offers the older Fujifilm X-E2 which was announced in October 2013. It is slightly older technology and not as feature rich as the X-T1. It has the advantage though of being a bit smaller, lighter weight, and lower cost than the X-T1
If you are looking for a budget option, then Fujifilm, at the beginning of this year, announced a very affordable Fujifilm X-A2 for about $550. It has the same sensor and processor as the XT-1 in a very compact and light weight body. For that price though you are going to give up a lot of the features, functions, and build quality of the XT-1, but it should make a great travel camera. It also has the Fujifilm lens X-Mount. So it can use all of the same Fujifilm X-Mount lenses as the X-T1 and X-E2. The Fujifilm X-A2 is in the same price range as the Sony Alpha a6000, so you now have two excellent camera body options there in the $500-$600 price range.
So there you have it. I have tried to narrow down the choices to 2 just different manufactures for you and 6 different bodies in total. Unfortunately, buying camera equipment always involves some compromises. So one has to try and buy what they think matches best with their needs. Things like weight, ease of use, and overall lens quality all need to be considered too, as well as comfort in your hand of the body itself that you are considering. It is almost never possible to get everything you want all in one camera body and with just one lens. But hopefully this summary helps put you on track towards making a better buying decision. For great prices with free shipping on all the cameras mentioned in this article you can click on the links below:
If you have any questions on any of these cameras, or any other options, please feel free to post your queries below.