If you’re a bit of a “happy snapper” with your smartphone, maybe you’ve been thinking about making the leap and investing in a “proper” camera.
The good news is that you’re a very important customer for camera manufacturers. Hook you in now, and the chances are that you’ll be a customer for life. As such, all of the major brands are competing for your attention with a wide range of fantastic options, generally at very affordable prices.
That’s important since it stands to reason that as a first-timer, you won’t be looking to drop super serious cash on your first camera purchase. While it’s still a big investment, with chosen cameras for this round-up that shouldn’t bust your wallet too much, especially while you’re perhaps still deciding whether or not photography is the best hobby for you.
If you do get the shutter bug, then all of these cameras will be the kind that you can grow with. You’ll be able to learn the fundamentals of photography, with lenses and accessories available as you progress along with your hobby, and maybe one day upgrade to an enthusiast model or beyond.
What is the best entry-level camera?
This is a difficult question to answer since the current market is quite diverse. That said, if you’re brand new to photography, then the Nikon D3500 is an astute choice. It may be a little older than some of the newer models in our list, but thanks to its superb guide mode and easy to use interface, we can’t recommend it highly enough for newbies. Plus, its age makes it just that bit cheaper too - bonus.
The fact that its a DSLR means that you have literally hundreds of lenses and accessories to choose from too when you’re looking for something to partner with your camera. That said, perhaps you’ve got your eye on one of the mirrorless models you’ve probably heard so much about.
If that’s the case, there’s something excellent mirrorless options which are ideal for first-timers. We particularly like the Nikon Z50, as well as the Sony A6100 and the Fujifilm X-T200. Vloggers will likely be drawn towards the Panasonic G100.
How to buy the best entry-level camera
When deciding what to include in our list of suggestions, we’ve tried to spend time with the cameras in the same way that a beginner or new user would. Essentially that means we want it to be ready to go straight from the box, while also giving you the flexibility to adjust settings as your confidence level and ability increases over time.
There are a number of factors to think about when buying your first camera. First things first, consider your budget, but also pay attention to which brand you like, and which kind of features are an absolute “must”. Perhaps for you that’s 4K video, inbuilt Wi-Fi, or a viewfinder - make sure you take a critical look at the specs list before committing to any purchase.
If your budget is particularly tight, look towards older models. In 2020, even cameras that were first released nearly half a decade ago still represent excellent models, especially for new users. You could take a look at the incredibly popular Sony A6000 if you’re into the idea of mirrorless, or thinking about the Canon EOS 2000D if you want to go down the more traditional DSLR route.
Perhaps it’s portability that is at the front of your mind. Many people will buy their first camera when embarking on a trip or holiday, so it stands to reason that being small, light and compact will be a big priority for some. Mirrorless options like the Panasonic G100 and Fujifilm X-T200 are great options for those with this in mind.
Available for under £450 (including a kit lens), the Nikon D3500 is our top choice for anybody looking for their first step into “proper” photography. It has an innovative Guide Mode which explains all those alien concepts, or you can quite simply leave it in Auto mode and just start snapping. Once you start to get a bit more serious, there’s the option to invest in a huge variety of different lenses, or other accessories such as remote controls. It features a great 1550-shot battery life, making it a great choice for trips and days out, but budding video makers might be put off by the restriction to Full HD only. Bluetooth is included for sending your shots to your smartphone, but there’s no Wi-Fi, unfortunately.
Nikon and Canon are the big two rivals in the camera world. Our top pick for new users who have a little bit of budget to spend is the Canon EOS 250D. This neat and compact DSLR isn’t the cheapest Canon model, but it does give you the benefit of being well-built and neatly put together. It doesn’t have a full-blown guide mode to handhold you through using it, but the “guided interface” helps you to get to grips with the various functions and settings.
This is not the cheapest model in our list, but it is the newest, so is a great choice for those who have a bit of cash to spend. Following on from the success of Nikon’s full-frame mirrorless cameras, the Z6 and the Z7, the Z50 distils a lot of what makes those cameras excellent into a cheaper and smaller version which is well-suited to beginners. The smaller form factor is facilitated by an APS-C sized sensor. The screen and viewfinder are excellent, but the biggest gripe for now is the lack of choice when it comes to native lenses - but we expect that to become much less of a problem as the months and years go by.
Sony’s runaway success with the a6000 has made it the entry-level model of choice for a lot of photographers. Towards the end of 2019, the company finally released a successor to its popular model, building on its popularity and adding a range of enticing new features for those considering purchasing their first interchangeable lens camera.
Some of the improvements here include the addition of 4K video, improved picture quality and a fantastic autofocusing system. The a6100 has got pretty much everything you could need and will give you great scope to learn with - it should take quite a while before you outgrow it.
It’s a versatile option, offering 11fps shooting, so it should be adept at a number of different subjects - great for beginners who may want to photograph a bit of everything.
The downside here is the higher price you’ll pay for it compared to the a6000, but if it lasts you longer, then it’s arguably a better-value buy.
The A6000 has been replaced a few times since it made its debut, but that means that you can get what was once at the forefront of camera technology at a super bargain price. It’s a great option for beginners too because it has a range of different shooting modes, meaning you’re less likely to outgrow it quickly. Sony has a huge range of lenses and accessories for its compact system cameras, so the A6000 is a good place to start your photographic journey. It comes with super fast autofocusing, a tilting LCD screen and inbuilt Wi-Fi and NFC. Unsurprisingly for an older model, video is restricted to full HD though.
This is the newest camera on our list, and at the time of its launch it was primarily aimed at vloggers. It has a range of video-centric features including 4K recording and triple microphones to record sound from all angles.
However, if you put vlogging to one side for a moment, this is an ideal small and light camera which is well suited for travel photographers. It’s also ideal for those new to photography not looking to be overwhelmed with a massive camera.
Panasonic’s Micro Four Thirds range is extremely well-established, so should you find yourself outgrowing the kit lens, you’ll never be short of different lenses to choose from.
If your budget is super low but you want to get into the DSLR game, you can do worse than opt for the Canon EOS 2000D. For less than £300 you get a 24.2 megapixel APS-C sensor and all the shooting modes that somebody just starting out could wish for. To keep that price low then some sacrifices are needed, such as a fixed non-touch sensitive screen, but otherwise it’s a good little model to begin with. You can add different lenses and accessories should you outgrow the kit lens, but video shooters might feel the need to look elsewhere.
Fujifilm makes some beautiful cameras, so if you want your camera to look good on the outside as well as produce excellent photos, the X-T200 is worth considering. It feels a little plasticky, so it’s not perfect, but its small size and weight make it a great choice for travelling light.
We also love the very large 3.5-inch articulating touchscreen and inbuilt viewfinder, while other specifications include 4K video and inbuilt Wi-Fi. You can buy it as part of a kit package with a 15-45mm electronically powered lens, which is also neat and compact. If you outgrow that, Fujifilm has a good range of different optics to choose from.
On the downside, this is one of the more expensive options in our list - Fujifilm models tend to be on the pricey side.
Panasonic is a good option for those new to photography, offering user-friendly models at a variety of different price points and styles. Our pick for beginners at the moment is the GX9, which is smart, stylish and also ideal for travel. With 4K video and photo modes, you can get really creative with the type of content you create, so bloggers and vloggers will also like it. Micro Four Thirds lenses are extremely numerous, so you’ll never struggle to find an accessory once you’ve outgrown the kit lens, too.
Fujifilm cameras usually attract a premium price. For your money you get beautifully designed models and high image quality. If you’re just starting out but are keen to get into this brand, the Fujifilm X-A7 is its latest entry-point. It’s still fairly expensive compared to some of the models here, but you do get rewarded with great image quality. As the X system has been around for a while, there are many excellent lenses you can expand with once you move past the kit lens, too.
Aimed fairly squarely at vloggers and content-creator types, the E-PL9 is also a smart choice for those wanting a boost from their smartphone. It doesn’t have a viewfinder, but if you’re coming from a phone, you probably don’t mind so much. The sensor is one of the smallest here, but unless you’re consistently shooting in low-light situations, that’s not going to be a huge deal breaker. The trade off is that you get a pleasingly small system, which can be expanded via similarly small lenses as you grow with it. The addition of 4K video compared with its predecessor - the E-PL8 - is a bonus too.
A good way to get a good deal when looking for your first camera is to seek out slightly older models. The Panasonic GX80 fits this brief perfectly, getting towards being three years old now. That means you can pick it up for a fraction of its original price, but still lots of benefits over using your smartphone. This cute little compact system camera is ideal for travelling and comes with a range of modes to help you get the best pictures, moving up to more advanced options once you know what you’re doing. Movie makers and vloggers may also be tempted by the 4K video recording, and it helps that it looks cute too.
Fujifilm makes some seriously beautiful cameras, but they generally come with quite a high price tag. Chances are if you’re just starting out that you might wince at big bucks, in which case, the X-A10 makes for an ideal starting point. You make some sacrifices by coming in at the entry-level, but it’s still got a range of great modes for beginners to get their teeth into. Fujifilm has a good selection of lenses should you wish to expand your repertoire, but at its most basic, the X-A10 makes a lot of sense as a small and light travel camera.