Buying a digital camera is a very different experience than it was a few years ago. Smartphone cameras keep getting better, so there are a lot fewer buyers out there for budget pocket shooters. And because of that, there aren’t that many goods, inexpensive point-and-shoots. Meanwhile, entry-level SLRs have serious competition for your dollar from mirrorless rivals, and if you’ve got a bigger budget you can opt for premium pocket models with large image sensors, midrange interchangeable lens models, or bridge-style superzooms that bring distant subjects into close, clear view.
Top 7 Inexpensive Digital Camera
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- 16.1-megapixel CCD image sensor for excellent photos and 720p HD videos
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Pocket-Friendly: Entry-Level Point-and-Shoot Cameras
It’s no secret that smartphones have seriously hurt the demand for entry-level point-and-shoot cameras. You can buy any number of sub-$100 no-name cameras at online retailers, but none are worth your money if already own a decent smartphone. But if you move up to the $100 to $200 bracket, you have some solid options from Canon and Nikon.
These slimline shooters pack zoom lenses, which set them apart from smartphones, but for the most part, use dated CCD sensor technology, which limits image quality when shooting at high ISO settings and cuts the maximum video quality to 720p. But if you’re looking for a small camera to carry on vacation or nature walks, you still have a few inexpensive alternatives to a smartphone.
What Is the Best Camera to Buy for a Beginner Photographer?
Entry-level isn’t just for pocket models. Photographers who want a camera that’s easy to use, and not obscenely expensive, may want to reach for a mirrorless model or SLR instead of a point-and-shoot. Our favorite models for folks more interested in making a good image and less interested in learning about f-stops include some options in our overall top ten, such as the Sony a6000, Canon T7i, and Olympus TG-5.
When shopping for a starter camera, ask yourself some questions about what you want. Take a look at the size, as a camera isn’t any good if you’re not going to use it. But also think about connectivity—you probably want to copy images to your smartphone easily—and price. Ease of use isn’t a huge hurdle these days—everything has an auto mode—but models with guided interfaces will let you take some sort of control over how your photos turn out, without having to know too much technical jargon.
Kicking It Old School: Film
You don’t have to get a digital camera to get a camera. A film is still an option, with instant models being extremely popular. Instant formats take away the hassle of getting the film developed, and make it easy to share physical images with friends and family immediately after they’ve been captured. You can get an entry-level model for around $65, and film packs generally cost around $7.50. For a complete rundown on what instant cameras and film formats are sold today, check out our list of the Best Instant Cameras.
Small Camera, Big Sensor: Premium Compacts
You may scratch your head when you see pocket cameras with fixed lenses selling for anywhere from $400 to $1,000. After all, you can get an interchangeable lens model for the same price. But these slim, premium shooters target a very specific market—photographers who already own a mirrorless camera or SLR and a bunch of lenses, but want something small as an alternative option.
For a long time, the premium models sported 1/1.7-inch class sensors, which offered modest advantages over the more common 1/2.3-inch type found in entry-level cameras and premium smartphones. Sony changed that in 2013 with its revolutionary RX100, which brought the 1-inch sensor class into the spotlight.
You can opt for a fixed-lens camera that’s sized and shaped a lot like an SLR—a bridge camera. These models tend to have really long lenses—up to 83x zoom power in models with the 1/2.3-inch sensor size—and sport electronic viewfinders, hot shoes, and articulating rear displays. If zoom is what you’re after, a bridge camera may be your best bet, although understand that they won’t handle dim light as well as an SLR.
Entry-Level Interchangeable Lens: SLR and Mirrorless
For a long time, we’ve looked at mirrorless cameras and SLRs as two distinct classes. And while that distinction still has merit at the higher end of the spectrum, for entry-level photographers the lines are blurred.
We’ve been disappointed that features common in mirrorless models, including tilting touch-screen displays and wireless connectivity, have been very slow to make their way to SLRs. Likewise, while Canon has made significant improvements in video autofocus in its pricier SLRs, consumers are better off with a low-cost mirrorless model if they want fast, seamless autofocus when recording moving pictures.
For Serious Shutterbugs: Premium Mirrorless and SLR
Once you cross the $1,000 price barrier, you’ve entered into a realm where you likely have a very good handle on whether you prefer an SLR or mirrorless camera. If you’re buying in this range, you need to take a serious look at the lenses and accessories available for each system and weigh the pluses and minuses of different image sensor formats.
Mirrorless cameras have gotten better and better in terms of tracking autofocus in recent years. Top-tier models track subjects and fire off images as quickly as comparable SLRs. Depending on which system you have your eye on, and what type of shooting you do, you may find that lens selection to be perfectly adequate.