Which Camera Is the Best Value for Money?

Which Camera Is the Best Value for Money?

There are more cameras available to buy today than ever before. That usually means that consumers receive more innovation and better prices, and sometimes the best example of those perks are hidden gems.

Last month. I wrote an article, which raised the question of which camera is the worst value for money. The rules were straightforward: you had to suggest a camera that can currently be bought brand new and then justify your decision. The issue with the question of the worst value is it's much murkier than the more positive version this article addresses. The reason for this is that a price being higher than the product is currently worth isn't necessarily linked to the cost of manufacturing. There are myriad reasons that might cause a camera to have an inflated price tag for the spec sheet — reasons like protecting the brand's perceived value despite the model of the camera being outdated, for example. Another (arguably connected reason) might be that the manufacturer does not want to cannibalize the sales of their newest release by dropping the price of the older version that they still sell brand new.

All these nuances of price mean that the number we see on the tag hanging from the delicious new piece of equipment might not be representative of the technology it sports, but rather some internal politics or strategy. However, the question "which camera is the best value for money" is quite different. There are fewer considerations, particularly pertaining to brand strategy, and the focus is more directly on the old adage of bang for your buck. That is, what exactly are you getting for your money?

Interestingly, when looking into this question, I found that the two extremes of the spectrum were contenders for best value; neither the cutting edge of cameras nor the cameras with the reaper's "discontinued" scythe looming over their aged frame were very good value. The former were trying to lead the line and charged a premium for anyone who wanted to join them at the front, and the latter were largely outdated in all regards, but not cheap enough for you to be able to explain away the differences and justify the purchase. Of the two poles, the older cameras were certainly the more likely to host great value, but it didn't seem to yield too much, though perhaps I missed a hidden gem.

Where I — perhaps a little unexpectedly — found the most contenders low buck bang-age was mostly in middling areas that didn't serve as many photographers' main camera. However, it's there that the price had to be the most competitive, and it was there that I found my entry for this competition of value: The Sony ZV-1.

Sony ZV-1

The first difficulty with this question is regarding value; it's relative, not absolute. I don't mean that necessarily in terms of the consumer's wealth, but rather based on the consumer's needs. For example, a sports photographer isn't going to want a great value body with tragically low maximum frames per second — that isn't good value for that particular photographer. This question is really for a "one size fits all" camera that doesn't cater to any specialist genres that require specific equipment, like long, fast telephoto lenses, or 2:1 macro, or tilt-shift, and so on. Rather, I'm looking for a camera that can shoot portraits and landscapes well, and has a lot of features for the money. For me, that's got to be the ZV-1.

The ZV-1 is great for many, but it really shines in a few areas. If I were to give you an elevator pitch for this lens, I'd say that it is a strong stills camera with a well-received 20.1 megapixel Exmor RS BSI CMOS sensor and a full frame equivalent of 24-70mm ZEISS lens on the front, with a maximum aperture of f/1.8 at 24mm, through to f/2.8 at 70mm. The 24-70mm is a staple of photography for good reason, particularly when it's a quick lens too. However, the pièce de résistance of this little camera is it is arguably the perfect vlogging camera, with a 3" flip-out touch screen, UHD 4K video at 30p with HLG and S-Log3. It has a 3.5mm microphone port, a Multi Interface Shoe on the top, as well as all the Sony tech which includes advanced image stabilization, Face Priority AE, and so on. Not to mention, Sony has now released the software to turn many of their mirrorless cameras into webcams to stream or use on video calls. After all this, I've still missed out a plethora of quality of life settings and modes.

One of many great features of the ZV-1. Others include Super Slow Motion HFR, an omnidirectional built-in microphone, real-time AF tracking, and access to the Sony Imaging Edge Mobile app, to name a few more.

Yes, there are of course downsides, with the biggest arguably being that it isn't an interchangeable lens camera (ILC), but the price can quickly make you forget about that: $748. You can scarcely get a decent lens for that money, and you're getting a fast ZEISS 24-70mm in front of one of a fantastic Sony mirrorless that shoots 4K. No, it isn't perfect, and no, I wouldn't have it as my primary camera, but it's compact and lightweight, which means as a walkaround camera to throw in your jacket pocket or bag on a day out, it's borderline perfect. For vlogging, streaming, or capturing b roll, it's a similarly impressive fit. So for me, the ZV-1 wins the title of best value for money as of the time of writing this.

What Do You Believe to Be the Camera That Is the Best Value for Money?

My opinion is far from indisputable, and I suspect there are some strong feelings, so it's time to have your say. Is there a camera I completely missed? Is the ZV-1 in fact not great value for money for reasons I didn't spot? Share your thoughts in the comments below. Remember, your entry for the best value camera has to be currently purchasable brand new; the secondhand market is for another day!

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28 Comments

Michael Comeau's picture

You can get some damn good lenses for less than $748.

VINICIUS YUZO ZUCARELI's picture

I could get a Canon 24-70 f2.8 mk 1 and be half way into a 70-200 f4 with that money.

For 750 I could almost squeeze a Canon SL2 and a 24-70 f2.8 here in Brazil. If I opt for the Canon 17-55, I can. And I'm pretty confident that is a much better buy.

Matthew Lacy's picture

I would go with my very own camera, the Nikon D5600. I can give my personal justification, but Ken Rockwell has a glowing review where he specifically talks about the pointlessness of buying a more expensive camera.

Gary Pardy's picture

I always recommend a D3X00 to new shooters. There is so much high quality, affordable new and used glass and the sensor and capabilities are entirely adequate for casual/hobbyist stills shooters.

Matthew Lacy's picture

I started out on the D3400, so I have had experience with that line. I will say that the extra 20 some autofocus points alone are an enormous advantage for the D5600. Working with just 7 autofocus points is extremely limiting. I will agree on the glass though. Plenty they will work with.

Michael Krueger's picture

It's alright if you have no intention of shooting manual, the D3500 removed the function button and there is no quick way to adjust ISO. I started on a D3200.

Drazen Cavar's picture

You have just one click more for that with D3500. It's even more funny for me that they stripped WiFi and any remote shutter option other than extremely slow app, yet there is bypass. They were desperate to move buyers toward more expensive models which clearly show how good that camera is.

Charles Mercier's picture

I don't know much about other cameras outside of reading fStoppers comments but at least for photography and video, the Sony a7ii, now at around 1K with lens would take much higher quality video and photos than this.

Gary Pardy's picture

The a7ii is tremendous value for money. Autofocus is often griped about, but its sufficient. Single Eye-AF, no continuous Eye-AF. No 4k, but most entry level full frame cameras are offering cropped-4k anyway. Used prices can't be beat.

Troy Straub's picture

I love my Panasonic GX85. You get 2 lenses and can even get a bundle with a couple extra batteries, charger, SD card, case, and a few other extras for under $600.

Michael Krueger's picture

I bought one in December for $450 and got the Panasonic 25mm f/1.7 prime for $150 to go with it. Image quality blew me away and with the pancake lens it fits in a large pocket.

Troy Straub's picture

Great deal! I bought mine back in February of 2018. I also have the 25mm 1.7 and a few other lenses. I love the system Image quality is more than good enough for me. If I had more MP i'd probably need a faster computer and more storage. I still feel like I got an amazing deal at $600 back then. For $450 it really seems like a no brainer.

Matt Williams's picture

In terms of sheer bang for your buck, I think the Panasonic GX85 that sells with both the 12-32 and 45-150 for $500-600 (it's always "on sale" for one of those two prices) is pretty impossible to beat. You have 24-64 and 90-300 focal lengths covered with a larger sensor than the ZV-1, and of course the ability to add other lenses. ZV-1 is better for video, but certainly not as a stills camera.

John Nixon's picture

Whilst it’s not a cheap camera and I had to sell pretty much everything I owned to buy it, I’d say my Nikon D850 is excellent value. It’s well built, reliable and there’s pretty much nothing it can’t do extremely well.

Ryan Luna's picture

Used Fuji X-T1 = $250
Used Fuji 35mm F/1.4 = $400

That combo is pure value and complete Win!!!

Timothy Gasper's picture

Absofreakinglutely. I have the XT1 and just love it. No need to upgrade....at least not for me. Thanks for plugging the Fuji.

Christian Lainesse's picture

I think value is directly related to the results you want to achieve with a camera, therefore, the best camera for money is the one you will be able to use to achieve your goals.

Timothy Gasper's picture

Right. It all depends on ones needs. Lenses are paramount but you know that. If one has to sacrifice something, I say sacrifice some camera features for good quality lens(es)

Stefan Gonzalevski's picture

Exactly. I remember during the film era, to the question "Which film is a professional one ?", the best answer I read was : "The one you can make money with."
So, any working camera you can afford and you can make money with may be the good one.

Malcolm Wright's picture

The Japanese camera buyers voted the Olympus OMD EM10 dual lens kit in silver at between $500-$600 for camera, 14-42mm lens and 40-150mm lens the best value of the last year by placing it number one in the top selling cameras in Japan. I bought mine for £549 added in a 45mm f1.8 for £249 and got not only a decent camera set up but can add to it in the future for little more than the ZV-1.

Troy Straub's picture

I was very close to buying an EM10 when I got my Panasonic GX85. I liked that the Olympus didn't leave a gap between the two lenses, but liked the Panasonic going a little wider more. There were a few other small differences I liked better about one or the other. Ultimately it came down to the Panasonic being a little cheaper the week I was finally ready to pull the trigger. I'm sure I would have been just as happy with the EM10 if that was the way I went. I love my Olympus 60mm macro!

Timothy Gasper's picture

Hell...I'm just reading the comments to see what cameras people are listing. Excellent. What about film cameras? Yeah...why not? Now the list got astronomical.

Juan Carlos Ayala's picture

Either the Fuji XPro2 / 35 f/2 combo or Nikon Z6 / 24-70 f/4. The latter produces exceptionally sharp images with current technology (AF/colour science/IS etc), excellent video quality, future proof, popular camera overall etc....

Ruud van der Nat's picture

I bought an old Canon EOS 5D mk1 for €250 to use as a second body. Of course it has its limitations but when you are aware of them it’s still a lot of camera for your money.

Momchil Yordanov's picture

This camera, with its 2.7 crop factor, in reality has a 24-70mm f/5.0-f/8.0 lens. I find this very limiting, regardless of price. The "bang for the buck" way of thinking often leads to purchase of crappy equipment.

Patrick Smith's picture

I’m a Nikon guy so I have two answers, one for general or landscape and portrait type photography and one for sports/action. Both are used, but one can still be bought new as well, but it’s the used prices that make it the best in my opinion. The two are D500 and D810 and both are about $1000 used in excellent condition and both are cameras that will insure that you won’t want or need to upgrade to something better within a year or so!

Malcolm Wright's picture

Do they come with any lenses at that price? If so then they'd be real value for money.