Best Digital Cameras 2015
Digital camera technology steadily improves every year, sometimes in minor ways and sometimes in very big steps. While buying an older model is a good idea when you are on a budget, the latest cameras typically bring the latest technology and the best image quality.
For 2015, expect cameras to continue to come in smaller packages, while steadily improving on features. This spring, we saw higher resolution with a growing number of megapixels. Noise reduction at high ISOs has seen big improvements over the last few years. Features like wi-fi are becoming much easier to find and now seem available on more models than not. Perks that smartphones still can't come close to--like big optical zooms and underwater durability--are also becoming easier to find, while the point-and-shoot category hasn't see as many new models.
Here are the latest cameras that have really caught our eye--these cameras are best in class, with the most to offer. Some of these are holdovers from 2014, either because they haven't been replaced yet or because the newer version simply isn't worth the extra cost. But whether they were introduced this year or last, they're the top options in their category.
The point-and-shoot market is quickly dissipating, with manufacturers focusing instead on compacts that can offer much more than a smartphone, like compact zooms, advanced compacts, mirrorless cameras and DSLRs. The Canon N100 HS camera was introduced over a year ago, and it doesn't look like Canon will be releasing an update this year, but there have been relatively few point-and-shoot cameras arriving on the scene this year. Still, if simple and compact is what you are looking for, the Canon N100 HS has a few good features. The Canon N100 has a secondary rear camera for selfies--but the real reason this camera makes the top of our list is the large 1/1.7" sensor and bright f1.8 lens. That sensor-lens combo translates into solid image quality for the category, you won't find a better sensor and lens combo until you head into the pricer advanced compact category.
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A 50x zoom is no longer a big deal--the Nikon P900 breezes past that spec with a surprising 83x optical zoom. Where most zoom cameras don't perform well at the long end, we were pretty surprised with how well the camera handled such a long zoom. The P900 has more than just a solid zoom, however. Macro shots were done well, and snapped easily with a good close up mode. Add a f/2.8-6.5 maximum aperture to a zoom range that big, and the P900 is a clear winner for versatility. The noise reduction at high ISOs isn't the greatest, and sharpness does drop off a bit at the long end of the zoom, but the P900 is the most impressive consumer super zoom on the market right now for the price.
If the high price point is a bit intimidating, the Panasonic FZ300 has an excellent wide aperture of f/2.8 throughout the zoom range. The zoom is quite a bit smaller at just 24x, but that wide aperture is a big boost for shooting in low light as well as creating soft backgrounds. The FZ300 also includes 4K video and a speedy 12 fps burst mode.
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The compact travel zoom category is extremely competitive, and there's a handful of great options. This year, though, the title goes to the Panasonic ZS50 for its excellent image quality throughout the zoom range and even in low lighting. The Panasonic ZS50 offers a solid 30x optical zoom with a speedy 10 fps. And for advanced users, the ZS50 has manual modes, RAW shooting and a control wheel around the lens. The control scheme wasn't quite top notch, but the excellent image quality, versatility and speedy performance gives the ZS50 the highest marks for the category in 2015.
Before you commit to the ZS50 though, there's a new category emerging, the advanced travel zoom, offering a similar size but with a larger sensor and advanced features. These cameras don't typically offer quite as much zoom, but offer a big boost in image quality for a bit of a price boost. Our top ranked advanced compact camera with zoom is the 2015 Canon G3 X.
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The Olympus TG line has received high recommendations from us for the past few years now. Not only is it a sturdy camera, but it uses a bright f2-4.9 lens, so you can actually take decent pictures underwater that far from the sunshine. Toss in a 5 fps burst, solid macro mode and wi-fi with GPS and it's a pretty heavy hitter. The TG-4 adds RAW shooting for more versatility in the editing process, a welcome addition for enthusiast shooters. If you don't edit your photos and are just looking for a camera you can take to the beach, you don't need the RAW--you can get all the other features for a better price with the older TG-3.
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- Ricoh WG-5
Advanced compacts offer a significant boost in image quality over the typical point-and-shoot, but they also cost quite a bit more. Fortunately, there's a few options that still cost less than $400. The Fujifilm XQ2 puts the popular X-Trans sensor design of the company's mirrorless lineup into a compact camera, and does so well. While the 2/3" sensor isn't the biggest in the category, the Fujifilm XQ2 offers the biggest performance for $300. It offers a speedy 12 fps burst mode and a new processor to improve the autofocus over the older XQ1. A bright f/1.8-4.9 lens with a 4x optical zoom is also a plus. The X-Trans sensor is what really seals the deal for us, with a bit of an edge in image quality over the older Nikon P340.
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- Nikon COOLPIX P340
The Sony RX100 line has taken top honors for the category for a few years now. And while we loved the last version, the Sony RX100 IV offers some pretty remarkable changes. Video is now 4K, and the already good 10 fps burst speed is now a super snappy 16 fps. The sensor is still that big one-inch, but now it's stacked, which allows a larger sensor in a smaller camera, but it also comes into play for that enhanced speed. All that is packed into a camera that's still sporting things like a small body, a control ring, a viewfinder and tilting LCD screen. What's missing? There's not much zoom, but hey, the camera is only so big.
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Nikon more than made up for last year's disappointing drop in speed on the J4--the 1 J5 hits burst speeds of 20 fps at full resolution while still using autofocus. And if the focus can be locked on the first frame? 60 fps. That's huge. That speed comes in handy photographing children or sports. That's not all Nikon has upgraded either, 4K video is available now too, though at just 15 fps. The 1" sensor is also now backlit. Those looking for bigger resolution will want a model with a larger sensor like the Sony a5000, but there's no beating the J5's speed at this price.
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Two years after releasing the first full frame mirrorless camera, Sony has upped the ante with even more tech packed inside the a7R II. That big full frame sensor is now backlit for even more low light capability. 4K video is now possible at 30 fps, making the camera enticing for both still images and video. A five axis image stabilization system is also packed inside the magnesium alloy body. While we'd like to see more than the 5 fps speed and a bigger battery life, there's a lot to be said about the power of full frame inside such a small option.
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Nikon's D5500 is the company's entry-level DSLR that still packs a few more features than the most budget-friendly option. The D5500 is the first Nikon DSLR to feature a tilting touchscreen, and it's done well, balancing out the touch controls with plenty of physical controls. With a 24.2 megapixel sensor that eliminates the optical low pass filter, image quality is solid. Noise reduction has seen big improvement over the past few years as well. The camera is simple to use, while still keeping several important features intact.
While the D5500 has the most features for a beginner's DSLR, there's a less expensive option too. While Canon seems to be focusing on their more advanced DSLRs, Nikon continues to offer an affordable entry point for around $500 with the Nikon D3300. Most DSLRs are updated every two years, with the D3300 being an 2014 model. It still sports the same 24.2 megapixel sensor without the optical low pass filter, but doesn't have all the bells and whistles of the D500, including fewer autofocus points.
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Nikon is continuing to excel at their APS-C cameras. The Nikon D7200 offers the same resolution as the comparable Canon EOS T6s, but without the optical low pass filter for enhanced detail. The D7200 also offers more autofocus points, faster burst speed, a higher maximum shutter speed and twice the battery life. Nikon has been making big steps in noise reduction at high ISOs, with a noticeable difference even over the D7100. As Nikon's flagship APS-C camera, it has a lot to offer serious enthusiasts and even some professionals.
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- Canon EOS Rebel T6s
Canon went big on megapixels for DSLRs this year--the EOS 5DS R has a 50 megapixel full frame sensor, for a resolution that's in between the typical full frame and the expensive medium format cameras. But resolution isn't the only reason this camera tops the list. Canon has added a 61-point autofocus system as well. Speed and video are about average, but there's certainly no beating the resolution, at least not yet.
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