Camera of the Year 2016: Best Enthusiast Cameras
posted Thursday, December 15, 2016 at 2:59 PM EDT
The largest group of readers on Imaging Resource are undoubtedly what we'd call "enthusiast" photographers. Sure, we have plenty of beginners who pay us a visit, and certainly professional photographers who use our website for various purposes, but it's the enthusiasts who comprise the core of our readership and who color our comments sections most often.
Of course, your faithful reviewers here are also basically enthusiast photographers, and like yourselves, we're always looking for the next tool that can help us take our photography to new heights. We're not as interested in the $6k "best-of-the-best" cameras because they're either too large or too expensive (or both) for our enthusiast needs and budgets, yet we are not willing to sacrifice on image quality and performance for our more important photographic endeavors.
So bring on the enthusiast cameras! These are meant to represent the optimal balance between solid performance and image quality, while not straining your biceps nor your wallet too much. Below are the cameras from 2016 that we feel make the grade as the soundest investments for the enthusiast crowd, whether you lean towards DSLRs, mirrorless models, fixed lens specialty cameras or perhaps a 1-inch-sensored, all-in-one zoom!
Camera of the Year, Best Enthusiast DSLR: Nikon D500
We previously awarded the Nikon D500 an award of distinction in our "Best Overall Awards," but we aren’t yet through singing its praises! The 20.9-megapixel APS-C DSLR is deserving of our "Enthusiast DSLR" Camera of the Year award as well for its excellent blend of imaging, autofocus and continuous shooting performance all while keeping the price under $2,000.
The Nikon D500 shares many features with our high-end Camera of the Year, the Nikon D5, including a 153-point autofocus system and 4K UHD video recording capabilities, but the D500 offers demanding photographers a tilting display and better touchscreen functionality inside its more compact camera body. It shoots at just over 10 frames per second with a RAW buffer depth of 200 frames, making it a very fast DSLR overall, and especially for the money. Paired with the speed is an excellent autofocus system which we found to be one of the best we have ever tested.
Combine all this performance and the long feature list with a rugged camera body and you have a recipe for an amazing enthusiast DSLR. Therefore, we are proudly giving the Nikon D500 our Best Enthusiast DSLR award for 2016!
Camera of the Year, Best Enthusiast Mirrorless: Panasonic G85
Each year there are more and more excellent mirrorless cameras. This year was no different as we were treated to a wide array of great enthusiast options. Ultimately, the Panasonic G85 rose above the competition and earned our Best Enthusiast Mirrorless camera award for its excellent level of performance at a mid-range price point.
Considering just the camera body itself, there's a lot to like with the G85. Its rugged DSLR-style body is weather-sealed and has a tilt/swivel touchscreen rear display. It is built well beyond its sub-$900 price point. Looking inside the camera, we find an impressive 16-megapixel 4/3" sensor, which didn't blow us away in megapixel count, but proved very impressive in terms of sharpness and image quality. Paired with the sensor is an improved image processor which helps make the G85 a speedy camera, capable of shooting at up to 9 frames per second at full resolution with the mechanical shutter.
Ultimately, the Panasonic G85 is not only a fantastic value, but a great enthusiast mirrorless camera overall as well. The 4K-capable camera is rugged, fast and captures very nice images. What more can you ask for from our Enthusiast Mirrorless Camera of the Year?
Camera of Distinction, Enthusiast Mirrorless: Olympus PEN-F
Classic throwback styling meets technological advancement in this intriguing camera. As Olympus' most premium PEN-series camera to date, the PEN-F offers high-quality metal construction, excellent physical controls and great hand-feel. Under the hood, its host of modern features, including a 20-megapixel 4/3" sensor, as well as High-Res Shot mode, 5-axis image stabilization and an impressive 20fps burst shooting mode make it an all around great camera with excellent image quality and nimble performance. Plus, the characteristic PEN-F front-facing control knob opens up a host of real-time, in-camera customization for your on-the-go shooting needs.
Overall, the Olympus PEN-F checks off a lot of boxes on our list for what makes a fantastic camera. In a decidedly retro-inspired camera, there are tons of modern amenities, too, including a crisp EVF and handy articulated touchscreen, plus built-in Wi-Fi. While some might be a bit leery of the higher price and the lack of weather-sealing, the Olympus PEN-F is nevertheless a fantastic camera for the enthusiast photographer craving both style and substance.
Camera of Distinction, Enthusiast Mirrorless: Sony A6300
The Sony A6300 is a camera with some mighty big shoes to fill, and it does so in spectacular fashion. Following in the footsteps of the incredibly popular A6000, the A6300 gets a more robust all magnesium-alloy body in addition to very worthwhile improvements beneath the skin. The name of the game here is speed: The A6000 was already a fast shooter, but the Sony A6300 takes performance to the next level thanks to a brand-new image sensor which uses copper wiring for faster readout, along with a completely reworked autofocus system. The result is a camera that can not only shoot at an incredibly swift 11 frames per second, but which can actually manage to do so while continuously adjusting focus between frames to help keep your subject tack-sharp.
And if you're willing to sacrifice just a little of that performance, the A6300 solves the bugaboo of mirrorless cameras by showing a live view of your subject between frames, where most rivals simply show a slideshow of the images you've just captured. That live view feed makes it much easier for Sony A6300 users to track the action and react at just the right moment, shooting just the frames they're after rather than falling back on the spray-and-pray approach. Nor is that all, either. Thanks to an incredibly generous 425 phase-detection and 169 contrast-detection autofocus points, the Sony A6300 can accurately track your subject around most of the image frame.
Along with these improvements for still imaging, the Sony A6300 is also a much more capable video shooter than was its predecessor. Ultra high-definition 4K video capture is a new addition, and for the best possible quality this is actually read off the sensor at an even higher 6K resolution before being downsampled and saved. You can also tune autofocus speed and tracking sensitivity to your tastes, and record audio from an external microphone. And all of this in a camera which lists for around a thousand dollars: It's an exceptional value for a camera which offers so much in such a compact package.
Camera of the Year, Best Enthusiast Zoom: Panasonic FZ2500
The Panasonic FZ2500 not only surpasses its predecessor, the FZ1000, in every critical way, it also rises above the stiff competition in its category to earn our Camera of the Year Best Enthusiast Zoom award. With a 20x optical zoom (up from 16x) and an impressive 20-megapixel 1"-type sensor, the FZ2500 is well-suited for a wide range of shooting situations. Whether faced with landscapes, portraits or wildlife, the FZ2500 is up to the challenge.
Not only did the FZ2500 meet our expectations for a premium enthusiast long-zoom camera, it exceeded many of them with its blend of usability and performance. The tilt/swivel touchscreen display proved to be very user-friendly, but it doesn't aim to supplant physical controls, as the FZ2500 has dials and buttons in spades. Simply put, the FZ2500 makes the capture of great shots in any scenario a simple, enjoyable task. Beyond its excellent stills performance, the FZ2500 is a multimedia machine. It includes many of the same video shooting features found in Panasonic's flagship mirrorless, the GH4, and puts them in an all-in-one long-zoom camera.
The Panasonic FZ2500 can do it all, and it does it all very well. That is why we are giving it this well-deserved Camera of the Year award. You'll be hard-pressed to find a better combination of performance, features and price in an enthusiast zoom camera than the FZ2500.
Camera of Distinction, Enthusiast Zoom: Sony RX10 III
Back in late 2013, Sony created a brand-new market segment with the introduction of its large-sensor, long-zoom RX10. Although it came with a premium price tag, the RX10's versatility and great image quality quickly gained it an enthusiastic following which the followup RX10 II retained. For the third generation, the Sony RX10 III forgoes the constant aperture 8.3x zoom lens of its predecessors in favor of a much further-reaching (but variable-aperture) 25x zoom lens. Once again, it's not cheap, but make no mistake: You get what you pay for with the Sony RX10 III!
Like those of the earlier RX10 and RX10 II, the SLR-like body of the Sony RX10 III exudes quality and handles beautifully. Even though it's a fairly hefty camera, it's nevertheless very comfortable to shoot with, and its electronic viewfinder is superb, making framing and reviewing of images a pleasure. And the long zoom lens really hits all the bases: Wide-angle, telephoto, macro... No matter your subject, you should be able to get a great shot without needing to carry a bag full of bulky, heavy lenses everywhere you go.
And the Sony RX10 III offers generous performance, too. It can lock focus in just two tenths of a second, and with autofocus locked from the first frame, it'll shoot an impressive 14+ JPEG frames per second. Even with autofocus active between frames, it's still capable of capturing 6+ frames per second for as long as 4-8 seconds depending on filetype. And it does so with excellent still image quality, too. There's also a very capable video mode including ultra high-def 4K capture plus a raft of incredibly fun high-frame-rate modes. If you can stretch to its admittedly rather steep price tag, this might just be the ultimate all-in-one travel camera!
Camera of the Year, Best Enthusiast Fixed Lens: Fuji X70
With its superb 28mm equivalent f/2.8 built-in lens and excellent 16-megapixel APS-C X-Trans II sensor, the Fujifilm X70 is very deserving of our Enthusiast Fixed Lens Camera of the Year for 2016. Its compact, retro-styled camera body offers plenty of physical controls and has proven to be very enjoyable to use.
It doesn’t offer the built-in viewfinder like the Fuji X100-series, but it does offer very good imaging performance for its sub-$700 price point. Featuring a fixed lens, the X70 can be at times limiting with its lack of optical versatility, but the fixed focal length also helps make it an APS-C camera that you can slip into a jacket pocket. To fit such a capable camera into such a small package is an impressive feat from Fujifilm.
For photographers who desire extensive physical controls, terrific image quality and a compact form factor, the X70 is the perfect camera and is our Enthusiast Fixed Lens Camera of the Year for 2016.