When looking for the best cheap camera, you’ll find that if anything, there’s too much choice rather than too little. Major manufacturers are constantly updating their lines with newer models to suit all budgets, and if you’re willing to do a little digging around, it’s possible to find some fantastic bargains on great cameras.
When picking up the best cheap camera, consider what you’re looking for. Do you need something beginner-friendly, or more suited to an expert? How many frames per second can it capture in burst mode – and is this important to the type of photography you want to do. Is it a compact camera with a fixed lens, or a mirrorless or DSLR camera where the lens can be changed? It’s also worth considering how heavy the camera is, especially if you’re planning on taking it travelling, and how many shots it can capture on a single battery charge.
We’ve factored all these things in when coming up with our list of the best cheap cameras. We’ve kept to cameras that can easily be found for less than £500 – and many for a good deal less than that – so expect to see older-generation and beginner-friendly models as we count off the best cheap cameras you can buy in 2021.
The best cheap cameras available in 2021
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It may have been released in 2014, but the Sony a6000 is still an outstanding camera that does pretty much everything most users could want, and with every year that passes it only gets cheaper. An ahead-of-its-time autofocus system meets impressive 11fps burst shooting, while the 24MP sensor reliably produces images that look fantastic. It predates the 4K boom so video is Full HD only, but otherwise this is a fantastic camera in pretty much every respect. It’s lightweight and easy to use, there are loads of excellent lenses to choose from, and, really, it just works. Hard to ask for more than that!
One of Panasonic’s specialities has been making smaller and smaller mirrorless cameras with Micro Four Thirds sensors, and the GX880 is one of the tiniest yet. This means it is a bit fiddly to use sometimes, but with its flip-around screen and ability to shoot 4K UHD video, it’s an ideal choice of camera for run-and-gun vloggers, especially those working by themselves. Its autofocus is reliable and capable, and the huge range of Micro Four Thirds lenses gives you a great deal of creative flexibility. We would, however, advise packing a spare battery – as even with USB charging, the GX880 will run down its charge pretty quickly.
While it’s not the newest GoPro, the Hero8 Black is still an excellent camera and can be picked up for less than its newer cousins. This model produces excellent 4K video with some of the best stabilisation in the business, resulting in smooth footage from even the choppiest conditions.
If you’re keen to use it for vlogging, then it’s worth looking at the various GoPro Mods that can be used to customise it – probably the most interesting will be the Media Mod, which adds a directional microphone and HDMI out, though there’s also a useful LED Light Mod and a Display Mod that adds a vlogging screen. All this costs extra of course, which is another reason to save money on a slightly older camera.
It may not be a knock-your-socks-off kind of camera, but the EOS 1300D has only got cheaper since being replaced by Canon’s newer entry-level models like the EOS 2000D. The only real difference between this camera and that one is that the 2000D has a higher resolution of 24MP compared to 18MP on the 1300D. And, in all honesty, you probably don’t need those extra six megapixels, unless you’re planning to print your images. The EOS 1300D is a great choice for learning the ropes and inducting yourself into the Canon system.
Nikon makes a convincing case for offering the best DSLR for photography students and novices in the form of the D3500. It’s user-friendly, with simple controls and a useful Guide Mode that helps with the basics, but having Nikon’s F-mount for lenses and decent burst speed of 5fps means there’s plenty of room to grow into it. A useful AF-P 18-55mm lens comes bundled with this camera, meaning you’ll have everything you need the moment you take it out of the box. While there’s no 4K video, Full HD can be shot at 60p and it looks great – more than good enough for most purposes.
Fujifilm’s hugely popular X cameras have been a big hit in the mirrorless community – and with the X-A5, the firm has crafted a tremendous budget version that appeals to beginner photographers. So you get the retro looks of the X series and the dial-led controls, as well as the gorgeous punchy colours the cameras are known for, in a body that won’t break the bank. There are compromises of course – one of the biggest being that the camera doesn’t have a viewfinder – but for the money you are getting loads of photo potential here.
When shooting astrophotography, you really need two things – a sensor that’s big enough to handle poor lighting conditions, and a camera that can perform well at high ISOs. Generally, these two things will cost you quite a bit of money, but we reckon the Fujifilm X-T100 is the best bet for working to a budget. Its APS-C sensor is only one step below full-frame, and it performs really well in low light, with low noise even at high ISO settings, meaning they’re actually useable in real-world terms. Having access to Fujifilm X lenses is no bad thing, too, as these optics tend to be sharp from corner to corner.
A powerful bridge camera with an equivalent 25-600mm lens, the Lumix FZ330 is perfect for getting close-up shots of the moon and other features of the night sky. The constant aperture of f/2.8 runs right the way through the focal range, so while this is a little limiting for night photography, you do at least have the same light levels at your disposal even when shooting at the far telephoto end. Provided you work with a tripod, you’ll be able to capture fantastic night-sky shots with the FZ330, and for that price, it’s a steal.