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The best camera for beginners in 2020: perfect cameras for learning photography

Best camera for beginners

Picking the best camera for beginners means balancing up three main things: cost, ease of use and potential. First, if you're just starting out in photography, you may have a very limited budget, or you may not want to invest too much in a hobby you're still trying out. Second, how easy is it to get the camera out of the box and take a good shot? Great beginner cameras have full automatic modes and simple, unintimidating controls. Finally, we look for potential. This means that the camera should be able to grow with you as you get more confident with shooting technique and want to try out more advanced things.

For us, the perfect balance between these three factors will be an interchangeable lens camera, in other words a DSLR or mirrorless camera. 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 about photography (and video) and developing your visual skills for your work, your social media channels or just for your own creative fulfilment, you need a camera that can do your work justice. 

What to look for in a beginner's camera

  • Price! 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.
  • 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.
  • Simple 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.
  • Video: Increasingly we want to capture our lives both with photos and with video, and video has become a key part of social media and content creation. 4K is better than regular full HD.
  • Do megapixels matter? The larger sensors in DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are what give the images they produce their detail, clarity and sharpness, not the megapixels. 16MP is on the low side but adequate, 24MP is fine.

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 both 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. 

Cameras and kit lenses

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. 

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• If there's a specific kit lens we recommend, we will say so below. Make sure you check what kit lens options are available from the retailer and that you're getting the one you want before you press the Buy button.

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The best cameras for beginners in 2020

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(Image credit: Nikon)
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Side view: Nikon D3500

Side view: Nikon D3500
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Rear view: Nikon D3500

Rear view: Nikon D3500
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Side view: Nikon D3500

Side view: Nikon D3500
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Top view: Nikon D3500

Top view: Nikon D3500
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Front view: Nikon D3500

Front view: Nikon D3500
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1. Nikon D3500

Nikon's entry-level DSLR is basic but effective and has a great sensor

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

Interactive 'Guide' shooting mode
Solid performance; good handling
Fairly basic controls
LCD has no tilt or touchscreen

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.
• Recommended kit lens: Nikon AF-P DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR

Read more: Nikon D3500 review

Best camera for beginners: Fujifilm X-T200

(Image credit: Fujifilm)

2. Fujifilm X-T200

The X-T200 is great for photo novices and instagramers

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

Big 3.5-inch vari-angle touchscreen
Good 4K video features
Neat design, and now even lighter
Simplified external controls
Regular CMOS not X-Trans sensor

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. We loved the X-T200 when if first came out, but we love it even more now that the prices have come down – and they really have come down.
• Recommended kit lens: Fujinon XC 15-45mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS PZ

Read more: Fujifilm X-T200 review

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(Image credit: Canon)
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3. Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / EOS 250D / EOS 200D Mark II

It's not the cheapest beginner DSLR, but you get what you pay for

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

A lightweight, intuitive DSLR
Superb Live View shooting
Larger than mirrorless rivals
Relatively few AF points

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. 
• Recommended kit lens: Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/4-5.6 IS STM

Read more: Canon EOS SL3 / Canon EOS 250D review

Best camera for beginners: Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV

(Image credit: Olympus)

4. Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV

The E-M10 Mark IV looks cute, but it's a pocket-sized powerhouse

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Micro Four Thirds | Megapixels: 20.3 | Lens mount: MFT | Screen: 3-inch 180-degree tilting touchscreen, 1,037k dots | Viewfinder: EVF, 2,360k dots | Max shooting speed: 8.7fps | Max video resolution: 4K UHD | User level: Beginner/intermediate

Latest 20MP sensor
5-axis in-body stabilisation
MFT sensor smaller than APS-C
Plastic build

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 small enough to carry around anywhere, so much more powerful than it looks and a camera that could be with you for a long time to come.
• Recommended kit lens: Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ

Read more: Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV review

Best camera for beginners: Canon EOS M50

(Image credit: canon)

5. Canon EOS M50 / Mark II

Canon's mid-range mirrorless camera ticks a lot of boxes

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: APS-C | Lens mount: Canon EF-M | Screen: 3in vari-angle touchscreen, 1,040k dots | Max burst speed: 10fps | Max video resolution: 4K UHD

Built-in electronic viewfinder
Excellent vari-angle touchscreen
4K video limitations
Simplified exterior controls

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. There is a newer Canon EOS M50 Mark II that's due too hit the stores very soon but, frankly, it's a bit of a disappointing upgrade with some autofocus tweaks, the ability to shoot vertical video and not a lot else – so if you see the older model at a knock-down price, go for it!
• Recommended kit lens: Canon EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM

Read more: Canon EOS M50 review

Best camera for beginners: Panasonic Lumix G100

(Image credit: Panasonic)

6. Panasonic Lumix G100

Panasonic's new vlogging camera is pretty good at stills too

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Micro Four Thirds | Megapixels: 20.3 | Lens mount: MFT | Screen: 3-inch vari-angle, 1,840k dots | Viewfinder: EVF, 3.69m dots | Max continuous shooting speed: 10fps | Max video resolution: 4K UHD | User level: Beginner/enthusiast

Quality video and stills
Audio-recording capabilities
Bright EVF and articulated LCD
No in-body stabilization
No headphone jack or USB-C

Both photographers and vloggers 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!
• Recommended kit lens: Panasonic Lumix G Vario 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH.

Read more: Panasonic Lumix G100 review

(Image credit: Nikon)

7. Nikon Z 50

Nikon's first APS-C mirrorless camera is a star in the making

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 20.9MP | Monitor: 3.2-inch tilting, 1.04m dots | Continuous shooting speed: 11fps | Viewfinder: EVF, 2.36m dots | Max video resolution: 4K UHD at 30p | User level: Beginner/enthusiast

Good value from the start
Compact body and kit lens
4K video and 11fps shooting
No in-body stabilization

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 and could last you a long time as a lead-in to the Nikon full frame mirrorless system.
• Recommended kit lens: NIKKOR Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR

Read more: Nikon Z 50 review

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8. Olympus PEN E-PL9/E-PL10

Retro chic design meets sensible form and function in this style icon

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Micro Four Thirds | Megapixels: 16.1MP | Screen: 3.0-inch 1,040k tilting touchscreen | Viewfinder: None | Lens: Micro Four Thirds | Continuous shooting speed: 8.6fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Beginner/intermediate

Stylish design
4K video
No viewfinder
Same 16.1MP count as E-PL8

The Olympus E-PL9 and E-PL10 are technically very similar, with very little to choose between them except in the interface design! A highly capable street, vlogging and fashion camera, the E-PL9/E-PL10 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. This 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. We've put a link to our E-PL10 review below but, honestly, the older E-PL9 is just as good.
• Recommended kit lens: Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ

Read more: Olympus E-PL10 review

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9. Sony A6000

It's Sony's oldest A6000-series model, but both powerful and affordable

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

Small and lightweight build
Built-in electronic viewfinder
No 4K video
Relatively old model

In the past, the A6000 has been sold at prices so low they are hard to believe, but recently the prices have been climbing again, which is why it finds itself further down our list. Saying that, we could be in for some bargain prices over the Black Friday period, so keep watching. 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.
• Recommended kit lens: Sony 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS

Read more:
Sony A6000 review
The best mirrorless cameras you can buy right now

(Image credit: Panasonic)

10. Panasonic Lumix GX9

Rangefinder styling in a small, easy-to-use body, with great image quality

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Micro Four Thirds | Megapixels: 20.3MP | Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds | Screen: 3in tilting, touchscreen, 1,240,000 dots | Max burst speed: 9fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Beginner

4K Photo modes
Tilting electronic viewfinder
Reliance on digital menus
Small physical controls

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.
• Recommended kit lens: Panasonic Lumix G Vario 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH.

Read more: Panasonic Lumix GX9 review

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  • Will Parkin
    I see the Pentax K70 and KP did not make your list? They both hold up well against some of the other DSLRs listed when considering image quality, build (water resistance for example), features, lense selection (compatibility with legacy glass) and real world cost. Were these cameras considered? It is good to see a M43 camera in the list, the Olympus OMD EM10 iii is indeed an awesome camera for the money, but what about the Lumix G9? Possibly the most underrated camera out there for its price ?
    Reply