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Best camera for beginners 2021: top starter cameras for photography and filmmaking

Included in this guide:

Canon EOS M6 Mark II
(Image credit: Future)

Looking for the best beginner camera you can buy? You’ve come to the right place. Our list below features our pick of the top beginner options for both photography and filmmaking. Whether you’re upgrading from a smartphone or searching for your very first camera, each model has been tested to make sure it offers a great learning experience. (If you're particularly keen on DSLRs, then check out our separate guide to the best beginner DSLRs).

What’s the best beginner camera you can buy right now? We think the best choice for most people is the Fujifilm X-T200. It’s a versatile mirrorless model that’s capable of shooting excellent stills with very little fuss. Its touchscreen interface offers a familiar experience for smartphone photographers too, while full manual controls mean it’s a camera that can grow with you as you learn more about photography.

But there are lots of other stellar starter cameras to consider if you’re looking for something different. The Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV is a small and simple stills camera that’s very approachable for first-timers. The Panasonic GH5 Mark II is the best option for those looking to make a start in filmmaking or live-streaming. Or if you’ve got your heart set on a DSLR camera, the Nikon D3500 provides a fantastic shooting experience for learners thanks to its useful guide mode.

Whatever kind of beginner camera you’re shopping for, our guide contains all of the best starter cameras you can buy. As well as the latest releases, it also features a few slightly older options which represent excellent value for money. Talking of which, you should also bear in mind that Black Friday is approaching, which means we're likely to see some great Black Friday camera deals throughout November.

We keep this list regularly updated to make sure you’ll always find the best option for your budget. And if you’re not sure where to start, check out our buying tips and pointers down at the bottom of the list.

The best camera for beginners in 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.

Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV

(Image credit: Future)

2. 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)

3. Fujifilm X-T30

A brilliant, travel-friendly way to learn photography

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

It's now been succeeded by the Fujifilm X-T30 Mark II, but beginners looking to save a little money will be just fine with the original X-T30. The two models are virtually identical, with the Mark II model bringing a higher-resolution LCD screen, a 1080/240p video mode and slightly improved autofocus. But otherwise, the X-T30 is the same camera – and it remains one of the best ways for beginners to learn to photography, thanks to its retro dials and compact size.

Essentially a pared-down version of Fujifilm’s X-T3 model, the X-T30 is one of the more advanced cameras on our list. 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.

Panasonic GH5 Mark II vlogging camera

(Image credit: Future)

The perfect starting point for streamers and vloggers

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
Maximum continuous shooting speed: 12fps
Movies: 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) and you have a fine video camera that's just as comfortable out on the road as it is being your YouTube or Twitch streaming workhorse.

The Nikon Zfc sitting on a red table in front of a book case

(Image credit: Future)

5. Nikon Z fc

A stunning ‘casual’ camera with useful control dials

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
Maximum continuous shooting rate: 11fps
Movies: 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. But it does feature a useful range of physical controls for getting to grips with manual settings, including dedicated exposure, ISO and shutter speed dials. It’s also relatively affordable, even if there are limited native lenses at the moment – although the matching Nikkor Z 28mm f/2.8 SE lens is a great fixed focal length option for first-timers.

Canon EOS M50 Mark II

(Image credit: TechRadar)

6. Canon EOS M50 Mark II

The most popular entry-level Canon camera gets a minor update

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
+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 the M-series cameras 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.

(Image credit: Future)

7. 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. 

Sony A6000

(Image credit: Future)

8. 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 Go

(Image credit: Future)

9. Polaroid Go

Instant photography made simple

Specifications
Lens: 34mm
Focusing: Fixed focus
Flash: Built-in
Self-timer: Yes
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 offputting for some, but you soon learn to work within the camera's limits - another learning experience. 

As you might expect, you're not going to get consistent results with a camera like this, but you will get interesting, charming and unique shots that you 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.

Sony ZV-1

(Image credit: Future)

10. 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.

Two hands holding the Canon EOS M6 Mark II

(Image credit: Future)

11. Canon EOS M6 Mark II

A portable, accessible powerhouse

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
Maximum continuous shooting rate: 14fps
Movies: 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 to produce excellent stills, with lovely detail and great colors. 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.

Panasonic G100

(Image credit: Future)

12. 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.

Alternatively...

Google Pixel 4a

(Image credit: TechRadar)

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.

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.

What is the easiest camera for beginners?

As you’ll see in the list above, there’s no single right answer when it comes to which camera is easiest for beginners. 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.

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.