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The best camera for beginners in 2021: perfect cameras for learning photography

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Best camera for beginners

The best camera for beginners should have three key things. First, it should be clear and simple enough for people who have yet to learn the technicalities of photography. Second, it needs to take interchangeable lenses, because they are the key to advancing as a photographer. Third, it needs to be affordable! If you're just starting out, you should splash all your cash on your first camera. Wait until you know what you REALLY need before you spend the big bucks.

The best camera for beginners has both automatic modes and manual modes. To be honest, even more advanced enthusiast cameras have these. It means that you can start shooting straight away but start to take more control over the settings as yo9u learn.

If you're at the start of your creative career, then you may be working with a limited budget. Maybe you don't want to spend too much money until you know that photography is for you? Don't worry that a cheap DSLR or mirrorless camera won't be good enough – they are all way more advanced than smartphones or point and shoot cameras.

The key thing is to get a DSLR or mirrorless camera. They might look more daunting, but honestly, they're not, and interchangeable lens cameras like these are the key to unlocking everything that photography has to offer.

So here's our list of top ten cameras for beginners. There's a really mix of types, prices and intended users here, so they're not ranked solely in order of merit.

Best camera for beginners in 2021

(Image credit: Nikon)

This is our favorite beginner DSLR: affordable, simple yet powerful, and capable of great image quality

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Interactive 'Guide' shooting mode+Solid performance; good handling
Reasons to avoid
-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 somewhat 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 | Nikon D3500 vs D3400

(Image credit: Fujifilm)

It's not the cheapest, but the X-T200 is elegant, simple and shoots both stills and 4K video

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Big 3.5-inch vari-angle touchscreen+Good 4K video features+Neat design, and now even lighter
Reasons to avoid
-Simplified external controls-Regular CMOS not X-Trans sensor-Stock shortages

The Fujifilm X-T200 is light and compact, but looks and feels like an old-school 35mm SLR film 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 and 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, and we still do, though the global pandemic seems to have caused stock shortages that are making the X-T200 harder to find right now.

• Recommended kit lens: Fujinon XC 15-45mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS PZ
Read more: Fujifilm X-T200 review

(Image credit: Canon)

Canon makes cheaper DSLRs than this, but we recommend paying the extra for this great little DSLR

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+A lightweight, intuitive DSLR+Superb Live View shooting
Reasons to avoid
-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 wrapped up in the smallest DSLR body you're likely to see – though if it's video you're after, one of the SL3's mirrorless rivals will probably do a better job.

• Recommended kit lens: Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/4-5.6 IS STM
Read more: Canon EOS SL3 / Canon EOS 250D review

(Image credit: Olympus)

The E-M10 IV is one of our all-time favorites for style and compactness, performance and value

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Latest 20MP sensor+5-axis in-body stabilisation
Reasons to avoid
-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 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 a great choice for anyone looking for an entry-level camera that can do pretty much everything. This is one of our favorite pint-sized cameras ever: it's small enough to carry around anywhere, and much more powerful than it looks. The OM-D E-M10 Mark IV is 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

(Image credit: Sony)

Just starting with vlogging and video – the ZV-E10 is a great first step into more serious work

Specifications
Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: APS-C
Megapixels: 24.2MP
Lens: Sony E mount
LCD: Vari-angle
Viewfinder: None
Maximum continuous shooting speed: 11fps for 116 JPEGs
Max video resolution: 4K 30p
User level: Enthusiast
Reasons to buy
+Autofocus features and performance+Vari-angle screen+Clip on wind muffler
Reasons to avoid
-No in-body stabilization-No viewfinder

If your interest lies half and half with video and photography, then a dedicated vlogging camera like the new Sony ZV-E10 is perfect. It cuts back a little on the photography side, lacking an electronic viewfinder, but it comes back with video features, including 4K video and a fully-vari-angle screen. It also packs a large and well-performing internal microphone (with clip-on muffler), Sony's excellent autofocus, and an appealing price tag. It's a shame that there is no in-body image stabilization, and the menus can't be touch-controlled (a rather glaring omission for a vlogging camera, perhaps), but for beginners to video, this is unlikely to be a big drawback. What's more important is that because it uses the Sony E mount, it has access to a large number of Sony and independent brand lenses.

• Recommended kit lens: Sony E 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 power zoom
Read more: Sony ZV-E10 review

(Image credit: Panasonic)

The tiny G100 is made for vlogging, but is a great all-round stills camera too

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Quality video and stills+Audio-recording capabilities+Bright EVF and articulated LCD
Reasons to avoid
-No in-body stabilization-No headphone jack or USB-C

Interested in the idea of vlogging? The Panasonic Lumix G100 is a great alternative to the Sony ZV-E10. It has a smaller Micro Four Thirds sensor but it does have an electronic viewfinder which the Sony doesn't, so it's a pretty even match. In fact, 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. 

• Recommended kit lens: Panasonic Lumix G Vario 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH.
Read more: Panasonic Lumix G100 review

(Image credit: Nikon)

If you want a beginner camera with serious style, you just found it

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Glorious looks+Dial-based controls
Reasons to avoid
-Z50 is cheaper-Few DX Z-mount lenses

The Nikon Z fc is, without a doubt, the coolest-looking camera on this list. It's a retro-styled mirrorless machine with dial-based controls, and it's a joy to handle, to use, and to be seen using. Internally, it's basically the same deal as the Nikon Z50, with the same APS-C sensor and processor and many of the same specs. A few extra features like a built-in flash have been shaved off, and it is more expensive than the Z50, so if you don't care about aesthetics then Nikon's other DX-format camera is the smarter choice. But if you're the sort of person who can't resist the siren song of the best retro cameras, the Nikon Z fc will be right up your alley. It's not the cheapest camera for beginners, but you get a lot of features for your money, and its looks alone could inspire you to take up photography seriously.

• Recommended kit lens: NIKKOR Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR
Read more: Nikon Z fc review

(Image credit: Nikon)

This is the Nikon Z fc's older brother. Practical and powerful, it's perfect if you like no-nonsense value

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Good value from the start+Compact body and kit lens+4K video and 11fps shooting
Reasons to avoid
-No in-body stabilization-Limited lens range so far

The Nikon Z50 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 arrived with a camera that has so many good points it's hard to know where to start. Key selling points include 4K video, 11fps burst 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 Z50 is terrific value, especially when bought as a twin-lens kit. However, long after its launch it still only has two native DX format lenses, so that's a disappointment – it means you're stuck with using older DSLR lenses via the adaptor for now, or bigger and more expensive full frame Nikkor Z lenses which are limited for wide-angle photography because of the smaller sensor's 'crop factor.

• Recommended kit lens: NIKKOR Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR
Read more: Nikon Z 50 review

(Image credit: Canon)

The EOS M50 isn't the best for 4K video, but it's affordable, friendly and soooo cute

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Built-in electronic viewfinder+Good articulating touchscreen
Reasons to avoid
-Compromised 4K video-Simplified exterior controls

On the surface this is a modest upgrade over the original Canon EOS M50, but the additions make it worth picking up over its predecessor. These include improved autofocus (along with eye detection in stills and video), along with big boons for video shooters in the form of clean HDMI out, vertical video recording and the ability to livestream direct to YouTube. Alas, while it's an excellent 1080p camera, it's a poor option for 4K – which loses Dual Pixel AF (left lumbered with contrast detect) and suffers a 1.6x crop. However, it packs a lot of other tech into its compact body, including a great 24.1MP sensor, 10fps shooting, and the fact that it has a viewfinder (which many similarly priced mirrorless cameras lack). This is a cute and easy to use camera that's really rather versatile, and it's a great mirrorless alternative to the Canon Rebel SL3/EOS 250D, but offers similar features in a smaller camera. 

• Recommended kit lens: Canon EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-5.6
Read more: Canon EOS M50 Mark II review

(Image credit: Sony)

Don't be fooled by the price. This is a serious hardcore model for enthusiasts

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Small and lightweight build+Built-in electronic viewfinder
Reasons to avoid
-No 4K video-Relatively old model

Although it’s now almost six years old, the A6000 is still one of Sony’s best entry-level cameras, especially as it can often be had with some huge discounts. 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 diminutive 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, 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

Best camera for beginners: What to look for

  • Price: We get it – when you're picking up a new hobby, you're not going to want to splash too much cash until you're sure that you're going to stick with it. Luckily, there are plenty of affordable beginner cameras out there.
  • Interchangeable lenses: One of the hidden costs with photography is lenses. There's only so much you can achieve with your kit lens, so make sure to do a little research into the other pieces of glass that manufacturers offer (and how expensive they are). Canon and Nikon are both known for their wide range of DSLR lenses – of which many are very reasonably priced!
  • Simple controls: There's nothing worse than being handed a contraption with so many buttons that you want to give up before you've even begun. Look for a camera with straightforward automatic modes that will help you build your confidence…
  • Manual modes: …However, once you feel comfortable with your camera, you're going to want to dive into the manual modes to make progress as a photographer. Look for cameras that offer manual exposure and manual focus options.
  • Video: Over the past few years, video has become much more important, with social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and TikTok prioritizing the moving image over the still photo. Luckily, many of the best cameras for beginners offer 4K video (or at least Full HD 1080p). 
  • Megapixels: While megapixels aren't everything, but they do have an impact on image quality. Many of the best cameras for beginners use APS-C sensors, which will range between around 16MP to 24MP. If you can, look for a body that features a sensor on the higher end of that scale.

Best camera for beginners: Kit lenses

Before you choose a camera, decide if you want a kit lens to go with it. While most cameras will be cheaper body-only, the price difference with a kit lens added on top is often small, and a LOT cheaper than buying both separately. Kit lenses have had a bad rep in the past, but many of the ones available now are actually surprisingly decent. 

Some entry-level cameras will have multiple kit lens options, so if there's one that we would specifically recommend, then we say so above. Do be wary of super-cheap but ancient kit lenses that retailers are trying to offload that don't have image stabilization, for example. These can be temptingly cheap, but it's worth spending a little more to get a better lens that you'll ultimately be happier with. 

Read more: 

Best cameras to buy
Best point and shoot cameras
Best cameras for kids
Best DSLRs
Best mirrorless cameras
Cheapest full frame cameras
Best cameras for vlogging
Best professional cameras
Best travel cameras
Best instant cameras

Rod Lawton

Rod is the Group Reviews editor for Digital Camera World and across Future's entire photography portfolio, with decades of experience with cameras of all kinds. Previously he has been technique editor on N-Photo, Head of Testing for the photography division and Camera Channel editor on TechRadar. He has been writing about photography technique, photo editing and digital cameras since they first appeared, and before that began his career writing about film photography. He has used and reviewed practically every interchangeable lens camera launched in the past 20 years, from entry-level DSLRs to medium format cameras, together with lenses, tripods, gimbals, light meters, camera bags and more.