Choosing the best camera for beginners is perhaps an even bigger decision than choosing a camera for pros! Obviously it has to be easy to use, with controls that are intuitive but not overwhelming, and ideally it will have helpful helpful guide modes that help novices get to grips with the basics. And since this is a first camera, it should be affordable too!
Something that beginner photographers often overlook is that when you buy your first camera, you're buying into a camera system. A camera isn't just the body, it's a whole ecosystem of lenses and accessories that are specific to that body (or, at least, that manufacturer). So it pays to do your homework and invest in lenses that you can keep using, even as and when you outgrow the original body.
For our recommendations we've stuck strictly to interchangeable lens cameras – which means DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. While you can get started in photography with a compact camera – and can certainly point you towards the best point and shoot cameras available – these are limited and will only take you so far.
As with most things, the fastest and best way to learn is to dive in at the deep and and just start doing it. This means having a camera that you can keep with you at all times, so a beginners' camera should also ideally be quite light. The best mirrorless cameras have the advantage in terms of portability and weight, but if size isn’t a priority then the best DSLRs do give you better bang for your buck.
Our list includes DSLRs as well as mirrorless cameras, but check out our breakdown of DSLR vs mirrorless cameras for everything you need to know about the differences between the two.
There are plenty of alternatives to consider as well as the cameras we've listed here. Into your selfies, or aspiring to become a vlogger? Check out our run-down of the best cameras for selfies. If you're looking for a camera for the whole family then head to our list of best cameras for kids, where we've highlighted different cameras based on fun, price and toughness, as well as staying power for young photographers becoming more advanced. It's also worth noting that one of the most intuitive ways to get into photography is to go analog, and a great way to do that is with one of the best instant cameras on the market.
We mentioned vlogging earlier in the context of selfie cameras, but if you really are looking into video more seriously then mirrorless cameras are your best bet because they usually have faster autofocus in 'live view' (using the screen). Flip-over LCD screens are also a must, as mentioned in our best cameras for vlogging run-down, as this allows you to see exactly what you're recording as you present to the camera.
One more thing. Most of these cameras are less expensive if you buy them body-only, but that only makes sense if you already have lenses, as buying them separately will cost more. We always recommend getting beginner cameras with 'kit' lenses, and if there's one in particular we think is better than the rest, we'll say so.
So now we've given you a few things to think about, take a look at our list of the best cameras for beginners...
The best cameras for beginners in 2020
This is the best beginner DSLR around
Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 3in vari-angle touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Max burst speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 4K UHD at 25p
This isn't the cheapest DSLR you can buy by any means, but very often it's worth paying a little extra money to get a much better range of features – and this is the perfect example. The EOS Rebel SL3 (aka EOS 250D / EOS 200D Mark II) has Canon’s top-of-the range APS-C sensor with 24.1MP of resolution and brilliant Live View shooting, thanks to a fully-articulating touchscreen display and Canon's fast Dual Pixel CMOS AF autofocus. In fact, we’d actually say this is one of the only DSLRs where composing shots with the screen is downright preferable to using the viewfinder. Canon also packs in 4K video and Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity, wrapped up in the smallest DSLR body you'll ever see.
Nikon's entry-level DSLR is basic, great value, and very effective
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
If you’re worried about DSLRs being complicated, don’t be. The Nikon D3500 has a brilliant ‘Guide’ shooting mode that acts as a fully interactive guide to photography and camera settings, delivered via the rear LCD screen. The D3500's controls are straightforward and easy to get to grips with. Its price means it does strip back on some more advanced features. For example, there’s no Custom Settings menu for tailoring camera functions to your preferences, as featured on every other series of Nikon DSLRs. The autofocus in Live View and movie capture modes is also sluggish, though the Nikon AF-P DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR lens lens speeds it up and is the best kit lens to go for. Overall, the Nikon D3500's image quality and performance are extremely good for the price, and the 5fps burst rate is pretty sporty for an entry-level DSLR. Take a look at the many other great Nikon lenses that this DSLR system allows you to use.
Read more: Nikon D3500 review
The X-T200 looks great for mirrorless novices
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Fujifilm X | Screen: 3.5in vari-angle touchscreen, 2,760k dots | Viewfinder: EVF, 2,360k dots | Max continuous shooting speed: 8fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Beginner/Intermediate
We loved the Fujifilm X-T100, this camera's predecessor. It really hit the sweet spot between simplicity and creative potential, and had a wonderfully neat and unfussy DSLR-style design. The new X-T200 replaces it and brings a lot of big improvements, though unfortunately a bit of a price hike too. We haven't had a production sample in for testing yet, but we have tried it out and we're impressed by what we've seen. The neat styling we loved in the old camera is retained – but in a body 80g lighter. The autofocus has been upgraded in line with Fujifilm's more advanced X-series cameras, and the 4K video mode can now shoot at a proper 30fps (the X-T100 offered a pretty useless 15fps). Best of all, the X-T200 has a big new 3.5-inch vari-angle touchscreen with twice the resolution of most rivals and a 1:6 aspect ratio perfectly suited to video.
Read more: Fujifilm X-T200 hands on review
High-tech performance and features wrapped in a retro chic body
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Micro Four Thirds | Megapixels: 16.1MP | Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds | Screen: 3.0-inch 1,040k tilt touch | Viewfinder: Electronic | Max burst speed: 8.6fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Beginner
Available in black or silver, this mirrorless camera has a classic yesteryear look and feel, harking back to Olympus OM film cameras that launched in the 1970s. The E-M10 Mark III is the least expensive and most beginner-friendly model in the current OM-D range. Even so, it shoehorns some fab features into its diminutive and beautifully crafted body, including a high-resolution electronic viewfinder and high-res tilting touchscreen. The built-in 5-axis image stabilization works with any attached lens, and the 14-42mm EZ kit zoom lens is a joy to use. It’s a compact ‘pancake’ design and its power-zoom facility is great for movie capture. Speaking of which, the camera can shoot 4K UHD movies and rapid bursts of stills at up to 8.6fps. However, while the Micro Four Thirds format enables camera bodies and lenses to be unusually compact, megapixel counts are often less than generous. This camera’s 16.1MP image sensor is a prime example. Nevertheless, the price, size and features make this a great camera for beginners, especially if you're into blogging, vlogging and 4K video.
Read more: Olympus E-M10 III review
A great APS-C bargain from Sony and great for enthusiasts
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.3MP | Lens mount: Sony E | Screen: 3in tilting screen, 921k dots | Viewfinder: EVF, 1,440k dots | Continuous shooting speed: 11fps | Max video resolution: Full HD | User level: Beginner/enthusiast
Although it’s now almost six years old, the A6000 is still one of Sony’s best entry-level cameras. Sony is still making them, so it's not going to disappear any time soon. Moreover, it significantly undercuts the newer A6100, A6400 and A6600 models on price. With its APS-C format compact camera styling, and access to Sony’s range of interchangeable lenses, it’s a small body that packs a big punch. Resolution from the 24.3MP image sensor is very good, though the 1,440k-dot resolution of the electronic viewfinder is a little weak by today's standards, and the 921k-dot tilting screen feels quite cramped too. It lacks the ability to record 4K movies and it doesn't have the high-tech AF of Sony's latest A6000-series cameras, but if you can live without those the solid build quality, image quality, continuous shooting and autofocus performance are better than you'd ever expect from its price point – and we'll keep recommending it as long as Sony keeps making it!
A more advanced beginner DSLR if you're prepared to pay the extra
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
The D5600 is a pretty expensive buy for absolute beginners, and it lacks the D3500’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 covers the frame better than the D3500, which makes it even better for following moving subjects and for more precise control in general, but for many people the single key advantage over the D3500 will be the 3.2in vari-angle touchscreen display, which is also a little bigger than most others. The live view autofocus isn’t as accomplished as on the Canon Rebel SL3 or any of the compact system cameras here (particularly for video), but the overall performance is still excellent, and lens options are plentiful. The D5600 is a good choice if you're ready to try out more advanced techniques – we recommend getting it with Nikon's retracting AF-P 18-55mm VR kit lens.
Read more: Nikon D5600 review
7. Panasonic Lumix GX80
If size is key, this tiny mirrorless camera and its kit lens are perfect
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
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 wants complete control over all exposure settings like shutter speed and aperture. You also get 4K video recording capability and Panasonic's speed DFD (Depth From Defocus) autofocus system. 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. Try to get it with the retracting 12-32mm 'pancake' lens – this combination is not a whole lot bigger than a compact point and shoot camera.
Read more: These are the best mirrorless cameras right now
There's no viewfinder, but if you're a smartphone user you won't mind
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Fujifilm X | Screen: 3.5in vari-angle touchscreen, 2,760,000 dots | Max burst speed: 6fps | Max video resolution: 4K UHD | User level: Beginner
We liked the old Fujifilm X-A5 for its gorgeous retro-styled compact mirrorless design, with flip-up-and-over screen for selfies and vlogging, and a very good 24.2-megapixel APS-C sensor. It's still on sale in some stores at discounted prices, but it's been replaced by the newer Fujifilm X-A7. The X-A7 has much better 4K video (proper 30fps not the old camera's silly 15fps) and a much larger 3.5-inch screen with a vari-angle pivot. This screen is really good, and the biggest on any current camera apart from Fujifilm's own X-T200. This screen alone makes the X-A7 a great upgrade for smartphone photographers, who will love the big display and won't mind the lack of a viewfinder. These improvements have made the X-A7 lot more expensive than the old model, unfortunately, and if you can stretch to the cost of this camera we'd recommend finding just a little bit more to get the Fujifilm X-T200 (above).
Read more: Fujifilm X-A7 review
Affordable enough, but struggles to stand out amid fierce competition
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Canon EF-M | Screen: 3in tilting touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Max burst speed: 6.1fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Beginner
While that "Canon" name on the front means you can be sure you're getting something well-made, in truth the EOS M200 is not the most exciting mirrorless camera around. Its build is not as comfortable or ergonomic as others on this list, and its images don't have the rich colours of a Fujifilm camera. What it does have going for it, however, is price: it's Canon's most affordable current mirrorless camera, and is also nice and small, making it easily transportable and thus a good choice for travel. There's even 4K video in there, albeit with a vicious 1.6x crop and no mic input socket to improve the sound quality. It's a decent budget choice, but nothing exceptional.
Read more: Canon EOS M200 review
A bare-bones outfit that really strips back the cost
Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 18MP | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 2.7in fixed, 230,000 dots | Max burst speed: 3fps | Max video resolution: 1080p (Full HD) | User level: Beginner
Nobody wants to buy an expensive camera only to discover that photography’s not for them. You can limit the risk with this remarkably cheap DSLR and kit EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 III lens, it’s well suited to beginners, with the same ‘intelligent’ full auto shooting mode and feature guide as you’ll find in pricier Canon cameras. The ‘Quick’ menu is typically intuitive, and there are plenty of scene modes as well as more advanced shooting modes. There’s also a Creative Auto mode to help you progress from ‘basic zone’ to ‘creative zone’ modes. The 18MP image sensor is a little lacking in megapixels compared with most current DSLRs, and there are more serious cutbacks in other areas. We wouldn’t expect a touchscreen at this price, but the rear LCD is disappointingly small and low in pixel count. Ultimately, it’s a very basic camera but a sensible bargain-basement buy if you just want to dip your toe in the photographic water (though it's getting harder to find in some territories).
Read more: Canon EOS Rebel T100 / 4000D / 3000D review
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