Starting a photography course? Tim Coleman and the AP team pick out the best cameras for photography students, both DSLR and mirrorless.

The best cameras for photography students are the vital first step in starting to better your picture-taking. Whether you’re at a school-level, starting college, or embarking upon an adult learning course it’s vital to have a good camera that’ll help you learn the basics while also provided you with room to grow. And that’s what this guide is all about helping you find.

We’re dealing exclusively with interchangeable-lens cameras here: meaning DSLRs and mirrorless models. While compact cameras (i.e. those with fixed lenses that can’t be changed) certainly have their place, the flexibility of an interchangeable-lens camera is unparalleled, and having one will really help you get to grips with key concepts, learn core principles and elevate your photography.

So, first we’re going to unpack the most important features that the best cameras for photography students should have, and then we’ll get into our list. We’ve covered cameras from a range of different major manufacturers, coming in at various different price points and all sporting a markedly different feature-set. It’ll be up to you to decide which is right for your photographic studies – but you can also check out our guides to the best mirrorless cameras and best DSLRs for more options.

What factors should you look for in the best cameras for photography students in 2023?

1. Value.

Writing for students we of course have to start with money. The good news is that you don’t need the most expensive camera or the newest model, rather one that caters for your projects. There are plenty of good value beginner-level cameras that can meet the minimum requirements of your school or college, support your learning process and creative vision, and ultimately make great quality pictures.

DSLR cameras and lenses in particular give good bang for buck, and opting secondhand can free up cash to invest in additional lenses (which we recommend over a more expensive camera), plus ensure there’s enough left for items like removable media to store your pictures.

Value isn’t simply about getting a good deal (cost), rather finding a camera that you are inspired to use each day, one that can grow with you as your skills develop, and even one that is part of a modern system that the brand is still investing in.

For example, the DSLR camera market is largely stagnant in 2023 with most DSLRs discontinued. Instead, future tech is in mirrorless cameras – so if you want to be part of the latest and greatest systems, mirrorless is probably your best choice.

If you’re still on the fence, read more on the pros and cons of DSLR vs Mirrorless here.

2. The right system

It’s well worth going into a camera shop and getting a feel for different brands and camera types in all their shapes, sizes and control layouts. Which one feels good in the hand, puts a smile on your face, or sparks curiosity?

Check out a viewfinder which is great for clear viewing in bright light – not all mirrorless cameras have one. Flip-out screens can give that selfie-shooting experience like with your phone, but again not all cameras have them. Get hands on before you hand over your cash.

If you’ve only ever used a smartphone for photography, there are joys to be discovered in DSLR and mirrorless cameras. Beyond helping focus your attention on photography and away from distractions like YouTube, WhatsApp and the day’s Wordle, a dedicated camera also provides more manual control in addition to auto, so you can easily explore principles such as shutter speed and aperture.

In contrast, a smartphone by default makes those choices for you regarding camera settings, so you don’t learn as much.

3. Sensor size

Overall, increasing sensor size is one of the easiest ways to elevate the quality of your photography above what your smartphone can do. The larger the sensor, the easier it is to increase the resolution (size) of your pictures, the greater control you can have over depth of field (where lenses and subject distance are the same), and the ‘cleaner’ images can be in low light.

Computational photography in smartphones gives workarounds to sensor size limitations, but there are limits. DSLR and mirrorless cameras are the real deal and have much larger sensors than smartphones.

Popular sensor sizes (in size order) are full-frame, APS-C and Micro Four Thirds. There are beginner-friendly options for all sensor sizes, though larger sensors are usually more expensive. For more on this have a look at our guide to full-frame and APS-C sensor size.

4. Lens choice

It is tempting to stick with the one lens that comes as part of the kit with your camera, but DSLR and mirrorless cameras are part of a system and an additional lens is one of the best ways to support your development in photography.

Some mirrorless systems like micro-four thirds for Panasonic and Olympus cameras have hundreds of lenses to choose from, while other APS-C format mirrorless systems from Nikon and Canon are in their infancy. However, well established Canon and Nikon DSLRs are spoilt for choice.

As your photography passions come to the fore, having the ‘right’ lens is going to be key. Landscape photographers often use wide angle lenses, portrait photographers like ones with a wide aperture (f/2.8 or even lower like f/1.4), while nature and action photographers might want to go telephoto or macro to get close up.

Best entry-level DSLR under £500: Nikon D3500

Best entry-level DSLR under £500: Nikon D3500

At a glance:

  • 24MP APS-C CMOS sensor
  • 3in Fixed LCD
  • 1550-shot battery life
  • £479 with 18-55mm lens

Nikon’s most up to date beginner-level DSLR is the D3500, which sits below the D5600. And to its credit, the D3500 shares the majority of the same tech at a much lower price point (plus you’ll save another £100 by going secondhand).

You get Nikon’s DX format sensor with 24MP resolution and no low-pass filter that’ll comfortably create sharp prints bigger than A3 size. It’s also a camera that slots comfortably in the hand, boasts class-leading battery life and a super-handy guide mode as you learn the ropes.

There is a more basic 11-point AF system here compared to the D5600, plus the LCD screen is fixed rather than flip-out which might take some getting used to for selfie-shooters, but the optical viewfinder is good for clear viewing in bright light and the D3500 is an otherwise excellent entry point to the world of photography.

It’s worth it budgeting for another lens like the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G.


  • Sharp pictures
  • Insanely good battery life
  • Loads of lenses to choose from
  • Handy guide mode


  • HD video only, not 4K
  • LCD screen is fixed
  • Basic autofocus

Best rugged mirrorless for students: OM System OM-5

Using the OM System OM-5, photo: Jeremy Waller

The OM System OM-5 on test. Photo: Jeremy Waller

At a glance: 

  • 20.4MP Four Thirds sensor
  • Up to 7.5 stops image stabilisation
  • IP53 weatherproofing
  • £1199 / $1199 body only

If you’re planning on taking your camera on some rough-and-tumble adventures, the OM SYSTEM OM-5 is one of the best mirrorless options you can buy. It’s seriously weatherproof, with an IP53 weather-sealed rating, meaning you can take it out in all but the absolute worst of weather conditions. And this isn’t the OM-5’s only trick – it’s a fully featured camera that’s absolutely bursting with clever computational features, many of which make the most of its exceptional stabilisation system.

One of the foremost is the handheld high-res mode, which stitches together multiple quickfire images to create a high-res 50MP shot entirely in-camera. Most of these systems absolutely require a tripod in order to work – though if you do use a tripod with the OM-5, you can up that resolution to a whopping 80MP.

Elsewhere, there’s Starry Sky AF that brings amateur astrophotography into play by making it easier to focus on celestial images. Eye/Face detection AF are also present and correct. What’s more, the OM-5 is part of the Micro Four Thirds system, meaning you’ve got all the best Micro Four Thirds lenses to choose from. Just remember the crop factor of the smaller MFT sensor means the focal length effectively doubles – so a 45mm lens will behave like a 90mm. This allows you to get real telephoto reach on a budget.


  • Exceptional weatherproofing
  • Loads of clever computational features
  • Powerful image stabilisation
  • Loads of lenses available


  • Port is micro USB, not USB
  • Clunky menu system
  • No joystick control

Best starter Canon DSLR: Canon EOS 250D / Rebel SL3

Canon EOS 250D with 18-55mm lens

Canon EOS 250D with 18-55mm lens.

At a glance:

  • 24.1MP APS-C sensor
  • 4K 25p video recording
  • Vari-angle touchscreen display
  • £649 / $749 with 18-55mm lens

This isn’t the absolute cheapest DSLR that Canon ever produced, as the EOS 250D (also known as the Rebel SL3 in the USA) was launched alongside the more basic and affordable EOS 2000D and EOS 4000D. However, for our money, this is the cheapest Canon DSLR worth buying, as the others are just a little too over-simplified to give students the level of sophistication they need – tellingly, it didn’t take all that long for the EOS 4000D to be discontinued.

The EOS 250D / Rebel SL3 is built around a dependable duo of a 24.1MP APS-C CMOS sensor and Canon’s DIGIC 8 image processor. While it doesn’t give you the spectacular depth of full-frame, or the speedy bursts of sports-shooters, what it does do is reliably nail the shot in excellent quality, time and again. With a classic DSLR layout in a lightweight package, the EOS 250D / Rebel SL3 is ideal for learning the ropes of photography and understanding how settings affect an image, while also providing the student with room to grow. You could happily make images with the EOS 250D / Rebel SL3 for years without chafing too hard against its limits. And when you do want to upgrade, the whole Canon EF-mount DSLR system is open to you.

The EOS 250D / Rebel SL3 is a consistent favourite among photography students – you’ll likely spot a few in your first class. And why not after all – it’s a dependable, capable camera that delivers the goods, and is easily one of the best cameras for photography students you can buy.


  • Excellent image quality for the price
  • Small and portable
  • Useful vari-angle LCD screen
  • Loads of lenses


  • Dated 9-point AF system
  • Inevitably bulkier than mirrorless equivalents
  • No weather-proofing

Best enthusiast-level DSLR: Canon EOS 90D

Canon EOS 90D. Photo credit: Michael Topham

Canon EOS 90D. Photo credit: Michael Topham

At a glance:

  • 33MP APS-C CMOS sensor
  • 1,300 shot battery life
  • 3in vari-angle touchscreen
  • £1000 body-only

Launched in 2019 which incidentally makes it one of the most recent DSLRs, the EOS 90D offers next level detail thanks to its 33MP APS-C sensor. And it’s not too shoddy for video either, featuring 4K recording and no crop, plus a highly capable video autofocus performance.

The EOS 90D feels like a camera embracing both DSLR and mirrorless worlds – it’s a camera with that uncompromising DSLR build quality and comfortable form factor, but with the kind of live-view performance for video that we expect from mirrorless. This versatility definitely makes it a contender for one of the best cameras for photography students.

Battery life is excellent, the optical viewfinder large and bright, plus the touchscreen flips-out for front viewing. And let’s not forget that the Canon EF lens mount boasts a wide range of lenses for all creative endeavours. If you’re keen on a DSLR with next-level performance, the EOS 90D could be your best choice.


  • Class-leading detail
  • 10fps burst shooting
  • Weather-sealed
  • Good for video, too


  • Less compelling than mirrorless equivalents
  • Kit lens not the best
  • Lacks stabilisation
  • Single card slot

Best full-frame DSLR for students: Nikon D750

Best full-frame DSLR for students: Nikon D750 

Nikon D750, image: MPB

At a glance:

  • 24MP full-frame CMOS sensor
  • 3.2in tilt LCD
  • £700 secondhand

In 2023, full-frame need not be an aspirational ‘look’ for students because there are plenty of good value options that also offer a simplified shooting experience.

We have considered the most recent entry-level full-frame DSLR models – and you have to go WAY back – and could have included the Canon EOS 6D II which has its own advantages, but the Nikon D750 offers better value.

By going full-frame with the D750, photographers can enjoy greater control over depth of field, excellent low light image quality and a generous sized optical viewfinder that gives a wonderful experience during daylight shooting.

And being discontinued, the weather-sealed D750 can be had in excellent condition for around £700. Throw on a decent prime lens and you’ve got a formidable pairing.


  • Sharp pictures
  • Large LCD screen
  • Great in the hand
  • Quick AF


  • HD video only, not 4K
  • Discontinued

Best mirrorless camera under £500: Sony A6000

Cameras for photography students: Sony A6000

Sony A600 with a Sigma 18-50mm lens.

At a glance:

  • 24MP APS-C CMOS sensor
  • 11fps burst mode
  • 3in tilt LCD
  • £430 body-only

One of the best-selling mirrorless cameras of all time can still be purchased new with a 16-50mm lens for a fraction over £500, or for around £300 secondhand, making it one of the best cameras for photography students who are on a budget.

And the fact that the Sony a6000 is still available new despite several updates including the A6100 and higher-level models like the twice-the-price A6400 – shows that it remains a compelling camera today, that enjoys the same APS-C Sony E-mount and range of high quality lenses as its replacements.

Sony has always been a tech innovator, and so despite its age the a6000 still boasts a decent 24MP resolution, 11fps continuous shooting and high performing autofocus system. It’s compact and lightweight design lacks the same metal build quality as the A6400, but you do still get a tilt LCD screen plus an EVF tucked into the corner.

Later models especially offer improved the autofocus and video performance, but for those on a shoestring and focused on photography, the A6000 makes sense.


  • Sharp pictures
  • Large LCD screen
  • Great in the hand
  • Quick AF


  • HD video only, not 4K
  • Discontinued

Best Fujifilm camera for students: Fujifilm X-S10

Best cameras for photography students. Michael Topham / AP

The X-S10 is an affordable gateway into the X system. Photo credit: Michael Topham

At a glance:

  • 26.1MP APS-C sensor
  • 3in vari-angle touchscreen
  • 5-axis in-body stabilisation
  • RRP 949 with 15-45mm XC lens

A step-up from the stylish Fujfilm X-T30 II, the Fujifilm X-S10 offers the extra power under the hood that you get from the former flagship X-T4 (which was one of the best APS-C mirrorless cameras available until the likes of the X-T5 arrived), but without the larger weather-sealed body.

A capable performer, you get beautiful 26.1MP still images with special thanks to some excellent X-mount lenses, a highly competitive 4K video performance, plus in-body stabilisation so you can ditch the tripod.

Like most Fujfilm cameras, the X-S10 looks the part and in this case has a larger-than-normal handgrip that we love, however you don’t get the dedicated retro dials for manual exposure.

If autofocus performance is important there are better alternatives, but for students, you’ll struggle to get more bang for your buck.


  • Fujifilm image quality
  • In-body stabilisation
  • Large grip


  • No d-pad control on the rear
  • Better AF elsewhere
  • Not weather-sealed

Best smartphone upgrade for students: Olympus OM-D E-M10 IV

Best smartphone upgrade for students: Olympus OM-D E-M10 IV 

Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV

At a glance:

  • 20.3MP Micro Four Thirds sensor
  • 3in tilt touchscreen
  • 2.36m-dot EVF
  • 5-axis in-body stabilisation
  • RRP £679 body-only, £779 pancake lens kit

The leap from smartphone to a ‘proper’ camera for photography can be intimidating, but Olympus makes that transition as easy as possible in the E-M10 IV. It offers a selfie touchscreen, easy button layout, bluetooth connectivity with easy-to-use app for loading pictures and remote control of the camera.

Crucially, image quality is a step up, especially with the host of high-quality and affordable Micro Four Thirds lenses available and a class leading image stabilisation for sharp handheld images in low light.

The camera is missing a mic input so there are better options out there for those looking at getting into video, but for photographers the E-M10 IV delivers, at an honest price.


  • Selfie touchscreen
  • Easy step-up for smartphone users
  • Small body and lenses
  • Great value


  • Small sensor
  • No mic input

Most stylish mirrorless camera for students: Nikon Z fc

Most stylish mirrorless camera for students: Nikon Z fc 

Nikon Z fc with a 16-50mm DX lens

At a glance: 

  • Design based on the legendary Nikon FM2
  • 20.9MP APS-C sensor
  • 4K video with no crop
  • Continuous AF tracking
  • RRP £1089 with 16-50mm VR lens

There are three Nikon Z mirrorless cameras fitted with an APS-C sensor, and they are all available with the excellent 16-50mm kit lens and share much of the same technology.

Where each camera differs is how they look and consequently the shooting experience. The Nikon Z fc is our pick as a stunning modern day take on the Nikon FM2, which is a 30-year-old film SLR. But don’t let its retro looks deceive you, the Z fc is a camera for today, with a 20.9MP sensor, 11fps burst, continuous tracking AF, 4K video with no crop, plus flip-out touchscreen.

The Z fc is also excellent value – nowhere else will you find a camera at this price with shutter speed, ISO and exposure compensation dials. It’s new tech, retro feel and good for students to learn the basics about exposure.

Where’s the rub? Well, the Z fc isn’t weather-sealed and there aren’t many native APS-C lenses for the Z system. The Z fc will work with full-frame lenses but wide-angle shooters only really have that kit lens.


  • Stunning looks
  • High-quality kit lens
  • Flip-out touchscreen
  • Good value


  • Not weather-sealed
  • Very limited lens choice

Best full-frame mirrorless camera for under £1000: Sony a7 II

Sony Alpha 7 II with Zeiss lens

The Alpha 7 II is a versatile full-frame camera that can be bought used at a fraction of its initial price.

At a glance:

  • 24MP full-frame CMOS sensor
  • 5-axis stabilisation
  • 3in tilt LCD
  • £900 new

Full-frame used to be the stomping ground for professionals; expensive, robust build quality and dedicated controls galore. In 2023 however, there are many budget-friendly mirrorless options in this sensor format, including the Panasonic Lumix S5 (now updated with a Mark II version), Nikon Z5, Canon EOS R, plus the Sony a7 II (now twice updated).

Now it might not have the same video-friendly features given it’s age, but for student photographers we can still recommend the Sony a7 II all these years on, especially as it can be found for £900 new.

Yes even now, 24MP stills, a 2.4m-dot EVF, 117-point phase detection AF and 5fps all in a compact magnesium alloy shell is nothing to sniff at. Sony’s full-frame mirrorless cameras also benefit from a wide choice of lenses, including a host of great value third party options. The a7 II is a great gateway for students into a hugely popular system regularly updated with the latest tech.


  • Robust and weather-sealed
  • Small and powerful
  • Low light image quality


  • LCD screen is not touch sensitive
  • Two updates old
  • Full HD video only

Highest performing mirrorless camera under £1000: Canon EOS R10

Best cameras under £1000: Canon EOS R10

At a glance:

  • 24.2MP APS-C CMOS sensor
  • New RF-S lens format
  • 23FPS
  • £999 with 18-45mm lens

In our review of the EOS R10, we concluded that its autofocus and continuous shooting performance are in a different league to any other camera at this price point.

Fast and accurate AI-based subject detection AF system borrowed from the flagship EOS R3 with 23FPS is nothing to sniff at for £1,000. Image quality and overall handling also impress in this camera that can recognise subjects ranging from humans, animals and vehicles.

It’s not all good news, however. The EOS R10 has very few lenses to choose from the buffer isn’t huge, while its viewfinder is a little small for our liking. This is a camera system in its infancy. But if Canon launches lenses that can realise the potential of the EOS R10, then exciting things lie ahead.


  • Quick Autofocus
  • Great for action photography
  • Decent form factor


  • Not nearly enough native lenses yet
  • Small viewfinder
  • No in-body stabilisation

Blow the student loan: Leica M11

Leica M11

The M11 also comes in this silver version, which is 110g heavier than the black model.

At a glance:

  • 61MP full-frame CMOS sensor
  • 3in fixed touchscreen
  • Electronic shutter
  • RRP £7,500 body-only

Want to blow the student loan in a single moment?* How about the Leica M11? Not strictly a mirrorless or DSLR camera rather a rangefinder, the Leica M-11 is north of £7,000 body-only, plus the lenses aren’t exactly cheap either.

This certified Apple accessory boasts the highest resolution of any full-frame Leica camera, with ISO 64-5000 sensitivity. That 61MP sensor delivers stunning image quality and unleashes cropping potential so you can get more from your pictures.

If you’re unsure of what a rangefinder is, the shooting experience is altogether different to mirrorless and DSLRs, namely the manual focus process which you’ll either love or hate! One for photography ‘purists’, if the experience isn’t to your taste or you need to recoup the outlay, the M11 will sell on close to its RRP.


  • High resolution pictures
  • Outstanding build quality
  • Holds its value


  • Expensive
  • Focusing takes longer to perfect

*not recommended

Text by Tim Coleman, with contributions from Jon Stapley.

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