The Best Digital Cameras

The best digital camera takes exceptional photos while offering features that support beginners and semi-professionals who want to develop their photography skills. We consulted photographers, read through photography sites and consumer reviews, and gathered nine highly rated cameras to see which would help you capture the perfect shot, from a school play to an impressively plated dessert.

The 4 Best Digital Cameras

The Best
Portable Camera
Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 IV
Sony
The best camera for those who just want to point and shoot, like travelers and bloggers.
Pros
Intuitive guidance
Versatile
Unique features
Cons
Expensive

Why we chose it

Intuitive guidance

While every compact camera we tested came with an auto mode for easy picture taking, the Sony RX100 IV was our favorite for teaching us how to take more advanced photos. When you scroll through the various modes, such as shutter priority, manual exposure, and filming, the screen displays a helpful reminder of what each particular mode is used for. It’s a thoughtful inclusion that makes learning how to use the more complex features of the camera much easier.

The closest competitor in terms of overall design, the Canon PowerShot G7 X, allows you to scroll through similar options, but it doesn’t explain what they do. We appreciate being able to tinker and learn with the Sony without needing to pull up online photography guides on our phone.

Versatile

Not only will the Sony help make you a more versatile photographer, it is also one of the more versatile cameras we tested. It’s the only compact camera we tested that has a built-in viewfinder as well as a built-in flash. Our tester appreciated the viewfinder in bright rooms or on sunny days, where the glare of light would interfere with the LCD screen. Add to that the fact that the Sony RX100 IV also has an adjustable screen for finding the perfect angle for your shot, and the Sony RX100 IV takes the crown.

Sony Viewfinder for Digital Camera

We appreciated the Sony's built-in viewfinder.

Unique features

Those who don’t want to learn more advanced photography will be able to simply point and shoot but also have access to a few bells and whistles that are effortless to use. The adjustable screen flips up for easy selfies with friends and utilizes a unique three-second countdown that ensures you’ll be able to line up a great shot that won’t accidentally clip someone out. Other cameras like the Canon PowerShot G9 X and Ricoh GR II don’t have adjustable screens, which means you’ll need to use a little more trial and error to line up a strangely angled shot, selfie, or video.

Sony Screen for Digital Camera

Points to consider

Expensive

The price is steep — $900 — which makes the Sony the most expensive out of our compact picks. Most starter point-and-shoot cameras are around $300 to $600. The Sony’s high price tag is close to our larger DSLR professional picks. Good cameras are an investment, and we’d be happy to shoot simple photos as well as learn more advanced photography with the Sony. But if you plan on upgrading to a larger and more advanced camera soon, maybe start with something cheaper.

The Best
Advanced Camera
Fujifilm X-T20
Fujifilm
The best camera for photography skill development: good for professional photographers or anyone who wants to shoot high-quality video.
Pros
Large sensor
Videography features
Simple controls
Cons
Limited lens library
No stabilization

Why we chose it

Large sensor

The Fujifilm has a sensor that is 1.6 times larger than the sensor of its closest competitor, the Olympus E-M10 Mark II. With a larger sensor, more light will be able to enter the camera, which gives the photographer more control on depth of field. That is, the larger sensor will make it easier to capture better pictures. The Fujifilm doesn’t have a score on DxOMark, but DPReview reports little noise or graininess and a sensor that is on par with the highest-performing competitors.

Fuji Back for Digital Camera

Videography features

Our experts told us that the lightweight design of mirrorless cameras not only makes them great for photos on the go, but for shooting video as well. The Fujifilm X-T20 shoots 4K video and offers a microphone port for capturing audio — an integral part of videography. Unlike standard HD video, 4K has considerably higher pixel resolution, which leads to much sharper and crisper images.

Simple controls

The overall design of the camera also makes it simple to learn and use. The top of the camera has controls for adjusting the different camera modes, shutter speeds, and exposure compensation — important for adjusting the light and dark areas of a photo. The dials are clearly labeled, which made it easy for our tester to find the settings they needed.

Fuji Top for Digital Camera

Points to consider

Limited lens library

The Fujifilm X-T20 has only 34 compatible lens options. That may seem like a lot, but the Olympus offers a much larger lens library at 86 — which allows for far more customization. As Chan explained to us, advanced photography “comes back to understanding your niche.” You won’t need 30 different lenses in order to shoot it, but the right lens for you might be outside of the Fujifilm’s range. Depending on your priorities and what you want to capture, Fujifilm’s limited library of lenses may be a dealbreaker.

No stabilization

The Fujifilm X-T20 lacks image stabilization, so you’ll need to practice having steady hands in order to prevent imbalanced photos. Several of its lenses do boast onboard image stabilization, but image stabilization was a handy feature that came standard in our other favorites.

The Best
Affordable Camera (Portable)
Ricoh GR II
Ricoh
Beautiful photos, as long as you don't need a zoom.
Pros
Exceptional image quality
Cons
No versatility

Why we chose it

Exceptional image quality

The Ricoh GR II is a favorite among professional photographers for having exceptional image quality. This surprised us at first because of its compact design, but it made sense once we realized that the Ricoh GR II comes with an APS-C sensor, which is usually found in mirrorless or DSLR cameras. The larger sensor allows the Ricoh GR II to capture more information that it can then convert into an image. The result is a camera that can take better photos than it should be able to at its size.

Ricoh Back for Digital Camera

Points to consider

No versatility

In terms of versatility, the Ricoh GR II can’t stand up to the Sony RX100 IV. The Ricoh doesn’t come with a zoom function, and it uses a specialized USB cord to charge. The lack of zoom on a compact is hard to ignore, especially for parents trying to capture their child’s concert from the back of an auditorium. In addition, the special USB cable for the Ricoh only costs $8, but forgetting the cable while traveling means you’ll have to spend time tracking down a replacement rather than shooting photos. In comparison, the Sony can be charged with a microUSB; chances are, you already own one for your phone or tablet.

The Best
Affordable Camera (Portable)
Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II
Olympus
A cheaper, more confusing alternative to the Fujifilm.
Pros
Great price
Cons
Confusing interface
Requires specialized cable

Why we chose it

Great price

The greatest benefit of the Olympus over the Fujifilm comes down to price. At $650, it is almost half the price of the $1,200 Fujifilm. It also has fairly high quality scores for the price, earning a decent 73/100 from DxOMark. If we ask ourselves which camera we would rather pick up for ease of use alone, our honest answer is the Fujifilm. But for those who want an excellent mirrorless camera at a budget price, the Olympus won’t disappoint.

Olympus Back for Digital Camera

Points to consider

Confusing interface

The Olympus has confusing menus that are difficult to navigate, and one tester became frustrated when trying to figure out how to customize the camera’s settings. DPReview had the same problem and reported that even some of their professional photographers ran into confusion. While complex menus are inevitable with any digital product, the Fujifilm’s layout was far more intuitive.

Requires specialized cable

The Olympus also requires a specialized USB cable (mini B) in order to charge, which can be difficult to find. Standard micro USBs, like that of the Fujifilm, are available at most retail stores. We like that we don’t have to worry about losing our charging cable when traveling with the Fujifilm.

Guide to Digital Cameras

How to hone your technique

Image quality is the first thing that comes to mind when choosing the best camera. But when we consulted professional photographers, they told us that a camera itself will only get you so far. Photographer Nicholas Purcell explained that “the tool you use doesn’t matter as much as your skill as a photographer.” In other words, most cameras will be able to take high quality pictures, but you’ll need technique in order to grab that perfect shot.

The rule of thirds

One of the most common techniques, the rule of thirds, is a reminder to resist the natural tendency of placing your subject in the middle of the frame. Instead, photographers suggest thinking of the frame as if it was split into nine equal squares: a grid that's three across and three down. Placing the subject where the squares intersect draws more attention from the viewer’s eyes, which leads to a better photo.

Centered shots look great with symmetry

At times a centered shot will look better, like a photo of a road with the lane divider in the center. Having symmetry on either side of the photo will help bring attention to the subject in the center — the road and lane divider. The symmetry doesn’t have to be perfect, but any large differences can distract from the subject.

Fill the frame

Essentially, filling the frame means leaving very little space around your subject. For example, filling the frame with a picture of a flower can lead to a crisp and detailed image. A lot of space around the flower can be distracting.

The rule of odds

This technique basically means that an odd number of subjects in your photo will be more attractive. The idea is that an even number of subjects, such as two people at a table, will force you to split your attention between them.

While not comprehensive, these tips are a great way to start improving your technique as a photographer, no matter what type of camera you use. Award-winning photographer Jere Hietala told us that “there is no such thing as a mistake” when you’re learning photography or photo editing – a lesson he said he’s learned through his own work and as an advisory board member at Loupedeck, a photo editing console built to improve the Adobe Lightroom experience. Hietala believes that the best strategy is to experiment with various techniques until you find the combination you like.

Digital Camera FAQ

What is the difference between compact and mirrorless cameras?

Compact cameras are commonly known as point-and-shoot cameras. As their name suggests, they have a design that is lighter and more portable than their mirrorless or DSLR counterparts. Cheaper or low-performance compact cameras shoot pictures that are comparable to or even worse than a smartphone camera.

Compact Finalists for Digital Camera

Mirrorless cameras are high-performance cameras with image quality that is on par with DSLRs. Unlike DSLRs, mirrorless cameras lack a mirror box and prism, so light directly hits the image sensor. Translation? Mirrorless options are simply a newer type of camera that doesn’t require as many parts as the older DSLRs.

DSLR vs Mirrorless for Digital Camera

What camera should I buy?

The answer comes down to personal preference and lifestyle. Tom Hoebbel, a professional photographer of over 25 years, explained, “If you travel a lot and want to take good photos without carrying a lot of gear, a compact is the way to go.” He told us that their ease of use also makes them a perfect fit for those who “want to have a camera at the swimming pool, campground, or have kids who are growing up.” As for mirrorless, they’ll require a steeper learning curve. But Shields informed us that they’re favored with videographers, and with the proper skill they capture excellent pictures.

What lens should I buy?

Choosing a new camera lens will depend on the camera you have, the type of photography you practice, and your budget. If you aren’t sure what you’ll love, try renting the equipment before buying. Renting equipment for a week can help you determine if it’s the right fit for you. You won’t be able to rent cheap compact cameras, but for those who are still on the fence between a high-end compact or mirrorless, renting is a great way to get hands-on experience with your potential investment. Our experts still recommend that you do some research before renting, though. Rental services can charge around $25 to $30 per day, so it’s better to create a list of the cameras and essential accessories you’ll need before committing.

What DSLR camera is best?

The Nikon D3400 was our favorite DSLR that we tested, but it may depend on your skill and subject matter. For this review, we split our contenders into compact and mirrorless. If you want to take the next step in your photography and learn more about the best professional camera, check out our review of the best DSLR cameras.

The Best Digital Cameras: Summed Up

Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 IV
Fujifilm X-T20
Ricoh GR II
Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II
The best
Portable Camera
Advanced Camera
Affordable Camera (Portable)
Affordable Camera (Advanced)
Price
$900
$1,200
$600
$650
DxOMark score
70/100
N/A
80/100
73/100
Camera type
Compact
Mirrorless
Compact
Mirrorless
Amazon rating
4.3/5
4.6/5
4.5/5
4.2/5