Best of 2021 Cameras: Future Proofing in The Making
And just like that, we have come to the end of 2021. For that, we racked up a few of our top camera picks of the year based on only two categories this time around which are the Most Innovative and the Best Hybrid cameras.
Each of which pertains to their own unique strengths and features I must say, and a collective decision here at Tech360.tv. So without wasting any more time, let's start with the first category, the Most Innovative.
The ones on this list are top of the line flagships which were clearly made for true professionals shooting wildlife or sports photography given all of them sharing 30fps burst mode capabilities using their respective electronic shutters.
Starting off with the Canon EOS R3, it's a mirrorless counterpart to the 1DX series but not officially their flagship according to Canon, equipped with a 24.1MP back-illuminated stacked CMOS image sensor and DIGIC X image processor which allows 12fps with its mechanical shutter and blackout-free 30fps in high-speed electronic shutter burst mode, and it can get as fast as 1/64,000 of a second.
Eye Control autofocus is Canon's latest feature brought to the R3, which provides the user's line of sight as the main focal point and racks focus automatically detected by the sensors within the EVF. Interestingly, it was something that was first introduced to a film SLR camera dating back all the way to 1992 with the EOS 5 and it's now more improved to give even better autofocus aid, as well as priority subject detection such as Eye, Body, Head and even Vehicle detection modes.
Not forgetting to mention its video capabilities of 6K 60fps 12-Bit RAW, Canon C-Log 3 picture profile and high frame rates up to 4K 120fps.
Next up is the Nikon Z9, a camera that was one of the latest to be released and reviewed by us in 2021, it comes with a full-frame 45.5MP sensor, almost double the pixels compared to the R3. It also came with an innovative 4-axis tilting LCD touchscreen for portrait or landscape orientation shooting, something we have not seen this form of construction on any other camera, most probably to compensate for weatherproofing as our best guess, so it definitely won some brownie points there for this category.
It is also capable of shooting up to 30fps in JPEG formats or 20fps in RAW and an astonishing 120fps but only at 11MP, which is basically slow motion in video mode that is available for most mirrorless cameras. With that amount of still images, it should take you a while to go through all of them but we found it to be very precise when locking onto a subject with Nikon's hybrid phase-detection autofocus and assists such as 3D-tracking.
Video mode supports up to 12-bit Raw 8K 30fps H.265 and a recording time up to 125 minutes, which in my opinion is still very much a taxing file to work with. Most of the time shooting at 4K ProRes 10-Bit 4:2:2 would likely be more than sufficient in 2021, but unless you already own a really powerful machine to process that 8K footage and are willing to deal with the rendering times and also look to future proof your camera, then the Z9 seems to have kept up with market demands.
Speaking of future-proofing, we have the Sony A1, which is another camera released early this year that also came with 8K 30fps recording with S-Cinetone picture profile, as well as 4K 4:2:2 10-bit up to 120fps and 16-bit external recording. Very much a more video-friendly camera and has more of that cinematic look compared to the other two on this list.
It came with a 50.1MP full-frame stacked back-illuminated CMOS sensor and is also capable of blackout-free shooting up to 30fps in Hi+ continuous mode using the electronic shutter, shooting in HEIF compression formats in addition to the usual JPEG and RAW to help with file sizes when editing.
Autofocus is as good as it already was in the A9 II, but takes an even more forward direction in the A1 with AI-based Real-time Tracking with newly developed subject recognition algorithms. There is also Eye Autofocus for birds or every other eye you can think of, the A1 real-time autofocus assist will track that green box onto a subject like glue. A reflection of Canon's Dual Pixel autofocus performance but a tad bit better in our opinion.
Moving on to the next category, the Best Hybrid cameras, something that most content producers and creators will likely be targeting, in hopes to have the best video and photo outputs without the flagship specs to keep the price tag within the affordable range.
Starting off with a camera that was also recently released as of late 2021, the Sony A7 IV.
It's a personal favourite of mine considering how it translates a major improvement from the A7 III. It's a jump from the 24.2MP sensor to a newly-developed 33MP sensor and a Bionz XR image processor which is now capable of 759 phase-detection autofocus points similar to the flagship Sony A1 and covers roughly 94% of the image area for both stills and video.
You still get 10fps in Hi+ burst mode, but it's now compatible with CF Type-A express cards for faster write speeds. Colour science has also been improved from 8-bit 4:2:0 to 10-bit 4:2:2 and removing the green tint that was annoyingly prominent in most Sony cameras before it. But the biggest improvement of all is that it now comes with a flip-out screen and also an improved EVF from 2.3 million dots to 3.6 million dots. The recording limit has also been removed and the camera shoots up to 4K 60fps and 120fps in 1080p.
But the biggest advantage that lies within the new 33MP sensor will likely be more favoured towards still photography for sharpness and detail, since pixel count is more important in photos than in videos. But if you're one of the many who do tend to utilise cropping your footage, you do get a 7K oversampling image for all of your high-resolution needs.
Next up is a camera that was slyly released in 2021 due to the fact that a newer version of it was announced on the same day and is rumoured for release early next year, and that camera is the Panasonic GH5 II.
It's yet another camera on this list with heavily video-focused features such as 4K 60p 10-bit 4:2:0 and 4K 24p 10-bit 4:2:2, and even 6K Anamorphic 10-bit 4:2:2. In addition to the expanded video spec, the GH5 II also gains the video tools Panasonic has developed for its more recent models, including a red frame around the screen while recording, a wider choice of aspect ratio guides and the ability to shoot portrait orientation video. There's also live streaming options allowing live broadcast over the web, either across Wi-Fi via smartphone or using the Lumix Sync app.
In terms of stills shooting speed, the GH5 II is about average. It can manage a brisk 12fps with manual focus and live view turned off, or an acceptable 9fps with autofocus engaged. The 6K photo mode however offers up to 30fps bursts, and in 4K photo, it goes as fast as 60fps. The downside of it is a drop in pixels while in 6K mode your images will be 18MP and in 4K, they’re 8MP. Also, these shots are actually photos taken from MP4 videos rather than traditional stills.
It's probably due to the small physical size of the GH5 II’s Micro Four Thirds sensor. Although, it’s not the greatest stills performer if you’re looking for superb low light performance or ultra-detailed landscape images.
Lastly on the list which manages to get on both categories, is yet again the Nikon Z9. Purely because of the Z9's capabilities to capture both video and photos at its highest capacity of 8K RAW footage and 120fps still images at 11MP from its full-frame 45.5MP sensor. Needless to say, this is a big sports/wildlife photography camera to be considered as a hybrid on this list, but Nikon has seemed to be very aware in recent years over the competition gearing towards both modes as the go-to specs most users are looking for.
Kind of the likes of what Sony and Canon had been leading the pack for quite some time now, so we're more than glad to give kudos to Nikon making its mark in developing more hybrid focused specs to where they can. Especially within the Z series jumping on board the mirrorless train slightly later than the rest of the brands, given that Nikon had really good professional photography focused DSLRs at the time of this hybrid trend. So we do hope to see Nikon and its plans to maybe fit the features of a Z9 into a smaller body such as the Z6 or Z7, then perhaps we could see its appeal to more hybrid users.