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 95 cameras in our lab, and below, you'll find our recommendations for the best cameras under $500. If you're just starting in photography, 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.
A budget of under $500 won't get you very far in today's camera market unless you decide to buy used, but it will get you a Canon EOS R100, one of the few new options worth considering at this price point. While it's pretty bare-bones compared to more expensive models, with a fixed screen that lacks touch functionality and limited 4k video capabilities, this is one of the rare modern mirrorless cameras that's accessible to budget consumers. With a good 24-megapixel sensor at its core and a simple user interface with plenty of auto-shooting modes, this is a solid starter camera for the money. Since it's part of the RF-mount system, you can also easily upgrade to a better body down the line if you see fit.
If you can stretch your budget, we recommend a Canon EOS R50 or even the older Canon EOS M50 Mark II instead. The R50 is similar to the R100 but has a few added benefits that make a difference, like a better autofocus system, fully articulated screen, and better video specs. Though the M-mount is pretty much dead, the M50 Mark II is similar overall to the R50 and could be a good option if you're not fussed about lens options. Having said that, if you're on a tight $500 budget, the R100 will still get you great image quality and, most importantly, get you shooting, so it's a good option if you need a modern mirrorless camera that's cheap and easy to use.
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 has few bells and whistles, and has much more rudimentary autofocus than the mirrorless Canon EOS R100, this DSLR is built around a solid high-resolution APS-C sensor that can capture high-quality images.
At this price point, you can naturally expect a cheaper, more 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. A wide range of DX and FX lenses are compatible with this camera, making it easy to expand your kit as your skills grow. That said, this is a simple camera without many bells and whistles. For instance, if you want to dabble in 4k video recording, 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 its build quality leaves much to be desired, the camera is still fairly comfortable to shoot with. It also includes many 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 very 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, this is a great choice if you need a cheap zoom camera for casual sports or family photography.
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 subjects and photography 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 for a compact camera. 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 capturing buttery smooth handheld footage incredibly easy. Its 1/1.7-inch sensor is larger than most smartphone or pocket camera sensors, resulting in solid overall 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 at up to 60 fps and even has a slow-motion recording mode that can record at up to 240 fps in 1080p. 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.
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.
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.