Imaging Resource Camera of the Year 2021: Best Overall Camera of 2021
posted Friday, November 19, 2021 at 10:00 AM EST
Well, we've finally reached the end. Technically. We're ready to unveil our pick for the Best Overall Camera of the Year for 2021! We still have our Reader's Choice Award to come, so keep your eyes out for that one soon. But for us here at IR, we've discussed, deliberated and tallied the votes, and the choice has been decided.
So, what goes into picking the best of the best? We take several factors into account, such as image quality, autofocus performance, general speed and responsiveness of the camera, features and specs, as well as some subjective qualities, too. Characteristics such as the camera body's design and its ergonomics, how it feels in the hand and what the user experience is like when operating the camera. Is the camera comfortable to hold and does it feel durable and well-built? How user-friendly is it? Are the camera's menus nice, and does it offer a lot of user customization and physical controls? (We here at IR, as well as many enthusiasts and pros alike, tend to enjoy cameras with lots of buttons and dials that give us quick access to important settings as well as the option to customize said buttons to our liking or shooting needs.) Of course, some of these factors are hard to measure, if not impossible, so in assessing and making decisions for these qualities, we obviously have to factor in our opinions, too.
We also do take into consideration a camera's price point. However, as you'll see with our winner this year, that didn't play as large of a role in our decision this time around. Our winner this year is an expensive camera without a doubt. And while one might think it'd be easy to just go down a list of cameras and pick the most expensive one, as that must be "the best camera," that's not always the case. A camera can be expensive, while also being a slow, sluggish camera or a highly-specialized camera that's fantastic for certain subjects and poorly designed for others. Our winning camera for 2021, while expensive, is a highly versatile tool that is feature-packed and capable of photographing nearly any type of subject that you can throw at it. Simply put, it's the best all-around camera we've used, and as such, we felt it was deserving of the top-spot award despite its high price tag.
So, without any further delay, here's Imaging Resource's pick for The Best Overall Camera of 2021:
Best Overall Camera of the Year 2021: Sony Alpha 1
There were quite a few impressive cameras released this past year, but none that really amazed us quite as much as the Sony Alpha 1. Packed with a 50MP stacked full-frame sensor, up to 30fps continuous shooting, amazing autofocus tracking capabilities and 8K video recording as well as surprisingly comfortable ergonomics and excellent user customization, the Sony A1 is a "Swiss Army knife" in camera form. It has the features and capabilities to fit nearly any kind of image creator and tackle almost any subject matter. As Sony's most advanced, flagship Alpha mirrorless camera, the A1 was bound to be a great camera, especially given Sony's history of excellent cameras. But Sony really went all-out with the specs and capabilities of the A1.
The 50-megapixel sensor lets you capture images with excellent fine detail, and as expected, the A1 has great dynamic range and very good high ISO performance. The camera is a fantastic choice for all but the most demanding high-resolution imaging needs -- landscapes, portraiture, architecture and more, the A1 can handle it with ease. Despite the high resolution, the A1 is highly capable of excellent low-light and higher ISO pursuits as well as high-speed subjects, including sports, action, and wildlife. Long gone are the days where you'd trade high-resolution for high-ISO performance and speed. Even though the A1 has a high-res sensor, the camera can still shoot full-resolution images at 20-30fps (depending on image quality settings) with full continuous AF, making the A1 one of the fastest cameras on the market. Sony's Real-time Tracking AF with Eye AF for humans, animals and birds, works as advertised, quickly and consistently finding and tracking eyes, even in difficult shooting situations. From a still photographer's perspective, the Sony A1 can handle pretty much whatever you throw at it.
On the video side of the aisle, the A1 is no slouch either, packing capabilities and features not found in many other cameras, especially at this price. The A1 can record 8K video up to 30fps, making it one of the few cameras on the market to offer such high-res video recording capabilities. There's also 4K at up to 120fps and 16-bit RAW video out via its full-size HDMI port. The camera's construction allows it to record high-res video for long periods of time. The camera's newer processor is fast enough to allow for Real-time Eye AF (human) and Real-time Tracking during video -- even with 8K 30p video! Although the A1 leans ever-so-slightly towards still photographers, the A1 is an absolute powerhouse for video creators, as well.
All in all, we've had a hard time finding any faults with the Sony A1. It does so many things and does them all extremely well. It's fast, it's designed well, and it captures excellent high-quality photos and videos. It *is* very expensive, however. But for that price, you get one heck of a camera.
• • •
Check out our other 2021 Camera of the Year Awards