Last updated on 04/14/2013
Counting the user feedback, internet reviews, and doing our own grade based evaluation and extensive tests on many of the year's models, we created definitive list for the best digital cameras of the year. Some of our choices are carry-overs from 2012, either because the update wasn't worth the money or they haven't been replaced yet, but we'll continue to update this list as the year goes on. And we acknowledge some enthusiasts out there probably wont agree with all our choices (if any), so feel free to let us know what your best choices are.
Best Point and Shoot Digital Camera
Nikon's high-end point and shoot now features Wi-Fi® compatibility for
those users who just can't wait to share their newest shots--and before
you share, you can now hide those bags under your eyes and whiten those
teeth with the glamor retouch effects. Skipping the computer entirely
and sending retouched photos straight to your smartphone or tablet
sounds pretty cool.
Nikon does have a solid reputation for their more advanced point and shoots digital cameras, and we don't expect this one to disappoint you.
If you would like exceptional point and shoot camera under $200 you will go with previous model Nikon Coolpix S6300.
The Sony WX50 is a great ultra-compact alternative to the S6500 camera that includes even more features, but be warned image details are smudgy even in good light. The Canon 500 HS is an older 2011 model that has since been replaced by the 530 HS, yet thankfully that means you can get that great f2 lens and image quality at a bargain. Be warned about that touchscreen, though.
Runners-up: Sony WX50, Canon ELPH 500 HS
Best All Weather Digital Camera
The most sophisticated rugged point-and-shoot on the market, the Olympus TG-2 iHS was designed with the serious photographer in mind. In addition to its Shockproof (7.1ft/2m), Crushproof (220lbf/100kgf), Freezeproof (14 DegreeF/-10 DegreeC), Dustproof design, the TG-2 iHS dives deeper than ever before with an astounding waterproof depth rating of 50 feet (15m) without a housing.
But don't be fooled, this camera's not only for the avid scuba diver, it's for active photographers who won't sacrifice image quality and performance. The TG-2 iHS is the only rugged camera on the market equipped with an ultra-bright, high-speed f2.0 lens, allowing you to capture dramatic low light and high-speed action shots.
Runner-up: Nikon COOLPIX AW110
Best Compact Zoom Digital Camera
Compact zooms (also known as travel zooms) are as close to an all-in-one camera as you can get: feature-packed, pocketable shooters with huge zoom ranges that can shoot wide-open landscapes as well as candid close-ups from across a plaza. 2012 has seen the zoom ranges on these GPS-enabled cameras balloon to 16x and even 20x zoom, yet few do it all without a hitch. The Canon PowerShot SX280 HS stands apart in this regard as its impeccably well-rounded. The successor to last year's wildly popular SX260 HS, the SX280's 20x zoom, fantastic image quality, and manual modes make it the camera to beat in the travel zoom segment. Other cameras may have more features or faster operation, yet none produce the same crisp images the Canon outputs.
Fujifilm's F770EXR deserves a mention for its similarly great image quality, especially when used in the Dynamic Range mode. If not for some quirky operation issues this would the winner. Also noteworthy is Panasonic's ZS20, which we reviewed in April and boasts great image quality in the smallest form factor. If you really don't need manual modes, check out Sony's HX30v.
Best Extended Zoom Digital Camera
Panasonic's FZ200 is sitting pretty at the top of the extended zoom heap. Although only boasting 24x zoom, the FZ200 has a constant f2.8 zoom lens that actually allows the zoom range to be useful in less-than-great light.While other manufacturers are piling on the megapixels (Sony) or the zoom range (Nikon and Canon), Panasonic is clearly carving themselves a niche in the high-performance segment of the market.
Shoot with style and get close to the action with feature-rich, 20.1 MP, 26x zoom Sony H200 camera. Keep everything blur-free with Optical Steady Shot image stabilization and even capture HD video. This well-rounded handheld also adds a 3" LCD for easy viewing plus built-in editing effects for great results, shot after shot.
The SX50 HS digital camera with its 50x zoom and 2.8-inch swivel touchscreen is undoubtedly one of the best blend of functionality and image quality without spending an arm and a leg, but Nikon's P510 is also a very good performer and has a long 42x zoom, although it lacks some of the high-end features of these other two. If you need something that costs less than these, take a look at the Nikon L810, which offers a 26x optical zoom and uses AA batteries.
Best Advanced Compact Digital Camera
The advanced or "pro-sumer" compact market is now beginning to even further blend the lines between mirrorless and point and shoot. Larger sensors, bright lenses, RAW capture, and a wide array of external manual controls define these cameras and set them apart from their cheaper brethren. Enthusiasts love them, and pros are known to tuck one away in their dSLR bags. While the competition is stiff, the Sony RX100 stands apart due entirely to its oversized, 1-inch 20.9 megapixel sensor. Sensor size is generally a clear indicator of resulting image quality and is crucial to achieving that dreamy out-of-focus effect called bokeh. The RX100's sensor is the same size as that in the Nikon 1 series, and is therefore much better in low light than the rest of the advanced compact field. It is also much more expensive than the rest, however, and the Olympus XZ-1, Canon S100 or new Panasonic LX7 are all worth a look as well.
Runners-up: Olympus XZ-1, Canon PowerShot S100, Panasonic Lumix LX7
Best Compact Mirrorless Digital Camera
The mirrorless or “interchangeable lens camera” class is coming into its own as a worthy alternative to traditional entry-level and mid-range DSLRs. Brands have developed identities and the camera-buying public is finally showing some interest in these compact DSLR alternatives.
Olympus joins the retro fad with the OM-D E-M5, an elegant micro 4/3 camera reminiscent of their film OM line. Highlights include a 16 megapixel CMOS sensor, weather sealing, 5-axis optical stabilization, a 3-inch swivel OLED touchscreen, 1080p HD video at 60fps, and an electronic viewfinder with 1.4 million dots. The OM-D is tiny, it weighs less and is thinner than Canon's fixed-lens G1 X, yet can be bulked up with an optional battery grip. And of course it works with all the 4/3s lenses already in production by Panasonic and Olympus. It's pricey at $1099 with the 14-42 kit lens, but reviews have noted its quick autofocus, fantastic build quality, and image quality matching the best of Sony's NEX.
Sony’s NEX series seems to get the most attention thanks to an aggressive advertising campaign and prominent in-store placement, yet they are also high-quality cameras. While there are higher-end mirrorless cameras available, Sony's NEX-5R strikes the perfect balance between fantastic image quality and a reasonable sticker price.
If you really want something pocketable, check out the Nikon J2. The sensor is quite a bit smaller than that on the Sony NEXs or Micro 4/3, but this allows for much smaller lenses. Olympus' PEN E-PL5 is also worth a good hard luck as is Panasonic's GX1.
Best Entry-Level DSLR
Sony continues to reign supreme in the entry-level market, despite the big two's efforts to create their own competitive offerings. The A37 uses Sony's translucent mirror technology to autofocus full-time, something even the highest-end DSLRs can't do. The camera is able to autofocus while shooting 1080p video, while using live view, or even while shooting 7fps (at 8 megapixels) continuous bursts. For many new users coming from point and shoots, the ability to use the back screen as they did on their compact will help them feel at home with the new camera. The 16 megapixel sensor is also fantastic, up there with the best on the market. The caveat is that the camera relies on an electronic viewfinder (and a rather low resolution one at that) and doesn't last long on a battery charge. A remarkable package for the price.
Those wishing to try a more conventional DSLR should check out Nikon's D3200, which is easy to use and has a 24 megapixel sensor.
Best Mid-Range DSLR
There’s simply nothing else that comes close to the Sony A57. If you’re willing to drop the conventional optical viewfinder of a dSLR and use a very good electronic viewfinder, the A57 provides performance far beyond its price bracket. The SLT design means that the camera doesn’t direct light away from the autofocus sensor at any time, resulting in continuous autofocus while firing 10 frames per second bursts, shooting 1080p video and operating in live view. Compare that to the 5fps and 4fps bursts found on Canon’s T4i and Nikon D5200, respectively. Many of the models in this category have articulating screens but the A57 is the only one, due to the electronic viewfinder, to feature 100 percent viewfinder coverage. The A57’s 16 megapixel sensor is up there with the best: resolution and noise characteristics are competitive throughout the range. Oh yeah, the A57 can also use that 10fps to automatically overlay photos for HDR, reducing noise, or crafting in-camera panoramas.
Those looking for another competitor should check out the Pentax K-30, too, which offers weather sealing and a plethora of external controls. Nikon's D5200 was also just announced and, with a 24 megapixel sensor and the D7000's autofocus system, should be a real winner when it hits the shelves.
Best Enthusiast dSLR
This is a tough one to pick, and a ton of readers will complain about this choice, no doubt. The truth is, the Nikon D7000 and Pentax K-5 II are evenly matched in just about every aspect. The D7000 has slightly better autofocus but resides in a bigger and less-refined body. The K-5 II’s control layout is impeccable and, while this is subjective, feels wonderful. Thankfully, Nikon has added Easy ISO to map ISO to a control wheel, so that major annoyance has been put to rest. The K-5 II shoots at a slightly faster 7 frames per second and is the better performer at ISO’s above 3200. Yes that’s right, these cameras perform pretty well up to ISO 6400 and even beyond. Though it costs a bit more than the D7000, the K-5 II has in-body stabilization, which will save you a lot of money in the long run if you decide to invest further in the system (with Nikon, you pay for stabilization every time you pay for a lens). We haven’t really mentioned Canon’s 60D, and that’s not a knock against it. The 18 megapixel sensor is really great at low ISOs but can’t keep up at higher settings. It does have a great design, though; its articulating LCD complements its excellent video mode quite well. The prosumer dSLR market is a tight race, and all these cameras offer fantastic value. Pentax has just done something right with the K-5 II, and we feel it’s the one to beat next round.Runners-up: Nikon D7000, Canon 60D
Best Full-Frame DSLRWe know this is a contentious choice, but the $2200 D600 offers the best blend of image quality and price in the full frame market. Our previous winner was the D800, yes, but the D600's 24 megapixel sensor actually does a little better than the D800's in low light. While the 39-point autofocus on the D600 isn't Nikon's top-of-the-line CAM-3500FX, it's nearly as good and certainly better than that found on the Canon 5D Mark II. The D600's half-plastic build isn't as comfortable as the Canon 5Ds or the D800, but it's serviceable. Yes we know Canon has announced their own answer in the 20 megapixel 6D, but so far it's been vaporware. If you're invested in Canon go with the forthcoming 6D, if invested in Nikon the D600 is a great choice.
If you absolutely need resolution the D800's 36 megapixels rival that of medium format. And tests have shown that Canon's 5D Mark III has the best autofocus system of the bunch. Also of interest is Sony's A99, which uses a translucent mirror for full-time autofocus and live view. There are some huge benefits to this, such as seeing exposure in real time, but you do need to give up the optical viewfinder.
Runner-up: Sony A99, Canon 5D Mark III, Nikon D800