I decided to compile a list of the best cameras outside of the "big three" manufacturers for all budgets that are currently purchasable brand new.
To newcomers of photography, you might be drawn to the big three manufacturers — Canon, Nikon, and Sony — without giving it much thought. After all, the most popular are likely to be the best. Well, I'm not saying that logic wouldn't serve you reasonably well in this particular case, but there are certainly a lot of options you might miss out on that would be a shame.
Remember to leave a comment with your answer to this question, and there are only two rules:
- Not made by Canon, Nikon, or Sony.
- Must be available to purchase brand new.
Finding great medium format cameras outside of the big three is easy; they're not fighting for that turf. Canon, Nikon, and Sony concern themselves primarily with full frame and APS-C crop sensors, so with more room for activities, other brands spread their wings.
Any of my regular readers (I have at least three) will be tired of me harping on about the GFX 100 by now, so I'll keep it brief. One of the best cameras on the market bar none. That doesn't mean it's for everyone, but for many photographers, it's the pinnacle. However, as it's on the medium format list, you know you'll need deeper pockets than normal to own one.
I've enjoyed Hasselblad's gradual submergence into more affordable waters. Owning a medium format Hasselblad was the goal for most photographers for many years, myself included, but they priced themselves out of reach for most by design. They've rowed back on that approach in recent years, and the X1D is a good example of that. Don't get me wrong, it's still expensive for a camera and compared to full frame. It's north of almost every one of them, but for a Hasselblad and a medium format camera, it's not bad. You also know — or at least you used to and I believe you still do — that with a Hassy comes the class, supreme quality, and precision they're famed for.
This is where we enter dangerous territory for brands outside the top three. The full frame market has been so resoundingly dominated by Canon, Nikon, and in recent years, Sony, that smaller camera manufacturers seem tentative to even set foot here. It's hard to blame them. However, there are a few brands who have been bold enough and their creations are worth attention.
Pentax's flagship camera, the K-1 II flies under the radar for many, but there's a lot to like about it. I had a chance to use one briefly at a studio, and the body design and ergonomics is excellent, the performance felt good, the image quality was high, and there were a lot, albeit not all, of the features I'd like in a camera. Pentax claims five stops of IBIS too, which from what I could find out, is accurate. For $2,000 brand new, this is an impressive camera for those looking to move into full frame.
The S1R is a curious camera. One of the few entrants to the full frame market outside of the big three, it really comes all guns blazing in many regards, but with the predictable downfall of a smaller brand: cost. The S1R has a fantastic sensor pushing 50 megapixels, stellar OLED EVF, touchscreen, 4K 60p video (albeit limited to 15 minutes), IBIS, weather-sealing, the list goes on. It's truly a staggeringly high-end full frame body, held back in two areas: inconsistent AF performance in some modes and the price of $3,700 for body only.
APS-C crop sensor camera body market is a little like the full frame market, in that the big three do care about them and compete in the area. However, they don't seem to care quite enough, and in recent years, brands like Fujifilm have started controlling a sizable share of the proverbial pie. The big three do all have fantastic offerings in this area, but their share is far more contested here than any other sensor size.
For me, if I'm buying APS-C, I'm buying Fuji. The choice of the X100V was a difficult one, not because it doesn't deserve a place on this list, but rather because it isn't the only Fuji I wanted to include in the crop sensor section. It became a fight between the X100V and the X-T4, which are both brilliant, but the price point and spec of the X100V makes it unambiguously one of the best all-round choices whether you're including the big three's offerings or not.
The CL is very similar to the X100V specs wise, albeit over twice the price. However, it's beautiful and it's Leica. Many see Leica as an overpriced brand for celebrities and hipsters, and there have been occasions I found it hard to disagree, but using their cameras are something of a unique experience and worth trying before you write them off!
Micro Four Thirds
We now leave the territory the big three have a strong vested interest in and enter an area that is as polarizing as it is misunderstood. Many discount MFT camera bodies as a matter of habit. For some photographers, I would say that's the correct decision, just not all.
The GH5 is hands-down one of the best received cameras outside the big three, regardless of sensor size. The combination of a newer sensor, fantastic IBIS, and improved ISO performance, among a great many other things, saw many videographers reaching for this body with its 4K, 10-bit 4:2:2. With rumors of a substantial upgrade coming with the GH6, its place as one of the greatest cameras outside of the big three may be at risk, but only to itself.
I was fortunate enough to get to put this little guy through its paces in Costa Rica of all places, and I was impressed. For a lot of my commercial work, I wouldn't be able to use a MFT sensor full stop, but for everything else (including some editorial portraiture), this body is utterly superb. As I said in my review, the tour de force of this body is without question the tech inside it. The Live Composite will blow your mind, and the Live ND and Starry AF modes are a lot of fun and potentially time-saving.
What Are Your Choices for the Best Cameras Outside of the big three?
Now, it's over to you. I want to know which cameras that are currently purchasable brand new and not made by Canon, Nikon, or Sony are the best and why. For anyone who wants to avoid the big three — for whatever reason — which bodies are best? Which manufacturers are doing the most for the industry as a whole with the cameras they are creating? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.