The Top Cameras on the Market: Point and Shoot, Mirrorless, DSLR

Before you schedule an Amazon Drone delivery for that $3,000 DSLR, take a stroll through our quick guide to digital cameras.

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Admit it: you want to buy a digital camera. Maybe it hit you last weekend, as you flipped through blurry vacation pics on your Galaxy S4. Or perhaps it was yesterday at work, when a colleague confused your iPhone concert shots for a semi-religious candlelit vigil. Still, it wasn’t until you turned over half the attic searching of your 2005 Canon PowerShot that you realized enough was enough.

Good news, Ansel Adams. You’ve got options. Digital camera manufacturers continue to develop new technologies, with a variety of choices across a wide range of prices. So before you schedule an Amazon Drone delivery for that $3,000 DSLR, take a stroll through our quick guide to digital cameras.

1) Point and shoot

Best for: smartphone owners who want better, more consistent photos

Like Peyton Manning’s unsung offensive linemen, point and shoot digital cameras don’t always get the praise they deserve. Sure, they don’t feature detachable lenses or 20+ megapixel photos, but they’re built for durability and they shoot as reliably as Manning throws. While most come packed with extra features and shot types, you can typically keep these running in “auto” mode all day, and most of your photos will turn out just fine.

A) Canon PowerShot Elph 330 HS

Inexpensive, compact, and rugged, you won’t regret dropping $150 on this entry-level point and shoot. Even better, modern Canon PowerShots are like Nokia flip phones or Nalgene water bottles—they rarely break. If you tend to treat new gadgets like loose change, start here.

B) Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200

If you want a bit more quality, but without the price or pretentiousness of a professional camera, consider the Lumix DMC-FZ200. You get a slightly larger sensor size (7.7 mm) and notably, a 24x optical zoom, more than twice the zoom on the Elph 330 HS.

C) Olympus Stylus TG-2 iHS A compact, waterproof camera, the TG-2 iHS provides a nice middle option between the postcard-cheap Elph 330 HS and the $500+ DMC-FZ200. At 8.1 ounces, it’s a bit heavy for a modern point and shoot, but you’ll be happy you nabbed it when you’re snapping Eagle Rays while snorkeling in Jamaica.

2) Prosumer cameras

Best for: non-professionals who want excellent image quality

While it’s tempting to either go big or go cheap, most camera shoppers should grab a midrange, prosumer model—perfect for great images and minimal hassle. You’ll be taking the shots of your life without the months of practice DSLRs often demand. Depending on your needs, consider a large sensor compact or mirrorless camera.

Large Sensor Compact

It’s everybody’s favorite piece of photographic trivia: image sensor size matters more than megapixels. While high megapixel counts allow you to maintain image sharpness at extreme photo sizes, large image sensors allow the camera to capture more light per pixel, which can greatly improve contrast, colors and overall photo quality. A large sensor compact is, therefore, the quickest, most affordable path toward noticeably better images.

A) Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II

For less than $800, The DSC-RX100 II is a bargain, with a healthy sensor size of 15.86 mm, a sleek low-profile and pleasantly low weight (9.9 ounces).

B) Fujifilm X100S

At $1,300, the X100S isn’t cheap, but with a compact design and 28.40 mm sensor, it’s got the specs and style to beat many entry-level DSLRs. If you want top photos, but don’t want to bother with detachable lenses, the X100S is an excellent pick.

Mirrorless

Trendier than Justin Bieber, mirrorless cameras are the latest innovation in the world of photography. Instead of providing a standard viewfinder system with an internal system of mirrors, mirrorless cameras remove the viewfinder entirely, allowing for compact designs and significantly lower weights. Better yet, mirrorless cameras feature detachable lenses, giving you the same fun customizability of an expensive DSLR. If you love taking pictures with a classic, physical viewfinder, look elsewhere. If you already take every shot using the digital display, consider a mirrorless camera for your next purchase.

A) Olympus OM-D E-M5

Tempted to buy a DSLR, but can’t get past the cost and weight? The E-M1 offers the perfect alternative. It’s got the features and tight controls of a professional DSLR, but the tailored design of a point and shoot.

B) Sony NEX-5N

A snappy little device, the Sony NEX-5N weighs only 7.4 ounces and features a 28.12 mm sensor size. With an MSRP of $699, you can’t find a better value on this list.

3) DSLRs

Best for: professional photographers, serious hobbyists, people with too much money

The prom queens among mere classmates, DSLRs are fancier, harder to get along with and more expensive, but ultimately worth it if you know what you’re doing. If you think you’re ready for a DSLR, you can’t go wrong with one of these three.

A) Canon EOS 100D/Rebel SL1

At $800 and 14.36 ounces, the Rebel SL1 is a cheap, light, entry-level DSLR for hobbyists looking to take their photography to the next level.

B) Nikon D7100

A no-nonsense DSLR weighing well over 20 ounces, the D7100 offers incredible quality (43.26 mm sensor) at just north of $1,000.

C) Pentax K-5 IIs

Canon and Nikon might rule the photography world, but the Pantax K-5 IIs provides a respectable alternative. It’s fully-featured, smartly designed and available at sneakily low prices if you’re willing to shop around.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

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