If you're looking for a high-quality camera, you don't need to spend a ton of cash, nor do you need to buy the latest and greatest new product on the market. If you're willing to miss out on some features, you can save a lot of cash by picking up a last-generation model or shopping around for deals on refurbished or older, but still current, cameras.
In this buying guide we want to direct your attention to some great-value cameras, which are still available. We'll start with the least expensive options and go up in price from there.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS100 $397
Olympus Tough TG-6 $449
Canon PowerShot G9 X II $449
Interchangeable lens cameras:
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II $999
Canon EOS RP $999
Panasonic Lumix DC-G9 $999
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS100
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS100 (TZ100 in some regions) is a compact camera with a 1" sensor and 25-250mm equiv. lens. It fits easily in your pocket, making it an ideal camera for travel. Its lens has a relatively slow maximum aperture, so it won't perform terribly well in low light, though it will still out-do compacts with smaller sensors. It doesn't get the nicer JPEG colors of newer Panasonic models.
The ZS100 has a fixed touchscreen display and a 'better than nothing' electronic viewfinder. In addition to taking 4K video, the ZS100 also has genuinely useful features like 'Post Focus' and '4K Photo'. For those looking for a portable, versatile travel camera, the ZS100 is a bargain.
Olympus Tough TG-6
The Olympus TG-6 is the most capable waterproof/rugged camera on the market. It has a relatively fast F2.0-4.9, 25-100mm equivalent lens (with image stabilization) along with a 12MP sensor. The camera can dive as deep as 15m (50 ft) and can be dropped, crushed and function at low temperatures. It has the ability to log your location, direction and altitude/depth.
The TG-6 has dedicated underwater modes which make sure white balance and other settings are accurate. It also has a microscope mode which lets you photograph a subject from 1cm (0.4") away. Photo quality is good for a camera with a small sensor, and the TG-6 is the only camera in its class that supports Raw. In addition to stills, the TG-6 can capture good quality 4K video.
Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II
The Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II is one of the cheapest and smallest compact cameras with 1" sensor that you can buy. The larger-than-average sensor will produce better-looking images than your typical compact, though the slow-ish lens will reduce that advantage in low light.
The lens has a small 28-84mm equiv. focal range, which isn't as versatile as most of its peers. Despite that, the G9 X II has a well-designed touch interface, snappy performance, Full HD video capture and the latest wireless features.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II
$999 (body only)
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 II may be over four years old, but the company has continued to provide firmware updates that have made this camera better and better.
The E-M1 Mark II has built-in image stabilization that can reduce shake by up to 5.5 stops. The camera produces very good image quality that has improved via firmware updates. The E-M1 II has extremely fast burst shooting: up to 60 fps with single AF and 18 fps with continuous AF. Its hybrid AF system isn't best-in-class, but is competitive.
While it offers many tools for video capture (including Log support) and its DCI 4K video is very detailed, UHD 4K and 1080p video is quite soft.
Canon EOS RP
$999 (body only)
The EOS RP is one of the least-expensive full-frame mirrorless cameras on the market. We like its compact size, out-of-camera JPEGs and reliable autofocus system. Despite being an entry-level model, the RP is well-built and has a good number of external controls. While we like the RP's ability to charge over its USB-C port, only certain chargers will work. Battery life on the camera is poor. Something else to consider is that most of the RF-mount lenses are quite large and heavy, which makes the RP a lot less compact.
Straight out of the camera JPEGs look very good, especially in terms of color, though Raw images are noisier than the competition. The RP's video capabilities are disappointing: autofocus is poor and 4K footage is heavily cropped with a lot of rolling shutter. That's too bad, since the camera does sport mic and headphone sockets. The EOS RP isn't the most sophisticated camera on the market but is an enjoyable and affordable way to get into one of the latest full-frame mirrorless systems.
Panasonic Lumix DC-G9
$999 (body only)
The Panasonic Lumix DC-G9 is an ultra-fast, high-end Micro Four Thirds camera with a stabilized 20MP sensor and tons of video tools. The camera’s image stabilization system reduces shake by up to 6.5 stops with compatible lenses and it can shoot up to 20 fps with autofocus. Video capture tops out at 4K/60p, with options for V-Log recording, waveform displays and 10-bit 4:2:2 output over HDMI.
The G9 has excellent build quality, with weather-sealing and a mag-alloy body. Controls are plentiful and highly customizable, the viewfinder is big and high-res, and the articulating touchscreen is responsive. Mic and headphone jacks are included, as well as dual SD slots and a top-mounted LCD info panel.