There's no denying that photography can be an expensive hobby. That said, the proliferation of features previously only reserved for high-end cameras now means that it's possible to buy a new camera for under $500 that won't leave you feeling too short-changed and still offers enough room to refine your skills. Of course, if you're willing to forego the latest features, the used market for photography gear offers plenty of capable options for value-conscious buyers.
It's important to recognize that overall performance can vary 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. For the sake of consistency, however, we currently test cameras with their standard kit lenses. This article focuses primarily on new cameras that retail for under $500 with their kit lenses included.
We've tested over 70 cameras, and below you'll find our recommendations for the best cameras under $500. You can also take a look at our recommendations for the best cameras under $1,000, the best mirrorless cameras under $1,000, and the best cheap cameras.
If you're buying new rather than used, the best DSLR you can get for under $500 is the Canon EOS Rebel T7 / EOS 2000D. Part of Canon's entry-level Rebel lineup, the T7 is a great option for beginner photographers, thanks to its simple design and intuitive menu system. Canon also has a ton of E and EF-mount lenses for its APS-C DSLRs, so you can upgrade to better lenses as your skill grows.
Inside the camera is a 24-megapixel APS-C sensor, and it delivers very good image quality overall, with detailed, color-accurate photos straight out of the camera, though its noise handling is just okay, with a lot of noise at higher ISO settings in low light. That said, it feels fairly comfortable to shoot with, and its optical viewfinder gives you a lag-free, unfiltered view of your subjects. Though the camera doesn't have in-body image stabilization (IBIS), it also does an impressive job reducing handheld camera shake when using the optically stabilized 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens.
Unfortunately, it has a very limited autofocus system that struggles to track moving human subjects, although it performs better with objects moving towards or away from the camera in a more linear way. The camera is also limited to a 3 fps max burst rate, so it's not the best option for capturing fast-moving subjects. Still, for the price, this makes for a solid beginner DSLR camera, and though it lacks the advanced features of higher-end models, it's still capable of taking great photos.
The best camera under $500 that we've tested with a compact fixed-lens design is the Panasonic LUMIX ZS80. This small point-and-shoot camera is highly portable and still feels comfortable and easy to use thanks to its thumb rest, flip-out touchscreen, and intuitive menu system with a guide mode to explain certain settings to new users. It also has a few customizable buttons you can set to your preference.
This camera has a great autofocus system that does a good job of tracking and keeping moving subjects in focus. Its built-in lens has a long 24-720mm full-frame equivalent focal length, allowing you to zoom in on far-away subjects. It also features five-axis optical image stabilization, which effectively reduces camera shake when shooting handheld. It can shoot at a quick 10 fps in its burst mode for capturing brief moments of fast movement, though its RAW image buffer is small and takes a while to empty when full.
Unfortunately, this camera isn't well-suited to shooting in low light. Its max native ISO is just 3200, and it has poor noise handling capability, with luminance noise becoming noticeable at anything above ISO 200. That said, if you shoot primarily in JPEG, it delivers decent overall image quality with excellent dynamic range. Despite its flaws, this is still one of the best compact cameras under $500.
If you want an even longer zoom range and prefer the ergonomics of a bridge camera, consider the Panasonic LUMIX FZ80. While it's much bulkier than the Panasonic LUMIX ZS80, it has a superzoom lens with a maximum 1200mm full-frame equivalent focal length, and you still get the convenience of an all-in-one camera with a built-in lens. It feels comfortable to use, thanks to its large handgrip and comfortable viewfinder, and it has the same easy-to-use menu system. It also has a faster burst rate of 11 fps, as well as a '4k PHOTO' feature that pulls stills from 30 fps 4k video clips for when you need to capture really fast action. That said, its low-light performance is disappointing, and overall image quality is just okay. Its autofocus system also struggles to track moving faces, though it does a much better job with objects.
Get the ZS80 if you want a compact point-and-shoot that won't break the bank, but if you prefer the comfort and superzoom lens of a bridge camera, go with the FZ80.
The best action camera that we've tested for under $500 is the GoPro HERO10 Black. It's a premium action cam that improves upon its predecessor in a few ways, including an all-new processor for faster overall performance. It feels incredibly well-constructed, with a rugged body that's advertised to be waterproof up to a depth of 33 feet. Like the GoPro HERO9 Black, it features a front-facing screen with Live View, so you can monitor yourself while recording vlogs or taking selfies.
GoPro's digital video stabilization feature does an exceptional job smoothing out camera shake, whether you're recording in 4k or 1080p, although enabling it does incur a noticeable 1.36x crop. That said, the camera offers a ton of frame rate and resolution options, including 5.3k at up to 60 fps, 4k at up to 120 fps, and both 2.7k and 1080p at up to 240 fps, meaning it can capture high-quality fast-action footage or generate smooth slow-motion video.
While its video quality is okay for an action camera, it performs poorly in low light due to its small sensor. It also doesn't have any inputs aside from a USB-C port, so if you want to connect an auxiliary microphone or connect it to an external display via HDMI, you have to purchase a GoPro Media Mod at an additional cost. Still, this is a premium, feature-rich action camera and the best GoPro that we've tested.
If you'd prefer a portable action video camera that you can use handheld, check out the DJI Pocket 2. Unlike the GoPro HERO10 Black, it doesn't record 5k video, and it isn't waterproof, but it has a built-in gimbal that makes it remarkably easy to shoot stabilized handheld footage. Its gimbal uses three-axis stabilization, and it has three different gimbal lock modes, meaning you can have all axes unlocked, have one axis locked to maintain a level horizon, or have two axes locked to keep the horizon level and prevent the camera head from tilting. Its autofocus is highly effective at keeping moving subjects in focus, and it also has an active tracking feature that locks onto a particular subject and automatically tracks their movement. Its overall video quality is only okay, though it has a fairly good low-light capability. That said, it doesn't offer as many frame rate options, as it can only record 4k and 1080p video at up to 60fps, though it does have a slow-mo mode in 1080p that can capture footage at 120 or 240 fps for slow-motion playback.
Get the GoPro if you want an action camera with more frame rate and resolution options. If you want to shoot stabilized handheld footage, the DJI is a neat alternative.
Feb 23, 2022: Removed the Canon EOS M50 Mark II because of price.
Dec 23, 2021: Reviewed accuracy and availability of picks; no change to recommendations.
Dec 02, 2021: Checked that picks still represent the best choice for their given categories.
Nov 11, 2021: Added the Canon EOS M200 as 'Best Mirrorless Camera Under $500' and replaced the GoPro HERO9 Black with the GoPro HERO10 Black as 'Best Action Camera Under $500'. Moved the GoPro HERO9 Black to Notable Mentions.
Oct 21, 2021: Verified that picks were still accurate and available; no change to recommendations.
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best cameras under $500 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 U.S.).
If you would like to choose for yourself, here's the list of all our reviews for cameras under $500. 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.