2013 was a great year for new cameras. There were full frame mirrorless shooters which can rival all but the very best DSLRs, compacts good enough to make you leave your smartphone in your pocket, and DSLRs which can shoot better video than they've ever been able to. Join Gizmag as we take a look back at some of our favorite cameras of 2013.
The biggest camera release of 2013 was a surprisingly small pair of cameras, the Sony A7 and A7R. This mirrorless interchangeable lens duo manage to squeeze full frame sensors (and the associated image quality) into devices which are not only smaller than their full frame DSLR counterparts, but in many cases mirrorless cameras with less impressive sensor dimensions.
The Sony A7 only features a 24.3 megapixel sensor, compared to the 36.4 megapixel one in the A7R. However, because it's faster in terms of autofocus and burst speed shooting, as well as being cheaper (US$1,700 compared to $2,300), it's a better bet for most photographers. Both devices also feature goodies like built-in Wi-Fi capability and tilting screens.
The Nikon Df could be the DSLR for those of us who remember, and possibly over romanticize, shooting with film SLRs. It puts photography square and center by shunning video recording while featuring physical access to manual controls via mechanical dials. Its retro-inspired design (if you don't look at the back) and use of magnesium alloy delivers a package which looks and feels reminiscent of SLRs of old.
However, the Df isn't all old-school. Inside there's the same impressive 16.2-megapixel FX sensor as the flagship D4, the Nikon EXPEED 3 image processing engine and a 39-point autofocus system. The $2,800 Df also boasts the same level weather-sealing at the D800 and is compatible with the optional WU-1a Wireless Mobile Adapter.
In 2012 Leica announced that the successor to the M9 would drop the number and simply be known as a the Leica M, and this year the camera was finally released … instantly prompting the sort of gear-lust in photographers that only a new Leica is capable of inciting.
The first Leica rangefinder to use a CMOS sensor, Live View and shoot Full HD video, the new M, which costs $7,000, has been described by many as the best performing digital Leica yet. And it's not too bad in the looks department either, even Jony Ive and Marc Newson struggled to improve on it.
The mirrorless Olympus OM-D E-M1 was somewhat overshadowed by the full frame sensor in the Sony A7, because it costs almost as much and only features a relatively small Micro Four Thirds 16 megapixel sensor. But the E-M1 is a powerhouse that can deliver the goods for most photographers in terms of both image quality and performance.
Ergonomically, it handles better in the hand than most other mirrorless cameras and bulkier DSLRs. The E-M1 also has a fast and effective autofocus which is capable of keeping up with most subjects and built-in Wi-Fi capabilities. When paired with a good lens, of which there are plenty of MFT options, it can produce fantastic images. Because the smaller sensor only needs smaller lenses it's easier on the back when carrying it around too.
While you can shoot great quality video with most DSLRs, the one thing that consistently lets them down is a stuttering autofocus. The Canon EOS 70D was released in 2013 with the aim of changing that by adopting Dual Pixel CMOS AF which makes video and Live View focusing faster and smoother. Given how well this technology has been received we'd expect to see this in other Canon DSLRs in 2014.
In addition to its video credentials, the Canon EOS 70D is also a solid performing photographic DSLR which features a 20.2 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, a 19-point (all cross-type) phase detection AF system and a burst speed of 7 fps. It also has wireless connectivity built-in, enabling the sharing of images and remote shooting via iOS or Android smartphones or tablets.
The Sony RX10 could well be the best bridge camera ever made. The product category is normally one defined by compromise – bridge cameras offer a great focal range, but this is normally at the cost of image quality because they use variable maximum aperture lenses and small sensors.
The Sony RX10 changes this by adopting a 20.2 megapixel one-inch type sensor combined with a constant F2.8 aperture zoom lens, offering a 35-mm-format focal range equivalent to 24-200 mm. The camera also boasts Full HD video recording, Wi-Fi and NFC for easy pairing. The only drawback is that to accomplish all of this, the camera had to be bigger, heavier and, at $1,300, more expensive than many other bridge cameras..
One of the long-standing promises of mirrorless cameras was that they would be much smaller than their DSLR counterparts. The Panasonic Lumix GM1 certainly delivers. While it might not have the same power and controls as the Lumix GX7, it is truly tiny, measuring just 98.5 x 54.9 x 30.4 mm (3.88 x 2.16 x 1.2 in).
With a pancake prime it's a (just about) pocketable camera to be reckoned with, though with larger lenses can feel a bit unbalanced despite a sturdy magnesium-alloy shell with aluminum dials. The Panasonic GM1 also has built-in Wi-Fi for sharing images and video, as well as remote shooting via an iOS or Android devices.
The Fujifilm X100 is sometimes referred to as the camera which sparked the retro revolution when it was revealed in 2010 … and with those retro good-looks and quality fixed focal length lens, it's not hard to see why. So it was no surprise that when, in 2013, Fujifilm updated the device with the X100S, the company didn't alter much to the way that it looks.
Things that did change include the pairing of a 16.3 megapixel APS-C X-Trans CMOS II sensor with the 23-mm F2 lens for capturing more detail and better low-light performance. Autofocus speed and performance also received a much requested boost in the new camera.
Fujifilm isn't the only company competing in the large-sensor fixed-lens category. Notable additions in 2013 were the release of the Nikon Coolpix A and the Ricoh GR, which has a respected lineage which goes back to classic film street shooters and is designed for easy single-handed operation.
Despite featuring a DSLR-like APS-C sensor, the Ricoh GR retains its discrete compact-like appearance, unless you want to add the optional optical viewfinder. A fixed 18.3-mm F2.8 lens means the camera also keeps the same 28-mm focal length (35-mm-format equivalent) as previous generations, though it also has a 35-mm equivalent crop mode, too.
The Sony RX100 was one of the best cameras in 2012. It offered a level of image quality not normally seen in compact cameras – thanks to a one-inch-type sensor – while at the same time remaining pocketable. It was a compelling reason to own a compact camera in addition to your smartphone.
But, just in case that wasn't enough, Sony updated the camera in 2013 with the Sony RX100 M2, and surprisingly it was a substantial upgrade. The addition of Wi-Fi and NFC capabilities, a tilting screen and a more sensitive sensor make the M2 an even better reason to leave your smartphone in your pocket when you want to take a photo.
We've highlighted our favorite cameras from the past 12 months, but there have been so many good releases that we couldn't include them all. We're sure you'll have your own recommendations, and we'd love to know what they are, and why, via the comments.
Though there were some great cameras released in 2013, several product categories were either ignored, or weren't due their scheduled updates. For those, 2014 could be a big year. Key announcements are likely to include updates to flagships, with the Nikon D4 rumored to be getting its mid-life upgrade very soon. It's also thought that flagship APS-C sensor DSLRs could get some long overdue love with replacements for the Nikon D300S and Canon 7D.
We also expect to see better and more powerful mirrorless cameras which attempt to make DSLRs irrelevant. This year the Sony A7 and Olympus OM-D E-M1 have given us more proof, if it were needed, that the future of interchangeable lens cameras is going to be a mirrorless one. And we can't wait to see what's on offer this time next year.
Wireless capabilities and integration with smartphones have already become the norm for new cameras, but we're curious to see if anyone else takes the Sony route of external camera-in-a-lens devices to give smartphone cameras a boost, or whether smartphone cameras will improve to a point that makes certain camera types pointless.
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