posted on Friday, November 19, 2021 at 10:00 a.m. EST
Well, we’ve finally come to the end. Technically. We’re ready to unveil our pick of the best overall camera of the year for 2021! We still have our Reader’s Choice award coming soon, so keep an eye out for this one soon. But for us here at IR, we discussed, deliberated and counted the votes, and the choice was decided.
So what does it take to choose the best of the best? We take into account several factors, such as image quality, autofocus performance, general camera speed and responsiveness, features and specifications, as well as some subjective qualities. Features such as the design of the camera body and its ergonomics, the feel in the hand and the user’s experience when using the camera. Is the camera comfortable to hold and does it appear durable and well built? How user-friendly is it? Are the camera menus nice and do they offer a lot of user customization and physical controls? (We here at IR, as well as many enthusiasts and professionals alike, tend to appreciate cameras with many buttons and dials that give us quick access to important settings as well as the ability to customize said buttons to our liking or needs. Of course, some of these factors are difficult to measure, if not impossible, so in evaluating and making decisions for these qualities we obviously also need to take our opinions into account.
We also take into consideration the price of a camera. However, as you’ll see with our winner this year, it didn’t play as much of a role in our decision this time around. Our winner this year is definitely an expensive camera. And while you might think that it would be easy to just go through a list of cameras and pick the most expensive one, because that has to be “the best camera,” it isn’t always. A camera can being expensive, as well as being a slow, slow camera or a highly specialized camera that is fantastic for some subjects and poorly designed for others. Our winning camera for 2021, while pricey, is a very versatile, feature-packed tool capable of shooting almost any type of subject you can throw at it. Put simply, this is the best all-rounder camera we’ve used, and as such, we felt it deserved the top prize despite the steep price tag.
So, without further ado, here’s Imaging Resource’s pick for the best overall camera of 2021:
Best overall camera of the year 2021: Sony Alpha 1
There have been quite a few awesome cameras released over the past year, but none have really surprised us as much as the Sony Alpha 1. Featuring a 50 MP stacked full frame sensor, continuous shooting up to 30 fps, incredible autofocus tracking capabilities and 8K video recording along with surprisingly comfortable ergonomics and excellent user customization, the Sony A1 is a “Swiss Army Knife” under camera form. It has the features and capabilities to suit almost any type of image maker and tackle almost any topic. As Sony’s most advanced and flagship Alpha mirrorless camera, the A1 had to be a great camera, especially given Sony’s history of great cameras. But Sony has really gone all out with the specifications and capabilities of the A1.
Sony FE 200-600mm F5.6-6.3 G OSS: 600mm, F8, 1 / 640s, ISO 800
The 50-megapixel sensor lets you capture images with excellent fine detail, and as expected, the A1 has a great dynamic range and very good high ISO performance. The camera is a fantastic choice for all but the most demanding high-resolution imaging needs – landscapes, portraits, architecture and more, the A1 can handle it with ease. Despite the high resolution, the A1 is very capable of excellent low light and high ISO chases as well as high speed subjects including sports, action and wildlife. Gone are the days when you traded high resolution for high ISO speed and performance. Even though the A1 has a high-resolution sensor, the camera can still shoot full resolution images at 20-30 fps (depending on image quality settings) with full continuous autofocus, making the A1 one of the fastest cameras on the market. Sony’s real-time tracking AF with Eye AF for humans, animals and birds, works as advertised, finds and tracks eyes quickly and consistently, even in difficult shooting situations. From a photographer’s perspective, the Sony A1 can handle just about anything you throw at it.
Sony FE 24mm F1.4 GM: F1.8, 10s, ISO 3200
On the video side of the aisle, the A1 is no slouch either, offering capabilities and features not found in many other cameras, especially at this price point. The A1 can record 8K video at up to 30 fps, making it one of the few cameras on the market to offer such high-resolution video recording capabilities. There’s also 4K up to 120 fps and 16-bit RAW video output via its full-size HDMI port. The construction of the camera allows it to record high resolution video for long periods of time. The camera’s new processor is fast enough to allow real-time (human) ocular autofocus and real-time tracking during video, even with 8K 30p video! While the A1 leans slightly towards photographers, the A1 is also an absolute powerhouse for video makers.
Sony FE 200-600mm G: 594mm, F6.3, 1/800 s, ISO 800
Overall, we had a hard time finding fault with the Sony A1. He does so many things and does them all extremely well. It’s fast, well-designed, and captures excellent, high-quality photos and videos. It is * it * is very expensive, however. But for that price, you get a hell of a camera.
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Discover our other Camera of the Year 2021 awards
Best mid-level camera, best high-end compact camera, and best wide-angle lens
Best enthusiast crop sensor camera, best ultra wide angle lens, best super telephoto lens
Best Passionate Full Frame Camera, Best Medium Frame Camera, and Best Macro Lens
Best professional full frame camera, best standard lens and best telephoto lens