The Best Digital Cameras 2016
The year's top cameras in every category
2016 could be a big year for cameras with both Nikon and Canon releasing new flagship DSLRs, the D5 and 1 DX Mark II. But even for consumers that don't have $6,000 to spend on a camera, manufacturers have been releasing new models throughout the year, some well worth their price while a handful aren't anything too special. Megapixel counts are growing, speed is increasing and 4K is becoming more readily available.
The options here have all made the best digital camera 2016 list because they either offer the best features and performance or offer incredible value. After all, not everyone has $6,000 to drop on a new camera.
In 2016, point-and-shoot cameras are becoming rare, but not obsolete. Instead of looking for a typical point-and-shoot, look at the budget advanced compact category. These cameras have larger sensors and brighter lenses as well as manual modes, while the older basic point-and-shoots are finding it tough to compete with smartphones. Or, take a look at the compact zoom or super zoom category, because outside of resolution, smartphone cameras simply don't have the reach of a dedicated camera.
For consumers looking to spend a little more, a mirrorless camera or DSLR is your best bet, offering flexbility, resolution and top performance. Early in 2016, Nikon and Canon updated their most expensive models, the D5 and EOS 1DX Mark II. Canon also upgraded the autofocus on the $1,200 EOS 80D while Nikon added a speedy 10 fps D500.
So, without further adieu, here are the best cameras of 2016.
2016 didn't bring as many new super zoom cameras as previous years, but the Nikon B700 offers a good set of features for the price. While manufacuterers devoted more time this year to what we'd call advanced super zooms with larger sensors and more features, the B700 is a good option for those that pale at the price tag of the Nikon DL 28-700 or Panasonic FZ2500. The B700 offers a 60x zoom and 4K video, along with added convenience features like an electronic viewfinder, tilting LCD screen and Bluetooth. Sure, it won't stand up to the Sony RX10 III, but it's a solid choice for consumers that only have $500 or so to spend.
If you need more reach, look at last year's Nikon P900.
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- Nikon COOLPIX P900
The Panasonic ZS50 took this slot last year for image quality, versatility and speed -- and the predecessor, the ZS60, takes the same honors this year with a similar but upgraded feature set. The ZS60 re-wraps everything we liked about the older ZS50 including a 30x optical zoom and speedy 10 fps burst mode, but adds 4K video into the mix. (If 4K doesn't interest you, check for deals on the older ZS50). The Nikon A900 includes Bluetooth, but it's slower. And while the Sony HX90 has a pop-up viewfinder, there's no 4K option.
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- Nikon COOLPIX A900
We've been seeing more and more advanced compacts with zoom lately, and figured that they deserved their own category. The Nikon DL 24-500 experienced some delay coming to stores after the announcement, but boasts some pretty big features now that the camera is available. The DL is faster than the Sony RX10 III, and while the Sony will likely have a slight edge in image quality because of a better lens, the Nikon DL sits at $500 less. The macro to telephoto range is impressive, the autofocus boasts 171 points and Bluetooth adds long-term connections to mobile devices. The biggest thing we're not so impressed with? The 290 shot battery life -- so pick up a spare if you plan to shoot with the camera more several hours at a time.
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While 2016 brought some decent budget waterproof cameras like the Olympus TG-870 Tough, nothing quite matched the 2015 Olympus TG-4's bright lens and advanced features. The TG-4, like it's predessor, once again sits as a top pick for waterproof compact cameras. Here's why we picked it last year:
"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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- Olympus TG-870 Tough
Fewer companies are devoting resources to developing basic point-and-shoots -- but we really don't mind because there's a handful of advanced compacts that have really come down in price and offer a whole lot more than the basics. 2016 didn't bring any new options at the under $500 price point, so our 2015 pick still stands here. Basically, $300 is a steal for the Fujifilm QX2. For about the price of what point-and-shoots used to sit at, the QX2 offers a bigger sensor (i.e. higher resolution), a brighter lens and a 12 fps burst mode. And as an advanced compact, it comes equipped with manual modes too. Sure, there are better, more expensive advanced compacts out there, but for now, the XQ2 is a safe bet when you only have $300 to spend.
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Two things have us really intrigued about the Fujifilm X70. First, it houses the same APS-C X-Trans sensor that's inside their mirrorless cameras. Every X-Trans sensor we've tested has had beautiful color reproduction, and most advanced compacts have smaller sensors. But the X70 also costs over $100 less than options like the Sony RX100 IV. While the X70 has a fixed lens, Fujifilm has taken a lot of what street shooters love about the pricey X100T and pushed the price down quite a bit. If the lack of a zoom and viewfinder doesn't turn you off, the X70 is looking pretty promising for a pocketable camera.
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- Sony RX100 IV
Budget mirrorless (and DSLR) cameras still offer much bigger sensors than compact cameras, even though they might skimp out on a few features of their pricier big siblings. The Fujifilm X-A3 has a large APS-C sensor, but unlike the more advanced options, keeps the optical low pass filter, which means a slight loss in detail. That's okay (or at least okay for $600) because the the previous X-A2 still shot good images, and we wouldn't expect less from the newly released X-A3. Fujifilm's budget mirrorless also skips out on the viewfinder and has a cheaper build. Still, the large 24 megapixel sensor is hard to come by at this price point and the camera still manages to wrap up a fairly good speed too. If that budget has some wiggle room though, take a look at the X-T10 which eliminates the low pass filter on the sensor for more detail.
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- Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II
Mirrorless cameras have notoriously lagged behind their older DSLR siblings but Sony is working to change that stigma with their fastest mirrorless camera yet. Boasting a .05 second autofocus and a 11 fps burst speed, the Sony a6500 is an impressive piece of equipment. While harnessing all that speed, the a6500 still manages to use a APS-C sensor, so you're not trading resolution for speed. But of course speed isn't the only reason the Sony a6500 is taking a top slot -- this mirrorless body also boasts five-axis image stabilization and 4K video.
If speed isn't as much of a priority but you tend to drool over the look of a classic camera, the beautifully styled and solid performing Olympus PEN-F may be more your style.
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- Olympus PEN-F
We're big fans of Fujifilm's X-Trans sensors because they offer a beautiful level of detail and color reproduction. Well, they've improved that even more in 2016, with more megapixels and autofocus points. That sensor is paired with a new processor that improves the burst speed to 8 fps. The sensor and processor are the two most important upgrades, and both of them see updates this year on a camera that was already pretty solid to begin with.
The body of the X-Pro2 is a bit unexpected--the viewfinder is on the left instead of in the middle, paying homage to the old rangefinder cameras. But it's not just the location that's changed--it's a hybrid viewfinder, or an optical viewfinder with an optional electronic overlay. Because mirrorless cameras don't have that mirror, optical viewfinders were previously out of the question, but with this design change, Fujifilm has made it happen.
With the sensor upgrades and unique viewfinder design, the Fujifilm X-Pro2 is making a run for the top mirrorless camera 2016 title.
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- Sony a7R II
Nikon is our choice for both the best beginners camera and the runner up, due both to the feature set and the fact that there isn't a Canon in the same price range without picking a model that's already been replaced (The Canon Rebel T6i is currenlty listed for over $100 more, with similar specs minus a few features). The new Nikon D3400 offers good image quality for the price, and now offers Bluetooth as well as almost double the battery life of the D3300. But if you can swing it, the 2015 D5500 still offers a handful of nice extras that go a bit beyond the necessities, and, if pattern holds true, won't see an upgrade until 2017.
The D5500 uses a tilting touchscreen, Nikon's first DSLR to include the touch technology. It also offers built-in wi-fi for linking with a smartphone or tablet. The D5500 also has 39 autofocus points to the D3300's 11. You'll get even more features with the D7200, but the control scheme is likely too frustrating to learn for a beginner. Since it is a 2015 model, it's easy to find it on sale for under $850 with a kit lens--that's an excellent deal.
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- Nikon D3400
Nikon has essentially repackaged their $7,000 D5 for enthusiasts and budget professionals with the $2,000 D500. The D5 has a similar 153-point autofocus system, slightly slower 10 fps burst speed, 4K video and Bluetooth. So how does Nikon cut $5,000 off the price? The Nikon D500 is an APS-C camera, while the D5 has a full frame sensor.
Speed is hard to come by in DSLRs until you hit that big price point, but the D500 makes it more accessible. (To be fair, Canon reached that point first with the $1,200 EOS 7D Mark II in 2014, which is still an excellent and well-priced option, though without 4K or Bluetooth). Paired with that 153-point autofocus system, this camera should be a hit for sports and really any kind of action photography. With so many features that are hard to find on APS-C DSLRs, the D500 had to take a slot in the best digital cameras 2016 list.
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- Canon EOS 7D Mark II
Both Nikon and Canon updated their flagship DSLRs this year, so why does the Canon come out on top? While both cameras appear to be quite excellent (at least in specs), the EOS-1DX Mark II comes out on top in a few areas and also costs $500 less. Both cameras also 4K recording, but the Canon shoots at 60 fps and the D5 at only 30 fps. What's more, the Nikon is limited to just three minute clips, while with a big enough SD card you can shoot up to ten minutes of 4K video at once on the 1DX II. Canon also offers the higher burst, at 16 fps in Live View or 14 fps through the viewfinder.
The 1DX II uses a 20.2 megapixel full frame sensor with a 65 point autofocus system. Besides that big power on the inside, the camera is well-built with a magnesium alloy body and 100 percent field of view viewfinder. It has an 800 shot battery life and records to CF cards.
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- Nikon D5