I can't tell cameras apart anymore. Are camera naming systems broken?

Sony ZV-1 vs ZV-1F vs ZV-E10 vs ZV-E1
(Image credit: Sony)

Are cameras different enough any more? Has the pace of technology and the necessity to add new rival-beating features eclipsed the traditional numbering system for cameras, and made them too hard to separate from one another? 

The Nikon Z8 is out, and by Nikon's own admission it is a "baby Z9". That is great for anyone who was clamoring for that specific camera and following the specs closely enough to determine it's the one for them. But for those of us that only follow Nikon's output with casual interest, except for the size, at a customary glance, it is just another camera with a confusing specification crossover with other very similar-looking Nikon cameras.

When recently asked for advice by a friend, I tried to explain the best travel camera for them as an uninformed photographer just seeking an easy way to take quality vacation photos – which proved a much harder task than it should be. 

There is still an overwhelming amount of cameras to choose from in 2023; each of the major manufacturers has a full lineup of cameras for nearly every price point. This isn't helped when cheaper cameras have better or parallel features to more expensive flagships, or more expensive cameras are missing a desirable function.

What is the difference between a Lumix S5 II and S5 IIX? Anyone? (Image credit: DCW/Panasonic)

Nikon is far from alone in this, with Canon also causing confusing crossover with its cameras. The recent mid-level Canon EOS R8 offers faster shooting speeds and wider autofocus and subject tracking than the much more expensive and advanced Canon EOS R5. Sony's cameras are cursed with being pushed with so much incredible new technology that they are all converging into increasingly hard-to-decipher specifications, and numerically named jargon.

Cameras converging makes sense. As the market has contracted due to the rise of smartphones, there is less demand for entry-level cameras, and increased costs and parts shortages make it far more cost-effective to redeploy parts and technology as widely as possible. 

It's a weird thing to complain about, as basically I'm arguing that all cameras are too good and cheaper cameras should be made worse (which I don't actually believe).

But for consumers' sakes, is it time to retire the traditional camera naming systems, with increasing numerical values no longer clearly signifying "better" cameras, with manufacturers instead needing much more distinct products, and an effective way to clearly and concisely communicate their value to potential buyers? When even someone who recommends cameras for a living is struggling, something is wrong.

Read more: we can help you at least try to figure out the right camera for you, no matter what you want to shoot. Check out your guide to the best cameras for photography, the best beginner cameras, and the best professional cameras.

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Gareth Bevan
Reviews Editor

Gareth is a photographer based in London, working as a freelance photographer and videographer for the past several years, having the privilege to shoot for some household names. With work focusing on fashion, portrait and lifestyle content creation, he has developed a range of skills covering everything from editorial shoots to social media videos. Outside of work, he has a personal passion for travel and nature photography, with a devotion to sustainability and environmental causes.