The vast majority of photos taken in 2017 were snapped on mobile phones. Smartphone cameras are getting so good these days that dedicated cameras need to offer something really special to get people to fork over for them – or bother to carry them around. Here's 7 cameras that blew us away in 2017.

Sony Alpha a9: The day mirrorless took over

If one camera stamped its authority on 2017 for us, it's gotta be the new king of the Sony range. The a9 is a full-frame beast of a thing, the first mirrorless camera that not only equalled the performance of the top DSLRs, but eclipsed them. Lightning-fast, precision-tracking autofocus that blew our tiny minds, 20fps burst shooting, a super high-resolution EVF that doesn't blink when you shoot and one of the most stunning sensors in the business, with super impressive low light performance. The a9 is a glimpse into a true mirrorless future, and by far the best single camera we've ever got our hands on. It's also eye-bleedingly expensive for a pro/prosumer level item.

Panasonic Lumix GH5: Portable video powerhouse

Low-budget filmmakers have loved the GH-series cameras for years, but Panasonic far surpassed everyone's expectations when it released the GH5 and threw the kitchen sink at its video capabilities. That sink includes 4K video at 60fps, high-speed 180 fps slow-motion shooting in 1080p, 10-bit 4:2:2 recording in 4K at 24fps and dual in-lens/in-body image stabilization. Videographers that used to have to work their way around the difficulties of filming with a DSLR found themselves with a much lighter, cheaper micro 4/3rds option, designed for the job, that delivered absolutely stunning footage. A lot of terrific work will get done on this camera for years to come – unless the rumored upcoming GH5s ups the ante again.

Sony RX0: Birth of the production-quality action camera

The humble GoPro changed everything. Suddenly, just about anyone could put a camera just about anywhere, and it resulted in some of the most extreme and outrageous footage humanity has ever produced. But GoPro's mini action cameras have never been production quality; you could very much tell the difference when a GoPro shot showed up in a movie. This will not be the case with Sony's RX0 – a GoPro-sized action camera designed for production-level filming. Zeiss glass, a 15.3 megapixel Exmor sensor, and Sony's Bionz X image processing give it impressive imaging capabilities. It's waterproof out of the box up to ten meters, shockproof and crush-proof, and it shoots slow-mo at up to 1,000fps. It takes action cams to a whole new level.

Nikon D850: full-frame DSLR magnificence

If the Sony a9 sounded the death knell for the DSLR, Nikon wasn't paying attention. Using Sony's outstanding sensor technology, Nikon has built a stunning pro-grade full-frame shooter. Boasting a ludicrous 47.5 megapixel resolution and 153-point autofocus engine, the D850 trounces its Canon rivals when it comes to low light, high ISO performance. It can handle 4K video up to 30 frames per second, or full size RAW shooting at up to 7 frames per second – and if 47.5 megapixels is too much, which it will be for the vast majority of real-world use cases, you can choose to shoot RAW in 3 different resolutions to save card space and processing power down the pipeline, and only use the full size shot when you're planning to print things on the sides of trucks.

More on the Nikon D850

Fujifilm GFX 50S: Medium format for the masses

The Pentax 645Z showed us back in 2014 that medium format digital cameras don't need to cost as much as small cars, but Fujifilm has found a way to slash the price of entry again in 2017 with the GFX 50S, a 51.4-megapixel CMOS medium format monster for US$6,500 – not much more than you'd pay for a Nikon D5 or Canon 1DX MkII. It's also impressively compact and portable for a machine with such a whopping big sensor. Weighing in at 825g (29oz), it actually compares to some full frame axes. A tilting touchscreen and detachable EVF round out the versatile shooting abilities of this highly affordable demon of a thing. Mind you, you'll want to save a substantial whack of money for a set of GF series glass to match.

More on the Fujifilm GFX 50S

Panasonic DC-FZ80: Affordable superzoom imaging

Moving down into the consumer tech price range, the US$400 FZ80 offers a very clear value proposition over the simple smartphone camera: it can zoom in to absolutely obscene levels. Its built-in 60x superzoom offers the equivalent of a 20-1200 mm full frame equivalent lens, which is boosted even further with a 4x electronic zoom until you can damn near look in the windows of passing airliners. Maxed out, you can only fit a quarter of the moon's cratery surface in your shot, and its image stabilization is good enough that you can do a lot of this stuff hand-held. With a tiny sensor, it doesn't offer terrific low-light performance or pro-grade imaging, but it opens up extraordinary perspectives and is just a ton of fun to walk around with.

More on the Panasonic DC-FZ80

Insta360 Air: 360-degree photo and video goes mainstream

Full-coverage panoramic video has been around for a while, letting viewers look around inside a piece of footage as if they were right in the middle of the action. But 2017 marked the beginning of super-accessible 360-degree cameras with devices like the US$119 Insta360 Air, which clips on top of a smartphone and enables high-res 360-degree photo and video to be taken and automatically stitched together for instant sharing. It's not pro-grade, not by a long stretch, but it's super simple and fun. We were particularly taken with the Insta360's video editing software, which allows you to morph between different projections of the image to create some wildly trippy visuals like the video below:

More about the Insta360 Air

View gallery - 8 images