The best cameras used to command high prices, but it’s now possible to get yourself a top-quality model without shelling out a fortune. (Especially with all the cheap camera deals we're seeing at the moment.)
Not only are cameras becoming more advanced overall, but a range of desirable older models have fallen in price as updated versions have arrived. In some cases, the difference in specs between these newer models and the ones they update may be far narrower than their asking prices suggest, which makes older models even better value for money.
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A budget of $600/£500 will typically get you an advanced compact camera, an enthusiast-focused mirrorless model, or an upper-entry-level DSLR. Exactly which 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/$600.
1. Nikon D3300
Super cheap but a cracker for the money
Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Screen: 3in, 921k dots | Viewfinder: Optical | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: Full HD | User level: Beginner
Despite the fact that Nikon updated the D3300 with the D3400 not too long ago, we still reckon this gives better value for money. In many ways it matches pricier rivals across many aspects of its spec sheet, with a 24.2MP sensor and 3in LCD screen on board, together with Full HD video recording. In other areas it even exceeds expectations: its 700-shot battery is particularly strong and its 5fps burst shooting mode is also noteworthy. Ok, so you do miss out on some modern luxuries such as a tilting touchscreen and Wi-Fi, but these are far from essential. Put simply, for a capable camera under £500/£600, you can't really argue with what the D3300 offers.
Read more: Nikon D3300 vs D3400: Specs compared
2. Nikon D5300
A great-value alternative to Nikon’s newer models, with a tried-and-tested 24.2MP sensor
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, which is now a pretty standard feature on cameras of this type. Still, if you can live without that, it’s well worth a look.
3. Canon Rebel T5i / EOS 700D
Despite its age, the EOS 700D still has all the basics in place for novice users
Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 18MP | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 3-inch articulating, 1,040,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner/enthusiast
The EOS 700D may not be the newest DSLR in Canon’s EOS stable, but for the first-time user it’s an affordable way into an acclaimed system. Inside its compact body you get an 18MP APS-C sensor that can be operated to a sensitivity equivalent to ISO 25,600, together with a three-inch touchscreen that can be adjusted to a range of angles. All of this makes it ideal for use in tricky conditions, such as low light or when you need to position the camera above a crowd. You also get Full HD video recording with Movie Servo AF to keep subjects in focus as you record, together with a very respectable 5fps burst-shooting mode for action. Best of all, the EOS 700D provides access to three decades’ worth of Canon EF and EF-S lenses, which covers everything from the widest fisheye lenses to super telephotos.
4. Canon EOS Rebel T6 / EOS 1300D
This tiny, well-connected camera is an ideal choice for smartphone users
Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 18MP | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 3-inch fixed LCD, 920,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 3fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner
The Canon EOS Rebel T6, also known as the EOS 1300D, is a lightweight, affordable DSLR for those new to DSLR photography. Rather than jam it full of fancy features you may never call upon, Canon has been able to keep the price low by focusing on a solid core – so, there's an 18MP APS-C sensor working with a DIGIC 4+ processor, as well as a tried-and-tested 9-point AF system and Full HD video recording option. Despite its junior billing there's still Wi-Fi and NFC built into it, and while you might not get a swivelling LCD screen or touch functionality, it's great to see the display's resolution at a very respectable 920k dots. Overall, a solid option for those that just want a reliable camera for taking great shots.
5. Sony A68
Not for everyone maybe, but action shooters will love what makes the A68 different
Type: SLT | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Screen: 2.7in, 461k dots | Viewfinder: Electronic | Continuous shooting speed: 8fps | Max video resolution: Full HD | User level: Beginner
Very much a Marmite camera, but one that definitely deserves a nod here. With its less conventional SLT construction, the camera is able to offer 79 phase-detect points, which is considerably more than DSLR-type cameras at the same level. Add to that 8fps burst shooting with focus tracking and Sony's 4D Focus technology, and what you have is a camera that's far better suited to shooting action than many others. With the further benefit of a tilting screen and an OLED viewfinder, the camera is arguably more flexible when you're shooting in low light or at awkward angles than the average DSLR, although the screen isn't the best of its kind, and the future of the SLT system isn't entirely clear now that Sony is focusing its attention on the likes of the A6000 (below).
6. Sony A6000
Excellent for sports and action fans but a stellar set of features makes it a great all-rounder
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 to date. While it might lack its elder 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 full-frame DSLRs in 2018
7. Olympus OM-D E-M10 II
Plenty of tech from its more advanced E-M5 II sibling at a far more agreeable price
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.
8. Panasonic Lumix LX100
The only compact camera with a Micro Four Thirds sensor - and it’s a cracker
Type: Compact | Sensor size: Micro Four Thirds | Resolution: 12.8MP | Lens: 24-75mm, f/1.7-2.8 | Monitor: 3.0-inch, 921,000 dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 11fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Intermediate/expert
While most enthusiast compacts are happy enough with a 1in-type sensor, the Panasonic LX100 shoehorns in a larger Micro Four Thirds sensor into a body that's only slightly larger than the average enthusiast compact. In fact, it’s the only compact camera to have such a sensor, and this helps it to deliver excellent image quality. You might find the focal range of the 24-75mm lens to be a little limiting, but with a maximum aperture of f/1.7-2.8 it’s nice and bright. Add to that 4K video, an integrated viewfinder and Wi-Fi with NFC, and it still stacks up well against more recent offerings.
9. Sony Cyber-shot RX100 II
Sony’s second-generation RX100 model packs a wealth of tech inside its diminutive body
Type: Compact | Sensor: 1-inch, 20.1MP | Lens: 24-100mm, f/1.8-4.9 | Monitor: 3.0-inch tilt-angle display, 1,228,000 dots | Viewfinder: na | Continuous shooting: 10fps | Movies: Full HD | User level: Intermediate
The original Cyber-shot RX100 was a landmark release, with its large 1in sensor, masses of functionality and tiny body upping the standard for a compact that you can still get into your pocket. This second iteration, released back in 2013, stuck to the same basic formula as its predecessor, but Sony added in a back-illuminated sensor for better light gathering, together with a tilting screen among other things. If you can stretch to a little over £500, or you have the patience to wait for the occasional cashback offer, you may also be interested in the RX100 Mark III update, which adds a viewfinder and a brighter lens among other changes.
10. Panasonic Lumix TZ100 / ZS100
The TZ100 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 TZ100, 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.
Read more: The best mirrorless cameras in 2018