Cameras tend to come in tiers — there are the big, professional rigs; the mid-priced enthusiast models; and the baby beginner ones. Each tier has a corresponding price point, with the professional models naturally costing the most. But, as cameras age, those prices begin to fall — and eventually, the price an older upper tier camera approaches that of a new beginner model.
Last generation’s enthusiast model may offer more features than this generation’s beginner model, but at a similar price. Sure, that older model may no longer be the best camera on the market, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a capable machine. While buying used can save even more money, in many cases, it’s still easy to find a new-in-the-box camera that’s a generation or two old, complete with a full manufacturer warranty.
Buying an older camera isn’t without its pitfalls — it may be tough to decide when an old camera is actually worth the savings over the new models, and when that older camera is better than newer cameras at the same price point. For example, while you can still buy a refurbished Nikon 1, we don’t recommend it since the series has been discontinued and any lens investments won’t last.
However, there are many cameras that make for safer bets. Here are four models that may be a few years old, but still offer incredible bang for the buck.
The camera that started Sony’s full-frame mirrorless reign, the A7 packs several advanced features — and you can get it for under $1,000 — with a lens. Even though the series is now in its third generation, the megapixel count remains unchanged at 24MP. The first-generation A7 is even lighter than the latest model, although this is due in part to a lack of weather sealing. The newer version improves color and high ISO performance, but the original A7’s image quality is still very good — especially at such a low price, where it’s even cheaper than many cameras using the smaller APS-C sensor format.
To be sure, four years of product development time has made the latest Sony a7 III considerably better than its grandparent — there’s in-body image stabilization, 4K video, more than 500 more focus points, twice the continuous shooting speed (10 versus 5 frames per second), twice the battery life, and twice the SD card slots (2 versus 1).
But the real reason to consider the Sony a7 is that price point. Finding a new, full-frame camera with a lens for less than $1,000 is tough to do. For reference, the A7 III is $2,000 without a lens.
Canon EOS 6D
Continuing on the trend of sub-$1,000 full-frame cameras, the Canon EOS 6D is now six years old, but is one of the few enthusiast-level cameras that just skips that four figure point. The 6D has a 20MP full-frame sensor and excellent 1,090-shot battery life.
The newer 6D Mark II makes several improvements, including upping the megapixels to 26, increasing the number of autofocus points, and expanding the ISO sensitivity range — for an additional $600. For many people, the first-generation 6D is perfectly fine and the improvements in the Mark II model simply don’t warrant the extra cost. The other Canon DSLRs that cost less than $1,000, like the EOS 77D, are crop-sensor models, which don’t offer the image quality of the full-frame 6D.
The $2,000 Panasonic GH5 ($1,700 after instant rebate at the time of writing) offers impressive 60fps 4K video — but the earlier GH4 offers very good 30fps 4K for just $1,000. And like the GH5, it’s no slouch for still photos either, with a 16MP Micro Four Thirds sensor. It won’t match the image quality of larger-sensor cameras, like the above full-frame models, but it does offer a compelling combination of still and video features which make it a better choice for hybrid shooters looking for the best of both worlds.
That said, the GH5 did bring signficiatn upgrades over the GH4 which are worth considering: 5-axis in-body stabilization, 6K Photo Mode, 60 fps 4K, a 20MP sensor, and a more robust autofocus system. But if you can get on without those advantages, the GH4 is a more-than-capable camera for a wide variety of assignments at just $998.
Sony RX100 IV
Sony’s RX100 line has long been the benchmark against which other advanced compact cameras are judged. While the series is in its sixth incarnation, it has gotten progressively more expensive with each model. Fortunately, every generation of RX100 camera remains available to buy brand new. Of these, the $898 RX100 IV ($798 after instant rebate at the time of writing) stands out. It was the first in the series to add 4K video — complete with Sony’s S-Log2 flat color profile, for advanced videographers — and it also offers lower resolution slow-motion recording up to 960 fps.
Like other RX100 models, it’s built around a 20MP 1-inch-type sensor, offering vastly superior image quality compared to traditional point-and-shoots — which users smaller sensors — without growing too much in size. The built-in 24-70mm (full-frame equivalent) lens offers a fast aperture of f/1.8-2.8, great for working in low light. With the combination of advanced photo and video features and go-anywhere size, the RX100 IV is simply one of the most versatile cameras on the market — and if you don’t need 4K video, you’ll find most of the other features in the older RX100 III for $100 less.
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