There’s a famous saying from photographer and director Chase Jarvis that says, “the best camera is the one you have with you”, and for many of us that means our phones. But, we’re going to put it out there: if you’re trying to put a bit more intent into your photography, it’s worth upgrading to a proper camera. Entry-level models in 2021 are far better than the old DSLR sitting in the back of your cupboard and now we’re out of lockdown, you can head out into the world to test your skills.

What camera should I start my photography with?

If you’re just starting out, focus (pun intended) on two things. The best beginner camera will be one that is both affordable and versatile. You’ll want to be able to switch lenses and control your camera’s settings – be prepared to spend at least £500 and possibly up to £800 to get a good brand-new model with a kit lens. Every camera in this roundup comes with a standard zoom kit lens, and the option to change lenses.

Don’t look down on older versions too. These cameras will cost less and deliver similar results (often from the same sensor and tech). The differences tend to just come down to smarter autofocus tech or 4K video capabilities. Unless you’re taking videos too, new features can make shooting easier or quicker but won’t change your results.

There’s also nothing wrong with buying second-hand, just go through a reputable source like Wex Photo Video or MPB – these retailers offer a 12-month and six-month warranty, respectively.

Is mirrorless or DSLR better for beginners?

Go for mirrorless. The DSLR vs mirrorless debate may still be raging on, but in reality the whole camera market has shifted to mirrorless models. These deliver the same image quality, but just don’t use an internal mirror. They’re replacing SLR models and are the future of camera tech, especially as they’re often lighter, less of a faff to use and have the newest high-tech processors.

There is a lot to choose from too, with every major manufacturer – including Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fujifilm, Panasonic and Olympus – making an entry-level mirrorless system. Any files from these cameras will also be compatible with the best photo editing apps and software that allow you to tweak and adjust your pics.

How we tested

We tried out the best beginner cameras by using them with the included kit lens, taking several close-up, wide-angle and portrait shots in good lighting and low light conditions to evaluate autofocus and speed. We shot a lot of portraits in and around home in lockdown; moody architectural snaps (albeit of the next door block of flats), and Instagram-worthy ‘aesthetic’ photos of our morning coffee.

We inspected all the images on desktop editing software too, checking sharpness, detail and colour quality. We assessed the design, ergonomics, controls and portability of the models we tested too, and the below picks are a combination of testing and some of the best-selling and top-rated options we found online.

Key features to consider

Initially, all the jargon will sound a bit confusing. If you haven’t got your head around intimidating terms like aperture, shutter speed, f-stops, focal lengths, and ISO, don’t worry. It’ll start to make sense as you learn more. For now, focus on these specs.

Lens options

The key thing is to start out with a ‘do-it-all’ kit lens, included with every model on this list. With that, you’ll be able to work out if you prefer wide or telephoto shots and what matters to you. If you gravitate towards naturalistic street photography, you’ll want to build out your kit with ‘prime’ lenses at around the 35mm focal length. Aiming to capture the grandeur of distant wildlife or scenery? You may end up looking at longer and sharper zooms.

The point is, as your skill improves, you’ll want to add new lenses to your kit. It’s worth checking that the brand you pick has a decent selection of glass within your budget (as they can start at around £150 but get a lot more expensive). It’s all well-and-good picking up a new Nikon Z 50, for instance, but there are very few lenses available on this system – for now.


The image sensor on most of the cameras below will be around 14 times larger than that on your smartphone (depending on what you’ve got). That’s a huge step up, especially as a bigger sensor means higher resolution and better low light performance. Some photographers may swear by “full-frame” while others prefer “APS-C” or “Micro Four Thirds” (MFT). In truth, there are benefits and drawbacks to each kind. All those on this list are either APS-C or MFT (which is a little smaller) – and you won’t notice a huge difference between the two.


You’ll need an SD card to store your shots, and the camera won’t come with a memory card. Get a decent one from a brand like Sandisk or Lexar and you’ll be able to trust that your shots are stored safely.

Battery life

On average, the battery life for an entry-level mirrorless camera is about 300 shots. High-end ones can sometimes manage double that, but 300 is typical for cameras that you’re starting out with. Our recommendation? Grab an extra battery or two so you don’t get caught out.


The way a camera feels in your hand is really important – if you don’t like picking it up, you’re not going to use it much and you won’t get any photos to rival those of your mate who carries a vintage camera everywhere. Before you buy, have a look at where all the controls are and consider if you’ll be comfortable with the weight around your neck or in your hand. Think about the screen and viewfinder too, many have both an electronic viewfinder to look through and a rear screen.

Best beginner camera overall

Sony A6100 with 16-50mm Power Zoom Lens

When you’re new to photography, the last thing you want is to be left struggling with an autofocus (AF) system that leaves most of your shots blurry. This entry-level model from Sony packs in the same autofocus features from its mid-range £1,249 A6600 model, which can track the eyes of your subject for perfect portraits.

The A6100 also handles well with excellent ergonomics and a lot of customisable buttons. This is a dependable camera that’s as good for grabbing your cocktail party snapshots as it is for learning basic and advanced photography. There’s also a wide range of compatible lenses not only from Sony itself but also third parties like Sigma and Tamron.

Key specs
Sensor size: APS-C
Battery life: 420 shots
Weight (camera body and battery): 396g

Best for Instagram-ready shots

Fujifilm X-T200 with Fujinon XC15-45mm Power Zoom Lens

Prefer to spend more time shooting and less time stuck behind the laptop screen editing? Fujifilm cameras are ideal for upping your Instagram game as they’re renowned for colour processing, meaning you can control the look of your images in-camera and they’ll be ready to post straight after you’ve taken them.

The X-T200 is one of the best value ways to get into the Fuji system and these cameras are compatible with the extensive range of X-mount lenses. And, as with Sony, other manufacturers like Samyang, Lensbaby and Laowa make glass that fits this lens mount. It has a well-designed interface and touch controls, but not quite as many button customisation options as some rivals. Also, if you’re not fussed about having a built-in viewfinder, the more affordable Fujifilm X-A7 shares a lot in common with the X-T200.

Key specs
Sensor size:
Battery life: 270 shots
Weight (camera body and battery): 370g

Best for the kit lens

Nikon Z 50 with Z DX 16-50mm Lens

This is Nikon’s first APS-C mirrorless camera and one of the more expensive models on our list. It’s an excellent all-rounder that has an impressive pancake zoom kit lens, which focuses quickly, delivers sharp distortion-free results and compresses down to a tiny size. We love how the camera handles and its deep grip makes it ideal for stable handheld shooting.

The image quality from the standard zoom is particularly remarkable compared to its rivals, and it’s straightforward to set up too. The Z 50’s autofocus is super quick, even if its subject-tracking capabilities aren’t on the same level as the Sony’s. The ergonomics impress but the lens availability is the major downside. Nikon’s APS-C system is in its infancy, and there are currently just four lenses that fit this camera body.

Key specs
Sensor size:
Battery life: 300 shots
Weight (camera body and battery): 450g

Best for travel

Olympus E‑M10 Mark III with 14-42mm Lens

If you’re planning ahead for a trip now that a sense of normalcy is returning to the world, this retro-style Olympus is a top option for travel photographers. The benefit of its MFT sensor is that you get a more compact body and, crucially, far smaller lenses. This means it’ll take up much less space in your bag and be lighter around your neck.

This model also gives you some impressive in-body image stabilisation – for some competitors, you’ll have to rely on stabilised lenses to counteract shaky hands, but this does it within the camera itself. On test, we found it shot excellent sharp photos and that the stabilisation kept things in focus, even if it doesn’t have the fastest autofocus.

Key specs
Sensor size:
Micro Four Thirds
Battery life: 330 shots
Weight (camera body and battery): 410g

Best user-friendly camera

Canon EOS M50 with EF-M 15-45mm Lens

If you’re comfortable snapping away on your phone collecting artsy shots of leaves and brick walls and now you’re looking for the next step up, this Canon model makes it easy to get started on its basic menus and “smart auto” mode. When you’ve got to grips with it, you can disable the guided user interface that explains menu items and move to the advanced features it offers, including its fast autofocus, the articulated touchscreen and quick processing speeds.

On test, we found that, in normal lighting conditions, it focuses quickly and the image quality is very good. But the kit lens didn’t always perform as well in low light, with some images coming out a little soft. Its compact size makes it good for travel and snapshots, but its plastic body is a bit disappointing when compared to the competition.

Key specs
Sensor size:
Battery life: 235 shots
Weight (camera body and battery): 387g

Best lightweight beginner camera

Panasonic G100 with 12-32mm Lens


If what matters most in a camera is its weight, the Panasonic G100 is a worthwhile option. Some would argue this is more of a vlogging camera as it includes some top video features, but it fares better as a tiny and convenient stills camera. It has a super-compact body, a built-in viewfinder, and the ability to change lenses. Reviewers also say the autofocus is fast and accurate.

This is a flexible and versatile option that’ll suit many beginners, although it won’t handle low light situations quite as well as rival cameras with bigger sensors. The G100 may target video creators, but if you want an affordable interchangeable lens camera that’s far better than a smartphone for still photography, this is a great upgrade.

Key specs
Sensor size:
Micro Four Thirds
Battery life: 270 shots
Weight (camera body and battery): 352g

Best budget beginner camera

Sony A6000 with 16-50mm Power Zoom Lens

While we’d recommend the Sony A6100 for its more advanced autofocus, its predecessor remains competitive and still has many of the newer camera’s headline features. Launched in 2014, the A6000 packs in specs that are more than enough for most users and gives you access to the extensive lens range compatible with Sony’s E-mount.

Not bothered about 4K video and clever autofocus? Go for this instead. If you’re not relying on continuous tracking and using single-shot autofocus, this is more than good enough for all your portrait needs. Trying out sports or wildlife photography? The 11 frame-per-second burst mode remains quicker than many newer cameras out there. If you’re just shooting stills, this is the best value you can get.

Key specs
Sensor size:
Battery life: 420 shots
Weight (camera body and battery): 344g

Best for classic controls

Fujifilm X-T30 with XC15-45mm Power Zoom Lens



After a digital camera with a vintage look? This one is controlled with loads of knobs and dials  – just like old-school film cameras. It’s a higher-end version of the Fujifilm X-T200 that gives you a higher-resolution sensor and more options for custom buttons. If you like the idea of fine-tuning your exposure, shutter speed and aperture using physical controls rather than a display on the back of the camera, this is the one to go for.

Some may consider this to be a bit more of an intermediate camera, but the controls it offers can also be a great way to get to grips with photography as a beginner too. And, like other Fujifilm X-mount bodies, it’s compatible with an enormous range of lenses.

Key specs
Sensor size:
Battery life: 380 shots
Weight (camera body and battery): 383g

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By Harmony