When looking for the best cheap camera, it's important to consider your options and find a camera that fits your budget and preferences. If you want the latest camera technology and are willing to spend a little extra for a brand new model, some relatively cheap cameras will give you solid performance without breaking the bank. There's also a large used market, and many older models are still well worth considering. A lot of cheaper camera bodies will give you ample room to grow as a photographer and yield excellent results when paired with more expensive lenses.
It's worth noting that a camera's overall performance can vary drastically depending on what kind of lens you use. Your lens influences the amount of light entering the camera, an image's depth of field, autofocus behavior, and stabilization performance. That's without mentioning the physical aspects of your lens: a larger lens with a longer zoom length and a wider maximum aperture might make it easier to take the kind of photos you want, but it could make your camera more of a hassle to carry around. As a general rule, it's better to invest in a less expensive camera body and higher-quality lenses than to invest in an expensive camera body and cheap lenses. That said, for the sake of consistency and user-friendliness, we currently test cameras with their standard kit lenses.
We've tested over 60 cameras, and below you'll find our recommendations for the best cameras to buy for different kinds of photography. These picks were selected not only based on their overall performance but also their feature set and price. For more options, see our recommendations for the best mirrorless cameras under $1,000, the best DSLR cameras for beginners, and the best cameras.
The best budget camera of the mirrorless cameras we've tested is the Canon EOS M50 Mark II. This crop-sensor mirrorless camera offers great image quality, so photos are clear and detailed even at high ISO levels. It has a relatively portable design, and its fully articulated screen makes it easy to take photos at different angles.
This camera is pretty comfortable to use, and its menu system is very intuitive. There's even a guide mode to introduce novice users to its settings and features. It also has a good autofocus performance with photos, which is handy for users who want to take clear photos of fast-moving subjects like athletes.
Unfortunately, its video settings are more limited. Its video quality is disappointing, especially in low light settings. Its autofocus performance in 4k is poor as well, so your subjects may appear blurry and out of focus. That said, it still offers a pretty versatile performance for a low price.
If you want a relatively cheap mirrorless camera that's more portable, consider the Canon EOS M200. It's not as comfortable to use as the Canon EOS M50 Mark II since it lacks a handgrip, but it's small and lightweight for an interchangeable-lens camera. This camera has a flip-out screen to help you take photos at different angles, and its menu system is also quite easy to use. Image quality is very good, and it has an impressive autofocus performance. Unfortunately, its video performance isn't quite as impressive.
If you want a camera with a fully articulated screen that's more comfortable to use, check out the EOS M50 Mark II. However, if you want a more portable camera, consider the EOS M200 instead.
The best cheap DSLR that we've tested is the Nikon D3500. This crop-sensor DSLR is a great choice for beginners, thanks to its intuitive menu system and guide shooting mode that walks novice photographers through the camera's settings and features. It feels comfortable to use, thanks to its textured handgrip. Its build quality is okay, but it lacks a fully-articulated screen.
Image quality is impressive, with good noise handling capability at higher ISO levels, so it's suitable for shooting in more dimly-lit environments. Images also have excellent dynamic range to bring out a wide range of details and contrast. Its autofocus system is quite limited, with only 11 detection points, but it does a passable job of tracking moving objects. Its kit lens also does a great job of reducing camera shake when taking photos without a tripod.
Unfortunately, it can't record 4k video. Video quality in FHD is also disappointing, and its autofocus system performs poorly when recording video. That said, the camera has a very good battery life, although it doesn't support USB charging. Battery life can also vary depending on your settings and usage habits. Despite its limitations, this is among the best cameras we've tested for beginners, and it provides good value for its price.
If you want a camera with more advanced video features, check out the Canon EOS Rebel SL3. While its image quality is worse than the Nikon D3500, it can shoot video in 4k and offers superior video quality. It's very portable for a DSLR, and it has a fully articulated touchscreen to monitor yourself while recording or take photos from unconventional angles. It also feels comfortable to use, with a large, textured handgrip. Its video quality is great in both 4k and FHD when shooting in brighter lighting conditions, though it looks significantly worse in low light. Unfortunately, it's limited to 24 fps in 4k with a severe crop. Its autofocus system performs poorly in 4k, but it's considerably better in FHD.
If you prioritize image quality and ease of use, get the Nikon. If you're looking for a more versatile DSLR for video, the Canon is a good alternative.
The best cheap camera we've tested with a compact design is the Canon PowerShot SX740. It's incredibly portable and lightweight, making it a good option for travel or everyday photography on the go. It feels decently well-built, and it has a small textured grip for a more secure hold, although its compact size may be uncomfortable for those with larger hands.
It has a 1/2.3-inch sensor and a built-in zoom lens with a remarkable 960 mm equivalent max focal length, so you can easily zoom in on far-away subjects or take close-ups. Its overall image quality is decent. It has fantastic dynamic range and good noise handling capability, although sharpness declines significantly as you raise the ISO due to its small sensor, so it doesn't perform quite as well in low light.
Unfortunately, it has a poor battery life, though this can vary with real-world usage habits and settings. It supports USB charging, which is nice, but you can't use it while it charges. Also, while it can shoot video in 4k and FHD, its video quality is quite bad, and it can only shoot 4k video with a 1.35x crop. Still, if you're looking for a portable compact camera that won't cost you a ton, this is a good choice.
Sep 03, 2021: No changes to product picks after verifying their accuracy and availability.
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best cheap cameras for most people 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 would like to choose for yourself, here's the list of all our budget cameras. 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.