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 smartphone cameras getting increasingly capable, sticking with the camera you already have in your pocket is usually the most cost-effective option. That said, there's nothing like the feel of a camera in your hands, and you're not totally out of luck with 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 especially price-conscious buyers.
We've bought and tested over 80 cameras in our lab, and below, you'll find our recommendations for the best new and used cameras for under $500. If you're just starting in photography, you can also check out the best beginner cameras we've tested. 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 Canon EOS M50 Mark II is one of the best cameras you can get on a tight budget. While it retails for over $500, you can find used models for less, and with the Canon EOS R50 now on the market, the M50 is likely to drop in price even more. For that reason, lens support is somewhat limited, as Canon has shifted its focus to RF-mount cameras and lenses, but if you're starting in photography, it's a great little camera for the price.
For one thing, it's lightweight and portable, making it easy to take on the go. You'll get great image quality out of it, too, and it has a great autofocus system for its class that will suit beginners well. It's also a good option for aspiring vloggers—just be aware that 4k video is not this camera's forte. It can only record 4k at 24 fps with a severe crop, but it's a good choice if you stick to 1080p.
The Canon EOS Rebel T7 / EOS 2000D is the best DSLR camera you can buy brand new for under $500. Part of Canon's entry-level Rebel lineup, the T7 is a good 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 high-resolution APS-C sensor that can capture high-quality images.
Of course, at this price point, you can expect a cheaper, plasticky build quality compared to pricier models like the Canon EOS Rebel T8i, and you won't get features like 4k video capability or an articulated screen. Still, for the money, this is a great starter camera. There's also a vast selection of compatible EF and EF-S lenses that you can get if you outgrow the kit lens or want to try different photography styles.
If you've never used a camera, the best option under $500 is the Nikon D3500. Though discontinued, you can find this model and older models in the D3000 series for under $500 if you look at retailers that sell used models, like KEH Camera or B&H Photo Video. The D3500 comes equipped with a dedicated 'Guide' shooting mode that walks novice users through the basics of photography. It's a fantastic learning tool for beginner photographers that lets them learn as they go.
That aside, the camera also has a very solid sensor for its class, so you'll get sharp photos with pleasing colors and plenty of detail. Nikon also has a wide DSLR lens selection to expand your kit later. That said, this is a simple camera without many bells and whistles. For instance, if you want to play around with 4k video, you're better off getting an alternative like the Canon EOS Rebel SL3, though it lacks Nikon's interactive Guide Mode.
An all-in-one bridge camera can be a great cost-effective alternative for those who want a DSLR-like shooting experience without the complexity and added cost of additional lenses. 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 much to be desired, the camera feels pretty good in the hand. It has plenty of neat extra features, including a '4k PHOTO' mode that lets you pull stills out of 30 fps video clips and creative shooting modes for macro and nighttime photography.
That said, the big selling point of this camera is its built-in lens, which has a super long zoom range that lets you shoot everything from close-ups to landscapes to far-off subjects like birds and wildlife. Just be aware that its small sensor means you won't get the same level of image quality as a DSLR like the Canon EOS Rebel T7 / EOS 2000D mentioned above. Still, if you need a cheap zoom camera for casual sports or family photography, it's 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 also flip up for waist-level shots or selfies.
Best of all is its built-in lens, which has a long zoom range suitable for various photo styles. While you won't get out-of-this-world image quality, especially compared to cameras with larger sensors, the ZS80 has 10 fps burst shooting, a surprisingly decent autofocus system, and decent battery life. That makes this the best point-and-shoot camera we've tested under $500.
Vloggers looking to upgrade from their smartphones without breaking the bank can check out the DJI Pocket 2. This unique pocket camera has a built-in three-axis stabilized gimbal making it incredibly easy to capture buttery smooth handheld footage. It has 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 an action cam alternative like 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 higher frame rates. Throw in an active tracking feature that automatically follows subjects as they move around, and you've got a great little vlogging tool for those on a budget.
May 29, 2023: Checked accuracy of picks with minor adjustments to text for clarity.
Mar 30, 2023: Added the Canon EOS M50 Mark II as the 'Best Camera Under $500' and the Nikon D3500 as the 'Best Beginner Camera Under $500'; renamed the Canon EOS Rebel T7 to 'Best DSLR Camera Under $500' and renamed the Panasonic LUMIX FZ80 to 'Best Superzoom Camera Under $500'; removed the GoPro HERO10 Black.
Jan 27, 2023: Renamed the Panasonic LUMIX FZ80 from 'Best Superzoom Camera Under $500' to 'Best All-In-One Camera Under $500'.
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.
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.