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. We currently test cameras with their standard kit lenses, so for the sake of consistency, this article focuses on new cameras that retail for under $500 with their kit lens included.
We've tested over 65 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.
The best DSLR camera under $500 that we've tested is the Canon EOS Rebel T7 / EOS 2000D. This APS-C DSLR offers very good image quality out-of-the-box, with impressively low noise levels, though image sharpness can noticeably degrade as you increase ISO. When used in conjunction with its 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II kit lens, it does a very good job of smoothing out camera shake in still photography and FHD video.
While this camera is bulky, its lightweight plastic construction should allow you to carry it around handheld for extended periods without significant fatigue. Thanks to its textured handgrip, It's decently comfortable to use. Its menu system is very intuitive, and it features a built-in guide mode to explain core features to novice users. Its main display is fixed in place and isn't touch-sensitive, which can be a bit of an annoyance if you're used to tapping on the screen to navigate menu systems or change focus points, but it's still sharp and should be bright enough to see under sunlight.
Unfortunately, this camera's autofocus system struggles to maintain focus on subjects' faces in photography and video. It can't shoot 4k video, and video quality in FHD is soft and noisy, especially in poorly-lit environments. Its slow maximum continuous shooting speed of 3 fps can make it tricky to snap clear photos of fast-moving subjects. If you're looking for a DSLR for landscape or casual travel photography, it's a solid choice.
If you need an action camera, the best camera under $500 is the GoPro HERO9 Black. It's a premium action camera that feels well-built and comes with a second front-facing screen with Live View, so you can monitor yourself when recording in a selfie position. It's also advertised to be waterproof up to 33 feet, and you can mount it on any compatible mount, like a chest or helmet rig, or attach it to a piece of equipment for POV footage of sports or fast action.
The camera offers many frame rate options for everything from capturing quick movement to high-speed capture so you can generate smooth slow-motion video. It shoots 4k video at up to 60 fps and 1080p video at up to 240 fps, but it can also record 5k video at up to 30 fps. GoPro's 'HyperSmooth' stabilization feature does an incredible job smoothing out camera shake whether shooting in 4k or 1080p, although it does incur a noticeable 1.38x crop. It has a decent battery life, lasting approximately 90 minutes of continuous video recording, though battery performance can vary with settings.
That said, it's not well-suited to shooting in low-light conditions because of its small sensor size. Its overall video quality in 4k and 1080p isn't especially sharp compared to larger cameras, but it's good relative to other action cameras. You can also choose between a wide-angle fisheye field of view or a more linear field of view if you dislike the fisheye effect that you get with many action cameras. Overall, this is one of the best sport video cameras we've tested.
If you'd prefer a pocket-sized camera that you can use handheld, take a look at the DJI Pocket 2. It isn't water-resistant and doesn't support 5k video like the GoPro HERO9 Black, but it comes with a built-in three-axis stabilized gimbal that makes it a great video tool for shooting smooth handheld footage. You can set its gimbal mechanism in various configurations by locking and unlocking some or all of its axes for different stabilization effects, so you can pan or tilt the gimbal in different ways and maintain smooth movement with the camera. It also has an automatic tracking feature that can lock onto a specific subject and follow them automatically. It delivers okay video quality overall, though it doesn't offer the sharpest or cleanest image. It also doesn't have as many frame rate options, although it does have a slow-motion capture mode in FHD that can capture footage at 120 fps or 240 fps for slow-motion 30 fps playback. Unfortunately, the camera can get very hot when used for longer periods, particularly when shooting continuously in 4k.
Get the GoPro if you need a mountable action camera with more resolution and frame rate options. If you want a stabilized handheld pocket camera, the DJI is a good alternative.
The best camera under $500 we've tested for point-and-shoot use is the Panasonic LUMIX ZS80. This ultracompact camera is small enough to fit in a pocket or a small bag but manages to include a built-in viewfinder, a pop-up flash, and a zoom lens with a maximum full-frame equivalent focal length of 720 mm, allowing you to snap clear stills of far-away subjects. Its touchscreen display flips out, which should be helpful when trying to compose shots from unconventional angles. Depending on your choice of settings, battery life is reasonable.
The lens' optical stabilization feature helps smooth out camera shake by a noticeable degree, which is good if you don't have a tripod on hand. Its autofocus system does a great job of tracking moving subjects in still photography and delivers excellent object tracking performance when shooting FHD video, though its face-tracking capability is poor. While image sharpness can degrade at higher ISO levels, image quality is still decent overall, with a relatively wide dynamic range and impressive noise handling capability. Its maximum shooting speed of 10 fps is also fairly quick and should help you snap photos of moving subjects.
However, this camera takes a long time to clear its photo buffer, so it's best to keep continuous bursts short. Also, its video capabilities are limited, particularly in 4k. You can only shoot 4k video at 30 fps with a significant 1.35x crop, and video quality is soft and noisy in both 4k and FHD. Its autofocus system also delivers middling overall performance in 4k video. Still, if you're looking for a compact camera for point-and-shoot photography, it's a solid choice.
If you prefer the slightly more spaced-out ergonomics of a bridge camera, consider the Panasonic LUMIX FZ80. This bridge camera isn't nearly as portable as the Panasonic LUMIX ZS80 or as solidly built. However, it does have a built-in lens with a maximum full-frame equivalent focal length of 1,200 mm, making it even easier to capture clear stills of very far away subjects, like athletes on a field or a bird perched on a tree. It has a faster maximum shooting speed of 12 fps, and it clears its buffer much faster, so you should be able to fire off long bursts without a major interruption. Stabilization performance for still photography and FHD video is satisfactory overall, helpful when shooting at longer focal lengths. That said, it shares many of the same downsides of the ZS80, with bad video quality in FHD and 4k, poor autofocus face-tracking performance in video, and a noticeable loss of sharpness in images when shooting at moderately high ISO levels. It also can't record in 4k at a frame rate other than 30 fps. Its touchscreen is fixed in place, making it hard to compose shots from unconventional angles.
Get the ZS80 if you want a point-and-shoot camera you can fit in your pocket, but consider the FZ80 if a longer maximum zoom length is a big priority.
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 US).
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.