If you thought that the best camera under $500 would be a poor-quality piece of plastic junk, then think again! The best camera is not always the most expensive, and many of the major manufacturers have made a point of filling out the entry-level ends of their offerings with lots of high-quality devices that offer a sophisticated imaging experience. This is especially true given all the best cheap camera deals we're seeing at the moment.
How is this possible? Well there are two main reasons: first that cameras are generally becoming more and more advanced as the years go by and new models are released. This is the kind of rising tide that lifts all boats, because features that once you'd only see on the most advanced and best DSLR cameras or best mirrorless camera models are now an expected standard even on the basic entry-level cameras. Features like Wi-Fi, Full HD video, a sophisticated autofocus system and more: it's all standard these days!
The other factor is that some (not all) manufacturers are pretty good about keeping their older models on the market, so you can pick up an absolute bargain if you don't mind picking up a camera that isn't the absolute freshest on the market. Sony is particularly good for this, with its sophisticated A6XXX series of mirrorless cameras and RX100 compacts all boasting back catalogues that are still widely available, and at a friendly price.
Read more: The best camera for kids
So what does a budget of $500 actually get you? With this much to spend, you can expect to find a fairly advanced compact camera, an enthusiast-focused mirrorless model, or an upper-entry-level DSLR. We've set this price as a rough benchmark because prices are changing all the time, so now and again you might find a camera in our list that creeps a little way over that – or plunges way below! – but we will definitely get you in the right ballpark.
Exactly which of these cameras you should go for depends on your needs and intentions, but one thing the following models have in common is that they’re all standout products in their respective categories.
Here's our pick of the best cameras under $500:
1. Nikon D3500
Nikon's newest DSLR is cheap, easy to use and very good
Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Nikon DX | Screen: 3in fixed, 921K dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner/enthusiast
Not only is this just about the freshest and newest beginner DSLR on the market, it also comes in well under our top budget, leaving you cash left over for accessories. Indeed, we've ranked it number one on our best Nikon camera list. The D3500 is a refreshed and redesigned version of the D3400 before it, with a 24-megapixel sensor and a fast-focussing AF-P 18-55mm kit lens with a retracting mechanism so that it takes up less space when you're carrying it around. The cheapest deal includes a non-VR lens, but we'd recommend paying just a little extra for the VR version.
Read more: Nikon D3500 review
2. Nikon D5300
A great-value and versatile alternative to Nikon’s newer models
Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Nikon DX | Screen: 3.2-inch articulating, 1,037,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner/enthusiast
The D5300 appears as a fairly conventional entry-level DSLR, but it offers a handful of features not typically seen on other models of its type. These include a generously sized 3.2in LCD screen, a 39-point AF system and even a GPS system, the latter making it particularly strong for travelling photographers. Nikon also chose to drop the anti-aliasing filter from the camera’s 24.2MP APS-C sensor, which gives it an edge in terms of the detail it can capture over rival 24MP bodies. The only real downside is that it doesn’t offer a touchscreen, but you're still getting a highly versatile camera that delivers great results. It's been superseded by the latest Nikon D5600, but don't worry about that – the D5300 has lots of life left in it yet.
3. Canon EOS Rebel SL7
A flip-out LCD and Dual Pixel CMOS AF make this a great buy
Type: DSLR | Megapixels: 24.1MP | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 3-inch LCD, 920K dots | Viewfinder: Yes, optical | Continuous shooting: 3fps | Movies: Full HD (1080p) | User level: Beginner
An impressively specced beginner's DSLR and one of the long-awaited successors to the entry-level EOS Rebel XS, the Canon EOS Rebel SL7 is a great choice for any stating-out or aspiring photographer looking to try out their first DSLR. Also known in some parts 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 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.
4. Panasonic Lumix GX85
A pocket-sized mirrorless camera at a pocket-money price
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Four Thirds | Megapixels: 16.0MP | Screen: 3.0-inch, 1,040k tilt touch | Viewfinder: Electronic, 2,765k | Lens: Micro Four Thirds | Continuous shooting speed: 8fps (40fps elec shutter) | Max video resolution: 4k | User level: Intermediate
Incredible value for money, with or without its smart little 12-32mm kit zoom lens, the Panasonic Lumix GX85 shoehorns a host of high-tech features into its diminutive, compact-style build. The best deals however are for a twin-zoom kit, that offers a 45-150mm telephoto in addition to the 12-35mm standard lens. Standout features include 5-axis image stabilization, Light Speed AF, Post Focus and 4K ultra-high definition for both video and rapid-fire stills, as featured in Panasonic’s top-end cameras. There’s also a high-res electronic viewfinder built into the back of the camera, along with a tilting touchscreen. If you want a camera that goes large on features and performance, but with a small build and price tag, this is amazing value for money that will leave you with cash to spare.
Read more: The best Panasonic camera
5. Canon EOS Rebel T100
Canon's most affordable DSLR yet, this is ideal for beginners
Type: DSLR | Megapixels: 18MP | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 2.7-inch screen, 230,000K dots | Viewfinder: Yes, optical | Continuous shooting: 3fps | Movies: Full HD (1080p) | User level: Beginner
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
6. DJI Osmo Action
A fantastically featured little action camera for a great price
Type: Action camera | Sensor: 1/2.3-inch | Megapixels: 12MP | Screen: Dual (front and rear) | Viewfinder: No | Lens: 148-degree field-of-view | Continuous shooting speed: Not specified | Max video resolution: 4k | User level: Beginner
The DJI Osmo Action is an extraordinarily powerful little action camera, capable of producing beautifully smooth 4K footage thanks to its RockSteady stabilisation system. Undercutting the latest GoPro HERO cameras on price, it's a fantastic tool for the money and boasts lots of great features you'd expect from a camera of its class, such as waterproofing down to 11m. Dual LCD screens are also a boon for selfies and vlogging, allowing you to see what you're shooting from both angles, and it can also shoot video in super slow motion (up to 8x). An all-around winner for a great price.
Read more: DJI Osmo Action review
A powerful mirrorless all-rounder that's now available at silly prices
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor size: APS-C | Resolution: 24.3MP | Viewfinder: EVF | Monitor: 3-inch tilting screen, 921,600 dots | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 11fps | Maximum video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner/enthusiast
Sony’s excellent A6300 and A6500 might be out of budget, but the A6000 is a highly capable alternative. In fact, the company claims it's its best-selling mirrorless camera ever. While it might lack its younger siblings’ 4K video option, you get plenty of features you’d never expect to see on a similarly priced DSLR. These include a mammoth 179 phase-detect AF points that make subject tracking a doddle, together with 11fps burst shooting. That combination alone should make the camera appeal strongly to sports and action shooters, while the tilting LCD screen, 2.36million-dot OLED viewfinder, built-in Wi-Fi and NFC only sweeten the deal further.
Read more: The best Sony camera
8. Olympus OM-D E-M10 II
A high-tech mirrorless camera that's perfect for travel
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor size: Micro Four Thirds | Resolution: 16.1MP | Lens: Micro Four Thirds | Screen: 3.0-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 1,370,000 dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 8.5fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Beginner/enthusiast
Olympus’ digital revival of its analogue OM line has been hugely popular among enthusiast photographers, and with the OM-D E-M10 II the company has provided those on a tighter budget with a solid entry point to the series. What’s surprising is just how much the model has in common with the more senior OM-D E-M5 II. Both, for example, sport 16MP sensors, TruePic VII processors, 2.36million-dot electronic viewfinders and five-axis image stabilisation systems. Sure, not everything is equal, but when you consider the huge price difference between the two, the OM-D E-M10 II ends up being the better-value model by some margin – especially now that its successor, the OM-D E-M10 III has been released, driving its price down still further.
9. Panasonic Lumix ZS100
The ZS100 belies its small size with a huge sensor and all-encompassing optic
Type: Compact | Sensor: 1-inch type CMOS | Resolution: 20.1MP | Lens: 25-250mm f/2.8-5.9 | Viewfinder: EVF | Monitor: 3.0-inch, 1,040,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 10fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Beginner/enthusiast
Pocketable compact camera with 1in sensors are desirable for the quality of their images, but these rarely offer lenses that exceed 100mm or so. The only exception to this is Panasonic’s Lumix ZS100, which partners its 20MP 1in sensor with a surprisingly long 25-250mm f/2.8-5.9 optic. True, in order to accommodate this it’s a little bulkier than the average compact, and not all that bright at its telephoto end, but if size and telephoto reach are your priorities then you’ll be hard pushed finding something more suitable. And that’s only the start; with a small electronic viewfinder, 4K video recording, Raw shooting and a five-axis OIS system to help keep images sharp and videos stable, it’s got masses going for it aside from its headline specs. Plus, with the ZS200 out now, its price has dropped even further!