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Best camera for beginners 2021: 12 top cameras for learning photography

Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV
(Image credit: Future)

Looking for the best beginner camera? You’ve come to the right place – whether you’re picking your first camera or just want to up your game from your smartphone snaps, we’ve got your back. Based on our extensive testing, this list ranks the best beginner cameras across all skill levels and budgets. (Fairly set on the DSLR shooting experience? Check out our separate guide on the best beginner DSLRs). 

When thinking about the best beginner camera, there’s a lot to consider. The ability to create high-quality shots in a range of scenarios is what you’ll probably be after, but there’s more than just pixel count to take into account. You’ll also need to be thinking about zoom range, manual controls and, increasingly, your video needs.

These days, all of the best beginner cameras are extremely well-equipped, with several specs – including larger sensors and 4K video – pretty commonplace. You might also therefore be considering design and usability of any camera you’ve got your eye on. 

Your smartphone has the advantage of being pocket-friendly, but the best beginner DSLRs and mirrorless cameras give you tactile, direct handling. The right option for you will come down to personal preference, so we’ve included a variety of different styles in our list.

A crucial factor will also likely be budget. We’ve got options here at a range of price points to hopefully meet the needs of most. Remember, that you shouldn’t necessarily buy the cheapest option – investing slightly more in a more advanced model should last you longer as you won’t outgrow it so quickly. Also think about lens range, its availability and the likely price of accessories, too. 

At the moment, our pick for the title of best beginner camera is the Fujifilm X-T200. It offers a great balance between the versatility and flexibility of a mirrorless camera, and the user-friendliness of a smartphone. But it’s not necessarily the perfect choice for every new photographer. 

Read on to find out all of our top choices, from DSLRs all the way to instant cameras.

Best camera for beginners 2021 at a glance:

  1. Fujifilm X-T200
  2. Nikon D3500
  3. Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV
  4. Fujifilm X-T30
  5. Canon EOS M50
  6. Sony A6000
  7. Polaroid Now
  8. Panasonic Lumix G100
  9. Nikon Z50
  10. Google Pixel 4a
  11. Sony ZV-1
  12. Olympus PEN E-PL9

The best camera for beginners 2021:

Fujifilm X-T200

(Image credit: Future)

1. Fujifilm X-T200

Amazing JPEG quality with little fuss

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Best in class picture quality without editing+Offers full manual controls+Large articulating touchscreen
Reasons to avoid
-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.

(Image credit: Future)

2. Nikon D3500

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

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Good quality 24MP sensor+Excellent value for money+Impressive 1,550-shot battery life
Reasons to avoid
-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. 

Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV

(Image credit: Future)

3. Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV

A small but powerful starter stills camera

Specifications
Sensor size: Micro Four Thirds
Resolution: 20.3MP
Viewfinder: 2,360K dots
Monitor: 3-inch tilting touchscreen, 1,037K dots
Autofocus: 121-point Contrast Detection AF
Maximum continuous shooting rate: 15fps
Movies: 4K at 30p
User level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+Capable sensor+Compact body+Impressive image stabilization
Reasons to avoid
-No microphone input-No USB-C port

If you’re looking for a simple, compact mirrorless camera that consistently captures attractive images, the OM-D E-M10 Mark IV definitely deserves a spot on your shortlist. 

It might lack some of the more advanced features of its pricier rivals – including microphone and USB-C ports – but it does a brilliant job as a stills camera. Designed primarily for smartphone switchers, its ergonomic grip, approachable button layout and handy flip-down touchscreen give it good versatility, without cluttering the classically styled shell. 

An Advanced Photo mode makes it easy to have a go at advanced techniques such as long exposures, while the in-body image stabilization system – borrowed from the flagship E-M1 – is superb. The sensor resolution is decent at 20.3MP and, because it’s a Micro Four Thirds camera, it has one of the widest lens catalogues on the market. It might not grab headlines, but the Mark IV is a fantastic first camera for beginners.

Fujifilm X-T30

(Image credit: Future)

4. Fujifilm X-T30

A feature-packed mirrorless camera with great controls for beginners

Specifications
Sensor size: APS-C
Resolution: 26.1MP
Viewfinder: 2,360K dots
Monitor: 3.0-inch articulated touchscreen, 1,040K dots
Autofocus: Intelligent Hybrid AF
Maximum continuous shooting rate: 30fps
Movies: 4K at 30p
User level: Beginner/Intermediate
Reasons to buy
+Lovely build quality and controls+Great all-rounder+Articulating touchscreen+4K video
Reasons to avoid
-Some controls fiddly -No in-built stabilization -Limited battery life compared to DSLRs

Essentially a pared-down version of Fujifilm’s top-line X-T3 model, the X-T30 is one of the more advanced cameras on our list. But don’t let that put you off – it’s a fantastic option for beginners as they’ll truly be able to learn and grow with it, making it a fantastic value option. It's a little bit on the older side now, but with the Fujifilm X-E4 soon to enter the market, the price for the X-T30 has dropped to its most affordable level yet.

With the X-T30 you get a host of fantastic specs, including a well-performing 26.1MP back-illuminated X-Trans APS-C sensor, 4K DCI and UHD video recording up to 30p as well as the flexibility to shoot at up to 30fps. In short, it’s a superb little all-rounder for those who are just finding their feet, because it can shoot a little bit of every subject. 

On top of that, it also looks great and handles nicely, too. Fujifilm has long been impressing with its retro-style cameras, and those who want their gadgets to be as stylish as possible will surely love the X-T30's classic looks. You also get direct access to a number of key settings, making for a great tactile user-friendly shooting experience, too.

The Fujifilm ecosystem of lenses and accessories is nicely varied after being on the market for a few years, so you can feel confident that this is a system that you can invest in and grow with over the years, too.

There are a couple of downsides to bear in mind. For example, the X-T30 doesn’t have in-body image stabilization, so you’ll want to make sure that any lenses you use with it are stabilized. There’s also a relatively limited battery life (especially compared with DSLR rivals). But otherwise this is a fantastic choice for lots of different types of photographers – including those new to the game.

(Image credit: Future)

5. Canon EOS M50

Still the most popular entry-level Canon camera

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Fast Dual Pixel AF+Polished touchscreen+Easy to use
Reasons to avoid
-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. 

The Canon EOS M50 Mark II may now be here, but it's a very minor upgrade and hasn't even been confirmed to be coming to Europe, the Middle East or Africa. All of which means that, at current prices, the EOS M50 remains one of the best picks for beginners and enthusiasts. 

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 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.

Sony A6000

(Image credit: Future)

6. Sony A6000

An oldie, but still such a goodie

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Highly compact for an APS-C camera+Manual controls+11fps burst mode shooting
Reasons to avoid
-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.

Polaroid Now

(Image credit: Future)

7. Polaroid Now

Instant photography made simple

Specifications
Lens: 35-40mm approx.
Focusing: Autofocus
Flash: Built-in
Self-timer: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Reliable autofocus+Uses classic Polaroid film+Long battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Pretty bulky-Sometimes inconsistent-Expensive film

If you need something a little more retro as a gift for beginners for kids, the Polaroid Now is the instant camera for you. Designed for quick and easy snapping, it's built on the foundation laid by the Onestep 2, but strips back some of the controls and adds autofocus to help you take consistent shots.

That autofocus, in particular, helps to remove some of the uncertainty of fixed-focus shooting, which is something you'll appreciate given that I-Type film isn't the cheapest way to take photos.

The Now still has those iconic Polaroid looks, making it particularly intuitive for those who can remember the 1970s originals, and has a much clearer digital shot counter in the place of the Onestep 2's LED lights.

Naturally, it doesn't produce completely consistent results, with occasionally inconsistent exposures and the odd unnecessary flash fire. But this is also part of the charm of instant photography, and overall it's a great choice for anyone looking to dip their toes into analogue photography.

Panasonic G100

(Image credit: Future)

8. Panasonic Lumix G100

A compact and highly versatile little gem

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Compact, travel-friendly design+Great value for money+Useful optional tripod grip
Reasons to avoid
-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.

Nikon Z50

(Image credit: Future)

9. Nikon Z50

A small, light and highly versatile mirrorless option

Specifications
Sensor size: APS-C
Resolution: 20.9MP
Viewfinder: 2360k-dots
Monitor: 3.2-inch tilted touchscreen, 1,040K dots
Autofocus: Hybrid contrast/phase-detection AF
Maximum continuous shooting rate: 11fps
Movies: 4K at 30p
User level: Beginner/intermediate
Reasons to buy
+Great handling and neatly compact+Nicely developing Z ecosystem +Tilting screen
Reasons to avoid
-Tilt screen can't be used with tripod-Single card slot

Beginners are often drawn towards a heritage name like Nikon – and for good reason. With over 100 years of photographic experience to draw on, you can feel confident that they really know their onions. 

The Z50 is a beginner-friendly version of its full-frame Z-series mirrorless siblings, being ideal for those who are new to cameras (or mirrorless), as well as being a great option for travel and outings.

It features an impressive APS-C sensor, which you can combine with the steadily growing range of Z series lenses. The default – and sensible – option here is a dinky 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 pancake lens which cements the Z50’s position as a portable and compact option for those who don’t want something overly bulky. 

Other useful features include a decent electronic viewfinder and helpful tilting screen – which can even face forward for vlogging (and selfies), 4K video recording up to 30fps and a decent burst speed of 11fps. This is a smart little all-rounder, which is a great option for beginners looking to get to grips with photography for the first time.

Google Pixel 4a

(Image credit: TechRadar)

10. Google Pixel 4a

The best value smartphone camera

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Full smartphone functionality+Great value for money+Superior battery life
Reasons to avoid
-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)

11. Sony ZV-1

The best beginner vlogging camera

Specifications
Sensor size: One inch
Resolution: 16.1MP
Viewfinder: N/A
Monitor: 3.0-inch articulating touchscreen, 1,040K dots
Autofocus: 121-point AF, 1 cross-type
Maximum continuous shooting rate: 8.6fps
Movies: 4K/30p
User level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+Class-leading autofocus+Bright lens for silky background blur+Pocketable with a flip-out screen
Reasons to avoid
-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.

Olympus E-PL9

(Image credit: Future)

12. Olympus PEN E-PL9

Style, substance and good value

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Consistently great image quality+Stylish camera body design+Easy to use
Reasons to avoid
-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:

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.