What DSLR or mirrorless camera should you buy in 2019? The six best to choose from
Are you on the hunt for a really good camera? Here, I’ve picked six of the standout DSLR and mirrorless cameras based on my testing over the last year.
Four of them are ‘full frame’, while two are ‘cropped frame’.
I’ve written this as a photography hobbyist -- indeed, I bought two of the cameras on this list. If you want to know which ones, scroll to the end where I’ll give you the reasons why I chose the two that I did.
1. FUJIFILM X-T3
Pros: Best physical camera design, great price
Cons: Weak battery life
The verdict: For me, the X-T3 is the best overall APS-C (‘cropped frame’) camera out there right now and arguably one of the best camera outright. It’s a pleasure to use and has the advantage of Fujifilm’s excellent lens lineup. Its physical design aesthetic is the best on the market, making you want to pick it up and mess with it. Its image quality is excellent, partially thanks to the upgraded 26-megapixel sensor and partially thanks to the superb Fujifilm lenses.
The price is right, too. When the X-T2 was launched two years ago, it cost €1,700. The better, more advanced X-T3 only costs €1,500. This is apparently because Fujifilm moved production from Japan to China. But it makes the X-T3 a compelling proposition, especially when you consider the premium that rival cameras are looking for. For instance, Panasonic’s G9 costs €1,699 while Canon’s 6D Mark ii costs €1,900 (although this is a full frame model with a full flip-out screen, even if it doesn’t have the mirrorless advantages of EVF and silent shooting).
The X-T3’s new processor means you can now shoot up to 11 frames per second in mechanical shutter mode or 20 frames per second in electronic shutter mode. That’s great for things like sports (or any fast-moving situation). The extra oomph also facilitates faster auto-focusing, event on older lenses. This is arguably more important to more people than the extra frames per second. I did find it to be speedy at auto-focusing, although it’s not quite at the level of Canon’s 6D Mark ii, which uses Canon’s peerless dual-pixel autofocusing system.
The new processor also helps out with the X-T3’s video capabilities. So it can now shoot in 4K at 60 frames per second or in 1080p at 120 frames per second. For those who really take video seriously, it’s also capable of 10-bit recording. And it now has a headphone jack as well as a microphone jack, meaning you can monitor your audio as you film — a crucial control for videographers. (It’s a shame it doesn’t have a flip-out screen, as this would make it a must-have videographer camera.)
Battery life is a drawback. You’ll get less than half the number of shots you would from a Canon or Nikon DSLR. There is little chance you can bring this out for a day’s shooting without at least one spare battery in your pack.
But it’s still lighter and more portable than many of its rivals. I absolutely love using it.
2. CANON EOS R
Price: €2,729 (inc lens adaptor)
Pros: Silent mode, EVF, easy to use with existing Canon lenses
Cons: very pricey, single card slot
The verdict: This is a very big deal for Canon — it has left it very late to launch a real mirrorless flagship camera. The EOS R, which I recently tested, is a mixed bag. It’s not really a camera for professionals because it has only one card slot and not enough native lenses. But for everyone else, it has several features that make it attractive over any of Canon’s other flagship cameras. First of all, as a mirrorless camera, it can shoot completely silently. This gives it an immediate advantage over any other senior Canon camera. It also has an electronic viewfinder, meaning that you don’t keep checking to see whether shots ‘came out okay’, wasting precious seconds each time. The camera body is also slimmer and lighter than other high-end Canon DSLRs. And almost all of your existing Canon lenses will work flawlessly on the new body through the included adaptor. Finally, there’s the quality of the images (through the new native lenses and older DSLR lenses), which is excellent.
Potential downsides to the camera include not having any usable 4K video functionality (there is, but it’s a useless 1.7 crop, wiping out your lens choice). And it’s very pricey, at almost €1,000 more than Canon’s full-frame DSLR equivalently, the 6D Mark ii. The four native lenses are very expensive, too: one of them, the 28-70mm f2, costs over €3,000 on its own. In my tests, it performed fine and took some really good quality images. So if you can afford it, it will deliver. But it’s up against such stiff competition that it feels like you’re paying a bit over the odds for this model.
3. SONY A7 MARK III
Pros: Class-leading specs and features
Cons: Ergonomics still trails other cameras
The verdict: Even though I don’t use Sony myself, I have no hesitation in saying that the A7 Mark iii is clearly the best-value full frame mirrorless camera on the market right now.
Sony has basically taken the vast majority of cutting edge features from its top-end professional cameras and crammed them into a 24-megapixel device that is much more cost-friendly to enthusiasts and many professional users.
It’s genuinely competitive against professional cameras that are much more expensive, such as Canon’s 5D Mark IV or Sony’s own A7Riii. It is also a massive step up from its predecessor, the A7 Mark ii, to the extent that the two cameras are barely comparable anymore.
In fact, other than studio work and certain high-end sports or landscape photography, it’s hard to see how anyone could justify the extra €1,500 to €2,500 for an A7riii or A9. This camera does it all, with superb performance throughout.
The camera’s low light performance is barely matched by any other full frame camera on the market.
Sony has given entry-level professionals and enthusiasts features they really want, such as dual-card slots and earphone ports for monitoring audio levels during video.
Meanwhile, there is now a genuinely decent selection of both reasonably-priced and premium lenses to compete with what has recently been a lens duopoly between Canon and Nikon.
Sony’s camera design, sometimes criticised in previous models and a key reason why I still don’t use Sony full frame cameras despite their technical superiority, is also noticeably better than before.
It also has one feature that wasn’t available on previous A7 models -- fully silent shooting. I can’t emphasise how important this is; it’s one of the main reasons to go mirrorless in the first place. It means you can shoot away in a church wedding or at a hushed sports event and not disturb anyone. The A7iii shoots silently at up to 10 frames per second, which means you’re totally covered. For some reason, the A7iii’s predecessor, the (still available) A7ii, can’t shoot silently in this way, nor can certain mirrorless rivals such as Canon’s new M50 (let alone Canon’s 6D Mark ii DSLR, a direct competitor to the A7iii).
The A7iii’s battery life also gets a boost, breaking new ground for mirrorless cameras. I’m used to getting between 300 and 400 shots on a mirrorless model, whereas this camera gives me closer to twice that tally. It means that you probably won’t need to get a second battery when out and about or, if you’re a heavy shooter, you’ll likely only need one extra battery.
One reason that professionals and enthusiasts still cite for avoiding Sony cameras is the gap in lenses between it and Canon or Nikon ecosystems. There is still some validity to this, but it is narrowing a great deal. It’s really only in the long wildlife and sports lenses that Sony is missing one or two lenses. At every other focal length -- from reportage and photojournalism up to studio-quality portraits and fashion -- it now has high-grade, fast glass that inarguably competes strongly with Canon and Nikon. Other decent lens brands, such as Tamron, are also making good pieces for Sony. On the other hand, it is true that there are still more Canon and Nikon lenses floating around in the second hand market, which is a material consideration for someone choosing an ecosystem and who can’t necessarily afford to always splash out €1,000-plus on a new lens.
4. CANON 6D MARK II
Pros: flippy-out touchscreen, superb autofocus
Cons: no 4K recording, older DLSR tech getting outdated
The verdict: I’m including a second Canon in this list as the 6D Mark ii is still heavily looked to as a general, entry-level full frame camera. That said, this may be the last time that Canon makes a DSLR of this type given that mirrorless cameras are taking over so rapidly (including on Canon’s own roadmap). Nevertheless, it’s still a full frame camera with access to some of the best lenses in the world. And it has one compelling feature for those who can benefit from it: a flip-out touchscreen. This let me get photos I couldn’t get before and became invaluable when recording videos. But is it enough for someone to consider it over, say, a Sony A7iii?
The 26-megapixel 6Dii performs very well in low light and also delivers more detail in photos than its predecessor, the 20-megapixel 6D Mark I (which I still own).
For video, the 6Dii is a mixed bag. On one hand, its flip-out screen and superb dual-pixel autofocus make it arguably the best full frame videographer’s device at this price level for filming people (even without a headphone port). On the other hand, it’s limited to ‘full HD’, with no 4K format supported. This won’t matter much to photographers, but for people who dabble in videography, it may be important.
Because it’s based on older DSLR technology rather than mirrorless standards, it’s limited in how many rapid-fire shots it can produce. It shoots up to 6.5 frames per second, or four frames per second in ‘live’ screen mode (which I found to be pretty useless).
The 6D Mark ii has what it calls ‘silent modes’ for shooting. In reality, they’re still pretty noisy; they definitely shatter the silence in a church, school hall or other enclosed space. However, they’re a little quieter than the full default mode. Conventional DSLRs will never be able to shoot silently because they have flappy shutters. If you want an actual silent camera, it needs to be a mirrorless model such as Canon’s EOS R or rivals from Sony, Nikon, Fuji, Panasonic or Olympus.
One of the few advantages to not being mirrorless is battery life. The 6D Mark ii blows mirrorless models away when it comes to battery life. You can shoot for almost a full day on a single charge here -- you’d easily go through two Fuji, Sony, Panasonic or Olympus batteries in the same period.
On the other hand, not having a second memory card slot compares unfavourably with models such as Sony’s A7iii or even APS-C models like Nikon’s D500 or Fuji’s X-T3.
Physically, the 6D Mark ii is almost exactly the same size and weight as the original 6D, although the front main grip is a little bulkier.
The new model also adds Bluetooth to the wifi of the original 6D. This means the camera can stay tethered to your phone, a handy feature.
There are still good reasons to buy a 6D Mark ii DSLR over a mirrorless rival. Canon still has a bigger lens ecosystem than most rivals, including the availability of good second-hand lenses at a decent price.
5. NIKON D850
Pros: Superb all-rounder, great image quality
Cons: bulky, no EVF or silent mode
The verdict: Nikon’s D850 is arguably the best overall DSLR you can buy, taking absolutely all angles into consideration. While it lacks mirrorless features such as electronic viewfinder (EVF) or silent shooting mode, it is built like a tank, has incredible power and versatility and is simply the best at what it does for crossover enthusiast-professionals. Even though Nikon recently released the mirrorless full frame Z6 and Z7 cameras recently, the 46-megapixel camera is still the one that many enthusiasts might pick, given a straight choice.
Indeed, Nikon’s main problem over the last year has been getting enough of these in stock to sell.
The camera’s autofusing system is superb, while it shoots at up to seven frames per second.
In terms of video, it has no problem recording at 4K and its dual card slots mean that you’ve covered if one of them fails for some reason.
Specs aside, what this camera excels at is handling. While Fujifilm may have the nicest-looking flagship cameras, Nikon arguably has the most pragmatically tactile. I find that things like dials and buttons are positioned in really useful places on the D850, so that it takes much less time for muscle-memory to build up.
This also feels most like a camera justifying its ‘weather proof’ status. I shot with it once or twice in miserable, cold, rainy conditions and it didn’t phase the device at all.
Nikon’s lens lineup is still second only to Canon’s in terms of an ecosystem. And for those who want to get really serious, Nikon is right up there for the best high-end glass.
Battery life is great, too.
The one drawback that the D850 has for me is its weight. While not quite at the level of a Canon 1DX or Nikon D6, it’s heavier than any of the other cameras on this list (and considerably heavier than the mirrorless models). That means that this skews more toward landscape photographers or semi-professional work, as it will weigh a lot in a bag.
But if you want a really serious unit, this is definitely it.
6. PANASONIC LUMIX G9
Price: €1,699 (or €1,399 with current cashback offer)
Pros: Fast and powerful; smaller, lighter lenses make it portable
Cons: Micro four thirds sensor is a lot smaller than new mirrorless rivals
The verdict: If you don’t need a full frame camera, this is a brilliant all-rounder -- albeit one that’s not cheap.
Panasonic’s Lumix G9 aims to do for Micro Four Thirds ‘stills’ photography what the company’s GH5s model has done for videography: turn it into a fully viable alternative for professionals and ambitious amateurs.
It’s priced as such, too, coming in at around the same cost as a Fujifilm X-T3 or Canon 7D Mark ii.
Its 20-megapixel sensor is complimented by some pretty excellent Leica-designed lenses, with Panasonic adding the impressive Leica 12-60mm (24-120mm equivalent in 35mm terms) model as a kit lens option with a €400 discount. (It also offers a cheaper Panasonic 12-60mm lens at a €250 discount if bought with the camera.)
Like other Panasonic cameras, it has a flippy-out touchscreen, which helps for shooting at angles and for video. It also has a joystick to control focus or menus, as a compliment to the regular D-pad controls on the back.
Physically, this is a substantially bigger camera than the size that Panasonic (or other Micro Four Thirds models) have traditionally opted for.
The upside to this is ergonomics. This is a camera that is designed to fit beautifully in your hands, with a perfectly-sized grip.
I was able to walk around with it one-handed for much of the time I used it. This was aided by the nicely-placed buttons, especially the two click-wheels for shutter speed and aperture. Their placement makes it easy to adjust shots very quickly. This is quite important to me, as the main reason I miss shots is that I can’t adjust settings in time (and by ‘in time’, I mean within one to two seconds).
The build quality of the G9 is absolutely superb. With a metal construction (or magnesium alloy, to be precise), this won’t break anywhere near as easily as other cameras if you happen to drop it or bash it off something by mistake. It’s also ‘weather proof’ (though not completely) and freeze-proof, allowing you to use it in wet and cold conditions without much worry.
Of all the features the G9 has, I think its advanced stabilisation is my favourite. It accounts for a whopping six and a half stops when paired with the right lens (such as the 12-60mm kit lens). It’s hard to emphasise just what a big advantage this is. I was able to get steady, sharp shots right down to a sixth of a second, handheld. This is a massive bonus for shooting in dim light as it means you can keep the ISO a lot lower, thus avoiding grain or noise in shots.
Then again, you can’t shoot at high ISOs on this camera in the same way that you can on full frame cameras. Because the sensor is less than half the size, high ISOs make it way grainier than shots from full frame rivals. So it may be a case of swings and roundabouts.
But that stabilisation is also brilliant for video. When you walk along with recording, it almost looks like you’re using some sort of gimbal. It’s not perfect and you will see some crude transitions between shots if you pan quickly or have particularly shaky hands. But overall, this element of the camera is absolutely superb.
Another big plus to the G9 is its continuous shooting and autofocus. The G9 shoots 20 frames per second with the electronic shutter or nine frames per second on the electronic shutter. Once again, this is beyond the capabilities most cameras other than very high-end (and much more expensive) models from Sony or Nikon.
I also hugely appreciated its dual memory card slot. This is important for two reasons. First, it gives you a decent backup if a memory card fails (which does happen). But second, it allows you to load and edit photos onto a physical devices such as a tablet or laptop and still have a memory card in the camera in case a shot immediately happens while you're editing. This may not be a typical scenario for many, but it is for me, when I’m at a press conference, furiously uploading shots as I take more simultaneously The card slots are fast, too, at UHS 2 standard.
I also appreciated the USB charging facility. It means that I can recharge the battery using the same power bank I bring for my phone or iPad. When you’re trying to travel light, this makes a big difference.
WHAT I BOUGHT: Fujifilm’s X-T3 and Canon’s 6D Mark ii.
The reasons are twofold. I have lots of Canon lenses and I know how good they are: I’m not prepared to give that up just yet, despite the company being considerably behind on its camera body technology. Also, the 6D Mark ii has that flip-out touchscreen. I’m starting to experiment a bit with video and this makes it the perfect crossover camera system for me (because I have the lenses) for that purpose.
But I also bought a Fujifilm X-T3. The reason is that I simply love using Fujifilm cameras. Their design and ergonomics make them a joy to use. The X-T3, while not compact, is considerably lighter and more portable than a full frame DSLR (such as the Canon 6Dii) when attached to a decent lens. I do a lot of travelling, so I need a mirrorless system I can rely on. Finally, the quality is very good from Fujifilm X systems: only the very top (very expensive) Nikon, Canon or Sony lenses produce clearly better results.