DJI Mini 2 ($450)
Flying a drone and recording beautiful footage at the same time is difficult. The Mini 2 still takes practice to master, but with features like preprogrammed flight modes, you can worry less about maneuvering and more about recording your friends. We also like that DJI upgraded the Mini 2’s hardware to shoot 4K video and RAW images. At 8.8 ounces, the device is light enough that it doesn’t have to be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration. Folded up, it’s about the size of a thin paperback—small enough that it’s easy to throw in your pack and take into the backcountry.
iPhone 12 Pro Max ($1,099)
Pro-level cameras have full-frame sensors that drink in loads of light to create superior image quality. That technology isn’t available in a phone (yet), but with the 12 Pro Max, Apple has gotten much closer. Along with expanding the sensor behind its 26-millimeter lens by an impressive 47 percent, the company improved its stabilization and increased pixel size. The result is noticeably better image quality than past models offered, both during the day and in low light. Paired with Apple’s ProRAW, a new file format that allows photographers more control when editing, you get detail-packed files that move the iPhone an important step closer to its pro-camera cousins.
GoPro Hero9 Black ($450)
To test the Hero9 Black, we attached it to the hood of a side-by-side off-road vehicle and rocketed through the desert, sailing over bumpy sections and through sandy washes. The ride itself was jolting. The footage? Polished. That’s thanks to HyperSmooth 3.0, GoPro’s improved electronic image stabilization system. It doesn’t match what you’d get from a pro-level gimbal, but it’s still damn impressive for an action cam. Other worthy upgrades include 30 percent better battery performance (one charge lasts roughly two hours) and a 1.4-inch front-facing screen to record yourself.
Sony Alpha 7C ($1,800)
If you’re looking to graduate from taking photos with your phone, the Alpha 7C is the upgrade you should buy. It’s quite compact—in between a point-and-shoot and a DSLR—but its powerful 24-megapixel full-frame sensor produces gorgeous shots that look just as good on your wall as they do on Instagram. Pair it with Sony’s robust group of interchangeable lenses, from a light pancake lens to a high-quality zoom. The battery lasts a surprisingly long time (about two days), and it captures up to ten frames per second, so you’re almost guaranteed to nail the action shot.