Best cheap cameras 2016

Our pick of the best budget cameras, from compacts to DSLRs

Want to buy a decent camera, but don't want to break the bank? The good news is that there are some cracking cameras out there if you're on a tight budget, including entry-level DSLRs, sleek-looking mirrorless cameras, advanced high-end compacts, and bridge cameras with huge zoom lenses, not to mention travel zooms and pocket compacts.

And while some of these cheap cameras may not be the latest and greatest models available right now, they still deliver the goods.

We've compiled a selection of the best budget cameras, so whether you want something to simply slot in your pocket for the odd snap that will be better than your smartphone, or a camera you can get a bit more creative with, you'll find it here.

If you need a bit more help figuring out what kind of camera you need, then read this article: What camera should I buy?

And if you want to spend a little more money, then check out our other camera buying guides:

RX100

1. Sony RX100

Sony's first true premium compact is a couple of years old now, but it still packs a punch

Type: Compact | Sensor: 1-inch, 20.2MP | Lens: 28-100mm f/1.8-4.9 | Screen: 3-inch, 1,229K dots | Viewfinder: N/A | Continuous shooting: 2.5fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Expert

Large and capable sensor
High-end finish
No touchscreen
Showing its age

Sony's latest camera in its RX100 line, the RX100 IV, is one of our favourite compact cameras, but there's no getting away from the fact that it's a pricey option. The good news is that the original RX100 is still available new, and while it might not offer some of the latest features it's still a great compact at a bargain price. The large 1-inch sensor delivers excellent levels of detail, with the broad and fast range of the zoom lens making it a versatile travelling companion. Okay, there's no built-in viewfinder or tilt screen as we've seen on the Mk IV, but the monitor delivers excellent clarity, and the RX100's controls offer plenty of options for those who like to get hands-on. Take into account the sleek, premium finish and it all adds up to a great compact camera at a great price.

Read the full review: Sony RX100

EOS 1200D

2. Canon EOS Rebel SL1 / EOS 100D

One of the smallest DSLRs available

Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C CMOS, 18MP | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 3-inch touchscreen, 1,040,000K dots | Viewfinder: Yes, optical | Continuous shooting: 4fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Beginner

Easy to use
Compact size
Sensor not the newest
Fixed screen

Introduced back in 2013, the EOS Rebel SL1 (known as the EOS 100D outside the US) was designed to compete with the onslaught of compact system cameras, and is still one of the smallest DSLRs available. Despite its small dimensions, it still features a decent-sized grip, and while 18MP APS-C sensor is getting on a bit, it's still a solid performer. The are fewer buttons than on other EOS models, but the touchscreen interface makes it easy and quick to use, while the hybrid CMOS AF II focusing system with 9 AF points puts in a good, if unremarkable performance. A great intro into the EOS DSLR system.

Read the full review: Canon EOS Rebel SL1 / EOS 100D

Nikon 1 J5

3. Nikon 1 J5

Overlooked mirrorless camera that packs an ultra-fast AF system

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: 1-inch, 20.8MP | Lens: Nikon 1 mount | Screen: 3-inch tilting, 1,037K dots | Viewfinder: No | Continuous shooting: 60fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Beginner

Fast AF and continuous shooting
Attractive retro design
4K movies are 15fps only
1-inch sensor smaller than rivals

As mirrorless camera systems go the Nikon 1 series sensor is quite a bit smaller than those found in rivals, but if you're looking for a well-rounded camera that's simple to use and has ultra-fast AF, the J5 fits the bill perfectly. Nicely finished with well-designed dials and controls, the J5 is very compact even for a mirrorless camera. The hybrid autofocus system is incredibly quick at locking onto moving subject, and when paired with the J5's clever high-speed shooting modes makes it one of the best budget options for those wanting snappy performance.

Read the full review: Nikon 1 J5

4. Sony Alpha A5000

Sony's entry-level CSC is simple to use

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: APS-C CMOS, 20.1MP | Lens mount: Sony E-mount | Screen: 3-inch tilt-angle display, 460K dots | Viewfinder: N/A | Continuous shooting: 3.5fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Beginner/intermediate

Compact size
Tilting screen
No touchscreen
Getting on a bit

Despite being well over two years old, the Alpha A5000 is still a great buy for those looking for a simple to use mirrorless camera. Not only that, but it's also incredibly compact - even the 16-50mm lens isn't that large considering the focal length. There's a decent-sized tilt-angle screen, but the resolution is looking a bit behind the times now, while there's no viewfinder. That said, it's easy to use, while the Wi-Fi connectivity only adds to its appeal. 

Read the full review: Sony Alpha A5000

Panasonic TZ70

5. Panasonic Lumix ZS50 / TZ70

A great all-round compact camera with a huge zoom range

Type: Compact | Sensor: 1/2.3-inch, 12.1MP | Lens: 24-720mm, f/3.3-6.4 | Monitor: 3-inch, 1,040K dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 10fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Beginner/intermediate

30x zoom range
Wi-Fi and NFC
No touchscreen
Limited raw mode

Panasonic's ZS / TZ series of compacts has long dominated the compact travel zoom market, and that's still the case with the ZS50 (known as the TZ70 outside the US). While it may be eclipsed by its larger-sensor sibling, the ZS100 / TZ100, the TZ70 has the advantage of packing a huge 30x zoom into a pocket-sized body. There's even space for a (modest) electronic viewfinder, ideal for when the lighting makes it tricky to compose or review shots on the rear screen. You can use the camera like an advanced point-and-shoot compact, simply leaving it in auto for the camera to take care of settings, or you can shoot high-quality raw files, and make your own decisions about aperture and shutter speed.

Read the full review: Panasonic Lumix ZS50 / TZ70

6. Canon PowerShot SX710 HS

30x optical zoom compact at a great price

Type: Compact | Sensor: 1/2.3-inch, 20.3MP | Lens: 25-750mm, f/3.2-6.9 | Screen: 3-inch, 922,000 dots | Viewfinder: No | Continuous shooting: 6fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Beginner

30x optical zoom
Wi-Fi and NFC 
No touchscreen
No raw format capture

The PowerShot SX710 HS is appealing to both absolute beginners and to those with a little more experience of photography. On the back is a small mode dial which enables you to quickly switch between different exposure modes, including full manual and semi-automatic modes for those who want to take control, plus fully automatic and scene modes. The 30x optical zoom covers an excellent range of focal lengths and gives plenty of flexibility for the average holiday shooter. There's no touchscreen however, but you can't really complain at the price. A nicely capable camera for those who just want a point and shoot compact with a long focal length zoom range.

Read the full review: Canon PowerShot SX710 HS

Sony WX220

7. Sony WX220

Pocket performer with a 10x optical zoom

Type: Compact | Sensor: 1/2.3-inch, 18.2MP | Lens: 25-250mm, f/3.3-5.9 | Monitor: 2.7-inch, 460K dots | Viewfinder: No | Continuous shooting: 1.5fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Beginner

10x zoom range
Built-in Wi-Fi
No textured grip
Confusing menu system

If you're wanting a compact camera that can do a better job than your smartphone the WX220 ticks a lot of boxes, especially when you consider the extra flexibility offered by the 10x optical zoom, running from 25-250mm. Images are bright and punchy, with decent detail – ideal for sharing online or printing at typical sizes – while it's nice to see Wi-Fi connectivity included as well. The 2.7-inch screen is a little on the small side, but that does help to keep the dimensions of the camera to a pocket-friendly size. The WX220 may not have lots of bells and whistles, but what it does do, it does well.

Read the full review: Sony WX220

Panasonic FZ72

8. Panasonic Lumix FZ72

Bridge camera that packs a monster 60x zoom lens

Type: Bridge compact | Sensor size: 1/2.3-inch, 16.1MP | Lens: 20-1200mm, f/2.8-5.9 | Screen: 3-inch, 460,000 dots | Viewfinder: Yes | Continuous shooting rate: 9fps | Maximum video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner/enthusiast

60x zoom range
Raw format shooting
No Wi-Fi
Low-resolution EVF

Despite it being one of the cheapest bridge cameras available, you still get a lot of camera for your cash with the Panasonic FZ72. Let's start with the lens. The FZ72 packs in a staggering 60x optical zoom, running from an impressively ultra-wide 20mm-equivalent to 1200mm, so you won't have any excuses for not filling the frame. You also have the option of full manual control (as well as a host of helpful auto modes), raw format shooting, and decent image quality from a sensor this size. Downsides? While there is an EVF, it's not the best quality, and there's no touchscreen functionality or wireless connectivity.

Read the full review: Panasonic FZ72

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Photography Editor

With over ten years experience writing about cameras and photography, Phil is TechRadar's Photography Editor, writing and overseeing reviews of the latest camera gear, as well as looking after the photography tutorials and techniques you see here.