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The best cameras for beginners in 2020

Best cameras for beginners: image by Warren Wong on Unsplash
(Image credit: Warren Wong)

The best cameras for beginners are ideal for creatives who want to introduce photography into their skillset but aren't too sure where to start. Whether you're looking to add photography to your professional toolbox, or just want to start snapping photos for fun, it's best to pick up a camera for beginners rather than relying on your smartphone.

Why's this? Well, while smartphones these days definitely take pretty excellent photos, there are certain advantages that only dedicated cameras have. Even cheaper cameras will have larger sensors than smartphones, meaning they're better in low light, and will generally also have the capacity to offer an optical zoom lens. This means you can get closer to your subject without compromising on image quality. Then there's also speedy burst shooting, better dynamic range for tricky light situations, and higher resolution for making physical prints. Cameras still do a lot that even the best smartphones can't!

So the question is: which camera do you pick? It depends on what you want to do: will you be shooting outdoors, and thus need weather-sealing? Do you want something small and portable or is size a non-issue for you? Are you likely to be shooting video as well as stills? The answers to all these questions will affect which camera is best for you.

That's why we've put together this guide to the best cameras for beginners. All of the picks in this guide are suited to photography novices, while still offering the capacity to grow with you as you improve. 

If you've already got some photography skills, check our our roundup of what we consider the best cameras for all levels to be. And while you're getting kitted out, why not explore our guides to the best memory cards and the best camera bags.

What's the best type of camera for beginners?

First, let's look at the different types of camera available for beginners. If your priorities are simplicity and portability, there’s a lot to be said for a small point-and-shoot camera that you can slip into your daily bag or even a spare pocket. These cameras will have a lens fixed on the front, so while you won't be able to use any focal length that isn't specified on the box, most models will offer a respectable zoom range to work with. There will generally also be a built-in flash, and possibly a viewfinder that helps you compose your shots.

A more versatile option is a 'system' camera, which consists of a separate body and interchangeable lenses. Once you're equipped with two or three lenses, you can shoot anything from portraiture and still life, to action sports and wildlife, or sweeping landscapes and architecture, getting great results every time. 

They start small, with mirrorless or compact system cameras. These tend to be portable and offer faster shooting speeds than their larger siblings, DSLRs. However, don't count DSLRs out, as they are able to offer an optical viewfinder that gives you an unadulterated 'through-the-lens' view of what you're shooting. They also tend to be better weather-sealed and equipped with chunkier handgrips for a secure hold.

Also worth considering are instant print cameras! Analogue is back in a big way, and there's something to be said for a camera that doesn't necessitate messing about with memory cards and hard drives, and just spits out an instant physical print. If your creative work is more tactile/physical (perhaps incorporating collage) then this is definitely a viable option. 

Finally, there are also 'tough' cameras, which have smaller sensors than mainstream compacts, but are heavily waterproofed and can survive rough conditions.

Our pick of the best beginners' cameras includes all of the above, so you should be able to find the right model for you. Let's get started.

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01. Nikon D3500

The best all-round camera for beginners

Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Screen: 3.0-inch, 921k, fixed | Viewfinder: Pentamirror | Lens (effective): 27-82.5mm | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p

Keeps everything simple
Built-in photography tutor
Good all-round performance
Quite pricey for a basic DSLR
Lacks custom settings

It’s particularly easy to get up and running with the Nikon D3500. As well as an ‘intelligent’ fully automatic mode, there are wide-ranging scene modes and effects to choose from. More uniquely, there’s a Guide shooting mode, which serves as a kind of interactive photography course. There’s no shortage of quality either, with a high-performance 24.2MP image sensor and processor, a generous ISO (sensitivity) range, speedy 5fps maximum burst rate and a high-resolution LCD screen. 

However, it’s not a touch-sensitive screen and lacks a tilt or pivot facility. Another drawback is that autofocus is relatively slow in live view and movie capture modes but, overall, the D3500 is currently the most appealing beginners’ camera on the market.

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02. Canon EOS 250D

All the DSLR advantages for stills, plus 4K video

Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.1MP | Screen: 3.0-inch, 1,040k, pivot, touch | Viewfinder: Pentamirror | Lens (effective): 28.8-88mm | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 4K

Compact and lightweight for a DSLR
Great for movies as well as stills
Pricier than most beginners' DSLRs
Fairly basic main autofocus system

The Canon EOS 250D is the first entry-level DSLR to feature 4K movie capture, and it replaces the popular EOS 200D in Canon’s lineup. Indeed, the Dual Pixel CMOS autofocus system for live view and movie modes, inherited from its predecessor, makes the camera particularly good for tracking action when shooting video. The virtually silent autofocus performance of the 18-55mm kit lens is a further bonus.

Not just for video, the 250D is a very accomplished package for stills. It's beginner-friendly with optional Guided User Interface and Creative Assist modes, which work seamlessly with the fully articulated touchscreen. The camera is also well able to grow with you as you learn new skills and techniques, Canon’s excellent Quick menu giving intuitive and instant access to important settings.

One of the most compact and lightweight DSLRs on the market, the 250D is a camera you can take anywhere and everywhere. Our only real criticism is that, in viewfinder-based stills shooting rather than live view mode, the autofocus system is fairly basic. There are only nine AF points and only one of them is cross-type, able to resolve detail in both horizontal and vertical planes.

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03. Polaroid Originals OneStep+

Make lasting physical prints in chic, lo-fi Polaroid style

Type: Instant print camera | Format: Polaroid film (7.9 x 7.7 cm) | Screen: No | Viewfinder: Optical | Lens (effective): 89mm / 103mm (dual lenses) | Flash: Yes | Connectivity: Bluetooth LE

Makes gorgeous instant prints
Smartphone compatibility
Film is expensive
Plasticky build

The best cameras don't have to be digital! Analogue is a great Physical prints of photographs have much more tangible lasting value than digital files, and there's loads of potential for incorporating them into your creative projects. The Polaroid Originals OneStep+ is the best instant-print camera around right now – not only does it produce beautiful square prints in that classic Polaroid style, but it also offers Bluetooth connectivity with a smartphone that give the user access to loads of additional shooting modes like Double Exposure, Light Painting, Noise Trigger and more.

Full of retro charm, the OneStep+ is well-designed and easy to use, with a powerful flash and twin lenses, one for general shooting, the other for portraits and close-ups. It's great value at the price, though bear in mind that film is an ongoing expense, coming in packs of ten that will generally set you back £10-15. Buy in bulk if you can and you'll definitely make some savings.

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04. Sony a6000

A sophisticated, fast mirrorless camera that's now available for a fantastic price

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.3MP | Screen: 3.0-inch, 921k, tilt | Viewfinder: Electronic, 1,440k | Lens (effective): 24-75mm | Continuous shooting speed: 11fps | Max video resolution: Full HD

Fast and accurate shooting
Discounted price
No 4K video
No touchscreen

There have been plenty more cameras released in Sony's a6000 series since this one, so why have we included it? Well, this is a still a fantastic machine in its own right: a fast-shooting, lightweight and dependable mirrorless camera, with an APS-C sensor and a sophisticated autofocus system. A beginning photographer who wants a solid foundation on which to grow and develop their skills will find the a6000 offers all of this and more. Plus, with all the subsequent models that have been released, this camera can now be picked up for an absolute bargain price.

Equipped with a powerful 24.3 APS-C sensor, the Sony a6000 is an E-mount camera, meaning there's a fantastic range of lenses to choose from in addition to the bundled 16-50mm kit lens. This is an ideal choice for those who want to hit the ground running; it doesn't have as many guide modes as other cameras, but if you're prepared to put a little work in, you'll find it to be a rewarding and capable imaging machine.

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05. Canon EOS 4000D

This super-cheap DSLR kit is the best budget beginners' camera

Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 18MP | Screen: 2.7-inch, 230k, fixed | Viewfinder: Pentamirror | Lens (effective): 28.8-88mm | Continuous shooting speed: 3fps | Max video resolution: 1080p

Good quality at a great price
Nice handling
Low-resolution rear screen
Sluggish burst rate

Despite being remarkably inexpensive for a DSLR kit that comes complete with camera body and zoom lens, the 4000D is capable of delivering lovely image quality. Full auto mode incorporates real-time ‘intelligent’ scene analysis, and there are plenty of scene modes and creative filters to choose from. There’s a built-in feature guide and a Creative Auto shooting mode that helps to bridge the gap between basic and more advanced modes. 

For extra guidance, Canon also offers a Photo Companion app that you can download for Android or iOS. Overall, the 4000D is good value for money but the kit lens doesn’t feature optical stabiliaation, the continuous shooting speed is rather pedestrian, and the rear screen is relatively small and low in resolution.

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06. Fujifilm X-T100

Great performance makes this the best mirrorless beginners' camera

Type: CSC | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Screen: 3.0-inch, 1,040k tilt, touch | Viewfinder: Electronic, 2,360k | Lens (effective): 22.5-67.5mm | Continuous shooting speed: 6fps | Max video resolution: 4k

Simple but highly effective
Small, lightweight and stylish
Pricier than some mirrorless cameras
Slow frame rate for 4k movies

Immaculately turned out in a choice of black, dark silver or champagne gold, the Fujifilm X-T100 is is one of Fujifilm’s latest compact system cameras. The impressive feature set includes high-resolution thrills all round, from the 24.2MP APS-C image sensor, to the 1,040k 3-way tilting touchscreen and the 2,360k electronic viewfinder. There’s also 4k UHD movie capture on the menu, although it’s limited to a disappointingly slow 15fps frame rate. 

Further highlights include intelligent scene analysis and intelligent hybrid AF, which combines phase-detection and contrast-detection for fast yet consistently accurate performance. The 15-45mm kit lens is also a delight, delivering very good image quality while adding optical image stabilisation and power-zoom for smooth focal length transitions when shooting movies.

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07. Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mk III

The best beginners' camera for travel, Olympus has it in the bag with this compact system model

Type: CSC | Sensor: Four Thirds | Megapixels: 16.1MP | Screen: 3.0-inch 1,040k tilt touch | Viewfinder: Electronic 2,360k | Lens (effective): 28-84mm | Continuous shooting speed: 8.6fps | Max video resolution: 4k

Travel-friendly size and weight
Nice electronic viewfinder and tilting screen
Quite modest 16.1MP stills resolution
Autofocus can be a little sluggish

One of the upsides of Micro Four Thirds mirrorless system cameras is that they tend to be fairly small and lightweight. That’s certainly true of the Olympus E-M10, which is now in its third generation. Although small, it’s impeccably well built and beautifully turned out with classic retro styling. The 14-42mm EZ kit lens is similarly small, with a retractable design that enables compact stowage. 

Even so, it features a built-in motor that enables smooth zooming during video capture. The maximum burst rate for stills is a speedy 8.6fps, although autofocus can be a little slower than in many competing cameras, making it tricky to follow fast-moving action. 4k UHD movie capture is a bonus.

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08. Nikon D5600

The best beginners’ camera for wildlife, this is also a top choice for action and sports

Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Screen: 3.2-inch, 1,040k, pivot, touch | Viewfinder: Pentamirror | Lens (effective): 27-210mm | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p

Sophisticated 39-point autofocus
Fully articulated touchscreen
Slow autofocus for live view and movies
Less beginner-friendly than D3500

Great for following the action in sports and wildlife photography, the Nikon D5600 has an advanced 39-point autofocus system that boasts auto-area, dynamic-area and 3D-tracking modes. The optional 18-140mm VR kit lens is also particularly suitable for these types of photography, with its 27-210mm ‘effective’ zoom range and competent Vibration Reduction (optical image stabilisation) system. And for when you need to trek into the countryside for shooting wildlife, or stand for long periods at a sporting event, the D5600 won’t weigh you down as it’s one of the lightest and most compact DSLRs on the market. 

The fully articulated touchscreen is an extra bonus, although for live view and video capture, the sensor-based contrast-detection autofocus facility can be painfully slow.

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09. Panasonic LUMIX DMC-TZ100

The best beginners’ compact camera, this pocketable compact shoehorns a lot in

Type: Compact | Sensor: 1.0-type | Megapixels: 20.1MP | Screen: 3.0-inch 1,240k, touch | Viewfinder: Electronic, 1,166k | Lens (effective): 25-250mm | Continuous shooting speed: 10fps (4k 30fps) | Max video resolution: 4k

Feature-rich at a friendly price
1.0-type image sensor and 10x zoom range
Touchscreen has no tilt or pivot facility
Lacks textured grip surfaces

For such a small camera, the Panasonic TZ100 packs in some seriously big specifications and features. It has a 20.1MP 1.0-type sensor that’s physically large for a compact camera, and retains relatively noise-free image quality even at high ISO settings. It also crams in an electronic viewfinder and a high-res, 3.0inch rear screen, plus a 10x zoom lens with an effective range of 25-250mm. 

To keep things steady, there’s optical image stabilisation for stills and 5-axis hybrid stabilisation for video capture. You can also shoot at 4k UHD for both stills and video, with a frame rate of up to 30fps. For full-resolution stills, the burst rate is still speedy at 10fps. 

Clever tricks include ‘post-focus’, which enables you to capture a burst of stills with automatically transitioning focus distances, and select the frame with the ideal focus point afterwards.

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10. Olympus Tough TG-5

The best beginners’ underwater camera, this compact Olympus is for the adventurous

Type: Compact | Sensor: 1/2.3-inch | Megapixels: 12.0MP | Screen: 3.0-inch 460k | Viewfinder: None | Lens (effective): 25-100mm | Continuous shooting speed: 20fps | Max video resolution: 4k

An all action hero of a camera
4x zoom lens and 20fps drive
Noisy image quality at high ISO settings
Fairly expensive for a 'tough' compact

Like other ‘tough’ compact cameras on the market, this Olympus Tough TG-5 is designed to take the knocks. It can withstand being submerged in water to a depth of 15 metres, dropped from a height of 2.1 metres and frozen to -10 degrees Celsius. If you’re feeling particularly mean, you can even try crushing it with a 100kg weight, and it’ll still keep on working. 

All in all, it’s a great camera for everything from skiing down mountains to snorkelling in the sea. The maximum burst rate is a similarly action-packed 20fps, and you can also capture 4k UHD movies. The 4x optical zoom lens adds versatility, as do the built-in macro and microscopic modes. To take things even further, a range of optional accessories includes fisheye and telephoto lens converters. While Olympus has since released a Tough TG-6, we'd say this model is the best pick for beginners' offering basically the same package (the new version has an identical sensor and lens; really the only difference is some new modes) for a better price,

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