Good Stuff! Awards 2015: best cameras of 2015

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The best cameras and lenses are usually not the least expensive. That is why we publish  "Ivo's choice" with some regularity, for products with an attractive price-to-quality ratio. But at the end of the year, we give out “Good Stuff! Awards” to system cameras and lenses with the highest image quality, regardless of the shop price. “Good Stuff! Awards” are awarded on the basis of the image quality that we have observed in our practice and lab tests. We thus do not give any Awards to products that we have not reviewed ourselves.

Image quality should not be the only criterion on which you base the choice of a camera. We are now—as we speak—busy behind the screens, working on expanding of the scores with the versatility and user-friendliness of cameras, in the hope of having the project completed before New Year’s.

Because there are many different types of photographers, with different preferences, we have divided the cameras into a few categories. For the “Good Stuff! Awards,” it does not matter to use what year a camera or lens appeared. To the contrary, since the price-to-quality ratio of older products is usually better. With equivalent image quality, we choose the older model. So as not to tease you with pink unicorns, we only give “Good Stuff! Awards” to cameras that are still for sale.

290GS award2015

Trend: Mirrorless system camera, 4K video, image stabilization and megapixels are sexy

OM D E M5 Mark II

In 2015, there were fewer cameras sold than in 2014. Everyone hopes that the bottom in the market has more or less been reached. System cameras without a mirror focus more accurately than an SLR camera, are lighter and more compact and usually offer more video options. The SLR cameras have quickly lost ground in recent years to mirrorless system cameras from Fujifilm, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony. Canon also announced wanting to do serious work in 2016 on mirrorless system cameras. Is that the end of SLR? Not in the short term. In recent years, the revenue from mirrorless system cameras rose at the cost of the revenue from SLR cameras. Perhaps now a new balance will begin to be established.

After we spoke last year about a pause in the megapixel race, we saw in 2015 on all fronts cameras with higher resolution, with two 50-megapixel SLR cameras (Canon 5Ds and Canon 5DsR) as the clearest examples. The application of high-resolution technology that could previously only be found in Hasselblad cameras, in an affordable micro-43 camera (Olympus OM-D E-M5 mk2), is also nothing short of spectacular.

Another spectacular development is the improvement of In-Body Image Stabilization. Panasonic made progress with in-body image stabilization in the Panasonic GX8. Olympus succeeded in even further improving the image stabilization in a very compact camera (Olympus OM-D E-M10 mk2), so that it is amazing to see that you can get stable video recordings with this camera when shooting by hand. And Sony came along with In-body image stabilization in the Sony A7 series. It is of course no real surprise that after the pixel race we come to the point of image stabilization, since the modern cameras are much more sensitive to vibrations caused by photographer or camera than cameras were a few years ago. If you examine the photos taken at 100% on a good screen, the difference is clear, since if you make a small print, then you do not see the differences.  

Best camera 2015: Sony Alpha 7R MK2

700ILCE 7RM2 wFE2470Z front

It will not surprise anyone that the best camera will a full-frame sensor is also the best camera of all categories. Until recently, the Nikon D810 stood firmly in first place for months. The Nikon D810 is, where that is concerned, the worthy successor of the Nikon D800E, which managed to capture a Good Stuff! Award in turn. But at the last moment, the Nikon D810 was driven out of first place by the Sony A7R MK2: with 43 megapixels (instead of 36), a higher dynamic range and a higher signal-to-noise ratio, Sony set the new norm with the Sony A7R MK2. Without use of an external recorder, it is possible to record in 4K with this camera, which makes the Sony A7R MK2 a super-compact camera for the professional photographer (who increasingly often alternates photography with video, in order to generate sufficient income). We have not found a single camera in our tests that focuses as quickly and accurately as this camera does. The chance is good that when we release an expanded camera evaluation next year, including ease of use and versatility, this camera will still stand at the top of the list. Is this the perfect camera, that leaves nothing to be desired? No, as you can read in our Sony A7R MK2 review. 

 

Best full-frame SLR camera 2015: Nikon D810

Nikon D810
The Nikon D810 manages this year, just like last year, to capture a Good Stuff! Award. If you compare the image quality of cameras with 36-megapixels or more with each other, then it is very difficult to see any differences. As far as megapixels are concerned, you do not need to replace a Nikon D800E or D810 with another camera. The chance is good that for cameras with 36 megapixels or more, the choice of lens is more important for the eventual image quality than the number of megapixels is. On the basis of the sublime dynamic range and the very high signal-to-noise ratio, the Nikon D810 scores as far as image quality is concerned higher in our list than the Canon 5Ds does. The “Highlight weighted mode" of the Nikon D810 (and D750) makes a clear difference: with this you have, with a Nikon D810 when taking pictures with extreme brightness differences (concert, night or backlighting), even less trouble from any bleached-out highlights.

Best APS-C camera 2014: Nikon D7200 & Samsung NX1

D7200front

The first place among the cameras with an APS-C/DX sensor is, as far as we’re concerned, shared by an SLR camera (Nikon D7200) and a mirrorless system camera (Samsung NX1). The Nikon D7200 offers the highest image quality for photos. Many cameras with a full-frame sensor lose out to the Nikon D7200 on the point of image quality if you examine pictures taken by both cameras on a screen enlarged to 100%. Not only is the resolution—thanks to the lack of an ant-alias filter—very high, the dynamic range of this camera is also fantastic. 
The Samsung NX1 is chock full of technical innovations and was also named by DpReview as the most innovative camera of the year. The Samsung offers the highest image quality for video of all cameras with a crop-sensor, in addition to very high image quality for photos. What is also remarkable about the Samsung NX1 is the expanded and fast AF system and the high number of shots that you can take with this camera before the buffer is full. On that point, the Samsung NX1 even beat out the Canon 7D MK2 in our tests.

NX1
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Best "rangefinder" camera in 2015: Panasonic GX8

GX8 k front H FS1442A KA LVF PopUp
Some photographers choose the ergonomics of a rangefinder camera above an SLR. In particular among street photographers, wedding photographers and documentary photographers, this kind of camera—don’t forget Leica—is popular. We have still reviewed too few of these cameras for our taste (so far: the GX7 and GX8 from Panasonic). Even so, we would be selling the fans of this kind of camera short if we did not list a rangefinder camera.
Those who look through the viewfinder of the Panasonic GX8 with their right eye do not end up with their noses against the screen on the back of the camera. With most other system cameras, where the viewfinder is in the middle, that is the case. If a camera has a touchscreen and a viewfinder in the middle, then you unintentionally take a picture as soon as your nose touches the screen. The Panasonic GX8 is solidly built, has a distinguished appearance and sits rock-steady in your hand. The image quality—including 4K video—is triumphant. For street photographers on a budget, the GX7—Good Stuff! Award winner from last year—is recommended, because the price of this camera dropped significantly with the arrival of the GX8, while the image quality and the ease of use remain the same.

Surprise of 2015: image quality of a 1-inch sensor:

J5 front

Nikon 1 = most compact system camera system

The surprise of 2015 was, as far as I’m concerned, the high image quality of modern 1-inch sensors.

In theory, a larger sensor should have a better signal-to-noise ratio than a small sensor, since with a larger surface you can capture more light and thus have less trouble with noise. In practice, you do not always see that, because the quality of the sensor differs by manufacturer. Several of the most modern cameras (Sony A7R MK2, Samsung NX500, Samsung NX1, Nikon J5) have, for example, a Back Side Illuminated (BSI) sensor, with which the individual pixels capture more light than on traditional CMOS sensors. But the noise suppression and the application of micro-lenses on the sensors also differ per manufacturer, so that a small sensor from one manufacturer can be (nearly) as good as a larger sensor from another manufacturer. That is one of the reasons why we assess the image quality of cameras and lenses in the same way, regardless of the sensor size.

We have so far only reviewed system cameras (cameras with interchangeable lenses) with a full-frame (24 x 36 mm), APS-C/DX (~15 x 22 mm), micro-43 (17 x 13 mm) or 1-inch (13 x 9 mm) sensor. The first Nikon 1 cameras—with the smallest sensors that we have tested—are at the bottom in our list of reviews. Older cameras like the Nikon V1 and J3 offer remarkably better image quality than most compact cameras with a fixed lens and a sensor of 8 by 6 mm or smart phones with an even smaller sensor. Even so, the older Nikon 1 cameras are at the bottom in our list of reviews, because the image quality of the larger cameras with larger sensors is higher. Certainly above 400 ISO you see the differences.

But technology is not standing still. In 2015, we reviewed two cameras with a 1-inch sensor—the Panasononic FZ1000 and the Nikon J5—for which the image quality is surprisingly good. In particular for photographers who seldom make use of 1600 ISO or more, they can choose a much more compact camera without worrying about too much noise. Anyone who was satisfied a few years ago with the image quality of an SLR camera gets the same quality from the Nikon J5 with a much smaller camera and equally smaller lenses. The auto focus of the Nikon 1 is faster and more accurate than the AF of SLR cameras from a few years ago. Who would have expected that to be possible then?   

Ivo Freriks
Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.

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