Brand wars are ridiculous! There, I said it. With that out of the way, let’s have some fun examining the best camera brands of all time.
There is a lot to be said in favor of brand loyalty. But what makes the best camera for you is how that tool fills your needs and satisfies your wants. Some photographers will stick with the same brand throughout their life.
Others will trade from brand to brand. And yet others still will use whatever camera they need for that job, even having items from several different manufacturers in their gear kit simultaneously.
As an FYI, the camera brands are not necessarily in order of absolute best to definitely worst. Everything we will cover is a great brand, your personal mileage may vary as to ranking order. A good number of the brands are really tied, more or less, with each other.
Have fun with this list!
Top 21 Best Camera Brands (Of All Time!)
In any list of top camera brands for 35mm, Leica, from E. Leitz, will be included, often at or near the top. From the early 35mm, screw mount lens, rangefinder cameras, up through full frame digital still cameras and medium format digital cameras, Leica has built and maintained a reputation of being extremely high quality.
Formed in 1914, part of the older (1869) E. Leitz optical and scientific manufacturer, Leica cameras have been sold continuously from the mid 1920s. At the top end of the quality list since their inception, Leica’s fine reputation was cemented in 35mm culture with the introduction and evolution of the M Series interchangeable lens rangefinder cameras.
A line of 35mm SLRs was introduced later. Current offerings include 35mm film still cameras, APS-C and full frame digital mirrorless cameras, and medium format digital cameras. They also market a variety of small format cameras and provide lenses for smartphones and scientific instruments.
Who buys Leica cameras? People with a lot of money! The cameras and lenses are very expensive compared to some competing brands. What a buyer gets for that price tag are superb optics and nearly perfect mechanical functions. Cameras made by Leica from 80 years ago are still usable, still offering amazing image quality. Current digital cameras maintain that legacy.
Professionals and other discerning artists make up the demographics of users of Leica cameras. Though some photographers look at the brand as being a form of prestige, a status symbol, the cameras and lenses really are that good. As has been said about other top end items: It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.
Ask a random person what camera brand professionals use, chances are good that they would answer Nikon. Formed in 1917 by a merger of three leading optical companies in Japan, Nikon started making cameras in 1946.
Outside of the Japanese home market, Nikkor lenses from Nikon started earning a great reputation for image quality and mechanical ruggedness. International press core photographers were putting Nikkor lenses on their Leica and Contax cameras and raving about them to everyone.
After making rangefinder cameras for several years, the Nikon F professional 35mm SLR system is what really made the brand start to stand out in the minds of photographers and the public alike. Nikon has also made high end mass market cameras for several decades.
Who uses Nikon cameras? Besides the professionals already mentioned, anyone who desires a high quality camera system. From beginners to prosumers to full time pros, Nikon has a range of photographic equipment to fit those needs.
Nikon is also a manufacturer of optics for scientific, industrial, and medical equipment, as well as lenses for large format film cameras. NASA has used Nikon cameras since manned spaceflight began.
Cameras marketed include small format point and shoot cameras, APS-C and full frame digital SLRs, full frame mirrorless digital cameras, and 35mm film cameras. Sports optics include binoculars, spotting scopes, and other equipment.
Canon cameras have been popular among professionals and serious amateurs for decades. The Canon AE-1 of the mid 1970s was a huge factor in the explosion of serious amateur photography. A 35mm SLR with a system of accessories designed for making high quality imaging easier for the masses.
Founded in 1937, Canon has made lenses, 35mm cameras, movie cameras, video cameras, and digital cameras for professionals and other users for decades. Their professional camera line has been a favorite of sports and wildlife photographers since the original Canon F-1 was introduced. Their professional digital EOS camera was the first full frame digital SLR for sale that had tested image quality of its sensor that beat Kodachrome, the benchmark of quality for many photographers.
Canon camera products range from the simplest point and shoot, to the full featured prosumer and professional digital SLRs and mirrorless cameras. There is also a line of professional video cameras that have interchangeable lenses, besides several small consumer oriented digital camcorders.
Users of Canon photographic equipment range from professional photographers and filmmakers to beginners and casual picture takers. Canon products provide all of these users with fantastic image quality and durability.
For dozens of years, the name Sony has stood for very high quality TV and video equipment. Included in video equipment were many amazingly good video cameras and camcorders. Begun in 1946, Sony has grown into one of the largest electronics and entertainment companies in the world. Sony makes cameras, video games, computers, even robots!
Sony video has always had a fine reputation and a large following, especially among professional users. When Sony took over the Minolta line of still cameras, they added that to their stellar reputation. Aligned with the high quality optics of Zeiss, Sony has some of the best video and still cameras around.
Sony APS-C and full frame digital SLRs are superb tools. Where Sony really has seemed to make a huge impact is in the APS-C and full frame mirrorless camera world. Sony mirrorless digital cameras combine high quality imaging with advances and improvements in size and form factors to end up with an amazing camera system.
The type of photographer that uses Sony cameras is as varied as the Sony product selection. Top professionals in still and video photography choose Sony, as do serious photographic hobbyists and beginners.
How good are Sony cameras? Well, think about how good Sony TVs are, how good Minolta cameras were, how good Zeiss lenses are, and you have your answer. Besides the Zeiss and Minolta links to photographic excellence in optics, Sony makes its own line of superb lenses.
Starting out in 1919 making eyeglasses, Asahi Optical jumped into lenses and cameras in 1938. As a brand, Pentax has gone through many changes, as evidenced by the name on their official website, Ricoh. What has remained is the commitment to imaging excellence.
For decades, there seemed to be two distinct types of Pentax users. At one end was the serious hobbyist 35mm film photographer. An amazing group of cameras was made by Pentax for these users, including the professional system MX and LX cameras and the perennial student camera, the K-1000.
At the other end was the professional medium format user, with cameras such as the large Pentax 67 and the slightly smaller format 645 line of autofocus medium format cameras. In addition to these two groups, Pentax made a wide variety of cameras for everyone else.
On the market now are digital cameras that are every bit as varied as the film cameras were. APS-C and full frame digital SLRs for pros and hobbyists, and medium format digital cameras.
In business since 1919, Olympus has been making cameras since 1936. Beginning as an optics maker for medical equipment, Olympus currently makes the most endoscopes in the world for the medical imaging field.
Already a designer of innovatively small cameras, Olympus really made waves with the OM system of 35mm SLRs. Beginning with the professional OM-1 and OM-2, Olympus has been a leader in high quality, compact photo equipment for professionals and other serious users.
That trend continues with an innovative line of professional and serious hobbyist digital cameras, both SLR and mirrorless. Together with several other manufacturers, Olympus created a new digital format for still and video, 4/3rds and Micro 4/3rds, also known as MFT.
Certain models of digital cameras from Hasselblad cost as much a nice sedan or pick up truck. Thanks to rental companies and large corporations having in house studios, though, these cameras are accessible to many more photographers than those who could afford to invest that much into photographic gear.
Since their first mass market professional film camera introduced in 1948, Hasselblad medium format cameras have been a common tool for top professionals and other discerning photographers. NASA chose Hasselblad to be the medium format camera on space missions, one was the first camera used on the Moon (Earth’s natural satellite).
There are also some smaller format digital cameras wearing the Hasselblad badge, some being rebranded models of other high quality manufacturers. For medium format film users, a thriving used market exists, many photographers choosing this high quality route for their imaging.
Originally formed as Matsushita Electric Industrial Co in 1918, Panasonic has a been a leader in high quality consumer and industrial electronics of all types. Making audio equipment, video cameras, TVs, printers, phones, computers, and now cameras, Panasonic is one of the better brands for digital cameras.
Panasonic was one of the manufacturers creating the 4/3rds and MFT format standard, and has recently entered the full frame format mirrorless camera market. The full frame lens mount standard is labeled Leica L mount and being developed and used by Panasonic, Leica, and Sigma.
Video is where the MFT Panasonic cameras have really stood out lately. Video quality is extremely high, with the sensor size being close to the Super16 film movie camera standard.
Opening as a photographic film manufacturer in 1934, Fujifilm, AKA Fuji, has a been a leader in the global photography market for decades.
Cameras and photographic equipment have been made under the brand names Fuji, Fujinon, Fujica, Fujifilm, Fotorama, Instax, and FinePix. Making everything from film, to lenses, to cameras, and medical equipment, Fuji is one of the most powerful makers of high quality products in the world.
Digital cameras range from small point and shoot cameras to medium format cameras, with their APS-C sensor mirrorless cameras being favored by both pros and hobbyists.
A favored brand of third party lenses for 35mm cameras, Sigma also makes a very interesting series of digital SLRs. With a new lens mount partnering along with Panasonic and Leica, Sigma is poised to introduce new digital full frame cameras soon.
Sigma lenses have made for mass market use and for discerning professional use. The Sigma Art lenses regularly beat out some OEM manufacturer’s lenses in image quality, sharpness, and that elusive quality of bokeh.
Their Foveon sensor is a technological masterpiece, combining high image quality with outstanding color resolution.
With no new cameras made since 2005, it seems an odd inclusion to this list, but no list of high quality cameras can leave out the legacy originally created by the Carl Zeiss optical company and then later in partnership with electronics giant Kyocera.
Zeiss lenses are still being made for a variety of cameras including Hasselblad and Sony and as a third party lens choice in several mounts. Zeiss lenses are even found in smartphones and in video cameras and camcorders.
Original Contax 35mm cameras were highly praised for mechanical perfection, being one of the main competitors for Leica. The electronic RTS film cameras were among the finest 35mm SLRs ever made. Contax also made a series of medium format film cameras and several digital cameras.
A major electronics and imaging firm, Ricoh owns Pentax now. In addition to the amazing Pentax cameras and lenses, Ricoh makes a line of action cameras and the 360 degree panoramic Theta cameras.
Long a minor brand in the 35mm film era, Ricoh cameras were extremely innovative and very high quality. Their large electronics and imaging company has continued to dominate office machine markets as well as communications technology and computers.
Apple is on a list of best camera brands? Indeed, it is. Apple smartphones and tablets have some of the best cameras of any of those types of devices. The fact that there is an whole new genre of photography known as iPhone-ography speaks to how high quality they are.
iPhone cameras are capable of imaging in almost any type of light and have been given a whole lot of imaging power with each new upgrade of hardware and software.
While there are definite advantages to larger sensor cameras over smartphone cameras, Apple has made a great camera that can carried and used almost anywhere with fantastic results.
14. LG Electronics
The same things said about iPhone cameras apply to LG smartphone cameras, too. Founded in 1958, LG also makes a series of point and shoot digital cameras and a specialty spherical digital camera.
Since its inception in 2002, GoPro has virtually taken over the action camera market. Amazingly compact and rugged, GoPro cameras provide users with amazing video and still imagery in the harshest of conditions.
GoPro cameras have been mounted to moving vehicles, sports equipment, and live animals, capturing views of action in high definition. GoPro has opened up a genre of photography and videography that has captured the imagination and enthusiasm of a new breed of action photographers.
Though it is no longer the virtual monopoly of photographic that is once was, Kodak has remained in the imaging game with new instant cameras, digital cameras, and high quality digital photo printers for both consumers and professionals.
Originally formed in 1888, “You push the button and we do the rest” grew into a corporation that made everything from the film and printing paper to cameras and lenses and everything in between.
As a company, Kodak has had quite a few ups and downs, but the quality of Kodak products has never been in question. The brand name has also been applied to rebadged cameras in various digital formats.
In 1937, before the instant viewing capability of digital imaging, there was Polaroid instant film and cameras. With cameras and films made in in sizes measured in inches up to feet, Polaroid was a mainstay of snapshot, medical, and professional photography for decades. There was really nothing else like it for years.
Current Polaroid digital cameras are smaller consumer level cameras and digital action cameras. There has been a recent resurgence of Polaroid instant film cameras with new companies making films.
An innovator in electronics since founded in 1946, Casio is known for watches, computers, even electronic musical instruments.
The Casio line of digital point and shoot cameras has some of the smallest, lightest, and most capable cameras around. Casio digital cameras are perfect for travelling photography enthusiasts.
Digital projectors are another product that Casio excels in, making models suitable for home and small office users to shows in large auditoriums.
In business since 1938, Samsung is one of the largest makers of high quality smartphones like the Galaxy line. The Galaxy smartphones have amazingly high quality cameras built in to them.
Other cameras from Samsung include small point and shoot and action style digital cameras.
Besides taking the images, Samsung makes display options like projectors and flat screen TVs. Samsung smart TVs are setting new standards for viewability. In addition to home TVs in a variety of sizes, Samsung makes components for video displays in venues as large as sports arenas.
High end digital movie cameras are in great demand. Red has been supplying for that need since 1999. With interchangeable lenses in a variety of lens mounts and a full range of cinema accessories, Red has taken digital cinema by storm.
Though very expensive, when you consider the budget of film and TV production, the cost of the camera and lens is one of the smaller expenses to be considered.
Red continues to innovate and improve digital videography. The latest video formats are supported by the newest Red cameras, making them a great choice for in house imaging departments of companies in various industries.
Making high end compact digital cinema cameras since 2001, Blackmagic Design has introduced some very consumer friendly and user friendly small professional video cameras. They also make a full line of broadcast equipment for anyone from vloggers to in house video productions.
All the rest…
A lot of brand names in photography have either gone by the wayside, been absorbed into other companies, or rebranded by whatever new company currently holds rights to the name. Cameras by renown brands such as Mamiya, Minolta, Konica, Rollei, Voightlander, and others are still around, either on the used market or as new cameras.
This is obviously not a complete list of every camera brand in existence, but it will help point the way for you to make good purchasing decisions for your photographic needs and desires.
Some of things looked at in regard to brands are quality, options, reputation, innovation, reliability, and future expectations. Some brands are leaders in digital technology, others are popular choices due to being a great value. While one photographer may want the ultimate in features or quality, others will opt for affordability, ruggedness, or even size.
Within the brands themselves are often a whole lot of choices. Camera types, still or motion picture (video), digital or film, sensor or film size, professional or mass market, all of these factors differ from manufacturer to manufacturer and among the various equipment offering within the brand.