Sharp shooters: Our favorite cameras of 2014

Samsung NX1 front
As we head into 2015, we can continue to anticipate new cameras – from smartphones to interchangeable lens models – that push photographic technologies to the next level. But before we bust out the Auld Lang Syne, we can’t disregard the fantastic gear that was introduced.

This past year has been a good one for photographers of all levels – it seemed not a month went by without excellent new cameras hitting the scene. Traditional camera makers have come to terms with the reality that, for casual, shareable photos, everyone and their mothers now use smartphones. With the basic point-and-shoot practically going the way of the dinosaur, camera makers are now concentrating on models that capture high-quality photos and videos, at levels far superior to smartphones.

We’ve had the good fortune to review many of these cameras, so we’re in position to tell you which were our favorites. We’re happy to report that you don’t have to spend a fortune either on some of these cameras. With that in mind, here are what we consider the camera highlights for 2014.

Camera of the Year: Samsung NX1

samsung-nx1-4

This may come as a shock since most people usually don’t think of Samsung when they’re looking for a top-notch camera. Televisions and smartphones? Sure, but not cameras at the lofty level dominated by high-end models from Canon, Nikon, and Sony. The NX1, however, stands out as a terrific mirrorless Compact System Camera (CSC) offering excellent stills and cutting-edge video. The interchangeable lens camera uses a newly developed 28.2MP backside-illuminated APS-C sensor – the largest currently available. Not only does it take superior images, it is one of the few capable of recording UHD and 4K movies along with the more prevalent but still very good 1080/60p.

What we experienced with this camera has impressed us so much it managed to edge out the Nikon D750 as our favorite – but just barely.

Read full review here.

Best DSLR: Nikon D750

Nikon D750

This hefty DSLR hit all the right notes: stills are mouth-watering, and the high-quality movies are among the best you’ll see this side of a true camcorder. It may have lost out to Samsung’s NX1 as our overall favorite by a hair, but Nikon’s D750 is the best DSLR to date.

The D750 is not inexpensive, yet in our review we noted it has loads of appealing features including a 24.3MP full-frame sensor; the same autofocus system as the flagship D4S; shoots 1080/60p video; built-in Wi-Fi; and top ISO of 51,200. Plus, it’s much more consumer-friendly than the D810 and D4S.

Shooting with the D750 is a lot of fun, and the 24-120mm is one of the finest kit lenses available. Simply put, the D750 is one of the best DSLRs we have ever tested and definitely earned our Editors’ Choice ranking. Although the camera is not perfection – we still haven’t found the ultimate digicam, NX1 included – it has so many positives that it should be at the top of the list for camera enthusiasts.

Read full review here.

Honorable Mention: There are many fine enthusiast and even entry-level DSLRs available. Among our favorites are the Sony SLT-A77A, Nikon D5300, and the Canon EOS 7D Mark II.

Best Mirrorless Camera: Sony Alpha A6000

Sony Alpha a6000 front left

The CSC category is possibly the most exciting in the industry right now. We tested many in 2014, and chose one as our Camera of the Year. The beauties of new mirrorless are small size, interchangeable lenses, and very good image and movie quality.

For this category, we could easily pick one of Sony’s excellent A7-series of full-frame cameras including the new A7 Mark II or A7S (the original A7, which is still for sale, was our overall favorite in 2013). Yet, you don’t have to spend two grand or more to achieve excellent results. That’s why we’ve chosen the Sony Alpha A6000.

The A6000, a DT Editors’ Choice, is available in multiple colors, has a 24MP APS-C sensor for great stills, and shoots 1080/60p videos that are also very good. Beyond these very important points, the A6000 has very fast hybrid autofocusing, an OLED viewfinder, as well as a tilting LCD screen. We noted in our review, “If it were our money, we suggest you purchase the body only and not the kit, and then buy higher-end primes and zooms that suit your photographic vision. This way you’ll maximize that 24.3MP APS-C sensor and have one of the best sub-$700 CSCs available as your next imaging tool.”

Read full review here.

Honorable Mention: Needless to say, any one of the Sony A7 series makes the list, as do the Fujifilm X-T1, Panasonic GH4, and Olympus E-PL7.

Best Compact Camera: Canon PowerShot G7 X

Canon-PowerShot-G7-X

Even though the appeal of compact cameras has been obliterated by smartphones, manufacturers are spending a lot of time and effort in order to make them enticing to more serious photographers. An excellent example is the new Canon PowerShot G7.

What sets this class of camera apart from the ordinary are larger image sensors (typically 1-inch), fast focusing, and a solid zoom range, all packed in an easy-to-carry package. We dubbed this Canon an Editors’ Choice thanks to its 20.2MP photos, 1080/60p movies, and built-in 4.2x (24-100mm) f/1.8-2.8 zoom lens. Also putting it beyond most of its competitors is a burst rate of 6.5 frames per second, for close to 30 shots – it is quite impressive. As we said in our review, “The PowerShot G7 X is without a doubt one of the best pocket cameras Canon has ever released: good pictures, nice movies, a bright lens, and adjustments by the bucketful. It’s simply a great walking-around camera.”

Read full review here.

Honorable Mention: Sony also makes some of the best compacts, particularly the Cyber-shot RX100 Mark II and Mark III. You can’t go wrong with either, especially if you opt for the Mark III with its pop-up viewfinder and XAVC-S videos. Also worthy of note is Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-LX100 with its Micro Four Thirds sensor, 24-75mm zoom, and 4K videos.

Best Premium Camera: Fujifilm X100T

Fujifilm X100T 1

Although we like zooms as much as the next shutterbug, there’s something pure and oh-so-retro about fixed focal length (prime) lens cameras. They’re not for everyone and it’s a niche category, but what you lose in zoom capabilities, you gain in image quality. Overall, we’re big fans of Fujifilm’s X-series cameras because they capture really fine photos, so our pick is the new X100T. We love its predecessor, the X100S reviewed in 2013, naming it an Editors’ Choice.

The new model has the same f/2.0 lens, 16.3MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS II sensor, and EXR Processor II image processor as the X100S, so picture quality is outstanding. One of the cool things we liked about the X100S is its aperture ring, and the X100T’s ring has been enhanced to let you really fine-tune your shots. It also has an improved Hybrid Viewfinder with a built-in Electronic Rangefinder, grabs 6 frames per second, and takes 1080/60p movies.

Honorable Mention: Sigma has several new models in its dp Quattro series. Otherwise, most prime cameras on sale are leftovers from 2013, like the Sony RX1/RX1R and Ricoh GR.

Best Camcorder: GoPro Hero4 Silver/Black

GoPro-Hero4-Silver

There’s a reason why GoPro Hero action cams are so popular: they’re not complicated to use and they shoot really good-quality videos. It also helps that professional videographers and the coolest athletes use them. In an imaging sector that hasn’t seen significant progress, GoPro is the exception.

But it’s not a gimmick. Pull aside GoPro’s marketing genius, the Hero cameras are highly functional devices that are also fun. Which is why we like the new Hero4 Silver and Black models. Video quality has been greatly enhanced, wireless connectivity is stellar, and GoPro added new features like improved low-light performance and audio capture. As we said in our Silver review, the camera can be as easy or complex as you want it, suiting both casual users and professionals who want to capture unique wide-angle shots. And if resolution is what you’re after, the Black does 4K. It’s these attributes that make the Hero4 cameras our favorite.

Read full review of Hero4 Silver.

Honorable Mention: A lot of companies are getting into the action/lifestyle camera market, and most of them aren’t any better than what’s in your smartphone. The only company to make action camcorders on par with GoPro is Sony, like its new Action Cam Mini. We’ve been playing with this for a while, and are so far impressed by what we’ve seen in image quality, usability, and connectivity. It’s a very close second, and you can’t go wrong.

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