Skip to main content

Best student camera: top gear for school and college photography courses

Best student camera
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Looking for the best student camera for school or college? We've put together a guide suggesting some of the best cameras to suit any budget. Whether you're studying photography, arts foundation or even journalism, investing in a good camera is wise. 

The cameras included are a great way of learning the basics of photography, especially if you have never done it much before. Most of them will also shoot video which is especially handy if you're studying a multimedia subject. If you're studying a filmmaking course, check out our guide on the best camera for film students (opens in new tab) or the best cameras for 4K video (opens in new tab) which include cameras with more advanced video features. 

Some schools or colleges will tell you what camera to buy so that it's easy to teach students on the same system and will often have a range of lenses they can lend out. Chances are if you're looking for a camera to use on a university course, you will have more freedom in what to buy. If you're just starting out at school or college, a basic APS-C camera body will be a sensible, affordable option but if you're starting a course at university you might want to think about something that will last the full three or four years. 

We've included a range of cameras to suit any budget starting from the best beginner DSLR'S to mirrorless systems that even professionals use. Most students won't need a camera costing thousands of pounds but will still need a 'proper camera' to pick up the basics and help complete assignments. 

With DSLR sales decreasing and mirrorless cameras on the rise, it might be worth opting for the latter so that you future-proof your purchase. Mirrorless cameras on the whole are smaller, lighter and possibly less daunting for beginners as they show exposure and such in camera. They can however be more expensive and as they haven't been around for so long, don't have as many lens options although that is quickly changing. The advantage of buying a DSLR is that there are more lenses available cheaper in the second-hand market which is a great way of expanding your kit on a budget. 

Some students will also want to try out film and darkroom photography as part of their course – so may additionally want to check out our guides to the best film cameras (opens in new tab) and darkroom equipment (opens in new tab) around right now (most of which have to be bought secondhand).

With all of the above in mind, here we’re examining what we reckon are the best student cameras… 

The best student cameras in 2021…

(Image credit: Digital Camera World)
(opens in new tab)
With 4K video this budget camera is surprisingly advanced

Specifications

Type: DSLR
Sensor: APS-C CMOS
Megapixels: 24.1MP
Screen: 3-inch tilting touchscreen, 1,040,000K dots
Viewfinder: Optical TTL
Lens mount: Canon EF-S
Autofocus: 9-point phase detection
Maximum stills burst speed: 5fps
Video resolution: 4K UHD at up to 24 fps
User level: Beginner

Reasons to buy

+
Compact and lightweight for a DSLR
+
Variable angle touch screen LCD
+
Great system of lenses and accessories

Reasons to avoid

-
Still bigger than mirrorless rivals

We rate the Canon EOS Rebel SL3 (known as the EOS 250D in Europe) as one of the best beginner-targeted interchangeable lens cameras ever. A boast for sure, but a quick look at its up-to-the-minute spec – including latest Digic 8 processor, Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, flip out and twist LCD screen and 4K video capture for the first time at this price – provides a quick indication of why; and that’s without even mentioning access to the most comprehensive lens line-up in the business, providing first time users with plenty of growing space. Also impressing us here is battery life in delivering a sizable 1,070 images at full charge. Good handling, operation, decent image quality and responsive touch screen add up to make this one a very capable all-rounder. Canon lenses (opens in new tab) and accessories for the EOS system are easy to find, and affordable, making this a great system for any student of photography

(Image credit: Digital Camera World)
One of the best entry-level cameras you can buy which makes it ideal for students

Specifications

Type: DSLR
Sensor: APS-C CMOS
Megapixels: 24.78MP
Screen: 3-inch LCD, fixed, 921K-dot resolution
Viewfinder: Optical TTL
Lens mount: Nikon F, DX format
Autofocus: 11 phase detection focus points with one cross-type sensor
Maximum stills burst speed: 5fps
Video resolution: Full HD 1920x1080 at up to 59.94fps
User level: Beginner

Reasons to buy

+
Affordable and approachable
+
Responsive auto focus
+
Lots of compatible lenses

Reasons to avoid

-
Fixed rear screen
-
No 4K video option

The beloved Nikon D3500 is a great camera for a student for so many reasons. It's really affordable, it's one of the lightest DSLRs on the market and has an impressive 1550-shot battery life. It features a 24-megapixel APS-C sensor, Full HD video, a built-in mono microphone and a fixed 3-inch LCD screen. There is even a tutorial mode that will guide you through various settings and help you to understand the camera. Unfortunately, you can't shoot 4K video and it doesn't have Wi-Fi connectivity, but for a basic student camera, it has all the features you really need. In terms of build quality and handling, the Nikon D3500 fits comfortably in your hand and since it's so lightweight can be worn around your neck for hours at a time. Use alongside any of the Nikon F mount lenses (opens in new tab) which can be picked up very reasonably second-hand. 

• Read more: Nikon D3500 review (opens in new tab) | Nikon D3500 vs D3400 (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Sony)
(opens in new tab)
A-full frame camera that excels in both photography and videography

Specifications

Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: Full-frame CMOS
Megapixels: 24.3MP
Screen: 3-inch tilting touchscreen, 1,228,800 dots
Viewfinder: 0.5in-type, electronic EVF, 2.4m dots
Lens mount: Sony E
Autofocus: 693 -point phase detection
Maximum stills burst speed: 10fps
Video resolution: 4K at 30fps
User level: Enthusiast

Reasons to buy

+
In-body image stabilization
+
Eye AF
+
4K video at 30fps

Reasons to avoid

-
Poor quality viewfinder

Although this has now been superseded by the Sony A7 IV (opens in new tab), for the price and features, you're definitely getting a lot for your money. Since it was launched in 2018, it's been a popular choice among professional photographers and now that the price has dropped, it's also a great option for anyone looking to study photography. With a 24.2 MP full-frame sensor, it's capable of producing high-quality images and performs really well in low light thanks to its 14 stops of dynamic range. If you're likely to need a camera that also shoots professional-looking video, the A7 III can shoot in 4K UHD at up to 24/30fps or in Full HD up to 120fps which is ideal for shooting slow-motion. It has Bluetooth and wifi connectivity which is perfect for transferring images on the go, it also has a tilting screen and lots of customizable buttons so you can set it up just how you need it. The only downside is the menu system will take some getting used to, especially if you've come from Nikon or Canon but don't let that put you off, after a few hours of studying you'll start to know where everything is. 

Read more: Sony A7 III review (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Digital Camera World)
(opens in new tab)
One of the most advanced DSLRs on the market is great for those with a bit more to spend

Specifications

Type: DSLR
Sensor: Full frame (FX format) CMOS
Megapixels: 45.7MP
Screen: 3.2-inch tilting touch screen LCD, 2,359K-dot resolution
Viewfinder: Optical TTL
Lens mount: Nikon F, FX format
Autofocus: 153 point phase detection focus points with 99 cross-type
Maximum stills burst speed: 9fps
Video resolution: 4K UHD including 4K time lapse
User level: Professional

Reasons to buy

+
Very impressive detail
+
4K full-frame video capture
+
Professional build

Reasons to avoid

-
Need to invest in swift memory cards to cope with its data demands

This is still quite possibly one of the best DSLRs ever made, despite it being four years old now. The advantage of its age is that is has dropped massively in price and wouldn't be too much of a stretch for a student looking for a camera that will take them well beyond the course. It certainly isn't a beginner's DSLR but if you can get to grips with this you'll reap the rewards with your imagery. It has a super responsive autofocus system, it can shoot 4K video and has a continuous burst mode up to 9fps. It's an extremely versatile bit of kit suited to anything from commercial fashion, to landscapes or wildlife photography. It is perhaps a little on the large size for street photography but if you're not bothered about weight or being particularly discrete, it could be used for that too! The large battery means it can take up to 1,840 shots on a single charge which is more than double what most mirrorless cameras (opens in new tab) can do. It combines speed and high resolution making the Nikon D850 a jaw dropping-ly good camera. If you're still not convinced, check out our D850 review (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Rod Lawton/Digital Camera World)
(opens in new tab)
With in-body stabilization, Wi-Fi connectivity and a 26MP sensor what's not to love?!

Specifications

Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: APS-C CMOS
Megapixels: 26.1MP
Screen: 3-inch, vari-angle touch screen, 1.04M dot resolution
Viewfinder: 2360k dots
Lens mount: Fujifilm X mount
Autofocus: 117 selectable AF points
Maximum stills burst speed: 8fps
Video resolution: 4K at up to 30fps
User level: Beginner - intermediate

Reasons to buy

+
Great image quality
+
Large high resolution LCD
+
Great for vlogging

Reasons to avoid

-
No eye level viewfinder
-
No body integral anti shake

Unlike the more top-end X series cameras, the Fujifilm X-S10 doesn't include as many external exposure control dials but considering its weight and build quality, we can let that slide. The Fujifilm X-S10 is the ultimate all-rounder with IBIS (in-body stabilization), a fully-articulated screen and excellent handling. Some Fujifilm users may be disappointed to find out the shutter speed button has been replaced with a mode dial but this camera has so many other appealing qualities it shouldn't matter too much. The Fujifilm X-S10 might just be the best APS-C camera on the market right now in terms of performance, build quality, and price point which is why we think it's a great option for students. There are also plenty of official Fujifilm lenses and third-party lenses to choose from so no matter what style of photography you want to shoot you'll have lots of options. 

(Image credit: Canon)
(opens in new tab)
A cheap and cheerful student camera

Specifications

Type: DSLR
Sensor: APS-C CMOS
Megapixels: 24.1MP
Screen: 3-inch tilting touchscreen, 1,040,000K dots
Viewfinder: Optical TTL
Lens mount: Canon EF-S
Autofocus: 9-point phase detection
Maximum stills burst speed: 5fps
Video resolution: 4K UHD at up to 24 fps
User level: Beginner

Reasons to buy

+
Easy to use
+
Keenly priced
+
Lots of compatible lenses and accesssories

Reasons to avoid

-
‘Just’ 3fps burst shooting
-
Plastic-feel finish and lens mount

A 18MP starter DSLR boasting Wi-Fi connectivity and Full HD video capture, the Canon EOS Rebel T100 (opens in new tab) (aka EOS 4000D) may not offer the very latest tech for its budget price – its 9-point AF system and small 2.7-inch LCD are fairly dated, for example – but it’s a decent place for those at High School to begin learning the photographic ropes (and a sensible choice for those studying GCSE and ‘A’ level photography in the UK)  . If you can overlook the plastic-y feel then the button layout is logical and easy for the first time user to navigate. 

The AF system is fine for general shooting with fairly static subjects, but can struggle in more challenging scenarios. However the 63 zone dual layer metering sensor linked to all AF points fares better and a 500 shot battery life is fair, if unremarkable. While not the best in class, the Canon’s JPEG files deliver pleasing colors and a range if Picture Styles is offered to enable fledgling users to get creative from the off. A cautious choice for parents who don’t want to blow their children’s inheritance.

(Image credit: Canon)
So good even professionals still use it, five years after its release...

Specifications

Type: DSLR
Sensor: Full-frame
Megapixels: 30.4MP
Lens mount: Canon EF
LCD: 3.2in touchscreen, 1.62million dots
Viewfinder: Optical
Maximum continuous shooting speed: 7fps
Max video resolution: 4K
User level: Professional

Reasons to buy

+
Professional spec DSLR
+
Responsive touchscreen
+
Impressive live-view AF

Reasons to avoid

-
4K video crop
-
Middle of the road resolution

The EOS 5D series is one of the most popular professional cameras of the modern era - and the current Mark IV model is a great choice for the advanced student, look for a pro-spec full-frame camerea. On paper, the EOS 5D Mark IV looks a distinct second best to rival cameras with higher resolutions, faster frame rates and better 4K video features – the EOS 5D Mark IV applies a heavy 4K video crop that makes ‘wide’ shots more difficult. Nevertheless, the 5D Mark IV has proved itself a very effective, durable and versatile camera for countless professional photographers, and its Dual Pixel AF technology gives it a peppy autofocus performance in live view and video modes. This camera was launched way back in 2016, so it is quite possible to find attractively priced second versions.

Read more: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV review (opens in new tab)

How we test cameras

We test cameras both in real-world shooting scenarios and in carefully controlled lab conditions. Our lab tests measure resolution, dynamic range and signal to noise ratio. Resolution is measured using ISO resolution charts, dynamic range is measured using DxO Analyzer test equipment and DxO Analyzer is also used for noise analysis across the camera's ISO range. We use both real-world testing and lab results to inform our comments in buying guides.

Other guides you might need

Best memory cards (opens in new tab)

What's the best camera lens to buy? (opens in new tab)

The best travel tripod for your camera (opens in new tab)

The best camera backpacks (opens in new tab)

The 50 best camera accessories (opens in new tab)

The best podcasts on photography (opens in new tab)

The best books on photography (opens in new tab)

Best camera for film students (opens in new tab)

Best budget laptops for photo editing (opens in new tab)

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

Having studied Journalism and Public Relations at the University of the West of England Hannah developed a love for photography through a module on photojournalism. She specializes in Portrait, Fashion and lifestyle photography but has more recently branched out in the world of stylized product photography. For the last 3 years Hannah has worked at Wex Photo Video as a Senior Sales Assistant using her experience and knowledge of cameras to help people buy the equipment that is right for them. With 5 years experience working with studio lighting, Hannah has run many successful workshops teaching people how to use different lighting setups.