Smartphone cameras are getting better every year, but if you really want to take control of your pictures and learn the art of photography, a dedicated camera is still the best option. Thanks to their big image sensors, high-quality lenses, fast autofocus, and dedicated photo/video features, even an entry-level camera for beginners can far outstrip what’s possible with the standard smartphone.
For beginners, the challenge isn’t finding a camera that can take great pictures; the challenge is knowing what to look for.
Are you planning to do a lot of traveling? A lightweight point-and-shoot or mirrorless camera is probably best. Do you need room to grow? An interchangeable lens camera will give you plenty of headroom once you’re ready to ditch the kit lens and invest in specialized glass. Are you planning to shoot videos for YouTube, live streaming, or on social media? There are plenty of high-quality hybrid cameras that capture excellent quality photos and video that’s tailored to social media platforms.
The best camera for beginners—every beginner—is out there. Let’s find yours.
What’s the best camera for beginners in photography?
Outside of smartphones, there are three main categories of digital camera: the DSLR, the mirrorless camera, and the fixed lens (also known as “compact” or “point-and-shoot”) camera. Each style has its strengths and weaknesses, and each one is best suited for a different kind of photography and a different kind of photographer. The first step when shopping for the best camera for beginners in photography is to decide between these three options.
DSLRs are bulky and, some would say, outdated. But they’re also more affordable than most mirrorless cameras, offer many more lens options going back decades, and have a deeper selection of used models since they’ve been around for so long. They’re light on your budget and great to learn on, especially if you want to get serious about learning photography equipment.
Mirrorless cameras are smaller and lighter, which makes them better for travel and easier to carry around. They’re also better video cameras, and often include retro design elements for added style. Since every major camera company now makes a range of mirrorless cameras, there are a lot of beginner-friendly models on the market at a wide variety of price points.
Finally, point-and-shoot cameras have mostly been replaced by smartphones, but there are still a few models that offer better image quality in a tiny package—perfect if you don’t want to lug around extra lenses but still want to have a dedicated camera that can take fantastic pictures.
In this roundup, we tried to include at least one option from each class, with a couple of additional choices thrown in for special uses like travel photography and video shooting.
RELATED: The 30 Most Important Digital Cameras of All Time
A pocket-sized point-and-shoot is the best go-everywhere camera for beginners
One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a beginner is to buy a camera that you’ll never actually use. Sometimes that’s because it’s too complicated, but often it’s just because it’s too big. If you’re not used to carrying a camera around, or you want something that’s as easy to tote as your smartphone, your best bet is to go with a compact, fixed-lens point-and-shoot style camera.
Most cameras in this category were discontinued when smartphones hit the scene, but the ones that survived earned their place alongside other, more “serious” cameras by offering a lot of performance in a tiny package.
High-quality point-and-shoots boast a bigger sensor than your smartphone, better low-light capabilities, a higher-quality lens with far more optical zoom, ultra-fast autofocus with useful add-ons like Real-Time Eye Detection, and a slew of other handy features that make photography more convenient and more fun.
Best point-and-shoot camera for beginners: Sony RX100 VII
Small but Mighty
The Sony RX100 VII combines excellent image quality with fast autofocus, a high-quality zoom lens, and a pocket-sized footprint. Sony
It’s pricey for a point-and-shoot, but the Sony RX100 VII isn’t just the best digital camera for beginners—it’s arguably the best compact camera on the market, period. The 20.1MP 1-inch format sensor captures way more light than any smartphone camera, the 24-200mm lens gets you closer to the action, and Sony’s autofocus is legendary. Plus you get a pop-up viewfinder, a 180° flipping screen for selfies, and much much more.
A DSLR camera is a great choice for beginners who are serious about photography
Mirrorless cameras get all the press these days, but the traditional Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) is still a great choice, especially when you’re just starting out. Canon and Nikon own this market, and both make a wide selection of high-quality DSLRs that range from entry-level all the way up to professional-grade. Crucial for beginners to photography, the entry-level options in this category often include special “Guide” modes that will teach you how to get out of “Auto” mode and use the many settings that a real camera will let you tweak.
If you’re shopping for a Nikon camera, you’ll want to stick to the D3xxx and D5xxx models, depending on your budget. For Canon camera lovers, there are a wide variety of “Rebel” branded cameras, with the Canon EOS Rebel T7, Rebel Sl3, and the Rebel T7i all designed for first-time photographers.
Whichever brand you choose, you’ll have a large selection of lenses to choose from out of a catalog that goes back decades, making it easy to pick up more glass for cheap by scouring the used market. For this reason in particular, an entry-level DSLR is probably the DSLR camera for beginners who are. serious about learning and growing as a photographer.
Best DSLR for beginners: Nikon D3500
Simple and Intuitive
With its built-in Guide Mode and SnapBridge smartphone connectivity, the Nikon D3500 makes the transition to a “real” camera a breeze. Amazon Renewed
The Nikon D3xxx series of cameras is a tried and true beginner DSLR, and the D3500 is the pinnacle of that ethos. The 24.2 APS-C format image sensor and compatibility with a vast array of F-mount lenses ensure fantastic image quality, while the built-in “Guide Mode” and wireless image sharing through the SnapBridge app help smooth the transition from a smartphone camera to a proper camera.
Mirrorless cameras a smaller, sleeker, and built for social sharing
If you need something that’s small, versatile, and built from the ground up for the social media generation, a mirrorless camera is the best choice. These cameras leave out the mirror box of the DSLR (hence: mirrorless), significantly reducing the size of the camera and allowing for more compact lenses as well.
On the downside, mirrorless cameras chew through battery life much faster than a DSLR—but they are often easier to use and much better for video shooting and social sharing. Plus, thanks to the electronic viewfinder, you can see a preview of your picture before you ever press the shutter. That makes mirrorless a great beginner camera since it acts a lot like your smartphone, but with better image quality and lots more room to grow as a photographer.
As with DSLRs, mirrorless cameras come in a wide variety of skill levels and price points. For beginners, we suggest an entry-level model with a Micro Four Thirds or APS-C image sensor, good video capabilities, a flip-out screen for vlogging and selfies, and a brand name you recognize and trust.
Best mirrorless camera for beginners: Canon EOS M50 Mark II
Small and Versatile
The Canon EOS M50 Mark II offers a wide range of features for beginner photographers and aspiring YouTubers alike. Canon
The original Canon EOS M50 was—and still is—the best-selling mirrorless model of all Canon cameras, and the Mark II improves on that winning recipe. The large 24.1MP APS-C format image sensor is wrapped in a high-tech shell with phenomenal autofocus, a flip-out screen, and a bunch of social media-friendly capabilities like built-in livestreaming and vertical video shooting. And thanks to Canon’s new Webcam Utility app, you can even use it to up your Zoom game.
A great travel camera for beginners puts the “fun” in functional
If you want a great beginner camera to take on your next adventure, you’d better make sure it’s something you won’t mind carrying around day-in and day-out during your travels. That means finding a camera that’s small and lightweight, but also stylish and fun to use. You want the camera to become a part of the experience, not a distraction.
Fortunately, there are a bunch of ultra-portable, retro chic mirrorless cameras on the market that fit the bill while producing beautiful photos. Best of all, they’re almost all designed for beginners in photography!
For stylish mirrorless cameras that are fun and functional, we recommend looking at Olympus’ PEN and O-MD cameras, and Fujifilm’s X-Series cameras. Both brands make small, entry-level mirrorless cameras that are easy to carry around every day on a long trip, produce high quality photos and video, and may even turn a few heads along the way.
Best travel camera for beginners: Fujifilm X-E4
Retro Style, Modern Features
The rangefinder-style X-E4 is Fujifilm’s smallest X-mount mirrorless camera, making it the perfect travel companion. Fujifilm
The new Fujifilm X-E4 may look like a retro rangefinder, but that stylish exterior encloses all the latest digital camera features. It uses the same 26MP APS-C sensor as some of Fuji’s more expensive X-series cameras, with many of the same high-end photo and video features, but packs it all into a tiny camera body with the benefits of a 180° flip-up screen. In so many ways, this camera is the ideal travel companion.
A great beginner camera doesn’t have to break the bank
There are a lot of high-quality, high-price beginner cameras out there (especially if you’re looking at the latest and greatest in mirrorless), but you don’t have to empty your bank account to pick up a camera that will make your smartphone blush. There are a bunch of older models on the market that will get the job done while saving you hundreds of dollars in the process.
On the used market, older versions of Canon’s Rebel DSLRs and Nikon’s D3xxx and D5xxx series are a great find. And if you want to buy something new-in-box, some brands are still selling cameras that are 3, 5, or even 7 years old. When it comes to finding a great budget camera for beginners, you’re flush with choices.
Best budget camera for beginners: Sony a6000
Oldie but Goodie
More than seven years after it was released, the a6000 is still one of Sony’s most popular mirrorless cameras. Adorama
Despite its age, the Sony a6000 is still one of the best choices for the beginner on a budget. It features a 24.2MP APS-C format sensor, takes Sony’s popular E-mount lenses, and is several hundred dollars cheaper than the newer Sony a6xxx models! Brand new, the camera with a power-zoom kit lens will cost you $650, but you can find them for a lot less if you’re willing to shop used.
Photography equipment FAQ:
What should I look for when buying a camera?
When you’re buying a new camera for a beginner—whether it’s a point-and-shoot, a DSLR, or a mirrorless camera—you want to keep three things in mind: image quality, portability, and ease of use. Image quality depends largely on the size and resolution of the camera’s image sensor, and the quality of your lenses. Portability is critical, because the best camera in the world is no good if you never actually take it with you. Ease of use is especially important for beginners so you don’t get discouraged along the way.
Most cameras on the market focus on one or two of the features above, but the best camera for beginners strikes the right balance between all three.
Is Canon or Nikon better for beginners?
Both Canon and Nikon do a great job with their entry-level cameras, making them as beginner-friendly as possible. For many years, Nikon did a little more by including a helpful “Guide Mode” in all of their entry-level DSLRs, but Canon recently caught up by adding a “Guided” mode to the latest Rebel cameras that explains what each setting does as you change it.
In 2021, there really isn’t a “best brand” for beginners. Whichever brand you choose, it’s more important that you pick a camera with the right combination of features to suit your photographic style and goals.
What camera do most photographers use?
The best-selling camera brand in the world is Canon. As of 2020, the brand is still dominant, making up nearly half of all camera sales worldwide. Second and third are Sony and Nikon, respectively, each with about 20% of the market, followed by Fujifilm and Panasonic with about 5% each.
However, which camera brand is right for you is a very personal decision, based on which camera style, lens ecosystem, and even which menu system you like best. Don’t let “what most people are using” influence your buying decision too much.
A final thought on finding the best camera for beginners
Don’t let smartphone marketing fool you, if you want to take great pictures and learn the art of photography, a dedicated camera is much more powerful than the little computer in your pocket. Fortunately, there are a ton of great entry-level cameras on the market that match every style, every goal, and every budget. Whether you’re just starting out on this journey yourself or you’re shopping for a friend or family member, finding the best camera for beginners is just the first step. A world of creativity and captured memories awaits.