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.
A camera's overall performance can vary heavily depending on the lens you use. The lens affects the amount of light that enters the camera, so it also plays a role in an image's depth of field and the autofocus and stabilization performance. Also, lenses can add a bit of weight to your camera, which can impact their portability. We currently test our cameras with its standard kit lens, so for the sake of consistency, this article will focus on cameras that retail for under $1,000 with their kit lens included.
We've tested over 50 cameras, and below you'll find our recommendation for the best cameras for beginners. See our lists for the best mirrorless cameras for beginners, the best DSLR cameras for beginners, and the best compact cameras.
The best camera for beginners with a mirrorless design that we've tested is the Canon EOS M50. This crop-sensor mirrorless camera has a bright, sharp, and responsive fully-articulated touchscreen interface with an exceptionally intuitive menu system, which also features a guide mode to explain core functions to novice users. Its lightweight design and comfortable ergonomics also make it easy to bring traveling.
Image quality is very good out-of-the-box, with a wide dynamic range and good noise handling capability even when shooting at moderate ISO levels. Its autofocus system is quite effective at tracking moving subjects in still photography and FHD video. It also features Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, allowing you to quickly share content with other devices or pair the camera with your smartphone.
Unfortunately, this camera's 4k recording capabilities are limited. It can only shoot videos in this resolution at 24 fps with a very severe 1.58x crop. While videos recorded in well-lit environments are sharp, there's a significant amount of visual noise that you'll see when shooting in dimly lit environments. Still, its compact size, easy-to-use menu system, and very good image quality make it one of the best mirrorless cameras under $1,000 that we've tested.
If you're looking for an easy-to-use mirrorless camera that delivers superior image quality, take a look at the Fujifilm X-T200. Unlike the Canon EOS M50, this camera's menu system lacks a guide mode. However, it's still easy to navigate once you get used to it, and it delivers amazing image quality out-of-the-box, with a minimal loss of sharpness even as you take shots at moderately high ISO levels. Its 4k recording capabilities are also far more advanced, as it can shoot at up to 30 fps in this resolution without a crop. Videos recorded in low-light environments are also notably lower in visual noise. However, this camera's squared-off shape isn't very comfortable to hold, especially for users with large hands. It also feels more cheaply made than the Canon, with sometimes sluggish controls. Also, like the Canon, it has a short battery life, though this can vary depending on your usage habits and choice of settings.
Get the Canon if you want a better-built, more comfortable camera, but consider the Fujifilm if image quality is a bigger priority.
The best DSLR camera for beginners that we've tested is the Canon EOS Rebel T8i. Like most Canon models, this crop-sensor camera has an easy-to-use menu system with a built-in guide mode to explain some features to novice users. It has a bright and sharp fully-articulated touchscreen, allowing you to shoot from unconventional angles in Live View mode, and feels impressively comfortable to use.
Depending on your usage habits and choice of settings, this camera's battery performance is okay and should be sufficient for a long recording session. Its autofocus system is remarkably effective for both still photography and FHD video, as it tracks moving subjects with little trouble. Image quality is very good, too, with a relatively wide dynamic range and good noise handling capability even when shooting at moderately high ISO levels. It also features Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, allowing you to share videos and images with other devices or pair the camera with your smartphone.
Unfortunately, this camera's 4k recording capability isn't especially impressive, as it can only shoot at a maximum of 24 fps with a severe 1.51x crop. Its autofocus system degrades significantly in terms of tracking performance when recording in this resolution too. Videos shot in FHD and 4k can also look quite noisy if you're shooting in a dimly lit environment. Still, if you're looking for a DSLR camera that can handle a wide range of tasks, this is a good choice.
If you're looking to spend less on a beginner-friendly DSLR camera, you could consider the Nikon D3500. Unlike the Canon EOS Rebel T8i, it has a fixed screen that isn't touch-sensitive, and it isn't capable of shooting 4k video at all, but it is notably cheaper. It also delivers impressive image quality out-of-the-box, with a wide dynamic range and minimal loss of sharpness when shooting at fairly high ISO levels, which is handy for nighttime photography sessions. It also features a built-in guide mode and is very intuitive for novice users. Depending on your usage habits and choice of settings, it should also provide sufficient battery life to last you most of a day's use. However, this camera's autofocus system isn't especially effective, as it features only 11 detection points and has a very hard time maintaining focus on moving subjects, especially faces. It also lacks Wi-Fi connectivity.
Get the Canon if you want a more feature-dense DSLR camera, but take a look at the Nikon if you're looking to save some money but aren't willing to sacrifice image quality.
The best bridge camera for beginners that we've tested is the Panasonic LUMIX FZ80. This bridge camera features a built-in superzoom lens with a full frame-equivalent focal range of 20mm to 1200mm, allowing you to snap wide-angle landscape shots as well as close-ups of far-away subjects or anything in between. It's also comfortable to use and has a remarkably intuitive menu system with a guide mode for novice users.
This camera does a good job of smoothing out camera shake in photography, which is handy if you're shooting at a long focal length or simply without the aid of a tripod. Its autofocus system's 'Post Focus' feature allows you to change the focus point of an image after you've taken it. Its 'Focus Stacking' function combines images taken using different focus points, yielding an image with an expanded focus range. That said, we haven't tested either feature. Its battery performance is decently long and should last you for a while, though this can vary depending on your usage habits and choice of settings.
Unfortunately, while image quality is alright overall, image sharpness can degrade noticeably when shooting at high ISO levels, so it isn't a great fit for nighttime photography. Overall, its video capabilities are somewhat limited compared to the Panasonic LUMIX FZ1000 II, with noisy, grainy video quality in both FHD and 4k, though the latter is considerably more expensive. Also, it can only record 4k video at 30 fps with a noticeable 1.27x crop. Otherwise, if you're in the market for an easy-to-use bridge camera with an extended focal range, this is a solid option.
The best camera for beginners with a compact design that we've tested is the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III. This camera is small enough to be slipped into a pocket or a purse but is still quite comfortable to use. It's a good fit for on-the-go vloggers looking for a dedicated camera, with a touchscreen that you can flip upwards to face you while self-recording, as well as a built-in YouTube livestreaming function, though we don't currently test the latter.
This camera does a great job of smoothing out camera shake in video, which is helpful if you don't have access to a tripod or a gimbal. It can record at up to 30 fps in 4k without a crop and up to 60 fps in FHD, handy for capturing smooth action video. Image quality is good, with a wide dynamic range that helps preserve detail in the brightest and darkest parts of your shot. It also has a fast continuous shooting speed of 16 fps, which should help you capture clear stills of fast-moving subjects.
Unfortunately, this camera is prone to overheating, especially while recording 4k video, which can lead to prolonged interruptions in use while you wait for it to cool off. Also, its autofocus system can have a hard time tracking moving subjects. Video quality, especially in low-light environments, can also look quite noisy and soft. Its battery life is unimpressive too, but that can vary in the real world. Overall, its ease of use and dense feature set make it one of the best cameras for YouTube that we've tested.
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.