Best cameras and lenses of 2021

By Geoff Harris

As we say goodbye to 2021, it’s the perfect time to look back on some of the best buys for the keen photographer.

It’s been a challenging time for camera makers, hit by the ongoing economic effects of Covid and a global semiconductor shortage, but there have still been more positives than negatives.

And the really good news is that more people seem to have got into photography as a result of the various lockdowns, which look like they could well return in many parts of the world next year.

Read on for our camera and lens highlights, and here’s to a creative 2022...

Canon EOS R3, £5879

This will be the camera of the year for many pundits, as it offers an incredible arsenal of power features with a price to match.

As well as high resolution and an astonishingly fast shutter speed of 1/64,000sec, the big selling point of this full-frame mirrorless powerhouse is the advanced eye-control autofocus (AF).

Put simply, this super-smart AI-based technology enables you to select the subject to focus on by looking at it through the viewfinder. The system can recognise humans, animals and vehicles, but pretty much every subject can be tracked based on its colour and pattern.

The EOS R3 can also recorded full-resolution Raw images at 30 frames per second and there is effective image stabilisation to keep images sharp when you are shooting hand-held, or working in fading light.

Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV, £610

Right at the other end of the price scale is this very likeable camera from Olympus, now known as OM Digital Solutions. It’s based on the older but still effective Micro Four Thirds sensor technology (so it’s not full frame) but this means that both the price and size can be kept down – the E-M10 is a very stylish and portable camera.

Key features include a 20.3Mp sensor, a versatile 3-inch tiltable touchscreen and a respectable continuous shooting speed of 15 frames per second.

The image stabilisation is very effective too, enabling you to shoot as low as 1 second shutter speed and still get relatively sharp shots. Another big appeal of the OM-D system is the wide choice of high-quality, reasonably priced lenses.

Find it on Amazon: Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV

Nikon D3500, £529

If you are sticking with ‘mirrored’ SLR technology rather than the latest mirrorless cameras, the D3500 remains the most beginner friendly example out there – and you can get it at with a basic starter lens for under £600.

In terms of the specifications there is nothing that outstanding about the camera compared to cutting-edge mirrorless models, although the sensor offers decent-enough resolution at 24Mp.

There is a very informative Guide Mode, however, which does a great job of explaining camera functions and helping you to grow as a photographer.

Battery life is really impressive too, capable of taking 1,550 shots between charges.

Find it on Amazon: Nikon D3500

Nikon Nikkor Z 40mm f/2. £249

Moving on to the lenses, this is a great budget choice for users of Nikon’s Z series of full-frame mirrorless cameras.

The lens is well made and the focal length of 40mm strikes a great balance between a wider 35mm and a ‘fab fifty’ mm, both classic choices for travel and documentary photographers.

The maximum aperture of f/2 is handy for shooting in low light, too, or attractively blurring out the background on portraits and close-ups. It’s easy to carry around too, weighing just 170g.

Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG DN Art, £749

Independent lens maker Sigma’s had another good year, bringing out some quality, keenly priced glass for both Sony E-mount and L mount cameras – the L mount alliance including Leica, Panasonic and Sigma.

Probably Sigma’s best-value lens this year is this fast 35mm model, offering a generously wide aperture of f/1.4. The build quality is excellent, as you’d expect from the company’s Art range, with weather sealing, and the image quality is outstanding.

This lens is half the price of the Sony equivalent, so it’s a proper bargain.

Find it on Amazon: Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG DN Art

2022 Photography Resolutions?

Now you've got the 2021 camera and lens best buys - where will you take your photography skills in 2022?

Try our online Photography Foundation course taught by Michael Freeman to develop your photography skills:

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Photography Foundation taught by Michael Freeman

Award-winning photographer, author and teacher Michael Freeman teaches you the foundations of photography from framing to lighting and beyond.

View courseAll Photography courses

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) - the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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