There's no denying that photography can be an expensive hobby. Dedicated photography cameras that retail for under $500 brand-new are a rare breed, and of course, with increasingly capable smartphone cameras, the camera you already have in your pocket may just be the most cost-effective option. Having said that, there's nothing like the feel of a dedicated camera in your hands, and you're not totally out of luck when it comes to budget options. Of course, if you're willing to forego the latest camera tech and features, the used market is also full of capable models to suit the price-conscious buyer.
We've bought and tested over 75 cameras, and below you'll find our recommendations for the best cameras that retail for under $500. If you're just starting out with photography, you can also check out our favorite cameras for beginners. And if you're willing to stretch your budget, you can also see our recommendations for the best cameras under $1,000 or the best mirrorless cameras under $1,000.
The best all-around camera we've tested 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. While it doesn't have many bells and whistles, this DSLR is built around a solid APS-C sensor that can take excellent images. It's a great camera to grow your skills with, as you'll have access to Canon's vast lineup of EF and EF-S lenses to upgrade to if you eventually outgrow the kit lens.
Of course, at this price point, you can expect a cheaper plasticky build quality, and you won't get features like 4k video capability or an articulated screen. Still, for the price, this is a great beginner camera that's sure to expand your photography potential beyond what you may be used to with your smartphone.
For those who want a DSLR-like shooting experience without the complexity and added cost of additional lenses, a superzoom bridge camera can be a great cost-effective alternative. The Panasonic LUMIX FZ80 is one of the best bang-for-your-buck superzoom cameras you can get. While it isn't the most portable option, and build quality leaves a lot to be desired, the camera feels pretty good in the hand and comes with plenty of cool extra features like a '4k PHOTO' mode that lets you pull stills out of 30 fps video clips, along with creative shooting modes for macro and nighttime photography.
However, the big selling point of this camera is its built-in lens, which has a super wide zoom range that lets you shoot everything from close-ups to landscapes to far-off subjects like birds and wildlife. That said, it's a bit limited by its small sensor for image quality, but if you need a cheaper zoom camera for casual sports or family photography, this is a great choice.
If you want an affordable camera that you can take anywhere to capture memories and snapshots on the go, the Panasonic LUMIX ZS80 is one of the best point-and-shoot cameras for under $500. It's nice and compact, meaning you can toss it in a bag or coat pocket, and the small thumb rest and finger grip make it super easy to use even with one hand. It even includes a small viewfinder, which is great for sunny days when it might be harder to see the screen. The screen can flip up for waist-level shots or selfies.
Best of all is its built-in lens, which has a wide zoom range that's very versatile for a range of different photo styles. While you won't get out-of-this-world image quality, especially compared to a larger-sensor DSLR like the Canon EOS Rebel T7 / EOS 2000D, this camera has a 10 fps burst shooting and a surprisingly effective autofocus system, along with solid battery life. That makes this just about the best point-and-shoot camera you can get for under $500.
For action video, there's no better option under $500 than a GoPro. With the newly released GoPro HERO11 Black, there's no better time to buy a GoPro HERO10 Black, which gives you top-of-the-line performance and features at a now more affordable price. The HERO 10 can record 5.3k video up to 60 fps, 4k video up to 120 fps, and 2.7k and 1080p video up to 240 fps, giving you a ton of options to capture various levels of slow-motion at different resolutions. It's also waterproof, small enough to take anywhere and mount to almost anything, and comes with a front-facing screen that makes it easy to see yourself while recording.
That said, even the HERO10 isn't exactly cheap as far as action cameras go, but thankfully, older models like the GoPro HERO9 Black and GoPro HERO8 Black are still available at lower price points for those on a tighter budget. They use older processors and don't perform as well in low light as the upgraded HERO10, but get you a lot of frame rate options and reliably effective stabilization.
Vloggers looking to upgrade from their smartphones without breaking the bank can consider the DJI Pocket 2. This unique pocket camera has a built-in three-axis stabilized gimbal that makes it incredibly easy to capture buttery smooth handheld footage. It uses a larger sensor than most smartphones or pocket cameras, resulting in solid video quality and improved low-light performance compared to the original DJI Osmo Pocket.
While it doesn't have as many frame rate options as the GoPro HERO10 Black, it can still record 4k video up to 60 fps and even has a slow-motion recording mode in 1080p with even higher frame rates. Add an automatic tracking feature that follows subjects as they move around, and you've got a great little vlogging tool for those on a budget.
Nov 29, 2022: Added the DJI Pocket 2 as the 'Best Vlogging Camera Under $500'.
Sep 30, 2022: Restructured article and adjusted text for clarity and to better represent user needs.
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.
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best cameras and best point-and-shoot cameras under $500 for most people, 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 in price. 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.