Photographers and videographers looking to make the jump from their smartphones to a dedicated camera may be baffled by the sheer array of relatively affordable models on offer. These range from compact point-and-shoots to more advanced mirrorless options and traditionally-designed DSLRs, so it can be hard to know what route to take. Unfortunately, there's no single best camera for beginners, and it's most important to choose a model that suits your ergonomic preferences, your shooting habits, your budget, and the type of content you'd like to create. Keep in mind, too, that there's a large used market for cameras, and you can often find great deals on older models that make for excellent starter cameras.
A camera's overall performance can vary heavily depending on the lens you use. As a general rule, it's better to invest in a less expensive camera body and higher-quality lenses than it is to invest in an expensive camera body and cheap lenses. Your chosen lens affects the amount of light that enters the camera, so it plays a role in an image's depth of field and the camera's autofocus and stabilization performance. Lenses can also add a bit of weight to your camera, which can impact their portability. We currently test cameras with their standard kit lenses, so for the sake of consistency, this article focuses on cameras that retail for under $1,000 with their kit lens included.
We've tested over 65 cameras, and below you'll find our recommendation for the best cameras for beginners. For more options, see our lists for the best mirrorless cameras for beginners, the best DSLR cameras for beginners, and the best cameras.
Of the mirrorless cameras we've tested, the best camera for starters is the Nikon Z 50. It's relatively lightweight, with a comfortable handgrip that should suit most hand sizes. Nikon's menu system is also intuitive and easy to navigate using the physical controls or the touchscreen, although the screen can only tilt out and flip up and isn't fully articulated.
It delivers impressive overall image quality, with good dynamic range and great noise handling capability at higher ISO levels. Photos look incredibly sharp, and the camera is suited to shooting in more dimly-lit conditions, although its kit lens doesn't have the widest maximum aperture to shoot at fast shutter speeds in low light. That said, the camera has a fairly reliable autofocus system, and it does an especially fantastic job of tracking moving subjects when recording video in either 4k or FHD.
Unfortunately, its overall video quality is a bit lackluster. While 4k looks great in more controlled lighting conditions, there's noticeable grain and visual noise when recording in low light, and its FHD video quality is just okay. It has a decent battery life, and while it supports USB charging, you can't use it while charging. Battery life can also vary with usage and settings. Still, this camera's great image quality, easy-to-use menu system, and reliable autofocus make it one of the best digital cameras for beginners that we've tested.
If you'd prefer something cheaper, consider the Canon EOS M50 Mark II. It doesn't feel quite as well-built or comfortable to use as the Nikon Z 50, and its 4k video features are more limited, but it's more affordable, leaving more room in your budget for lenses. While it can only shoot in 4k at 24 fps with a severe crop, it offers more frame rate options and great video quality in FHD. It's a good choice for getting into photography, as it delivers great image quality thanks to its high-resolution 24.1-megapixel crop sensor, though it's not as well-suited to shooting in low light as the Nikon. It has good autofocus performance and a fairly quick continuous shooting speed with a short buffer empty time. Unlike the Nikon, it has a fully articulated screen to help you shoot from different angles. However, its battery life is mediocre, and it doesn't support USB charging.
Go with the Nikon if you want more comprehensive 4k video features and better low-light performance, but if you're looking to save some money, the Canon is a great alternative.
For those looking to get started with a DSLR, the best camera for beginner photographers of those we've tested is the Canon EOS Rebel T8i. It's the latest model in Canon's entry-level Rebel lineup, and it has a fully articulated touchscreen and a 24.1-megapixel sensor. Canon's menu system is incredibly intuitive and easy to navigate, and the camera is compatible with any of Canon's EF-S or EF lenses, so you have plenty to choose from as you grow.
It delivers very good image quality overall, with excellent dynamic range to bring out a wider array of detail in high-contrast scenes. It also has decent RAW noise handling capability, so you can shoot at reasonably high ISO settings without introducing too much visual noise. Its autofocus system supports eye-tracking and does a fantastic job tracking moving subjects for photography. While it doesn't have in-body image stabilization like more advanced models, its kit lens does a great job steadying the image when shooting without a tripod.
It's also one of the few entry-level DSLRs to offer 4k video capability, but unfortunately, its video features are limited. It can only shoot in 4k at 24 fps with a severe 1.51x crop. Its autofocus is also sluggish and unreliable when shooting 4k video. On the upside, it performs much better in 1080p. All in all, this is one of the best entry-level DSLRs we've tested, and most beginners should be happy with it.
If you want something a little cheaper, check out the Nikon D5600. Unlike the Canon EOS Rebel T8i, it can't record 4k video, and its autofocus system isn't as effective, but it's slightly cheaper and has a better battery life, though this can vary with settings and usage habits. It delivers great image quality, with excellent dynamic range to bring out a wide array of details, and its APS-C sensor has decent noise handling capability at moderate ISO levels. Like the Canon, it has a fully articulated screen, and its menu system is intuitive and easy to navigate. Its kit lens also does a fantastic job of stabilizing images when shooting without a tripod. That said, it has a slightly slower continuous shooting speed than the Canon, though its buffer is bigger with a virtually instantaneous empty time, meaning you can take burst photos without interruption.
Go with the Canon if you want a good beginner stills camera that can shoot 4k video, but if video isn't a priority and you want to save a bit of money, the Nikon is a good alternative.
The best camera for beginners who are looking for a compact point-and-shoot is the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III. It's remarkably portable, so you can easily slip it into a pocket or bag, but it still feels comfortable to use, thanks to its small handgrip and thumb rest. It also has an easy-to-use menu system, and its built-in lens has a 100mm equivalent max focal length, so you can zoom in on subjects that are farther away.
It's a good option for vloggers thanks to its tilting screen, which can flip up to face you for vlogs or selfies. It also has a built-in livestreaming feature that's advertised to let you stream video directly to YouTube via Wi-Fi. It shoots 4k video at up to 30 fps without a crop and 1080p video up to 60 fps, and it does a great job smoothing out camera shake when shooting handheld. It's also a capable stills camera with a 20.1-megapixel sensor that delivers good image quality with fantastic dynamic range.
That said, it's not well-suited to shooting in low light due to its smaller sensor. Images begin to look noisy at moderate ISO levels, and low-light video looks grainy. It's also prone to overheating when recording continuously for longer periods and has a disappointing battery life, although this can vary with settings and usage habits. Overall, this is one of the best YouTube cameras we've tested, and it's a good option for beginners.
The best camera for beginners that's easiest to get started with is the Nikon D3500. This crop-sensor DSLR stands out for its extensive 'Guide' shooting mode, which is built into the mode dial and provides beginners with a hands-on guide to the camera's functions and the basics of photography. You can choose between basic operation and advanced operation to suit different experience levels. While it's a simple camera, you can still use it with any compatible Nikon lenses, making it a great option to grow with as a photographer.
It delivers impressive overall image quality, with excellent dynamic range to bring out a greater range of detail and good noise handling capability. It doesn't have in-body image stabilization, but its kit lens does a great job stabilizing photos. It also has a remarkable battery life, advertised to last for approximately 1,550 photos, though battery performance can vary drastically with real-world conditions.
Unfortunately, its autofocus system is very basic, with only 11 detection points. It's not especially reliable when it comes to face or object tracking. Also, this isn't the best option if you're interested in recording video since it can't record in 4k, and its FHD video quality is mediocre overall. Despite that, this is still one of the best cameras to start photography with, and most beginners should be happy with it.
Oct 08, 2021: Checked that picks were still accurate; no change to recommendations.
Sep 20, 2021: Moved the Fujifilm X-T200 to notable mentions and replaced it with the Canon EOS M50 Mark II as the 'Cheaper Alternative' to the Nikon Z 50. Replaced the Nikon D3500 with the Nikon D5600 as 'Cheaper Alternative' to the Canon EOS Rebel T8i. Added the Nikon D3500 as 'Easiest-To-Use Camera For Beginners'.
Aug 30, 2021: Checked that picks were still accurate; no change to recommendations.
Aug 09, 2021: Replaced the Canon EOS M50 with the Nikon Z 50 as 'Best Mirrorless Camera for Beginners'. Added the Canon EOS M50 Mark II to Notable Mentions.
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best cameras for beginners to buy, according to their needs. We factor in the price, feedback from our visitors, and availability (no cameras that are difficult to find or almost out of stock in the US).
If you'd like to choose for yourself, here's the list of all our reviews for cameras under $1,000. Be careful not to get caught up in the details. There is no single perfect camera. Personal taste, preference, and shooting habits will matter more in your selection.