2019 was the year that most of the major camera manufacturers (except Fujifilm and Olympus) finally decided it was time to enter the full frame mirrorless market – although Canon and Nikon’s offerings were not the best cameras around for many reasons, at least it was a start for them as they build up their lens catalogues optimised for mirrorless systems.
Here are my choices for Best cameras of 2019 in no particular order:
Fujifilm GFX 100S
I have chosen this camera because it has essentially done to mirrorless medium format what the Olympus OM-D E-M5 did for mirrorless cameras in 2012 bring together all the main key features most would want in a camera – nice viewfinder, nice image quality, weathersealing, fast AF, and sensor shift image stabilisation.
The Fujifilm GFX 100S has done a similar feat by being the first medium format mirrorless camera to have all these features and if has a 100 megapixel sensor for those that apparently need such high resolution, and perhaps most importantly, achieves this at a very competitive price point for medium format digital cameras at around $US10,000, albeit still far to expensive for most of us.
Now I can’t see myself ever buying this due to the cost and also the weight of the large, heavy and expensive lenses, but for the professional who needs this, it is indeed ground breaking.
Sony a7RIV full frame camera
When the Sony a7R Mark IV was first announced I had serious doubts as the the wisdom of its 61 megapixel sensor, and, the excessive numbers of pixels is both its strength and its weakness.
That said, I have warmed to it as now, being the 4th generation of these ground breaking industry leading full frame mirrorless cameras, Sony has finally evolved it to address many (but not all) of my concerns and it has evolved more into the ergonomics, weight and size of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark II which I so love and which makes that camera so much fun to use.
Here are my reasons why this is perhaps the best camera under $5000 in 2019:
- finally has a large enough grip to be comfortable to hold
- finally has improved weathersealing which has been a weakness in previous a7 cameras
- has further improved AF to be the best available except for the Sony a9 models. It even adds animal eye AF and it’s human eye tracking AF is the best you can get.
- the AF region covers most of the frame (87% thanks to the 567 PDAF points and 425 CDAF points) which is a substantial improvement upon the a7RIII but still not quite as good as the a9 series.
- a class leading awesome 5.76 million dot viewfinder
- further improved sensor shift image stabilisation (IBIS) which is now rated at 5.5 EV which is catching up to the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II
- USB-C in-camera charging and improved image transfer when tethered
- dual UHS-II SD card slots
- a reasonable sports burst mode of 10fps mechanical shutter for up to 68 shots at compressed RAW and with the extra telephoto reach of APS-C mode makes it a usable wildlife and sports camera
- high ISO performance, dynamic range and color has not been hit too hard despite the 61mp, and these are only slightly less than the 42mp a7RIII thanks to a newer technology sensor
- adds anti-flicker mode and an intervalometer at last.
- pixel shift Hi Res mode now allows massive 16 shot 240mp images albeit on tripod (unfortunately not hand held as with the Olympus OM-D E-M1X), as well as a 4 shot mode like the a7RIII.
- an extremely useful 26mp APS-C 1.5x crop mode
- reasonable video specs with Eye tracking AF in movie mode and a new MultiFunction hot shoe which allows a new digital audio interface delivers the high-quality sound recording (better specs than the a9 series which, although has far better rolling shutter, Sony didn’t give them the other video features)
- essentially the same control layout as the Sony a9II making it easier to use both.
- matches nicely with some relatively affordable excellent lenses such as the Samyang 45mm f/1.8 (albeit with soft corners), Samyang 85mm f/1.4, Sigma 35mm F1.2 DG DN Art , Sigma 105mm F1.4 Art , as well as some awesome Sony lenses – Sony 24 F1.4 GM , Sony 135 F1.8 GM, Sony 90mm F2.8 Macro, while in APS-C mode for sports and wildlife, photographers may find the Sony 100-400 F4.5-5.6 GM and Sony FE 200-600mm F5.6-6.3 G OSS well suited. See this blog for more details on lenses sharp enough for the a7RIV.
In short, it is a number of cameras in one and this is what makes it attractive in addition to most of the usability issues being addressed:
- the highest resolution full frame camera currently available and this allows important versatility with cropping and “digital zoom” – your 85mm f/1.4 lens can also double as a 135mm f/2 lens which means less weight and lenses to carry around!
- the best high resolution camera currently available for under $5000 – far better than the Canon 5DS dSLRs and better than any of the 42-45mp full frame cameras
- the best APS-C camera – in APS-C mode, its feature set, in particular, the IBIS, ergonomics and AF capabilities beat any APS-C camera out there.
- a reasonable video camera – especially with the Eye AF tracking now working in movie mode. Up to 120p slo-mo in 1080HD and 4K 30p but only to 100Mbps.
Despite this, it is still has some issues and is missing important features, but perhaps these will come in the a7RV in 2021, such as:
- sensor dust is a major issue with the Sony cameras despite using an Olympus style ultrasonic dust removal system – perhaps they need to add firmware upgrade to do the Canon R solution of closing the mechanical shutter when the camera powers off to protect the sensor when changing lenses.
- the rear screen is almost useless, subject to damage, low resolution, the touch capabilities are very restricted and it still only tilts rather than being a lovely articulated swivel screen like the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II.
- sensor read out is slow causing rolling shutter issues and thus Sony have perhaps wisely not bothered adding electronic shutter burst modes for sports so it does not have burst rates to match the Sony a9 series nor the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II which can do 18fps with C-AF and 60fps with locked AF, nor does it have the very handy Pro-Capture mode.
- camera has limited use during write of a burst
- the menu system is still terrible to navigate although the addition of My Menu quick access does improve this.
- AF is problematic in low light when using a small aperture despite having a wide aperture f/1.4 lens (as with flash photography) – even setting Live View Display to OFF and theoretically preventing the camera from closing down the aperture during AF doesn’t fully address this.
- No focus bracketing or focus stacking unlike the Olympus OM-D’s
- No in-camera HDR processing but then you probably want to do this on your super computer.
- the WiFi connectivity is still not that easy to use
- connecting to a phone to acquire GPS coordinates is a pain and drains a lot of battery and generally to be avoided
- still “eats” stars due to spatial filtering as with the Sony a7riii and Sony a7iii although for most this is not a significant issue.
- video features are no where near class leading, but Sony is presumably reserving this for their forthcoming Sony a7SIII
- the high pixel density makes diffraction problematic if you also need small apertures for adequate depth of field, the image detail starts falling off at f/5.6-8 which could be an issue for landscape photographers.
- most of the time those extra pixels are just wasting your storage space and your precious processing time increasing your frustrations – to get the full resolution, you need no camera shake, accurate focus, no subject blur, low ISO and a lens capable of matching that resolution, of which there are only a few, and as mentioned above, shooting at a relatively wide aperture to avoid diffraction issues, furthermore, all those pixels are still going to be wasted most of the time as 99% will probably just be displayed as web images at 4mpixels at best!
- there is no downsampled resized full frame lossless image mode to reduce the file sizes – a 60mp compressed RAW file, when opened in Affinity photo and saved in the Affinity photo file format to save your edits results in an enormous file almost 0.5GB in size!!!
The Sony a9II is clearly the best sports or wildlife full frame mirrorless camera currently available thanks to the awesome sensor with its fast sensor readout, minimal rolling shutter, minimal viewfinder blackout, class leading AF tracking and fast burst rates.
Sony have added a gigabit wired LAN port but have not given it the video capabilities it deserves, and at 24mp sensor there is limited room for cropping or telephoto reach so you will need those extra large, heavy and very expensive super telephoto lenses.
But it’s price puts it out of most enthusiasts reach of $US4500.
Panasonic joined the full frame mirrorless race in 2019 with its S1 and S1R stills cameras, but perhaps it is there S1H video optimised camera that will be its biggest seller being the 1st 6K 24p full frame camera and the 1st to offer 10-bit 4K 60p recording.
At $US4000 this clearly targets the pro videographer.
Olympus OM-D E-M5 III
The Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III is arguably the best video selfie vlogging camera for use when walking and hand held selfie vlogging thanks to its awesome AF, IBIS, compact, light format and, importantly the articulating rear screen which allows you to see what you are vlogging in selfie mode.
It is also arguably the best compact, light travel and all purpose camera with its great combination of feature set and the enormous range of native lenses available, many of which are very compact and ideal for travel.
Importantly, Olympus added in most of the great sports features of the Olympus OM-D E-M1II including its sensor with its PDAF points which is what takes the E-M5 to the next level.
Some final comments
2019 was also the year that Panasonic added some really great firmware features to most of their older cameras, including the Panasonic G9 which essentially inherited many of the great GH-5 video features and made the Panasonic G9 an even better Micro Four Thirds camera.
We will have to wait for 2020 to see if Canon and Nikon bring out full frame mirrorless cameras with a more rounded feature set.
I suspect the forthcoming Sony a7IV in 2020 could be an amazing camera with most of the a7RIV’s features but without the excessive pixel count, and in all probability, it won’t get the lovely EVF in order to keep the price down.
Whilst Fujifilm do have some nice cameras and lenses for their APS cameras, most lack IBIS and I think the Sony a7RIV is now heads and shoulders above the APS-C crowd given its versatility to also be a full frame camera as well as a 26mp APS-C camera.
The Sony a7RIV 61mp sensor is approaching the pixel density of current Micro Four Thirds cameras and thus one could reasonably expect that the improved high ISO performance in that camera should be possible next year in a Micro Four Thirds sensor – currently there is a 1-2 EV difference which has been regarded as one of MFT’s weaknesses which along with the reduced ability to achieve ultra shallow DOF should both be addressed in the next couple of years with AI technologies.
This would mean that most people would be far more comfortable and better off owning smaller lighter, less expensive Micro Four Third systems than having to carry around bulky, heavy full frame lenses.