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.
Fujifilm GFX 100
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.
Hasselblad X1D II 50C
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 K-1 II
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.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III
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.
For me it is:
Medium format: GFX 100 & Phase One IQ4
FF: S1H & Leica SL2
APSC: XT4 & BMPPC 6k
MFT: BMMPC 4k & GH5
S1/S1R isn't just let down by its high price & bad AF system but also lens selection & price (leica L's)
The exact reasons I purchased a Sony instead of staying with Panasonic.
Calling the AF "bad" is a real stretch. As for lens selection, Sigma is bringing more soon, and NONE of the new 35mm-format mirrorless makers yet have a full lineup.
I'm super intrigued by the Sigma fp, but can't justify changing kit.
For me best system that isn't the big 3 is Fujifilm, switched to Fuji system is the greatest decision I have made.
I’m really intrigued by the Pentax, it looks like a solid camera and the files I’ve played with have all been good.
Sigma FP seems to be a love/hate thing, so I’m cautious there.
It seems weird to me that Fuji is still considered an outsider? Surely they rank amongst Canon/Nikon/Sony in APSC cameras.
I think it's just sales figures: Canon, Sony, and Nikon routinely sell more pro-market cameras than anyone else. It's more interesting if you follow sales volume of mirrorless cameras, where Nikon's way back there, Canon's running mostly on the strength of EOS M, particularly in Asia, and Sony, Olympus, and Fujifilm fill out the top four.
They don't break APS-C out as a separate sales category, since other than EOS M, there's only APS-C-only system other than Fujifilm X. And the X system is the only true professional APS-C system. Canon and Nikon certainly sell pro APS-C bodies but not lenses, you're expected to use FF lenses with APS-C, because, of course, every possible use of APS-C for professional purposes is trying to get more out of a supertelephoto lens. Right. But in reality, it's more that they all regard APS-C as primarily for consumers, and it's in there interest to push that idea by only ever offering consumer-grade APS-C lenses.
The Pentax K1 is a great camera. I shot Pentax for years but switched to Canon for the AF and glass, for a wildlife shooter Pentax just can't compete with Canon.
For landscape, portrait, city type shooting the K1 is a very capable camera and I would recommend it all day.
Pentax is interesting. Indestructible, IBIS, and tremendous value for money coming into full-frame.
I considered Pentax and Nikon before choosing Sony as a 35mm kit to complement my Micro Four Thirds kit. The thing that nixed it for me was the lens lineup. They simply didn't have the lenses I wanted.
If I could have anything it would be a Leica M10 Monochrom. Why? Because it doesn’t compromise, it just does what it does. I had Leica M3 many years ago and I enjoy using Leica rangefinders.
Sadly, I can’t afford one and it doesn’t even approach the overall capabilities of my D850 so, short of a lottery win, I’ll never see one.
The Leica M10 Monochrom is probably the ultimate one trick pony - so it’s just as well it’s a very neat trick.
I only use MFT/Olympus. I see no reason to be attracted to "the big three". But choose what you prefer, why should it bother anyone else but yourself.
Reads like a TIPA Award, lol! I always wanted to shoot digital Medium Format and recently decided to give it a try with a used GFX 50S after trying also 50R and GFX100. The GFX 100 is too expensive for me, too big and does just not justify itself as I do not have enough paid work for it. Otherwise, it's just gorgeous and lets you play with photography exactly the way I always wanted.
Otherwise Fuji's X-Tx and Pro Line are perfect companions to me also. The color fits me very well. Another body which I found really great 10 years ago, was Panasonic's GF1. Later had some GX7. Was so so...reason why I left MFT. I won't look back to Nikon or Canon. Never tried Sony.
Best camera for who? I shoot Olympus E-P5 and E-M1 mostly in raw. The results after PP are nothing less than stunning, rivaling anything the best FF can produce up to 20" X 24" prints. And guess what, those prints are better than those I produced in medium format film cameras back "in the day".
No doubt, FF excels in action photography, and FF and medium format excel in producing "super-size" prints, so maybe your article should be, "What are the best cameras for "super-size" prints"?.
Well you've hit all the ones I would choose. That Pentax sure is a winner and I'd add the Fuji GFX 50s. Here's one I would definitely add....the Alpa 12 TC. You can put different brands of digital backs on it or use it for film and lens selection quality can't be beat. Any others anyone can think of?
The GH5 over the G9?? For me video is irrelevant.
Alpa 12 TC plus Phase One back but surely not one of the cameras listed here except Hasselblad. In fact, film's always the best in my opinion.
It is hard to believe you left the Fuji XT3/4 off the list for the APS-C list. According to all the big review Sites, the Fuji XT3 was the #1 APS-C camera last year.
Surprised to not see the XT4 on the list, I hear its good.
I use an E-M1.2 and E-M1X for nearly 85% of my work now. Like you said, the guts inside are nothing short of amazing. The Multishot modes on the cameras will actually give me a better file than what I generally see out of my D800, and the M1X has wireless tethering to boot.
On top of that, the AF of the M1X is nearly infallible. SO much better than my D4 it's not even close.
For regular photography the Fuji XT3 (now 4), for video the XH1 (soon to be 2). The camera features can hold their own, but combined with some excellent Fuji lenses, either one is an unbeatable combination. Light, intuitive, reasonably affordable, water resistant, durable construction and tremendous color. Fuji's new medium format offerings are just too expensive as a hobbyist, but are also excellent cameras/lenses.
From the ones listed I own the GH5 (and 2x GH4, and G7 for B-roll/backup so I'm pretty familiar with this Panny line). It's a fantastic VIDEO camera - but it's somehow just..."off" when it comes to photos.
I can't even put my finger on it. I've tried every conceivable custom setting, and played with lots of lens combos. No matter what, it seems to lack life ( I shoot RAW, process in LR, PS, and/or C1). Everything feels digital and mushy. Almost like stills were an afterthought with this camera.
If I pixel peep (I know...), I subjectively see more flaws and more digital artifacts than I'd like. No matter how I process in LR and PS, photos just have this digital artificial look and feel to them, something I just don't experience with images taken with my other cameras, although they're all FF or APS-C and that might be a major contributing factor.
I'm now exclusively using Panny Lumix lenses (mostly the 12-35 and 7-14) and from a technical perspective, it's a really great combo. Fast auto focus, accurate manual focus, good ergonomics (minus that stupid DISP button placement), accurate WB, best IBIS I've ever experienced, etc etc. On paper, it's perfect - and for VIDEO, it actually is pretty fantastic.
But for still photos, I tend to go back to my Sony (yes, FF and not a fair comparison, but still). Heck, I have an old Canon 7D that has more oomph and life than the GH5 in terms of stills. That's a APS-C sensor and still not a really fair comparison, but it's also ancient. I also have a Sony NEX5 and frankly, even THOSE pics don't look as digital and lifeless as the ones I take with the GH5.
I shoot RAW, and I've tried every suggestion and "hack" for the image profiles (flat looks/ custom looks w. sharpness at -5, turning off all the Panny "assistance" settings in the menus, and all that jazz). Nothing really helped all that much.
Overall my feeling is that photos are certainly acceptable but I just don't get that giddy feeling when shooting with the GH5, and I actually dread working on them in LR or PS. This is not the case with photos I take with my Sony or old Canons.
My subjective feeling is that a large part of the problem is the MFT sensor. It's a weird compromise. Kinda like as if Panasonic uses some smart phone software tech plus a bigger sensor to provide something with the convenience and software advantages that a smartphone gives, but with a larger sensor and external lens choices. I say that because the overly digital feeling of the photos and the "it's just off"-feeling I get is true with photos taken with either the GH4 or the GH5.
Maybe it's all just in my head, and I'm sure some folks will dismiss my opinion as "you just don't know your grear/craft/subject/lenses/custom setting/whatever), but it's a pretty strong feeling that I wanted to share with folks who might be considering the GH5. Hope it helps.