Best Digital Cameras of 2020
A digital camera provides immediate feedback so you can take clear, high-resolution photos at the touch of a button. Our shopping guide is here to help you find the best digital camera for your photography needs.
Say Cheese! What You Need to Know About Digital Cameras
The digital camera has revolutionized the way we take photos. Not that long ago, when you shot photos with a film camera, you could never be quite sure of the image quality until you had the film developed. Today, you can see what your photos look like instantly. This instant feedback enhances photo quality and our enjoyment of photography in general.
The instant nature of digital photography seems almost magical for those who once labored over shooting photos and developing film. But it's not magic; it's a tangible technology that just about anyone can purchase today.
At BestReviews, we want to help you figure out which digital camera will give you the photography experience you desire. We pride ourselves on the detailed research we've performed and the knowledge we've gained in the realm of digital camera technology. In this shopping guide, we will arm you with this knowledge.
The three digital cameras at the top of this page are excellent products that we're proud to endorse. Please feel free to check out the products above, and read on for even more helpful information about digital cameras.
How a Digital Camera Works
So, if it's not magic, how does a digital camera work?
A digital camera records an image by measuring the light in a scene at the time you press the shutter button. As the light from the scene travels through the lens, it strikes a light-sensitive silicon chip, called an image sensor. This sensor measures the light's intensity and color.
The image sensor has millions of individual areas in which it measures light. Camera makers use the term "pixel" to indicate each measurement area. A modern image sensor has 20 million pixels or more. An image sensor that's larger in physical size will have larger pixels, which allows it to record light more accurately than a smaller image sensor would.
With a photo displayed on a computer screen, the monitor shows each individual pixel as a tiny dot on the screen. Your eye naturally blends these tiny dots to create the photographic image in your brain.
Once the image sensor has collected the data about the light, a processing chip in the camera converts the data into digital bits. The camera stores these digital bits as a digital file, just like any type of file a computer can read.
Digital Camera Types
Three primary types of digital camera designs exist on today's market: fixed-lens cameras, DSLR cameras, and mirrorless cameras.
Fixed-lens cameras have the lens built into the camera body. This lens can have one focal length (a prime lens) or a focal length range (a zoom lens).
Fixed-lens cameras are the most basic type of digital camera. As such, they tend to cost less than other camera types. A simple fixed-lens camera may cost between $100 and $300. A more advanced fixed-lens camera with a large zoom lens or a large image sensor may cost between $300 and $1,000.
A smartphone camera would fit into the fixed lens category, because you cannot remove its lens.
A DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera has a lens you can remove and swap out. You get more versatility with this design because you can use different types of lenses. Some DSLR lenses are prime lenses, and some are zoom lenses.
DSLR cameras sit at the top of the digital camera market, meaning they have the most features and the best image quality. An entry-level DSLR will cost $300 to $750 for the camera body alone. Advanced DSLRs cost $750 to $5,000 for the camera body. The individual lenses that you'd purchase separately can run anywhere from $100 to $1,000 or more.
A mirrorless camera uses interchangeable lenses just as a DSLR does, but it has a different interior design than a DSLR. This design allows the mirrorless camera to be thinner and weigh less than a DSLR.
Generally, mirrorless cameras cost less than DSLRs, but they don't match DSLR image quality. That said, there are some individual advanced mirrorless cameras that can outperform entry-level DSLRs. Mirrorless camera bodies run from about $250 to $2,000. The lenses typically cost $100 to $500 or more.
Digital Camera Terms You Need to Know
To successfully compare different cameras, you need to understand the jargon associated with the digital camera market.
- Autofocus and Manual Focus: Some cameras have an autofocus feature in which the camera automatically locks onto an object and displays it sharply. Modern digital cameras have very accurate autofocus systems. But some cameras also offer a manual focus option. Manual focus gives the photographer more artistic control.
- Camera Settings: Some advanced cameras allow you to control things like shutter speed, ISO, and aperture. Shutter speed refers to the amount of time the shutter opens to allow light to strike the image sensor (usually a fraction of a second). ISO refers to the sensitivity of the image sensor to light. Aperture refers to the size of the opening in the lens that allows light through. A wide aperture allows more light to shine through, which is better in dark shooting conditions.
- Flash: Some digital cameras have a flash unit that's built into the camera. Others require you to attach a separate flash unit to the camera's hot shoe. Most digital cameras allow the photographer to decide when the flash is needed and when it's not.
- LCD Screen: Digital cameras have LCD display screens on which you can line up the photo you're taking and/or view the photos that have already been shot.
- Mode Dial: The mode dial can be used to select the camera mode with which you want to shoot. Some mode dial options allow the camera to automatically calculate the best settings; other mode dial options allow you to manually pick the best settings.
- Viewfinder: The viewfinder is a tiny window near the top of the back of the camera. You can look through it to line up the scene. As a rule, only advanced digital cameras have viewfinders.
Questions to Ask Before Selecting a Digital Camera
With so many digital cameras on the market, picking the right one can be a challenge. Ask yourself these questions when trying to decide which digital camera would best meet your needs.
- How much do I want to spend on a digital camera? It's important to plan your budget before you go shopping. Keep in mind that DSLR and mirrorless cameras will require some extra expenses for lenses. However, you could choose to start with a kit lens and purchase extra lenses down the road.
- How much experience do I have with digital cameras? If you have no experience with using a digital camera, it would probably be silly to spend several thousand dollars on camera gear. We advise those who are just learning about photography to opt for a less-expensive camera at first. You could always upgrade as you learn more and expand your skills.
- How much time do I have to spend on my digital photography hobby? Although today's digital cameras are easy to use, becoming a great photographer takes practice. Learning the nuances of different camera settings and how light affects your photos requires experience and time. If you don't have a lot of time to spend on this hobby, stick with a simple camera with automatic functions. If you have lots of time and want to dive into the hobby at full speed, you may wish to consider a more advanced camera with manual settings that are tricky to learn but will enhance the quality of your photos.
- How do you plan to use your photos? If you want only to share your images on social media, a simple, inexpensive camera works fine. If you're seeking to make large prints that you can frame or sell, you'll need the top-end image quality of a DSLR.
Digital Camera FAQ
Q. What are some benefits of digital cameras compared to film cameras?
A. A digital camera allows you to see and share your photos immediately after shooting them. You can immediately delete any photos that have poor results. But with film cameras, you must pay for prints of even your worst photos.
Q. How do I pick a digital camera?
A. First, set a budget that reflects what you can afford. If you have little to no experience with photography, a low-cost, point-and-shoot digital camera may work best. If you have some experience and/or want to spend time developing your photography skills, a more advanced digital camera would serve you well.
Q. Can a digital camera shoot video?
A. Most digital cameras excel at video recording as well as still-image recording. In fact, digital cameras have greatly improved in terms of video recording over the past several years.
Many people no longer feel the need to purchase and use a separate digital video camcorder if they already own a good digital camera. Some digital cameras limit video recording at full-HD resolution, but newer models will record at 4K video resolution.
Q. What are some of the extra costs associated with a digital camera?
A. You will need to buy a memory card to store your photos. Memory cards tend to cost between $10 and $20.
Some people choose to buy a tripod to steady their camera. A tripod can cost between $50 and $100.
If you have an advanced DSLR or mirrorless camera, you will have more expenses, including extra lenses. Individual lenses can run anywhere from $100 to $1,000 or more. You may need to purchase an external flash unit too. This can cost anywhere from $50 to $200.
Lastly, you may wish to buy a camera bag to carry your gear. Quality camera bags tend to cost between $100 an $300.