In todays day and age of digital cameras, the reality is that MOST cameras produce really good images… Hell, the iPhone is the number one selling digital camera in the world right now. That said - for me, picking out a camera is all about creating my use case and problem set. Am I shooting in sub-freezing temperatures with sideways rain in Iceland? Or am I shooting street photography in Manhattan? Different tools for different problem sets. My biggest piece of advice for folks that are looking for a new camera for their next adventure is to think about the kind of photos that you want to make and find the lightest, best handling tool that will help you produce those results. On that note, here is a list of some of my favorite camera picks for your next adventure.
Sony RX100 VI
Sony has been absolutely killing the game with their A7 mirrorless cameras and their RX100 compacts are no slouch either. If you’re looking for essentially a DSLR in your pocket, this is probably the ticket. Currently still on pre-order, the RX00 VI comes loaded with a stabilized 24-200 f2.8-f4 lens and a 1” 20.1 megapixel sensor. This thing shoots up to 24 fps (photos) and it also shoots 4k video. My favorite part about the Sony RX100 VI is definitely the pop up EVF. The RX100 VI would be money for any scenario where weight, versatility, and IQ are your top priority.
-Lightweight Backpacking / Backcountry hunting
Ricoh GR II
I’m very much a photographer that believes in the power of creative constraints and the fixed 28mm Ricoh GR is the epitome of that sentiment. Originally made famous by Daido Moriyama, the Ricoh GR has been used by some of the most prolific street and documentary photographers in the world. In terms of size / weight and image IQ, the Ricoh GR is in my opinion the best pocket compact you can buy. The GR boasts a 1” cmos sensor and an incredible sharp fixed 28mm f2.8 lens. Keep in mind, this is a photographer’s camera… no zoom, no 4k video… just pure fast ergonomics and insane image IQ. The GR also produces some of the finest black and white conversions of any digital camera to date. This thing lives in my pocket 90% of the time.
-Documentary / Reportage
There really aren’t many cameras that land in this category that I think are worth noting. That said, the Fuji X100F is a bit of a special camera. To give some background, Fuji really pulled an “Apple and the iPod” with their X100 series back in 2011. At the time, Leica was the only company that was producing digital rangefinders, which were (and still are) mostly unattainable for the majority of the market and nobody really wanted anything to do with Fuji DSLRS. Enter the Fuji X100… at a time when the market was completely saturated with entry and mid-range DSLRS, fuji launched a beautiful fixed 35mm focal length rangefinder-esque (the x100 is NOT a true rangefinder) camera with killer ergonomics and solid IQ that would essentially become the foundation for their extremely popular mirrorless line today.
Now back to the X100f. I came from a film background and I love simple film camera ergonomics and the X100 series has just that. Dials on the top for shutter speed/ISO and a smooth aperture ring on the front… you can literally shoot this camera all day and never look at the lcd screen on the back. The IQ is solid and it weighs almost nothing. My only caveat with fuji cameras is Lightroom processing. For whatever reason Lightroom has never got along with Fuji RAW files and if you work in any sort of professional capacity, this can be a game changer. From slow load times to “the watercolor” effect in fine detail… it can be infuriating… especially for a camera system that is such a pleasure to use.
-Documentary / Reportage (The X100F has a completely silent shutter mode)
This thing is a straight up beast. Sony has been carving up Canon and Nikon ever since they launched their first A7 back in 2013 and the A7iii is a straight up knockout. Sony essentially packed everything that Canon put in their $5500 flagship DSLR and put it in a sub $2k body that is half the size and weight. The A7iii features a 24.2 mp CMOS sensor, ISO range up to 51000, an AF system with 693 phase detection points, and you can shoot 4k in Sony’s SLOG color profile. If you’re a professional and you’re looking for a camera that will be on top of the tech curve for the next 4 years, the A7iii is going to be the camera for you.
Nikon / Canon full frame DSLRS
Here’s the deal with DSLRS, they’re big, they’re bulky, but they work and they work fast… Mirrorless is catching up in terms of AF speed, but for long battery life and shooting fast action sports, there really isn’t anything better than a full frame DSLR. I’ve shot Nikon and Canon extensively, both are great systems with a great lens selection and you really can’t go wrong with either of their full frame offerings. That said, if you split your time shooting video, Canon has been at the forefront of DSLR video since the 5d Mark II and their DPAF video AF system is a total game changer when it comes to run and gun video shooting.
One final note on buying cameras. Buy used... digital cameras are about as bad as used cars when it comes to depreciation. I've bought all my cameras from craigslist, ebay, forums - the whole gamut. That said, KEH is probably the best reputable used camera dealer that I've ever dealt with.
If you have any questions about specific cameras, or systems, feel free to drop them in the comments!
Jay Neely has been a professional photographer for the better part of a decade. His personal and commercial work has taken him to extreme environments all over the world. He does not take very good care of his gear and has been known to throw very expensive cameras in the snow. He is also the co-founder of Tumwater Creative and resides in the little mountain town of Leavenworth, WA.