Whether you’re just starting a new family or looking for a way to capture more family photos, upgrading from the cell phone camera is a great way to capture higher-quality family photos.
Photography Goals uses affiliate links. When you buy products through the links on our site, we may earn a commission.
But with hundreds of options on the market, the choice can be quite overwhelming.
So hopefully this guide to the best cameras for family photography can help you narrow down the options a little bit. You can see that instead of just giving you a list of cameras, I tried to break them down into categories that might be helpful to you.
Sony a6500 | Top Overall Pick
Sony was one of the first major manufacturers to jump into mirrorless cameras and that move paid off huge as they quickly got up to the level of Canon and Nikon as far as camera sales. The Sony a6500 is a great camera that will improve your family photos and also let you expand into more advanced photography if you choose to.
One of the best features of Sony mirrorless cameras is their eye autofocus capability. This is a feature that will identify the eye of a person (as long as they are close enough) and focus right in on the eye itself. In most cases, it can even distinguish between the eyeball and eyelashes.
Any portrait photographer will tell you that the key to a sharp image is nailing focus right on the eyes (and sometimes if the person is close to the camera you can narrow that down even more to focusing on the eye closes to the lens). That is exactly what the eye autofocus feature can do.
This camera has image stabilization built into the camera itself. That means that when shooting still subjects, you can use a slower shutter speed and still have the image come out sharp. It also means that you can shoot video handheld and the camera will compensate for a lot of the camera shake giving you much less jittery video.
The Sony a6500 does fall a little short when it comes to weather sealing though. That means you have to be a little more careful about taking it out in rain, near the ocean, or in dusty conditions. The more expensive a6600 has better weather sealing.
The main reason I didn’t choose the newer a6600 is the price. At about $400-500 more than the a6500, the added features (while impressive) aren’t necessary for most family photography.
Canon EOS Rebel T7 | Budget Option
Canon is the biggest name in photography and the Canon EOS Rebel T7 (also called the EOS 2000D because Canon likes to confuse you) is a solid entry-level DSLR camera that is very affordable. If you are just getting started with photography and want to save some money, this is a great option and will give you noticeably better images than even the best cell phone cameras.
The Rebel T7 has a 24.1 megapixel sensor which is plenty of resolution to capture the average family trip (or just about anything else).
This being a Canon camera, you will have the advantage of the huge canon lens library to choose from. There are plenty of options from affordable to extremely high-end. Keep in mind that this is a crop sensor camera with a 1.6x crop factor. That means that the effective focal length of any lens will be multiplied by 1.6 (so a 50mm lens will have the field of view of a 75mm focal length).
The rear LCD screen is not a touch screen (not a big deal) but it’s also a fixed in place screen (bigger deal). That means you can’t tilt it up and down to get different angles for your photography while still being able to see the screen easily.
It also lacks Canon’s Dual Pixel Autofocus, their relatively new autofocus system that works really well to grab focus quickly and accurately and is a favorite among video shooters as well. But, I wouldn’t consider a top-notch autofocus system a necessity for family photography since Canon’s prior autofocus system was pretty good already. Most amateur photographers will not even miss the Dual Pixel Autofocus.
Nikon Z50 | Mirrorless Pick
Nikon doesn’t have the market share of Canon or Sony but they have been making great cameras for over 50 years. Nikon cameras are known for their great ergonomics and build quality and that has carried over to their first-generation crop sensor mirrorless camera. The Nikon Z50 was a very close call for our top pick and would make an excellent addition to any family’s household.
In fact, it made our list of the Best Mirrorless Cameras Under $1000.
Just to get this out of the way…I know that the overall top pick above is also a mirrorless camera as well. But I can’t put the same camera in this category, so I wanted to give you a second option.
For what its worth, even though I use a D750 for my professional work, this is the camera that I have with for everyday photos.
The image quality of the Nikon Z50 is right up there with almost any crop-sensor camera. It has a 20.9 MP sensor, which is good, but not great. I would have liked it better with 24MP, but it comes pretty close. It also handles low light about as well as any crop sensor camera out there from any brand.
The Z50 also has Nikon’s new Z Mount. This is the largest mount among the big manufacturers as well as the closest to the sensor. While the mount may look giant next to the crop sensor in this camera, there are a few major advantages.
First, the close proximity to the sensor (that’s called flange distance) as well as the large opening means that Nikon (and other lens manufacturers) have more options open to them when creating lenses. That allows them to develop smaller lenses for cameras like the Z50 but also super-fast full frame lenses like the new Noct 50mm f/0.95. So you can get this camera knowing that you’re ready for future lens technology.
On top of the specs you can read about, Nikon gives a lot of attention to the way their images are processed in the camera and the result is among the best in color rendition and overall quality. That is Nikon’s secret recipe that you can’t really see in a spec sheet.
There are a few downsides though and these are the reasons why the Sony a6500 got the top spot.
The Nikon Z50 lacks image stabilization built into the body. So far both crop sensor Z Mount lenses do include in-lens image stabilization. But that means that you won’t get any image stabilization if you use the adapter with older lenses that don’t have it. That’s a real bummer because one of the cool things about mirrorless cameras is the ability to easily adapt them to a wide variety of vintage (and really inexpensive) lenses.
The Sony also has more megapixels which can be helpful if you like to shoot landscapes on family vacations or find yourself cropping in on images often.
Nikon D5600 | Best DSLR
The Nikon D5600 is the next level up from the more budget-friendly Canon model above. It is still a crop sensor camera but with a better image sensor and some additional features that you may find useful.
If you want to stick with the traditional DSLR camera, then the D5600 is going to let you create some high-quality images and is a great value for the money. This camera is a DSLR camera like the budget option above, but its certainly an upgrade.
You’ll get better low light performance with the D5600 over the Canon model above as well as slightly better image quality.
You’ll also get a flip out screen. The screen on the D5600 flips out to the side and rotates around. That means that you can see it from behind the camera and above or below, but you can also flip it around 180 degrees to see the screen when the camera is facing you. This is very helpful for shooting selfies or setting the camera on a tripod and shooting video of yourself.
Like Canon, Nikon also has a tremendous lens lineup including the Nikon lenses and third party lenses. You’ll have plenty of choices if you want to upgrade the glass. In addition, the Nikon crop sensor cameras use the same mount as the full-frame cameras. So you can use high-quality full-frame lenses in this camera and add them over time if you want to plan ahead to a switch to full-frame.
Sony A7III | Pro-Level Pick
The Sony A7III is the 3rd generation of their mid pro-level Mirrorless camera line. It doesn’t have the insane resolution of the A7R lineup or the great video performance of the A7S lineup but it does everything really well.
The Sony A7III is arguably one of the best cameras on the market today. You could consider it their “basic” full-frame model but I think it is more accurately characterized as a utility camera because it does everything pretty good and at a lower price than high-resolution A7RIV.
A full-frame sensor means higher quality images compared to the crop-sensor cameras on this list as well as much better performance in low light situations. This camera uses a back-side illuminated (BSI) sensor to deliver great quality in low light.
The larger sensor also makes it easier to blur the background of your photos for that professional portrait look.
The camera has a touch screen with one odd caveat. You can use the touch screen to set focus, which is extremely helpful compared to using buttons or a joystick to move the focus points. However, the touch screen doesn’t work for accessing menu options in the camera. The focusing is probably more important, but it seems weird to make that distinction.
As the third version of the R7 model, this camera has made some important improvements over its predecessors. One of the most important for you is probably the battery life. Sony’s first attempts at mirrorless cameras had terrible battery life and required you to carry a handful of batteries with you for an extended outing.
The R7III has made significant improvements on battery life, just about doubling that of its predecessor. You can expect around 700+ shots out of one fully charged battery under most circumstances.
When it comes to video, the Sony A7III is one of the best around outside of the dedicated cinema cameras. A good number of professional videographers use this camera for handheld or on the go shooting.
Sony RX100VI | Best Point and Shoot
While point and shoots are slowly being replaced by cell phone cameras, a high-quality point and shoot camera can be just as good as an interchangeable lens camera in many situations and much more compact. The Sony RX100VI is at the top of this narrow field of exceptional point and shoots that are still worth it.
This camera may seem a little pricey for a “point and shoot” but it really deserves to be compared to the other interchangeable lens cameras on this list because of its capabilities. In fact, this is one of the only point and shoot cameras that is worth buying.
If you don’t want to step up to this price range for a point and shoot, then you’ll probably be better off just sticking with your cell phone or checking out the budget-friendly DSLR above.
First, let’s talk about the image quality and the sensor on this camera. It is a 1-inch sensor which is smaller than the crop-sensor cameras here and much smaller than the full-frame Sony A7III below. Compared to the full-frame camera, this camera has a crop factor of 2.7.
But Sony’s listed 24-200mm focal length is the full-frame equivalent. The actual physical focal length of the lens is 8.8-74mm, so rest assured you are getting the actual 24-200mm field of view and don’t have to worry about the crop factor.
In general, a larger sensor will give you better image quality and perform better in low light. So if you plan on taking a lot of photos in low light situations then this may not be the best option.
That being said, everything else about this camera is pretty great. It has an aperture of f/2.8-4.5 and a zoom range of 24-200mm. So you’ll be able to get the shot you want in a wide variety of situations. It’s this zoom range that really sets it apart from any cell phone camera.
If you’ve ever tried shooting your kids game with your iPhone only to realize that they are a tiny spot in a super-wide photo, then you’ll see a massive difference with this zoom.
Keep in mind that the lens on this camera is fixed, which means you can’t swap it out like you can on every other camera here. That plus the smaller sensor is why Sony is able to make this camera so small.
It does come with image stabilization which is very helpful when shooting at the 200mm end of the zoom range or when shooting video at any focal length. Speaking of video, you can shoot 4k video with this camera as well.
What You Should Look For When Choosing A Camera For Family Photography
If you’re reading this then you’re not necessarily looking for the perfect camera…you want a camera that will work great as a family camera. One that you can have with you for pictures of the kids and other family members.
So rather than just give you a list of the best of the best, you can see above I tried to focus on features that would be useful for your needs. Here are the factors that weighed most heavily in making those picks…
Ease Of Use
Your camera is no good to you if it’s too complicate to learn.
If you want to capture those great family moments then you need to be able to grab your camera quick and get the photo. So a camera that is easy to use and get results with is essential.
Pro-level cameras can create incredible images but they also carry with them a bit of a learning curve. They are amazing tools IF you take the time to learn how to use them.
But if you are looking for a camera that is ideal for family photography like vacations, birthdays, and everyday candid photos, then some of the mid-level cameras (like most of the options on this page) are ideal. These models tend to be smaller and more user friendly than their bigger more powerful pro level cousins.
Any decent camera will be an investment, so you want to make sure that you’re getting high quality images from the camera. After all, if you want just average quality images, you can just use your cell phone.
Generally speaking, larger sensors on cameras will produce higher quality images, but they are also more expensive. Many pro-level cameras, like the one on this list, are often “full-frame” sensors. That means the sensor is approximately the same size as a frame of 35mm film.
The next step down in size is often referred to as a “crop sensor.” Crop sensors are a great middle-ground of good image quality while also being more compact and affordable. That’s why most of the cameras on this list are crop sensor cameras.
One of the biggest benefits of a full-frame sensor is the ability to get high-quality images in low-light situations. This can be especially helpful if you think you’ll be shooting a lot indoors where you can’t use a flash or shooting indoor sports.
Family photography can cover a lot of different genres of photography. You’ll end up shooting portraits, sports, travel, indoor events, and probably even some landscape photos.
Cameras with interchangeable lenses make it very easy to adapt to all these different situations.
You can start off with a lens that covers commonly used focal lengths such as 35mm and 50mm and then add more lenses in the future as your budget allows.
You want to make sure you get a camera that lasts, especially since you are going to invest a good chunk of money on the camera.
Some cameras are just more rugged overall. At some point, you are going to drop the camera or bump it into something…especially when there are kids involved.
An important feature to look for in a camera is weather sealing. This helps the camera resist the elements. This doesn’t mean the camera is waterproof, just that it can be resistant to things like a splash of water, light rain, sand, or dust.
Everyone loves to shoot and watch home movies. Unless they are someone else’s home movies, then you just sit and pretend it’s interesting.
But having a camera that can handle video shooting in addition to still photography is a great benefit to most families. Sure, you can use your phone for most video shooting duties nowadays, but for those special moments, that little extra bit of quality really makes a big difference.
Also, dedicated cameras do a MUCH better job shooting video in lower light situations (like singing happy birthday when the only lights on are the candles on the cake). So in choosing the cameras above, I made sure to consider their ability to shoot quality videos.
DSLR or Mirrorless For Family Photography?
If you’ve spent any amount of time researching new cameras, then you’ve probably noticed that there is a big deal being made between mirrorless and DSLR cameras.
The truth is that most of the hype is marketing. Mirrorless cameras are just DSLR cameras with the internal mirror removed. The mirror is what allows you to look into the viewfinder and view your frame through the lens. With a mirrorless camera you simply use the rear LCD screen or a tiny screen in the viewfinder to see through the lens.
A major benefit of mirrorless cameras is that you can see a preview of the exposure exactly how it will turn out when you take the picture. So you can make adjustments and see them in real time.
This makes learning to use the camera much faster and easier. That’s why most of the cameras on this list are mirrorless models.
Mirrorless cameras are also generally smaller and lighter than DSLRs, which is helpful when you want a camera to have with you on a regular basis during family activities.