Skip to main content

Best camera for beginners 2022: top starter cameras for photography and filmmaking

Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV, one of the best camera for beginners, against a red TechRadar background
(Image credit: Future)
Editor's note

The guide below contains some brilliant options for beginners, but there is one model that we're expecting to add in the not-too-distant future: the Canon EOS R10.

We're currently testing Canon's latest entry-level mirrorless camera and, so far, the signs are good. In many ways, the EOS R10 is the successor to the EOS M50 Mark II below, as both cameras have an APS-C sensor.

But the main difference is that the EOS R10 has an RF-mount, which means it's compatible with both RF-S lenses (of which there are currently only two) and its full-frame RF lenses. This makes it a promising, future-proofed option, but we'll need to complete our review before seeing if it deserves a place in this guide.

Photography can seem like a daunting hobby to start, but the best beginner cameras make it easy to take your first creative steps. From accessible premium compacts to entry-level mirrorless models, beginner cameras come in a rage styles and price brackets. To help you find the right one, we’ve reviewed all of the latest releases and ranked our favorites in the guide below.

What’s the best beginner camera overall? We think the top option for most people is the Fujifilm X-T30 Mark II. A mirrorless all-rounder with intuitive controls, impressive performance and an attractive design, it’s easy to use while also giving you room to grow. If that model's too pricey for you, it's worth considering its X-T30 predecessor, if you can find stock or a good second-hand deal.

If you don’t want to spend too much on a starter camera, we also highly recommend the Fujifilm X-T200. A more affordable mirrorless option, it still benefits from features which are useful for learners and smartphone switchers. That includes a large touchscreen display, simply control layout and attractive film simulation modes.

We've tested cameras of all types, sensor sizes and user levels, putting each through its paces so you know what you're getting into before you even hit buy. And, we've rounded up all of the finest beginner-friendly options in this handy guide, keeping in mind different needs and budgets. The majority of our picks are mirrorless cameras, as they are now replacing DSLRs as the go-to standard, but we've also included a beginner DSLR pick for purists.

Whatever your budget and expectations, you’ll find a range of excellent options in the list below. Every entry has been comprehensively tested to ensure it’s a great fit for beginners. With the help of our buying tips and price comparison tool, you should have all the info you need to pick your perfect beginner camera.

The best beginner cameras in 2022

The Fujifilm X-T30 II resting on a rock

(Image credit: Future)
The best beginner camera for most people

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
Max continuous shooting rate: 30fps
Video: 4K at 30p
User level: Beginner/Intermediate
Sensor size: APS-C
Resolution: 26.1MP
Viewfinder: EVF OLED, 2,360,000 dots
Monitor: 3.0inch tilting touchscreen, 1,620,000 dots
Autofocus: 425-point AF
Maximum continuous shooting rate: 8fps
Video: 4K
User level: Beginner/Intermediate

Reasons to buy

+
Great styling and handling
+
Uncropped 4K video

Reasons to avoid

-
No in-body image stabilization
-
Some awkward controls

Fujifilm’s X-T30 was already a tempting mid-range option for photography novices, but this second edition augments the offering with a handful of enhancements. You won’t see these tweaks at a glance: the X-T30 II uses the same chassis and retro shell as its predecessor, which is no bad thing. It’s an attractive design that’s lovely for beginners to get to grips with. The touchscreen is still tilt-only, but it’s a little sharper than before.

In testing, we found that the X-T30 doesn’t transform the performance formula of the first version. Using the same APS-C sensor and 425-point AF system, it still balances capable shooting skills with compact proportions. 

That said, a new algorithm tracks moving subjects with greater accuracy. While it’s not perfect, we found that it performs well when locked on to predictable subjects. The sensitivity of focus points as also been improved, and we found the X-T30 II did well to pick out details even in lower lighting.

It’s not worth upgrading from the original, but for first-time buyers, the X-T30 II is capable all-rounder with the skills to help your photography grow.

Read our in-depth Fujifilm X-T30 Mark II review

Fujifilm X-T200, one of the best camera for beginners, on a wooden table

(Image credit: Future)
The best value mirrorless camera for beginners

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
Max continuous shooting rate: 8fps
Video: 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, we found the Fujifilm X-T200 to be the best camera for beginners, providing 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 has proven to be a strong choice on test. 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.

Read our in-depth Fujifilm X-T200 review

Panasonic GH5 Mark II vlogging camera, one of the best camera for beginners, on a tripod

(Image credit: Future)
Best premium beginner camera for YouTube and streaming

Specifications

Type: Mirrorless
Sensor Size: Micro Four Thirds
Resolution: 20.3MP
Lens: Micro Four-Thirds
Viewfinder: 3.68m dots
Monitor: 1.84m-dot articulated screen
Max continuous shooting rate: 12fps
Video: 4K at 60fps
User level: Beginner/intermediate

Reasons to buy

+
Strong all-round video quality
+
Compact, lightweight and sturdy
+
Built-in wireless live streaming

Reasons to avoid

-
Small sensor size
-
DFD AF isn’t the most reliable

The Panasonic GH6 may still be en route for serious videographers, but for beginners and those looking to get into live-streaming, the GH5 Mark II is a unique mirrorless option that's the best of its kind. Its main calling card are built-in wireless live streaming capabilities, which you won’t find on many other mirrorless cameras. These have also just been joined by impressive 4K live-streaming powers, thanks to a recent firmware update.

The GH5's Mark II's all-round video talents are strong too, with the option of recording 10-bit 4:2:2 footage internally or externally, plus a huge variety of frame-rate options and various anamorphic video resolutions supported. It's a great way to learn your video craft, but offers plenty of room to grow as well, with Panasonic’s flat V-Log profile serving up 12 stops of dynamic range to fiddle with in post-production.

Put all of this in a small, lightweight and weatherproof body with impressive in-body image stabilization (IBIS). On test, this beginner camera can hold its own pretty well in most situations, especially because of this improved 5-axis in-body image stabilization system. This is a fine video camera that's just as comfortable out on the road as it is being your YouTube or Twitch streaming workhorse.

Read our in-depth Panasonic GH5 Mark II review

Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV, one of the best camera for beginners, on a tripod

(Image credit: Future)
An entry-level camera with excellent image stabilization

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
Max continuous shooting rate: 15fps
Video: 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. 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. 

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. In fact, we found that it's the most photo-centric camera in its category, delivering great stills during our tests.

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.

Read our in-depth Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV review

Panasonic Lumix TZ200, one of the best camera for beginners, on a desk with a guidebook, a map and a passport

(Image credit: Future)
The best compact camera for beginners

Specifications

Sensor: 1-inch type, 20.1MP
Lens: 25-360mm, f/3.3-6.4
Monitor: 3.0-inch touchscreen, 1,240,000 dots
Viewfinder: EVF
Max continuous shooting rate: 10fps
Video: 4K
User level: Beginner/Intermediate

Reasons to buy

+
Large 1.0-inch sensor
+
15x zoom range lens

Reasons to avoid

-
Small electronic viewfinder
-
Fixed screen

If you'd rather learn your photographic craft on a compact camera, rather a larger mirrorless model or DSLR, then the Lumix ZS200 (or TZ200 as it's known outside the US) is the best option around. On test, it delivered nicely detailed shots that not only have a natural yet bright and vibrant look, but can also stand up very well to cameras that enjoy larger sensors.

It might look like a point-and-shoot camera, but the ZS200 combines a super-versatile lens (with 24-360mm focal length), 1-inch sensor and a wide range of manual controls for full creative control. Thanks to control dials on the top and around the barrel of the lens, you can quickly adjust settings like aperture or shutter speed while out on the street. 

And while the electronic viewfinder may be small, it offers a solid 2.33-million dot resolution and is another big boon over phone cameras. Throw in 4K video and an intuitive touchscreen interface, and the ZS200 makes a fine beginner camera for those who manual controls in something that's small and discreet.

Read our in-depth Panasonic Lumix ZS200 / TZ200 review

The Nikon Zfc, one of the best camera for beginners, sitting on a red table in front of a book case

(Image credit: Future)
A great interchangeable lens camera for the fashionable set

Specifications

Sensor size: APS-C
Resolution: 20.9MP
Viewfinder: EVF, 2,360K dots
Monitor: 3.0-inch vari-angle touchscreen, 1,040K dots
Autofocus: 209-point AF
Max continuous shooting rate: 11fps
Video: 4K at 30p
User level: Enthusiast

Reasons to buy

+
Stunning retro design
+
Vari-angle touchscreen

Reasons to avoid

-
Lack of native lenses
-
No UHS-II card support

At its heart, the Nikon Z fc is the same as the Nikon Z50. That’s good news, because its 20.9MP APS-C sensor and hybrid autofocus system are capable of producing detailed stills and solid 4K footage at 30fps. What sets the Z fc apart is its body, which has been designed in honor of the classic Nikon FM2. It has broadly the same dimensions as its analogue ancestor and no shortage of retro style to suit its Eighties origins. 

Those thoughtful throwback cues mean the Nikon Z fc is a distinctive camera. It’s also even better for beginners than the Z50, thanks to a vari-angle display which makes creative framing more flexible. It’s not weather-sealed (not that you’d want to risk using such a stunning camera in inclement weather) and it also lacks the deep grip of the Z50. 

If you regularly fiddle with exposure settings, we found the dedicated exposure dials to be a more intuitive method than generic command dials, once you have the hang of it. With dials for ISO, shutter speed and exposure compensation, plus a lens control ring that can be customized between focus and aperture control, and in-camera auto ISO with shutter speed control, you'll have the camera set up to accommodate your shooting style in no time.

Read our in-depth Nikon Z fc review

Canon EOS M50 Mark II, one of the best camera for beginners, on a wooden table

(Image credit: TechRadar)
The best beginner camera if you're a Canon fan

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
Max continuous shooting rate: 10fps
Video: 4K at 24p
User level: Beginner

Reasons to buy

+
Vertical video recording 
+
Eye AF for stills and video
+
Neat and compact

Reasons to avoid

-
Heavily cropped 4K video
-
Limited native lenses
-
Better video-oriented cameras available

Although Canon seems to be primarily concentrating on its full-frame R line, the more beginner-friendly, APS-C, EOS M range continues to be a big draw for those less experienced. The original Canon EOS M50 made our list, and has only recently been replaced by the Mark II, which is a very minor upgrade on its predecessor. 

That means you get a simple user interface which offers helpful explanations and suggestions within the settings menu. Once you've got to grips a bit more with the camera, you can even disable it. Although light on physical controls, there's just enough here to keep it on right side of pleasingly ergonomic. 

Canon's award-winning Dual Pixel AF comes in handy for focusing on moving subjects quickly and consistently, such as fast-moving action and fidgety pets. The EF-M 15-45mm kit lens which is bundled as standard with the M50 Mark II is decent enough for every day use, but should you find you want to expand your lens collection, this is where we found the M-series cameras to fall down compared to the competition. That said you can use a plethora of DSLR lenses via an adapter, so there's a bit of a workaround there.

If video is your primary concern, you may also feel a little bit let down by the M50 Mark II, especially as Canon hasn't upgraded this area since the previous iteration. The camera may be capable of recording 4K, but with such a heavy crop applied, it's almost unusable. If stills is your main priority though, this won't be such a deal-breaker.

Read our in-depth Canon EOS M50 Mark II review

Nikon D3500, one of the best camera for beginners, being used by someone

(Image credit: Future)
The best DSLR camera for beginners

Specifications

Sensor size: APS-C
Resolution: 24.2MP
Viewfinder: Optical
Monitor: 3.0-inch fixed, 921K dots
Autofocus: 11-point AF, 1 cross-type
Max continuous shooting rate: 5fps
Video: 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, a basic virtual photography tutor, has proven to be a valuable feature for beginners during our testing. If you're a noice, trust that it 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. 

Read our in-depth Nikon D3500 review

Sony A6000, one of the best camera for beginners, on a table

(Image credit: Future)
A great interchangeable lens camera for beginners

Specifications

Sensor size: APS-C
Resolution: 24.3MP
Viewfinder: 1,440K dots
Monitor: 3.0-inch articulated touchscreen, 921K dots
Autofocus: 179-point AF
Max continuous shooting rate: 11fps
Video: 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, uses 179-points to track moving subjects and operated quickly during our testing. 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.

Read our in-depth Sony A6000 review

Polaroid Go, one of the best camera for beginners, being used by someone

(Image credit: Future)
The best beginner instant camera that delivers square prints

Specifications

Lens: 34mm
Focusing: Fixed focus
Flash: Built-in
Self-timer: Yes
User level: Beginner

Reasons to buy

+
Highly portable 
+
Simple to use 
+
Rechargable battery

Reasons to avoid

-
Fixed focus can be troublesome 
-
No dedicated close-up mode
-
Expensive film

This might be a slightly odd choice for the best beginner camera, but if you're shopping for a kid, or for for someone with a quirky outlook on life, it's worth a look. The Polaroid Go is designed to produce quick and easy physical snaps, with its small size making it more appealing than other instant camera models. 

Using a new instant film format, the Polaroid Go produces 67 x 54mm (2.6 x 2.1inch) prints with a square 47 x 46 mm (1.85 x 1.8 inch) image area. Controls are limited, but this is a camera which is all about living in the moment and experimenting with composition, subjects, form and so on. As such, the lack of autofocus may be off-putting for some, but you soon learn to work within the camera's limits - another learning experience. 

We didn't get consistent results during testing, as you might expect with a camera like this, but we did get interesting, charming and unique shots that are arguably more important than pin-sharp perfection from so-called "proper" cameras. It's a fantastic choice for anyone keen to experiment with analogue photography, with the fuss, hassle and expense of more advanced film setups.

Read our in-depth Polaroid Go review

Panasonic G100, one of the best camera for beginners, on a wooden table

(Image credit: Future)
An excellent small-sensor, great value camera

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
Max continuous shooting rate: 6fps
Video: 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 the best camera for beginners who want to focus on 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. 

During testing, we found its small size, shape and weight to be 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.

Read our in-depth Panasonic Lumix G100 review

Sony ZV-1, one of the best camera for beginners, on a tripod

(Image credit: Future)
A beginner camera with excellent autofocus for vlogging

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
Max continuous shooting rate: 8.6fps
Video: 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 did a fantastic job of locking onto faces and keeping everything in focus during our testing. 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.

Read our in-depth Sony ZV-1 review

Two hands holding the Canon EOS M6 Mark II, one of the best camera for beginners

(Image credit: Future)
A powerful travel camera for beginners

Specifications

Sensor size: APS-C
Resolution: 32.5MP
Viewfinder: N/A
Monitor: 3-inch tilting touchscreen, 1,037K dots
Autofocus: 143-point Phase Detection AF areas
Max continuous shooting rate: 14fps
Video: 4K at 30p
User level: Beginner

Reasons to buy

+
Perfect proportions for travel
+
High-resolution sensor

Reasons to avoid

-
No built-in viewfinder
-
Limited native lens range

With a high-resolution sensor in a miniature body, Canon’s EOS M6 Mark II is a powerful yet pocketable option for beginners. It uses the same 32.5MP sensor as the 90D DSLR, a sensor that we found to produce excellent stills with lovely detail and great colors during testing. It’s also great in the hand: despite its lightweight build, a good grip gives the M6 Mark II a sturdy feel, while well-placed buttons and dials make for easy one-handed use. A viewfinder is optional, but the tilting touchscreen works perfectly fine for first-timers, providing an experience similar to smartphone photography. 

Autofocus is both reliable and speedy across 143 areas, as is 14fps burst shooting. The option to capture uncropped 4K footage is a welcome bonus, too. Less remarkable is the 305-shot battery life. The absence of image stabilization is also a shame, as is the limited native lens range. Nevertheless, there’s a lot for beginners to like about the M6 Mark II. It’s impressively portable without compromising on specs and features, forming a well-rounded package which – over two years after launch – is available at a price representing great value.

Read our in-depth Canon EOS M6 Mark II review

Alternatively...

Google Pixel 5a, one of the best camera for beginners, on a wooden table

(Image credit: Future)
A fine mid-range phone with a great camera

Specifications

Release date: August 2021
Weight: 183g
Dimensions: 154.9 x 73.7 x 7.6mm
OS: Android 11
Screen size: 6.34-inch OLED
Resolution: 1080 x 2400
CPU: Snapdragon 765G
RAM: 6GB
Storage: 128GB
Battery: 4,680mAh
Rear camera: 12.2MP + 16MP
Front camera: 8MP

Reasons to buy

+
Great camera for the price
+
Large battery

Reasons to avoid

-
No zoom camera
-
Limited improvements over predecessor

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. That’s where the Pixel 5a comes in.

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 5a 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, alongside a 16MP ultra-wide camera. 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 5a as your dedicated connected camera, you can pick it up SIM-free. 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 Full HD and 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.

Read or in-depth Google Pixel 5a review

How to choose the best beginner camera for you

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.

How we test beginner cameras

While most of the cameras in this list are relatively affordable compared to the latest professional mirrorless models, they're still a big investment – so every camera in this list have been tested extensively by us to make sure it deserves its spot. For this particular guide, we've also approached the cameras from the point of view of someone starting out in photography or filmmaking, taking into account user interfaces, handling and general ease of use.

The latter are particularly important factors for starter cameras, but we've tested all the fundamentals too, so you can be sure each model has the capacity to grow with you. These days, real-world tests are the most revealing way to understand a camera's performance and character, so we focus heavily on those, along with standardized tests for factors like ISO performance.

After testing the camera's start-up speed, we'll move onto performance. We use a formatted SD card and shoot in both JPEG and raw (if available). For burst shooting tests, we dial in our regular test settings (1/250 sec, ISO 200, continuous AF) and shoot a series of frames in front of a stopwatch to see if it lives up to its claimed speeds. We'll also look at how quickly the buffers clears and repeat the test for both raw and JPEG files.

Where applicable, we also test the camera's different autofocus modes in different lighting conditions (including Face and Eye AF) in single point, area and continuous modes. We also shoot a range of photos of different styles (portrait, landscape, low light, macro/close-up) in raw and JPEG to get a sense of metering and its sensor's ability to handle noise and resolve fine detail.

If the camera's raw files are supported by Adobe Camera Raw, we'll also process some test images to see how we can push areas like shadow recovery. And we'll also test its ISO performance across the whole range to get a sense of the levels we'd be happy to push the camera to.

Battery life is tested in a real-world fashion, as we use the camera over the course of the day with the screen set to the default settings. Once the battery has reached zero, we'll then count the number of shots to see how it compares to the camera's CIPA rating. Finally, we test the camera's video skills (where necessary) by shooting some test footage at different frame rates and resolutions, along with its companion app.

We then take everything we've learned about the camera and factor in its price to get a sense of the value-for-money it offers, before reaching our final verdict.

What camera should a beginner start with?

As you’ll see in the list above, there’s no single right answer when it comes to which camera a beginner should start with. Much will depend on what type of technology you’re already familiar with, as well as how you like to shoot. Some learners like the certainty of physical buttons, for example, while smartphone users might prefer a camera with a touchscreen interface. Luckily, there are plenty of both styles available – and the best beginner cameras tend to offer a combination of control systems, like the Fujifilm X-T200.

DSLR cameras are often easy cameras for beginners to use and adapt to. Because they are bigger than most compact and mirrorless models, there’s more space to spread out buttons on the body (and to label them for ease of understanding). Plus DSLR cameras tend to feature large, sculpted grips for more comfortable handling, which is important if you’re planning to get a lot of practice in. Take a look at the Nikon D3500, for example.

Equally, some beginners will find that a smaller camera is easier to get to grips with. Even if you’re only just starting to take photography more seriously, there’s a good chance you might have used a point-and-shoot compact camera at some point in your life. If so, you might find that a premium compact like the Sony ZV-1 provides a familiar experience. And because there are no interchangeable lenses to worry about, you can focus on improving other aspects of your photography, such as framing.

Mark Wilson
Mark Wilson

Mark is the Cameras Editor at TechRadar. Having worked in tech journalism for a ludicrous 17 years, Mark is now attempting to break the world record for the number of camera bags hoarded by one person. He was previously Cameras Editor at Trusted Reviews, Acting editor on Stuff.tv, as well as Features editor and Reviews editor on Stuff magazine. As a freelancer, he's contributed to titles including The Sunday Times, FourFourTwo and Arena. And in a former life, he also won The Daily Telegraph's Young Sportswriter of the Year. But that was before he discovered the strange joys of getting up at 4am for a photo shoot in London's Square Mile.