As camera technology progresses, the best cameras under $500 become increasingly more powerful, offering some fantastic features for a very affordable price. These cameras show that the best camera isn't always the most expensive, as entry-level offerings can capture high-quality photos – and the best cheap cameras often come in a lightweight and compact body too.
So how can camera manufacturers produce such good cameras at a really affordable price? The biggest reason is that with each new release, cameras have more advanced features and the price of older models drop. Features that you once would've only seen on the best DSLRs or the best mirrorless cameras are now common features in more basic compact systems. This means that things like raw photos, Wi-Fi and 4K video are now available in even budget cameras.
Another reason why cheaper cameras have become so good in recent years is that many manufacturers keep their older models on the market for quite a while. This means that consumers can pick up an absolute bargain if they're not too worried about having the newest camera on the market. We particularly like Sony for this, as its A6XXX mirrorless camera range and RX100 compact camera range have large back catalogs of cameras that are still pretty easy to find – and at some fantastic prices too.
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So, what can you expect to get for a budget of $500? Well, depending on what tickles your fancy, you should be able to pick up a fairly advanced compact camera, an enthusiast-focused mirrorless camera, or a decent entry-level DSLR.
It's worth noting that as camera prices fluctuate, you may find a camera on our list that creeps a little over budget (or plunges far below!). However, every camera model on this list has been chosen because it balances fantastic features with an affordable price point, so we will definitely get you in the right ballpark.
Cameras aren't a one-size-fits-all product, so the best camera under $500 for you will depend on what you want to use it for. However, each of the following models are all standout products in their respective categories, so you'll be sure to find something that suits your needs.
Best cameras under $500
Olympus’ digital revival of its analogue OM line has been hugely popular among enthusiast photographers, and with the OM-D E-M10 III the company has provided those on a tighter budget with a solid entry point to the series. This model builds on the impressive feature of the Mark II OM-D E-M10, and again sports a 16MP sensor, 2.36 million-dot electronic viewfinders, 3in touchscrseen, and five-axis image stabilization systems. But you now get 4K video as well - and a much more sophisticated autofocus system. This is a great beginner mirrorless camera - small, light and easy to use. And for the money, it is great looking too!
Welcome to the newest and best GoPro around. It might look a lot like the GoPro Hero 9 but it is a pretty significant upgrade. It features the new G2 processor which makes the interface super responsive, doubles the frame rates and fuels the best image stabilization tech available in action cameras.
The stand-out feature is its ability to record 5.3K 60p using GoPro's new HyperSmooth 4.0 video stabilization. It also has the ability to shoot 23-megapixel photos and is has the best low-light performance of any GoPro yet. You can buy a wealth of accessories separately so as well as mounting it on your helmet, you could attach it to your chest, your head or even onto one of the best selfie sticks.
The Olympus Tough TG-6 has a sterling reputation among the tough camera market, not only for being sufficiently specced to handle tough conditions, but also equipped with impressive imaging and video tech. The Raw-shooting, 4K-capable TG-6, is a fairly minor upgrade on the previous TG-5, but adds some nifty new features like improved LCD resolution and a new Underwater Microscope mode for getting in close.
Producing 4K video at 30fps and offering the option to shoot Full HD video at 120fps for super-slow-motion, the TG-6 also has a generous 25-100mm optical zoom lens that lets you get closer and closer to the action. It's got a chunky handgrip providing a secure hold on the camera, while the internal zoom mechanism means the lens never protrudes from the body, protecting it from knocks and bumps. Straightforward but sophisticated, the TG-6 is quite simply the best waterproof camera around right now.
Known for making some of the best camera drones, DJI has done a pretty good job of competing with GoPro with the release of the DJI Osmo Action. While it can't shoot 5K, it does produce beautifully smooth, 4K footage thanks to its RockSteady stabilization system. Another big selling point is it's much cheaper than the GoPro too and who really NEEDS 5K anyway?! It's waterproof down to 11m, has a dual LCD screen making it ideal for selfies and vlogging and it can also shoot in super slow motion (up to 8x). It's an excellent action cam and a brilliant all-rounder at a very good price.
Read more: DJI Osmo Action review
Panasonic's long-running ZS series is a great choice for those needing a feature-packed point and shoot camera for travel. Released in 2017, the Panasonic ZS-70/TZ-90 still has one of the best zoom lenses available on a compact. It's wifi ready so you can transfer images on the go, has an impressive 30x zoom (24-720mm full-frame equivalent) and includes RAW shooting. Unlike other point and shoots it has an electronic viewfinder, albeit a small one, but it's nice to have the option to use one. It has a 49-point autofocus system which is speedy enough, image quality is pretty good and its metering system helps to balance exposure in a variety of scenes. The ZS70 is without a doubt one of the best point and shoot systems for balancing versatility and portability with a low price point.
An impressively specced beginner's DSLR and one of the long-awaited successors to the entry-level EOS Rebel XS, the Canon EOS Rebel T7 is a great choice for any stating-out or aspiring photographer looking to try out their first DSLR. Also sold in some countries as the EOS 2000D, it doesn't do anything particularly flash but does manage everything you need it to: a 9-point autofocus system, 3fps burst shooting, Full HD video, and of course, the Canon EF-S mount that gives the user access to a huge catalogue of fantastic lenses. Friendly to the novice user, but offering room to grow, the EOS Rebel SL7 represents a fantastic bargain.
Canon has spent some time filling out the low end of its DSLR range recently, creating lots of compelling options for beginner users and those working to tight budgets. One of the most affordable options is the Canon EOS Rebel T100, which comes at an even lower price point than the EOS Rebel SL7 seen above. It's a stripped-back beginner's DSLR that does just about everything you need it to for an incredible price, kit lens included. Also known as the EOS 4000D, the T100's nothing terribly sophisticated, but for the money you get a decent camera with 18MP of resolution and 3fps burst shooting, as well as access to Canon's incredible stable of lenses.
Read more: Canon EOS Rebel T100 review
From its junior models right through to its various flagships, Panasonic has always been generous with features. This has allowed its models to remain appealing in the face of newer competitors, and 2015's FZ330 exemplifies this perfectly: a sub-£500/$500 camera with 4K video recording, a splash-resistant body and a 25-600mm, full-frame equivalent lens with a constant of f/2.8 aperture. You simply don't get that anywhere else right now! On top of that there's a tilting touchscreen, a 1.44million-dot EVF, Wi-Fi and image stabilization, which round off the specs to deliver a mighty fine proposition for the advanced novice or enthusiast on a budget.
How we test cameras
We test mirrorless and DSLR cameras both in real-world shooting scenarios and in carefully controlled lab conditions. Our lab tests measure resolution, dynamic range and signal to noise ratio. Resolution is measured using ISO resolution charts, dynamic range is measured using DxO Analyzer test equipment and DxO Analyzer is also used for noise analysis across the camera's ISO range. We use these real-world testing and lab results to inform our comments in buying guides. For compact cameras, we judge on real world handling and photographic results alone.