TOP's current favorite digital cameras, Q4 2016.
Camera: The Pentax K-1
Why? Ignites a deathless warm glow in owners' hearts. Pentaxians are nice people, conservative about their cameras, remarkably loyal, and tend to have a higher level of satisfaction with their gear than people who buy other brands. The K-1 is Ricoh's first full-frame camera and it's the Pentax enthusiast's longstanding dream. And it's very competitively priced for the rich list of features it offers. Owners are loving it.
Accepts all the marvelous and fun Pentax lenses from a number of eras. Pentax's lenses are hopeless as a lineup—it's the anti-Fuji in terms of the lineup making internal sense. Yet that's half the fun. So many lenses, so little time.
Camera: The Apple iPhone 7 and 7 Plus
Why? Fun times two. I play a lot with my iPhone 6+ camera and enjoy the heck out of it. Although I lose some shots to the tiny sensor's limitations and I couldn't possibly get along with it as an only camera, it's the "visual note-taker" par excellence and especially nice for instant sharing.
The iPhone 7 is also notable as the first mainstream instance of computational photography, which our erstwhile columnist Ctein predicted way back in 2011. It uses two separate camera modules and combines them in inventive if still rather basic ways. Expect that trend to continue. For now, you've essentially got a Minolta Freedom Dual 60 (a long-ago film point-and-shoot which offered only two focal lengths—38mm and 60mm) for the social media age.
Camera: The Sony A6500
Why? Because it makes me cry. They actually made exactly what I wanted, which might be the first time that's ever happened. Yet—ah, the pain in my heart—I can't afford it. Especially when I take another switcheroo of lens systems into account. (I'd get the 24mm ZA and the 55mm FE.) And I got along so well with the ex-NEX form-factor, too. Love it.
Other buyers will find it hard to complain about the price, because Sony offers basically the same camera without in-body image stabilization and the touch-screen focus point (the A6300) for hundreds less, and as a price-leading budget economy model (the A6000, which right now costs a thousand dollars less than the A6500). Other makers have not caught on to Sony's idea of offering different tiers of the same camera; they ought to.
Camera: The Olympus Pen-F
Why? What do you mean "why?" Are you kidding?
What photographer—no, what person—could fail to love this little gem? A handy, pocketable picture-taker with gobs of jewel-like object quality and style out the wazoo, it's a camera everyone likes to look at. Owners, SOs, strangers. Starts conversations. Grown men put it on the bedside table so they'll see it first thing when they wake up in the morning. Fashionable women can use it as a fashion accessory. For wise older people it channels the MMM (metal, mechanical, manual) cameras of their exalted youth. To the young it's hip. Your dollars, pounds, euros or yen buy a very up-to-date camera too, as well as lots and lots of pride of ownership. Can't beat the Pen F with a stick.
Camera: The Panasonic GX[x, where x > 8]...
Why? ...First, note that such a camera doesn't exist yet. That's okay, because the GX8 itself (above) is a splendid sleeper of a camera with the mirrorless world's nicest viewfinder, sez moi. Tainted by the "shutter shock" controversy with certain lenses, a rap the GX8 doesn't really deserve; probably down to kinks in the hybrid "Dual IS" image stabilization system that haven't quite been worked out yet. Still and all, Panasonic has developed a better shutter, and put it, for now, into the nifty little GX85, which our friend Kenneth Tanaka loves. Eventually the GX85 shutter will migrate up into the GX8-style body to create the perfect Micro 4/3 workhorse. Until then, Panny's in a cycle of clearing out the production run of the GX8 and you can get great deals on it if you vulch. It doesn't hurt that Panasonic's lenses are marvelous and Micro 4/3 as a whole is the richest field to harvest for people who love lenses.
Watch this space.
Camera: The Hasselblad X1D-50c
Why? For now, this is the only camera that most every photographer in the world approves of and covets. There's the giant sensor, small, handy-dandy rangefinderish form-factor, and cost-no-object lenses. But its main advantage is that it's still bathed in the Xanadu glow of vaporware, so it can be postulated in the mind to be perfect; and only about 1 in 300 photographers can even theoretically afford it, which makes it into the green green grass on the far side of the fence. (And four out of five of those are already invested in Leica.) What could possibly be better for GASsy daydreams?
No matter. 2016 became the year of larger-than-full-frame mirrorless when Fuji joined the XD1 in the category (with the announcement of the GFX system). That future shootout is just waiting to happen. Coming soon to an Internet near you.
[TO BE CONTINUED....]
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Terrance Crooker: "Pentaxians loyal? Oh yes. I became a Pentaxian in the late 1960s and have been one ever since. No Nikon or Canon or any other brand has ever tempted to switch. So many lenses, joy, joy!"
RubyT: "Santa can't quite bring me a K-1 to keep this year, but he is going to let me have one to try out for the last two weeks of the year. I'm not sure whether that will make things easier or harder. :-O "
Steve Higgins: "Best for what?"
Ernest Theisen: "I am really happy with my Olympus Pen F. I have several lenses for it, including the 45–150mm. I keep the 14–42mm on it most of the time. I love the look of it and the solid heft of it. It is built like a Sherman tank. And in fact it does sit on my bedside table!"
Kent: "Help! I'm Trapped! My stable of Sony E and FE lenses has grown to the point that I can't switch to a different system! Oh wait...my A6500 arrived on Friday and I don't want to switch to a different system. Never mind."
Mike replies: Oh, that's it, gloat. You're cruel, Kent. :-)
Lynn: "I was wondering if 'to be continued...' might suggest you'll have a 'Best Film Cameras' article. That got me wondering—how many new film cameras are actually available? Excluding instant film and cheap disposables, that is. Can't be all that many."
Mike replies: B&H lists 14 35mm film cameras, half of them Leicas, but several of the 14 are variants of the same camera or different kits with the same body; and then seven medium-format film cameras, all by Horseman or Linhof; and 43 view cameras.
That excludes Lomography cameras like the latest iteration of the old Diana (I saw several of these for sale at the shop in the George Eastman Museum yesterday), and instant-film cameras. It also excludes cameras B&H doesn't carry but that you can still get, including many atelier-built view cameras and a motley of Kickstarter project builds. I actually got word the other day that the old Rollei company is still hanging on, albeit by the most threadbare of threads.
So, actually there are quite a few. Of course, the vast used market puts quite a large dampening effect on the sales of new film cameras. I keep meaning to write an article about great used film cameras, but I never seem to be able to block out enough time to actually write it.
Kenneth Tanaka [Ed. Note: Ken has never shared with me how many cameras he owns, still less how many have passed through his ownership since the dawn of the digital age, but there have been signs over the years that it is...rather a lot. So he offers a perspective informed by better-than-average direct personal experience.]
"I have two thoughts to offer:
"First, having just this week received a long-back-ordered Sony A6500 I have to admit that the Lumix GX85 beats its pants off as a casual, versatile, in-a-pocket (still) camera. I have been an enthusiastic customer of Sony's NEX-style cameras since the NEX 3, having owned the 3, 5N, 7, A6000, A6300 and now the A6500. But aside from its larger and conditionally better image file the Sony A6500's overall usability pales against the same-sized Lumix GX85. That's really hard to admit, given the price difference. But it's true.
"Second, having also recently updated my DSLR to the latest-and-greatest model (for the first time in years) I am truly struck by what an era of near-perfection the DSLR user enjoys today. This has really become the ultimate in powerful, versatile picture-taking devices. Of course since perfection is the arch-enemy of business, the DSLR is gradually being sublimated by other not-so-perfect-yet camera designs. But if you can't make a 'good' picture today, especially with a DSLR, you really should consider other pastimes. This thing has become the analog of evolution's crocodile."
Mike replies: Ken! We're friends. You can't just throw that out there and not give detes. Whaddja get? The DSLR I mean. I won't tell if you don't want me to.
Ken replies: "Mike: I updated to Canon's new 5D Mark IV. But I'm sure if I was a Nikon shooter my revelation would have been the same. I've spent little time with DSLR-style cameras for several years. The level of perfection they've achieved is stunning."