Camera of the Year 2017: Best Intermediate & Entry-Level Cameras

by IR Staff

posted Monday, November 20, 2017 at 2:00 PM EST


 
 

As expected, digital cameras get better each year, and this year's entry-level and intermediate-grade models push the boundaries of what hobbyist cameras are capable of providing. From reliably excellent image quality to some of the performance features and modes ported down from their higher-end siblings, these modestly priced offerings serve to entice shooters to step up in quality and capabilities from their smartphone, while also giving enthusiast shooters good options for capable back-up cameras for their bag.

If you want a super-small DSLR or a tiny mirrorless ILC that can still pack a solid IQ punch, you'll find one of each below. And if you want either a DSLR or a mirrorless model for well under $1000 that sports many of the same important features of cameras costing quite a bit more, we have those on display as well. It is indeed a great time to be shopping for a new digital camera, and if this is a hobby you'd like to pursue with greater passion and success, take a look at these excellent models that we've given our solid seal of approval!

 

Camera of the Year, Best Intermediate DSLR - Nikon D5600

 
 

Like good image quality on a budget? So do we, and that's why the Nikon D5600 wins the award for best DSLR in this affordable, intermediate range hands down. Offering the ability to print a good 11 x 14  inch print at ISO 3200 is something usually reserved for higher-end cameras with subsequently higher price tags, but the D5600 can handle this easily. Additionally, the dynamic range performance from this camera is more on par with its top-tier siblings.

 
 

We found the phase-detect autofocus system to be fast and decisive, and when blended with the D5600's solid image quality, it makes this model not only a good first camera for someone just getting their feet wet, but also a competent second body for anyone packing a D7500 or D500 in their bag. The small size won't take up much bag space, and yet the battery life is still excellent, once again making this a capable camera when out for extended periods in the field. Lastly, we found the articulating touchscreen to be durable and reliable during our rigorous testing in the lab and in the field.

If you're interested in stepping into the DSLR world and want a camera of a reasonable size and without breaking the bank, we highly recommend the Nikon D5600. And for a competent back-up to an enthusiast Nikon body, it is a no-brainer choice.

Buy now: B&H | Amazon | Adorama

 

Camera of Distinction, Intermediate DSLR - Canon 77D

 
 

The best intermediate-level cameras are able to meld a number of professional-level features into an approachable, easy-to-use and quick-to-understand package, and there are few companies that do this more fluidly and consistently than Canon. Everything from their camera design to their menu layout is consistent no matter what level of photographer you are, and that means a lot to building a better shooter from early days consumer, to seasoned professional. The Canon 77D is an excellent example of a solid intermediate-level DSLR that has many high-end features, packaged into a body that someone with just a bit of camera experience can quickly pick up and master in a matter of minutes.

 
 

Featuring a 24.2 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor and packing the powerful DIGIC 7 image processor, the 77D can shoot 1080p video at up to 60 frames per second and also shoot still images at up to 6 frames per second. At the intermediate level, that's considerable power in such an unassuming body. The 77D distinguishes itself from lower-end cameras like the Canon T7i with the addition of a top status LCD, a feature found on all high-end Canon DSLRs and highly useful for quickly seeing a camera's settings and adjusting them in the field. Combined with the rear variable-angle touch LCD, there are several ways that the 77D can be told to accomplish the same task, which allows for more fluid operation in the real world. The 77D integrates Canon's Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology, which equals some of the best autofocus Performance available in a modern camera. The touch interface only makes this feature more powerful, and shooting stills and video using the rear LCD is not only more enjoyable, but it's also incredibly reliable. For a sub-$1000 camera, the 77D does quite a bit right, with just enough higher-level features to satisfy a burgeoning photographer.

Buy now: B&H | Amazon | Adorama

 

Camera of Distinction, Intermediate DSLR - Canon T7i

 
 

With nearly the same feature set as the 77D, the Rebel T7i remains a Rebel in name due to what it lacks compared to its big brother the 77D: the top-panel LCD, a second command dial, additional buttons, and an eye sensor. Because it lacks a top status LCD, Canon moved the dials and buttons around a bit, but the body of the camera and its impact on your grip are identical. It packs the same exact features as the 77D when you look at its shooting capability, but markets itself to a different audience in a way that makes sense.

 
 

The T7i attempts to simplify photography with a DSLR down to its core elements, distilling itself into a photo-capturing device that can do quite a lot with automation. For a $150 savings, the T7i removes features that a beginner wouldn't need and streamlines the DSLR experience into something anyone can understand. It's a hand-holding camera, and the market absolutely has need for that. For $750, the T7i is a steal with the features it offers: 1080p60 video, 6 frames per second shooting, a rear touchscreen, Canon's excellent Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology, HDR movie and Time-lapse modes, and Wi-Fi/NFC for mobile sharing. There is quite a bit to be found in this little DSLR, and it shouldn't be overlooked. Not everyone needs a 5D Mark IV, and for those who want to experience the Canon world, it's hard to argue with what the T7i offers.

Buy now: B&H | Amazon | Adorama

 

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Camera of the Year, Best Intermediate Mirrorless - Olympus E-M10 III

 
 

If you're in the design team at Olympus, reach up and give yourself a pat on the back right now, because you've managed the hat-trick! Back in 2014, we named the original E-M10 our entry-level mirrorless camera of the year, and in 2015 the followup E-M10 II took the crown as the best intermediate mirrorless model. Now, the Olympus E-M10 III makes it three for three, scoring the trifecta with another win in the intermediate mirrorless category -- and for good reason.

 
 

Despite an extremely affordable pricetag of just $650 body-only, the Olympus E-M10 III boasts comfortable ergonomics, superb build quality and good image quality. And although its body is very compact indeed, Olympus has still found room for a plethora of external controls, which help keep you out of the menu system. The optionally-available, retractable kit zoom lens, meanwhile, pairs beautifully with the E-M10 III body, offering a focal range that's just about perfect for street photography while still not breaking the bank.

As befits such an affordable camera of the people, ease of use was clearly a big goal for the Olympus E-M10 III's design team, too. Its new Advanced Photo mode makes it much easier for beginners to find and take advantage of more arcane features like multiple exposure or high dynamic range photography, focus bracketing and more. And its reorganized scene modes quickly help you set the camera up for your chosen subject without the need to understand exposure variables at all.

If you're in the market for a camera which shoots great photos, affordably, and gives you plenty of room to grow, you'll definitely want to take a close look at the Olympus E-M10 III!

Buy now: B&H | Amazon | Adorama

 

Camera of Distinction, Intermediate Mirrorless - Canon EOS M6

 
 

Canon continues to improve their EOS M series of mirrorless cameras. This year's Canon EOS M6 is an intermediate option offering a good amount of features and physical controls for enthusiasts without a high price tag. The 24-megapixel APS-C sensor delivers good image quality across a wide variety of situations and Canon's Dual Pixel CMOS AF is very fast and works quite well.

 
 

There's no 4K video recording nor are there a lot of native EF-M lenses to choose from, but for fans of Canon's image quality and design philosophies, the EOS M6 is a good option. For its compact camera body, good image quality, impressive Dual Pixel autofocus and solid performance, the Canon EOS M6 has earned a Camera of Distinction award in the Intermediate Mirrorless camera category this year.

Buy now: B&H | Amazon | Adorama

 

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Camera of the Year, Best Entry-Level DSLR - Canon SL2

 
 

It seems that every year there is a new entry-level DSLR from Canon or Nikon. While they don't always break new ground, they are affordable cameras that are excellent options for beginners looking to get more seriously into photography without breaking the bank. Entry-level cameras often also include an array of user-friendly features and a compact form factor. Our Entry-level DSLR Camera of the Year for 2017, the Canon SL2, certainly fits the mold.

 
 

The SL2 includes a redesigned compact camera body, a 24-megapixel APS-C sensor, 3-inch vari-angle touchscreen, Dual Pixel CMOS AF and Full HD video recording. While it won't have all the same features as its more expensive siblings -- for example, the SL2 has only a 9-point autofocus system when shooting through the viewfinder -- it includes a lot of bang for your buck and provides a good platform for photographers to learn the ropes. For those who like to quickly share their images, the SL2 has built-in Wi-Fi, NFC and Bluetooth, too.

A good entry-level camera should be something you can grow with as a photographer; a camera that is both approachable and capable. In our time with the Canon SL2, it proved to be just that while offering a lot of nice features and good usability. The SL2 is certainly deserving of this year's Best Entry-level DSLR award.

Buy now: B&H | Amazon | Adorama

 

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Camera of the Year, Best Entry-Level Mirrorless - Canon EOS M100

 
 

When taking your first steps into an interchangeable lens camera system, it used to be that a DSLR was the obvious choice. That choice is no longer obvious as there are many mirrorless camera options which often blend a compact form factor with impressive image quality and performance. The Canon EOS M100 is the company's newest entry-level mirrorless camera, and it has proven to be a good follow-up to the Canon EOS M10.

 
 

Relying heavily on a touchscreen-based user interface, the M100 may not have many physical controls, but it nevertheless offers good image quality and autofocus thanks to its 24-megapixel APS-C sensor and Dual Pixel CMOS AF. The DIGIC 7-equipped M100 can shoot at over 6 frames per second and record Full HD video at 60fps. The camera also has built-in Wi-Fi, NFC and Bluetooth, making it a well-connected camera, ideal for photographers who want to quickly capture and share their photos.

With its new sensor, autofocus system, processor, user interface, video features and connectivity functionality, the Canon EOS M100 has earned our 2017 Camera of the Year Award for best entry-level mirrorless camera. If you are looking for a compact, easy-to-use mirrorless camera that offers good performance and flexibility, nothing in 2017 tops the M100.

Buy now: B&H | Amazon | Adorama

 

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Camera of the Year, Best Pocket ILC - Panasonic GX850

 
 

When Panasonic unveiled the GM line of cameras, we felt compelled to add a whole new category to our awards in the form of Pocket Interchangeable Lens Camera, as we were simply smitten by the diminutive size of the camera, which still boasted terrific image quality for the price. The GX850 from Panasonic carries on the tradition of the GM line while also porting down some features from the higher-end GX models, and melds them into a svelte package that can travel anywhere and yet still deliver superb image quality.

 
 

This model is the first in this smaller line to offer 4K video and 4K Photo, utilizing a newer, faster Venus Engine processor. And it is also the first pocket ILC to drop the optical low-pass filter, offering slightly crisper imagery overall. In our GX850 Field Test, we found the autofocus performance to be outstanding for the price, and also found the touchscreen interface to be both versatile and practical. Lastly, the wireless functionality was reported to deliver solid, straightforward performance, which is something a number of cameras in this price range struggle with.

Interested in a camera that offers an outstanding value and a really small size while still delivering excellent image quality and ILC versatility? If so, the Panasonic GX850 should make your short list of cameras to consider.

Buy now: B&H | Amazon | Adorama

 

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Imaging Resource Camera of the Year Awards 2017

Best Professional & High-End Cameras

Best Enthusiast & Premium Compact Cameras

Best Intermediate & Entry-Level Cameras (current page)

Best Overall (coming soon!)

Best Prime Lenses (coming soon!)

Best Zoom Lenses (coming soon!)