So you want to take great photographs but are not too interested in breaking the bank to get a good camera? We’re here to help.
To start, we’ve shortlisted our picks for the best budget camera according to price ranges as follows:
It must be no surprise that Canon cameras are some of the best around. At every price level, they deliver image quality which is a notch above the competition.
Below, you’ll find reviews of a total of 12 budget cameras, as well as a buying guide for things to look out for.
12 Picks for the Best Budget Camera in 2020
1. Canon EOS Rebel T7
The Canon EOS Rebel T7 is the next installment in Canon’s wildly popular EOS Rebel series of DSLR cameras. Canon have crowned themselves the kings of the entry level DSLR market with one successful iteration of the EOS Rebel after the next.
We’ve chosen it to be one of our top budget cameras as it bridges the gap between point and shoot cameras that can be quite simple and more advanced DSLR cameras, which can cost an arm and a leg.
The EOS Rebel T7 has a 24.3 megapixel APS-C sensor. At this budget, you cannot expect to find a bigger sensor(yet, anyway).
Still, the size is decent enough for most applications and the image quality is very nice. You can compose your photos using the optical viewfinder. There are 9 autofocus points you can utilize to make sure you get the sharpest image possible.
Since this is a budget camera, you can’t expect too many fancy features. There are a few auto shooting modes as well as a few manual modes, but that’s about it.
You can shoot Full HD 1080p videos, too.
- Very budget friendly
- Great entry level camera for all round performance
- WiFi and NFC enabled
- Does not work with 3d party external flashes
- No microphone jack
- Less potential to grow with this camera
2. Panasonic Lumix FZ1000
The Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 is an all around powerhouse that can take great photos using the full 1 inch 10.1 megapixel sensor. What you lose in megapixels is gained in the sensor size, which is far bigger than any of the other cameras on this list.
Usually it is quite difficult to find a suitable camera on a budget that still has such a large sensor. This sensor size means you can take great low light photos, and the simple version is that the bigger the sensor, the higher the image quality will be.
The FZ1000 has a viewfinder and a swiveling LCD screen, so you can use either of them to compose your shots.
The built in lens has an optical zoom up to 16x and it has optical image stabilization built in, which is really useful for taking close up shots.
There’s also a really nice macro mode built in which you can utilize to focus in really close for highly detailed images.
You can also shoot 4K HD video and extract 8 megapixel stills from it. If you choose to shoot 1080p, you can go all the way up to 120 FPS for nice slow motion effects.
- Very nice image stabilization
- Macro mode
- Can add an external shotgun microphone
- Photos above 800 ISO are not usable
- Aperture range is so-so
- Lens is delicate
3. Panasonic Lumix ZS70K
The Panasonic Lumix ZS70K is one of our favorite compact size budget cameras. It is slim enough to fit into your pocket but it packs a lot of features. At the heart of the camera is a 20.3 megapixel MOS sensor. The sensor size is pretty small but that’s to be expected from a camera of this size.
Overall, the photo quality is pretty good and the Lumix ZS70K is a great travel camera.
This camera falls under the superzoom category as you can zoom all the way to 30x. Another bonus feature is the ability to shoot RAW images which makes post-processing very easy.
Add to that 4K video, the ability to extract 8 megapixel stills from your 4K video, and 5 axis optical stabilization, there is very little that the camera leaves to be desired in this class of camera.
The LCD swivels 180 degrees which make it easy to shoot selfies and even take videos of yourself such as for YouTube or Instagram.
If you’re interested in printing you can easily get prints of 14 x 16 or even a little larger if the lighting and focus is good enough.
- Lots of features in a small package
- RAW shooting
- WiFi enabled
- Low light photography is not the best
- Controls are a bit difficult to access
- Flash can easily be covered by your hand whilst shooting
4. Nikon D3500: best budget camera under $500
The Nikon D3500 is Nikon’s answer to the Canon EOS Rebel series. It is an excellent entry level camera that like the Rebel is a great way to graduate from a simple point and shoot to a more functional DSLR shooting experience.
You can shoot 24.2 megapixel photos and the images are captured using the APS-C sensor. Images are nice and sharp thanks to 11 autofocus points which you can select while composing your shot.
If you’re into video, you can shoot full HD 1080p video. At this price range, you are not going to find 4K video.
One of the best features that we love about the Nikon D3500 is the Guide Mode, which is like a tutorial that takes you through learning the ropes of your cameras more advanced features.
Overall, the camera is comparatively light and portable so you will not have any issues traveling with it. It won’t fit into a satchel, of course, but the weight is not so much that you’ll feel that it’s heavy.
Normally, you would use the viewfinder to take shots, but you can also flick a lever and that will enable Live Mode, where you will be able to see the image on the 3 inch LCD screen.
Overall, we really like the Nikon D3500. It’s a great budget camera and ticks almost all of the boxes that we’re looking for.
- Good battery life
- Excellent entry level camera to the world of DSLRs
- Good photo quality
- No touch screen
- Fewer focus points than similarly priced cameras
5. GoPro Hero 7 White
If you’re looking for an action camera that does not have much in terms of extra features but is super durable and reliable, consider the GoPro Hero 7 White.
The GoPro Hero is a video camera at heart but it is also capable of taking 10 megapixel stills. A touch screen lets you change any settings and switch modes.
There is no zoom , of course, but the beauty of the GoPro is that you can strap it pretty much anywhere and get some really unique perspectives. You can attach it to your forehead, to your bike’s handlebars, mount it on your car’s dashboard, mount it on a drone, or even attach it to your pet’s collar for some really unique footage.
GoPro and 3rd party manufacturers make a wide variety of accessories that help you adapt it to fit in many different applications.
GoPro’s best camera is the GoPro Hero 8 Black, but since we are talking about the best cheap camera here we’ve listed the Hero 7 white.
For the most part, the features are quite similar: you can shoot 4K and 1080p HD video, and any accessories that fit the GoPro Hero 8 will work with the Hero 7 white.
- Rugged and waterproof
- Strap it almost anywhere
- Decent battery life
- 4K video
- No extra features or customization
6. Sony Alpha A6000
The Sony Alpha A6000 is a mirrorless camera. We’ve included it in this list of the best cheap camera models because it is one of the most inexpensive mirrorless cameras. So while the price is a little higher than some of the other models here, it’s a cheap camera when you factor in the mirrorless design.
Mirrorless cameras are similar to DSLR cameras in that you can switch lenses, but they’re much thinner and quicker than DSLRs because there is no mirror that moves up and down.
This makes them powerhouses like DSLRs but nearly half the size.
The Alpha A6000 has an APS-C sensor which is standard at this price point. The 3 inch lcd screen swivels and tilts 180 degrees so you can get creative with your angles. If you don’t want to use the LCD, you can use the electronic viewfinder.
The electronic viewfinder will have all the overlays as the LCD, so it’s like you’re using the same thing.
Overall, the image quality is as good, if not better than an entry-level dSLR thanks to the hybrid autofocus system which helps you capture really nice and sharp images.
You can take up to 11 frames per second using the burst mode to make sure you don’t miss any action. If you’re into video, this camera is capable of up to 60 frames per second full HD video.
- Small version of a full featured DSLR
- All manual modes
- Can work with a wide variety of lenses either directly or with an adapter
- Default lens is not very good
7. Canon PowerShot SX420 IS
The Canon PowerShot SX240 IS is a camera that packs decent features but takes some shortcuts, too. At its heart, a 20 megapixel sensor captures images which are processed using Canon’s Digic 4 engine.
The most striking feature of this camera is the ridiculous 42x optical zoom. If a high optical zoom is on your list, the PowerShot SX420 IS is your go to camera.
However, aside from the insane optical zoom, there is not much extra that this camera offers.
The image quality is great, though and there are some auto modes(like macro and pan) for you to play around with. Since we’re on a tight budget with this camera, you won’t find any aperture or shutter control modes.
Still, for this price, you can’t compete with the image quality and zoom.
- Great zoom
- Easy to use and set up
- Good image quality
- No 1080p video, only shoots 720p
8. Canon PowerShot SX540: Best budget camera under $300
The Canon PowerShot SX540 is one step above the SX420 IS. The body and looks are quite similar, but there are a few notable differences.
First off, Canon went overboard and has put in a 50x zoom lens in this camera. The 20.3 megapixel sensor is 1/2.3 inch, which is quite small, but what you’d expect to find in a camera in this price range.
Another improvement over the SX420 is the inclusion of manual modes where you can adjust the aperture and shutterspeed yourself.
That makes it a great bridge camera where you can learn the ropes of more advanced photography before taking the plunge with a mirrorless or DSLR camera.
An additional upgrade is the inclusion of 1080p 60FPS recording, a step above the paltry 720p in the earlier model.
There’s also WiFi and NFC for easily transferring photos.
- Good entry level camera
- Zoom performance and quality is decent
- No viewfinder
- LCD is a little tough to see in daylight
9. Nikon Coolpix W100
The Nikon Coolpix W100 is similar to the Olympus Tough(more on that later). It’s Nikon’s waterproof, shockproof, and all-round weatherproof offering.
It’s waterproof to 33 feet, shockproof for a drop of 6 feet(not much if you ask me), and freezeproof to a temperature of -14 degrees Fahrenheit.
Since this is a compact camera, don’t expect much from the sensor. The camera can take a maximum of 13.2 megapixel photographs.
You can also shoot full HD videos. There is a 3x optical zoom for getting a little closer to your subjects. The image quality will be OK, not the best in the world, but considering the extremes you want to take this camera in, it’s a good pick for mountaineering or scuba diving.
Aside from that, there are not really many advanced shooting modes or anything.
- Waterproof and freezeproof
- Light and compact
- Battery life is very short
- WiFi and app connection is buggy
10. Canon PowerShot ELPH 190: Budget camera under $100
The Canon Powershot ELPH 190 is a super compact, super budget friendly camera. It’s not the most advanced camera in the world, but it has some respectable features like optical image stabilization, a 10x zoom, and built in filters to add a creative touch to your photographs.
This is a compact camera so don’t expect to be blown away by the photos, but they will be one level above those taken by your smartphone. Plus you have a generous 10x optical zoom coupled with stabilization to get up close with faraway subjects.
Daylight performance is pretty solid. The battery charges fairly quickly and lasts a respectable amount of time. If you’re traveling, it’s always good to carry a spare battery just in case.
- WiFi and NFC enabled
- Good smartphone camera replacement
- Decent low light performance with and without flash
- Can use companion app as remote
- WiFi requires you to register with Canon’s service
- Menus are not very intuitive
- Only 720p video
11. Fujifilm Instax Wide 300
Remember the good ol’ Polaroid camera that had instant gratification and you could print photos right away? The FujiFilm Instax brings back the good ol’ days with the Instax Wide 300 instant camera.
The base camera does not include any film but you may be able to find a package deal. Even then, the film is not too expensive.
The photos are pretty small, but that’s to be expected. The entire film is 3.38 x 4.25 inches, and the photo on the film is naturally a little smaller at 2.44 x 3.99 inches.
Polaroid style cameras are great for creating instant memories that you can hand out to your friends or stick on your desk or fridge. Don’t expect this to replace your regular camera, but the functionality and quality from this camera meant we just had to include it on this list.
- Photos have a very original Polaroid, retro feel
- Photos develop fairly quick in sunlight
- Colors are nice and sharp
- Great battery life
12. Olympus Tough Tg-5(best for adventure travel)
The Olympus Tough Tg-5 is one of my favorite outdoor cameras. It’s incredibly tough and rugged as the name suggests. If you’re into adventure sports like trekking, hiking, climbing, or even scuba and snorkeling, the Olympus Tough is an excellent camera to have on hand.
Everything about this camera is meant to ensure you can get great photos in all conditions: it’s waterproof to 15 meters, dustproof, shockproof, and weatherproof. You can even operate it with gloves on so you don’t have to freeze your hands to get a decent photo.
The camera has a 12 megapixel capacity and can shoot both JPG and RAW, and has impressive burst speeds of 20 fps.
Whether you’re shooting underwater or in tough weather conditions, the double-paned lens will remain clear and you can get some really stunning shots.
There’s also a really nice macro mode for taking close up shots of cool things you find on your adventures.
- Generously sized 3 inch LCD
- 4K video capability
- Excellent underwater shots
- WiFi only works with phones and not computers
- Menus can be confusing
- Not the best battery life
Budget Camera Buying Guide
Now that we’ve listed our 12 favorite cameras, let’s talk about some of the features that you want to look out for.
How will you use this camera?
The most important thing to ask yourself before you buy any camera is how will you use it? Do you need something that you can just throw into your pocket and take casual pictures with? These cameras are usually just a notch above your smartphone, and these will be simple point and shoot cameras.
Or do you need something that can serve both as a compact camera to take along wherever you go but still something that has more robust features for better shots?
Or are you looking to get serious with your photography and potentially start a portfolio, in which case you would need something even more robust, perhaps with the possibility to change lenses.
Thinking about your use for the camera will help you narrow down between getting a simple point and shoot, a bridge camera, a mirrorless camera, or a DSLR.
DSLR vs mirrorless vs bridge cameras vs point and shoot
DSLR cameras are pretty much the industry standard right now. DSLR stands for digital single lens reflex, which means light enters through the lens and is reflected from a mirror into the viewfinder. When you click the shutter button, the mirror goes up and light hits the sensor.
DSLR cameras are available in all budget levels from entry level models like the Canon EOS we listed above to higher end professional cameras that go for thousands of dollars.
The main advantage of DSLR cameras is the comparatively larger sensor size, the ability to change lenses as necessary, and full manual control. While most DSLRs will have an auto mode as well, you can manually focus using the focus ring on the lens, as well as manually zoom with the zoom ring.
Other manual controls that you can utilize are adjust aperture, shutterspeed, exposure control, and ISO.
DSLRs have powerful image processing systems and can shoot in both JPG and RAW, which allows lots of flexibility in post processing.
DSLRs also have high burst speeds, so you can take up to 10 photographs per second to capture action shots.
The main disadvantage to DSLRs is the size: even the smallest DSLR is quite big and would require a separate bag to carry it around. Most entry level DSLRs come with a very basic lens, which means that if you’re looking for a specific feature in a lens such as a very large aperture or a powerful zoom, you’ll have to drop nearly half the cost of the camera, if not more on buying new lenses.
You can also think of this as an advantage of DSLR cameras as you can taper the purchases as and when your budget allows for it.
Mirrorless cameras have popped up on the market only recently and they’re giving DSLR cameras a run for their money.
Mirrorless cameras work in a very similar manner to DSLRs, except there is no mirror! Light coming through the lens directly hits the sensor, and what you see in the viewfinder is exactly what the sensor is seeing.
This allows for much greater accuracy in adjusting settings like ISO and exposure before you take the shot, rather than experimenting with the settings, taking a shot, and then seeing what the results were.
Additionally, the absence of a mirror allows for the camera body to be much thinner than a DSLR.
If you put both a DSLR and a mirrorless camera side by side, a mirrorless will seem like a compact camera.
Just like DSLRs, you can swap out lenses here too, and if you already have some lenses lying around, many manufacturers make adapters that you can use to fit your lenses onto the mirrorless camera body.
As far as manual controls and image quality goes, you will probably not be able to tell the difference between whether you’re shooting with a DSLR or a mirrorless. The only difference is that a mirrorless will be much, much lighter and easier to carry!
Bridge cameras are much like DSLR cameras, except that they have a fixed lens. They get their name because they are a bridge between point and shoots and DSLRs.
You can expect to find most of the features from a DSLR on a bridge camera, but there will be no way to change the lens.
Manufacturers sometimes try to make bridge cameras attractive to buyers by going overboard with the lens. Some bridge cameras have quite insane zooms, which seems to add a lot of value to the camera.
Even though I’ve listed bridge cameras in this post, I am not a big fan of them and prefer to stick to mirrorless or DSLRs.
Point and shoot cameras
Point and shoot cameras are super compact digital cameras that range from very simple models that just have some preset shooting modes to more advanced models that allow quite a large degree of manual control.
However, the manual control won’t be as good or as tactile as you’d find with a mirrorless or DSLR.
Super cheap point and shoots are pretty much obsolete in my opinion as smartphone cameras have become so much better nowadays.
However, if you’re looking for a more advanced point and shoot, you can certainly pick one up for an inexpensive price.
Megapixels and sensor size
A term that gets thrown around quite often in marketing digital cameras is megapixels. Most cameras now won’t be less than 16 megapixels, and some even go all the way up to 40 to 50 megapixels.
However, megapixels are not the only thing to look for.
In fact, 16 megapixels is a lot more than what you’d need for most photographic prints. The typical sizes we print such as 4 x 6, 5 x 7, and even 10 x 12 will come out beautifully from a 16 megapixel shot.
Megapixels are only a measure of how large the image is. A really small image would have very few pixels, and a very large image will have many pixels.
However, pixels are not indicative of the quality of the image! A very high megapixel shot taken with a smartphone will pale in comparison to a low megapixel shot taken by a DSLR.
For an indication of image quality, you want to refer to the sensor size. The sensor is what actually captures the light, so it follows that the better quality and bigger the sensor, the more light it is able to capture and as a result, you get a better photograph.
High end DSLR cameras have full frame sensors, which can capture the most light and these perform beautifully in low light situations.
Many mirrorless cameras also have full frame sensors now.
Two more common sensor types are APS-C CMOS sensors, which are slightly smaller than full frame, and micro four thirds sensors, which are smaller than APS-C sensors.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, point and shoots have the smallest sensor.
There are many more sensor sizes, but these four are the most common:
- Full frame
- Micro four thirds
- Point and shoot
Zoom is an important feature to many users, so it follows that many people will want to consider zoom before making a purchase.
Point and shoot cameras have varying zoom lengths. Personally, I am not a huge fan of using excessive zoom because the more you zoom in, it becomes harder to focus, your aperture becomes smaller, and shakes become more noticeable.
Then there is the question of optical vs digital zoom.
For decent photography, optical zoom is the only thing worth considering. Digital zoom is pretty much garbage as the lens is no longer magnifying the image. The software is actually enlarging the image as best as it can.
Zoom calculations on DSLR and mirrorless cameras are a bit different as they’re measured in mm and not direct multiples like 4X or 10X.
As we briefly touched upon above in the discussion about camera types, the kind of camera you buy will determine how much manual control you actually have.
For any photography to be considered amateur or semi-pro, you need to have some degree of manual control. For casual photos of family and memories, a simple point and shoot will be fine(even a smartphone for that matter), but if you want to bring out certain details and features more than others, you will want manual control.
Finally, let’s talk about video. Traditional camcorders have become nearly obsolete thanks to the fact that every smartphone and every camera can now record digital video.
Of course, not all cameras are created equal here.
For shooting video, you want to look at two basic things: resolution and audio.
Most modern cameras shoot at least 1080p full HD, and many also support 4K. As of this writing, 4K is not quite as common as 1080p, but if you want something that can last you a while without getting obsolete, consider spending a little extra money and getting something that shoots 4K.
Audio input is also very important. Generally, the audio from a camera will be quite terrible and washed out. That’s because the mic is on the camera, and your subject may be far away. So while you can see the subject clearly, you can’t hear them!
For any production quality video, you’ll need an audio input which you can connect a boom mic or lavalier mic to.
This way, you can get crisp, clean audio to complement your video.
As you can see, there are really wide variety of cheap cameras available today and they all have their own applications. To narrow down your choice, you’ll need to think of what is the ideal use case for your camera and how important portability is to you.
However, we’re huge fans of the Nikon D3500 for an SLR and the Canon PowerShot SX540 for a bridge camera.