Buying your first camera isn't an easy decision. Do you go for a model from a brand with a rich photographic heritage, or something from a company that may have also made your television and microwave? Should you opt for a DSLR or a mirrorless camera? And how much should you spend?
Everyone has different needs and what works for one person may not necessarily be right for another. Fortunately, it's difficult to buy a genuinely 'bad' camera today, but it still pays to do a little research to make sure you stay as satisfied with your choice in a couple of years time as you are when you first start using it.
Here are the top three things to think about to help you narrow down your shortlist, and the ten best current DSLR, mirrorless and compact options, along with a quick overview of why they deserve your attention.
1. How will you use it?
If you need something for everyday shooting, you probably want to look at something that's as light as possible – otherwise, you may not feel like taking it out wherever you go. A compact camera such as the Panasonic TZ70 or a light mirrorless setup like the Panasonic GX80 would be ideal.
Alternatively, if want to use bigger lenses and/or size isn't such a priority, a DSLR like the Nikon D5600 or Pentax K-70 might be a better match. If you take selfies, look out for a camera whose rear LCD screen flips all the way round to face the front, like the Sony A5100, Fujifilm X-A10 or Olympus PEN E-PL8.
2. What other camera and lens options are in that system?
If you're investing in a system with lenses and accessories, it pays to examine what other camera and lens options are currently available.
You may find one particular system provides you with lots of different lenses and camera bodies you can see yourself using in the future.
3. Just for stills or video too?
If you fancy giving video recording a shot, look out for models with focusing systems that work well during video recording. Sony's Fast Hybrid AF and Canon Dual Pixel CMOS AF systems, found inside the Sony A5100 and Canon EOS 200D respectively, are two examples.
The Canon EOS 200D and Nikon D5600 also both offer microphone inputs, so they're great for when you want to use an external microphone to take audio recording to the next level. Flip-up LCD screens are also a must for for vlogging.
1. Canon EOS Rebel SL2 / EOS 200D + EF-S 18-55mm f/4-5.6 IS STM
The best all-round DSLR right now, with a beginner's focus but plenty of growing space
Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 3-inch pivot, touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Max burst speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p (Full HD) | User level: Beginner
Best all-rounder Canon's latest entry-level model has a vari-angle touchscreen at its rear as its main shouting point, and this lets you frame up images and Full HD videos from all kinds of awkward positions (and even take selfies without bother). We also love the fact that you can start from a simple Guided user interface when you're just cutting your photographic teeth and then switch to the standard setup when you get more confident and want more options to hand. On top of that, you get Wi-Fi and NFC to keep you connected to smart devices without cables, 5fps burst shooting, the latest DIGIC 7 processing system and Canon's Dual Pixel CMOS AF system that keeps autofocus swift in live view and smooth when shooting videos, all in addition to over thirty years' of lens options to use alongside. Canon has squeezed a lot of goodness into the EOS 200D's body, so it deserves to be high up on your shortlist.
Read more: Canon EOS 200D review
2. Nikon D3400 + AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR
Nikon's junior DSLR offering is a lightweight, wirelessly connected option with access to decades' worth of optics
Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Nikon F (DX) | Screen: 3in, 921,000 dots | Max burst speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p (Full HD) | User level: Beginner
Best basic DSLR If you're after a no-frills DSLR that takes great shots without costing a fortune, the D3400 is what you're after. While it's not the most significant update on the older D3300, it's a sound option if you don't fancy paying extra for things like a tilting LCD screen and touch-sensitive panel. What Nikon focuses on here is getting the basics right. So, the 24.2MP sensor comes without an anti-aliasing filter, for example, which helps it to record a little more fine detail in images that would be otherwise the case. There's also an 11-point AF system, which gives you two extra points over Canon's EOS 200D (above) and Full HD video recording to 60p. The Guide mode will also help you out when you're getting started, but perhaps the most impressive feature is battery life: at 1,200 shots per charge, it trounces all of its rivals, which typically only offer between 400-600 shots. Great for travelling and holidays, but a perfect all-rounder too.
Read more: Nikon D3400 review
3. Pentax K-70 + HD DA 18-50mm f/4-5.6 DC WR RE
Rugged build and great specs make the K-70 a great alternative to more mainstream models
Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Pentax KAF2 | Screen: 3in tilting, 921,000 dots | Max burst speed: 6fps | Max video resolution: 1080p (Full HD) | User level: Beginner
Best value entry-level DSLR The K-70 is a little pricier than some of the other options here, but it's arguably the best value entry-level DSLR you can buy right now, as it features so much you just won't find in any other DSLR at this price point. The standard pentamirror viewfinder you tend to find on every other similar DSLR, for example, is in fact a larger, brighter pentaprism on the K-70, while burst shooting is at 6fps and the maximum shutter speed very respectable at 1/6000sec. Perhaps more importantly, image stabilisation is built into the camera rather than the lens itself, which means you benefit from this with all mounted lenses, and the whole thing is wrapped up in a weather-resistant, freezeproof body. It's not the lightest model, and you won't quite get the same swift video autofocus as you do with Canon's EOS 200D, but if you want the best specs-to-price ratio at this level, the K-70 is a mighty fine choice.
4. Panasonic Lumix GX80 + Lumix G VARIO 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH. MEGA O.I.S.
If size is key, this tiny mirrorless camera with an equally compact kit lens is a perfect partner
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Micro Four Thirds | Megapixels: 16MP | Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds | Screen: 3in tilting, touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Max burst speed: 8fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Beginner
Best for portability The diminutive GX80 can be adapted to the needs of any user, from the beginner that just wants to rely on the leave-it-to-the-camera Intelligent Auto option, to the photographer that want complete control over all exposure settings like shutter speed and aperture. This is also the only option in this selection that features 4K video recording, in contrast to the Full HD options found elsewhere (although you do also get Full HD recording here, for times when you don't need 4K). The built-in electronic viewfinder makes it a great option for using in harsh sunlight or darker conditions, while the tilting screen makes it easy to shoot from ground level. Together with Panasonic's tiny Micro Four Thirds lenses, this makes it a great choice for travelling or holidays.
Read more: The 10 best mirrorless cameras
5. Nikon D5600 + AF-P 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G DX VR
A more advanced DSLR for those who have a slightly bigger wallet
Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Nikon F (DX) | Screen: 3.2in vari-angle touchscreen, 1,037,000 dots | Max burst speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p (Full HD) | User level: Beginner
Best advanced DSLR Perhaps less suited to absolute beginners, the D5600 lacks the D3400’s interactive Guide shooting mode, but it’s still easy to use with full Auto, Scene and Effects modes, and plenty of manual exposure control too. The 39-point AF system saturates the frame to a greater extent than the systems on the DSLRs above, which makes it even better for following moving subjects and for more precise control in general, while the 3.2in touchscreen is more generously sized than most others. Autofocus isn’t as accomplished as in the Canon EOS 200D or any of the compact system cameras here (particularly for video), but overall performance is still excellent.
Read more: Nikon D5600 review
6. Canon EOS 1300D + EF-S 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 IS II
Tiny, light and easy to use – if money is tight, the EOS 1300D fits just right
Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 18MP | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 3in fixed, 920,000 dots | Max burst speed: 3fps | Max video resolution: 1080p (Full HD) | User level: Beginner
Best option under £300/$400 The EOS 1300D is a sensible choice for beginners who want to test the waters of photography before plunging in. Easy to get to grips with, the EOS 1300D has fully automatic and wide-ranging scene and exposure modes, all available directly on the shooting mode dial. Bridging the gap between basic and advanced shooting modes is Canon’s Creative Auto mode, which enables you to adjust attributes like background blur and ambience, without delving into the underlying mechanics. Despite being Canon's most basic DSLR offering, it's great to see things like Wi-Fi, NFC and a 3in LCD screen on offer here.
Read more: Canon EOS 1300D review
7. Fujifilm X-A10 + XC16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS II
A handsome, solid entry-point to a much-loved system
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 16.3MP | Lens mount: Fujifilm X | Screen: 3in tilting, 1,040,000 dots | Max burst speed: 6fps | Max video resolution: 1080p (Full HD) | User level: Beginner
Best for style Despite lacking a viewfinder, the X-A10's body isn’t quite as slim as the other CSCs here, but it's still thinner than any of the DSLRs. That advantage is lost by the comparatively large size of the kit lens. As on the Canon EOS 1300D, there’s a basic feature guide to help beginners get going, with fully automatic, basic scene modes and PASM settings available direct from the shooting mode dial. More advanced, wider-ranging scene modes and filter effects are also available. Image quality is very good overall, and the kit lens’s optical stabiliser helps to maintain sharp results.
8. Sony A5100 + E PZ 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS
An oldie perhaps, but the A5100 is still a credible choice for today's novice user
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.3MP | Lens mount: Sony E-mount | Screen: 3in tilting touchscreen, 921,600 dots | Viewfinder: na | Max burst speed: 6fps | Max video resolution: 1080p (Full HD) | User level: Beginner/Enthusiast
Best value mirrorless The A5100 is now over three years old, but the fact that it remains in Sony's lineup says a lot about just how relevant it still is. The fact that it was so well specified upon its launch means that it offers particularly good value for money now that it's price has fallen, with its 24.3MP APS-C sensor, Full HD video option, 6fps burst shooting mode, flip-up touchscreen and both Wi-Fi and NFC all options we would expect to find on more modern cameras. Its ace card, however, is its autofocus system, which fuses 25 contrast-detect points with 179 phase-detect AF points so that it can focus speedily for stills and continuously when recording videos. Overall, a bargain buy.
9. Olympus PEN E-PL8 + M.ZUIKO 14‑42mm 1:3.5‑5.6 II R
This smart, selfie-loving camera is one of the best value Micro Four Thirds options around
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Micro Four Thirds | Megapixels: 16.1MP | Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds | Screen: 3in tilting touchscreen, 1,037,000 dots | Max burst speed: 8.5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p (Full HD) | User level: Beginner
Best for selfies The E-PL8 was designed with style-conscious bloggers and selfie-aficionados in mind, which explains its flip-down LCD screen and range of beautifying features. You can also pimp it up with a range of cases and straps if that's your thing, but it's still a fairly solid entry-level camera if you just need it for conventional tasks. You get a very credible 8.5fps burst mode, three-axis image stabilisation to keep everything steady and built-in Wi-Fi to send out your creations to the wider world with ease. As a Micro Four Thirds camera, you also have the further bonus of being able to use lots of affordable, lightweight but high-quality lenses, with the pancake-style 14-42mm 'kit' lens that comes with the camera an example of a lens that adds very little to the overall profile.
10. Panasonic Lumix ZS50 / TZ70
This powerful compact provides plenty of growing space and a capture-everything zoom lens
Type: Compact | Sensor: 1/2.3in type | Megapixels: 12.1MP | Lens: 24-720mm f/3.3-6.4 | Screen: 3in LCD, 1.04million dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Max burst speed: 10fps | Max video resolution: 1080p (Full HD) | User level: Beginner
Best budget all-purpose compact Not everyone wants a bulky DSLR or even a mirroless camera, and the good news is that any such user that may be drawn more towards a compact camera doesn't have to settle for something basic. If you want a small, pocket-friendly camera that will still cater for your needs as you develop your technical skills and gain confidence, the TZ70 is a fitting choice. Just set it to the Intelligent Auto mode and make use of the huge 24-720mm zoom at first, then play around with the Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority options when you want to get creative. Once you master these, you can move on to Raw shooting, manual exposure and even manual focus. Don't let the 12MP sensor put you off; image quality is still sound for a camera of its class, and you get an awful lot for the modest initial outlay.
Read more: The 10 best compact cameras