Summer isn’t done yet. Whether you’re soaking up the rays poolside, exploring an exotic locale, or just hanging out with friends, having the right camera with you is all-important. A cell phone can provide stopgap service in a pinch, but it’s not the camera you want on hand as you stand atop the Empire State Building or Eiffel Tower. And it’s certainly not your best choice in low-light situations—as anyone who’s tried to record video or capture stills with an iPhone in poor light can attest.
With that in mind, we’ve picked six products to help you take the perfect photos—whether you’ll later enjoy them in all their glory on your 50-inch HDTV or share them on Instagram.
Olympus Tough TG-4
A pocket-size camera that works in and out of the water, the $380 Olympus Tough TG-4 is fairly slim and compact, with a traditional rectangular digital camera design and an integrated loop for attaching it to a lanyard or hand strap. This 16-megapixel camera’s appeal lies in its flexible handling at depths as great as 50 feet underwater. With modes that help you achieve optimal images regardless of the environment—including long exposures and HDR above-ground and underwater shooting, macro modes, and an adequate 25-100mm lens—the Tough TG-4 has plenty of flexibility for everyone. It weighs about half a pound, and its hardware includes both Wi-Fi and GPS, so you can use the camera with your smartphone, so you’ll always know exactly where you captured that underwater shot of a sea star.
Tough TG-4by Olympus
ActiveOn Action Camera CX Gold
GoPro gets all the attention in the action camera category, but ActiveOn offers excellent value for your dollar with its Action Camera CX Gold. And upgrade from its predecessor, the ActiveOn CX Action Camera, this model carries a list price of $180. But it also packs a slew of new features, to supplement the built-in Wi-Fi and 2-inch display from the $120 CX. The CX Gold offers a touchscreen display, 1080p high-def capture at 60 frames per second (up from 30 fps), digital image stabilization (the CX had no image stabilization), and a button for customizing the field-of-view to diminish the widescreen lens’s wide-angle, fish-eye effect. The CX Gold also includes an improved waterproof case.
At $2,000 for the body only, the Nikon D500 targets an audience of enthusiasts and professionals who require a refined and powerful photographic instrument. The D500 is the step-down stablemate of Nikon’s flagship camera, the D5. On the inside, it shares many of the D5’s technologies, most notably the 158-point autofocus system. This model has an APS-C sensor, which means that it isn’t full-frame like the pricier D5. The D500’s extra reach—coupled with its 10-fps burst speed and its autofocus system--makes this camera a good choice for photographing sports, wildlife, and other subjects in motion.
This $800 model is a great choice for people who want a beefy compact camera in their pocket, but don’t want the complexity of an interchangeable-lens camera or the size of a digital SLR. By beefy we mean strong in image quality and features, but not in size: This compact camera won’t weigh you down during day long hikes or city adventures; and with its 1-inch, 20.2-megapixel sensor and maximum aperture of f/1.8, it will provide plenty of flexibility for capturing images in various environments. We especially like the G5X’s variable-angle LCD, which is handy for overhead crowd shots.
PowerShot G5 Xby Canon
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS100
Pocket zooms are great when you’re traveling and you want to zoom in on something from afar. This tiny wonder has a range of 25-250mm (though, as you get farther out the aperture drops to f/5.6). Still, if you’re on a tour through Asia, this Lumix will let you zoom in from the heights above Shanghai Victoria Harbor with no problem. And when you’re shooting in low light and at wide angles, the aperture is an acceptably bright f/2.8. At $700, this 20-megapixel camera carries a premium price, but it also has a premium feature--4K video capture.
Lumix DMC-ZS100by Panasonic
Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II
If you’re looking for greater creative flexibility than a point-and-shoot can manage, but lighter weight than an SLR offers, an interchangeable-lens camera may fit that bill perfectly. The OM-D E-M10 Mark II has a name that’s a mouthful, but the camera itself is barely a handful: It’s relatively small and light, has an array of Micro Four Thirds lenses to choose from, and packs five-axis in-camera image stabilization. The camera lacks 4K video capture, but it can capture 1080p video at 60p. The body only is available for $650, or you can get the body with a 14-42mm lens for about $100 more.
OM-D E-M10 Mark IIby Olympus
Photo credits: Olympus, ActiveOn, Nikon, Canon, Panasonic.