When picking the best camera for beginners, there are three main factors we consider. The first is affordability – we'd never recommend a camera we believe to be overpriced, and this goes double for users who are likely looking for their first. Second, we look at ease of use. How intuitive are a camera's controls, how easily navigated are its menus? Put simply, how easy is it to take it out of the box and take a good shot? Finally, we look for potential. This means that the camera should be able to grow with the user as they get more confident with shooting technique, giving them multiple years of use.
For us, the perfect balance between these three factors will be an interchangeable lens camera, so a DSLR or mirrorless model. If you just want to take pictures without much fuss and are less worried about developing serious photography skills, you should check our our guides to the best point and shoot cameras, the best camera phones for photography and the best cameras for kids (of all ages!). The best action cams are really easy to use, too.
If, however, you're interested in learning how to take photos, then the best cameras for beginners are where you want to start looking. We've compiled a quick rundown of the five things to look for in the best cameras for beginners:
- Image quality is important. The larger sensors in DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are what give the images they produce their detail, clarity and sharpness. This is the main difference you'll notice when comparing them to simpler point-and-shoot models.
- Novice friendly controls. When you're learning the ropes, you need a camera with straightforward automatic modes that can give you the confidence to start shooting. You can learn the technicalities later....
- Manual modes. However, once you're comfortable with the basics, you're going to get to a point where you know what you want better than the camera does! This is where you'll need a camera that offers manual exposure and manual focus options.
- Interchangeable lenses. There's a fixed amount you can achieve with a fixed lens camera. Sooner or later you will want to explore the potential of different lenses, from expansive wide-angles to far-reaching telephotos.
- Affordability! When you're just starting out, you probably don't have too much cash to spend and you may be unsure if this is the right hobby for you, or the right kind of camera.
Buying a DSLR or mirrorless camera isn't just about the body itself. You're buying into a whole system of lenses and accessories specific to a manufacturer. If you buy, say, a Fujifilm X camera, you'll be using Fujifilm X lenses for the forseeable future. Some systems are more versatile or cross-compatible than others – for instance, Panasonic and Olympus both use the Micro Four Thirds standard, which allows them to use each other's lenses freely. However, it always pays to do your research and be sure you're buying into the system that's right for you. That way, when it comes time to upgrade your camera, you can still use all the lenses you've acquired for your first model.
On our list we've included a healthy mix of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. The best mirrorless cameras tend to have the advantage in terms of portability and weight, while the best DSLRs are broadly more rugged and ergonomically designed.
We've done an extensive breakdown DSLR vs mirrorless cameras if you want to know more about the key differences between the two types.
One other thing to note is that many of these cameras will be a little cheaper if you buy them 'body-only'. However, we always recommend getting a 'kit lens' at the same time. Most beginner-level cameras will have a kit-lens bundle you can buy, and this tends to be a lot cheaper than buying them separately. If there's a specific kit lens we recommend, we will say so below.
We've listed the best cameras for beginners roughly in price order, but do take some time to check out the features. The cheapest cameras might not do the things you want and you might need to upgrade them that little bit sooner as your skills improve. On the other hand, if an inexpensive camera does everything you think you will need, why pay more?
The best cameras for beginners in 2020
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 Lumix GX9 is a Panasonic classic, blending stylish looks with impressive imaging capabilities and a Micro Four Thirds lens mount that gives the user a huge range of optical options. Like all contemporary Panasonic cameras, it can also shoot 4K video, and comes with the range of impressive 4K Photo modes that allow the user to extract high-quality stills from 4K footage; this also includes the Post Focus modes, some impressive wizardry that lets you choose a focus point after the image is captured. The small body means a lack of physical controls, meaning you'll be delving through a lot of menus in the touchscreen to change settings, but happily the Intelligent Auto mode can take all of that responsibility away from you, which is a useful touch for the novice photographer.
Read more: Panasonic Lumix GX9 review
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.
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.
The Canon EOS M50 packs a lot of tech into its compact body, and the fact it has a viewfinder – when so many similarly priced mirrorless cameras don’t – is a big selling point. The retracting 15-45mm kit lens, however, is a little awkward to use, and the 4K video mode has some unexpected limitations. Nevertheless, this is a big step in the right direction for Canon’s EOS M series cameras. This is a cute and easy to use camera which is really rather versatile, and it's a great mirrorless alternative to the Canon Rebel SL3/EOS 250D, which offers similar features in a smaller camera.
Read more: Canon EOS M50 review
The Fujifilm X-T200 is light and compact, but looks and feels handles like an old-school 35mm SLR camera. 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. It also has an electronic viewfinder and can shoot 4K video as well as 24-megapixel stills. Its 15-45mm kit lens is electrically powered and is a bit of an acquired taste, but it's really compact for an APS-C kit lens and it also offers a much wider angle of view than most kit lenses, making it ideal for interior shots and big landmarks.
Read more: Fujifilm X-T200 review
The Olympus E-PL9 and E-PL10 are technically very similar, but the E-PL9 is not available everywhere, and the E-PL10 will cost more if that's the case – annoying! Anyhow, a highly capable street, vlogging and fashion camera, the E-PL9 comes with a 180-degree selfie/vlogging screen and 4K video, though on release we were a little disappointed that Olympus has stuck to its older 16.1-megapixel sensor instead of swapping to its latest 20.4MP sensor. The Olympus E-PL9 has excellent build quality despite its compact, lightweight construction; the diminutive build is ideally suited to travel photography, especially when the body is paired with the remarkably small Olympus 14-42mm EZ ‘pancake’ kit lens. Better still, this camera is a thing of beauty in its own right, as well as being able to deliver beautiful image quality. Always get this with the Olympus 14-42mm EZ 'pancake' kit lens if you can. We've put a link to our E-PL10 review below but, honestly, the older E-PL9 is just as good.
Read more: Olympus E-PL10 review
Vloggers and creatives more broadly will enjoy the simplicity of the Lumix G100. It makes it easy to capture high-quality video and stills with its approachable button layout. Even people uninterested in the technicalities of capturing great-looking videos will be able to get results with this camera. There’s an inherent risk of dumbing things down too much when creating a camera for social media creatives, but Panasonic has avoided that pitfall with the Lumix G100. By giving it a decent viewfinder and “proper camera” ergonomics, Panasonic has given the G100 an edge in a highly competitive market. This is a great camera to start with if you're more interested in vlogging than regular photography – or both!
Read more: Panasonic Lumix G100 review
With a new 20MP sensor, incrementally improved in-body image stabilization and a new flip-down and tiltable monitor, the new Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV has plenty to shout about. Retaining the 4K video and attractive styling that made the Mark III so attractive to consumers, the Mark IV is set to be a new favorite for anyone looking for an entry-level camera that can do pretty much everything. This is one of our favorite pint-sized cameras ever, so we're really pleased that it has AT LAST got Olympus's latest 20MP sensor. It's still a little pricey for beginners, but this is a great little camera that's so much more powerful than it looks and could be with you for a long time to come.
Read more: Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV review
The Nikon Z 50 is a much smaller camera than Nikon's full frame Z6 and Z7 cameras, but clearly shares the same design DNA. Despite its small size, it has a good grip and good external controls, and the retracting 16-50mm kit lens is remarkable not just for its pancake lens dimensions but for its overall performance. Nikon may have come to the APS-C mirrorless market comparatively late, but it's come in with a camera that has so many good points it's hard to know where to start – but we will highlight the 4K video, 11fps shooting... and the fact that its Z mount is identical to that on the larger cameras, so you can use dedicated Nikkor Z DX lenses, full frame Nikkor Z lenses and regular Nikon DSLR lenses via the FTZ adaptor. Best of all, the Z 50 is terrific value, especially when bought as a twin-lens kit. It's an expensive option for beginners, but this is a powerful camera that starts simple but could last you a long time as a lead-in to the Nikon full frame mirrorless system.
Read more: Nikon Z 50 review
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