What is the Best Camera for Beginners?

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What is the best camera for beginners? While this seems like a straightforward question, and many websites will just throw a list of camera options at you, the answer can be more complex than one specific camera recommended for every newbie photographer. Giving this question some thought and considering a few options may pay future dividends as a novice photographer evolves into a photographic artist. One certainty is that an entry-level camera should be easy to use, convenient to carry and employ, as well as being intuitive, while also allowing for growth. All of this should combine to foster a passion for photography.

We all know that today’s smartphone—an electronic device that happens to have a built-in camera—is, in many ways, the best camera for a budding photographer. In fact, phone cameras are so good that most photographers—neophytes and professionals alike—are taking more and more photos with their phones and forgoing larger and more complex cameras. Not since the introduction of the 35mm format has a camera type brought so many people into the wonderful world of photography.

Yet, the smartphone camera has limitations in design and performance, two factors that often drive people toward a more capable photographic platform. Here is where this article comes in to play—for scenarios where you, a friend, or a family member shows real photographic talent with a smartphone, and the consensus is that it is time to get a “real” camera.

So, let’s explore the different types of cameras available, to give you, the novice and/or shopper, some food for thought by listing the pros and cons of each platform.

Before we dive in, it is important to state that almost every contemporary camera, including the highest priced, most sophisticated models, have fully automatic modes, which make it easy for any beginner to nail everything but composing the shot. You need not know the science behind exposure and setting your aperture, shutter speed, ISO, to pick up the best “professional” camera from a leading manufacturer and take a great photograph.

Almost all cameras will allow you to take control of exposure, focus, shooting modes, and more manually—all subjective picture-making decisions that can yield a more nuanced, artistic shot. But, the ease of adjusting controls manually varies from one camera to the next. For a beginner with the potential for artistic growth, ease of implementing manual control should be a major purchase consideration, because the budding photographer will likely “outgrow” some of the auto modes and want to take control of certain aspects of the picture-making process.

Finally, don’t overthink this point, but the newer the camera, the better it will perform in many ways. Each new generation sees incremental improvements in image quality, low-light performance, autofocus speed and accuracy, and more. Does this mean an older digital camera is incapable of capturing a great photograph? Of course, not. But, in the digital world, newer almost always means better.

Mirrorless Cameras

While “mirrorless” cameras were around long before the SLR camera, in the form of large format cameras and rangefinders, the digital mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera is a relative newcomer on the block. Mirrorless technology has matured to the point where many professionals, as well as traditional SLR manufacturers, are making the switch to digital mirrorless and the mirrorless camera has replaced the DSLR as the digital camera of choice.

The difference between the DSLR and the interchangeable-lens mirrorless digital camera is the absence, in the mirrorless camera, of the mirror that reflects the image captured through the lens up through a prism and out to an optical viewfinder. Without a mirror, the mirrorless camera shows you the image through the lens electronically on a screen or through an electronic viewfinder (EVF)—you no longer look through the lens optically.


Mirrorless Camera

Pros

  • Image Quality: Like the DSLR, top image quality is a hallmark of these cameras.
  • Flexibility: Again, like the DSLR, lenses range from wide fisheyes to extreme telephotos.
  • Growth Opportunities: There is room for growth here, as well—same as with the DSLR systems.
  • More Growth; Adapted Lenses: Mirrorless cameras also allow you to adapt lenses from different manufacturers for virtually limitless optical options.
  • Sharing: You may share gear with friends who operate the same system.
  • Size/Weight: Mirrorless cameras are usually lighter and smaller than their DSLR counterparts.
  • WYSIWYG: With an EVF, you can see your exposure accuracy while you compose your shot. What you see is what you get.

Cons

  • Multiple Parts: The mirrorless camera also needs a separate lens. Again, we have a modular system, so be sure to consider owning and carrying multiple lenses and accessories.
  • Complexity: Like the DSLR, they are complex machines—even the entry-level models.
  • Intimidating: Plenty of buttons and knobs to intimidate the beginner.
  • Battery Life: Because they are smaller than DSLRs, their batteries don’t last quite as long, necessitating carrying extra batteries and/or a charger.
  • Optical Experience: One pleasure of DSLR shooting is looking through a beautiful lens optically. The mirrorless camera only shows a digital representation of what the lens sees. Some photographers scoff at this.
  • Sensor Size: Mirrorless cameras have sensors ranging from full-frame (same size as 35mm film) to half of that size. Some photographers prefer the aesthetics of larger sensors.
  • Size/Weight: Above, I said, “lighter and smaller than their DSLR counterparts,” but some can be almost DSLR-sized. Mirrorless lenses, especially those for full-frame cameras, can be large and heavy, as well. Regardless of how they match up against DSLRs, their size will be a big adjustment for those transitioning from the smartphone.
  • Cost: These cameras can cost as much, or more, than DSLRs.

Here are some recommended entry-level interchangeable lens mirrorless camera options:

Canon EOS M Series 
Canon EOS R Series (APS-C) 
FUJIFILM XT Series
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G Series
OM System OM Series
Sony Alpha APS-C Cameras

The DSLR

Right or wrong, the digital single-lens reflex camera (DSLR) was the default for a beginner camera. This is the camera that most people think about when they want to step up from the smartphone camera or, in days past, something like a disposable point-and-shoot camera. At B&H Photo, this remains a type of camera that many rookie photographers, or their benefactors, are interested in purchasing.


DSLR Camera

Pros

  • Image Quality: DSLRs provide top image quality for beginners, but this quality is also dependent on getting a good lens.
  • Flexibility: Interchangeable-lens flexibility allows you to shoot from super-wide-angle fisheye lenses to extreme telephoto, provided you have those components.
  • Growth Opportunities: You may add lenses, accessories, and more to a DSLR kit, or get better lenses and upgrade to a better camera body to match—room for growth.
  • Sharing: If you have a friend with the same type of camera, you could share lenses and accessories without buying your own.

Cons

  • The DSLR Era is Coming to an End: Most major manufactures have announced the end of their DSLR cameras—from entry level models to the flagship pro models—in favor of mirrorless cameras. This might made future expansion of your system difficult.
  • Multiple Parts: The DSLR needs a lens. Because the camera is only one part of a modular system, you should carefully consider your tolerance for owning and carrying multiple lenses and accessories.
  • Complexity: Even the simplest DSLR is festooned with multiple buttons and controls and pages of menus.
  • Intimidating: With that complexity comes an intimidation factor for many beginner photographers.
  • Size/Weight: If you are accustomed to shooting with your smartphone, the DSLR’s size and weight will be shocking. Carrying it around everywhere might become tiresome.
  • Gear Envy: Unless you have the professional gear, you may eventually feel the need to upgrade your camera and lenses.
  • Cost: DSLR cameras, even the entry-level ones, represent more than a casual investment in photography.

Here are some recommended entry-level DSLR camera options:
Canon EOS Rebel Series
Nikon D3000 Series
Pentax K-70

Bridge Cameras

Bridge cameras are, in the simplest terms, point-and-shoot (non-interchangeable lens) cameras that are larger than the traditional pocket-sized point-and-shoot or compact camera and have incredibly expansive zoom lenses that go from wide-angle to telescope-like telephoto. Like the DSLR or mirrorless camera, they have a full suite of controls and settings that allow the novice to shoot in fully automatic mode or full manual mode, or somewhere in between.


Bridge Camera

Pros

  • Image Quality: The sensors are usually smaller than mirrorless and DSLR cameras, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get amazing photographs.
  • Flexibility: The built-in lens satisfies your needs for wide-angle and super-telephoto coverage.
  • Convenience: You only have to pack your camera. No extra lenses needed.
  • Size/Weight: They are lighter and smaller than many DSLRs—especially when you consider the focal-length range.
  • Cost: The bridge cameras represent a fantastic value when you consider the image quality, and flexibility of the permanently attached super-zoom lenses.

Cons

  • Image Quality: Depending on the model, this type of camera might have a fairly small sensor that is not ideal for making very large prints.
  • Simplicity: Many bridge cameras offer full manual controls, but they are simpler, overall, than the interchangeable lens cameras.
  • Size/Weight: They are larger than other point-and-shoot cameras. And, when the lenses are extended, they can be pretty darn big.
  • Focus Speed: Manufacturers are constantly improving autofocus performance, but these cameras might focus a bit slower than a DSLR or mirrorless interchangeable lens camera.

Here are some recommended bridge camera options:
Canon Powershot SX70
Kodak PIXPRO AZ Series
Leica V-Lux
Nikon COOLPIX P1000 and P950
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ Series
Sony DSC-RX10 Series

Point-and-Shoot or Compact Cameras

The point-and-shoot / compact camera market has been undeniably crippled by the smartphone, and that is a shame because these cameras have never been more capable than they are right now. Some point-and-shoot cameras are small enough to fit in your pocket, and they can produce photos that will run rings around anything your smartphone, or even an entry-level DSLR, can create. The compact camera is a diminutive machine that sports either a non-interchangeable fixed-focal length or zoom lens. Like the mirrorless and bridge cameras above, you compose by looking at the LCD screen, an EVF, or if the camera is rangefinder-like an off-axis optical viewfinder.


Point-and-Shoot Camera

Pros

  • Image quality: Some point-and-shoot cameras have lenses and sensors that are identical to or rival DSLR and mirrorless cameras.
  • Size/Weight: They can be even smaller than a smartphone. Drop it in your pocket or your pack and forget about it.
  • Convenience: Like the bridge camera, no need to carry other lenses around with you.

Cons

  • Image quality: Like the bridge camera, sensors can be small, and that has limitations in challenging lighting conditions, or when making large prints, but some compact cameras have the same sensors that their larger interchangeable lens siblings have, so image quality is as good.
  • Simplicity: They can be the simplest of cameras, more easily suited to automatic functionality, but some do allow for full manual control, as well.
  • Shooting speed: Autofocus speeds are good, but they haven’t caught up with DSLRs yet in every scenario.

Here are some recommended point-and-shoot cameras:
Canon Powershot G7 Series
FUJIFILM X100 Series
Olympus Tough TG Series
Ricoh GR Series
Sigma dp3 Quattro Series
Sony RX-100 Series

Film

Passion for photography does not have to be digital. In fact, there are real benefits to experiencing analog film photography, because it can teach a very different approach to the art. We are hard-pressed to think of any drawbacks to entering the world of photography with a film camera. In fact, the experience of shooting film will certainly lead to an appreciation of the art that will pay dividends for any photographer, regardless of whether they continue to expose film or switch to digital down the road.

As with the digital options outlined above, film photography can take the form of SLR cameras, point-and-shoots, or more traditional “old-school” methods, like the rangefinder and view camera.


Film SLR Camera

Pros

  • Appreciation: Film is the foundation of the art of photography. Shooting film teaches an appreciation for the medium that cannot be replicated in the digital world.
  • Thought Process: Given a finite number of images per roll, the film photographer tends to give the pictures he or she is taking more careful consideration. This usually leads to better and more rewarding images.
  • Cost: These days, you can generally pick up an older film camera for a song. Even the professional-level film cameras of yesteryear are relatively inexpensive when compared to top-flight digital models.

Cons

  • Cost and availability: Entering the film world can be inexpensive; staying there might not be. The combination of film purchase and developing costs can add up quickly—not to mention the availability of these items, as well as potential costs for scanning or printing—whereas the costs of digital capture are minimal, especially when reusing a single memory card.
  • Limited ability to share: You cannot connect your film camera to your smartphone to share photos instantly, but you can scan your negatives or prints and then share a digital reproduction of the film shot.
  • Time: Digital capture provides instant gratification. Film capture provides mystery and anticipation. You won’t know if you got the shot for hours, days, or even weeks after you released the shutter. That experience runs counter to our contemporary consumer culture.

For recommended film cameras for beginners, please visit our B&H Used Department's selection of 35mm film cameras since there are only a few new film cameras in production.

In Conclusion

OK, so, we did not give you a definitive answer to the question, “What is the best camera for beginners?” but, hopefully, we have given you some valuable pointers to consider when it comes to buying or acquiring the best camera for a beginning photographer. Please feel free to ask questions or leave messages in the Comments section, below. Are you a beginner yourself, or purchasing a camera for one? Talk to us—we can help you make the best choice.

24 Comments

Hey Todd! Just wanted to say this article helped me A LOT..kinda. I've never really paid much attention to the fact that I could buy a camera and stop using my phone. I do not know if it's this glorified idea I have about cameras that is making me want to buy one. I'm going on a trip to Northern Europe soon, and you know...lots of landscapes and beautiful scenes. I've always loved to pay attention to the things around me and from a very early age, I was always taking pictures here and there. Throughout the last few years, I've taken my iPhone 12 on my trips, and it seems to do the job pretty well. The thing is, I just want to be able to carry a camera around with me and be able to actually take and study a shot. Like making it more real???. I do not know anything about cameras, and it's not like I was exposed to cameras as a teen or as a kid since I'm pretty young. In other words, I read this whole article and it sounded like Chinese. I just wish you could plain and simple, give me some options that are affordable, that are just enough for what I just said. I'm not a professional, and I don't really care at the moment about all the logistics and types of lenses, or if it has a mirror or not. Eventually, I will have to learn and educate myself on camera use, but you know what I mean. I just want a camera that is relatively easy to carry around, and is good quality. It can be of any kind that you mentioned above. Just recommend 5 cameras, and I'll be happy. Thank you so much if you actually reply. It would save me a lot of time and it would also help me close a million tabs I have open with different camera options. 

Hi Marina,

You are very welcome...A LOT...kinda. :)

Let me start by saying that I know what you are saying and where you are coming from. Not to drive you to those million tabs you have open, but there are more than a handful of articles that will give you a list of 5 cameras to choose from.

Personally, I feel that those articles are a disservice to you, the consumer and photographer. Why? Because they answer a question from a single point of view and fail to inform you what is the best camera for YOU.

If you show up at a car dealership and as, "What is the best car?" they will gladly show you the best car on the lot. Is that the best car for you? Probably not if the best car is a two-seat rocket ship sports car and you need a station wagon or minivan. Right?

So, my suggestion to you, is, instead of me giving you 5 random cameras to chose from, that you answer a few questions for me and then we can narrow down the selection to that desired handful and let you chose the best camera for YOU.

1) Do you have a budget in mind? "Affordable" varies from person to person.

2) Do you want something that you can put into your existing packs, bags, etc? Or are you willing to tote a camera bag around?

3) If you are willing to tote a camera bag around, are you wanting the ability to change lenses?

That should get us started. :) Thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

 

What is forgotten here is one of the best and easiest to find and least expensive of all 35mm cameras; The rangefinders.  There are some new pseudo rangefinders like Fuji film but there is a host of Olympus, and others that are old, and use real 35mm film.  Real rangefinders include some affordable Leica cameras too .  If a young or old amateur can get their hands on a 35mm rangefinder that can open the door to a real fun shooting and learning experience. If a new learner pays attention shooting a manual rangefinder it teaches depth of field as well as aperture, shutter speed and ISO in a way that today's fully automated cameras can't even begin to touch.  Plus, the quality of film shooting is still unmatched by digital.  Once you've learned how to shoot a rangefinder the world of photography is yours.  Rangefinders also allow you to use "zone focusing" which is faster than any automatic focusing in the market today.  So, If you haven't explored Rangefinder cameras, you'll be surprised...very pleasantly surprised.  I wish I still had my 1963 Olympus 35mm rangefinder.  I just picked up a new Leica M 11 with a 35mm f 1/4 lens (from B&H of course) and it's wonderful but not affordable for many, many people.  I love it! I still have my focusing skills from 1963. 

Hi Jay,

Forgotten? No. Not specifically mentioned? Yes. :)

When I first wrote this article, there was a handful of new 35mm film camera options on the market. In just a few short years, that list has dwindled significantly despite the film market seeing a resurgence.

I grew up with film SLRs and always enjoyed playing with my father's Leica rangefinders—but never quite knew how my focusing was doing! Rangefinders are fun and challenging at the same time and, like all mechanical film cameras, portable industrial art forms.

Thank you for your suggestion and thoughts!

Best,

Todd

Todd:

Not saying what the "best camera" is, is the only conclusion an article like this can come to.  There is no "best camera" any more than there's a "best anything".  It depends on so many factors.  The only thing one can do, and you did it, was to explain the options.  At some point, a person has to make some choices.  What they need to know is that everyone is different and what works for you or me may not work for them (and vice versa). 

When people ask me what camera they should buy, I try to find out what they plan to do with it and to guide them.  BUT they must understand that what I said above (everyone is different).  Photography is a "hands on" activity.  Which camera is the best will ultimately be decided by a "hands on approach".  No decision is in stone, and if the person decides they didn't buy the "right" camera for whatever reason, hopefully they can get rid of the one they bought and find something else that will work better.

Hi Henry,

Thank you for agreeing with me here. There are many posts across the web that start with "Best Camera" click-bait headlines and then show you someone's (or some sponsor's) list of a handful of very good cameras.

Just because the latest and greatest DSLR or mirrorless camera might be the best camera on the market, doesn't make it the best for everyone.

And, that is why this article attempts to guide someone to their own conclusions about what is best for them. I am not the authority on what the best camera is for every B&H customer, but I can give every reader some food for thought.

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!

Best,

Todd

Please keep up the good work! You shared a very informative article. . I learned some interesting facts about the camera that I was not aware of.  In the modern world, cameras play an increasingly important role.

 

Hi Elizabeth!

Sorry for the delay on replying! Yikes!

I am glad you enjoyed the article. Please let us know if you have any questions!

Best,

Todd

I like photography. Recently I bought two Sony HD cameras which get a high-resolution lens freely.

Congrats on the new purchase(s), vamsi!

In astronomy, the equivalent question is "what should be my first telescope". Most experts will suggest your first telescope should be binoculars, not a telescope at all.

Photography is similar. If you are an avid hobby photographer who has learned the essentials of photography using the camera you probably already have—your phone—then it will be time to move on to a more serious body, and very importantly, a good lens.

My advice to the interested beginner would be to get one of the many excellent manual mode camera apps for their phone as the "binoculars", to learn about exposure, composition, and other fundamentals while shopping for their first dedicated camera.

Very often, the first equipment you buy perusing a new hobby is either quickly superseded or placed on the shelf to gather dust. If you understand *why* different cameras have the features they do, and you understand *how* they can be used, then selecting a camera that will last a while, for a reasonable price, will be far easier.

To be clear, my advice was the app-as-first camera. I know your essay included the first idea.

Buy from a reputable dealer with a return option. Regardless of what style, size, or type of camera you buy, take it out for a test shoot soon after you buy it. Make sure it feels right, functions correctly, and most importantly - yields crisp sharp images to your satisfaction. All the bells and whistles can never make up for not rendering clear sharp images.    

I agree BUT. Test it before you buy. It will save the time of returning it. HUH? Sometimes the store will come up with some story/excuse. It can be an expensive mistake.

Hi Jon,

I hope you have B&H Photo on your short list of "reputable dealer[s]!"

Sound advice. Thanks for stopping by!

I remember that my first camera was a digital Polaroid with a 1.3 MP resolution. After that, I have a Canon PowerShot and then a Canon bridge. The SX500. 

Now I have a Rebel T5, and I am looking for the new Canon 80D. I think this could be a way to start. From the digital point and shot to the dslr cameras.

BTW, with the Rebel t5 I have the sigma 18-250mm lens purchased in the B&H store.

 

 

Hi Arturo,

Thank you for shopping at B&H!

Yes, that is a logical progression. As the camera companies these days will tell you, most people are jumping from their smartphone cameras to DSLRs and skipping point-and-shoots. That is unfortunate, as there are a lot of amazing point-and-shoot cameras on the market these days.

Let us know when you want the Canon 80D! :)

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience. Cheers!

 

I don't disagree, BUT... These cameras are not available so this info is not very useful and less helpful. For the best features for the price I would look at the Nikon D3400 or the Fujis under $600. I like the Fuji XF10 as the best "Pocket Camera" at $499.

My first camera was the Canon A-1. I did research reading Popular Photography and Modern Photography. The A-1 offered aperture-priority that the Canon AE-1 did not. There was no Internet in 1980 and also digital didn't exist. I think the A-1 is great for beginners since it offers shutter-priority, aperture-priority, and also programmed mode, but DSLR cameras today offer the same features. It seems that film cameras are appreciating in value; my Canon New F-1 that I bought used in 2013 for $400 can be found selling for $500.

I do love the autofocus with my Canon 5D III, but there have been occasions when I've had to switch to manual focus; such as when it wanted to focus on an area in a crowd where I didn't want the focus to be, or in difficult lighting situations.

Hey Ralph,

Things were certainly simpler back then!

You are correct, mechanical film cameras are seeing increases in prices due to the resurgence of film—ironic to type this the week after Leica ended M7 production and Canon announced it was done making film cameras! Older electronic film cameras are not doing as well on the market because, well, electronics age and fail where purely mechanical cameras should last a lifetime or more.

Regardless, there is something to be said for starting with a camera like your A-1!

Hi Todd,

Other things to consider with film versus digital are the number of variables to consider when photographing panoramas. Without researching tips for shooting panoramas, other than if Corel Paint Shop Pro can stitch photos (it does), it made sense for me to control all variables of exposure; I didn't want to have three different exposures in the mix. ISO and white balance are "baked" in the film, so I only needed to control shutter speed and aperture. I used the camera's meter to see what it would use and set the camera on manual for aperture and shutter speed. I used Canon's LensWork (film version)book to get the horizontal field of view for the 28mm lens and used a 15 degree overlap. The Canon film version (FD mount) has horizontal, vertical, and diagonal angles of view for each lens; the digital version (EF mount) only has diagonal angle of views, which is of no use for panorama planning without the use of trigonometry. 

With digital,  I would also need to manually control ISO and white balance. 

Three frame panorama, January 12, 2013. Canon A-1, Canon FD 28mm f2.8, Kodak Ectar 100 at a quiet cove on Lake Murray, South Carolina (Hilton Public Boat Landing)

https://flic.kr/p/dRtfdP

Hi Ralph,

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Holidays!

Brave man shooting a pano on film without an XPan camera! :) ...but the results look amazing!

You make some great points about the challenges of panoramic images on film vs. digital and those challenges are what drove some camera manufacturers to create cameras specifically designed for the job!

As always, thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd