Skip to main content

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

Included in this guide:

Best student camera: top gear for school and college photography courses
(Image credit: Getty)

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 or the best cameras for 4K video 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 and darkroom equipment 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: Nikon)

Feature festooned entry-level DSLR from the photo stalwart

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+Great system of lenses and accessories
Reasons to avoid
-Fixed rear screen-No 4K video option

Described by us as one of the best, most affordable and moreover lightest DSLRs you can buy, in offering an impressive 1550 shot battery life, a 24MP APS-C sensor, Full HD video, built-in mono microphone and fixed 3-inch LCD on the backplate, Nikon’s D3500 very much ticks the right boxes for student photographers seeking to embrace a system that additionally has the support of a multitude of lenses and accessories. Yes, we don’t get 4K video here or Wi-Fi connectivity, unfortunately, but we can capture Full HD video to just shy of 50fps. Other pluses include a decent grip and redesigned button layout at the rear, which makes the Nikon D3500 easy to handle and avoids accidental button presses. Overall the camera’s performance is responsive and its images are well exposed, vibrant and sharp. As with the Canon EF lens system, Nikon F-mount lenses are widely available at sensible prices. No wonder we concluded this was the best budget DSLR for beginners when we first tested it.

• Read more: Nikon D3500 review | Nikon D3500 vs D3400

(Image credit: Canon)

Best budget camera for film students

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 and accessories for the EOS system are easy to find, and affordable, making this a great system for any student of photography

(Image credit: Sony)

A full-frame mirrorless camera bargain

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+
Reasons to avoid
-Poor quality viewfinder

Although this has now been superseded by the Sony A7 IV, 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

(Image credit: Nikon)

Best professional DSLR for advanced students

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

There are some good deals to be had on Nikon’s remarkable full frame sensor D850 partly thanks to it being four years old. While it isn’t a beginner’s DSLR by any means and would be better suited to older or more advanced students, it delivers a spectacular degree of detail while its feature set provides future proofing, including 4K video for fledgling filmmakers and the ability to achieve continuous capture speeds up to 9fps with optional grip. The DSLR’s abilities are so wide ranging it can probably do anything, suggested our original D850 review – and is a great camera for serious professional use. Useful day-to-day features include a silent photography mode that avoids alerting subjects to your photographic fumblings, while it can eke out an impressive 1,840 shots from a full charge of its battery. An extraordinary combination of resolution and speed, we reckon the Nikon D850 is jaw dropping-ly good.

(Image credit: Canon)

The cheapest sensible student camera around

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 (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: Fujifilm)

Compact and lightweight Fuji mirrorless

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 1 of 6

Image 2 of 6

Image 3 of 6

Image 4 of 6

Image 5 of 6

Image 6 of 6

An old-school DSLR that still delivers, even now

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

Other guides you might need

Best memory cards

What's the best camera lens to buy?

The best travel tripod for your camera

The best camera backpacks

The 50 best camera accessories

The best podcasts on photography

The best books on photography

Best camera for film students

Best budget laptops for photo editing

Gavin Stoker

Gavin has over 30 year experience of writing about photography and television. He is currently the editor of British Photographic Industry News, and previously served as editor of Which Digital Camera and deputy editor of Total Digital Photography


He has also written for a wide range of publications including T3, BBC Focus, Empire, NME, Radio Times, MacWorld, Computer Active, What Digital Camera and Rough Guide books.


With his wealth of knowledge he is well placed to recognise great camera deals and recommend the best products in Digital Camera World’s buying guides. He also writes on a number of specialist subjects including binoculars and monoculars, spotting scopes, microscopes, trail cameras, action cameras, body cameras, filters, cameras straps and more.