What camera should you buy today?

I frequently get asked for advice on tech, and for a while have been thinking I needed a post on the best camera of today for a couple of different use cases.  So this is my no-nonsense opinion... you may agree, you might not, and for sure the tech will be different tomorrow - but for now - scroll down to the sort of photographer you are, and you'll find my current recommendation. None of these are the cheapest options in their category, but I think you'll find if you buy the lowest cost, then sooner or later you'll get the itch to upgrade and spend more over time.  If you don't agree... let me know - either in the comments below, or on twitter @andybryant.

Scroll down to see my recommendations covering the spectrum from the casual, to the super serious photographer.

Casual photographer

Don't whatever you do buy a simple compact camera. Your smart phone is probably good enough, and assuming most of what you want to do with the photos is to share with your family and friends, the phone is already connected.

If you've bought into the iDevice ecosystem, you'll obviously want to choose the latest iPhone 6 Plus. for the rest of us then either the LG G4 or Samsung Galaxy S6 (which even has the ability to shoot raw) are the winners; or if you can handle something a bit thicker, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 is a good choice for a hybrid camera phone.

Hear what The Verge had to say in the comparison below

More reviews: PCAdvisor, DPreview, ephotozine, Tom'sGUIDE

Frustrated Casual Photographer

One of the key limitations you'll find in a phone is the lack of zoom & low light support - but if you still want a compact and light system then it's time to look at the compact camera market. Most cameras are crippled by small sensors, so not vastly better than the best camera phones. If I was buying something here, I'd go directly to the Sony DSC-RX100 IV (or one of the previous versions) with a massive 20.1Mp 1" back illuminated CMOS sensor.

The Canon PowerShot G3 X or the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 are excellent 2nd choices with a similar sized sensor however you sacrifice the compact size, so in this case I'd jump up to an interchangeable lens camera.

Reviews: DPReview, TrustedReviews, KenRockwell

Beginner Serious Photographer

Ok... so you've passed from a snapper into the domain of someone that wants to develop their photography, or to get more manual control over their images. The two things you need now are the ability to change lenses (to go wide or telephoto), and manual controls to let you set exposure (shutter speed or aperture) easily. 3 years ago, this would have meant a digital SLR with a mechanical steampunk-style flipping semi silver mirror and a pentaprism; but now you can get excellent interchangeable lens cameras with digital viewfinders that are just as good.

Whilst there are some excellent single vendor systems out there (such as the Fuji X-T1 or X-T10), I think the best future-proofed solution is to look to the Micro Four Thirds consortium, represented best by Panasonic and Olympus.  Buying lenses in this system means that you have a choice of bodies from multiple companies (including the mighty drone mounted ZenMuse X5 from DJI, or the Black Magic Micro Cinema Camera).

Whilst the MFT system doesn't have the biggest sensors available, the fact that the sensor is smaller means that for the same effective focal length as a 'full frame sensor' the lenses are significantly smaller and lighter. This is a great benefit if you actually want to take your camera out into the world and use it!

Back to the real world - my top recommendation for a starter camera in this space is the new OM-D EM-10 Mk2. Just look at those knurled knobs perfectly placed to control shutter speed, aperture and program mode.  Other notable features include a tilting LCD, 5-axis image stabilization system built into the body, and a 2.36 million EVF.

More info: DPreview announcement, DPreview, RobinWong

Serious Photographer

Ok - so you want to take the next step and move up to something a little more serious... In this case my top recommendation is simply the next one up in the Olympus range - the OM-D E-M5 Mk2.  The EM5-Mk2 has weather sealing, the ability to shoot 40Mp images, a slightly larger build, better video capabilities, improved 5-axis stabilization, articulated screen, numerous customization buttons and retains a similar layout for the aperture & shutter speed controls. 

More info: DPreview, RobinWong

Travelling serious photographer

Ok - so you've bought into the idea that interchangable lens cameras are the way forward, but you want something smaller for travel or for a multi-day hiking trip. In this case I would look to the Panasonic DMC-GM5.  As a micro four thirds camera it has just as good 16Mp sensor as the cameras above, supports all of the same lenses, but fits into a much smaller space.  The key downsides are the small battery (take spares)( and the limited manual controls (which mean you'll be using auto most of the time, only delving into manual when you really need to.

Reviews: DPreview, PhotographyBlog, ePhotoZine

Super serious photographer

Finally, if you're really going to be a purist about needing a full frame sensor, and are willing to spend the extra cash & carry the extra weight, then the best camera out there at the moment in my opinion is the Sony Alpha 7 II or sometimes known as the Sony A7ii. It has 5-axis image stabilization, a 24Mp CMOS sensor, super fast auto-focus (although unfortunately I fear it's still not as good for hitting focus on moving subjects as a DSLR).

If you're into video, then you might be better suited looking to the A7s (dpreview), which has demonstrated some almost unbelievable low light performance.

If you're a pixel peeper with plenty of spare cash - you can now get both super light sensitivity (from a back illuminated sensor), 5 axis stabilization and 42Mp from the Sony A7R II. (Reviews: fstoppers, ColbyBrownMingThein, Luminous Landscape)  [Thanks to Mr Greco for the head's up on this one]

More info: fstoppers, BrianSmith, petapixel, SteveHuff, DPreview, MingThein, CameraLabs, MikeOnTheStreet, AdmiringLight, Luminous Landscape

The future?

What do I think the future holds? Well... as sensor technology improves, I think Olympus will be able to squeeze even better Sony sensors into their micro four thirds bodies pushing up the quality and dynamic range available from these relatively small sensors. On the full-frame end, I think Sony will slowly improve on the deficiencies of the A7 range... So at this point I'm not sure if my next camera will be a new Olympus MFT body; or a full frame A7 III of some form.

Why did I swap my G3 for a OM-D E-M5?

First of all I believe that Micro-Four-Thirds is the way forward for all amateur and some pro photographers because the technology has reached the good-enough point for it to overtake the APS 1.6x crop sensors in DSLRs. I expect these to die out sooner or later, leaving just MFT and full-frame DSLRs (pretty much along the same lines as Trey Ratcliffe)

The ability to carry a bag of prime and zoom lenses weighing less than a single APS UWA zoom is a benefit I can't ignore, as someone that likes to get out into the mountains.

I finally decided my Panasonic G3 had to go when I was up on the mountain a few weeks ago, and the shutter release failed to work again. The micro-jack style connection seems to be prone to oxidation build-up causing a flaky connection - which whilst you can use contact cleaner to restore it - isn't my idea of a reliable system.

The second trigger for me to want to change cameras was the fact that I was using manual and aperture priority mode more often than I had in the past,  and the tiny thumbwheel on the G3 was beginning to annoy me. The difference in force required to rotate the dial and push the button is so slim that I constantly found myself switching from aperture to exposure when trying to change one or the other.  

This wasn't such an issue on the G2 as the thumbwheel was more substantial - which you can see from this comparison image from the dpreview review of the G3.

Panasonic G2 to G3 comparison

From the pictures of the G5 on the dpreview preview it looks like the wheel *might* be a little more chunky, but there is still only a single wheel.

Panasonic G5 compared to G3

The OM-D on the other hand has 2 large, tactile dials which can be configured to drive a variety of manual controls, making it much easier to adjust the exposure setting you want to tune. You can see more images on the dpreview of the OM-D E-M5.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 side by side with the G3

Buy the Olympus OM-D E-M5 at Amazon UK or Amazon US.  
Images gratefully leveraged from the excellent dpreview site on the reviews linked above.