BEST DIGITAL CAMERAS – 2010

Canon 7D

The list that follows has the highest rated SLR, hybrid, and fixed lens cameras for the last 12 months.

UPDATE, Jan. 22, 2011.

I added two new cameras with high ratings to these lists. The cameras on the 2010 lists have also been added to my new photography store which you can find here at my Web site, and here as a stand alone site. Your order, purchase and delivery at my photography store are handled by Amazon.com’s safe and efficient system.

Camera Classifications

Not long ago, there were two broad classifications of cameras in the 35mm and smaller format: single lens reflex (SLR) and point-and-shoot.

Single lens reflex cameras have a reflex mirror that bounces light up through a pentaprism (or mirror box) and out through an optical viewfinder. When taking a photo, the mirror moves up out of the way (hence the name “reflex”) so the light can strike the digital sensor or film.  One of the key advantages of an SLR is the ability to change lenses.

Point-and-shoot cameras are smaller, lighter, they don’t have a reflex mirror, and the camera has a fixed (non-interchangeable) lens.

More recently, hybrid cameras have become available that mix features of both cameras. They are usually smaller than SLRs, they take interchangeable lenses, and they don’t have a reflex mirror, or the mirror is fixed in place and some light passes through to the sensor and some is bounced up to the viewfinder.

Camera Ratings

DP Review is my favorite camera rating site. They have been doing this for a long time. For a long time I have recommended the purchase of a camera that receicves one of DP Reviews two highest ratings.  Under the old system, the highest rating was “Highly Recommended”. Under the new system which began this year, the two highest ratings are the Gold Award, and the silver Award.  DP Review also began giving cameras an overall percentage score, but the scores are only comparable withing the same class of cameras. Don’t compare the score of a fix lens camera with the score for a digital SLR.

The cameras listed below received a “Highly Recommended” rating from DP Review under the old system), or a Silver or Gold Award under the new system.  I also included the overall percentage score.

The Best Digital SLR Cameras – 2010

Nikon D7000  –  80% – Silver
Canon EOS 60D – 79% – Silver
Canon Rebel T2i – 77% – Gold
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV – 89% – Gold
Nikon D3S – 89% – Gold
Nikon D3100 – 72% – Silver
Nikon D3000 – 72% – Highly Recommended
Nikon D300S – 82% – Highly Recommended
Canon 7D – 84% – Highly Recommended

The Best Hybrid Interchangeable Lens Cameras – 2010

Sony SLT Alpha A55 – 76% – Gold
Panasonic DMC-G2 – 72% – Silver
Sony NEX-5 – 71% – Silver
Sony NEX-3 – 70% Silver
Sony E-PL1 – 69% – Silver
Olympus E-P2 – 69% – Silver

The Best Fixed Lens Cameras – 2010

Canon G12 – 73% – Gold
Canon S95 – 72% – Silver
Panasonic DMC-LX5 – 73% – Silver
Canon SD 4000 IS  – 74% – Gold
Samsung TL500 – 73% – Silver
Panasonic FZ35 – 75% – Gold
Canon SX20 IS – 73% – Gold
Nikon P100 – 70% – Silver
Casio EX-FH 100 – 72% – Gold
Samsung HZ35W – 72% – Gold
Canon S90 – 75% – Silver
Canon G11 – Highly Recommended

Keep an eye open for a review of the as yet unrated Canon G12

Choosing A Camera

The lists above (and below for 2009) are a good place to start if you are looking for a digital camera.

As a group, hybrid and fixed lens cameras are hugely different in terms of functionality and feature set. Some are almost as big as an SLR, others are shirt pocket tiny. Some have lenses with a fairly limited focal length range. Others have a very long range and you can zoom in on your son or granddaughter even if they are on the far end of the ball field.  If you want a carry anywhere shirt pocket camera, your choice will be very different than if you want to photograph wildlife at a distance with a camera that has a long range zoom lens. Decide on what you want a camera to do and then read some full reviews at DP Review before you make your final camera choice. It wouldn’t hurt to look at the cameras on your short list at a local camera store. Don’t get talked into getting a camera you haven’t thoroughly checked out ahead of time at DP Review.

With so many digital SLRs (DSLRs) receiving high ratings, which camera should you choose?  The answer usually comes down to lenses and systems. If you have a lens or set of lenses that you like, get a digital camera that will take your lenses.

If you need certain specialized lenses, then pick a camera brand that has the lenses you need.

If you need highly specialized equipment, you will want to go with a manufacturer that provides a wide range of specialized accessories.

If you don’t have specialized needs, almost any highly rated camera from any manufacturer will work very well.  Read some full reviews at DP Review to narrow down your choices. Pick out several models and brands of cameras in your price range.  Go to a well equipped camera store and try the cameras out to see how they feel and work in your hands. Narrow down your choices to your top two models, but don’t buy a camera just yet.

Rent both of your favorite models (with a lens) for a week (one week with each, not both at the same time). Online camera and lens rentals have become quite reasonable. A week with each camera will tell you which one you most like to work with. And remember, you can’t go too far wrong with most any recent, highly rated DSLR.

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You can find new or used cameras that were on last year’s lists. These are still excellent cameras, even if they aren’t the very latest models. There is some overlap between these lists and the 2010 lists above. If you buy a used camera, choose a reputable dealer that provides a good used warranty. I list some of my favorites camera stores here.

The Best Digital SLR Cameras – 2009

Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Canon EOS 7D
Canon Digital Rebel T1i
Nikon D3X
Nikon D300S
Nikon D5000
Olympus E-620
Olympus E-30
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1
Pentax K-7

The Best Hybrid Cameras – 2009

Olympus Pen E-P1, 12.3 megapixels, interchangeable lenses
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1, 12.1 megapixels, interchangeable lenses

The Best Fixed Lens Cameras – 2009

Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
Canon PowerShot SX110 IS
Canon PowerShot SX10IS
Fujifilm FinePix F100fd
Fujifilm FinePix F200 EXR
Panasonic Lumix FZ28
Panasonic Lumix LX3
Panasonic Lumix TZ5
Panasonic Lumix ZS1
Panasonic Lumix ZS3

The Best Fixed Lens Underwater Cameras – 2009

Canon Powershot D10, 12.1 mp, 3x zoom lens
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS1, 12.1 mp, 4.6x zoom