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Best camera for beginners 2020: the 8 best cameras for learning photography

(Image credit: Future)

Looking for the best beginner cameras? You've come to the right place – whether you're looking to step up from your smartphone or get a budding photographer their first interchangeable lens camera, we've rounded up all of our top picks in one handy place. (This guide is for all types of camera – if you're looking for a more specific look at best beginner DSLR, check out our separate guide on that)

Buying your first camera can be a daunting experience. There are so many things to consider and so many choices available. Do you need higher resolution? More zoom? Manual control? Or do you simply want to take better quality images than you’re currently able to? Whatever your aims are, we’ve got you covered. From specs to usability and everything in between, this guide will give you unbiased pros and cons of each beginner camera, whether that's a DSLR or mirrorless model.

Deciding on the best beginner camera is made tougher by the question of budget. Good cameras often aren’t cheap, so our guide includes a range of prices. There’s also the issue of being at a stage where you may not even know what type of photography you really want to explore. Smartphone photography may have been the gateway to get you to this point, but perhaps you’re ready to take a step up.

Many of today's smartphones certainly do make great beginner cameras, which is why we've included one in this list. But they also tend to favor a point-and-shoot experience. The standalone cameras in this list are the best ones for learning techniques that will help you get more creative and develop your own style, as well as shoot higher quality photos than those produced by your phone.

Each recommendation in this best beginner cameras round-up has been chosen to meet a specific need and suit a specific type of photographer. So make sure you read the whole list so you can decide which one's best for you (or the person you're buying for). 

Best camera for beginners 2020 at a glance:

  1. Fujifilm X-T200
  2. Panasonic Lumix G100
  3. Google Pixel 4a
  4. Sony ZV-1
  5. Canon EOS M50
  6. Nikon D3500
  7. Sony A6000
  8. Olympus PEN E-PL9

The best camera for beginners 2020:

Fujifilm X-T200

(Image credit: Future)

1. Fujifilm X-T200

Amazing JPEG quality with little fuss

Sensor size: APS-C | Resolution: 24.2MP | Viewfinder: 2,360K dots | Monitor: 3.5-inch articulated touchscreen, 2,760K dots | Autofocus: 425-point AF | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 8fps (full resolution) | Movies: 4K at 30p | User level: Beginner/intermediate

Best in class picture quality without editing
Offers full manual controls
Large articulating touchscreen
No dedicated headphone jack
No in-body image stabilization

Bridging the gap between smartphone photography and the world of interchangeable lens cameras, the Fujifilm X-T200 provides a great mix of physical controls and touchscreen functionality. As well as a decent viewfinder, which makes it easy to take pictures in bright sunlight, the X-T200 has a 3.5in display, which is the largest in its class. This display can be flipped out to face forwards, perfect for selfies and vlogging.

Having access to settings via a touchscreen keeps things familiar for people moving over from a smartphone. But this camera also offers physical controls, including three dials and joystick, for those confident enough to explore them. It offers a simple-to-use layout and has helpful instructions displayed on the screen to explain menu items within the settings. 

Fujifilm mirrorless cameras are famed for producing incredible JPEG images in-camera that don’t need any editing. This is thanks in part to the inclusion of a range of award-winning film simulation modes, that replicate the look and feel of classic film. Move over social media filters! 

If you’re looking for a significant step-up from a smartphone that offers decent photo performance with video capabilities, the X-T200 is a strong choice. As an entry-level camera, the X-T200 comes with the Fujinon XC15-45mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, which is a great everyday lens for street portraits and travel. It also offers lens stabilization to help avoid blurry images in low light. 

The X-T200 also gives you access to a broad range of incredible Fujfilm lenses. This makes it an ideal camera choice if you’re ready to invest in a system can grow with your skills.

Panasonic G100

(Image credit: Future)

2. Panasonic Lumix G100

A compact and highly versatile little gem

Sensor size: Micro Four Thirds | Resolution: 20.3MP | Viewfinder: 3,680K dots | Monitor: 3.0-inch articulated touchscreen, 1,840K dots | Autofocus: 49-point AF | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 6fps (full resolution) 30fps (4K Photo mode) | Movies: 4K at 30p | User level: Beginner/intermediate

Compact, travel-friendly design
Great value for money
Useful optional tripod grip
No dedicated headphone jack
Autofocus could be faster

If you want a camera that is great for both vlogging and taking photos, the Lumix G100 is one of the best two options available for you. The other option being the Sony ZV-1 (see below). But aside from the fact that its sensor is larger than Sony’s 1-inch unit, there are other reasons to lean towards this Lumix.

Firstly, the Lumix G100 is the world’s first camera to incorporate OVO Audio technology, developed by Nokia. Using an intelligent combination of facial recognition software and its triple microphone array, the G100 can 'see' where the sound is coming from. The result is that it captures better sounding audio than the competition, without the need for any external microphones. 

It’s also super compact, making it a great companion camera for travel and taking pictures on-the-go. As a Micro Four Thirds sensor camera, it has access to a vast number of relatively affordable lenses, which are equally compact. The one downside of using a smaller sensor (compared to APS-C models, like the Fujifilm X-T200 above) is that it isn’t quite as good in low light. But it does offer five-axis hybrid image stabilization when paired with compatible lenses to keep pictures steady, and features a built-in flash too.

The G100 pairs easily to smartphones and is a perfect first camera for someone who loves video and stills equally. It’s also suitable for families who want an easy-to-use camera that practically does it all.

Google Pixel 4a

(Image credit: TechRadar)

3. Google Pixel 4a

The best value smartphone camera

Sensor size: 1/2.55-inch sensor | Resolution: 12.2MP | Viewfinder: N/A | Monitor: 5.81-inch touchscreen, 2,527K dots | Autofocus: Dual Pixel PDAF | Maximum continuous shooting rate: N/A | Movies: 4K at 30p | User level: Beginner/intermediate

Full smartphone functionality
Great value for money
Superior battery life
Inferior handling and controls
Small sensor

You probably weren’t expecting to see a smartphone in this list, but hear us out. Often when people become disappointed with the snaps that their phone captures, they don’t need to replace it with a dedicated camera. With fewer people upgrading their devices annually, they’ve just found their dated smartphone is no longer good enough. That’s what makes the Pixel 4a such a good wildcard option.

Over the past few years, Google has perfected its smartphone photography algorithms. This has enabled them to develop camera modules that exceedingly out perform their on-paper specs. At just 12.2MP, the Pixel 4a isn’t a resolution beast. But it does have a bright f/1.7 aperture lens and optical image stabilization, boosting its low-light credentials. As a smartphone, the Google camera relies on artificial intelligence to identify image content and apply the best settings and processing for every given situation. This takes the thinking out of it and keeps you entirely focused on taking pictures, which may or may not be what you want.

If you already have a phone that you’d like to keep and want to get the Pixel 4a as your dedicated connected camera, you can pick it up Sim-FREE for only $349/£349. Even if you don't add a data plan, you still get Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity, plus all of the usual camera functionality beyond the likes of Google Lens, which uses cellular data. 

You also get access to all the editing and social media apps you love, as well as a large FullHD+ OLED display to enjoy your content on. Plus with 128GB of built-in storage (something we'd like to see more of on dedicated cameras), there’s no need for memory cards either.

Sony ZV-1

(Image credit: Future)

4. Sony ZV-1

The best beginner vlogging camera

Sensor size: Micro Four Thirds | Resolution: 16.1MP | Viewfinder: N/A | Monitor: 3.0-inch tilting touchscreen, 1,040K dots | Autofocus: 121-point AF, 1 cross-type | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 8.6fps | Movies: 4K/30p | User level: Beginner

Class-leading autofocus
Bright lens for silky background blur
Pocketable with a flip-out screen
Video stabilization could be better
Limited touchscreen
No headphone jack

Focused almost entirely on vlogging, the Sony ZV-1 is one of the best compact cameras for creating video. Its combination of a bright f/1.8-2.8 lens, intelligent AF and articulated screen make it a compelling choice for people who enjoy creating video content and want to make a significant step up from their smartphone.

Sony’s incredibly popular 20.1MP 1-inch sensor sits at the heart of the ZV-1, which means it is also no slouch when it comes to capturing photos. Its fixed lens has an equivalent focal length of 24-70mm, ensuring that the ZV-1 is suitable for capturing everything from landscape scenes to portraits.

Its advanced focus tracking includes Eye AF, which does a fantastic job of locking onto faces and keeping everything in focus. And thanks to its 3.5mm mic input, you'll be able to capture high quality audio easily with an external microphone. But if you don’t want to spend extra, its built-in mic still does a decent job (particularly with the supplied wind-shield).

A complete beginner take a little while to adapt to the ZV-1, due to its limited touchscreen functionality and slightly more advanced video features. But the inclusion of things such as S-Log2, AF-sensitivity controls and a built-in ND filter will be a huge boost to people more familiar with video, or those who want a vlogging companion that can grow with them for years to come.

(Image credit: Future)

5. Canon EOS M50

Still the most popular entry-level Canon camera

Sensor size: APS-C | Resolution: 24.1MP | Viewfinder: 2,360K dots | Monitor: 3.0-inch articulated touchscreen, 1,040K dots | Autofocus: Dual Pixel CMOS AF | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 10fps (Single AF), 7.4fps (Continuous AF) | Movies: 4K at 24p | User level: Beginner

Fast Dual Pixel AF
Polished touchscreen
Easy to use
Cheap build quality
Poor battery life
Heavily cropped 4K video

Canon is perhaps the most recognizable brand name in the camera world. For that reason, its entry-level lineup is usually one of the first ports of call for people in search of a 'proper camera'. And for good reason. Canon cameras are known for producing brilliant photos, particularly when it comes to portraits. The mirrorless EOS M50 is no exception. 

Designed with beginners and enthusiasts in mind, the camera’s user interface is simple, offering helpful explanations and suggestions within the settings menu. This feature can also be disabled once you know your way around. Ergonomically, the Canon M50 is an approachable camera that is light on physical controls. It features one mode dial, a single control dial, a quick (Q) menu button and slick touchscreen controls for adjusting settings. It also benefits from Canon’s award-winning Dual Pixel AF, which will focus on subjects quickly and consistently. This makes it suitable for keeping up with fast-moving action and fidgety pets.

An EF-M 15-45mm kit lens comes with the M50, which is suitable for everyday use. But lens range is one of the areas where Canon’s M-series cameras are still slightly lacking compared to the competition. However, there is an adapter available to enable the use of Canon’s popular EF lenses. The adapter, which costs extra, opens up a huge range of glass for the M50.

(Image credit: Future)

6. Nikon D3500

Heart set on a DSLR? This is the best beginner model around

Sensor size: APS-C | Resolution: 24.2MP | Viewfinder: Optical | Monitor: 3.0-inch fixed, 921K dots | Autofocus: 11-point AF, 1 cross-type | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 5fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Beginner

Good quality 24MP sensor
Excellent value for money
Impressive 1,550-shot battery life
Basic external controls
Fixed screen without touch functions
Only 1080p Full HD Video

The Nikon D3500 is the only DSLR in this list. Why? Well, these cameras – which differ from mirrorless rivals with their optical viewfinders –  are slowly being phased out by many of the leading camera manufacturers, in favor of more advanced mirrorless models. But if photography is your main pursuit and video specs really aren’t important, the Nikon D3500 is a fantastic, low-budget beginner camera choice. Housing a top quality 24.2MP APS-C sensor, the D3500 can capture detailed, tone-rich images.

At a glance it appears low on features, but the Nikon D3500 includes a super handy dedicated Guide Mode that sits on its dial. Guide Mode is a basic virtual photography tutor that will walk you through all of the camera’s functions, including in-camera photo editing. It can be tailored to provide full assistance, or allow for more advanced control as you grow in confidence and experience.

There are two kit lenses available with the D3500, but we recommend that you opt for the DX 18-55 VR kit lens. VR stands for Vibration Reduction and it costs a fraction more than the other option. But with VR stabilization enabled, you’ll get better shots handheld, especially in low-light conditions. 

Sony A6000

(Image credit: Future)

7. Sony A6000

An oldie, but still such a goodie

Sensor size: APS-C | Resolution: 24.3MP | Viewfinder: 1,440K dots | Monitor: 3.0-inch articulated touchscreen, 921K dots | Autofocus: 179-point AF | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 11fps (full resolution) | Movies: Full HD 1080p | User level: Beginner/intermediate

Highly compact for an APS-C camera
Manual controls
11fps burst mode shooting
No touchscreen
Battery life not the best
Only Full HD 1080p video

Despite being over five years old, the award-winning Sony A6000 still holds up as a fantastic value option for photography enthusiasts. Despite its compact size, the A6000 houses a superb 24.3MP APS-C sensor that can capture detailed photos at up to 11fps. 

Its autofocusing system, although dated, operates quickly and uses 179-points to track moving subjects. This combo makes it a good choice for people who are hoping to take pictures of wildlife, fast-moving family members (toddlers) and sports.

Most cameras at this size only offer an LCD display, but Sony somehow managed to squeeze in an electronic viewfinder. This increases the A6000’s usability when taking pictures on sunny days. Taking photos with the camera held up to your eye also improves stability when taking pics of moving subjects. Unfortunately, the A6000 shows its age by lacking touch functionality on its titling 921k-dot LCD screen.

One of the early criticisms of Sony Alpha series cameras was that they lacked a wide enough range of lenses. But a lot has changed since the A6000 was originally released. Now the A6000 can be paired with a plethora of high-quality lenses, made by Sony, as well as third party EF-mount lenses using Sigma’s MC-11 adapter. 

If photography is your focus and you are happy with only being able to record Full HD 1080p, the Sony A6000 is a strong choice that has stood the test of time.

Olympus E-PL9

(Image credit: Future)

8. Olympus PEN E-PL9

Style, substance and good value

Sensor size: Micro Four Thirds | Resolution: 16.1MP | Viewfinder: N/A | Monitor: 3.0-inch tilting touchscreen, 1,040K dots | Autofocus: 121-point AF, 1 cross-type | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 8.6fps | Movies: 4K/30p | User level: Beginner

Consistently great image quality
Stylish camera body design
Easy to use
Basic external controls
No viewfinder
Only 1080p Full HD Video

Sporting an attractive and highly pocketable design, the PEN E-PL9 is targeted squarely at the fashion conscious. If you’ve outgrown your smartphone for photography and simply want a camera that consistently takes great pictures, this camera could be for you.

The Olympus PEN E-PL9 uses a proven 16.1MP Live MOS Micro Four Thirds imaging sensor that will capture beautifully rendered photos in a wide variety of scenarios. One of the benefits of this camera’s unassuming size is that it won’t attract too much attention, allowing you to capture more natural images of people. 

Despite being compact, it still has a 3-axis image stabilization system for keeping pictures steady at slower shutter speeds. But the trade-off in size means it has no electronic viewfinder.

Ergonomically the PEN E-PL9 is a pleasure to use and will not intimidate the beginner photographer. This is thanks to its straightforward controls and menu system.This camera has since been succeeded by the Olympus PEN E-PL10, but that camera is almost identical (barring some new fine-tuning options for its Art Filters), so we reckon this offers better value. 

There are even more affordable alternatives, but none strike a better combination of attractive looks, simple operation, creative effects and image quality.

Five things to look for when choosing the best beginner camera:

Olympus PEN E-PL10

(Image credit: Future)

Need a bit more of a steer on where to start? Here are five things to look for when choosing a beginner camera:

1) Resolution

Referred to as “megapixels” or “MP”, resolution indicates the maximum size of images that a camera can capture. The higher the number, the higher the resolution. For this reason, a lot of camera brands use megapixels to attract customers, but resolution isn’t the whole story. 12MP is more than enough to produce a high quality print at A3 paper size.

2) Design and build

As the cliché goes, the best camera is the one you have with you – which means there’s no point in buying one that you don’t want to take out and use frequently. Perhaps you want a larger camera with physical controls. Or maybe a smaller camera with a touchscreen would make you feel more at home. 

3) Sensor size

Not all sensors are created equal. Unlike megapixel counts, the larger the sensor, the better the image quality – generally speaking. Smaller sensors aren’t as good at gathering light, which means more noise (image grain) will show up in images captured in low-light. Larger sensors typically produce more attractive tones and depth.

4) Connectivity

All of the best beginner cameras offer some way to connect to your smart device or favorite social media apps. The cameras in this list all benefit from Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or NFC connectivity, or a combination of all three.

5) Lenses

A decent quality lens is critical for capturing good images. All of the best beginner cameras come with a kit or fixed lens, which offer a standard focal length (zoom range). Interchangeable lens cameras come with kit lenses, which can be changed to suit your needs. Fixed lens cameras appeal to people who don’t want to carry extra lenses.