I should point out again that we're nominating "Cameras of the Year" (CoY) for 2013, not "the best cameras available" in 2013. To be considered, something needs to be mostly new for 2013 or utilize significant new technology. It needs to embody what was happening this year.
"Significance" in new technology is a tough call to make, though, since significance is usually only apparent in retrospect. (For example, I'm pretty sure I once predicted that all sensors would be Foveon-type sensors by 2013.) This year, Canon's Dual-Pixel Autofocus in the 70D and Pentax's on-demand anti-aliasing filter in the K-3 seem to be significant technologies—but are they significant enough to warrant the cameras they first appeared in to be CoY? Was the first camera that had in-body image stabilization (IBIS) the camera of the year for that year in your judgement? I don't know, I'm asking.
On the other side of the argument, I think the original Canon D30 (remembered as the first affordable digital camera to rival film) was the Camera of the Year in 2000 and the first Digital Rebel (remembered as the Model T of DSLRs) was the Camera of the Year for 2003.
(It might be more meaningful to pick the CoY of ten years ago and do that every year. In the '70s I wrote a piece opining that the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences ought to give Oscars every year for the movies of ten years prior. The problem with this conception is that although the Academy's objectivity and judgement would be greatly improved thereby*, our interest in the outcome would be just as greatly diminished. So it goes.)
Leica: Leica introduced the X Vario this year, a handsome and well-designed APS-C mirrorless camera with a fixed, slowish 28–70mm-e zoom lens and no viewfinder. But at $2,850 it is aimed at the most price-insensitive segment of the market. For everyone else, it doesn't compete with its putative competitors. For C0Y, a bit of a non-starter.
Sony: We're in the middle of a sort of Sony Renaissance. Canikon have the camera market sewn up insofar as anyone does, but Sony is the one company that both wants to elbow its way into that club and also thinks it can. Because innovation rather than a more staid approach is about the only feasible inroad, Sony has been very bold and creative with new ideas.
Accordingly, some of the most interesting cameras and camera ideas of recent years have come from Sony. The "SLT" cameras in 2010, the NEX-7 in 2011, and the A99, RX100, and RX1 last year.
2013 continues the trend. No fewer than three of Sony's top enthusiast options have received useful updatings in 2013, in the form of the APS-C mirrorless NEX-5T; the RX1R, which is Sony's tiny full-frame, fixed-lens camera without an anti-aliasing filter; and the RX100 II, an upgrade of what we consider to be the leading small pocket digicam for...well, everyone.
On the innovation front, there are the super-low-cost A3000, which has lots of limitations but an extraordinarily low price (not linked because we don't recommend it), and the odd-duck QX cameras, which are essentially lens-sensor modules meant to marry with smartphones. (I wouldn't know from those. My smartphone is only useful as a texting walkie-talkie with my offspring, as the world's most expensive Angry Birds console, for giving me driving directions out loud (very useful, I must admit), and for telling me jokes. Apropos Ctein's column yesterday, courtesy of Siri: "The past, the present, and the future walk into a bar. It was tense.")
The A7 and A7r—ostensibly the interchangeable-lens versions of the RX1, but in reality all-new mirrorless full-frame cameras, one with and one without anti-aliasing filters—are shoo-in nominations for CoY if anything out there can be.
But perhaps the most interesting camera of this year from Sony is the RX10. Almost entirely invivible in the alphabet soup of camera designations, and mystifying to John Q. Public in terms of its species, it is a very small but very complete premium camera with a fixed Zeiss zoom lens. The lens has an equivalent focal-length range of 24–200mm (limited by bridge camera standards, vast by enthusiast camera standards) and a constant ƒ/2.8 aperture. Finally the camera has a 1-inch (<9x14mm) sensor. Conceptually all this makes it a rather intense hybrid—a fixed lens but a very good and capable one; a much-larger-than-tiny but smaller than Micro 4/3 sensor; and a very capable but very small body with a traditional SLR-type form.
Weird. And yet you might well be looking at the future. Many have said that full frame (24x36mm) is taking over (2012 was the Year of FF, no question), but I think the opposite: Micro 4/3 is almost too big for most people and most uses. FF will die out, I think, except as the "medium format" for professionals, and the public will end up with smaller-than-APS-C sensors in the cameras it uses almost exclusively for video and stills in electronic display formats. I just really hope that the eventual standard will be something as large as 1-inch.
Be that as it may...Sony's nominations for CoY are the RX10, the A7, and the A7r.
*Rocky had just won best picture, which at the time I thought was...let me be diplomatic...not the right choice.
Original contents copyright 2013 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Steve Greenwood: "Currently in San Francisco with a Sony A7 and the 35mm ƒ/2.8 from Lens Rentals—goes back in a couple of days. Won't really know about overall quality until after some serious time with the iMac and the 13x19" Epson at home, so I'll confine myself to first impressions in the hand and carried on the shoulder. Which are very positive. In size it's about the same as my Panny G3, and carried on a shoulder strap it's about the same—easy to forget it's there. Impressive for full frame. Viewfinder is excellent and completely usable for this eyeglass wearer. Controls are good and fall readily to my fingers. The Zeiss looks to be a little gem; I like the way it is essentially self-hooding. I debated whether to rent this or the RX10 for this trip. I will rent the RX10 before making a purchase. But the bottom line is that for me, all the possibilities are Sonys."
Speed: "The death of dedicated cameras in favor of phones has been forecast for several years. Hasn't happened so far. Instead we're getting more choices, many not from Canon or Nikon. Good for us. I hope that the CoY choice is even more difficult and controversial next year. And the next."
Bill OBrien: "My comment about the Sony A3000: cameras take pictures plus lots of other things. If you are only interested in taking pictures, the 'lots of other things' just get in the way. The A3000 is a very good camera; the lens it comes with is really good. Resolution of the lens and sensor are close to some other very expensive cameras. My point: When you say '(not linked because we don't recommend it)' it leaves the impression you know something 'not good' about the camera but are not going to explain. Have you used one? Do you know any one who has used one?"
Mike replies: No, I've not even seen one, but yes, a "trusted friend of the site," Kirk Tuck, has used one and gave it a negative review. I'm not saying Kirk is infallible in his every opinion (I don't think he'd say so either), but I do think the A3000 has a bit of a "Yugo Problem." The Yugo Problem, first discovered by Henry Ford (although not by that name of course), is that very cheap new products have to compete with the used market. Either a) better products available used for the same price as the new product, or b) products of the same quality available used for even less. I'm not willing to say the A3000 is a bad camera, or that some buyers might not enjoy and appreciate it, but I don't think it's a good idea for us to recommend it.