I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I have been asked this question or seen this question posted online. This question cannot be answered without knowing more about the person who is asking. What do you photograph? Is your subject indoors or outside? Is your subject fast or slow? Do you also plan to do video? All of these factors play a part in deciding which camera would be "best" for a certain individual. My answer to this question would most likely not be the same for any two people.
FTC Disclaimer: **This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking through my links; these links are mostly to the used reseller site for KEH which I strongly recommend to not only save money, but because if you call them they will help you decide on a camera that is the best for YOU based on your needs.
I also can't keep count of the number of blog posts that purport to answer the above question (without knowing anything about you!). I have seen blogs and articles provide lists of the "best" cameras for [2022 or insert year] or the "best" lenses for [landscapes or insert other photography type here]. While some of these articles may have research to back them up, most of the time they are just arbitrary lists to the tops sellers on Amazon and the writer is just hoping to cash in on your clicks. The truth is the question of which camera is "best" requires you to know the answer to many other questions first, such as...
1. What is your budget?
2. What camera or lenses to you already own?
3. What country do you live in?
4. How much do you already know about photography?
5. Do you plan to make any type of business from your photography?
6. Have you picked up and held different cameras yet (DSLR, mirrorless, etc)?
7. What will be the subject matter of at least 50% of your photos?
8. What will the subject matter be the remaining % of the time?
9. Do you have any speedlights, strobes, or light modifiers?
10. If you don't have these, will you need them? (The answer to this depends on a whole other list of questions)
11. Do you plan to travel with this camera (overseas, on rugged terrain, hiking long distances)?
... and more.
There are many factors that would need to be incorporated to decide what is the “best” camera to buy for any one person. Each genre of photography utilizes different aspects of a camera and each photographer appreciates certain aspects more than others. Hypothetically, if we discuss just one aspect of a camera, such as camera sensors, then it becomes a little easier to make a list of what camera is "best." Most camera brands submit their cameras, lenses, and sensors to rigorous testing to several different outlets who then give those items scores and ranks, much like wines are given scores.
One resource for this information is https://dxomark.com who currently rank the Hasselblad X1D-50c (Medium Format 50MP) as the best sensor with a score of 102. Given that the price range of this camera is almost $6000 and it is a medium format, it is likely that only a serious professional with specialized needs and a large budget will be buying this camera. So even though this might be the "best" camera based on its sensor, that factor isn't everything you need to make a good decision.
Most consumers are buying either full-frame or APS-C cameras. The highest scoring full-frame camera sensors are all tied at 100, including the Panasonic Lumix DC-S1R 47.3MP, the Nikon D850 45.7MP, the Sony A7R III 42.4MP, and the Nikon Z7II 45.75MP.
This is also where the “best” camera becomes much more subjective. Some of these cameras are DSLR (mirrored) cameras and some are mirrorless cameras. The difference between mirrored and mirrorless is just a mechanical one that has no effect on image quality, but many people prefer mirrorless because of its smaller overall size and lighter weight. For more about the differences between DSLR and mirrorless cameras check out our previous post.
Some photographers might prefer the larger megapixel count of the Nikon D850, or they might prefer the Sony A7R III because of its autofocus capabilities which make it a beast for sports photography. Or a photographer might even drop all the way down to the Canon EOS R3 24.1MP sensor which scored a 96 because that camera has the “best” low-light capabilities. As you can begin to see, there is much more to choosing a camera than just one component and unfortunately, no one camera features the "best" of every component. No matter what camera you choose that is the "best" in one area, there will be trade-offs with other functions that maybe are not as good as another manufacturer.
The cameras in the full-frame category are all around the $3000 price range. To learn how to save money on camera gear read our previous post. Many consumers cannot afford a full frame so they will want an APS-C (or crop sensor) camera instead. You budget is a very important factor in determining what camera is "best" for you!
The top or “best” sensors in this category are tied with a score of 87. They are the Nikon D7200 24.2MP ($1200 new) and the Samsung NX500 28MP ($800 new). The Canon EOS 5DS also falls in this category with a score of 87, but its price is still a whopping $3700 (new, $1600 used).
If you simply want to judge the “best” camera as the most popular camera, then you would need to buy a Canon. Canon has the most market share and is the top-selling camera brand in the world. By the numbers, Canon sold a total of 2.76 million cameras last year, Sony sold 1.15 million, and Nikon sold 900,000.
Digging a little deeper we might also determine the “best” camera as the camera that has the staying power to still be bought and used long after its release date. That would be the Canon 5D Mark III. The Canon 5D III was released in March of 2012. Basically a decade later it is still the number one camera being bought and sold in the resale market among DSLR and mirrorless combined. That means this camera is a workhorse and a quality product that produces amazing images. Otherwise it wouldn’t still be in such high demand. Prior to the Canon 5D III was the Canon 5D Mark II which also kept a top #1 slot for about 12 years after its release. Even this year, which is 16 ½ years after it was released, the Canon 5D Mark II is still in the #4 slot for used camera sales. The Canon 5D Mark II is one of the best of the cameras I use.
Looking solely at mirrorless cameras, the “best” is unarguably Sony. Sony sold about as many mirrorless cameras last year as Canon and Nikon combined. You can’t go wrong with a Sony a6000 or anything in the a7 camera line. The Sony a6000 was the #1 mirrorless camera in the resale market last year, while the a7 cameras are their most popular new sellers.
The main point I try to get across to my clients is that almost any current camera (last 5-6 years and in some cases even older) is capable of producing high-quality, professional images. Your skill as a photographer and the lenses you use are at least of equal, if not of more importance than the camera. The old saying “the best camera is the one you have in your hands” really does hold true. There are people who are making art and phenomenal images with their smartphones.
So how do you decide which camera is "best" for you?
With some help.
First, check websites like DXO Mark and Camera Decision.
Second, read real reviews from photographers who rank camera equipment (not those Top 10 Cameras for 2022 bloggers). Ken Rockwell is an excellent resource.
Third, follow on social media or subscribe to industry news sources like Amateur Photographer or Digital Photographer, or ambassador/photographers for the major brands (Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus) who often get equipment to test. I publish a quarterly newsletter with camera news updates and you can follow me on Twitter @focusedcamera.
Fourth, call FocusEd Camera for a consultation or a Try Before You Buy Class.
Lastly, contact an authorized seller and speak to one of their knowledgeable sales persons to help guide you to a decision (use try KEH or MPB and for new try B&H Photo or Adorama).
If you call us or a seller, be prepared to answer questions like those at the beginning of this post. Whatever you do, do not just take a Facebook group opinion poll or click an Amazon link from a blog post with no research behind it, otherwise you will likely be very disappointed.
Let us know in the comments how we can help!