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Our annual selection of the best photo gear of the year includes the top cameras, lenses and photographic accessories that we feel represent the advancements made in the art and technology of nature photography. While not a comprehensive collection of all of the noteworthy gear introduced in 2019, each of our Editors’ Picks has some unique quality or capability that made it stand out for us as among the best of the best.
Camera Of The Year: Sony a7R IV
With its 61-megapixel back-illuminated sensor, the Sony a7R IV is not only the highest-resolution Alpha camera yet, it’s currently the resolution leader in full-frame cameras. Considering the size and processing requirements of those files, it’s also incredibly fast, capable of capturing images at up to 10 fps while maintaining continuous autofocus and autoexposure tracking, and sustaining that speed for seven-second bursts. The sensor’s big resolution also makes the camera’s APS-C crop mode more useful, recording 26.2-megapixel files with the advantage of the telephoto magnification effect that comes with crop-mode shooting.
The high-resolution theme continues with the camera’s 5.76 million-dot UXGA OLED Tru-finder EVF. Sony has put a lot of thought and development into its EVFs, and it shows. Shooting with the a7R IV, you’re likely to forget you’re looking through an electronic viewfinder at all—it’s that close to an optical viewfinder experience—yet you still enjoy all the benefits (like focus peaking display) that an EVF offers.
Dynamic range is also improved in the a7R IV compared to its predecessor, with up to 15 stops of range when shooting at “lower sensitivities.” (Sony does not officially state the upper ISO limits of this capability.) The focusing system in the a7R IV is a hybrid system with 567 focal-plane phase-detection AF points and 425 contrast-detection AF points. The intelligence behind the AF system is also upgraded in the a7R IV, with advanced Real-time Tracking plus Real-time Eye AF for still image recording and—for the first time in a Sony camera—Real-time Eye AF for movie recording.
The a7R IV’s combination of massive resolution and speed, plus its advanced AF system and software, make it the stand-out camera of the year. And, considering the performance characteristics, its list price of $3,500 may sound pricey but is actually a solid value compared to the top-tier mirrorless and DSLR competition. Contact: Sony, sony.com.
Best New APS-C Sensor Mirrorless Camera: Sony a6600
Fujifilm’s X-T30, which can capture 26.1-megapixel images at up to 30 fps ($899), was our very close runner-up, but we had to give the nod to the Sony a6600 due in large part to the range of Sony E-mount lenses available for the a6600. The primary advantage of APS-C sensor cameras is their telephoto magnification effect, and when paired with the Sony 200-600mm F5.6-6.3 G OSS introduced this year, you’re looking at an equivalent range of approximately 300-900mm, an awesome combo for wildlife and sports photography.
Also great for fast-moving subjects: the 24-megapixel a6600 can shoot at speeds up to 11 fps or 8 fps with completely silent operation, plus Real-time Eye AF for humans and animals in both still and video recording modes. Speaking of video, the a6600 does 4K HDR and provides connectivity for both an external mic and headphones to monitor audio recording. List price: $1,400. Contact: Sony, sony.com.
Best New Micro Four Thirds Mirrorless Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M1X
While we like the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III (also introduced this year) quite a bit, the 20.4-megapixel Olympus OM-D E-M1X takes our top spot in the category for its emphasis on speed and pro-grade construction. It can shoot at up to 18 fps in silent mode with AF/AE tracking or up to 60 fps with focus and exposure locked. The camera also provides an incredible 7 stops of in-body image stabilization.
Designed to meet the needs of pro photographers, the magnesium alloy body incorporates extensive weather sealing, and for those who consider shutter actuation lifespans, the OM-D E-M1X boasts up to 400,000. It features an integrated vertical grip that not only makes it easier to shoot in vertical orientation but also offers dual-battery capacity for up to approximately 870 shots.
For landscape shooters, Handheld High Res Shot Mode allows the camera to create 80-megapixel image files of static subjects—without needing to use a tripod. Wildlife and action photographers will appreciate Olympus Pro Capture Mode, which buffers up to 35 frames continuously and, when the shutter is fully depressed, records the preceding 35 frames and up to 64 additional shots after shutter actuation. List price: $2,999. Contact: Olympus, getolympus.com.
Best New DSLR Camera: Canon EOS 90D
Canon introduced a pair of APS-C sensor cameras this year, the EOS 90D DSLR and the mirrorless EOS M6 Mark II, which are very similar in terms of technology and performance, with the key difference being the mirror (or lack thereof, in the case of the M6 II).
The 32.5-megapixel, APS-C sensor EOS 90D provides Dual Pixel CMOS AF in Live View mode and can capture at speeds up to 10 fps—an improvement of 3 fps over its predecessor, the EOS 80D, making it a capable choice for wildlife photography. It can record 4K video, too. List price: $1,199. Contact: Canon, usa.canon.com.
A New Design Icon: Sigma fp
When Sigma releases a camera, it’s never something ordinary—the company has a history of breaking the typical mold in camera design. The Sigma fp continues that tradition with its pared-down body and ultra-simple controls.
The camera weighs just 0.82 pounds and measures approximately 4.4×2.8 x1.8 inches yet houses a back-illuminated 24.6-megapixel full-frame sensor and 4K video capability. It’s built upon the new L-Mount developed in partnership with Leica and Panasonic, and can also be used with Sigma SA- and Sigma Canon EF mount lenses via the optional Sigma Mount Converter MC-21.
The fp can capture up to 18 fps with its electronic shutter (there’s no mechanical shutter) and features extensive weather sealing. List price: $1,899. Contact: Sigma, sigmaphoto.com.
Best New Compact Camera: Olympus Tough TG-6
When we think of “rugged” compact cameras, the Olympus Tough line is the first to come to mind, and the new Olympus Tough TG-6 introduced this year continues the company’s leadership in the category. The 12-megapixel Olympus Tough TG-6 is waterproof down to 50 feet, dustproof, shockproof for drops up to 7 feet and freezeproof to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. It features a 4x optical zoom lens, providing a 35mm-equivalent focal length range of 25-100mm, which can be extended on either end of the range with the optional lens converters. The camera also boasts impressive macro capabilities: It can focus on objects as close as 1 centimeter (0.39 inches) using the optical zoom, for 35mm-equivalent magnification of 7x.
The Olympus Tough TG-6 also stands out due to the impressive collection of accessories that Olympus offers to enhance the camera’s capabilities. These include three lens converters, two ring lights, an underwater housing and strobes for deeper dives than the camera can do on its own, plus protective equipment like a lens barrier and floatation device. List price: $449. Contact: Olympus, getolympus.com.