Many people love photography but hate the often-huge price tags. Luckily, an expensive camera is not necessary to get great pictures. Leave the professional price tags to the professionals, you can get amazing photos for less than $500.
The Rub: Panasonic dominates the entry level market by providing features and value that the other brands cannot or will not compete with. Other brands such as Canon also operate in the entry level market but are beaten by Panasonic at many price points. The following are my top picks.
This camera really has it all for under $500. This is considered a mid-level camera but has comparable performance and features to many higher end cameras. The camera dials and buttons feel premium and are simple and satisfying to use. External accessories such as microphones and speedlights are easy to use. Picture quality is great in a plethora of lighting conditions. My one complaint is that the autofocus doesn’t always land when taking portraits but works well overall.
The 1080p and 4K video both work great. The focus is a little slow and there is no in-body image stabilization, but this is not much of an issue for. The settings menu is easy to navigate and understand. The kit lens that comes with the camera works great but buying better lenses from Panasonic’s LUMIX G series is the only way to unlock the full potential of the G7. This is a wonderful camera that will serve any photographer well.
For around $100 cheaper than the G7, this camera is a great pick. This camera still produces great images, but you lose some features with this model. There is no touch screen (and it doesn’t articulate) and only 9 focus points (as opposed to the 49 the G7 has). The hot shoe on this camera only works with Canon accessories, so if you need a speedlight, expect to pay more and have less options. There is also no microphone jack.
This camera allows for lens exchange, so you can take advantage of Canon’s large line of high-quality lenses to get the best out of that 24MP sensor. The 18-55mm kit lens this camera comes with works great and the camera is straightforward to use. The bottom line is, if you don’t need or want the same level of features as the Panasonic G7, you can get similar picture quality for $100 less.
Do you shoot a lot of video and want a cheap and easy way to do it? This is the camera for you. It can shoot 4K at 30fps and 1080p at 60fps, so you can go for resolution or action. While the picture quality is not as good as more expensive, specialized, DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, the photos are still great for the price. Many point and shoot cameras have a lag between pressing the shutter and getting the photo, but not this one. You can expect speed similar to a higher-end camera. This camera is perfect for cheap, high quality video, but if you don’t care about that, don’t buy this camera. Invest in a DSLR or mirrorless camera with exchangeable lenses. That will put you on a path to better photography.
Before the honorable mentions that didn’t make it to the top 3, I’d like to remind you that cameras require storage in the form of an SD card. It’s important to remember to buy one. I recommend at least 64 GB of storage, so you don’t run out of space whether you’re snapping pictures or shooting video. The SanDisk Extreme PRO is the one I recommend for its excellent read/write speeds, reliability, and great price. It’s what I put in my cameras.
This is a truly well-built camera that has great image quality for its price. The only reason this isn’t in the top 3, is its price. It’s $500 just for the body. This camera has an SR Auto mode that recognizes the scene and sets focus perfectly with minimal effort. This is a beautiful camera that definitely feels premium. Of the cameras in this article, this has the best image quality. The images produced by this camera are sharp and well saturated. The settings menu is simple to understand and easy to use. If you want a solid camera with great picture quality and a little higher price tag, this one’s for you.
This camera is an all-in-one compact. That means the lens cannot be changed and the sensor is smaller than more professional cameras. Don’t let the small sensor and all-in-one nature fool you, though. This camera can pack a punch for its low price tag. All-in-one also means easy-to-use. The 25-600mm lens has you covered for almost any type of photography. Portrait, check. Landscape, check. Macro, big check. You’ll never have to worry about buying a new lens with this camera. The downside is if you want to upgrade at some point, you will need to buy a new camera body and new lenses as well as learn a new sensor size. Higher tier cameras do not have 1/2.3” sensors. The autofocus is fast and quiet. This camera is great for beginners that don’t care to become professionals, but still want quality pictures in an easy to use package.
This is an older (2014) camera that can still compete. Sony’s autofocus and face detection software are unparalleled for portrait photography. The kit lens that comes with this camera is great in a plethora of situations. Sony has a great line of E Mount lenses that take this camera’s 24MP sensor to the next level and provide versatility is shooting. The settings menu is intuitive and easy to understand. The battery life of the camera is somewhat lackluster. The very small size of the camera means poor grip which can lead to blurry photos or a dropped camera. The bottom line is this older camera is still better than many new cameras being released at the same price point.
Most of the cameras in this list have the capability to change lenses. This is one of the most valuable features of DSLR and Mirrorless cameras. Sensor technology today is great at almost any level of camera, so the thing that really makes a difference is the lens attached to the camera. To fully unlock the potential of the sensor, you need a higher quality lens. Higher quality lenses also allow you to specialize and focus on a particular area of photography that you’re interested in. To see more about what types of lenses are used in different areas of photography, see here.
Higher quality lenses allow for sharper images, wider apertures, better autofocus, and greater versatility. I would highly recommend purchasing a higher quality lens when you find the limitations in the kit lens your camera comes with.