Automotive photography is a bit of a niche segment in the vast world of photography. What a lot of people don’t seem to understand is that a lot of time, effort, and skill go into shooting cars.
You need to know what you’re doing if you intend to portray the character and detailing rightfully. To support you as you do this, you also need the right gear. Investing in a good-quality camera is vital to capture a car adequately.
However, considering how many camera options are out there, selecting the best one for car photography is not always a straightforward process. To make things easier, I’ve put together a comprehensive guide on the best cameras for car photography, from compact, affordable options to the very best mirrorless and DSLR cameras money can buy.
In This Buying Guide
Key Buying Considerations
Several factors should be considered when selecting the best cameras for your car photography project. Here are some car photography tips to keep in mind.
Understand Your Exact Needs
Generally, there are many car photography cameras to choose from, and it can get overwhelming when you don’t know what you want. For this reason, it is highly recommended first to understand your goals to help you narrow down your list.
Take the time to understand the features that are most important to you. In order to know them, you need to ask yourself what kind of photos you’ll be taking, such as:
- Static, still photos at car shows, car meets, or dealerships
- Day and night time street car photography
- Rolling shots
With this information, it will be much easier to pick the right camera for your purpose.
A good rule of thumb is to choose a high-resolution camera as this captures more detail than a camera with a lower resolution. But it’s crucial to keep in mind that nowadays megapixel count ranks pretty low in a long list of other specifications. Things like how good the lens is, autofocus performance and ergonomics are more important because those extra pixels are simply unnecessary unless you’re going for big prints.
Remember that the camera itself is just one part of your kit. While you can get away with just having the stock “kit” lens, for professional purposes you’ll most definitely want several to choose from.
In most cases, the type of lenses you pick will depend on the ideal shot you intend to achieve.
For instance, for static car shoots and car shows, you might want to get a versatile 24x70mm f2.8 lens. This lens will allow you to get quality interior shots at 24mm and can also take exterior photos from a distance. Ideally, cameras with zoom lenses can work with different focal lengths.
A wide-angle lens will prove helpful when you want to take images of a car’s interior. With this lens, everything will fit into the frame.
If you intend to do car shoots in the evening, a camera with a wide-angle fixed focal length (prime) lens like an f1.8 would be ideal. Unlike a zoom lens, a prime lens is more lightweight, sharper, and allows more light.
You will also want to consider how fast the lens’s autofocus is and whether or not it has image stabilization built-in.
You’ll either be taking pictures of still or moving vehicles as a car photographer. If you want to take sharp photos of cars while they’re in motion, a camera with fast autofocus is important. The camera will be able to lock the moving subject in the frame and keep it in focus for a high-quality picture.
Any camera lets you adjust the shutter speed, and a slow shutter speed can help convey a sense of speed. For example, take a rolling shot (“roller”) where you’re in one moving car capturing another moving car. Keeping the shutter speed slow will make the background blurry, but the other car remains sharp and in focus, because it’s completely still relative to you.
But you’ll also want the camera to also have a fast shutter speed when you want to capture quality, split-second moments. With a camera that has a maximum shutter speed of say 1/8000th of a second, you’ll be able to freeze the action and eliminate motion blur.
Note that most mirrorless cameras feature a mechanical shutter as well as an automatic electronic shutter. The latter doesn’t involve moving parts, meaning there’s no shutter sound and the fastest possible shutter speed is usually magnitudes higher than a mechanical shutter. However, despite the faster speed potential, you generally want to use the mechanical shutter for shooting fast-paced scenes as using the electronic shutter can produce strange results.
This is a feature that highlights different angles of the car you are photographing. An articulating or tilting screen is handy if you take shots from an unusual angle. Articulating screens are convenient for low-angle tracking shots where you won’t be able to look through the viewfinder. Nowadays, a modern digital camera screen is also touch-sensitive.
Are you planning to take shots of a car handheld? Will you find yourself taking a photo out of the window of a moving car?
Well, there are extremely common scenarios in automotive photography. The last thing you want is to come out of a car show or car meet with blurry photos and shaky videos.
This is exactly why image stabilization is so important. While important for photos, it’s even more important when you’re recording video.
On high-end cameras, in-body image stabilization (IBIS) means you don’t have to rely on having a lens with image stabilization, since the camera itself eliminates camera shake through by shifting the sensor.
Irrespective of what you’re photographing, a camera with decent battery life to last you for hours goes a long way. Generally, a good camera for car photography should last between 500 images to 1000 images on a single charge. Of course, there are multiple factors affecting battery life, but this is a good measure to go by.
More often than not, car photography happens outdoors, where you might be subject to carrying weather conditions. That is why you need a weather-sealed camera should the weather unexpectedly change and become unfavorable. This feature can help prevent damaging the camera’s interior.
Most cameras have Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, allowing you to share car pictures easily. Others even come with micro HDMI, USB-C, and a 3.5mm jack for connecting to an external mic if you’re ever going to shoot video.
With those buying considerations in mind, here are the cameras I’d recommend for taking seriously good pictures of cars right now:
- Superb image quality and video performance
- Fast, accurate AF with 100% coverage
- Great ergonomics
- Crystal-clear LCD screen and EVF
- New lens system which still needs time to grow
Canon is a renowned brand that produces high-quality cameras, and the Canon EOS R5 is no exception. However, unlike other Canon cameras, this device is lightweight yet packed with high-end and powerful specs.
It’s a full-frame mirrorless camera with everything you need to take quality images of stationary and moving cars. It boasts a 45MP full-frame CMOS sensor and a DIGIC X image processor whose ISO ranges from 100 all the way up to 51200.
The Canon EOS R5 does a really great job of capturing fast-moving cars thanks to its 20fps burst mode real-time AF. This system will capture your subject in the frame regardless of the speed of the subject. It has an insane 12 fps mechanical shutter (though some lenses will not support that speed), and a maximum shutter speed of 1/8000.
You also get about 6000 Dual Pixel CMOS AF points and a flicker-free shooting option with up to 120Hz. Though not specific to photographing cars, other great features include animal-eye tracking and smart eye and face detection.
Video photographers will be glad to know the Canon EOS R5 can shoot in DCI 8K RAW and 4K 120fps slow-mo. It can also record internally without requiring an external recorder, as is often the case with other cameras.
However, despite the unmatched features of this camera, it does consume a lot of power. It uses LP-E6E batteries that can 490 shots per charge, which is slightly lower than some of its key competitors like the Sony A7R IV or Nikon Z7 II.
If money isn’t an obstacle, and you’re not already halfway deep in another manufacturer’s lens ecosystem, this would be my first and foremost recommendation.
- Great image quality and low/high ISO performance
- Excellent ergonomics and control scheme
- Huge optical viewfinder
- Long battery life
- Lacks IBIS found on newer Nikon Z7 or Canon EOS R5 mirrorless systems
The future of the digital camera industry is mirrorless, but the fact is DSLRs are still heavily used in professional applications, and that’s not going to change for a while. You’ve got to keep in mind the image quality is no worse than mirrorless cameras, they’re just a bit slower.
A DSLR camera itself is cheaper and the widespread availability of cheaper new (and second-hand) lenses means they don’t cost as much. So in many ways, a DSLR camera is a much more cost-effective option for professionals who don’t have an infinite budget. After all, it’s better to have a complete DSLR kit than a mirrorless kit that’s missing several lenses because you can’t afford them.
The Nikon D850 is a beast of a DSLR that has a battery life of up to 1840 shots, making it an absolute workhorse. With its versatility, user-friendly interface, and high-quality images, as well as 8K video capability and nine frames per second continuous shooting, it doesn’t really miss anything.
This makes it a great choice when shooting speeding cars on the road or race tracks. It is also a favorite of most professional photographers because of its 45.7MP resolution that lets you capture excellent detail.
I’m also a fan of its video capabilities. It can do 4K Ultra HD video recording and slow-motion effects of up to 120 frames per second at 1080p. Sound controls are included in this camera to tweak the sound during recording.
What’s more, its UHD 8K time-lapse movie sequence can take up to 9,999 wide and sharp pictures, and you won’t need to worry about vibrations. If you need to change the angle, you can quickly do so with the easy LCD touchscreen included.
- Great image quality
- Incredible AF performance
- Very well-rounded
- Price has crept up from its ultra-successful predecessor, the A7 III
Demand for mid-market, prosumer-level camera equipment has sky-rocketed thanks to the rise of content creators, and Sony has been the leader in this segment for years. New for 2022, the A7 IV features several improvements over its predecessor, the A7 iii, which was a global success.
Unlike most cameras, this camera is equipped with a high-tech processing system for delivering unmatched car photographs. The BIONZ X image processing system enhances the camera’s processing capability up to 1.8 times. Besides, the AF system of this camera can offer precision and speed when capturing moving cars, given that you are working in good lighting conditions.
It has a simple but beautiful design with all the necessary buttons within reach. There are three ‘C’ buttons for customization and a mode dial button to tweak the exposure setting. Despite its size, this camera comes with a full-frame sensor that aids in controlling noise at low sensitivities for an excellent shooting experience.
It features an upgraded back-illuminated 33MP 35mm sensor and a native ISO of up to 51200. The quality of stills is top-notch, helping you pick even the most minor details of the car you are photographing. Besides taking images, you can also use the camera to get 4K HDR videos with up to 10 fps of continuous shooting. Included is a Sony NP-FZ100 lithium-ion battery that is rechargeable and can capture more than 600 pictures on a full charge.
- Pro-grade, rugged body
- 6.5-stop in-body stabilization
- Classic controls
- 10-bit 4K video at 60fps
- Hit or miss AF performance depending on lens and subject
Fujifilm and Olympus might not be quite as well known as Canon or Nikon, but their niche lies in APS-C mirrorless cameras that are revered for their smaller bodies and classic designs. While full-frame cameras are what professional photographers will use for the bulk of their work, they’ll also often employ these APS-C cameras for certain projects, because they’re half the size and much nicer to take out and about.
With its beautiful retro dials and incredible price-performance ratio, the XT-4 has gained somewhat of a cult-like following. This camera can shoot in 4K and is one of the best compact cameras on the market for photos and videos. It can deliver high-quality performance despite its more petite proportions.
It does a great job when you want to take action shots, thanks to its in-body image stabilization that offers up to 6.5 stops and the fact that it captures images at 15 frames per second. Moreover, it is an excellent choice to take to racetracks since it has a cropped sensor that gives you a closer focus on the car you are photographing.
The camera is mirrorless and comes with a 1.62-inch LCD fully-articulating touchscreen, allowing you to tilt the camera so you can get a lot of angles. If you don’t want the LCD to get in the way of taking perfect pictures, you can easily fold it away to hide it from view.
I just love its lightweight and compact design, which makes it an absolute joy to use when taking handheld images. Furthermore, it has a large battery capacity that can handle approximately 600 frames per charge, so you don’t need to constantly be worrying about the battery level.
If you want to shoot high-resolution videos, this camera will not disappoint. You can use this camera to shoot stunning automotive videos with its 10x slow-motion effect at 2160p resolution.
- Great image quality
- Easy to use
- Incredible battery life
- Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity
- Video isn't great
- Average 11-point AF system
- No touchscreen
For those who want to graduate from their iPhone and start using a ‘proper’ camera, the Nikon D3500 is an excellent entry-level choice. It’s just a good camera for anyone that wants to take quality car photographs without breaking the bank. If you want to start learning to shoot in manual and holding a camera with real heft in your hands, this is a great place to start.
Despite being affordable, this camera comes with notable features that make your car photography fun and fulfilling. It has a nice ergonomic body, and the casing is extremely easy to use. It comes with a plethora of image creation options and includes seven picture control modes; you can choose from Standard, Landscape, Monochrome, Vivid, Portrait, Flat, and Neutral, depending on your shooting preferences.
It comes with EXPEED 4 image-processing sensors and 24MP for taking sharp and clear car shoots. It has a video resolution of 1080p, perfect for taking full HD videos of vehicles in motion. Moreover, it is easy to connect through SnapBridge Bluetooth to send photos effortlessly. The battery life can allow you to capture up to 1550 shots per single charge, which is a lot.
Nevertheless, this camera may lack some features that may be essential for your next motor show. For instance, it omits a dedicated ISO button, meaning that you will have difficulty configuring your shoots on the fly. Its 11-point AF system also feels a tad slow and outdated.
For those on team Canon, the Canon Rebel EOS T6 is the obvious alternative, but Nikon’s D3500 is a newer release with a slightly better feature set and improved image quality.
- Good value for money
- Lightweight and compact
- Excellent AF performance
- Many lens choices
- Mediocre build quality
- Relatively low-spec EVF
The Sony A6xxx series are extremely popular in the entry-level market for mirrorless cameras, and especially popular family or travel cameras. They don’t really have many obvious rivals, save for the Canon EOS M50. Like the aforementioned Fujifilm XT-4, they’re compact APS-C cameras, but because Sony’s flagships are full-frame cameras and not APS-Cs, the A6xxx series are designed to be more affordable.
When it comes to image quality and features for the price, you can’t really beat the Sony A6100. It features an electronic viewfinder (EVF) which many cheaper mirrorless cameras lack. That’s something that you really want to have if you’re learning the ropes, because you don’t want to be getting into the habit of always using the LCD live preview to take photos.
One thing worth noting is that while they look similar on paper, I’d recommend going for the A6100 instead of the Sony A6000 for car photography because it has a vastly improved autofocus system. Upgrading to the Sony A6400 gets you some more videography features, while the Sony A6600 adds in-body image stabilization. But for stills at a car show or dealership and the occasional video from time to time, the A6100 is the way to go.
Overall, you can’t go wrong with the A6100. If I have one criticism, it lacks its own je ne sais quoi. The Nikon D3500, despite being cheaper and less capable, is nicer in the hands and has a satisfying feel to its shutter. The Fujifilm XT-4 has that quirkiness and charm about it. The Sony A7IV feels like a rock-solid, robust marvel of engineering in your hands. The Sony A6100 will do a fine job, but it’s not a camera you easily find yourself emotionally attached to.
- More than just a camera
- Easy to use
- Fits in your pocket
- Lacks flexibility of interchangeable lenses
- For casual use only
While many people still assume phones and their smaller image sensors result in inferior results, the fact is that the latest smartphones are still capable of taking incredible photos. You won’t gain that much from ‘upgrading’ to an entry-level DSLR, because it’s close. It’s especially true if you’re taking photos for social media or reporting purposes, where the requirements aren’t so high.
A capable smartphone like the iPhone 13 Pro Max has several advantages. It’s tiny, it’s a breeze to use and a photo or video can be shot and shipped in one fell swoop. This means you can arguably focus on the more important things like lighting and composition, instead of being distracted as you fidget through various dials and settings.
On the flip side, the iPhone 13 Pro Max won’t help you get familiar with how to shoot using a proper camera. It can sometimes be too forgiving, and while settings can technically be adjusted, I don’t know many people who treat their smartphone camera as anything more than a point and shoot.
With every year there’s an increasing number of voices claiming that smartphones can replace a dedicated camera. But unless you’re solely publishing on your automotive Instagram, any serious car photographer or videographer will tell you this just isn’t the case.
Car photography can be fun, and it combines all aspects of photography. From a technical standpoint, it’s challenging because you could find yourself dealing with moving objects, scenes at night, cramped interiors, and more.
The right camera will help you take shots that will capture the details and elements of a car, just as the manufacturer would be proud to have it be showcased. If you need the absolute best camera with the most features, and money isn’t a problem, the Canon EOS R5 is difficult to beat.
However, most of us have to work within our own budget constraints and unique use-cases, meaning there are plenty of other options to consider.
Either the Sony A7 IV or compact but capable Fujifilm XT-4 would be my go-to camera for serious photographers that are understandably priced out of the exorbitant EOS R5. But for those who are just looking to get started in the world of photography, the consumer-favorite Sony A6100 is the most sensible option.
I’m a photographer and the chief editor of Capture Guide. After spending several years in parts of South America with my trusty old Nikon D7100, I’m now back home patiently waiting for borders to re-open.