Imaging Resource Camera of the Year 2018: Best Overall & Professional Cameras
posted Thursday, December 20, 2018 at 3:00 PM EDT
What an incredible year in the camera industry! Both Canon and Nikon released their first Full Frame Mirrorless offerings within a short time span, and just as the echo was fading from the response we learned that Panasonic will soon be bringing their first full-frame mirrorless model to the table as well. This marked a clear trend being set in the industry, amidst a relative slowdown in Micro Four Thirds and APS-C models across the board, and certainly broadened the spectrum of available products in the industry.
And yet, amidst all the chaos and excitement, Fujifilm somewhat quietly released an update to their popular SLR-styled mirrorless camera, the Fuji X-T3, and it turned out to become the model we held in the highest regard for 2018. Not that the new full-frame mirrorless models weren't exciting as well, as they most surely are, as is Sony's continued pursuit of excellent full-frame mirrorless cameras such as the A7 Mark III included below. But the X-T3 just seemed to check the most boxes this year across the board, and it marks the first year that Fujifilm has taken home the top honor in our awards, which date back to 2012.
In addition to our Best Overall models, you'll find much more to love across the various categories this year, including Nikon's excellent Z7 and Fujifilm's latest Medium Format offering, the rangefinder-styled GFX-50R. And there was great excitement at the other end of the spectrum as well with Nikon's P1000, a superzoom that, well, zooms to truly epic distances, and that delivers surprisingly good images given the extreme focal length and relatively small onboard sensor.
It's been an exciting year overall in the camera industry, and we're proud to offer our culling of the best of the best from 2018 for you here!
When Fujifilm brought the X-T1 to our collective doorstep in the early part of 2014, the camera world took a lot of notice because suddenly we had a DSLR-styled body from Fujifilm, but one that still retained the coveted old-school, tactile physical controls that so many of us yearn for in the field. That camera was touted to have super-fast autofocus, and it certainly was and is for still shooting, but the overall C-AF performance lagged considerably behind its modern-day DSLR brethren. And so while not giving it the top honor, we still loved the camera enough to endow it with a well-deserved accolade in our 2014 Camera of the Year awards.
The follow-up X-T2 brought considerably more to the C-AF table and proved a worthy companion in the field, especially for photographing wildlife in motion. It also brought useful preset C-AF algorithms that made it easier to dial in desired settings quickly while out in the field. The body was also beefed-up considerably from the original design, as were many of the buttons and dials. These improvements and many more earned that camera a spot on the Best Overall podium in 2016 as a worthy runner-up to the Olympus E-M1 Mark II and alongside the excellent Nikon D500. (What a year!)
And now, here in 2018, the third time has indeed proven the charm for Fujifilm, as the succession of improvements from the Fujifilm engineers and design team has brought the camera line to the very top of our awards: Imaging Resource 2018 Camera of the Year! Not that it was an easy decision, as there are cameras receiving honors in this top category that most surely belong in the same conversation. But when all was said and done, we became convinced that the Fujifilm X-T3 is indeed the Best Overall Camera released in 2018.
There are naturally many different types of photographers out there with vastly different shooting styles and personal preferences, not to mention different choices in subjects to shoot. For this reason, there are fortunately many choices still available to us even now in this smartphone-encrusted day and age. However, many of us here at Imaging Resource are delighted by the fact that Fujifilm has remained true to its philosophy of providing high-quality imaging performance in a robust shell, while still maintaining their wonderful sense of retro-styled ergonomics and controls, as well as a passion for keeping the world of film alive through features like their excellent film simulation presets.
And there's one additional and important component to our decision that bears mention here, and that's the fact that most of our reader base (and most of us at IR) are on budgets, and pay close attention to price. At $1499, the Fuji X-T3 comes in at a price far lower than the other cameras in the running for this year's Best Overall category. Yes, it is also the only APS-C camera in the group, but we've long held Fuji cameras in high regard for image quality, and their higher-ISO performance is well-known within the industry as being at or near the top of the heap. They also sport an exceptional lens lineup, making the entire ecosystem both viable and versatile. Add on the excellent optional battery grip and you have a formidable rig at your disposal for virtually any type of subject matter.
Photography is about more than just specifications and numbers, it's also about a dedication to aesthetics and tradition, and Fujifilm has combined these important criteria into one mold with the excellent Fujifilm X-T3.
The best cameras on the market mix excellent performance, ease of use and a palatable price point, and the Sony A7 III hits pretty much all those marks in spades. In fact, it adds to that with its incredible versatility for a full-frame camera priced right at $2000. Any photographer from advanced amateur all the way to seasoned professional will find that the A7 III does an outstanding job at just about any task it is set to, making it a camera that can handle the widest variety of tasks ever released at this price point.
There are few cameras that can capture excellent breadth of color and dynamic range for landscapes, properly follow a moving subject for sports and action, and also work outstandingly in the unpredictable lighting and movement situations a professional wedding photographer encounters. Here, the A7 III delivers across the board.
Its 10fps continuous shooting speed puts it on par with some high-end professional action cameras, and when combined with its equally impressive 693-point hybrid autofocus system makes it one of the top five full-frame cameras ever made for capturing moving subjects. Sony also managed to pack in many high-end video features, such as S-Log, multiple 4K frame rate options, and excellent 120fps Full HD video. Additionally, it's one of the few cameras on the market capable of all that while taking advantage of the entire width of the sensor. With the Sony A7 III, you get great video quality without sacrificing the full-frame look.
Though Sony's menu system is in dire need of an upgrade, the overall usability of the A7 III isn't held back too much by those woes. It's a relatively easy system to pick up and understand, and its excellent image quality, battery life, and truly outstanding versatility and range make the Sony A7 III one of the best full-frame cameras you can buy today, and one of the best cameras released in 2018.
Powerful, compact and versatile, the Nikon Z7 is an excellent camera. Hot off the heels of their lengthy centennial celebrations and the release of their best DSLR ever, the D850, Nikon shifted their focus from their SLR past toward their new mirrorless future. Mirrorless is no longer "the next big thing" in photography. Rather, it has taken a firm foothold within the industry. Nikon wanted to get it right and their patience proved fruitful.
Last year, Nikon took home the award for "Best Overall Camera" with the aforementioned D850 DSLR. While their mirrorless follow-up act this year didn't receive our top prize, it may nonetheless prove to be one of Nikon's most important cameras ever. Alongside the lower-resolution Z6, the Nikon Z7 is one of Nikon's first full-frame mirrorless cameras and part of their brand-new Z mirrorless camera system. The Z7 adeptly balances a familiar Nikon look and feel with a much smaller and lighter camera body. Some buttons have been left on the design room floor, but the essential feel and usability that Nikon is known for are very well preserved throughout the body of the Z7. And the new electronic viewfinder of the Z7 is fantastic and is one of the best EVFs we have ever used.
A lot of what we loved about the D850 last year is present in the Z7, including a 45.7-megapixel full-frame image sensor and fast continuous shooting performance. It's a very good time to be a Nikon fan and we are excited to see what Nikon does next. But for now, the Nikon Z7 is one of the best cameras of 2018 and is very deserving of this distinction.
Not to be content with just one full-frame mirrorless camera this year, Nikon surprised us all with a second camera, the Nikon Z6. Sporting an identical body design as the higher-res Z7, the Z6, instead, offers a more manageable 24MP full-frame sensor and with that, a performance bump with continuous shooting as well as full sensor width 4K video using full-pixel readout. What's more is that the Z6 is very competitively priced, at just $2,000, putting it right within enthusiast and perhaps pro camera territory.
In the field, the Nikon Z6, much like the Z7, offers robust weather-sealed construction, comfortable ergonomics (despite the smaller body design) and a consistency to its design that should be familiar to existing Nikon DSLR shooters (as well as being easy to use for newcomers). As we've come to expect with Nikon cameras, especially full-frame ones, the image quality out of the Z6 is very impressive. Obviously, it has less resolving power than the Z7, but files still offer plenty of fine detail, as well as excellent dynamic range, color rendition, and high ISO quality. Performance-wise, the Z6 provides speedy autofocus, with both native Z-mount optics as well as many F-mount lenses via an adapter, and in terms of continuous shooting, the Z6 offers up to 12fps with continuous AF, making it an excellent option for most sports and wildlife situations.
Overall, the Nikon Z6 is a wonderful, well-rounded camera that's useful in a wide variety of shooting situations -- an impressive feat for what's essentially a first-generation product. Of course, given the new mount, there are few native Z-mount lenses currently, so the Z6 (and Z7) really feel more suitable to current Nikon DSLR owners for now. In the end, though, we really had trouble finding serious fault with this camera. Image quality is great, video is great, performance is great, and the design is great. The Nikon Z6 was an easy pick as one of the best cameras of 2018.
Professional photographers have highly varied needs and wants when it comes to camera gear. Portrait photographers will demand something different than landscape photographers, for example. This is part of why a professional camera should excel for many uses, and a pro-oriented camera in 2018 should be capable of producing high-quality video as well.
Enter the versatile and well-rounded Nikon Z7, Nikon's first high-megapixel full-frame mirrorless camera. Kicking off a brand-new camera system with a professional camera is a bold choice because after all, while we all enjoy reading about high-end cameras, the vast majority of people don't spend over $3,000 on a camera body. Perhaps a bolder choice was releasing a pro-oriented camera with only a single XQD card slot. We're sure that some professionals would hesitate buying the Z7 for this simple fact, but for those who can look past this omission, they'll find a full-frame camera capable of producing very high-quality photos and videos in a wide array of situations. The robustly weather-sealed 45.7-megapixel camera can shoot at up to 9 frames per second, has 493 autofocus points and records 4K UHD video at up to 30 frames per second. The Z7 is not only impressive on paper, but it also excelled in our lab and in the field.
As cameras continue to get smaller thanks to mirrorless technology, their capabilities are ever expanding. The Z7 is no exception. In an industry where professional photographers have many different demands, the Nikon Z7 is well-suited to overcome all challenges and empower photographers in special ways. Rising above the steep competition, the Nikon Z7 is our choice as the Best Professional Camera of 2018.
In February of 2017, Fujifilm released the GFX 50S, its first medium-format mirrorless camera. In developing a medium-format camera system, the company skipped right over the very popular full-frame sensor format. Fujifilm hoped to make medium-format more affordable and easier to use. To that end, the GFX 50S has been a success. However, more could be done on both counts. This is where the rangefinder-style Fujifilm GFX 50R comes in. The GFX 50R is not only more compact and perhaps more stylish than the GFX 50S, but it is also priced aggressively at $4,500 USD, which is $2,000 less than the GFX 50S's launch price.
For many professionals, image quality is of utmost concern. This is where the GFX 50R excels thanks to its 51.4-megapixel medium-format CMOS sensor. The sharpness and resolving power of the GFX 50R is second to none for its price point and quite frankly, it performs well against significantly more expensive medium-format camera systems. While the GFX 50R may not offer the same speed and focusing performance as a full-frame camera, it delivers a very enjoyable overall shooting experience and is well-suited to many shooting scenarios. In the studio and in the field, the Fujifilm GFX 50R is a highly capable professional medium-format camera in its most accessible form. This is why it has earned an award of Distinction in this year's Best Professional category.
Two years ago, Ricoh scored itself a Camera of Distinction award for its first-ever full-frame digital SLR, the Pentax K-1. Fast-forward to the present day, and the closely-related followup Pentax K-1 II has just managed the very same feat. We find that twofer to be particularly apt because these cameras are more than just siblings: For many months after the K-1 II's launch, it was actually possible to have your K-1 upgraded to the new model's specification for a fairly modest fee. To our knowledge, that's completely unique in the history of the DSLR market. We've seen the promise of upgradeable cameras before, but we've never seen a company actually make it happen, other than Ricoh.
So what does the new model bring to the table, beyond what was already on offer in the ruggedly-built and extremely feature-rich K-1? Well, the K-1 II sports a brand-new accelerator unit that has allowed up to a two-stop improvement in noise levels. It also brings with it an upgraded Pixel Shift Resolution System II that extends the clever resolution-boosting multi-shot mode of the earlier model to allow for handheld shooting, another industry first.
These two upgrades alone weren't enough to bring home the overall title for Ricoh in our professional camera category, obviously. But they have helped to make an already-impressive camera measurably better than before, and have reset the bar for what Pentaxians can expect from a full-frame DSLR. That's great news for K-mount shooters and those considering making the leap to Pentax from another brand alike!
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Imaging Resource Camera of the Year Awards 2018
Best Overall & Professional Cameras (current page)
Best Lenses of the Year (coming soon)