These are the 20 most important cameras of the 2010s
As we near the end of the second decade of the 21st Century, we wanted to take a look back, and reflect on everything that has happened in the last ten years. While the first decade of the century saw enormous leaps and technological advancements, it was in the 2010s that consumer digital imaging really matured.
We’ve gone through all of the cameras released from 2010 to 2019, and selected twenty which we consider especially significant, plus one phone because, well, this was the decade when that really became a thing.
In this article we’re proceding chronologically, starting with 2010, and we’ve selected at least one camera per year of the decade for special consideration. You can vote on which of those twenty you think should be considered the most important, and as always, leave a comment with other suggestions if you disagree with us.
2010 – Samsung NX10
If we asked you ‘which company made the first APS-C format mirrorless camera?’ the chances are you would be tempted to answer ‘Sony’. But you’d be wrong. While the Sony NEX-5 and NEX-3 were indeed the noble scions of an undoubtedly very significant (and still successful) line of cameras, Sony didn’t (quite) get there first.
The first year of the 2010s saw a deceptively major announcement from an unexpected quarter. We’d seen mirrorless cameras before 2010, but the Samsung NX10 was the first to offer an APS-C sensor – considered by many enthusiasts the smallest ‘serious’ sensor format, offering a 50% greater imaging area than the then-standard Four Thirds.
The Samsung NX10’s specs might not seem particularly impressive now, but back in 2010, a 15MP APS-C sensor, 921k-dot electronic finder and AMOLED rear screen were very competitive – especially in such an affordable ‘little Korean camera’ – to quote our original coverage.
The NX system didn’t last as long as it deserved to, but Samsung should be given credit not only for being the first to market with a practical APS-C mirrorless line, but for getting so much right at the very beginning.
2010 – Fujifilm Finepix X100
Our second pick from 2010 is another hugely influential APS-C camera, from (at the time) another relatively minor manufacturer. The Finepix X100 represented a completely new direction for Fujifilm, which in 2010 was known as a fairly small-scale camera maker, with a flair for unconventional sensor technologies. Back then the company didn’t have its own lens mount (Fujifilm’s DSLRs were created in collaboration with Nikon) but with the X100, Fujifilm created a product that nevertheless found itself in the camera bags and around the necks of thousands of professional and enthusiast photographers.
We said: ‘Despite all of its manifest flaws, the X100 is a camera that’s become a firm favorite in the DPReview offices. Its drop-dead gorgeous looks and excellent build make it a camera that begs you to pick it up and take it out with you, and the image quality it returns at the end of the day is nothing short of superb. And this ultimately is the key to its attraction – it just takes wonderful pictures, time after time.’
Offering mouth-watering retro styling, a proven bayer-pattern 12MP sensor (basically the same one found in the Nikon D300/S and several other DSLRs) and a unique ‘hybrid’ electronic / optical viewfinder, the X100 was like nothing else on the market. Gloriously buggy when it was first released, major firmware updates rounded off most of the X100’s rough edges pretty quickly.
Perhaps more than any other product, the X100 helped create a market for large-sensor, fixed-lens compact cameras. Subsequent models in the X100-series would lose the ‘Finepix’ moniker, but gain ‘X-Trans’ – another of Fujifilm’s non-standard filter arrays. Old habits die hard.
2010 – iPhone 4/S
We did say this article was the twenty most important cameras of the decade, and one phone. Well, here’s the phone.
The iPhone 4 was not the first iPhone (obviously) and very far from even being the first smartphone with a camera, but it was the first that we considered really usable as an alternative to a ‘proper’ camera.
When I got mine in late 2010 (shortly after moving to the US, in fact) I remember being genuinely excited by the creative possibilities of the iPhone 4’s camera, and simultaneously rather worried about what it might mean for the camera industry. The iPhone 4S, which followed in 2011, improved the iPhone’s camera even further.
We said: (about the iPhone 4S) ‘For better or for worse, photography has been democratized and commoditized, and there just isn’t any going back – and while yes, we can thank smartphones in general for that, the iPhone 4S was one of the more influential players in changing the way that we view smartphone cameras and smartphone photography.’
It turns out that the excitement was justified – and so was the nagging worry. Launched in the same year as Instagram, the iPhone 4 didn’t destroy the compact camera market on its own, but it certainly accelerated the decline. For arguably the first time, you didn’t need a dedicated camera to be a dedicated photographer.
And here we are.
2011 – Nikon J/V1
Nikon launched the J1 and V1 in unusual secrecy, without any pre-disclosure. These were the cameras meant to reinvigorate Nikon’s product lineup for the 2010s, to address the needs of a new generation of photographers perhaps coming from a smartphone, or at risk of being tempted away from Nikon by new mirrorless upstarts like Panasonic, Olympus, Sony and Samsung.
The 1 system lasted for four years, and eight years after its inception, Nikon’s first mirrorless system is sometimes dismissed as a failure, if it’s remembered at all. It’s true that unlike Micro Four Thirds and Sony’s E-mount, Nikon’s first mirrorless line was (like Samsung’s) ultimately a dead end. And it’s probably no coincidence that compared to those other manufacturers, Nikon opted for the smallest sensor of all: 1-inch, which hadn’t been used in an ILC system before and (aside from the also doomed Samsung NX Mini of 2014 – which we all know how that turned out) hasn’t been since.
We said: ‘Right now by far the biggest advantage that [the 1 J1 and V1] have over the competition is their adaptive hybrid AF systems. If you want to shoot moving subjects in good light with a small (ish) camera then the J1 and V1 really are the only game in town […]. If this sort of photography is not a priority for you, then given the strength of the competition it is very hard to recommend that you go out and buy either of these cameras’.
To Nikon’s credit, the company didn’t give up on the 1 System before giving it a fair crack of the whip, and 1-series cameras did perform well in some global markets. I’ll still challenge anyone who says the V3 (2014) wasn’t a fun camera to use, but it certainly wasn’t for everyone, and like the V1 and V2, it was too expensive to be taken seriously by photographers who could afford it.
People tend to forget how innovative those cameras were, though. Offering on-sensor phase detection AF (unique in ILCs at that time) and ultra-fast shooting, the J1 and (especially) V1 were genuinely advanced products that showcased some of the key differentiating technologies that we take for granted in today’s mirrorless cameras, including dual-gain sensors. It would be seven years before Nikon launched another lens lineup featuring much of the same tech, in the form of the Z-mount.
2012: Canon EOS 6D
Aaah the EOS 6D. The DSLR that would never die. Officially a current model for so long that it almost became a joke (~5 years is a long time for an ostensibly entry-level offering) the Canon EOS 6D was a major success for Canon. It’s included in this list because of its significance as a ‘gateway’ model: The 6D introduced full-frame to a generation of Canon DSLR photographers who had been putting off ‘upgrading’ from APS-C due to cost.
We said: ‘The EOS 6D doesn’t offer the depth of features that its best competitors can, but it combines very good image quality, impressive high-ISO performance and class-leading low-light autofocus ability (with the central AF point) as well as impressive built-in Wi-Fi and GPS features.
Basically a cheaper, stripped-down alternative to the then-current EOS 5D Mark III, the 6D was Canon’s smallest, lightest and least expensive full-frame camera up to that point: A no-frills workhorse with so-so autofocus that was never going to excite camera snobs, it could be relied upon take great-looking pictures in most situations, and it sold like crazy.
The fact that Canon didn’t feel the need to officially replace the 6D for five years speaks for itself. The EOS 6D (along with the troubled Nikon D600 – released a week earlier) did not create the market for full-frame, but it certainly helped democratize it.
2012: Olympus OM-D E-M5
Panasonic might have (just) beaten Olympus to the punch when it came to launching the first mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, but it was Olympus which arguably made the first really good one. The OM-D E-M5 was Olympus’s eighth Micro Four Thirds camera, and as we said at the time of its launch ‘without question the most accomplished’. Styled after the company’s classic film-era OM-series SLRs, the E-M5 was – just like that series of cameras – small and lightweight, but very powerful.
And so much fun to use.
We said: ‘The Olympus OM-D E-M5 is certainly the most capable Micro Four Thirds camera we’ve reviewed and arguably the most likable mirrorless model yet. It falls down a little bit on its continuous focusing but we have absolutely no complaints about the image quality. It’s small, attractive, and a pleasure to use, and its pictures are equally enjoyable.’
Yes, Four Thirds is a small sensor format, and was considered so even in 2012. And that does come with some disadvantages. But the E-M5 was such an endearing little camera – and such a complete package – that a lot of photographers were happy to overlook issues like higher noise levels and limited depth of field control. Thanks to its small size and weather sealing, the E-M5 was a lovely option for travel and everyday photography, but it wasn’t all about size: The first OM-D model packed some powerful features, too.
These included 5-axis in-body stabilization, a 1.44m-dot electronic viewfinder, and good (for 2012) 1080 60p video mode. Where the E-M5 mostly fell down was where a lot of mirrorless cameras did, at that point in time: continuous autofocus. But it really wasn’t meant to be a sports and action camera. It was meant to be a small, lightweight option for photographers who wanted to shoot with something a little different. In that respect the OM-D E-M5 honored Olympus’s OM-series legacy perfectly, and pointed the way for things to come.
2012: Sony Cyber-shot RX100
You knew it was only a matter of time before Sony showed up on this list. The Cyber-shot RX100 was the first of what has turned out to be a very successful line for Sony, and introduced the basic ingredients which have made the RX100-series so popular ever since: a large 1-inch sensor with very high speed shooting capability, a high-quality zoom lens and excellent video features all wrapped up in a genuinely pocketable form-factor.
We said: ‘[Images from the RX100] are consistently so good that you’ll rarely find yourself too disappointed on the occasions you didn’t have your big camera with you. And its class-leading video capabilities mean it’s worth keeping with you, even when you did. In addition, it’s as happy shooting sweep panoramas and automated HDR images as it is capturing Raw images with plenty of exposure control, which means you arrive home with a more varied selection of images and videos than you might with one of its competitors.
Subsequent RX100 models added valuable improvements and useful extra features like a built-in EVF (the RX100 VI and V are still our favorites, thanks to the EVF and fast, relatively short lens) but Sony got a lot right in the original RX100. Overnight, this was the compact camera to beat, and in the years after its introduction, models like Canon’s PowerShot G5 X and G7 X-series (and Nikon’s unrealized DL-series) sprung up in direct competition.
2013: Samsung Galaxy NX
The Galaxy NX was intended to answer the question ‘what would happen if you combined the best things about a smartphone with the best things about a dedicated camera?’ As such, it was an important product from a company that by 2013 knew how to manufacture both things, very well indeed.
It was also a flop.
Sadly, while perhaps an appealing idea in theory, the $1,600 Galaxy NX didn’t end up setting the world on fire. It was capable of taking great photographs though, thanks to its APS-C format 20MP sensor. But in the end, the melding of a Galaxy S4 smartphone’s app-centric interface with the large sensor and ergonomics of a conventional camera ended up not being particularly fun to shoot with for someone used to either sort of platform. And did we mention it cost $1,600?
We said: ‘For day-to-day photography, the Galaxy NX doesn’t improve on the camera experience or the smartphone experience. Ultimately, it’s less than the sum of its parts. But it’s also a more logical and successful product than the devices that came before it in this line, so it’s possible that after a few more refinements, the Galaxy series could produce the first connected camera/phone hybrid that’s actually worth owning.’
So why is it included on this list? Well, for one thing it was without doubt important, in the sense that nobody had ever attempted anything quite like it. We’d seen ‘smart’ cameras before, but none with an interchangeable lens-mount.
In retrospect it’s easy to look at the Galaxy NX as a failure. An example of how not to meet related but different consumer needs in a single product (what Apple’s Tim Cook memorably described as a ‘toaster fridge’), but this is a misuse of hindsight. The Galaxy may simply have been ahead of its time. It was, definitely, overpriced. But the basic idea was sound – Samsung’s conceptually-similar but less ambitious Galaxy-series zoom compact cameras actually did pretty well.
Will any manufacturer ever again attempt such a literal blending of smartphone and camera? It’s an interesting question. With Samsung out of the picture, the only brand with significant expertise in both the camera and smartphone arena these days is Sony. Could we ever see a Sony Alpha Xperia? We wouldn’t bet against it.
2013: Sony a7/R
Sony may have just been pipped to the post by Samsung when it came to APS-C mirrorless, but it was first with full-frame. As commenters on DPReview like to point out (both at the time and still today) the original a7 and a7R had their fair share of issues, and it also took quite a while before Sony caught up in terms of lenses. But they were first-generation products, and no new system has ever been launched in a finished state.
Quirky they may have been, but the original a7-series cameras were technically innovative and competitive full-frame options released at a time when the industry desperately needed shaking up.
We said (about the a7R): ‘When it comes down to it, the Sony a7R’s image quality, created by a combination of its high-resolution sensor and premium quality optics, make it an impressive image-maker. That fact trumps most quibbles we have about operation, JPEG processing, and even pre-processing in Raws. Its autofocus system nails focus most of the time and is fast enough for all but action photography.’
DSLRs were the only game in town in 2013, and the a7 and a7R caught Canon and Nikon napping. It would be a full five years before either of the traditional ‘big two’ came out with their own full-frame offerings and Sony spent the intervening time releasing seven more full-frame ILCs and in the process securing a major share of the full-frame market. With the a7S / II and later a7-series models the company also made major inroads with amateur and enthusiast / independent filmmakers too – a market that Canon is sometimes credited with inventing when it released the video-capable EOS 5D Mark II.
So yes – despite their flaws, the a7 and a7R really were important. Compact full-frame was a big deal back in 2013, and they were the first in a line of cameras from a manufacturer which would go on to turn the enthusiast full-frame market on its head.
2014: Leica T (Typ 701)
The Leica T was – literally – mold-breaking. Unlike pretty well all cameras, which are assembled from molded shell sections joined by screws, the Leica T was formed from a single block of milled aluminum, with the sensor and internal electronics slotted inside. There’s a tendency among camera reviewers to describe high-end products as feeling like they’re ‘milled from a solid lump of metal’, and I’m probably guilty of doing that myself a few times, but in the case of the Leica T it was true, for once.
More importantly, the T introduced a novel way of interfacing with the camera via its oversized touchscreen and app-like operating system. Although not literally app-driven, like the Android-powered Samsung Galaxy NX, the T’s tiled interface and scrolling features menus would look familiar to a smartphone user even now. In 2014 this approach was still quite a novelty in the world of ‘serious’ photography, and at a time when ‘novelty’ was not a word we would have naturally associated with Leica.
We said: ‘It’s rare these days to encounter a product that offers a genuinely new way of doing things. The Leica T most certainly does, and I want to be very clear that in my opinion, Leica deserves praise for being bold. Making the Leica T’s control logic so reliant on a touchscreen was a brave move from the German manufacturer, and although its experiment in combining conventional camera ergonomics with a smartphone-like screen experience doesn’t entirely succeed, it’s certainly an intriguing first attempt.’
The Leica T is not on our list of most important cameras of the decade because it was a really good camera. It was not. It was slow, finicky, and when it was first released, certain aspects of the T’s UX (especially those relating to autofocus) were basically broken. But the T marked the beginning of a new phase in Leica’s evolution as a camera maker. For one thing it wasn’t just another re-badged Panasonic Lumix clone. More significantly though, it represented a very bold break from conventional camera ergonomics – ‘the kind of camera that Apple might make’ as we said in our original first-impressions review.
The T also debuted Leica’s first fully-electronic, designed-for-mirrorless lens mount. It would be year after the launch of the T before the full-frame SL really showed the potential of the L-mount (and still another five before Panasonic and Sigma would be asked to join the party) but it all started with the T.
2014: Nikon D750
Five years after its launch, we’re still recommending the Nikon D750 to our readers and our friends. And to our friends who are readers (you’re all our friends). Not just because it’s a reliably good deal every winter when the sales come around, but because it’s still really good. The D750 is just a straightforward, well-designed camera. The kind that, as camera reviewers (and sunny optimists who don’t need to worry about things like margins, R&D cost and product differentiation), we wish manufacturers would make all the time.
Just put all the features most photographers really need, in a relatively small and affordable package. It can’t be that hard, right?
Well actually it can be that hard (see point about margins and R&D, and product differentiation) which is why it happens pretty rarely. Historical examples include the Canon EOS 10D, the Nikon D700, and more recently the Sony a7III. And, of course, the Nikon D750.
We said: ‘It’s not often that we review a camera that does nearly everything right. The Nikon D750 is one of those cameras, due in large part to its top-notch sensor and autofocus system. It also wins points for its responsive (but buffer-limited) continuous shooting mode and video quality. While it has a few flaws, they’re minor and won’t affect the majority of photographers.’
With an autofocus system genuinely capable of keeping on top of sports and action, and a really solid 24MP full-frame sensor, the D750 can do pretty much everything you ask of it – assuming we’re only talking about stills photography. It’s possible that while the Nikon D850 may end up being regarded as the pinnacle of DSLR technology for enthusiast photographers, the D750 will forever be remembered as among the best DSLRs across the board, thanks to its uncommonly good balance of features, usability and price.
2014: Samsung NX1
Speaking of features and usability, 2014 saw the launch of another major camera that, like the D750, still doesn’t seem out of date. The APS-C Samsung NX1 sent a bolt of electricity through the market when it was released five years ago, offering features and performance previously unheard-of in the mirrorless market segment (with a confidently high MSRP to match).
The NX1’s specification sheet reads like a wish-list from a particularly needy professional photographer (or a sunny optimist of the kind described on the previous page). What other mirrorless camera at the time could come close to full-resolution shooting at 15fps with autofocus? That kind of capability is still impressive now. Likewise 4K video recording (using the new and more efficient H.265 wrapper), serious weather-sealing and a lovely electronic viewfinder. And the world’s first APS-C format BSI-CMOS sensor.
We said: ‘We could probably justify giving the NX1 an award simply based on technological advancements and raising the bar for both image quality and video performance in its class. But those achievements are wrapped inside a well designed camera with a great user experience. We also have to credit to Samsung for really innovating on this product. In the process they got a few things wrong, but they got a lot of things right, and that’s the type of product we like to see because it pushes boundaries and drives innovation across the entire market.’
The NX1 had it all, and was released alongside two highly impressive fast-aperture zoom lenses, which made the most out of its excellent 28MP sensor. Note that it wasn’t until this year, with Canon’s EOS M6 Mark II and EOS 90D, that the NX1 was out-resolved by another APS-C format camera.
If a manufacturer came to us today with a new camera that matched the performance and ergonomics of the NX1, we would still be impressed. There were rumors after its launch that Samsung was poised to release a full-frame system, but sadly the company exited the camera industry before we could find out if this was true. With the NX1, Samsung certainly left on a high note.
2015: Leica Q (Typ 116)
Often criticized – and sometimes fairly – for being a boutique brand that has forgotten how to cater to genuine photographers, the Q was a camera that (temporarily) shut the Leica haters up. Aimed at camera users, not just camera collectors, the Q offered a competitive 24MP full-frame sensor and extremely high-quality 28mm F1.7 lens, with ergonomics that while definitely informed by the company’s legacy, weren’t weighted down by it.
We said: ‘The Leica Q is the most affordable full-frame Leica camera to date. Its 24MP sensor is good though not class-leading, and the fixed 28mm F1.7 Summilux lens is superb. The camera is built beautifully and responds rapidly. With the exception of a few software issues and some troublesome noise banding in pushed Raw files, the Leica Q is an excellent camera that you’ll want to bring along for documenting the world around you.’
The Q’s MSRP of $4,250 unquestionably made it a premium product, but bear in mind that its only serious competition – the Sony Cyber-shot RX1R II – cost $3,300. And was a Cyber-shot. Considering that the Q offered a (slightly) faster and optically stabilized lens, at a desirable wider focal length AND HAD A RED DOT ON THE FRONT it’s hard to argue that it was egregiously overpriced.
The Q ended up being so successful that it wasn’t refreshed for four years.
2016: Pentax K-1
Pentax is one of those brands that its fans just love – passionately and loyally. Now owned by Ricoh, Pentax has had a rocky few years but it’s still hanging in there, thanks in no small part to a small army of repeat customers that can’t imagine ever buying from another brand.
The K-1 is a really solid camera – literally. Peppered with buttons, dials and switches, it’s an SLR in the classic mold, and one of the toughest models on the market. Specifically meant to appeal to outdoor photographers, the K-1 and its successor the K-1 II is one of the very few cameras we’d feel confident about taking out into truly awful weather. Backlit controls and neat features like ‘Astrotracer’ make it attractive to nocturnal photographers, too.
We said: ‘The Pentax K-1 is a 36MP fully weather sealed, image stabilized full-frame DSLR that offers an enormous amount of features at a bargain price. Although the autofocus system fails to catch up with some of its peers the image quality that the K-1 offers is some of the best on the market and users will enjoy the ability to utilize the K-1’s clever sensor shift technology.’
It’s pretty rare to hear phrases like ‘this is a camera for MX owners’ uttered in a product briefing, but it’s great to see a company taking such good care of its legacy (and of its most loyal customers).
The K-1 was the first full-frame Pentax DSLR, but it isn’t in this list because it had a significant impact on the wider photography market (although in some respects it was very competitive, especially for landscape shooters). It’s included here because it’s one of those rare products that deserves to be celebrated: a love letter, in effect, from a manufacturer to its customers. The K-1 was packed with all the special features that Pentax users had come to appreciate in the company’s APS-C DSLRs, and being full-frame it was fully compatible with their collection of lenses going back decades – something that Pentax shooters had been waiting for, for a long time.
2016: Fujifilm GFX 50S
Fujifilm entered the mirrorless interchangeable lens camera market a little late, with a dedicated APS-C platform. Unlike Sony’s E-mount, Fujifilm could never have squeezed a full-frame sensor into the XF mount, and opted in the end to skip full-frame entirely. Instead, the company calculated it had a better chance of differentiating in the medium-format segment, which (with the honorable exception of Pentax) had until 2016 been dominated by a small number of companies making small numbers of really, really expensive cameras aimed mostly at studio professionals.
The Fujifilm GFX 50S changed all that. Offering 50MP from a 43.8 × 32.9mm sensor (close enough to traditional 120 film formats that it is usually referred to as ‘medium format’) it offered 4X the imaging area of Fujifilm’s APS-C ILCs and 1.7X the area of full-frame. Given an even technological playing field, this should have given the 50S an immediate advantage in image quality over its smaller-sensored competition.
We said: ‘The Fujifilm GFX 50S represents the company’s entrance into the medium format digital market. It takes the ethos of APS-C X-series cameras and combines it with a larger sensor. Control points are plentiful, image quality is exceptional and autofocus is precise, just don’t expect it to focus on moving subjects. The only thing truly holding back the GFX 50S from reaching its potential is a limited lens selection (at launch) with slow maximum apertures. Still, it is capable of the best image quality we’ve tested to date and is all around a lovely camera to shoot with.’
This ended up not quite being true (the Nikon D850 at ISO 64, for example, is at least a match for the GFX 50S in Raw mode) but it was certainly competitive against other medium-format cameras, and at a lower cost and with much more user-friendly ergonomics. The semi-modular design of the 50S made it pleasantly versatile in and out of the studio, and Fujifilm’s range of GF lenses have proven to be excellent.
The GFX 50S didn’t bring medium-format into the mainstream overnight, or all on its own, but it certainly opened the format up to a generation of photographers who would never even have considered it before.
2017: Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5
Panasonic will always be remembered by camera nerds as the company that invented the mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, way back in 2009 (it’s just outside the scope of this article, but let’s hear it for all those Lumix DMC-G1 fans out there!). As APS-C and then full-frame mirrorless ILCs became mainstream in the later part of the 2010s, Panasonic needed to differentiate, and to do that the company looked to video.
Panasonic had been making video-oriented ILCs for some time, starting with the GH1, but the GH5 was quite a leap.
We said: ‘If you’re serious about video, it’s hard to go wrong [with the GH5]. This camera can probably deliver the goods unless you have very specialized needs, and if you’re just learning, it’s a camera you can grow with. But what if you’re already a GH4 user? Think of it like this: the GH5 isn’t just a camera that does everything your current camera can do, plus a bunch of other things. This is a camera that does everything your current camera can do, but better (often by a wide margin)… plus a bunch of other things.’
The GH5 was a videophile’s dream. It could capture 4K/60p footage with no crop, 10-bit 4:2:2 internal recording, optional V-LogL support, a waveform monitor, adjustable luminance levels and much more. An optional adapter added XLR jacks and numerous audio controls. Equally as usable for stills shooting as for video, the GH5 offered a 20MP Four Thirds sensor, 5-axis in-body stabilization and the option of 9fps continuous shooting.
With the GH5, Panasonic was aggressively courting indie filmmakers, and production companies looking for small, lightweight and versatile ‘B’ and ‘C’ cameras. The Lumix S1H – the first consumer stills / video camera to be certified by Netflix for video production – is a direct descendant of the GH5.
2017: Sony a9
For years, journalists and DPReview readers have been asking ‘when will we see a full-frame mirrorless camera designed for sports and action professionals?’ In 2017, that question was answered. Sony – in characteristically Sony fashion – stuffed everything it could into the a9, with the aim of creating a camera which would convince even the most demanding photographers that they didn’t necessarily need a DSLR.
Ask a lot of professional DSLR users (and professional DSLR manufacturers) about the major advantages of their cameras and they’ll typically list off build quality, battery life and – especially – the viewfinder experience. Sony designed the a9 with the intention not only of addressing all three of these points, but also of exceeding some of the other capabilities of contemporary DSLRs.
We said: ‘The Sony a9 is more than just a refinement of the company’s a7-series of full-frame mirrorless cameras; it’s an evolution. With meaningful ergonomic and user interface improvements, the a9 is a polished and highly capable camera. It may not be a go-to camera for landscape and studio photographers, but its compact dimensions, silent operation, abundant speed and blackout-free shooting make it not only a step forward for mirrorless, but a compelling proposition for professionals who can’t afford to miss a moment.’
The a9’s stacked super fast-readout stacked CMOS sensor is stabilized, and offers 20fps burst shooting with no viewfinder blackout, courtesy of its electronic shutter. Even if you don’t need this kind of speed, silent shooting with almost no compromises (think a photojournalist shooting in a hushed courtroom or a sports shooter covering golf) has the potential to be a (possibly literal) game-changer.
Meanwhile, the a9’s magnesium-alloy body is weather-sealed, and battery life runs to thousands of shots per charge in normal use. Its 693-point on-sensor phase-detection autofocus system started out excellent and was improved even further with a major firmware update this year. The a9 can also shooting oversampled UHD 4K video.
When it was released, the a9 was arguably the most capable camera on the market for shooting sports and action, and with new firmware it’s only gotten better since then. That Sony managed within half a decade to create a product that rivaled established professional DSLRs is astonishing.
Want to know what a future professional mirrorless camera from Canon or Nikon might look like? The chances are it’ll look a lot like the Sony a9.
2017: Nikon D850
I mentioned earlier that the D850 may end up ultimately being regarded as the pinnacle of DSLR technology for enthusiast photographers, and I stand by that statement. It seems extremely unlikely that we’ll ever see a more advanced DSLR developed for enthusiasts. The D850 was a significant upgrade over the D810 (which was little more than a warmed-over iteration of the D800/e) and remains without a doubt one the most technically impressive DSLRs ever made, shy of the likes of the sports and action-oriented D5 and Canon’s EOS-1D X Mark II.
What made it so important? Like the D750, the D850 was exquisitely well-designed for its intended audience: enthusiasts and semi-professionals. But it was tough enough and fast enough for professional use, too. And for a DSLR, its 4K video features aren’t too shabby either.
We said: ‘If you’re careful with your technique and have the requisite lenses, the D850 will reward you with incredible detail in landscapes and portraits. If you need to shoot moving subjects, you have a highly capable AF system and 7fps at your disposal, with the option to boost that to 9fps if you so require. The D850 puts out great color and overall image quality regardless of where the ISO value lands. You really can shoot just about anything with it.’
The D850 has the feel of a camera designed on the assumption that it will be on the market for a long time. It checks just about all the boxes an enthusiast photographer could ever want checked: high resolution (46MP), excellent autofocus (153-points, linked to a 180,000-pixel metering system), fast continuous shooting (up to 9fps with autofocus) and seriously solid build-quality. It also had (and still has) one of the best optical viewfinders ever put into an SLR.
Arguably, in hindsight, Nikon’s marketing department actually did itself a disservice by making the D850 as good as it was. Its formidable reputation and constant position on top of ‘Best DSLR’ lists probably made it inevitable that when the company’s new mirrorless Z6 and Z7 were released in 2018 they would suffer by comparison.
2018: Nikon Z6/7
Speaking of which, a year after the D850, Nikon released two extremely important cameras: The Z6 and Z7. Nikon’s F-mount soldiered on for 60 years (and is still supported) but it became obvious a long time ago that it had reached the limit of its technical potential. Specifically, the F mount was too narrow to easily accommodate lenses faster than F1.4 with autofocus, and physically couldn’t support lenses faster than F1.2. Nikon deserves credit for maintaining lens compatibility as well as it did across six decades of technological development, but nothing lasts forever.
The move to mirrorless allowed Nikon to start with a blank sheet of paper, and it’s interesting to note that the company’s engineers opted not only for a wider mount (by 17%), but for the widest of all full-frame mirrorless mounts, allowing for the creation of lenses as fast as F0.95.
We said (about the Z7): ‘Class-leading dynamic range, AF performance (including tracking) and robust build quality are the three core factors we’ve come to love about Nikon DSLRs. While the Z7 is built well, its dynamic range and AF usability and performance come up a little short. Still, it represents a huge leap forward for Nikon cameras, especially in terms of video capability, image stabilization and the new Z mount. And for a first generation product, we’re hugely impressed.’
The Z6 and Z7 are essentially twin models separated by sensor resolution. The 24MP Z6 might be compared to the D750, while the 46MP Z7 is more naturally (and problematically) compared against the D850. Both offer plenty that their DSLR cousins do not: 100% on-sensor phase-detection autofocus, full-time live view via an exceptionally detailed electronic finder and – of course – properly integrated, highly detailed 4K video capture, without a crop.
Looking back at the Z6 and Z7 over a distance of slightly more than a year, it’s a shame that when they were launched, so many people focused on their relative shortcomings (no equivalent to the 3D AF tracking mode in Nikon’s DSLRs being one of the most often-voiced, and entirely fair complaints). For most purposes though – and for most photographers – they’ve proven to be excellent and highly capable cameras, as well as being arguably the nicest of the current crop of full-frame models to actually use.
With the Z6 and Z7, Nikon took a big step into the future, and we can’t wait to see what’s coming in the next decade.
2018: Canon EOS R
Within days of Nikon’s Z6 and Z7 launch, Canon officially joined the full-frame mirrorless party too with the EOS R. Like the Z-series for Nikon, the R system is hugely important for Canon, representing a major leap forward in technology, and one for which the company had been carefully preparing for some time.
Let’s recap some of the EOS R’s notable features: Dual Pixel CMOS autofocus? That was introduced in the EOS 70D, back in 2013. Capacitive touch-sensitive controls? The EOS 5D Mark III’s rear control dial was touch-sensitive, even earlier, in 2012. High-quality video in a full-frame stills camera? Arguably a trend started with the EOS 5D Mark II. Fully-articulating rear LCD? I can’t remember the first Canon DSLR to have one of those, but I know my PowerShot G1 from 2000 does.
Say what you like about Canon – you can’t argue its engineering team aren’t far-sighted.
We said: ‘With a 30MP sensor, fantastic color reproduction and on-sensor autofocus, the EOS R can produce some beautiful photographs with pinpoint-accurate focus. But it’s Canon’s first mirrorless full-frame camera, and in many ways, it shows. The ergonomics feel unfinished, and for the same or less money, you can find better video, more dynamic range and faster burst speeds elsewhere. But we have to admit that Canon’s new RF lenses are simply spectacular, and at this time, the EOS R is the only way to get to use them.’
We knew Canon would get around to full-frame mirrorless at some point, but we will admit to being a little underwhelmed by its first RF mount camera. The EOS R just felt slightly unfinished, which is unusual for Canon. A major firmware update this year has made a welcome difference to the shooting experience, but the subsequent EOS RP – despite its uncompetitive sensor – is a more convincing (and affordable) offering.
The EOS R is not on this list because it is an outstanding camera in its class, or because we really like it (it isn’t, and in many ways we don’t) but because it is important. Much like the original EOS 650 back in 1987, the R (alongside a bevy of beautiful new L-series RF lenses) points towards something more exciting on the way – a little further down the road.
2019: Fujifilm GFX100
Fujifilm’s third camera in this list is arguably its most impressive – ever. The GFX 100 was first announced as being under development in 2018, but hit the shelves in 2019 year with a bang. Or maybe that should be a ‘thud’. Essentially the same size and weight as a professional full-frame DSLR, the GFX 100 is a substantial piece of kit, but given all the technology that Fujifilm packed inside, it’s amazing that it’s not bigger.
The headline feature of the GFX 100 is its 100MP medium-format BSI-CMOS sensor. This offers double the pixel count, and a substantial increase in overall image quality compared to the sensors used in the GFX 50S and 50R. But its resolution is honestly one of the least impressive things about the GFX 100. How about the fact that it’s sensor is stabilized? Or that alongside extremely high-quality stills, it can also shoot superb 4K video? Or that despite its complexity, ergonomically the GFX 100 still behaves essentially like an overgrown X-series ILC?
We said: ‘From the point of view of image quality alone, the GFX 100 is the best camera we’ve ever reviewed […]. The new BSI sensor and higher pixel count of the GFX 100 puts clear water between it and even the best smaller sensor cameras, and if you need the kind of detail that the GFX 100 offers, there’s no more affordable way to get it. On top of this, its in-body stabilization, autofocus performance and well-designed user interface make it significantly more flexible (and usable) than other medium format competitors.’
As I wrote back when the Fujifilm GFX 100 was released, after reading through the GFX 100’s spec sheet, “you get the sense that beyond a certain point Fujifilm’s engineers were simply showing off”. And it really does seem that way.
But while Fujifilm was definitely throwing down the technological gauntlet with the GFX 100, it’s far from being a ‘stunt’ product. What makes it so impressive is that the GFX 100 is a wonderfully usable camera.