Top 10: Best DSLR & Mirrorless Cameras (January 2021)

Canon EOS R5 Full-Frame Mirrorless Camera with 8K Video

Here’s the Stark Insider Top 10 best DSLR & mirrorless cameras. Updated November 2020.

Looking to buy or gift a DSLR or mirrorless camera? You’ve come to the right place. We’ve rolled up 10 of our favorite cameras (plus a bonus pick for Vloggers) as selected from rigorous tests, and hours of intense use for actual projects. Yes, a camera body may or may not have been dropped at least once. All in the name of shopping science.

Whether you’re a stills shooter, a videographer, or wedding filmmaker, or a beginner or seasoned pro looking to upgrade, you should be able to find something to help satisfy your shopping mission.

We run the gamut in this top 10 list, from a $389 DSLR all the way up to a (gulp) $5,000+ Hasselblad medium format body. In between, lots of sane choices from the likes of Canon, Panasonic, Olympus, Blackmagic, Sony and Nikon, among others. Isn’t it nice to have so much choice?

As for me, I’ve been shooting video and stills here on Stark Insider for about 15 years (Stark Insider Vimeo channel). Here’s an example of a video we shot for LUZIA by Cirque du Soleil:

WATCH: LUZIA by Cirque du Soleil — A Waking Dream of Mexico

Behind the scenes with Loni Stark.

And a travel film 3 DAYS IN ICELAND:

WATCH: 3 DAYS IN ICELAND

A Place in Time. A Woman in Time.

A film project by Clinton and Loni Stark.

I have an important rule for these kinds of lists: I need to have personally handled and shot with a camera for it to get a mention. Every camera on this list is one I’ve used at least once — either for an actual project or for a camera test (disclosure: except for the Hasselblad as you might have guessed). Some I rent, others I borrow, generous friends often lend a hand and trust me with their gear, and a few I own.

Recently I’ve narrowed our in-house arsenal and use one of three camera bodies for Stark Insider video projects:

  • Canon Cinema EOS C100 II (documentary and interviews)
  • Panasonic Lumix GH5 (filmmaking, music videos, travel & times where discretion is necessary)
  • RED Dragon 5K Scarlet-W (narrative, fashion films and other commercial work) as used for the short film below

WATCH: AND IT HURTS | loni stark | music by moby

The woman. The jacket. The city.

Shot on RED Dragon Scarlet-W with Rokinon primes.

At the end of the day, however, I’ve learned that just about everything else is more important than the camera body itself. Lighting. Sound. Composition. Camera movement. Acting. Wardrobe. And on and on. Just something to keep in mind.

Here’s the top 10 list of DSLR and mirrorless cameras I think are worthy of your consideration.

Happy shooting!

Top 10: Best DSLR & Mirrorless Cameras

Best Camera for Beginners:
Canon EOS Rebel T7i

Top Pick: Canon EOS Rebel T7i
Why: Easy to use with advanced features including outstanding auto-focus and a high performance 24MP sensor.
Price: $799 USD
Buy: Amazon

Canon makes some of the best DSLRs, so it may not be a surprise that I think this is one of the best bodies to jumpstart your photography or videography pursuits. In the T7i you’re getting everything the company has learned about building cameras in a package that screams quality. A lot of that has to do with a stellar 24MP APS-C sensor. Yes, it’s an entry level camera, but Canon didn’t skimp. There’s a first class 45-point auto-focus system, easy-to-use menus, and all the latest technology including wi-fi and Bluetooth. This is a great camera for those wanting to learn the basics of photography such as aperture, ISO and shutter speed controls. And, unlike a smartphone, the lens is interchangeable (Canon EF mount) so there’s lots of opportunity to learn about choosing and using lenses for the right shooting scenarios. Highly recommended.

Also consider: Sony Alpha a6000 ($548), Nikon D3400 ($499+), Canon EOS Rebel T6 ($389)

Best Camera for Video:
Panasonic Lumix GH5

Top Pick: Panasonic Lumix GH5
Why: Best-in-class features for video shooters including 10-bit 4:2:2 files, dual SD cards, filmmaking tools (focus peaking, waveform monitor, optional log mode), and 4K/60 for slow motion.
Price: $1,398 USD
Buy: Amazon

Panasonic promised a lot, and it delivered even more. The GH5 — a successor to the widely heralded GH4 — is one of, if not the most exciting camera releases in recent years. If you shoot serious video there’s no question the GH5 needs to be on your short list. 10-bit 4:2:2 video. Dual SD card slots. Optional V-Log mode ($100 add-on). 4K/60 in camera. Waveform monitor. Focus peaking. Dual image stabilization (when used with compatible lens). What more could you possibly want? At its price point, nothing comes close. I was a former Canon DSLR video shooter (T2i->60D->70D->80D). No longer. I now use the GH5 for about 90% of our projects here on Stark Insider. The GH5 is… in a word… phenomenal.

Also consider: Sony Alpha a7S III ($3,499), Sony Alpha a6500 ($1,299), Canon EOS 90D ($1,199)

Best Beginner Camera on a Budget:
Canon EOS Rebel T6

Top Pick: Canon EOS Rebel T6
Why: Inexpensive, but enough features and capability to get the job done in most situations.
Price: $ 389 USD
Buy: Amazon

$399 is not bad given all you get with Canon’s Rebel T6. The image for video is just fine, though keep in mind you only get HD 1080p and not 4K. I used a T6 to shoot this video in San Francisco and liked its performance:

Keep in mind you do sacrifice some capabilities. For instance, the sensor is “only” 18MP so you’ll get fewer pixels to work with, but that shouldn’t be an issue unless you’re printing out large format prints to hang on a wall (in that case consider the above mentioned T7i or other cameras with a 24MP sensor like the Sony a6500).

Also consider: a used Rebel T2i (try eBay), Fujifilm X-A3 ($479), Sony Alpha a6000 ($548)

Best Camera for Landscape/Travel/Wildlife:
Sony a7R IV

Top Pick: Sony a7R IV
Why: A technological triumph. Lots of pixels. Beautiful image. Svelte design is welcome for those traveling, climbing mountains or working in tight spaces.
Price: $2,998 USD
Buy: Amazon

Say hello to the 61MP (!) mirrorless beast known as the Sony a7R IV. For wildlife, landscape and travel-style video episodes, the a7R IV is pretty hard to beat. Yes, it has an incredible sensor that captures plenty of dynamic range with pleasing colors. But it’s also full-frame. That’s important when you want to capture panoramic shots and wide angles. Unlike a crop sensor (APS-C) with full-frame you get a larger field-of-view. Basically, you get more to look at. One minor compromise is that you get less bokeh (or depth-of-field) — use the right lens and this becomes a non issue. Working in low light? a7R will astound you with its ability to capture relatively clean images even with no lights. An absolutely impressive performance breakthrough. Very highly recommended (if you can stomach the price).

Also consider: Nikon Z7 ($2,597), Canon EOS R5 ($3,899)

Best Hybrid Mirrorless for the Pro Photographer:
Canon EOS R5

 

Top Pick: Canon EOS R5
Why: High performance in all regards. New 45MP sensor and RF lens mount. 8K video. IBIS.
Price: $3,899 USD
Buy:
Amazon

Canon’s new flagship DSLR is the EOS R5, essentially a mirrorless version of the 5D IV — and it’s stacked with goodness. A serious camera for serious shooters who want the best. It starts with Canon’s new 45MP sensor. Combined with 1,035-point AF and some impressive image processing hardware and you can expect outstanding all-around performance. Also, like other “R” Canon models this one too features the new RF mount (which can easily be adapted for EF/EF-S lenses). With the R5 Canon went all out on video, you can shoot up to 8K which likely will future proof this model for quite a while. An outstanding camera in every respect. If you’re a long-time Canon shooter and want to have all-in-one hybrid the R5 is a strong option.

Also consider: Sony a7S III, Nikon Z7 ($2,596)

Best Camera for Wedding Films & Videography, Music Videos & Events:
Panasonic Lumix GH5

Top Pick: Panasonic Lumix GH5
Why: High quality 4K video with 4K/60 and 10-bit 4:2:2 color. Dual IS works exceptionally well, making the GH5 a smart choice for handheld work. MFT lens mounts offers plenty of options with adapters.
Price: $1,398 USD
Buy: Amazon

Wedding shooters typically require a camera that can operate in a variety of setups: tripod, handheld, gimbal, drone, etc. 4K is typically important for re-framing in post. As is lens flexibility and long-form storage recording options. For all those reasons — and many more — the Panasonic GH5 is an easy recommendation. Dual SD card slots will provide peace of mind (you can choose redundancy so you always have 2 copies of your footage) and the ability to add on something like the Metabones Speedbooster adapter means you can use Canon glass, and benefit from an extra stop of light and slightly wider FOV. Lots to like. At about $2,000 USD the GH5 body is not cheap, but its performance level far outweighs its class, and for serious wedding operations buying several of these will likely be within budget. No wonder wedding filmmakers love the GH5. I expect that trend to continue.

Also consider (note that some of these are not DSLRs): Canon EOS Cinema C100 Mark II, Sony Alpha a7 III

Best Camera for Aspiring Filmmakers:
Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K

 

Top Pick: Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K
Why: Filmic image quality that belies its price. Everything an aspiring filmmaker/director/cinematographer could want in a tiny package at a very reasonable price.
Price: $1,295 USD
Buy: Amazon

Blackmagic is not exactly a household name here in the U.S. But among filmmakers the Australian up-start is making some high performance gear for the price. Take the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. It’s only $1,295 USD, but you’d never know it by looking at the image this tiny camera produces. It is gobsmacking. Just gorgeous. With 4K video and compressed raw capture (BRAW) this is an excellent choice for any film student or aspiring filmmaker or a film student. It’s not an easy camera to use and it eats batteries, but in my view it’s about the closest you can get to a RED or Arri image without spending tens of thousands of dollars. Highly recommended (just know this not a camera for those looking for something that is automatic or for Vlogging).

Also consider: Panasonic Lumix GH5 ($1,398)

Best Budget Camera for Travel:
Sony Alpha a6000

Top Pick: Sony Alpha a6000
Why: Compact camera with plenty of performance. 24MP APS-C sensor produces high quality stills and pleasing HD video (1920×1080). Somewhat confusing menu layout, but otherwise fairly easy to use. Fast and accurate AF (for stills).
Price: $548 USD
Buy: Amazon

Yes you could buy the fancier and newer a6500, but then again its little baby brother does everything almost as well, has the same 24MP APS-C sensor and costs far less. Plus, it comes in a tiny package, perfect for serious travel shooters who want something light, but don’t want to compromise. Bring a few prime lenses along with you and the a6000 packs a punch, delivering a nice image, and with controls that are relatively easy to use (though I do wish Sony would simplify the menu layout). Battery life is decent, if not quite as good as what you’ll get on a (larger) DSLR. AF performance is blazing fast and in my experience very reliable. A terrific little camera for travel shooters. Highly recommended (if you want 4K get the a6500).

Also consider: Sony a6500, Fujifilm X-T20

Best Camera for that Nostalgic Feeling:
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

 

Top Pick: Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II 
Why: Because you want to look timeless doing your job in the field.
Price: $998 USD
Buy: Amazon

It has the it factor. And why not? Sometimes a sexy camera body is a sexy camera body. If you find yourself in a LIFE magazine cover story about your photographic adventures, you want something like this Olympus E-M5 hanging around your neck — especially in silver. Yes, it might not influence the final result much, but looking cool might count for something right? You be the judge. But in my books this camera just looks beautiful (fortunately it performs exceptionally well too).

Also consider: Leica D-LUX 7 4K Compact Camera ($1,195)

Best Camera for Lottery Winners:
Hasselblad X1D II 50MP Medium Format

 

 

Top Pick: Hasselblad X1D II 50MP Medium Format
Why: You won the lottery!
Price: $5,750
Buy: Amazon

So you just won the lottery? Here’s what to buy after your mom has picked out a new house: a rarefied Hasselblad medium format camera. Because.

Also consider: a Lamborghini.

Best Mirrorless Camera for Projects Requiring Netflix Approval:
Panasonic S1H

Top Pick: Panasonic Lumix S1H
Why: Outstanding video specs. Netflix approved.
Price: $3,998 USD
Buy: Amazon

Serious professionals working on documentaries, films and other projects for Netflix should consider the Panasonic S1H. Being Netflix approved is a vote of confidence and a testament to the video chops of the S1H, but this camera doesn’t come along with the high end price tag of more expensive dedicated cinema camera (though should you need one renting is always an option).

Also consider: Sigma fp ($2,149), Panasonic S5 ($1,998)

Best Mirrorless Camera for YouTubers & Vloggers:
Fujifilm X-S10

Top Pick: Fujifilm X-S10
Why: Video-centric specs. Flippy screen and auto-focus good for shooting in selfie Vlogging mode. Beautiful, organic image for the price. Eterna film emulation is among the best picture profiles on the market today.
Price: $999 USD
Buy: Amazon

Fujifilm is targeting YouTubers and Vloggers with the X-S10. Compact, and ready to go. I like the simplicity. For instance, Fuji has removed the photocentric top plate dials found on other models like the X-T4 and instead included traditional dials — these are better for adjusting video settings in my experience. A 26MP sensor makes the X-S10 not only suitable, of course, for video, but also for shooting high quality stills. And there’s 5-axis in-body image stabilization (IBIS) to help smooth things out when you’re walking.

Also consider: Canon EOS R6 ($2,499), Nikon Z6 II ($1,997), Fujifilm X-T4 ($1,699)

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