2012 DigitalCameraInfo Best of Year Awards
After a down year in 2011, the camera industry surged back to life. Here are the best cameras of 2012.
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2012 has been one of the most exciting years yet for the staff here at DigitalCameraInfo.com, as the photographic industry put the woes of 2011 behind it to release some truly amazing cameras. From flagship DSLRs to incredible compacts, there was a seemingly endless parade of superb cameras for us to test in our labs. There has also been some incredible innovation in the camera market, with fascinating new technology coming to the fore as companies look to branch out in new and interesting ways. Out of this diverse and ever-growing market we have culled the very best to provide you with our 2012 Best of Year Awards, the cameras we would recommend to not only you, but to our friends and families.
Camera of the Year
(MSRP $6,799 body-only)
While there were only a couple high-end cameras brought to market in 2011, this year saw the eventual release of some incredible full-frame models from each of the major players. With some fantastic mid-range bodies also seeing the light of day, the Canon 1D X had stiff competition for our top spot once it finally was released to the public. Despite the delay, the 1D X bested all comers in our lab tests, producing the highest overall score of the year. While it's certainly too big, too expensive, and simply too much for most people, the Canon 1D X is, hands-down, the best camera from 2012.
The Nikon D4 also graced our labs this year, and we found that it offered performance that exceeded the 1D X in some areas, falling behind in others. We should reserve special mention for the D4's backlit control labels and uncompressed HDMI video output. The D4 is an impressive machine that any pro shooting Nikon should be proud to own, but it falls just behind the 1D X in our overall scoring.
(MSRP $499 16GB)
With so many new and interesting models hitting the market in 2012, Lytro's light field camera stands apart as truly innovative. While we aren't as impressed with the Lytro's traditional image quality, the ability to capture an entire scene and change the focal point after the fact is unlike anything else on the market. The Lytro stands as one of the most innovative cameras to come along in years, and we're very interested to see how this technology develops in years to come.
The Samsung Galaxy Camera also deserves a nod here. While the Nikon S800c was the first camera to come to market with Android on-board, the Galaxy Camera's use of Android version 4.1 (Jelly Bean) makes it feel far more advanced. We expect to see Android integration in cameras to take off over the next few years, but the Galaxy Camera already feels like a third-generation product rather than a one-off concept.
Best Ultra High-End System Camera
(MSRP $6,799 body-only)
(MSRP $5,999 body-only)
It's not every year that Canon and Nikon both release new flagship professional DSLRs. The Nikon D4 and Canon 1D X both employ advanced technology in incredible ways, integrating not only professional-quality video features, but also cutting-edge autofocus, connectivity options, and operational speed. These two cameras push the boundaries of what professional DSLRs can do, scoring better than any other cameras before them in our testing labs. While we loved the D4's backlit controls and impressive video features, the 1D X ekes out the win here (by the slimmest of margins) thanks to its superior shooting speed and more versatile autofocus control, helping you get the shot you're aiming for more often.
Best High-End System Camera
(MSRP $2,999 body-only)
In a year where we saw nearly 10 new full-frame cameras, none were as much fun to shoot with as the Nikon D800. While the speedier Nikon D4 performed better in the lab, we found the 36.3-megapixel images from the D800 to be simply irresistible. The ability to capture such an immense level of detail was undeniably useful, especially in extreme low-light situations.
(MSRP $3,499 body-only)
The D800's closest competition is the Canon 5D Mark III. While we found the Mark III to be more useful for serious video work, the D800 produced sharper images and offered more baked-in features. Those already married to either system will probably want to stick to their guns, but the D800 has been our camera of choice since the moment it entered our labs.
Best Mid-Range System Camera
(MSRP Available for pre-order. $1,299 body-only)
The Panasonic GH3 was a late entrant for our awards, and while we expected its class-leading video performance, it surprised us as a brilliant all-around photographic tool. With excellent overall image quality, a superb DSLR-style grip, oodles of customization options, and access to the ever-growing Micro Four Thirds lens ecosystem, the GH3 is an excellent camera for anyone who's looking for a high-end interchangeable lens camera but doesn't want to deal with the bulk or price of a full-frame DSLR.
(MSRP $1,149 w/ 18-135mm STM lens)
Those looking to spend a little less without sacrificing image quality might want to give the Canon Rebel T4i a look. The T4i is the first touchscreen-enabled traditional DSLR, and it provides a potent mix of handling, still image quality, and video features. If you're on a budget we'd suggest you opt for the cheaper 18-55mm kit, but the 18-135mm STM lens provides smoother, quieter autofocus for video recording as well as improved optical performance.
Best Compact System Camera
(MSRP $1,249 w/ 18-55mm lens)
The Sony Alpha NEX-7 was one of the first truly high-end compact system cameras to hit the market, with great handling, an articulating LCD, three control dials, and built-in electronic viewfinder. The NEX-7's 24.3-megapixel CMOS image sensor is of the same APS-C standard size as you'd find in many larger DSLRs, offering superb dynamic range and excellent shot-to-shot speeds. While we wish the NEX system had a few more high-quality lenses to complement its great cameras, we feel the NEX-7 is the best performing compact system camera you can pick up today.
(MSRP $1,099 w/ 14-42mm lens)
With all the praise we had for the NEX-7, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 still put up a serious fight, sporting an excellent Sony-produced sensor and vintage Olympus looks. The E-M5 is one of the more popular cameras of 2012, with weather sealing and a level of customization few cameras can match. We think it's a fine option for anyone who wants a little more retro flavor—and access to the Micro Four Thirds ecosystem—with their compact system camera, and we doubt you'll be disappointed if you pick one up.
Best Enthusiast Camera
(MSRP $1,699 body-only)
(MSRP $1,099 w/ 14-42mm lens)
While we found that the Sony NEX-7 provided the best performance of all the compact system cameras we tested this year, we still have a place in our hearts for cameras that focus as much on the process as the end result. To that end we are recognizing the Fuji X-Pro1 as the best enthusiast camera of 2012, designed to appeal to those who want a camera whose appeal goes beyond test results and comparative analysis. With a small group of absolutely fantastic prime lenses, physical dials galore, and a design reminiscent of the finest film cameras, the Fuji X-Pro1 is a body aimed squarely at photography phanatics. With apologies to the wonderful Olympus OM-D E-M5, we applaud Fuji for giving us yet another camera to salivate over in 2012.
Best Point-and-Shoot Camera
It's been an ugly year for the bottom end of the point-and-shoot camera market, but at the same time the upper tier has flourished. Impressive high-end compacts from virtually every major manufacturer passed through our labs this year, but we found the Nikon P7700 outdid them all. With a 7x optical zoom, fully articulating screen, hot shoe, and plenty of physical controls on a body with superb handling characteristics, the $500 Nikon P7700 is the best point-and-shoot we tested this year.
The Sony RX100 is a close second, however, with a larger sensor and a slightly brighter lens. The result of that combination is excellent low-light capabilities and attractively blurred backgrounds. While the P7700 outperformed the RX100 in the lab, shots from Sony's flagship compact have an aesthetic quality that no other camera in its class can match. On the other hand, we were less impressed with its characterless handling and newbie-oriented user interface. Its high price is a concern, too.
Best High-End Point-and-Shoot Camera
The Sony RX100 has long been the favorite for this award, but leave it to Nikon to come and spoil Sony's fun at the very last minute. While the RX100 enjoys some undeniable benefits in bokeh and low-light capability thanks to its outsized 1-inch sensor, the Nikon P7700 outperformed it in our image quality tests in virtually every other category. Its complement of high-end features will make it of particular interest to advanced amateurs and prosumers, and it's got a fantastic grip, too. We still love the RX100, but the P7700 takes the award here.
Best Value Point-and-Shoot Camera
Canon PowerShots have long been the go-to recommendation for anyone looking for an inexpensive, simple camera that offers decent image quality. The 110 HS carries that torch well, with a 3-inch rear LCD, 5x optical zoom, and a size and shape that can easily slip into all but the tightest pockets. With smartphones getting better and better, there's not much room left for cameras like this, but if you want higher-resolution photos or an optical zoom at a low price, the 110 HS is a great option.
Best Super-Zoom Camera
The Canon PowerShot SX50 HS takes home our super-zoom award this year thanks to its combination of solid design, excellent ease-of-use, and great overall image quality. Of course, it's hard to argue with the SX50's credentials when it sports a ridiculous 50x optical zoom. The SX50 HS is more than a one-trick pony, though, as it performed well enough to take the top prize over some serious competition from both Panasonic and Sony.
The Panasonic FZ200 is the runner-up here, largely due to its excellent 24x zoom lens. The FZ200 is unique in the super-zoom market in that its lens maintains a wide f/2.8 aperture all the way through its optical zoom range. The Canon SX50 did better in the labs and offers nearly double the zoom range, but the FZ200's aperture is more than twice as wide at full zoom, helping keep motion blur under control.
Best Travel-Zoom Camera
Canon also takes home our award for best travel zoom of the year with the SX260 HS. Its combination of a solid 20x optical zoom and a sleek, stylish, compact design will probably check all the boxes for many casual users. If you need a big zoom range in a camera that will easily slip into a jacket pocket, the SX260 HS is our unqualified recommendation. A close second, however, is the Sony HX30V. The HX30V falls behind the SX260 HS in overall performance, but it offers superior video capture capability, which will be a big deal to some users.
Best Pocket Camera
If we had an award for "camera that the staff fought to play with the most," the Sony RX100 would easily take it home. The camera's combination of a large sensor and excellent lens produced the closest thing to DSLR image quality in a pocketable camera that we've seen thus far. While it was still beat out by the Nikon P7700 in our lab tests, the RX100 is quite a bit smaller and is absolutely the best camera you can (probably) fit in your pants pocket.
Our second choice would have to be the Canon PowerShot S110. We've been big fans of Canon's diminutive S series since it kickstarted the trend of tiny yet high-end compact point-and-shoot cameras a couple years back. We're excited to see what Canon does with the S-series going forward, though we're hoping for a little more innovation in future models.
Best Waterproof Camera
We dunked every waterproof camera we could find for our roundup this past spring, and one camera rose above the rest. We found the Olympus TG-1 produced the best images of the lot, with an f/2.0 lens letting in plenty of light. In addition, the TG-1 can go to depths of 40 feet and is rated to withstand dust, cold, and even drops of up to 6.6 feet. Those credentials easily earn it the award here, and really it's a fine compact camera no matter the conditions.
Best Camera for the Money
Just because the budget point-and-shoot category hasn't seen much love in 2012 doesn't mean you can't still find bargains. With a street price that frequently drops below $200, the WB150F offers image quality on par with more expensive cameras. A smart design, solid handling, and built-in Wi-Fi gave us plenty to like about this camera. There are cheaper options available, to be sure, but this is one of the best cost-to-value propositions on the market today.
(MSRP $599 w/ 18-55mm lens)
We also want to reserve a special mention for the entry-level model in Sony's NEX line, the NEX-F3. Like the NEX-C3 before it, the F3 perfoms as well as cameras that cost north of $1000 for a price of right around $600 (with a kit lens included). Getting that kind of quality for such a low price is practically unheard of, which makes the NEX-F3 a perfect introduction to interchangeable lens cameras for those on a tight budget.
Best Camera for Video
(MSRP Available for pre-order. $1,299 body-only)
The Panasonic GH3 is only available for pre-order at the moment, but we've already put one to test in our labs. The result? It's the best stills camera for shooting video, period. With a built-in mic port, improved video quality, an incredible number of compression options, and a pre-order price of around $1300, the GH3 can take on the best video-friendly full-frame bodies and come out victorious. When you consider that its closest competition—the Canon 5D Mark III—is bigger, heavier, offers less features, and costs $3500 for the body alone, you'll understand why we're so impressed with the Panasonic GH3.
(MSRP $3,499 body-only)
There is certainly room for the Mark III in the market, though, especially if you're looking for a camera that is equally adept at still photography. But let us reassure you: This decision isn't a matter of choosing value over quality—the Panasonic GH3 simply produces better video. Its late-season arrival may be a problem if you're planning on giving one as a gift this December, but we assure you that it's worth the wait.
Best Value System Camera for Video
(MSRP $1,149 w/ 18-135mm STM lens)
While some fantastic and fantastically expensive video cameras have come through our labs this year, we understand that not everyone is willing to shell out several thousand dollars for high-end video capability. Those looking for solid video from a budget-friendly system camera should look no further than the Canon Rebel T4i. The T4i captures appealing full HD video, has full manual control, and sports nearly silent continuous autofocus while recording clips. At a body-only price of just $799.99, we think the T4i is a great option for those who want quality stills and HD video in one cheap package.
(MSRP $749 w/ 18-55mm lens)
Sony’s line of NEX system cameras all are capable of recording excellent video, but the NEX-5R offers the best value of the bunch. Like the Canon T4i, the NEX-5R handles autofocus very well, and, although the camera doesn’t have a fully rotatable LCD, it does have a screen that tilts up and down to accommodate various shooting angles. In terms of performance, the NEX-5R basically matched the Canon T4i in our video tests, but we gave the Canon an edge in handling thanks to its better grip and easier access to video controls.
Best Point-and-Shoot for Video
While most people's minds immediately turn to DSLRs when they think about cameras that capture great video, point-and-shoots have also come a long way. With an honorable mention to Sony's line of 1080/60p compact cameras, the Panasonic FZ200 takes top honors here. The FZ200 offers more control, an incredible 24X constant-aperture zoom lens, and superior ergonomics to help steady your hands while filming.
Sony isn’t too shabby when it comes to the video features on its point-and-shoot cameras either. Deciding on this runner-up award came down to a judgment call between three Sony models: the RX100, the HX200V, or the HX30V—all of which did a good job in our video tests, ranking in just behind the Panasonic FZ200. We ended up choosing the HX30V because of its design, figuring that it is small enough to fit in your pocket, but also packs a decent zoom lens, which is a necessity when shooting video.
Best New Photo App
There's no end to the list of places you can store your photos online these days. From gallery-focused sites like Flickr, SmugMug, and Picasa to social media services like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, your digital life is probably spread all over the 'net. Woven brings all those services together into one easy-to-navigate interface. Do you have a public vacation album on Facebook, but keep your more personal photos of the kids on Flickr? No problem! Woven lets you show them all off through a single smartphone interface.
Best Photo Printer
Though we here at Reviewed.com have reviewed many a printer in our day, only one can reign supreme as the best released in 2012. After looking at the other offerings on the table and comparing their strengths, weaknesses, and oddities in our labs, our reviewers have settled on one printer that stands above the rest: the Epson Stylus Inkjet R2000.
With impressive color accuracy, a wide color gamut, and admirable detail, the Epson R2000 is the best photo printer we saw this year. In addition to its high marks for performance, the ability to print on papers as wide as 13 inches provides amateurs and part-time professionals flexibility in media options.
Falling just short of our top honor is the Canon MX512, a mid-range multifunction printer. While it requires only two ink cartridges, the MX512 produces good color performance and speedy printing that will make you forget its $149.99 price tag. Perfect for a dorm or a place next to the family computer, the Canon MX512 is a good fit for consumers looking for a light-use photo printer that’s easy on the wallet.