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The best camera under $500 in 2021

best camera under $500
(Image credit: Getty Images)

As camera technology progresses, the best camera under $500 becomes increasingly more powerful, offering some fantastic features for a very affordable price. These cameras show that the best camera isn't always the most expensive, as entry-level offerings can capture high quality photos – and the best cheap cameras often come in a lightweight and compact body too. 

So, how is it possible for camera manufacturers to produce excellent cameras at such an affordable price? Well, one of the most significant reasons is that cameras are generally included more and more advanced technology as the years go by. This becomes a rising tide that lifts all boats, as features that would have only been seen on the best DSLRs or best mirrorless cameras are now par for the course. This means that features such as Wi-Fi, 4K video and sensors with decent megapixel counts are much more common now.

Another reason why cheaper cameras have become so good in recent years is that many manufacturers keep their older models on the market for quite a while. This means that consumers can pick up an absolute bargain if they're not too worried about having the newest camera on the market. We particularly like Sony for this, as its A6XXX mirrorless camera range and RX100 compact camera range have large back catalogues of cameras that are still pretty easy to find – and at some fantastic prices too.

Read more: The best camera for kids

So, what can you expect to get for a budget of $500? Well, depending on what tickles your fancy, you should be able to pick up a fairly advanced compact camera, an enthusiast-focused mirrorless camera, or a decent entry-level DSLR. 

It's worth noting that as camera prices fluctuate, you may find a camera on our list that creeps a little over budget (or plunges far below!). However, every camera model on this list has been chosen because it balances fantastic features with an affordable price point, so we will definitely get you in the right ballpark. 

Cameras aren't a one-size-fits-all product, so the best camera under $500 for you will depend on what you want to use it for. However, each of the following models are all standout products in their respective categories, so you'll be sure to find something that suits your needs.

Best cameras under $500

(Image credit: Canon)

1. Canon EOS Rebel SL7

A flip-out LCD and Dual Pixel CMOS AF make this a great buy

Specifications
Type: DSLR
Megapixels: 24.1MP
Lens mount: Canon EF-S
Screen: 3-inch LCD, 920K dots
Viewfinder: Yes, optical
Continuous shooting: 3fps
Movies: Full HD (1080p)
User level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+Tiny, light body+Excellent price
Reasons to avoid
-No Dual Pixel CMOS AF-Fixed LCD screen

An impressively specced beginner's DSLR and one of the long-awaited successors to the entry-level EOS Rebel XS, the Canon EOS Rebel SL7 is a great choice for any stating-out or aspiring photographer looking to try out their first DSLR. Also sold in some countries as the EOS 2000D, it doesn't do anything particularly flash but does manage everything you need it to: a 9-point autofocus system, 3fps burst shooting, Full HD video, and of course, the Canon EF-S mount that gives the user access to a huge catalogue of fantastic lenses. Friendly to the novice user, but offering room to grow, the EOS Rebel SL7 represents a fantastic bargain.

(Image credit: GoPro)

2. GoPro Hero9 Black

The best-ever GoPro action camera!

Specifications
Weight: 158g
Waterproof: 10m
5K video: up to 30fps
4K video: up to 60fps
1080P: up to 240fps
Stills resolution: : 12MP
Battery life: 1-3hrs estimate
Reasons to buy
+Superb image stabilization system+Excellent 5K video+Built-in accessory mounts
Reasons to avoid
-Bigger than the Hero8 and Hero7

The latest of the GoPro range is the best GoPro yet. The key addition to this newer model is the front-facing color LCD screen, which allows you to frame yourself while vlogging, when used as a webcam, or just for selfies. The resolution gets a boost too, with a 20 megapixel stills capability and a 5K video shooting. The latter will be overkill for many, but it also allows 14.7 megapixel grabs from video, which could be hard to resist. 

At 2.27-inch, its rear display is larger than that found on the older GoPro Hero8 Black, and its Hypersmooth 3.0 video stabilization system is unbeatably smooth. Thanks to its removable lens cover there’s also an option to add a Max Lens Mod accessory to the Hero9 Black, which will bring a few GoPro Max-style features including 360º horizon lock and an ultra-wide 155º Max SuperView mode. 

best camera under $500 - Panasonic Lumix ZS70 / TZ90

3. Panasonic Lumix ZS70

The perfect travel camera – a big zoom range in a pocket-sized body

Specifications
Type: Compact
Sensor: 1/2.3in
Megapixels: 20.3MP
Lens: 24-720mm 3.3-6.4
LCD: 3in tilting, 1,04k dots
Maximum continuous shooting speed: 10fps
Max video resolution: 4K
User level: Beginner to intermediate
Reasons to buy
+Effective image stabilisation system+Selfie functionality works very well
Reasons to avoid
-Viewfinder is very small-Soft results at wide-angle setting

Panasonic’s long-running ZS series always offers a capable choice for those seeking a fully-featured point and shoot camera for travel, and the Lumix ZS70 – also known as the ZS70 – is no exception. This Wi-Fi-ready point and shoot camera boasts enough control to satisfy a broad range of users, with the creative advantage of a 30x optical zoom plus Raw shooting, and it performs well in terms of both stills and video (with 4K offered in the case of the latter). A nice little touch is the inclusion of an electronic viewfinder – even if it is tiny – just above the LCD screen, as well as a lens control ring. The camera’s 49-area autofocus is pretty reliable and speedy enough, while image quality is generally very good, with the metering system balancing a variety of scenes. The ZS70 is one of the best point and shoot cameras for photographers who want maximum versatility and pocketability, but minimum expense.

(Image credit: Canon)

4. Canon EOS Rebel T100

Canon's most affordable DSLR yet, this is ideal for beginners

Specifications
Type: DSLR
Megapixels: 18MP
Lens mount: Canon EF-S
Screen: 2.7-inch screen, 230,000K dots
Viewfinder: Yes, optical
Continuous shooting: 3fps
Movies: Full HD (1080p)
User level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+Decent specs+Extremely affordable
Reasons to avoid
-Limited burst buffer-Primitive autofocus

Canon has spent some time filling out the low end of its DSLR range recently, creating lots of compelling options for beginner users and those working to tight budgets. One of the most affordable options is the Canon EOS Rebel T100, which comes at an even lower price point than the EOS Rebel SL7 seen above. It's a stripped-back beginner's DSLR that does just about everything you need it to for an incredible price, kit lens included. Also known as the EOS 4000D, the T100's nothing terribly sophisticated, but for the money you get a decent camera with 18MP of resolution and 3fps burst shooting, as well as access to Canon's incredible stable of lenses. 

Read more: Canon EOS Rebel T100 review

(Image credit: Nikon)

5. Nikon D3500

Nikon's beginner DSLR is cheap, easy to use and very good

Specifications
Type: DSLR
Sensor: APS-C CMOS
Megapixels: 24.2MP
Lens mount: Nikon DX
Screen: 3in fixed, 921K dots
Continuous shooting speed: 5fps
Max video resolution: 1080p
User level: Beginner/enthusiast
Reasons to buy
+Very beginner friendly+Speedy AF-P kit lens+Great image qualtiy
Reasons to avoid
-Fixed rear screen

Not only is this just about the freshest and newest beginner DSLR on the market, it also comes in well under our top budget, leaving you cash left over for accessories. Indeed, we've ranked it number one on our best Nikon camera list. The D3500 is a refreshed and redesigned version of the D3400 before it, with a 24-megapixel sensor and a fast-focussing AF-P 18-55mm kit lens with a retracting mechanism so that it takes up less space when you're carrying it around. The cheapest deal includes a non-VR lens, but we'd recommend paying just a little extra for the VR version.

(Image credit: DJI)

6. DJI Osmo Action

A fantastically featured little action camera for a great price

Specifications
Type: Action camera
Sensor: 1/2.3-inch
Megapixels: 12MP
Screen: Dual (front and rear)
Viewfinder: No
Lens: 148-degree field-of-view
Continuous shooting speed: Not specified
Max video resolution: 4k
User level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+Super-smooth stabilised video+Extensive waterproofing (11m)
Reasons to avoid
-Some app issues-Limited burst options

The DJI Osmo Action is an extraordinarily powerful little action camera, capable of producing beautifully smooth 4K footage thanks to its RockSteady stabilisation system. Undercutting the latest GoPro Hero 9 Black on price, it's a fantastic tool for the money and boasts lots of great features you'd expect from a camera of its class, such as waterproofing down to 11m. Dual LCD screens are also a boon for selfies and vlogging, allowing you to see what you're shooting from both angles, and it can also shoot video in super slow motion (up to 8x). 

Best camera under $500: Sony A6000

(Image credit: Sony)

7. Sony A6000

A powerful mirrorless all-rounder that's now available at silly prices

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Great image quality+Excellent EVF
Reasons to avoid
-Display isn't touch sensitive-Setting AF point somewhat awkward

Sony’s excellent A6300 and A6500 might be out of budget, but the Alpha A6000 is a highly capable alternative. In fact, the company claims it's its best-selling mirrorless camera ever. While it might lack its younger 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 only sweeten the deal further.

Read more: The best Sony camera

(Image credit: Olympus)

8. Olympus OM-D E-M10 III

A high-tech mirrorless camera that's perfect for travel

Specifications
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 2.36 million dots
Maximum continuous shooting rate: 8.6fps
Movies: 4K
User level: Beginner/enthusiast
Reasons to buy
+Excellent EVF+Very good image stabilisation
Reasons to avoid
-Screen not vari-angle-Limiting custom options

Olympus’ digital revival of its analogue OM line has been hugely popular among enthusiast photographers, and with the OM-D E-M10 III the company has provided those on a tighter budget with a solid entry point to the series. This model builds on the impressive feature of the Mark II OM-D E-M10, and again sports a 16MP sensor,  2.36 million-dot electronic viewfinders, 3in touchscrseen, and five-axis image stabilization systems. But you now get 4K video as well - and a much more sophisticated autofocus system. This is a great beginner mirrorless camera - small, light and easy to use. And for the money, it is great looking too!

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