The best camera for beginners needs to offer a number of things. It needs to be easy to use and affordable, while also offering enough of an upgrade over a smartphone camera to be worth buying. It’s a fine line to walk, but the good news is that plenty of manufacturers have stepped up to the challenge.
The three main types of cameras we’ll be concerning ourselves with are DSLRs, mirrorless cameras and compacts. If you’re not sure what these terms mean, jump straight to our jargon-busting guide to the different types of camera.
But you don’t need to know all the terminology to figure out what you want from a camera. You just need to think about what you want to shoot. If you’re looking to shoot fast action, then speedy burst rates are your friend. Do you want something light, portable and convenient? Or do you want the flexibility of being able to buy lots of different lenses for different situations?
For this guide, we’ve given a brief outline of the strengths and weakness of each camera we’ve selected, to help steer you towards the one that’s right for you. All the cameras on this list tilt towards the affordable end of the scale, and are also worth their price tag. We’ve not just picked the cheapest cameras; we’ve selected models we think are genuinely worth the money. This means our guide includes a mixture of new and old cameras, as prices do change and many older models will be perfectly suitable for beginners.
If you feel you’re a little beyond beginner cameras, try our best cameras guide, and if you're shopping for a little one, try our round-up of the best cameras for kids. For now though, let’s get started with the best cameras for beginners.
The best camera for beginners list
All things weighed up, we reckon the best camera beginners can buy is the Nikon D3500. It’s the latest in Nikon’s successful D3000 line of beginner cameras, which are equipped with guide modes and tutorials to help the novice user get to grips with using a camera. Don’t know your apertures from your aspect ratios? The Nikon D3500 will get you up to speed.
The best part though is that it’s also an excellent camera to grow into. Its APS-C sensor puts it head-and-shoulders above smartphones and smaller compacts in terms of image quality, and the Nikon F-mount gives you access to one of the most extensive lens ranges in existence. A D3500 will teach you to use it, but also grow with you once you know the ropes, and it’s tough to ask more from a beginner camera!
There’s no 4K video, but believe us, you don’t need it. The only real strike against the D3500 is the fact that mirrorless cameras are broadly supplanting DSLRs across the market. Investing in a mirrorless system like Sony E-mount (see our next entry) might be more future-proof. But fundamentally, the Nikon D3500 is the best beginner’s camera, and the system has more than enough lenses to keep you shooting forever.
When picking cameras for guides like this, we think it’s important to look at everything available, not just the manufacturers’ latest models. The Sony A6000 may have made its debut in 2014, but it’s a superbly capable mirrorless camera, and as it has aged its price has only come down, making it more tempting than ever.
Its APS-C sensor produces superb-looking images, and its 11fps burst-shooting speed would still look impressive on the spec sheet of a camera unveiled today. The autofocus system is fast and accurate enough for any beginner user, and it’s an easy enough camera to pick up and use – though lacking the tutorials and guides of the D3500. Having the Sony E-mount also gives you access to a huge range of quality lenses.
You do miss out on a few post-2014 features – there’s no touchscreen, and no 4K video. Feel you can live without those? Then the A6000 definitely merits consideration.
For our money, the Fujifilm X-T200 is another excellent choice of mirrorless camera. Part of Fujifilm's stylish X-series, this camera blends cool retro looks with top-notch imaging potential.
Lightweight and easy to use, the X-T200 makes a number of smart choices, not least of which is the gloriously large and vari-angle 3.5-inch touchscreen that's a boon for composing images or monitoring video. And speaking of video, the 4K on the X-T200 is really excellent. The original X-T100 stumbled somewhat in this department, with 15p 4K footage that, in all honesty, looked pretty crappy. Fujifilm has corrected the mistake here, and the 30p 4K on the X-T200 looks the part.
It's still a little pricier than some of the other beginner cameras on this list, but you do get access to the superb X series of lenses, which has some of the highest-quality lenses of any mirrorless system around right now. We feel very comfortable recommending the X-T200 as one of the best beginner mirrorless cameras you can buy.
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 performance-wise 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. Our other main criticism is the price, which is a little much for an entry-level DSLR. If you're willing to pay the premium though, this is a good choice.
The latest step in the big Polaroid revival, the Polaroid Go is one of the most surprising innovations yet from the reinvigorated brand. It's a camera so tiny it can practically be carried as a keychain, and yet is still capable of spitting out lo-fi instant film prints (albeit in a smaller size than full-format Polaroid cameras like the Now or the OneStep+).
It's never going to win awards for technical perfection, but then again that isn't the point. The Polaroid Go is a beautifully simple camera designed to allow you to get up and, well, go. There's a flash for illuminating scenes, a self-timer function paired with a selfie mirror, and even double-exposure functionality, allowing you to experiment with crazy overlay effects. It does significantly more than Instax cameras that come at the same price, and also has a rechargeable battery, which is less wasteful than many comparable cameras that rely on AAs.
The Go has higher running costs than other cameras as you'll need to keep buying the film. It's also very stripped down, lacking some of the connectivity features of the flagship OneStep+. But for a beginner who just wants to point, shoot and make memories, it's perfect!
if you know you're likely to want to capture stills AND video but are perhaps a bit of a novice at both, the Panasonic Lumix G100 is the place to start. A super-small camera weighing in at just 412g body only, the G100 nevertheless packs in loads of great features. It shoots sublime 4K/30p video and excellent 20MP stills, and thanks to the Micro Four Thirds mount, there are absolutely loads of lenses to choose from.
The control layout also scores major points for how approachable it is; you tap the big red button to start recording, for instance. The customisable Fn buttons are a good way to encourage yourself to experiment with different settings, while the touchscreen is also flexible and user-friendly. Also, in a remarkable development, Panasonic has teamed up with Nokia to give the camera OZO audio, a multi-mic system that makes the camera's on-board audio recording... actually quite decent. This alone makes it a great starter camera for vlogging.
While Sony’s A6000 cameras are pretty great for video, those whose interests lie more firmly in this field may want to look at the ZV series instead. The Sony ZV-E10 is the second camera in this series, and is a superb little vlogging camera that can also shoot pretty good stills when it needs to. It’s also really well-priced, more affordable than many rivals.
Ergonomically, it’s not really designed for photography. There’s no viewfinder and no mode dial on the rear for quickly shifting modes – something done more in stills than video. That’s not to say it’s useless for stills - a smartphone is not ergonomically designed for photography, and most of us manage just fine. But if you’re focusing mostly on stills, best look elsewhere.
The video, of course, is great. The 4K 30p footage looks crisp and punchy, and Sony’s video autofocus is absolutely class-leading. The built-in microphone is also good enough to be useable – something of a rarity on cameras like this – and it comes with a handy clip-on wind muffler that really does make a difference. The lack of stabilisation is a shame; maybe it would have made the camera too expensive, but it would have been welcome all the same.
Olympus is now on the fourth iteration of its hugely popular line of travel-friendly mirrorless cameras, and the E-M10 Mark IV is a fantastic entry. It makes for a great gateway into mirrorless shooting, lightweight enough to take everywhere, but boasting a deceptive number of sophisticated features - a solid entry in this list of the best camera for beginners list. It's got a generous in-body stabilisation system that makes it easier to shoot handheld in low light, and plenty of assistive shooting modes that help novice users get their head around settings.
The 4K video capabilities and flip-around screen also make it decent for vlogging, though the lack of a mic port is a strike against it in this area. Some may also be turned off by the plastic build, as opposed to the metallic alloys of more expensive cameras. If that doesn't bother you, this is a great starting choice for a beginner's travel camera
A take-everywhere, slip-into-a-pocket kind of camera is a great idea for a beginner, as the fastest way to get better at shooting is to always have your camera with you. The slim, 182g Canon PowerShot SX620 HS certainly fits the bill in that regard, and it’s also a highly capable travel camera. The zoom lens on its front covers an equivalent focal range of 25-625mm, and is more useable at the telephoto end thanks to the lens-shift optical stabilisation system, which compensates for camera-shake.
Those who upgrade to this camera from a smartphone may chafe at the lack of a touchscreen, and it’s also true that the 1/2.3inch sensor is basically the same size as you’ll find in a phone. It’s worth the upgrade if you want a capable travel compact with a zoom lens that will cover a broad range of shooting situations, but don’t expect a radical upgrade in image quality.
With the price having come down since launch, the PowerShot SX620 HS now represents a really sound buy for any beginning photographer looking to get to grips with real camera controls.
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.
The best camera for beginners: What to consider
Why buy a camera for beginners when you’ve got a perfectly decent camera in your pocket? While it may seem easier to stick with the smartphone, cameras do have many advantages of their own that the physical limitations of smartphones mean they can’t compete with.
The main one is sensor size. The physical size and shape of a camera means it’s able to field a much larger sensor than a smartphone. Professional cameras tend to have full-frame sensors, while enthusiast models have APS-C. Beneath that we see Four Thirds sensors, then 1-inch, and then finally, 1/2.3-inch, which is the sensor size of a smartphone camera.
Don’t worry about memorising the terms; the main thing to remember is that a larger sensor can have larger pixels, which means cleaner images with less noise, especially in low light. Images taken with a larger sensor have much more dynamic range (tonal difference between areas of light and dark).
The camera’s other main advantage is lens quality. Cameras can make use of optical zoom lenses, allowing you to get closer to your subject with no loss in quality, and can also use high-quality prime (fixed focal-length) lenses designed to produce as sharp an image as possible. Whether you’re going for maximum shooting versatility or maximum image quality, a camera can outstrip a smartphone on both fronts.
The list of advantages goes on. Cameras have more sophisticated autofocus systems, capable of tracking moving subjects, and can burst shoot at high speeds to ensure you never miss the moment. Higher megapixel counts also mean that images can be printed at higher quality.
The best camera for beginners: What type?
There are a few main types of camera that we’ve included in this guide, as each one can be well-suited for beginners. Here’s a quick rundown of the key types and the differences between them,
DSLRs: Once the professional standard for digital cameras, the DSLR is still among the most popular type of camera around. The name stands for “digital single-lens reflex”, which refers to the fact that it uses a single lens for shooting and focusing (old rangefinder-style cameras used two). DSLRs have an internal mirror mechanism that allows them to field an optical viewfinder, which many photographers still prefer to an LCD screen for composing images. They also tend to be hardier and more weatherproof than other types of camera, though this varies from model to model.
Mirrorless: Mirrorless cameras, like DSLRs, have a lens mount that allows lenses to be swapped at will. However, they forgo the mirror mechanism that allows for an optical viewfinder, the trade-off being that this allows them to be built smaller and lighter. Mirrorless cameras are very much seen as the future in the photo and video community, and this is generally where the most exciting developments in imaging technology are taking place.
Compact: Compact cameras have a fixed lens on their front that cannot be changed; this may be a zoom lens that allows for covering a set focal range, or a fixed-focal-length “prime” lens with an emphasis on quality. Compact cameras, also known as point-and-shoot cameras, were once thought of as cheap and poor-quality, but now have been forced to up their game to compete with smartphones. These days, amny compacts offer imaging quality to rival that of interchangeable lens cameras.
Instant film: Like the Polaroids of yesteryear, instant film cameras are capable of producing a physical print of an image moments after capture! While they’ll never win awards for technical perfection, these cameras provide a kind of knockabout fun that makes them great for beginners – and these days they can connect wirelessly to smart devices to open up new shooting possibilities.
But which is the best camera for beginners to pick? It depends on what you need. Do you want something small and portable or hardy and weatherproof? Are you likely to be shooting video as well as stills? Do you see yourself buying more lenses, or would you prefer a single package that does it all? The answers to all these questions will affect which camera is best for you.