The best camera for beginners is the ideal way to get serious about your photography or video shooting. A dedicated camera offers lots of advantage over a smartphone, from physical things like ergonomics and a bigger battery, to the quality and resolution of the image itself.
Cameras are able to field larger sensors and more sophisticated lens systems than smaller devices like smartphones, giving the user much more shooting versatility in terms of what they can capture. Want a powerful optical zoom lens for distant, or a large lens aperture to make the most of low light? A good camera system is your best bet. Side note: if you need a primer in the technical terminology, scroll to the bottom of this page, where we've put together a jargon-busting explainer for everything you need to know when picking a camera for beginners.
There are three main types of camera you'll be picking between: DSLRs, mirrorless cameras and compact cameras. Each has different advantages and compromises, so it's all about balancing your needs and budget – again, scroll to the bottom if you need a quick explainer.
Cameras can also be quite specialised – for instance, cameras optimized for shooting in dark conditions are so common that we have a dedicated guide to the best low-light cameras. Plus, there are also excellent all-in-one models for those who want something slim and simple, which we've rounded up in our guide to the best point-and-shoot cameras. In this guide, however, we've gone general, and simply included the best models for first-time shooters looking to explore general photography. We've evaluated them based on features, build and handling, image quality, versatility and value for money.
Want more choice? We also have a broader best cameras guide, and a handy guide to the best cameras for kids if you're buying for a little one. Also, once you've started shooting, make sure you check out the best photo editing software.
The best camera for beginners available now
The Sony A6000 has been around for years, and is still one of the best cameras that beginners can buy – proof that you don’t always need to rush for the latest tech. Most cameras get discontinued after a few years as new models supplant them, but Sony has kept the A6000 in circulation since its release in 2014. And the best part is – as the years have gone by, it’s only got more affordable.
The camera still has all the features a contemporary photographer is likely to need. Its APS-C sensor represents a significant upgrade over a smartphone and will provide noticeably improved image quality. The 24.3MP of resolution is more than enough for most purposes – enough to crop in a little, or to make decent prints of your images.
When we reviewed the Sony A6000, we found that even all these years down the line, it still holds up for photographers, with all the features you could want except for maybe touchscreen focus point selection. For video users though, it hasn't quite retained its crown so well; it predates the real 4K boom, so video resolution tops out at Full HD (fine for most purposes, but maybe not for forward-thinking video creators). Plus, it lacks a 3.5mm mic jack, so you don’t have an option for improving your audio. Otherwise, this is a fantastic camera for beginners, and often easy to find at a great price.
Our Sony A6000 review goes into more detail.
The Nikon D3500 is a DSLR, meaning it has a mirror mechanism that allows it to field an optical viewfinder. This makes it physically larger than mirrorless cameras like the Sony A6000, but many photographers prefer the slightly chunkier, ergonomic form factor of the DSLR. They may not be the most fashionable cameras on the block, but there’s still a place for them and will be for a long time.
When reviewing the Nikon D3500, we appreciated this satisfying DSLR handling – there’s no question that it’s an enjoyable camera to use. One thing we’d say is that while the bundled kit lens does the job, you will probably want to make upgrading it a priority. Picking up a lens with a larger maximum aperture gives you much more flexibility when it comes to exposure and depth of field, expanding your shooting options.
Especially optimised for beginners, the Nikon D3500 is packed with useful tutorials and guide modes to help new users understand the basics of exposure and settings. The D3000 series of cameras are some of the most popular cameras for students around, and this is a large part of the reason why. Of course, it also helps that you’ve got Nikon’s F-mount, giving you access to a huge catalogue of fantastic lenses.
The D3500 has an APS-C sensor, and 24.2MP of resolution – basically identical to the A6000, and a good combination for most purposes. Also, while DSLRs may not be as fashionable as they once were, being in the Nikon F system still gives you a huge choice of fantastic cameras when it comes time to upgrade, all the way up to pro-level workhorses like the Nikon D850.
If you have a little more cash in the bank and want a premium beginner’s camera, we’d strongly recommend taking a look at the Fujifilm X-T30 II. A relatively recent refresh of a popular camera, the X-T30 II is a joy to use, with satisfying dial-based controls and a cool retro build, both of which hearken back to the film SLRs of the late 20th century.
The X-T30 II is a particularly good camera for those who don’t want to spend a lot of time editing images in software like Photoshop or Lightroom. When we reviewed the X-T30, we really appreciated how good its JPEGs were straight out of camera, leaving us free to shoot and shoot in the moment. Also, if you want a real touch of retro charm, you can play around with Fujifilm’s fantastic Film Simulations. These are finely tuned shooting presets that specifically emulate the looks of classic film stocks like Velvia, Provia and Astia. We found it incredible just how addictive these were.
The other half of the picture is the lenses, and Fujifilm passes with flying colors here – the X-mount lens series may not be as abundantly populated as others, but the lenses themselves are some of the best around. Absolutely tack-sharp, with wide apertures and tactile aperture rings – they’re a great deal of fun to use.
In use, we were really impressed with the handling and quality of the X-T30 II. There are some features it might have been nice to see, like in-body image stabilisation or a full articulating rear screen, but we can appreciate that throwing in everything would likely have seen the camera’s price tag spiral out of control.
Another DSLR at the entry-level, the EOS 250D is not Canon's cheapest DSLR, but it's the cheapest one we think is worth buying. It's the first entry-level DSLR to come packing 4K video, so while it's a shade pricier than the Nikon D3500, you do get more for your money.
When using the EPS 250D, one of the first things you'll likely notice is that the Dual Pixel CMOS autofocus system is excellent: snappy and accurate. We also appreciated the quality of the 18-55mm kit lens this camera will generally come bundled with. While it is a kit lens, it's a surprisingly decent one, and makes for a solid optic to get used to the ins and outs of photography.
Canon also took a leaf out of Nikon's book and made the EOS 250D extremely accessible for beginners. The Guided User Interface and Creative Assist modes help you slide your way into understanding how the camera works, and the Quick menu continues to give you easy access to the most vital settings.
Once you've got to grips with the EOS 250D, you've bought your way into one of the most venerable and popular camera systems around, and even if it has some drawbacks – a slightly basic autofocus system, for one – it's a superb beginner's camera. On the expensive side, but worth it.
The Polaroid Now+ is the latest chapter in the ongoing success story that is the regeneration of Polaroid. These revitalised instant cameras combine the best of the old and new; producing instant film prints with all the lo-fi charm you remember from years gone by, while also offering smartphone connectivity to unlock loads of cutting-edge features.
Polaroid has extensively reworked its app, and the result is a camera-control experience that feels smooth and modern. It lets you play around with specialised shooting modes like Double Exposure, Self Timer, Light Painting and more, and introduces Aperture Priority mode for the more confident of settings-tweakers. The Now+ uses a two-lens autofocus system, and can be mounted to a tripod if that's something that interests you.
When we reviewed the camera, we found that the prints, naturally, look great, with just the right level of retro chic. They're not going to win awards for technical perfection, but that's never been the point of Polaroid. They simply ooze analogue charm, and provide significantly better image quality than Fujifilm's Instax range. Though, granted, this means that they're more expensive to buy. The only real downside of the Polaroid Now+ is that you have to factor in the ongoing costs of film.
See our full Polaroid+ review for more details.
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.
We especially appreciate the control layout, which 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.
When using the ZV-E10, you can feel right away that this is a camera designed for video first, not 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.
In use, the Olympus E-M10 Mark IV is a delightful little camera. It fits easily into a small bag, and is great for carrying around everywhere for those unanticipated shooting opportunities. 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
The slim, 182g Canon PowerShot SX620 HS is even more portable than the Olympus E-M10 IV – it's pocketable, and it’s also a highly capable travel camera.
We were impressed by the zoom lens on this camera, which covers an equivalent focal range of 25-625mm, and offers pretty decent quality throughout for a camera at this price. Also, it's more useful at the telephoto end than you might expect, thanks to the lens-shift optical stabilisation system. Often long-zoom cameras can be basically unusable at the long ends of their lenses unless you mount them to a tripod – as every tiny movement of the hand is magnified tenfold by the zoom. So it's nice to have a system expanding the hand-held utility of the camera.
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 ZS100 (or TZ100 outside of the US) packs in some seriously big specifications and features. It has a 20.1MP 1.0-type sensor that’s physically large for a camera of this size, 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.
When we reviewed the ZS100, we appreciated all the clever tricks and features that Panasonic put into this highly capable compact. One of the coolest is ‘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. See our Panasonic Lumix ZS100 review for all the details.
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. 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).
These are the sensor sizes you'll likely encounter when shopping for a camera, from smallest to largest:
1/2.3-inch type, 1/2.5-inch type 1/1.7-inch type:
This is the rough sensor size generally found in smartphones and cheaper compact cameras. It makes for affordable cameras, but the trade-off is poor low light performance.
These sensors are often found in compact cameras and bridge cameras. Offering a step up from smartphone sensors, a 1-inch sensor will produce less noise in images.
Micro Four Thirds:
A sensor size standard for mirrorless cameras, Micro Four Thirds sensors are found in Olympus and Panasonic models. Larger than 1-inch type, Micro Four Thirds cameras tend to be nicely compact while still offering impressive image quality.
This is the sensor size that bridges the gap between enthusiast and professional. Some camera manufacturers like Fujifilm have based entire systems on APS-C sensors.
So-named because it is roughly the size of a frame of 35mm film, full-frame is generally the standard for professional photographers.
A larger sensor size that roughly equates to that of 120 film, medium format cameras are very expensive (you won't get one for less than a four-figure price) and tend to be used by specialist shooters.
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.
What are the different types of camera?
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.