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Best camera for beginners 2021: The ultimate starter camera

Best camera for beginners: The ultimate starter camera
(Image credit: Canon)

Now is the perfect time to get into photography, but it’s hard to know where to start. After all, the best camera for beginners is hard to narrow down - though we haven’t let that stop us from doing so. We’ve got a range of different styles and features for you to look at, including best compact cameras, best mirrorless camera, and even the best cheap camera deals if you need something on the cheap - no matter if you’re a professional or a beginner with cameras.

But the first question you need to ask yourself is ‘what sort of camera am I looking for?’ Do you want to head into the very serious world of photography, or is it going to be a hobby? Depending on your answer, this can help you make guidelines for your budget and restrain you from blowing cash on a camera that doesn’t suit you. 

Then there’s the camera itself to consider. Are you looking for something that doesn’t take up too much space and has a built-in lens? Get yourself a compact camera - both simple and affordable. Of course, if you’d rather focus on having a camera that you’re able to change the lens of - giving you more options in how to shoot your image - then a mirrorless and DSLR camera is the way to go. For a better understanding on the difference between mirrorless and DSLR, read on. 

Best camera for beginners: Mirrorless vs. DSLR

Going for a camera with interchangeable lenses? DSLRs have optical viewfinders, which show you the scene as it appears to the eye, while mirrorless cameras either have an electronic version or don’t have one at all. This really divides opinion, and it’s a major reason photographers are drawn to one camp or the other.

Other features to think about are 4K video recording, which is common to compacts and mirrorless cameras, but still making its way to DSLRs, as well as LCD screens that flip out to face the front or simply tilt up and down. You may prefer one or the other, although the vast majority are at least now sensitive to touch.

We reckon the best camera for beginners right now is the Sony A6000. It’s not the newest model on this list, but it offers great images from its 24MP sensor, lovely Full HD videos, excellent autofocus performance, a detailed electronic viewfinder and speedy burst shooting at 11 frames per second. You can use it with different lenses as you gain confidence and you can currently find it for under $550/£500 with its lens included. 

1. Nikon D3500: This best budget DSLR for beginners overall

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Nikon D3500

This best budget DSLR for beginners overall


Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Nikon F | Screen: 3-inch fixed, 921,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Viewfinder: Optical, approx 95% coverage | Max video resolution: Full HD | User level: Beginner

Reasons to Buy

Cheap camera body
Loads of features
Comes with a versatile kit lens

Reasons to Avoid

No 4K video capabilities

If you’re looking for an instant start in serious photography, the Nikon D3500 is a winner. It’s a DSLR, which means it’s slightly heavier than a mirrorless camera (there are plenty of other differences too - like shutter sound, lens options, etc) but we find that’s a good thing when you’re a beginner: it forces you to learn to handle the camera properly, and it can be better for stabilization when you’re using larger lenses. In fact, everything about the D3500 is designed to get you better at taking pictures - the grip is among the best we’ve seen in all camera bodies; the whole thing is very easy to use, yet surprisingly versatile; and the kit lens included with the D3500 is one of the best, most versatile lenses you can use. It covers an 18-55mm range, which is perfect for general photography, and gives you a bit of zoom to play with. Nikon’s DX-lens system, which the camera uses, has a wide range of options for when you want to get more specialized too, and they don’t cost the earth.

In terms of the camera itself, you get all the modes and settings you’d expect (and some you wouldn’t), and a decent rear screen for both control and LV shooting. The D3500 supports the Nikon Snapbridge app, which allows you to transfer files quickly to your phone (you can even set it to do this automatically, although it drains battery quickly), and it allows standard SD cards to store your images on. Battery life is good, at 1500+ shots per charge, although you’ll end up with fewer than that if you use the screen much and switch shooting types. It also has pre-set modes for beginners that automatically adjust the settings for certain types of scene - portraits, landscapes, inside and outside images. They’re useful to start with, and this camera is versatile enough to help you graduate quickly and start using Manual and Aperture / Shutter priority with ease to get some spectacular shots.

Overall, a superb little camera that won’t break the bank but will help you get started, and teach you how to take better images. It’s versatile enough to grow with you as your skills improve, and will last years before you need to upgrade to something meatier. Even then, you’ll be able to take all your additional lenses with you.

2.Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / EOS 250D: Best higher end beginner DSLR

Canon EOS Rebel SL3

(Image credit: Canon)

Canon EOS Rebel SL3

Best higher end beginner DSLR


Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.1MP | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 3-inch vari-angle, 1,040,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Viewfinder: Optical, approx 95% coverage | Max video resolution: 4K 24p | User level: Beginner

Reasons to Buy

Intuitive to use system
Great Live View shooting

Reasons to Avoid

Not cheap
Could use more AF points

The Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / EOS 250D is a fantastic way to dive right into the advanced world of DSLR photography with the reassurance of a beginner focused camera. That means an intuitive system with clearly laid out controls and shortcuts along with some fantastic auto features. It also means great specs. The Live View shooting is particularly good which makes it ideal from those transitioning from a smartphone or point and shoot camera. 

This isn't the cheapest beginner camera but then you do get a solid build, great battery life, impressive 24.1MP sensor capable of 4K 24p video and a Wi-Fi connectivity.

You get a 63-zone metering sensor but the autofocus is limited at just 9-points. This isn't ideal if you want to grab quick shots or like snapping things that move. That said, it does mean you must work on becoming a better photographer to overcome this shortcoming which is part of why this is a lot cheaper than the higher end DSLR options.

3. Fujifilm X-T200: Best for design and ease of use

Fujifilm X-T200

(Image credit: Fujifilm)

Fujifilm X-T200

Best for design and ease of use


Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.4MP | Lens mount: Fujifilm X | Screen: 3.5-inch vari-angle touchscreen, 2,780,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 8fps | Viewfinder: EVF, 2,360k dots | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Beginner/Intermediate

Reasons to Buy

Large vari-angle touchscreen display
Great looking classic design
4K video

Reasons to Avoid

Basic external controls
Not a X-Trans sensor

The Fujifilm X-T200 is a very good looking camera if you're a fan of classically designed snappers. It remains really light and compact thanks to the mirrorless style that this APS-C sensor toting camera offers. That means a portable way to use a 24.2MP sensor that's able to capture 4K quality video.

This uses an electrically powered 15-45mm kit lens as standard, making this a very simple point and shoot system that's even better thanks to the relatively high-res 3.5-inch vari-angle touchscreen display. But you can go into more detail using the albeit simple external physical controls. Or dive a bit deeper into the menus and really take control of your shots.

4. Sony Alpha A6000: Best value for money mirrorless

(Image credit: Sony)

Sony Alpha A6000

Best value for money mirrorless


Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.3MP | Lens mount: Sony E | Screen: 3-inch tilting touchscreen, 921,600 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 11fps | Viewfinder: EVF, 1.44million dots | Max video resolution: Full HD | User level: Beginner/enthusiast

Reasons to Buy

Great value for money
Hybrid AF works really well

Reasons to Avoid

No touchscreen 
Videos only in Full HD

The Sony Alpha A6000 is now over five years old but the fact that Sony has maintained it this long should speak volumes. That means the price has dropped considerably, making it a great option for a beginner who wants a camera that will go with them as they progress.

Most of its specs still hold up well today, including the 24.3MP APS-C sensor, 11fps burst shooting mode, electronic viewfinder and the inclusion of both Wi-Fi and NFC. The focusing system is particularly impressive, with 179 phase-detect AF points combined with 25 contrast detect points, making it great for moving and static subjects alike. 

As long as you’re happy with no touchscreen and videos being output in Full HD quality, this is one to snap up while you still can.

5. Panasonic Lumix GX80: Best compact Micro Four Thirds camera

Panasonic Lumix GX80

(Image credit: Panasonic)

Panasonic Lumix GX80

Best compact Micro Four Thirds camera


Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Micro Four Thirds | Megapixels: 16MP | Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds | Screen: 3-inch tilt touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 8fps | Viewfinder: EVF | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Beginner

Reasons to Buy

Compact and simple
4K video

Reasons to Avoid

16MP sensor limit

The Panasonic Lumix GX80 is a Micro Four Thirds camera that manages to stay very portable and low on price despite offering features like 4K video and 8fps burst shooting. You are limited to a 16MP sensor though, which might sound lower than a lot of the competition but in reality is more than enough for a beginner.

There's a tilting 3-inch display as well as an electronic viewfinder which give the beginner options to find what works best in varying situations. The intelligent auto mode is super smart and makes this a very capable point and shoot camera if that's all you need. Or dive into the settings for control of shutter speed, aperture, exposure and more using that portable 12-32mm retracting pancake lens. Thanks to the Micro Four Thirds lens mount there are lots of affordable compatible lens options to upgrade as your develop. 

6. Canon EOS M200: Best cheap mirrorless camera for beginners

Canon EOS M200

(Image credit: Canon)

Canon EOS M200

Best cheap mirrorless camera for beginners


Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Canon EF-M | Screen: 3-inch tiltable touchscreen, 1,040k dots | Continuous shooting speed: 6.1fps | Viewfinder: No | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Beginner

Reasons to Buy

Brilliant price for specs
Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC connectivity

Reasons to Avoid

No viewfinder 
Battery life

The Canon EOS M200 is a superb affordable mirrorless option that punches well above its price. For starters there's a full APS-C dual-pixel 24.2MP sensor which can capture 4K video all with Digic 8 processing. This is also very simple to use and small enough to take with you easily.

Of course there are compromises for that price, like a crop on the 4K video, lower than DSLR battery life and no option to line-in a mic if you need better sound. But they're all fairly specific needs and for most beginners this will serve them well.

You still get plenty of manual options to play around with and there are a huge number of lenses to pick from thanks to that Canon EF-M mounting system. Get the right one and this will offer up to 143 autofocus points making it a really impressive setup that will be forgiving for even the most novice of users.