Another year dedicated to mirrorless, 2021 has been an exciting time for camera development. Some of the top trends of 2021 include the rise and introduction of mirrorless flagship cameras, mirrorless medium format becoming more accessible, and the increase in popularity of vlogging and content creator-aimed cameras. As cameras generally become better, there are essentially no “bad cameras” left on the market; manufacturers are aiming to push speed, breadth of features, and usability as the key assets for a successful camera in 2021.
10. Panasonic Lumix GH6 (or GH5 II, for the time being)
The forthcoming flagship Micro Four Thirds model is sure to be another legendary choice for filmmakers favoring a mirrorless form factor.
Beginning with a potentially controversial choice, seeing as there has only been a development announcement for this camera, the upcoming Panasonic Lumix GH6 slides into the 10th spot simply because of its outstanding list of features that have already been announced. A new Micro Four Thirds sensor will deliver up to 5.7K 60p video, DCI 4K 10-bit 4:2:2 with unlimited recording times, and UHD 4K 10-bit recording with 120p High Frame Rate recording and Variable Frame Rate support. These few video specs along are enough to be excited at what Panasonic has coming, with an expected release date of the end of 2021. In the meantime, though, the slightly lower spec’d Lumix GH5 II, which is already available and announced in 2021, will hold down the 10th spot till the GH6 makes its formal arrival
Check out our coverage on the GH5 II, and development announcement information on the upcoming GH6, here.
9. Sigma fp L
The high-resolution follow-up to 2019’s Sigma fp, the fp L takes everything that was great about the compact, modular design and adds a new 61MP sensor to make it more of a photographer’s camera.
The original Sigma fp stood out when it was first released because it was, and still is, the most compact full-frame mirrorless camera available. The Sigma fp L was released in 2021 and features the same sleek form factor but has been updated to appeal more towards photographers rather than the cine-focused imaging concept of the original camera. The key difference between the new cameras is the fp L’s higher resolution 61MP CMOS sensor. Beyond the extra megapixels, this new sensor also incorporates phase-detection autofocus that is faster and more accurate than the contrast-detection system of the original fp. The third key feature the fp L introduced is the EVF-11 Electronic Viewfinder, which is actually compatible with both cameras, but a natural accessory for the fp L since photographers are more likely to be working with eye-level finders. Besides these differences, the fp L is still the same quirky and unique ultra-compact camera that’s just been spruced up a bit for stills use.
Take a look at our hands-on review and first impressions on the unique Sigma fp L.
8. Sony ZV-E10
Sony’s latest riff on the vlogging-specific camera, the ZV-E10 melds an Alpha-style body and imaging features with shooting modes and settings perfect for contemporary content creators.
In 2020, Sony released the ZV-1 and made it clear that they saw potential for the vlogging-specific camera. One year later, they’ve upgraded this idea with the ZV-E10, a camera for content creators featuring the versatility of a mirrorless, interchangeable lens body. The ZV-1 was essentially a take on an RX-series camera, but purpose-designed for vlogging. The ZV-E10 does the same for mirrorless shooters, by essentially adding a vari-angle screen, 3-capsule directional mic, improved audio interface, live streaming support, and a product showcase mode to an a6000-series body. It’s a standout camera of the year because it’s at the forefront of a new and growing genre of cameras that’s likely to continue expanding over the next several years.
Learn more about the ZV-E10 and what it means to be a vlogging-specific camera in this article profiling its strengths and highlighting some accessories.
7. Nikon Z fc
Focusing on a stylish, retro exterior, the Nikon fc is a fresh take on mixing classic looks with contemporary imaging performance.
Looking more like an FM2 than a new mirrorless body, the Nikon Z fc is their first pairing a retro look with a mirrorless design. The Df was Nikon’s attempt at using classic styling with a DSLR platform, but the Z fc nails this concept a bit better due to the flexibility of mirrorless in general. The Z fc is a DX-format camera and features a lot of the same imaging assets as the Z 50, but the classy profile makes it more of a design object than just a tool. Among other differences, the Z fc also features a side-opening vari-angle LCD, versus a tilting screen, that’s a bit better suited to vlogging and self-portraits.
Watch our first look video covering the Nikon Z fc.
6. FUJIFILM GFX 50S II
Accessible and medium format are no longer mutually exclusive terms with the GFX 50S II; the second-gen compact medium format mirrorless with a new integrated design and the same 50MP sensor that put the GFX system on the map.
Late summer saw FUJIFILM release the second generation of their first mirrorless medium format camera, the GFX 50S II. Compared to what a conventional second-gen camera is, though, this new GFX trended in a new way, with a focus on becoming even more accessible than the first generation of cameras, meaning medium format is now a realistic consideration for people shopping for full-frame systems. And with that in mind, the GFX 50S II presents a truly interesting choice for photographers who value image quality above all other camera specs. Beyond value alone, the GFX 50S II also saw some physical changes, bringing it in line with its 100MP sibling and featuring a fully integrated viewfinder and forgoing the more modular nature of the first GFX 50S.
Take a look at our hands-on review and announcement of the second-gen GFX 50S.
5. Sony Alpha a7 IV
The long-awaited follow-up to one of the most coveted all-arounder mirrorless cameras around, the fourth generation a7 focusing on reinforcing solid and versatile specifications without shaking things up too dramatically.
One of the later releases of 2021, Sony released the Alpha a7 IV in the Fall and it’s almost instantly become one of the hottest cameras of 2021. Sony’s a7-line—not the R, not the S, just the plain a7—has been a true sweet spot camera for years and this fourth iteration continues this concept with the tagline of “beyond basic.” It features a new higher resolution 33MP sensor (finally graduating from the 24MP level), 4K 60p 10-bit internal recording, and Real-time Eye AF and Tracking. It uses much of the processing power of the flagship-tier a1 but manages to remain the approachable camera that’s appealing to all sorts of shooters.
Watch a hands-on review and panel discussion on the Sony a7 IV.
4. Canon EOS R3
Canon’s first attempt at swaying sports and wildlife shooters away from their DSLRs and onto a mirrorless camera that offers improved speed, focusing performance, and the robust build quality one would expect from a pro-grade body.
Canon’s star release of the year, the EOS R3 is their first attempt at making a mirrorless camera that can pick up where DSLRs are beginning to leave off. Whereas the EOS R5 from last year did things no DSLR has ever done, the R3 is looking more at accomplishing things that no mirrorless camera has ever done. It’s a camera that’s built for speed, has professional reliability, and a physical design you’d expect from flagship DSLRs. It’s Canon’s first 3-series body since the film era, too, and is their time putting a stacked sensor in an EOS camera, which gives blazing shooting speeds, greatly reduces rolling shutter, and contributes to gaining blackout-free viewing for more intuitive subject tracking when shooting continuously. This is clearly a leaps-and-bounds type of camera for Canon and will serve to bring some DSLR stalwarts over to the mirrorless side, but it misses out on the 2021 podium due to its super specialized nature that clearly targets a certain type of working shooter.
Re-watch the live panel discussion and first look video of the Canon EOS R3, here.
3. FUJIFILM GFX 100S
100MP in a portable form factor, the GFX 100S is simultaneously an historic camera and one of those releases that was maybe so forward thinking that it got overlooked.
Not too long ago, the thought of a 100MP camera sounded like very wishful thinking, considering 36MP was high-res and 24MP is still a go-to standard for many cameras today. FUJIFILM’s GFX 100S isn’t the first 100MP camera, it’s not even FUJIFILM’s first, but it represents the first time 100MP has been available sub $10K and in a camera body that’s portable and reasonable for walkaround shooting use. It redefines medium format and breaks down the barrier that’s made medium format, especially high-resolution medium format, so inaccessible for virtually everyone until now. What’s even more impressive about the GFX 100S is that it has also benefitted from full-frame and APS-C mirrorless development, too, and features many of the same imaging assets you’d expect from other current cameras, like IBIS, DCI 4K 30p video, and even phase-detection AF. Unlike medium format cameras of the past, which were notoriously slow and outdated in performance, but you’d suck it up for the amazing image quality, the GFX 100S doesn’t need these excuses anymore as it meshes high-resolution medium format quality with current mirrorless performance.
Check our review and announcement of the FUJIFILM GFX 100S.
2. Sony Alpha 1
Sony’s entrant in the “flagship wars,” the Alpha 1 is a no-holds-barred camera that excels in speed, resolution, and connectivity, and does all of this within a compact and familiar profile.
Sony’s Alpha 1 was one of the first mirrorless cameras to show exactly what’s truly possible in mirrorless camera development right now, when everything is turned up to 11 to create one of the most well-rounded, well-spec’d cameras to come around in some time. usually, cameras excel at speed but lack in resolution, prioritize video over stills, or make some other kind of concession to prioritize a certain kind of shooter—not with the a1. Sony tricked this camera out with a high res 50MP stacked sensor that’s capable of outputting 8K 30p video, 4K 120p video at 10-bit, or full-resolution stills with a 30-fps continuous shooting rate. Besides having chart-topping specs in both photo and video realms, its mundane specs are even hugely impressive… things like a 1/400-second flash sync speed, 1/200-second sync with an electronic shutter, 9.44m-dot OLED EVF, and blackout-free viewing due to the fast readout speeds from the stacked sensor design. The Alpha 1 is a lot of camera; it’s almost like having an a7S, a7R, and a9 all wrapped up together, but somehow it still manages to have the same svelte form factor and familiar appearance.
1. Nikon Z 9
Nikon’s first mirrorless flagship is worth the wait and presents a series of significant upgrades that are sure to entice Nikon DSLR holdouts along with mirrorless shooters from other systems.
The last of the big three in the full-frame game to make a big splash in the flagship pool, the Nikon Z 9 is the top camera of 2021 due to its all-around impressive performance for both photo and video applications and its new, unique design that stands out in a fiercely competitive field. The Z 9 is Nikon’s latest flagship camera, usurping the D6 and their DSLR line in general, the showing how mirrorless has evolved to be the more advanced platform. The Z 9 distinguishes itself among other top-flite mirrorless cameras in that it’s the only one to completely forgo the use of a mechanical shutter; and by relying solely on an electronic shutter, it’s capable of fast 20 fps raw shooting speeds, 8K 30p and 4K 120p video recording, and highly intelligent subject detection and AF tracking. The Z 9 uses a stacked sensor design, like its peers, which yields virtually no rolling shutter distortion and fast readout speeds. And, since it sports a 45.7MP FX-format sensor, it’s an appealing camera for all photo genres, ranging from sports and wildlife shooters who need the speed and tracking to the portrait and landscape shooters that benefit from the resolution, image quality, and VR. The Z 9 is a special camera as its likely the cleanest transition from flagship DSLR to flagship mirrorless we’ve seen. There are no caveats for D6 users other than the obvious viewfinder switch, but the Z 9 packs so many more features, AF benefits, improved image quality, and class-leading video that it’s undeniably the best all-around camera Nikon has ever made.
Check out our first impressions and hands-on review of the Nikon Z 9.
What are your thoughts on this Top 10 of 2021? Did we miss any cameras? Was your favorite camera ranked too low or was anything ranked too high? Let us know your thoughts and top picks for 2021 in the Comments section, below.