What’s the best camera for beginners? And how do you know what’s best between a compact camera, a mirrorless model and a DSLR? In this guide, we’re going to pick out our 12 top options for anyone cutting their photographic teeth – but first, a little on what to look for.
The first thing you need to decide is your budget: how much can you spend? Then ask yourself whether you want a camera with a built-in lens or one that accepts a range of different lenses. If it’s the former then go for a compact camera, which is great for simplicity and affordable. Want to use different lenses? Then turn your focus to mirrorless cameras or DSLRs, which will give you more flexibility and, as a general rule, yield better quality results.
Now start to think about what features you need for your particular style of photography. If you need a big zoom lens that will swallow up everything from wide-angle vistas through to smaller subjects in the distance, you'll find many compact cameras and DSLR-like superzoom compacts that will provide this. Their sensors will generally be a little small to allow for such a massive lens, and not as high in performance as larger sensors, but there are some exceptions which we cover below.
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 £500/$550 with its lens included.
Here are all the best cameras right now.
- Best DSLR camera: Great value cameras whatever your skill level
- Best compact camera: Top compact cameras for all budgets
- Best mirrorless camera: Our pick of the best compact system cameras
1. Sony Alpha A6000: Best overall
Sony Alpha A6000
When features, price and performance are considered, the mirrorless A6000 is difficult to beat
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
The A6000 is now over five years old but the fact that Sony has maintained it this long should speak volumes. Most of its specs still hold up damn 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.
2. Nikon D3500: Best cheap DSLR for beginners
This budget DSLR has all the basics in place for those who just want to get shooting
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
The D3500 is the most affordable DSLR Nikon currently carries, not to mention tiny in size and ultra lightweight. It works with countless lenses from Nikon and third parties, and while it might not stretch to things like 4K video recording or a tilting LCD screen, its spec sheet remains sound for those looking to get started. Key features include a generous 5fps burst mode and Full HD video recording to 60p, together with a sensor that lacks an anti-aliasing filter to help get extra detail into images. The interface has also been designed very much with the first-time user in mind. Top tip: the camera usually comes with an 18-55mm kit lens, but make sure to get the version with ‘VR’ in the title. This stands for Vibration Reduction and it’s absolutely worth the small premium as it will help you to get sharper shots. For something similar but more powerful, check out the Nikon D5600 (position 3).
3. Nikon D5600: Best DSLR with growing space for beginners
3. Nikon D5600
Need more than just the basics? The D5600 delivers some useful extras for the first-time user
Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Nikon F | Screen: 3.2-inch vari-angle, 1.037million dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Viewfinder: Optical, approx 95% coverage | Max video resolution: Full HD | User level: Beginner
If you’re looking to take your photography seriously and don’t want to grow out of what your camera offers too quickly, the D5600 is exactly kind of camera you should be looking at. It builds on its more junior siblings with a larger LCD screen that flips out from the camera’s body and responds to touch, and its autofocus system is also more comprehensive in its coverage of the frame. You can also hook up a microphone for better audio recording if you want to get creative with videos. If you like what you see but you prefer a Canon option, check out the EOS Rebel SL2 or the slightly more advanced EOS Rebel T7i.
4. Canon EOS M100: Best cheap mirrorless camera for beginners
Canon EOS M100
A solid mirrorless starting point at a sound price
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: Full HD | User level: Beginner
Tiny and cheap but still powerful enough to take cracking images, the EOS M100 is an ideal camera for those looking to dip their feet into the world of mirrorless shooting without too much outlay. The Dual Pixel CMOS AF system helps focus to be swift and fluid, while the tilting LCD screen can flip all the way around to face the front for easy selfies and group shots – and it works brilliantly when used as a touchscreen, too. The presence of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC also makes wireless connection and cinch. There aren’t many lenses for the system right now, but there are some very capable options, and all are pretty compact. Got a bit more cash to spend? The more senior EOS M50 will provide something similar inside a DSLR-like body, together with a viewfinder and 4K video recording.
5. Olympus PEN E-PL9: Most stylish cheap mirrorless camera for beginners
Olympus PEN E-PL9
Easy on the eye but powerful in the hands, the E-PL9 brings 4K video and bags of style to the entry-level mirrorless market
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Four Thirds | Megapixels: 16.1MP | Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds | Screen: 3-inch tilting, 1,040k dots | Continuous shooting speed: 8.6fps | Viewfinder: No | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Beginner/enthusiast
With its handsome, retro finish, the PEN E-PL9 might seem like it's all about looks, but it's pretty serious on the inside too. The presence of sensor-based stabilization gives it a plus against many rivals that always need to have this in their lenses, while 4K video recording is also great to find on a camera pitched at this level of the market. The flip-down screen makes it great for selfies, while the 8.6fps burst shooting mode is speedier than DSLRs at this level. The fact that you have so many compatible Micro Four Thirds lenses to choose from means you'll never be short of options here too. There's no viewfinder, so if that's a deal-breaker for you, check out the company's OM-D E-M10 Mark III, which has much the same idea but in a slightly more DSLR-like body.
6. Panasonic Lumix ZS100: Best travel zoom camera for beginners
Panasonic Lumix ZS100
A large sensor and a healthy zoom range makes the Lumix ZS100 shine
Type: Compact | Sensor: 1-inch | Megapixels: 20.1MP | Lens: 25-250mm f/2.8-5.9 (35mm equiv) | Screen: 3-inch touchscreen, 1.04 million dots | Continuous shooting speed: 10fps | Viewfinder: Electronic, 1.23 million dots | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Beginner/enthusiast
Whereas most cameras that have lenses this long sport teeny sensors that struggle in low light, the Lumix ZS100 (also known as the TZ100) packs a 1-inch sensor that provides vastly better image quality. That’s just where the good news starts, though: with an integrated EVF, Wi-Fi, 4K videos and even the ability to change the point of focus after you’ve captured the image, the ZS100 is on a mission to provide masses of tech inside a small body that’s very reasonably priced. The newer Lumix ZS200 model improves on the ZS100 with a longer lens and a better electronic viewfinder among other things, but it still commands quite the premium for those privileges.
7. Sony RX100: Best compact camera for beginners
Already something of a classic – and now a bargain too
Type: Compact | Sensor: 1-inch | Megapixels: 20.2MP | Lens: 28-100mm f/1.8-4.9mm (in 35mm terms) | Screen: 3-inch fixed, 1.23million dots | Continuous shooting speed: 10fps | Viewfinder: No | Max video resolution: Full HD | User level: Beginner/enthusiast
Sony has now knocked out seven of these popular RX100 cameras but this is where it all began. While understandably not as advanced as its newer RX100 siblings, if you need top image quality and useful tech in a camera that you can still slip into you pocket, the RX100 will be more than happy to oblige. The key reasons for that are its 1-inch sensor and lovely lens that boasts image stabilisation to keep things crisp. Build quality is also high, and you have full manual control over your exposure, although there’s no viewfinder and the LCD screen is both fixed to the camera and not responsive to touch. Still, that shouldn’t stop you from taking great shots, as many RX100 fans have already found.
8. Canon EOS Rebel SL2: Best DSLR for beginners
Canon EOS Rebel SL2
An ideal camera for first-time photographers or those progressing from compacts
Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Canon EF | Screen: 3in vari-angle touchscreen, 1.04 million dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Viewfinder: Optical, approx. 95% coverage | Max video resolution: Full HD | User level: Beginner
Canon recently updated the EOS Rebel SL2, also known as the EOS 200D, with the EOS Rebel SL3 (EOS 250D), but this older model is still available and arguably better value for money, with all the basics and a few handy extras in place. We love the flip-out touchscreen and Dual Pixel CMOS AF system to help keep focusing nice and swift, as well as the overall compactness of the body and degree of physical control provided. Totally new to photography? You can also adjust the interface so that the purpose of key options is explained, with graphics to help you get to grips with it all. With so many compatible lenses too, it’s an easy camera to get creative with.
9. Panasonic Lumix FZ80: Best superzoom bridge camera for beginners
Panasonic Lumix FZ80
With DSLR-like handling and manual control, this feature-packed bridge camera can be had at a bargain price
Type: Superzoom bridge camera | Sensor: 1/2.3-inch | Megapixels: 18.1MP | Lens: 20-1200mm f/2.8-5.9 (in 35mm terms) | Screen: 3in touchscreen, 1.04 million dots | Viewfinder: EVF, 1.16million dots | Continuous shooting speed: 10fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Beginner
The Panasonic Lumix FZ80 – or FZ82 if you live outside the US – crams in a whole heap of tech into its body, and now that's it's been around for some time its asking price is down to a nice new low. The 20mm start of the mammoth 60x optical zoom lens (in 35mm terms) is wider than most other cameras of this kind, and it's unusual to find 4K video on bridge cameras this cheap too, although that's one thing Panasonic has been generous with over the years. The DSLR-style handing and effective image stabilisation system mean you can compose images with greater accuracy when shooting at longer focal lengths, and Wi-Fi lets you get those shots out to the wider world without hassle. if your budget can stretch, you should aim for the Lumix FZ1000 (poisition 12) as it's superior in many ways, but for the absolute beginner this would be a more accessible way to break into more creative photography.
10. Panasonic Lumix ZS60: Best budget travel zoom camera for beginners
Panasonic Lumix ZS60
A superzoom at a super low price, this feature-packed camera would be ideal for budget-seeking holidaymakers
Type: Compact | Sensor: 1/2.3-inch | Megapixels: 18MP | Lens: 24-720mm f/3.3-6.4mm (in 35mm terms) | Screen: 3-inch fixed, 1.04million dots | Continuous shooting speed: 10fps | Viewfinder: Electronic, 1.12million dots | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Beginner
If you can't spend more than £250/$350 but you'd still like a pocketable camera with a huge zoom range at your disposal, the Lumix ZS60 – also known as the Lumix TZ80 outside – should be high up on your shortlist. The lens stretches across focal lengths equivalent to 24-720mm in 35mm terms, which is more than enough for most scenes. 4K video and an electronic viewfinder are great to find on this class of compact camera, while further luxuries include Wi-Fi, 10fps burst shooting and the option to extract 8MP stills from 4K videos. If you can spend a little more and don't mind a shorter zoom, Panasonic's Lumix ZS100 (position 6) or Lumix ZS200 would be well worth a look.
11. Sony Cyber-shot WX220: Best cheap compact camera for beginners
Sony Cyber-shot WX220
A svelte body with a capable 10x zoom makes this a powerful, pocket-friendly performer
Type: Compact | Sensor: 1/2.3-inch | Megapixels: 18.2MP | Lens: 25-250mm f/3.3-5.9 (in 35mm terms) | Screen: 2.7-inch fixed, 460,800 million dots | Continuous shooting speed: 10fps | Viewfinder: No | Max video resolution: Full HD | User level: Beginner
With the cameras on smartphones so capable these days, it only really makes sense to opt for a compact if it can do something that your phone can’t. And with its 10x optical zoom, the Cyber-shot WX220 is a camera that will get you closer to the action than the average smartphone. On top of that, you get a neat Sweep Panorama mode and image stabilization inside the lens for extra stability when using those longer focal lengths, together with Wi-Fi and NFC for remote control and easy image sharing. We certainly don’t expect 4K video recording on a camera this cheap, but it’s also great to see you can record Full HD videos to 60p. If you need more zoom power, check out the Panasonic Lumix ZS60.
Panasonic Lumix FZ1000: Best superzoom bridge camera under £500 / $500
Panasonic Lumix FZ1000
With ample growing space, the FZ1000 would continue to cater for the beginner for years to come
Type: Bridge-style superzoom | Sensor: 1-inch | Megapixels: 20.1MP | Lens: 25-400mm f/2.8-4 (in 35mm terms) | Screen: 3-inch vari-angle, 921k dots | Continuous shooting speed: 12fps | Viewfinder: Electronic, 2.36million dots | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Beginner/Enthusiast
The FZ1000 may be aimed more at enthusiasts than complete beginners, but it's a sound option for those that want to invest in a camera that will stay with them for the long run. The sensor inside it is far larger than those inside other cameras of this sort, and so image quality is also much stronger, while the 25-400mm (35mm equivalent) lens will take in subjects near and far without any bother. A lovely electronic viewfinder and effective image stabilization make image composition straightforward, while features like 4K video, Wi-Fi and an LCD screen that flips out to all kinds of positions mean that it continues to provide the functionality you need as you become more confident and push your creativity to the next level. Panasonic's cheaper FZ80 (position 9) is a good alternative for those whose budget can't stretch this far, but in terms of value for money, the FZ100 is hard to beat.