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Since I’m very happy with my Nikon D750, which was released in late 2014, I have not been on top of all the latest camera offerings from this past year, despite the fact that some incredible cameras have been released. Fortunately, I work with a group of men and women who know every last detail of the latest and greatest, so I surveyed our brightest minds to come up with a list of (drum roll): the Cameras of the Year for 2015! Of course, there are great cameras that didn’t make our list, so please comment below on your favorites, whether they made our list or not.
And not just because everybody put the Sony Alpha a7R II on their list! Its 42MP full-frame BSI sensor, 399 autofocus points, high ISO, Internal UHD 4K video, reduced vibration shutter and beefier body are just some of the reasons that this iteration of the now “legendary” camera series has taken photographers by storm. Those who joined the Sony full-frame mirrorless caravan on its first pass through town are delighted with the improvements that Sony gave this model, and those who were clinging to their DSLRs until a “worthy” camera came along have been convinced to make the mirrorless move to this camera.
This pick applies to the Canon EOS 5DS and EOS 5DS R, which was listed side by side with its sibling on many of my colleagues’ rankings. The 5DS R provides a Low-Pass Filter Cancellation Effect for even more detailed resolution, but the attraction here is that Canon has broken the 50MP barrier, creating a DSLR with the high resolution of a medium format digital back in the body of a familiar DSLR. One colleague “yadda-yadda’d” the rest of the camera’s features because all it supposedly offers is more megapixels, not improved video or dynamic range, and while it is not the 5D Mark IV that many have been anticipating, it does have “the solid Canon build and functionality” for those photographers who need the increased resolution to go with the EOS system.
“Small, fast and stylish” is how one of my co-workers described the Olympus OM E-M5 Mark II mirrorless camera. I think its descriptions go beyond that to also include tough (weather-proofing), multi-functional (Wi-Fi, vari-angle LCD, high-res EVF) and high IQ (40MP multi-shot mode and 5-axis image stabilization). The truth is that the E-M5 M II is an all-around great camera with a comfortable retro design and controls in all the right places. Its major upgrades over the original E-M5 include a faster maximum shutter speed, 1080p at 60 fps, the improved EVF and LCD and, of course, the ultra-high resolution Multi-shot mode.
With point-and shoot cameras like the RX100 IV, Sony “leads the way in preventing the extinction of digital compacts by smartphones,” says the inimitable camera connoisseur Zevi Slotkin. And he is correct—the RX100 demonstrates how a well-designed compact camera will create much better images than your phone and will still fit easily in your pocket. The latest iteration of this series features a new 20MP 1" stacked CMOS sensor, a pop-up, 2.35-million-dot-resolution electronic viewfinder and 4K video recording. The BIONZ X image processor enables low noise, high-ISO shooting and 16 fps continuous shooting; its Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* f/1.8-2.8 lens has the 35mm equivalence of 24-70mm.
Leica made a bold move of its own this year to keep point-and-shoots relevant, and/or to compete with the Sony RX1 camera. The Leica Q may not be your typical pocket shooter, especially when you consider its price tag, but its 24.2MP full-frame sensor and Leica Maestro II processor provides it with image-creating resolution and speed unmatched by other compact cameras. Add to that a 3.68MP electronic viewfinder, touchscreen LCD, a fixed 28mm f/1.7 lens, 10 fps continuous shooting, 1080p video, Wi-Fi, and the renowned Leica build quality, and you quickly realize why this camera has impressed so many.
Also a point-and-shoot but not necessarily compact, the Nikon COOLPIX P900 offers another feature that camera phones still can’t touch—a super zoom. It’s 83x optical zoom lens provides a 24-2000mm focal length equivalence and gives you the telephoto reach that only the longest and most expensive lenses can match. On top of that, its image quality is top-notch, as demonstrated by this review. A 16MP sensor, Vari-angle LCD, electronic viewfinder, Dual Detect Optical Vibration Reduction, and built-in Wi-Fi round out its feature set. Its “bridge” camera form factor enables a large, stable grip.
A mirrorless camera with the profile of a point-and-shoot but specs that push it closer to Samsung’s flagship mirrorless model, the NX500 enables the use of a growing set of NX-mount lenses. What is most attractive about this camera, however, is that it provides serious specs and features, including 4K HEVC video at an impressively low price and in an easy-to-use form that combines professional touches with consumer convenience. A 28.2MP APS-C sensor, hybrid autofocus with 205 Phase-detect Autofocus points, a 3.0" tilt-touchscreen monitor, dual command dials, and advanced Wi-Fi system are the calling cards of this stylish system.
“Groundbreaking” may be a bit strong here, but the Theta S, which follows up on the Theta m15, has been described as a the closest consumer product for virtual reality image capture now on the market. The size of a small TV remote control, it features dual 12MP sensors with a twin-lens system that takes 360° spherical photos and full HD videos. Images can be stored on 8GB of internal memory, live-streamed via USB or HDMI ports or transferred wirelessly with its built-in Wi-Fi. Manual exposure control and high ISO give it photographic chops, but the draw is the incredible spherical images you can create with just the press of one button.
The ACTUS-B, along with the B2, B4, B6, and B8, enable you to transform your DSLR or mirrorless camera into a digital view camera. The ACTUS-B camera body provides the principal components (monorail and bellows) for geared camera movements, including perspective and depth-of-field control and selective focusing, and enables the mounting of a range of camera bodies and lenses. The B6 and the B8 models include Sony E and Fujifilm X bayonet mounts, respectively, allowing you to shoot your mirrorless cameras with tilt, shift, rise, and fall movements.
As the premiere “tough” camera on the market, the TG-4 offers what most point-and-shoots don’t—durability and the capability to be effective in extreme situations, including 50' underwater and in temperatures as low as 14°F. It is also drop-proof from up to 7' and crush proof to 220 lbf. While tough cameras are not new, the TG-4 also creates wonderful images and has “real” camera specs that other toughs don’t offer, including a maximum lens aperture of f/2.0 and RAW capture. A 16MP CMOS sensor, built-in Wi-Fi, full HD 1080p, 5 fps continuous shooting and microscope and underwater modes add up to a camera that is great for a family at the beach but can also accompany serious photographers on extreme adventures.
The cameras below, while not on our top 10 list, need to be recognized for their quality, their value as an application-specific tool, or just for the attempt by their manufacturers to try something new.
Nikon D810A DSLR Camera for Astrophotography
Fujifilm X-T1 IR Mirrorless Digital Camera for Infrared Photography
DxO ONE Digital Camera for use on your iPhone or iPad.
Leica SL (Typ 601) Mirrorless Digital Camera for getting “very serious” in the mirrorless arena
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7 Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera for 4K in an all-around first-rate compact mirrorless
Vivitar ViviCam T426 Digital Camera; entry-level point-and-shoot with specs to match the big guys
With thanks to Todd Vorenkamp, Shawn Steiner, Liz Groeschen, Gabriel Biderman, Bjorn Peterson, Allan Weitz, Levi Tenenbaum, Tezz Caires, and Zevi Slotkin