Buying a digital camera is a really different experience than it had been a couple of short years ago. Smartphone cameras keep getting better, so there are lots fewer buyers out there for budget pocket shooters. And because of that, there aren’t that many good, cheap point-and-shoots. Meanwhile, entry-level SLRs have serious competition for your dollar from mirrorless competitions, and if you’ve got a bigger budget you can elect for premium pocket versions with large picture detectors, mid-sized interchangeable lens models, or bridge-style superzooms that bring distant subjects into close, clear view.
We’ve highlighted our favorite version from each of those groups we cover in the chart above but read on if you want to know more about your choices in today’s market.
Pocket-Friendly: The Entry-Level Point-and-Shoot
It is no secret that smartphones have severely hurt the demand for entry point-and-shoot cameras. You can purchase any number of sub-$100 no-name cameras at online retailers, but you’re worth your money if already own a nice smartphone. But if you move up to the $100 to $200 bracket, then you have some sound options from Canon and Nikon.
These slimline shooters pack zoom lenses, which set them apart from smartphones, but for the most part use obsolete CCD sensor technologies, which limits image quality when shooting at high ISO settings and cuts the maximum video quality to 720p. But if you’re looking for a small camera to take on holiday or nature walks, you still have a few cheap options to a
Moving up to the $200 to $400 price nets more modern CMOS image detectors and long zoom lenses–30x is the norm at this point. For the most part, video remains 1080p, and you will also find some cameras using small digital viewfinders, Raw shooting capability, and very quick autofocus. Pure image quality is better than a smartphone, with the real benefit being the lens. Additionally, there are several models which are waterproof available in this price range.
What Is the Best Camera to Buy for a Beginner Photographer?
Entry-level isn’t just for pocket versions. Photographers who want a camera that is simple to use, rather than obscenely costly, might want to reach for a mirrorless version or SLR rather than a point-and-shoot. Our favorite versions for people more interested in making a good picture and less interested in learning about f-stops include some choices in our entire top ten, such as the Sony a6000, Canon T7i, and Olympus TG-5.
However, there are others too. I frequently recommend the small Canon G9 X, a relatively inexpensive 1-inch pocket version that provides palpable advantages over a smartphone in terms of image quality, and a comfortable touch interface. The Nikon D3400, using its easy-to-use Guide Mode is just one of our treasured cheap SLRs, and the Canon EOS M100 does lots of things directly in the mirrorless world.
While searching for a beginner camera, ask yourself some questions about what you would like. Take a peek at the dimensions, as a camera is not any good if you’re not going to use it. But also think about connectivity–you probably want to copy pictures to your own smartphone easily–and cost. Ease of use isn’t a huge hurdle these days–everything has an auto mode–but models with guided interfaces will let you take some sort of control on how your photos turn out, without needing to know a lot of technical jargon.
Kicking It Old School: Film
You don’t need to find a digital camera to get a camera. The film is still a choice, with instant models being exceptionally popular. Immediate formats remove the hassle of getting the film developed, and make it effortless to share physical pictures with friends and family immediately after they have been captured. It’s possible to get an entry-level model for around $65, and film packs generally cost approximately $7.50. For a complete rundown on what instant cameras and film formats are sold now, check out our listing of the very best Instant Cameras.
You can even purchase a new 35mm or medium format camera. You do not have as many possibilities for getting the film developed as you used to–in case you’re in a major city it’ll be no problem to locate a laboratory, but you might have to resort to mail order if you are not close to a metropolis. It is possible to discover old film SLRs and compacts in thrift shops and online stores fairly easily. If you are intent on getting a new model, Lomography still makes a bunch of different ones, from toy models like the Sprocket Rocket, which captures panoramic shots with vulnerable sprockets, to superior options such as the moderate format LC-A 120.
Small Camera, Big Sensor: Premium Compacts
You’ll scratch your head once you see pocket cameras with fixed lenses selling for anywhere from $400 to $1,000. After all, you can get an interchangeable lens version for the same cost. However, these slim, premium shooters target a very specific market–photographers who already own a mirrorless camera or SLR and a lot of lenses, but want something small as an alternate option.
For a very long time, the premium models sported 1/1.7-inch class sensors, which provided modest advantages over the more common 1/2.3-inch kind found in entry-level cameras and superior smartphones. Sony changed that in 2013 with its revolutionary RX100, which brought the 1-inch sensor class into the spotlight.
A 1-inch sensor has roughly four times the surface area of the processors used in premium tablets and entry-level point-and-shoots. That leads to substantially clearer pictures, particularly at high ISO. The business has settled on 20MP of resolution because of this sensor type, which provides an excellent balance of picture quality and noise control.
Together with the bigger sensor comes a zoom. For the most part, you’ll see models with short 2.9x (24-70mm) reach, or the slightly longer 4x lens (25-100mm). These lenses have a tendency to catch a fantastic amount of light throughout their range and the optics necessary to perform that necessitate a large front part and brief zoom range.
We are starting to see longer zooms within this category, but with thinner aperture and lenses that best out at 10x policy (25-250mm). A narrow aperture is not as good for low light as versions with short zooms and large f-stops but is a much better option for travel, when you need a pocket camera with an ample zoom range. The 1-inch sensor size typically nets solid image quality via ISO 3200, and even to ISO 6400 in the event that you decide to shoot in Raw format, therefore use in dim light remains possible.
Additionally, there are versions out there with even bigger image sensors and shorter zooms or no zoom in any way. You can find a small camera using an SLR-sized APS-C image sensor and a fixed focal length lens, and there are even a few options out there with larger full-frame detectors.
You can opt for a fixed-lens camera that is sized and shaped a lot like an SLR–a bridge camera. These models tend to have very long lenses–around 83x zoom electricity in versions with the 1/2.3-inch sensor size–and game digital viewfinders, sexy shoes, and articulating rear displays. If zoom is what you are after, a bridge camera may be your very best bet, although understand that they won’t handle subdued light in addition to an SLR.
There are also premium bridge versions with bigger 1-inch detectors and shorter zooms. They have a substantial size advantage within SLRs with similar zooms–just think about carrying an interchangeable lens camera and a couple of lenses to pay a 24-200mm, 24-400mm, or 24-600mm policy range. They have a tendency to be costlier than an SLR, and more than bridge models with smaller detectors, but do better at higher ISO settings and game lenses that collect more light. If you set a premium on a lightweight camera, and want the flexibility a long zoom layout produces, look at a bridge version using a 1-inch sensor. Just be ready to pay a premium.
The Greatest Cameras for Travelers
Not surprisingly, I find bridge versions to be just about perfect for globetrotters. They pack a wide zoom range, so you don’t have to fumble with lens modifications. And if you opt for a superior 1-inch model you can shoot in varying kinds of light. But you might want a different sort of camera to take with you on your journeys.
If you want something more pocket-friendly, a point-and-shoot can do the trick. But be prepared to receive a little spendy to get something worthy of your exotic destinations. For the rough-and-tumble audience, I recommend the Olympus TG-5 as a result of the bright lens and demanding build. (If you are more of a movie person, remember about GoPro.) For more relaxing vacations, reach for the Sony RX100 III or Canon G7 X Mark II and enjoy pictures that run circles around phones in a form factor that slides right into a top pocket.
If you don’t mind carrying something bigger, a fantastic mirrorless camera (plus a few lenses) will fit easily into a small bag and web videos and images worthy of sharing with family and friends back home. The Sony a6000 remains our beloved affordable option, but there are choices like the Fujifilm X-E3that are somewhat more stylish.
Entry-Level Interchangeable Lens: SLR and Mirrorless
For a long time, we’ve looked at mirrorless cameras and SLRs as two different classes. And while that distinction still has merit at the higher end of the spectrum, for entry photographers the lines are blurred.
We have been disappointed that features common in mirrorless versions, including tilting touch-screen screens and wireless connectivity, have been very slow to create their way to SLRs. Additionally, while Canon has made considerable improvements in video recorders in its pricier SLRs, consumers are better off using a cheap mirrorless model if they want fast, easy autofocus when shooting moving pictures.
If you’re not familiar with the term, the mirror which mirrorless cameras shortage is the one that sends light to an optical viewfinder in the lens. SLRs, of course, still offer that. Getting rid of the mirror box enables a slimmer design with fewer moving parts, in addition to more accurate autofocus. And, with all the latest spate of models, autofocus is fast. So fast that you won’t miss shooting with an SLR.
If you’re prepared to live without a viewfinder of any kind and use the LCD to frame shots, then it is possible to discover strong mirrorless models for under $500, including a kit lens. Like SLRs, different manufacturers encourage different lens formats. Should you get a Sony mirrorless camera, you are going to stick with Sony E and FE lenses, and if you opt for Fujifilm you are locked to the X lens system.
The exception is the Micro Four Thirds system, which is a lens structure shared by Olympus and Panasonic, and used by more technical cinema cameras created by companies like Blackmagic. The MFT detector format is a 4:3 aspect ratio, as opposed to the 3:2 ratio used by most SLRs, and slightly smaller.
Canon, Nikon, and Pentax offer entry SLRs with conventional optical viewfinders. Sony has continued to support the A-mount SLR system, which dates back to Minolta autofocus SLRs, however, has proceeded to use electronic viewfinders in its own Alpha SLT series. The fixed-mirror layout and EVF permit the video focus system to utilize the same detector as the focus for stills, which delivers autofocus to the exact same degree just like mirrorless cameras when recording moving images.
Traditional SLRs battle when it comes to movie autofocus. Contrast-based methods require the focus stage move just beyond the point of crisp focus and come back to it so as to lock on, which can be distracting if refocusing to follow a moving subject. SLR manufacturers have worked to improve this, using lenses with Pulse or Stepping Motors, that are quieter and simpler during focus, but they are still not on the exact same degree as many mirrorless cameras.
You are going to get the back-and-forth impact with entry-level mirrorless versions that rely entirely on contrast for focus. But it’s not quite as noticeable as you get with SLRs, and by the time you’ve transferred to a midrange price point–that is really in line with the price of entry-level SLR models–you start to see on-sensor period detection.
For Serious Shutterbugs: Premium Mirrorless and SLR
Once you cross the $1,000 price barrier, you’ve entered into a kingdom where you probably have a very good handle on whether you want an SLR or mirrorless camera. If you’re purchasing within this particular range, you need to take a serious look at the accessories and lenses available for each platform and weigh the pluses and minuses of different picture sensor formats.
Mirrorless cameras are becoming better and better in terms of monitoring autofocus in the past several years. Top-tier models track subjects and fire off images as rapidly as similar SLRs. Depending on which system you’ve got your eye, and which kind of shooting you do, you may find that lens choice to be perfectly decent.
Micro Four Thirds cameras may utilize either Olympus or Panasonic lenses, which provides them a leg up in the pure variety of lenses available, such as fish-eye, ultra-wide angle, and extreme telephoto primes and zooms. Fujifilm has a solid library of lenses, including a 100-400mm zoom that can be paired using a teleconverter for even more reach. Sony cameras, which may use both APS-C (E) and full-frame (FE) lenses, have you ever covered up through 300mm, but longer telephoto options aren’t available at this moment.
But lens choices are not as enormous as they are using the Canon and Nikon SLR systems. You’ve got a much larger selection with a Canon or Nikon, such as many excellent third-party options from Sigma and Tamron. SLR lens options like the Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary are not matched by mirrorless concerning value, and you have access to exotic glass such as the AF-S Nikkor 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR ($16,299.95), the likes of that only isn’t available in a mirrorless format at the time.
While photographers who want to capture distant subjects and take advantage of telephoto lenses will probably love the flexibility that the APS-C and Micro Four Thirds sensor sizes deliver, in addition, there are a number of full-frame models aimed squarely at enthusiasts. The full-frame dimensions, called so that it matches 35mm film in bodily measurement, is a good choice for landscapes, portraiture, event coverage, and reportage. The larger detector provides greater control over depth of field when paired with broad aperture glass.
If you are in the market for an interchangeable lens camera and need to keep the budget between $1,000 and $2,500, you have a lot of alternatives. Maybe too many. If you’re already invested in a method, it might have a much greener area to allow you to jump ship, and models in this price range are very close concerning features, functionality, and image quality.
If you are buying into a system, or do not have a massive investment in lenses and accessories, the first thing I would recommend doing is identifying which lenses you would love to have on your luggage and factoring those prices into your decision. You could realize that spending a little more on a body is well worth it if lenses you’re likely to buy are significantly less than the contest.
And then there are the capacities of the camera. You may set a significant emphasis on autofocus and burst catch rate, in which case you need to target APS-C models that excel in these scenarios. If you’re more of a portrait or landscape photographer, a full-frame camera is probably a better match, which means it’s possible to put money toward the sensor size and quality in place of the attention system.
The choice between an optical or electronic viewfinder is another one to consider. Modern EVFs are really, really good, and refresh quickly enough so that you can track moving actions. If you haven’t used one in a couple of decades, you’ll be amazed at how far they have come. However, for a few photographers, there is no replacement for an optical viewfinder, in the event, an SLR is going to be chosen to mirrorless.
Professional Options: Full-Frame and Medium Format
Pro photographers are nearly always shooting Canon or Nikon SLR systems, however, there are a few very capable alternatives out there. There are reasons that you see most working photographers using one of those two most well-known systems–they comprise a solid bevy of pro-grade bodies and lenses, a powerful support system financing that gear, and the comfort that years of use bring. That’s not to say you can not go another way. Sony creates a pro-level SLR and a couple of mirrorless cameras that fit the bill.
For expert sports, you will see bigger cameras around the sidelines. They don’t pack as much resolution as SLRs used to cover weddings and events, but they fire off pictures at much higher burst rates–typically about 10fps with constant tracking and vulnerability. Sony has an intriguing option out there in the mirrorless space, the a9. Lighter and less costly than rival SLRs, it fires and locks at an extraordinary 20fps and records video in 4K.
Beyond full-frame, you move in the territory of medium format photography. In the film days, a moderate format known to anything bigger than 35mm and bigger than 4-by-5-inch. That’s a pretty big gamut. With digital, you get the 33 by 44mm detector size used by most of the mirrorless cameras that sell for significantly less than $10,000–including Pentax’s SLR bodies, and mirrorless choices from Fujifilm and Hasselblad.
In the end, you can go for a detector that is about 54 by 40mm in size, only about matching the 645 file size. We have reviewed one of these cameras so much –the insanely costly Phase One XF 100MP. It offers Raw image capture in 100MP resolution, which is much more than overkill for the huge majority of photographers.