The best camera for beginners in 2018: The best entry-level DSLR, mirrorless and compact cameras

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Buying your first camera isn't an easy decision. Do you go for a beginner camera 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 an entry-level DSLR or a mirrorless camera? And how much should you spend?

Everyone has different needs, and the best model 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. 

So how do you choose the best beginner camera for you? First, we'll look at three crucial considerations to make to help you narrow down your shortlist. 

Then we'll bring you our pick of the ten best cameras for beginners, split into the best entry-level DSLR, mirrorless and compact options. If you already know what type you want, you can use the quick links above to navigate to the section.

How to choose the best beginner camera for you 

Before purchasing a new camera, you need to ask yourself three questions.

1. How will you use it?

If you need a camera for everyday shooting, you’ll want something as light as possible. The lighter (and smaller) the camera, the more inclined you'll be to use it and take it with you where you go. A compact camera such as the Panasonic TZ70 (number ten in this list) or a light mirrorless setup like the Panasonic GX80 (number six) would be ideal. 

Of course, there are reasons to go for something a little larger. If size isn’t a priority, or you want to use bigger lenses, consider a DSLR like the Nikon D5600 (number four) or Pentax K-70 (number five). These are better suited for some types of photography, and provide great handling.

If you take selfies, look out for a camera with a rear LCD screen that flips all the way round to face the front, like the Sony A5100 (number eight), Fujifilm X-A10 (number seven) or Olympus PEN E-PL8 (number nine).

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, and this may make the most sense. 

That's not to say that you shouldn't go for a system that has fewer compatible lenses or bodies that you may switch to in the future, just that you should be aware of what your options are and are likely to be as you build up your kit. Many mirrorless camera manufacturers are working hard to develop their ranges, and we're seeing new products announced frequently.

3. Do you want a camera 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 (number eight) and Canon EOS 200D number one) respectively, are two examples of this.

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. The microphones built into cameras are only suitable for general use, and no videographer serious about their work would consider using them for anything beyond that. 

Flip-up LCD screens are also a must for for vlogging, as this allows you to see exactly what you're recording as you present to the camera. Bear in mind that on DSLRs, these screens typically swing around the side to face the front rather than up or down.

With these three key considerations in mind, read on to discover the best cameras for beginners on sale today.

The best DSLR cameras for beginners

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: 3in vari-angle touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Max burst speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p (Full HD) | User level: Beginner

Guided screen options
Pivoting touchscreen
Kit lens maximum aperture only f/4
AF system only has nine points

Best all-rounder Canon's entry-level EOS 200D DSLR 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, as well as 5fps burst shooting and the DIGIC 7 processing system, in addition to Canon's Dual Pixel CMOS AF system to keep autofocus swift in live view and smooth when shooting videos. On top of that, the camera will accept over 30 years' worth of lenses, and many from companies other than Canon. The company has squeezed a lot of goodness into the EOS 200D's body, and it's one of the best cameras for beginners out there, so it deserves to be as high up on your shortlist as it is on ours.

Read more: Canon EOS 200D review

2. Nikon D3400 + AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR

Nikon's most junior DSLR offering is a lightweight, wirelessly connected option with plenty of lens options

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

Effective Guide mode
Good burst rate
Audible when focusing
No touchscreen

Best basic DSLR If you're after a no-frills entry-level 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 than 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, the D3400 is a perfect all-rounder too.  

Read more: Nikon D3400 review

3. 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

Affordably priced
Capable and easy to use
Low burst rate
No video autofocus

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. Right now, for the money, we prefer it to the newer EOS 2000D and EOS 4000D models.

Read more: Canon EOS 1300D review

4. 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

Advanced AF system
Performs well at high ISOs
Not the cheapest entry-level camera
SnapBridge not great

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 on the Canon EOS 200D or any of the compact system cameras here (particularly for video), but overall performance is still excellent, and lens options are plentiful.

Read more: Nikon D5600 review

5. 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

Image stabilisation
Robust and weather-resistant
Autofocus noisy and sluggish
Somewhat heavy

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.

The best mirrorless cameras for beginners

6. 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

4K video recording
Electronic viewfinder
Limited long exposures
Restricted tilt-screen range

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

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

Great image quality
Optical stabiliser
Lacks a hotshoe
No viewfinder

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.

Read more: 10 ways to get the best out of your Fujifilm camera

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

Excellent AF system
Sound image quality
No viewfinder
LCD not vari-angle

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. It was so well specified upon its launch that it still offers particularly good value for money now that its 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 things 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. This kind of system is stronger than those on similar budget cameras released today. Overall, it's a bargain buy.

Read more: The best mirrorless cameras you can buy right now

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

Autofocus (in both stills and video)
8.5fps burst shooting
No viewfinder
16.1MP sensor not the newest

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. If you want something a little more recent, the newer E-PL9 is also worth considering, although it's not quite as attractively priced.

The best compact camera 

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

Huge zoom
Great image quality
No 4K video
LCD fixed in place

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

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