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Top 5 Best Digital Cameras of 2012

By Sandra Parker

photographerWhether you are a professional photographer or just enjoy using a point-and- shoot device, there is a good chance that you are in the market for a quality digital camera. Digital cameras come in all shapes and sizes, touting such performance bonuses as megapixels, expandable memory, and LCD screens.

The main benefit to using a digital camera over film cameras is the ability for the still-picture camera to capture video as well, which omits the extra expense of having to purchase two separate devices. There are a number of cameras out there that offer excellent photo and video quality, with a number of features and an attractive price.

Best Digital Cameras

1. Nikon D7000

The Nikon D7000 is not for the inexperienced photographer. This is one of the best DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) cameras on the market today. A single-lens reflex camera features a mirror that responds to the click of the shutter button by the photographer – the mirror moves out from in front of the exposure lens when the shutter button is depressed.

The Nikon D7000 is one of the premium digital versions of the SLR, a compact picture-taking machine that packs in a whopping 16.2 megapixels, full-time auto-focus for shooting video, and an EXSPEED 2 processor, in addition to many other cool features.

  • Price: Starts at $1,349 (body only)
  • Pros: The viewfinder is exceptional. I like the intuitive positioning of the controls and user-friendly menus. There is room for two SDXC memory cards, which makes for an easy-to-use, highly capable, and incredibly streamlined powerhouse.
  • Cons: The only real drawback to this particular camera, other than its price, is its ability to shoot 1080/30p video (the “p” denotes “progressive scanning,” which is one of two methods digital cameras record video media. Progressive scanning is considered superior to interlaced scanning). The resulting video quality is not up to the standard I had hoped for, especially when compared to the exceptional still-picture quality produced by this camera. Additionally, the price tag for this jewel includes the body only. All lenses must be purchased separately.

The Nikon D7000 was the only model that has been able to unseat the Canon EOS 5D Mark II from the number one slot in 2011. While the price and capabilities far exceed anything that a casual picture-taker would need, this little Nikon offers professional photographers a great, relatively cheap alternative to more expensive cameras.

nikon d7000

2. Canon EOS Rebel T3i

For those of you who are looking to break into the professional photography industry for less than $1,000, this DSLR camera may be your ticket. For the money, the Canon EOS Rebel T3i is a great choice for both still photographers as well as videographers, though it does fall a bit short when it comes to getting those perfect action shots.

  • Price: Starts at $625
  • Pros: One of the main selling points of this camera is its ability to shoot a quality video. Still photography or video, the Canon EOS Rebel T3i produces high-quality images, even in the hands of a novice.
  • Cons: The operation of this particular model can be a little frustrating, especially when being used for both still photography and videography. The other drawback to this model is that its ability to capture live action still shots is lacking. The processor and shutter speed are just too slow to prevent blurring.

This is a great camera to use when it comes to upgrading from a typical point-and-shoot model to a DSLR. The price point may keep this one out of the hands of casual photographers, but it is inexpensive enough to allow you to enter the realm of professional photography.

canon eos rebel t3i

3. Canon Powershot S95

The Canon Powershot S95 is a great point-and-shoot model that can be used by just about anybody and doubles as a 720p video camera. Both the still picture quality and video quality are above average for a point-and-shoot model, and the controls are simple to locate and use.

  • Price: Starts at $389
  • Pros: The Canon Powershot S95 is a well-designed, user-friendly camera that can be used by even the greenest photographers, who will still get quality results. Canon has not skimped on the control panel either, adding a full set of picture controls for greater ease of use.
  • Cons: On the downside, this camera is a little slow for capturing most action shots, leaving you with a lot of blur unless the timing is just right. The battery life could be better, and I would have loved to have seen a compression option in order to maximize storage.

But all in all, the Canon Powershot S95 is a great point-and-shoot camera. Whether you are looking to upgrade from your entry model point-and-shoot or simply need a companion camera for your more expensive DSLR, the Canon Powershot S95 might fit the bill.

canon powershot s95

4. Olympus PEN E-PL3

The Olympus PEN E-PL3 doesn’t outclass any of the other cameras in its category in any particular arena. However, it is a solid performer regarding still photography, though its video capture leaves a lot to be desired.

  • Price: Starts at $660
  • Pros: This camera features a variety of features that can be used by the average consumer with ease. The LCD viewfinder tilts, which makes taking good pictures under just about any condition a breeze. This particular camera is slightly better than some of the other point-and-shoot models in terms of capturing action shots, but there are still some issues with blurring.
  • Cons: The video capture aspect of this particular model is disappointing at best. I also found the lack of a designated grip to be somewhat disconcerting. This may not be an issue for some, but I truly appreciate having an intuitive guide for my hands while I am taking pictures.

Overall, the Olympus PEN E-PL3 is a nice addition to the photography enthusiast’s arsenal. The still-picture quality is better than average, though this is a tradeoff for the lack of quality video capture.

olympus pen-e pl3

5. Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V

Once again, Sony shows up on the best-of list for consumer electronics, but the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V is a bit lower down on the list than I would have initially expected.

  • Price: Starts at $280
  • Pros: As expected, Sony has packed plenty of user-friendly shooting features into one attractive little body. Both still photograph quality and video capture quality are exceptional, especially for such an inexpensive camera.
  • Cons: The only thing I could find wrong with this particular camera is that it simply may be too much camera for the novice user. The overall design of the camera felt a little clunky in my hand.

Overall, this is a great camera for those looking to break into the digital camera realm, or those just looking for an inexpensive way to take great-looking pictures and videos without spending a fortune.

sony cyber-shot dsc-hx9v

Final Word

Keep in mind that in most cases, the quality of a digital camera relates directly to its asking price, which generally means that the more expensive the camera, the better the quality – but not always.

The most important factor in determining which digital camera is right for you will depend on your main use of the device. A casual user can take quality photos and capture decent video using a basic point-and-shoot camera. However, well-versed hobbyists and professionals alike will benefit from a more expensive DSLR version.

Do you have a digital camera that you feel far exceeds your expectations?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

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  • Bruce

    Why would you include the Canon S95 on this list when it was replaced by a much better model, the Canon S100, months ago. If your list of best cameras is meant to be up to date, then best to use current models

  • Sandra Parker

    Hi Bruce,

    I’m glad you read my article. The cameras presented here don’t necessarily include only cameras released in 2012. It is intended to give kudos to cameras that have consistently received high marks from both the user community and experts and represent some of the best models out there. It doesn’t mean to exclude newer and potentially better models, but there just isn’t as much data out there about the newer units. Of course, rating the “best in class” is a subjective process and I would love to hear more about your experience with the S100 for potential consideration in the updated version of this article.

    Thanks again!
    Sandra

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