From the sublime to the ridiculous -- with some vaporware thrown in -- here's my annual roundup of cameras that have tickled my fancy over the course of 2016. Lots of folks have declared cameras so over, but as I assembled this list I was surprised at how vibrant a year it was. Thanks to the summer Olympics, the pro sports bodies received one of their infrequent updates early in the year, and thanks to Photokina, almost everyone had something notable to announce in the fall. As a result, my list this year is even longer than last year's.
So here they are, in chronological order of announcement.
(Pictured: the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, shot with the E-M1 Mark II)
With cell phone cameras replacing the cheap point-and-shoot models, more expensive cameras with 1-inch sensors have become the de facto step-up models. But many of them haven't included a solid general-purpose zoom range, which is a technically more difficult feat with the larger sensor than with the smaller sensors in compact superzoom cameras. Panasonic started the year with the first 1-inch compact to address the needs of the more mainstream photographer.
Nikon's flagship pro action dSLR hit the ISO specification maximum for the year, reaching ISO 3,280,000 at the top of its expanded range. More important, though, the native range hits a maximum of ISO 102400; the highest for a dSLR, though matched by Sony's A7S II mirrorless which has a far lower-resolution sensor. It also became the first dSLR to add support for 4K video recording.
I'd given up on seeing any new sub-$1,000 compacts with APS-C size sensors -- the Ricoh GR II was the last one, in June of 2015, but that was a truly minor update on the GR which arrived in mid-2013. Then Fujifilm dropped this camera, bringing excellent photo quality for $700.
When the PEN-F was announced, I was a bit baffled as to its advantages over similarly priced Micro Four Thirds models. But after shooting with it I found it a great camera for street photography with its tiny prime lenses, fast performance and novel filter controls. I still think it needs some weather sealing, though.
With the newest model of its flagship professional action dSLR, Canon showed how serious it is about its Dual Pixel CMOS sensor technology -- despite the continuing dearth of full-frame lenses to take advantage of it. The Mark II also became the first of Canon's dSLRs to support 4K video recording, though, oddly, only Digital Cinema (DCI) standard and not UHD, which is commonly offered as a supplemental option.
Pentax's long, long, long awaited (almost 15 years) full-frame dSLR finally appeared this year. It's definitely a good full-frame value for stills; though it doesn't blow the competition out of the water, it does offer the wildest multiangle LCD implementation I've ever seen.
The 80D proved itself a solid update, if not a no-brainer option for its price class. But it's notable for the autofocus and shutter response performance improvement in Live View (shooting through the LCD) mode, making it the first Canon that I've found usable in that mode for photographing subjects that aren't sitting still. It also introduced multishot HDR video to dSLRs.
When Nikon announced its new DL series of one-inch sensor cameras in February -- an enthusiast compact, a super zoom and a more general-purpose compact -- it was great to see Nikon look like it was back in consumer form, with 1-inch sensor cameras sporting fast lenses. Then came the Kumamoto earthquakes in April, at which point Nikon announced that as a result the projected June ship would be delayed. Since then, crickets. But B&H's site seems to think they'll finally appear in January 2017.
Sigma teased its sd Quattro mirrorless models in February, but it wasn't until December that the company provided any real detail -- and still no pricing or availability -- and those details range from common to underwhelming. The most unusual aspect of the camera (besides the fact that it uses the Foveon X3 sensor technology that the company has been using since it bought the company in 2008) is the revival of the APS-H-size: a larger-than-APS-C 27.9 x 18.6mm with a focal-length multiplier of roughly 1.3x but with the same aspect ratio, 3:2 (close to Super 35). However, there's one interesting bright spot, which is the ability to combine 7 simultaneous raw exposures into a higher-dynamic range shot, dubbed Super Fine Detail mode.
Sony's RX10 series of cameras with fast lenses and 1-inch sensors always looked and felt like a superzoom, but lacked the zoom range to back it up. This year's Mark III model finally gave prosumers what they wanted: namely, a big zoom that with a relatively fast aperture: 25x, or 24-600mm f2.4-4.
Its 75th anniversary year has been a big one for Hasselblad, and it started in April with the new H6D series of medium-format cameras. While the 50-megapixel model shipped earlier this year, the more interesting 100-megapixel model is the first medium-format camera to support 4K video recording. The company announced in September that it was officially shipping and says that it's currently in production but from a shopping standpoint it looks like it's still in preorder.
Updated December 12, 2016 with shipping info from Hasselblad.
This one stands out for sheer novelty. A Leica for fans who miss the fun uncertainty of shooting film, it's basically a digital Leica M without all the distractions of a digital camera, like an LCD, setting menus, autofocus or JPEG shooting.
The Impossible Project was born out of the ashes of Polaroid's flameout, resuscitating the production of film for some of Polaroid's instant cameras. This year, it engineered a new camera with a quirky design updated for 2016 that offers some digital touches, like Bluetooth for remote triggering, along with some manual controls.
The K-70 is one of the few entry-priced dSLRs that rises a bit above the recycled-technology models we see from Canon and Nikon. It's most notable for its maximum native ISO sensitivity of ISO 102400, a top ISO sensitivity that even more expensive cameras don't reach.
Following on the H6D, Hasselblad's second 75th-anniversary bonanza was the first medium-format mirrorless camera. It's been in preorder for a while, though, and B&H lists estimated availability as February 2017. Update December 12, 2016: According to Hasselblad, "the X1D is in production, with the first few batches en route to dealers to fill preorders."
After three years, Canon updated this popular pro dSLR with pretty much new everything. Like the 1D X Mark II which preceded it, the 5DM4 gained 4K video, and a Dual Pixel CMOS sensor, which makes sense since so many of its users shoot video. Canon also threw in the HDR video capability which debuted in the 80D and brought built-in GPS back.
Canon's mirrorless cameras still lag the field, with sluggish models like the M3 and M10 almost screaming "buy a cheap Canon dSLR instead!" This year, Canon added features like a viewfinder to its M5 and beefed up the performance specs, making it the company's first mirrorless that could compete with cheap dSLRs.
Olympus rolled out the heavy PR for its latest flagship mirrorless, one of the group of competing models we saw in the latter half of the year that are designed for photographers looked for speed and durability in a compact design. It includes a new autofocus system, 4K video (a first for Olympus) and an 18 frames-per-second continuous-shooting rate with continuous AF, the highest thus far -- by a huge margin now that Samsung sunsetted its cameras, including the 15fps NX1.
Fujifilm surprised a lot of folks at Photokina when it announced it was developing a medium-format mirrorless, which, after Hasselblad's X1D, makes the segment seem like the new black. Though there are still scant details about the camera's internals (the most notable include the 51.4-megapixel 43.8x32.9mm sensor, weather sealing, and a new lens mount) and there's no pricing, the company did say it planned to ship in early 2017.
Sony's A-mount fixed mirror cameras have (sort of) languished for a while; the last update was the A77 II in May 2014, and the A99 hadn't been touched since 2013. I say "sort of" because I can understand infrequent updates in a lower-volume segment. And I really expected the company to cease updating them altogether. But the A99 II fills an empty space in Sony's otherwise reasonably diverse camera line -- it lacked a pro-level full-frame action-capable camera. And that's exactly where the A99 II fits, with its 12fps continuous-shooting and vastly updated autofocus system.
Like many of the mirrorless models this year, Panasonic targeted outdoor photographers with a weather-sealed, fast-autofocusing camera. The novelty? At $800 for the kit, this is among the cheapest you can get with sealing that's not a multiple years-old high-end model that's dropped in price.
Panasonic took on the Sony RX10 III directly when it replaced its FZ1000 superzoom with the FZ2500. While Panasonic always had the lens (unlike Sony), it didn't have Sony's breadth of video controls to appeal to prosumer videographers who wanted the convenience of a fixed lens but without resorting to a more expensive camcorder that wasn't as good for stills. Basically, its got almost all the capabilities of the video favorite, the GH4, plus Panasonic's more recent technologies and features.
The LX10 wasn't interesting as a camera, per se; though it's good, there's nothing that makes it truly stand out. But the fact that Panasonic introduced an advanced compact with a 1-inch sensor rather than (or before) updating the LX100 with its larger Four Thirds-size sensor is notable. Especially given that the LX10 is quite similar to Panasonic's more consumer-focused ZS100, which has with a longer but somewhat inferior lens.
These days, it's unusual for a company to try to break into the traditional camera market, especially given all the doom-and-gloom surrounding it. So Yi's announcement of a new, cheap Micro Four Thirds model -- an attempt make an impression in the camera market as it did in action cameras with the Yi 4K -- came as a surprise.
Sony closed out our 2016 camera-announcement year with two noteworthy models. The RX100 V brings the first significant speed update to the series in a long time by packing in more processing power and a modern autofocus system. That allows it to achieve an whopping 24 frames-per-second continuous-shooting speed with continuous autofocus. The next update needs seriously faster write speed to the SD card, though.
And we close the year with Sony's enthusiast mirrorless, released a mere eight months after the similarly targeted A6300. Given that the A6500 added two of the hugely important features that the A6300 lacked -- in-body image stabilization and a touchscreen -- the A6500 made my list but the A6300 didn't.