Digital Camera Buying Guide

Finding the best digital cameras

A point and shoot digital camera
A point and shoot digital camera.

BraunS / Getty Images

Which camera should I buy? If you're asking yourself this question, you can use the digital camera reviews, new camera products, best camera lists, and the camera information on this list. Use this digital camera gift guide to find the perfect camera-related gift for the holidays or any other time.

This digital camera buying guide will give you the information you need, solving the question: Which camera should I buy?

Best Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras

Samsung NX500 review
The tiltable, touch screen LCD is of a very high quality. Samsung

The "hot" cameras lately are in the mirrorless ILC (interchangeable lens camera) category. Mirrorless cameras are similar to DSLRs, in that they offer interchangeable lenses, but ILCs are smaller than DSLRs because they use a mirrorless design. You'll find the best mirrorless cameras in the $500, $750, and $1,000 price ranges.

  • Best DIL camera The Samsung NX500 (pictured here) provides a mix of performance, features, and image quality that's better than what you'd expect in its price range.
  • First runner-up — The Fujiflm X-A2 is a vastly under-rated mirrorless camera, providing outstanding overall features at a reasonable price point.
  • Second runner-up — Fujifilm's X series of mirrorless cameras are very strong contenders, including the recently released Fujifilm X-T1, which has very nice image quality.
  • Third runner-up The Nikon J5 is fun to use, and it offers a good set of special effect features that will appeal to those going from a point and shoot camera to their first interchangeable lens model. 

Best DSLR Cameras

Canon T6i review

Even with the surge in DILs, DSLR cameras remain very popular. DSLR cameras provide amazing performance and interchangeable lenses, such as DSLR lenses from Canon. The best DSLRs can be found in the $750, $1,000, and $2,000 price ranges.

  • Best DSLR camera The Canon Rebel T6i might not offer a vastly different look or a significant departure in terms of its feature list from what was offered in its predecessor, but it's a strong model with greatly increased resolution over its predecessor.
  • First runner-up If you're looking for top-of-the-line photography performance and image results in all types of shooting conditions in a variety of image formats, the Nikon D810 DSLR camera is going to fit your needs very well. 
  • Second runner-up Photographers who wanted a high-speed performer will be the biggest beneficiaries of the upgrade to the Nikon D7200. Nikon gave this model its newest image processor, the Expeed 4, which provides strong performance improvements over older Nikon cameras. 
  • Third runner-up I was very impressed with the Canon EOS Rebel SL1 camera, which is the smallest DSLR currently on the market. Canon did not skimp on anything with this entry-level model, though, providing all of the must-have features at a great price.

Best Large Zoom Cameras

Olympus DSLR camera

These cameras offer a large optical zoom lens, making them good choices for nature and wildlife photography. You'll want to purchase a tripod to avoid camera shake with these cameras. Although I thought ultra-zoom cameras from a few years ago had several problems that made it tough for me to recommend them, the advancements in overall camera quality and power with the newer ultra-zoom cameras are very impressive, and these cameras now are well worth considering.

  • Best large zoom camera The Olympus SP-100 has a few drawbacks, but it also has the most innovative feature found on an ultra-zoom camera right now, the Dot Sight technology. The SP-100 (pictured here) includes a 50X optical zoom lens.
  • First runner-up The Nikon Coolpix P520 is a strong model versus other large zoom lens models, offering a 42X optical zoom lens. If you'd like to try to save a bit of money with a similar model, also consider the predecessors to the P520 — the P510 and P500.
  • Second runner-up The Canon PowerShot SX420 has a 42X optical zoom lens, something smartphone cameras cannot match. You'll have to decide whether carrying this large camera is something you want to do to gain the benefit of the large zoom lens, versus carrying a thinner digital camera or a smartphone camera only. 
  • Third runner-up The Samsung WB850F is a very strong ultra-zoom camera, offering a 21X optical zoom lens and quite a few high-end features. It is smaller than the others listed here, which may appeal to some photographers. Its price is a little higher than I'd like, but you may find some good bargains on this model this holiday season. Another option to consider is the Samsung WB2200F, with its dual hand-grip and powerful 60X optical zoom lens.

Best Advanced Fixed Lens Cameras

Canon PowerShot G3 X review
The Canon PowerShot G3 X digital camera is a strong performer, offering good image quality and a large zoom lens. Canon

If you have room in your budget for an advanced fixed lens camera, you'll be pleased. Advanced cameras typically include large image sensors, high-quality fast lenses, full HD video, high-resolution LCDs, and great response times. They even sometimes offer viewfinders. The best, advanced cameras appear in the $300, $400, $500, and $750 price ranges.

  • Best advanced camera Versatility makes the Canon PowerShot G3 X a really strong camera and one of the best 5-star cameras on the market. The G3 X is very easy to use in fully automatic mode, yet Canon provided the option of using a full manual control mode too. You can shoot in RAW or JPEG modes with this model. And the G3 X has a touch screen LCD that you can swivel away from the camera.
  • First runner-up Olympus has created a surprisingly good fixed lens camera in the Olympus Stylus SH-2, providing it with a very nice 24X optical zoom lens, relatively good image quality, a sharp LCD screen, and a reasonable price point.
  • Second runner-up The Fujifilm X100T's image quality is very impressive, even in low light conditions, and this model's f/2 lens is of an amazing quality. Fujifilm gave the X100T a hybrid viewfinder, which allows you to switch back and forth between an optical viewfinder and electronic viewfinder, depending on whether you need to see data about the settings in the viewfinder window.
  • Third runner-up Nikon's Coolpix P7700 is still one of my favorite cameras on the market, regardless of price. It has strong image quality, great response times, and an articulated LCD.

Best Budget Point and Shoot Cameras

The Canon PowerShot SX710 is available in red or black.

Budget-priced cameras don't have to feel like inexpensive, cheap digital cameras. Shop around, and you'll find some desirable features, such as are available in the models I've listed here. The best budget cameras appear in the $100, $150, $200, and $250 price ranges.

  • Best budget camera Canon's PowerShot SX710 fixed lens camera provides quite a collection of impressive features for a relatively thin point and shoot model, offering more than 20 megapixels of resolution, a high-speed image processor, and wireless connectivity, all in a model that's less than 1.5 inches in thickness.
  • First runner-up The Sony Cyber-shot WX80 offers a good value and good performance in a small camera body.
  • Second runner-up Although the Nikon Coolpix S9700's 30X optical zoom lens will give you the option of shooting photos over a variety of distances, which can be handy when you're traveling.
  • Third runner-up The Nikon Coolpix P520 has enough advanced features that it'll be well worth considering. The P520 has a 42X optical zoom lens, 18.1MP of resolution, a 3.2-inch articulated LCD, a built-in GPS unit, and full 1080p HD video recording.

Best Children's Digital Cameras

Samsung point and shoot camera for kids

Children's cameras should be easy to use, fun to use, inexpensive, and safe. However, keep in mind that, for the most part, children's cameras that you'll find for less than $100 are simple toys and typically don't carry enough resolution to allow for large prints. These cameras offer a perfect price point for a child, even though they're older models.

  • Best children's camera It's not a bad idea to consider a waterproof, tough camera for kids, and the Olympus TG-830 has 16 megapixels of resolution, a 5X optical zoom lens, full 1080p HD video capabilities, and a 3.0-inch LCD. Olympus recently dropped the price on this camera. It's available in blue, red, silver, or black body colors.
  • First runner-up The Samsung WB250F (pictured here) includes an 18X optical zoom lens, a 14MP CMOS image sensor, full 1080p HD video recording, Wi-Fi, and a 3.0-inch touch screen LCD.
  • Second runner-up The Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS includes a 12X optical zoom lens, which Canon claims makes the 520 HS the world's thinnest 12X zoom camera. The ELPH 520 HS measures 0.76 inches in thickness. It's an older, inexpensive camera that's great for a kid.
  • Third runner-up Kids will love the big 15X zoom in the inexpensive GE X550 camera. It's a slightly larger camera, but it should still fit well in an older child's hands.

Best Waterproof Cameras

Tough cameras can handle a variety of shooting conditions, from fluctuating temperatures to harsh environmental conditions to shallow water. The following waterproof cameras will give you quite a bit of versatility.

  • Best waterproof camera Nikon has introduced the first waterproof DIL camera, the Nikon 1 AW1, and this will be a model well worth considering.
  • First runner-up Past Olympus "tough" cameras struggled with their performance levels, but the Olympus TG-830 iHS is a far stronger upgrade to those older cameras.
  • Second runner-up If you plan to use the Fujifilm XP80 primarily for outdoor sports, such as hiking, swimming, skiing, or diving, it's a really nice model, but its image quality isn't quite good enough for everyday photography.
  • Third runner-up A 3.3-inch touchscreen LCD highlights the waterproof Sony Cyber-shot TX30.

Best Wi-Fi Cameras

Nikon Wi-Fi camera

Cameras that offer built-in wireless capabilities — primarily Wi-Fi for now, although NFC is starting to appear in more and more models — are becoming extremely popular. Just keep in mind that some Wi-Fi cameras are tough to set up and use. The following models have Wi-Fi that's pretty easy to use.

  • Best wireless cameras If you'd like to maintain the slim camera body you enjoyed with a basic camera when moving to a more advanced camera, consider a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (ILC), such as the Samsung NX500. It has quite a few advanced features, including Wi-Fi connectivity.
  • First runner-up While the Nikon Coolpix S9700's 30X optical zoom lens will give you the option of shooting photos over a variety of distances, which can be handy when you're traveling, as is the unit's Wi-Fi connectivity.
  • Second runner-up Canon's PowerShot SX710 fixed lens camera provides quite a collection of impressive features for a relatively thin point and shoot model, offering more than 20 megapixels of resolution, a high-speed image processor, and wireless connectivity, all in a model that's less than 1.5 inches in thickness.
  • Third runner-up The Nikon D5300 DSLR camera (pictured here) is a really solid entry-level DSLR camera, offering a great mix of basic photography and advanced extra features, including a built-in viewfinder.

Best Easy to Use Cameras

Most point-and-shoot cameras are pretty easy to use, but there are a few that take "ease of use" to a new level.

  • Best easy to use camera The Canon ELPH 130 is an extremely easy to use camera with almost no manual control options.
  • First runner-up You'll be surprised with the image quality and performance in this little, easy-to-use camera, the Sony Cyber-shot WX80.
  • Second runner-up With LCD screens on the front and back of the Samsung DV300F, this model is both easy to use and fun to use.
  • Third runner-up You'll find a nice mix of easy-to-use features in the Nikon Coolpix S6300.

Best Touchscreen Cameras

Canon Rebel SL1 touchscreen camera

Touchscreen LCD cameras also can be very easy to use, as well as a lot of fun.

  • Best touchscreen camera Canon gave its PowerShot G3 X plenty of dials and buttons to make changing the settings a simple process. You can shoot in RAW or JPEG modes with this model. And the G3 X has a touch screen LCD that you can swivel away from the camera.
  • First runner-up The mirrorless Samsung NX500 is extremely easy to use, and it provides high-end image quality in both Program mode and full Auto mode. It includes a touch screen LCD that measures 3.0 inches diagonally. 
  • Second runner-up The Canon EOS Rebel SL1 DSLR camera (pictured here) may be a small DSLR, but it has a lot of great features, including a touchscreen LCD.
  • Third runner-up Samsung has been one of the best manufacturers of touchscreen cameras for a few years, and its WB250F is another great model.

Best Camera-Related Gifts

Overhead shot of various camera accessories

Aliyev Alexei Sergeevich / Getty Images

If you would like a camera-related gift, but you don't want to buy an actual camera, or you don't have a large budget, you can consider camera accessories. 

  • Backpack camera bags  The Lowepro Transit 350 AW backpack is a very comfortable option for carrying all of your gear as well as a laptop.
  • Standard camera bags Finding the right mix of size, weight, and cushioning in a camera bag can be difficult. The Gura Gear Chobe 19-24L is one of the better options you're going to find.
  • Digital photo frames Several different types of digital photo frames are going to allow you to display as many images as you want.
  • Underwater accessories Many companies make underwater camera accessories that are great for enhancing the versatility of your camera.
  • Memory cards Every photographer can use an extra memory card, and Eye-Fi memory cards can transmit data wirelessly.
  • Batteries Extra batteries can be a very practical gift. If your camera takes rechargeable proprietary batteries, you'll have to make sure the battery you pick is compatible with your camera. If your camera can take AA size batteries, consider batteries made specifically for cameras, such as Energizer Ultimate Lithium.
  • Books Books about photography make great gifts, such as the DSLR Cameras for Dummies book and the Digital Photography FAQs book.

Camera Buying and Warranty Tips

Before you buy a digital camera, it's important to do your homework. By taking a little time to prepare before you buy, you'll greatly increase your chances of success.

  • Camera shopping checklist Talk to friends, learn the digital camera jargon, and figure out how you want to use the camera, and you'll be prepared when you enter the store.
  • Set your budget Figure out how much you can spend and look for the best camera in your price range. Then you won't be tempted to spend more than you should, no matter how cool the more expensive camera looks.
  • Read camera reviews Once you've narrowed your list to a few different cameras, read some reviews to learn which is the best model for you, such as my review of the Olympus PEN Lite PL3 DIL.
  • Manufacturer's warranties Every new camera has a standard warranty to cover basic problems, typically for one year in length.
  • Extended warranties These go beyond the standard manufacturer's warranty, offering longer and additional coverage.
  • Additional warranties Other types of warranties may apply to your camera, too.