Great cameras used to command high prices, but it’s now possible to get yourself a top-quality model without shelling out a fortune.
Not only are cameras becoming more advanced overall, but a range of desirable older models have fallen in price as updated versions have arrived. In some cases, the difference in specs between these newer models and the ones they update may be far narrower than their asking prices suggest, which makes older models even better value for money.
A budget of £500 will typically get you an advanced compact camera, an enthusiast-focused mirrorless model, or an upper-entry-level DSLR. Exactly which you should go for depends on your needs and intentions, but one thing the following models have in common is that they’re all standout products in their respective categories.
Here are our picks for best cameras under £500.
1. Nikon D5300
A great-value alternative to Nikon’s newer models, with a tried-and-tested 24.2MP sensor
Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Nikon DX | Screen: 3.2-inch articulating, 1,037,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner/enthusiast
The D5300 appears as a fairly conventional entry-level DSLR, but it offers a handful of features not typically seen on other models of its type. These include a generously sized 3.2in LCD screen, a 39-point AF system and even a GPS system, the latter making it particularly strong for travelling photographers. Nikon also chose to drop the anti-aliasing filter from the camera’s 24.2MP APS-C sensor, which gives it an edge in terms of the detail it can capture over rival 24MP bodies. The only real downside is that it doesn’t offer a touchscreen, which is now a pretty standard feature on cameras of this type. Still, if you can live without that, it’s well worth a look.
2. Canon EOS 700D
Despite its age, the EOS 700D still has all the basics in place for novice users
Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 18MP | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 3-inch articulating, 1,040,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner/enthusiast
The EOS 700D may not be the newest DSLR in Canon’s EOS stable, but for the first-time user it’s an affordable way into an acclaimed system. Inside its compact body you get an 18MP APS-C sensor that can be operated to a sensitivity equivalent to ISO 25,600, together with a three-inch touchscreen that can be adjusted to a range of angles. All of this makes it ideal for use in tricky conditions, such as low light or when you need to position the camera above a crowd. You also get Full HD video recording with Movie Servo AF to keep subjects in focus as you record, together with a very respectable 5fps burst-shooting mode for action. Best of all, the EOS 700D provides access to three decades’ worth of Canon EF and EF-S lenses, which covers everything from the widest fisheye lenses to super telephotos.
3. Sony A6000
Excellent for sports and action fans but a stellar set of features makes it a great all-rounder
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor size: APS-C | Resolution: 24.3MP | Viewfinder: EVF | Monitor: 3-inch tilting screen, 921,600 dots | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 11fps | Maximum video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner/enthusiast
Sony’s excellent A6300 and A6500 might be out of budget, but the A6000 is a highly capable alternative. In fact, the company claims it's its best-selling mirrorless camera to date. While it might lack its elder siblings’ 4K video option, you get plenty of features you’d never expect to see on a similarly priced DSLR. These include a mammoth 179 phase-detect AF points that make subject tracking a doddle, together with 11fps burst shooting. That combination alone should make the camera appeal strongly to sports and action shooters, while the tilting LCD screen, 2.36million-dot OLED viewfinder, built-in Wi-Fi and NFC on sweeten the deal further.
4. Olympus OM-D E-M10 II
Plenty of tech from its older sibling at a far more agreeable price
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor size: Micro Four Thirds | Resolution: 16.1MP | Lens: Micro Four Thirds | Screen: 3.0-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 1,370,000 dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 8.5fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Beginner/enthusiast
Olympus’ digital revival of its analogue OM line has been hugely popular among enthusiast photographers, and with the OM-D E-M10 II the company has provided those on a tighter budget with a solid entry point to the series. What’s surprising is just how much the model has in common with the more senior OM-D E-M5 II. Both, for example, sport 16MP sensors, TruePic VII processors, 2.36million-dot electronic viewfinders and five-axis image stabilisation systems. Sure, not everything is equal, but when you consider the huge price difference between the two, the OM-D E-M10 II ends up being the better-value model by some margin.
5. Panasonic Lumix LX100
The only compact camera with a Micro Four Thirds sensor - and it’s a cracker
Type: Compact | Sensor size: Micro Four Thirds | Resolution: 12.8MP | Lens: 24-75mm, f/1.7-2.8 | Monitor: 3.0-inch, 921,000 dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 11fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Intermediate/expert
While most enthusiast compacts are happy enough with a 1in-type sensor, the Panasonic LX100 shoehorns in a larger Micro Four Thirds sensor into a body that's only slightly larger than the average enthusiast compact. In fact, it’s the only compact camera to have such a sensor, and this helps it to deliver excellent image quality. You might find the focal range of the 24-75mm lens to be a little limiting, but with a maximum aperture of f/1.7-2.8 it’s nice and bright. Add to that 4K video, an integrated viewfinder and Wi-Fi with NFC, and it still stacks up well against more recent offerings.
6. Sony Cyber-shot RX100 III
Sony’s third-generation RX100 model packs a wealth of tech inside its diminutive body
Sensor: 1-inch, 20.1MP | Lens: 24-70mm, f/1.8-2.8 | Monitor: 3.0-inch tilt-angle display, 1,228,000 dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 5fps | Movies: Full HD | User level: Intermediate/expert
The original Cyber-shot RX100 was a landmark release, with its large 1in sensor, masses of functionality and tiny body upping the standard for a compact that you can still get into your pocket. This third iteration, released back in 2014, stuck to the same basic formula as its forebears but Sony somehow managed to find space for a bright 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 optic and a high-quality electronic viewfinder, alongside other desirable features such as an ND filter and advanced video functions. It’s hard to think of a compact camera at this price point that can offer as much as the RX100 III, and with a current cashback offer it's nudged just beneath the £500 mark.
7. Panasonic Lumix TZ100 / ZS100
The TZ100 belies its small size with a huge sensor and all-encompassing optic
Type: Compact | Sensor: 1-inch type CMOS | Resolution: 20.1MP | Lens: 25-250mm f/2.8-5.9 | Viewfinder: EVF | Monitor: 3.0-inch, 1,040,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 10fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Beginner/enthusiast
Pocketable compact camera with 1in sensors are desirable for the quality of their images, but these rarely offer lenses that exceed 100mm or so. The only exception to this is Panasonic’s Lumix TZ100, which partners its 20MP 1in sensor with a surprisingly long 25-250mm f/2.8-5.9 optic. True, in order to accommodate this it’s a little bulkier than the average compact, and not all that bright at its telephoto end, but if size and telephoto reach are your priorities then you’ll be hard pushed finding something more suitable. And that’s only the start; with a small electronic viewfinder, 4K video recording, Raw shooting and a five-axis OIS system to help keep images sharp and videos stable, it’s got masses going for it aside from its headline specs. As with the RX100 III, you can currently get cashback on the model, which brings its price down below the £500 point.