Camera Prices for 2018 Holidays

It’s that time of the year when camera makers discount their products for the holiday shopping season. As camera sales have slipped more each year, the discounts seem to get bigger, especially on older models.

It’s probably too much to look at every camera, but let’s examine most of the current interchangeable lens cameras from Canon, Nikon and Sony.  Which camera prices are still overpriced? What are “underpriced” bargains?

[UPDATED 11/23/2018: Several of the prices have changed. I feel a bit vindicated: Some of the cameras I rated as overpriced have seen significant price drops in the last 24 hours, see below]

“Fair” Pricing

Anyone who has taken an economics class has a basic understanding that price is set by supply and demand. In the long term, if the free market is setting the price, it essentially is the “fair” price — it’s the price where supply is meeting demand. While this is true as a long term generality, it’s not always true for cameras, for every model, at every moment. Camera makers may have other goals beyond optimizing the sales of a single camera at a single moment. For example, they may want to sell off all their remaining inventory before replacing a model, thereby creating an “under priced” situation. Alternatively, they may want to prevent competition with their own lower priced products and therefore keep the price of a camera artificially high. Or perhaps they want to keep a price artificially high to create a certain perception.

Further, sometimes the demand itself may not be totally rational. An excellent camera may sell poorly due to poor marketing, leading to the camera being discounted to a point where it sells for cheaper than inferior but better marketed competition.

So in this article, we will attempt to evaluate camera pricing as:

  • Fair: Based on the capabilities of the camera and the competition, the price is reasonable.
  • Overpriced: Price is not in line with the competition and capabilities of the camera. There may be superior cameras that are cheaper.
  • Underpriced “bargains”: In the context of the market, the camera price is lower than similar competing cameras. In a historical context, the camera pricing presents a better value than seen in the recent past.

The Three Main Criteria for Camera Value

So what makes one camera worth more than another? Many entry level shooters fall into a trap that believing that all cameras are the same: click the button and they all take the picture.  But why would a rational consumer pay $3,000 to $5,000+ for some cameras when there are very good $400 cameras? From a consumer perspective, the value of a camera can be boiled down to 3 basic criteria:

  1. Image quality: Full frame cameras cost more than aps-c cameras. Full frame sensors cost more to produce but why are they worthwhile to the consumer? It comes down to image quality, which can include higher resolution (stills and video), dynamic range, ISO capabilities, etc.
  2. Speed: “Sports” cameras typically bring a premium. Faster burst rates, faster autofocus, deeper buffers. All the things that allow for the camera to capture action more quickly.
  3. “Usability”: My umbrella term for all the other features that may can make the camera more efficient, comfortable, easy, etc. Better ergonomics make the camera more comfortable to hold. Better menus and buttons make it easier to change settings quickly. Features like weather sealing, touch screens, eye-AF, wifi all make the photography experience a bit better in some way.  There is overlap between usability and the other categories. An advanced autofocus system makes the camera more usable and enhances speed. A feature like in-body image stabilization makes it easier to get low shutter speed images, which also improves image quality.

 

So as we start to look at the value of the actual cameras, keep this criteria in mind. Is a higher priced model adding something in terms of image quality, speed or usability?

Entry Cameras:

For the holidays, the camera makers seem to find the same starting entry point:

Sony A5100 with kit lens for $398: FAIR price.  A good camera for casual users who don’t need a viewfinder and would rather have a selfie-LCD.  But I can’t call it a bargain considering it is almost 5 years old. The M100 directly below is a very similar camera but much more recent model.

Canon M100 with kit lens for $399: UNDERPRICED bargain. An excellent camera for new casual users, if they don’t need a viewfinder.

Canon T6 with kit lens for $399: FAIR pricing. I can’t call any $399 camera overpriced but this comes close. It’s a competent bare bones entry level camera, but if you can live without the viewfinder, the M100 is a better camera. Or for a little more, you can get a camera that is clearly better all around.

Nikon D3400 with kit lens for $446 or 2 lens kit for $546: UNDERPRICED bargain.  The D3400 is among the best image quality you can get in any aps-c camera regardless of price. (Though they are all very close). UPDATED 11/23/2018, 2 lens kit now $496. It was already an underpriced bargain. But the D3500 below has dropped to the same price. 

Sony A6000 with kit lens for $448 or 2 lens kit for $598:FAIR priced, but pretty close to bargain. The downside is that it is now a very old model, almost 5 years old. Still, it’s image quality is about the same as the other cameras in this class while it actually has better autofocus and speed than any of the other entry level cameras. But it lacks some features that have become standard in newer models like a touch screen.

Nikon D3500 with kit lens for $496 or 2 lens kit for $596:FAIR pricing. It’s nearly identical to the D3400, not much has changed. Battery life improved slightly, a little weight shaved, and possibly the sensor was changed and improved slightly (awaiting evidence and testing). UPDATED 11/23, price drop to $396/496.  So from fair pricing, it is now a BARGAIN.  

Canon SL2 with kit lens for $549: FAIR: The main selling point of the Canon Sl2 is that is squeezes a lot into the smallest possible dSLR body. It is a bit more feature-rich than most of the cheaper models.

What is comes down to, if you are looking for a pure entry level kit, you can get a nice bundle from any of the brands for $400 to $600.

The “Serious” Cameras:

Canon M50, $599 with kit lens: UNDERPRICED BARGAIN: This is a good all around mirrorless camera that competes very well with aps-c dSLRs in a smaller form factor. It also competes well with the Sony A6300, offering slower burst shooting but many advantages. Given it’s significantly cheaper than the newest Canon Rebel and the Sony A6300, it’s a clear bargain.

Nikon D5600, $596, body only or $646 with kit lens: FAIR price. $100 to $150 more than the D3400 and D3500. For the extra money, you don’t get better image quality, you don’t get significant speed improvements although you get slight autofocus improvements. You do get more “usability” including the improved autofocus, wifi and a swivel touch screen.

Canon M6, $699 with kit lens:OVERPRICED, despite a deep discount. The M6 is a capable camera, Canon launched it as their first high end aps-c mirrorless camera. Unfortunately for the M6, it was largely surpassed in capability by its newer little brother the M50. The cheaper M50 will give 4K video, better autofocus and other improvements. UPDATED 11/23/2018: Canon has dropped the price to $599. So we change our rating from Overpriced to FAIR pricing. 

Canon Rebel T7i body only for $749:FAIR. This is a pretty refined camera for consumers taking just a step up over entry level. It’s not a class leader in any one category but is competitive in every category. UPDATED 11/23/18: price drop to $699. Still “Fair” but a bit closer to bargain territory.

Canon 77D, $799 body only: slightly UNDERPRICED. Canon suffers here from having too many similar models. This is a minor step up up the T7i, with the addition of an extra control dial, LCD panel, etc. The minor upgrades are probably well worth the $50 extra. Overall, they bring the camera pretty close to the more expensive 80D. Update 11/23/2018: price drop to $749. Moved from slightly underpriced to a true bargain. 

Nikon D7200, $979:FAIR. About the same image quality as the D3400, D3500 and D5600 in a much more expensive package. There are a lot of upgrades over the D5600 but they are each pretty small. The biggest additions are probably dual card slots, better autofocus and weather sealing. But is all that worth $400 more than the D5600? And you can get superior image quality in a lower price with the A7iii. I’ll keep the price evaluation as fair, but it’s pretty close to overpriced. UPDATED 11/23/2018: The D7200 is now on sale for $799. So perhaps Nikon agreed it was close to overpriced… but now at $799, I’ll add it to the UNDERPRICED BARGAIN list. It’s now easily the best camera you can buy for under $800.

Sony A6300 with kit lens for $848: OVERPRICED. At $250 more than the Canon M50, it doesn’t offer some features you get with the Canon including touch screen, a higher resolution LCD, bluetooth, fully articulating screen. The Canon has better ergonomics and performance is very similar between the two cameras. They should be priced closer to each other.  For just a bit more, you can step up from the A6300 to the A7ii, which is actually a more recent camera. You would take a step back in autofocus and speed but a significantly step up in image quality.

Sony A7ii body only, $898 or $998 with 28-70 lens: UNDERPRICED BARGAIN, with caveats: A full frame camera for under $1000 is incredible. The image quality will be superior to any aps-c camera. But the A7ii had reached a point in mirrorless evolution where it was “not quite as good” as a dSLR. Autofocus is ok at best. In terms of usability, you have a laggy camera with terrible battery life. The camera is slow in terms of speed, with a mediocre autofocus system and slow burst rate. If you’re shooting landscapes, portraits, etc, and image quality is your only concern, then this is an incredible bargain.

Canon 80D, $999:FAIR, though close to being overpriced. Going on three years old, the camera only has minor advantages over the Canon 77D. Is $200 price difference enough to justify a better viewfinder and weather sealing? Maybe.  It certainly hurts the $1000 aps-c cameras that you can now buy a full frame at this price. UPDATED 11/23/2018: Almost like Nikon and Canon read my article, the Canon 80D is now listed at $899. I’d still rate this as a “fair” price.

Sony A6500 body only, $1098: OVERPRICED. Performance of autofocus and burst shooting may surpass the Canon 80D and D7200, but with inferior ergonomics, battery life, controls, I just wouldn’t want to pay more for the A6500 than the rivals.

Nikon D7500, $1146:FAIR but bargain for some. The D7500 is a bit of an odd duck, in some ways it is a downgrade from the preceding D7200, with less resolution and only a single SD card slot. But it gained some significant speed advantages, now shooting at 8fps with a deep buffer. If speed in a camera with good ergonomics is your priority, this may be a bargain overall.

Canon 6Dii, $1299: UNDERPRICED BARGAIN. The much maligned 6Dii gets a hefty $500 discount for the holidays. For good reason, the critics did not love this camera when it was released a year and a half ago. But it’s still a capable camera and at this price point, it’s a real temptation for Canon aps-c shooters to step up to full frame. Just $300 more than the Canon 80D. In many ways, the 6Dii is a Canon 80D but with a full frame sensor. (They have similar performance, autofocus systems, etc).

Sony A77ii for $1198: OVERPRICED. 5-year-old camera in a nearly dead mount, it doesn’t even have modern conveniences like a touch screen, it doesn’t have 4K video. How can it justify being more expensive than the newer and more modern D7500? The A77ii is of the same generation as the D7200 and 80D and should be priced similarly. Price the A77ii at $899 and it would be an excellent value.

Canon 7dii, $1299: FAIR. Canon’s professional aps-c camera suffers solely from being a bit old and therefore lacking some of the most current features such as 4K video. But it’s still a camera capable of shooting action and sports at a professional level. In other words, it gives you a lot that you won’t be getting in a similarly priced full frame.

Nikon D750, $1396 WITH battery grip: UNDERPRICED BARGAIN. Yes, the camera is a bit older, over 4 years old now. But it’s still a very good performer with excellent image quality. Other than less resolution, it is better in every way than the Sony A7rii which is $200 more. It can still compete fairly well with the Sony A7iii, which is $600 more. Many would still take it over the $2000 Nikon Z6.  I’d definitely take it over the similar priced aps-c cameras.

Sony A7rii, $1598: FAIR pricing. Among the best sensors and therefore the best image quality you can buy. But the autofocus system, battery life, ergonomics, etc, are inferior than competing cameras. (The third generation was a major step forward).

Nikon D500, $1796:OVERPRICED, This is the most expensive aps-c camera on the list. It’s probably the best sports shooter on the list, but will fall behind similarly priced full frame cameras in image quality. So if sports and wildlife are you utmost priority, it may be worth getting the D500 at this price. But a less serious sports shooter may be perfectly happy with the D7500 for $650 less, or compromising some performance to get superior image quality in a full frame camera.

Sony A7iii, $1998:  FAIR pricing. When it came out, it was a bargain and pricing soared. Most capable full frame camera ever launched under $2000. But there is now some competition at the price point. The Sony A7iii is probably still the best all around camera around the price but it’s no longer universally true. For example, the Nikon Z6 may be inferior in a lot of ways but offers better ergonomics, better EVF/LCD and better weather sealing for the same price.

Nikon Z6, $1996 or $2146 with adapter: FAIR pricing. You need to buy the adapter given the lack of native lenses. Priced the same as the Sony A7iii. Industry consensus is that the Z6 has superior ergonomics and clearly better EVF/LCD. The A7iii wins the autofocus battle, dual card slots, and eye-af. Overall, they are close enough to justify the similar pricing.

Canon R, $2299: OVERPRICED. Other than slightly more resolution, the Canon R is inferior to the Nikon Z6 and Sony A7iii in every other way. It can’t justify being $300 more expensive than those models.

Nikon D810, $2796 with battery grip: OVERPRICED. Not a bad camera at all. But it’s a generation behind the Sony A7riii which is selling for the same price. I don’t think adding a battery grip suddenly makes is a great value.

Sony Ar7iii for $2798: UNDERPRICED bargain. Sony is pricing aggressively to sell for the holiday. For late 2017, many considered the Sony A7riii and Nikon D850 to be the two best cameras on the market, certainly the two best high resolution cameras. But the Sony is now significantly cheaper than the Nikon. And at only $800 more than the Sony A7iii, it may make sense to step up for the extra resolution and far superior EVF/LCD. Finally, only $500 more than the Canon Rf, yet superior in just about every way.

Canon 5Div, $2799: FAIR. You can get the same sensor in the Canon R for $500 less, but the 5Div is superior in every way. This is the best general purpose full frame camera from Canon, meant to compete with the Nikon D850 and Sony A7riii. It falls behind both in terms of resolution.

Sony A99ii, $3198: OVERPRICED: 2-year-old camera in a mount that is nearly dead, with no new lenses in about 5 years. Other than some ergonomic preferences for some people, there are no advantages over the Sony A7riii which sells for $400 less, yet there are a number of disadvantages. There is simply no justification for this camera to be one of the top priced cameras on the market. I believe Sony has no interest in marketing and selling this camera: they just want to keep a bit of inventory so they don’t have to answer questions about whether the a-mount is dead.

Nikon D850, $3296:FAIR pricing. Nikon couldn’t keep the camera in stock until recently. The general industry consensus is that the D850 is the best overall dSLR on the market and possibly the best ILC. Great image quality, usability and very good speed.

Sony A9, $3498: UNDERPRICED, extreme bargain. $1000 off the list price. In many ways, it may be the best professional sports camera on the market but now discounted to consumer-ish levels. If they had priced it originally at this point, it likely would have been a top seller to enthusiasts. But they priced it at $4500 initially and found that professional sports photographers weren’t quite ready to sell off thousands of dollars of equipment to change to Sony. But simply put, there is no other full frame camera under $5,000 that can come close to the combined speed and autofocus of the Sony A9. It’s only $200 more than the D850:  The D850 wins the resolution and IQ battle. But if you want speed in autofocus and burst shooting, the A9 destroys the D850.

Nikon Z7, $3396 or $3546 with adapter:Given the lack of native lenses, you will need the adapter. It’s the D850 sensor but with inferior autofocus. With just one card slot instead of two. While it has some advantages over the D850 like being less weight, IBIS and better video autofocus, it’s hard to justify pricing the Z7 over the D850. Meanwhile, it’s $600 more than the competing mirrorless camera, the Sony A7riii, which has superior autofocus, eye-AF, battery life, and dual card slots. This camera really should be priced under $3,000.

Canon 5Ds or 5Dsr for $3499-$3699: OVERPRICED. Though these models offer slightly more resolution than the Nikon and Sony competition, they are inferior in just about every other way.

Conclusion:

Entry level shooters have a plethora of solid choices in the $400 to $600 price range. With such a tight range, I wouldn’t get too hung up on which camera is the best “value.”

Higher level aps-c cameras are starting to run into a problem:  How do you justify $800 to $1200 for an aps-c camera, when you can get a full frame camera at similar pricing and when you aren’t getting massive improvements over the entry level? It has to be a really top performing aps-c camera, greatly surpassing the performance (speed, autofocus, etc) you get from the low end full frame. Some of the aps-c cameras on the market, like the Nikon D7200 and Canon 80D, really suffer as you can step up to a full frame for a small difference in price, without really losing much. [Updated 11/23/18: Nikon and Canon have just dropped the price of the D7200 and 80D. Thus, they may be feeling the squeeze I described. The D7200 in particular is now a fantastic bargain at $799]

Speaking of those bargain full frame cameras, they are deeply discounted for a reason. Sony didn’t really match dSLR autofocus performance until the current generation, so the A7ii will feel rough in many ways. The 6Dii isn’t exactly a raved-about full frame camera. But for those looking to jump into full frame IQ, these cameras represent real bargains. The new starting price for good all around full frame camera is $2000.

Most Overpriced cameras:

For Sony, their a-mount cameras are drastically overpriced especially given that it is obvious the mount is being abandoned. My guess is that Sony has no interest in updating these models and therefore is happy to allow limited inventory to sit on the shelf.

Nikon’s Z7 is very overpriced for their first entry into serious mirrorless. May be an excellent camera but difficult to justify pricing it above the d850 and pricing it significantly above the Sony A7riii.

For Canon, there is no justification to the pricing of the Canon 5Ds and 5Dr. While they offer marginally more resolution than the Sony A7riii and Nikon D850, they are inferior in every other way, yet priced higher.

Best Bargains of the 2018 Holiday Season:

At the low/medium end of the market, the Canon M50 delivers a lot of punch in a tiny package for $599. It’s probably the best aps-c mirrorless camera on the market for under $600.
At the high end, the Sony A9 is probably the most underappreciated bargain. Yes, it’s still expensive at $3500. But no other camera can come close to the capabilities of the A9 in terms of speed, including $5,000+ cameras. The autofocus system has to be considered among the best, along with the top professional models from Nikon and Canon. But setting it apart from those $5000+ cameras, it can shoot faster (20 fps), it can shoot completely silently, and it shoots without viewfinder blackout.  The fact that such a camera is now about the same price as the Nikon D850 and just a bit more than the Sony A7riii is essentially giving consumers a choice: For $2800 to $3500, do you prioritize resolution/image quality or speed?

Happy Holidays to all.