Buying Guide: The best camera bargains of 2018

Last updated: December 4, 2018

If you're looking for a high-quality camera, you don't need to spend a ton of cash, nor do you need to buy the latest and greatest new product on the market. If you're willing to miss out on some features, you can save a lot of cash by picking up a last-generation model or shopping around for deals on refurbished or older, but still current, cameras.

In this buying guide we want to direct your attention to some great-value cameras, which are still available. We'll start with the least expensive options and go up in price from there.

Street prices listed below are current as of December 4th, 2018.


Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100
$449 MSRP, $369 street

While not as capable as later models, Sony's original Cyber-shot RX100 is an inexpensive way to snag a genuinely compact camera with a 1" sensor. It has a 28-100mm equivalent lens that will do well in low light at the wide end of the lens, but not-so-great at telephoto. You miss out on the faster lenses, electronic viewfinders and improvements in autofocus and JPEG image quality that arrive in the latest models.

The camera fits in a pocket with ease, though the body is slippery and some may find the controls a bit clunky. The RX100 has a 3" non-touch LCD but lacks a viewfinder. Photo quality is excellent and the same can be said for its Full HD video. It focuses quickly and can shoot continuously at 10 fps. Wi-Fi is built-in for photo sharing.

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Nikon D3400 w/18-55mm lens
$499 MSRP, $399 street

While it's since been replaced by the D3500, the Nikon D3400 is essentially the same camera but in a slightly different (but still very compact) body. Like other Nikons, the D3400's 24MP APS-C sensor has excellent resolution and dynamic range. Its autofocus system is dated and it can't take many photos in a burst, so a sports camera it is not.

What makes the D3400 so appealing is that it's great for beginners, with its 'Guide mode', selecting the correct settings for you based on use case, and tells you which of them were actually changed so you learn. The camera also features Full HD video capture (though AF is essentially unusable) and Bluetooth for easy photo sharing.

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Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II
$529 MSRP, $399 street

The Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II is one of the cheapest and smallest compact cameras with 1" sensor that you can buy. The larger-than-average sensor will produce better-looking images than your typical compact, though the slow-ish lens will reduce that advantage in low light.

The lens has a small 28-84mm equiv. focal range, which isn't as versatile as most of its peers. Despite that, the G9 X II has a well-designed touch interface, snappy performance, Full HD video capture and the latest wireless features.

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Canon EOS M100 w/15-45mm lens
$599 MSRP, $399 street

The Canon EOS M100 is one of least-expensive mirrorless cameras you'll find. It's packed with Canon's latest features, including its excellent Dual Pixel autofocus system and also has a flip-up touchscreen display. It's not as good at shooting action as the newer M50 model, which can also capture 4K video.

The M100 features Full HD video capture and Wi-Fi with Bluetooth. While there aren't many native EF-M lenses available, the M100 is compatible with Canon's enormous selection of EF and EF-S glass with an optional adapter.

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Sony a5100 w/16-50mm lens
$549 MSRP, $449 street

It's hard to believe but, five years after its introduction, Sony is still making its a5100 mirrorless camera. The compact Sony a5100 is a good choice for those on a tight budget seeking a point-and-shoot experience, but with interchangeable lenses. It hasn't seen the improvements in video, autofocus or JPEG color that have arrived in newer Sonys, meaning you don't get the excellent Eye AF feature.

The a5100 uses a 24MP APS-C-size sensor and has a hybrid AF system that's still responsive today. There's a selfie-friendly flip-up touchscreen LCD on the a5100, but no viewfinder. It can capture Full HD video and has Wi-Fi with apps you can download to the camera.

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Sony a6000 w/16-50mm lens
$649 MSRP, $499 street

The Sony a6000 is one of the best-selling interchangeable lens cameras of all time, and for good reason. It has excellent image quality, a reliable autofocus system, 11 fps burst shooting and a sharp OLED viewfinder. The a6000 is targeted a bit more toward enthusiasts than the a5100, with dual control dials but (disappointingly) no touchscreen. It pre-dates features such as 4K video and Sony's excellent Eye AF feature, and improvements in interface and JPEG color.

It captures Full HD video, offers Wi-Fi and can download feature-adding apps into the camera. It's worth pointing out that Sony's APS-C lens collection is relatively small and expensive compared to other mirrorless brands.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS100
$699 MSRP, $499 street

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS100 (TZ100 in some regions) is a compact camera with a 1" sensor and 25-250mm equiv. lens. It fits easily in your pocket, making it an ideal camera for travel. Its lens has a relatively slow maximum aperture, so it won't perform terribly well in low light, though it will still out-do compacts with smaller sensors. It doesn't get the nicer JPEG colors of newer Panasonic models.

The ZS100 has a fixed touchscreen display and a 'better than nothing' electronic viewfinder. In addition to taking 4K video, the ZS100 also has genuinely useful features like 'Post Focus' and '4K Photo'. For those looking for a portable, versatile travel camera, the ZS100 is a bargain.

Fujifilm X-E3
$899 MSRP, $799 street (body only)

The Fujifilm X-E3 is a rangefinder-style mirrorless camera that produces excellent images straight out of the camera courtesy of its modern 24MP X-Trans APS-C sensor. Its well-built body has direct controls for shutter speed and exposure compensation, and most buttons are customizable.

A high-resolution EVF and touchscreen await users on the rear plate. It also offers Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The X-E3 captures 4K video but not nearly to the high standard or newer models.While it doesn't have a built-in flash, with a small external one included in the box. The excellent 18-55mm F2.8-4 lens adds just $300 to the cost of the camera and is well worth the money.

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Nikon D7200
$1099 MSRP, $799 street (body only)

The Nikon D7200 is a midrange DSLR with a 24MP APS-C sensor that produces sharp images with excellent dynamic range and solid high ISO performance. It's reasonably small and light and is sealed against the elements. The D7200 has a large optical viewfinder and a fixed 3.2" (non-touch) LCD.

Autofocus performance is superb, whether you're tracking subjects or shooting in low light. While the D7200 can record Full HD video, quality isn't as good as other midrange cameras and autofocus is effectively unusable. The D7200 has built-in Wi-Fi, but the aging smartphone app is unreliable.

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Sony a7 II
$1399 MSRP, $899 street (body only)

The Sony a7 II is a solid full-frame mirrorless camera that currently sells for a remarkably low price. It has built-in 5-axis image stabilization, a 24MP sensor, fast hybrid autofocus system and Full HD video capture. The camera has a relatively rugged, with some weather-sealing, high resolution EVF and tilting (non-touch) LCD. It misses out on the further improvements Sony has made in terms of JPEG color, autofocus and user interface in its latest models.

Photos have great resolution and excellent Raw dynamic range, though the a7 II struggles a bit at high ISOs. Some users might find the buttons and dials to be too small, so it's worth trying one in person before you buy.

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Nikon D750
$1999 MSRP, $1399 street (body only)

Despite being released way back in 2014, the D750 is still one of the most attractive full-frame DSLRs on the market and an incredible bargain as it approaches its fifth year of production. The D750's 24MP sensor produces beautiful photos with low noise at high ISOs and plenty of dynamic range. Its autofocus system tracks subjects with ease, though the camera's buffer fills quickly when shooting bursts.

The D750's body is compact for a full-frame DSLR and it has a giant optical viewfinder, a 3.2" tilting (non-touch) LCD, built-in flash, dual SD card slots and Wi-Fi. It can shoot good quality Full HD video, though autofocus performance in video and live view is for static subjects only. Battery life, on the other hand, is exceptional.

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