In this guide, we’re helping you find the best cameras under £500 / $500. Picking the right cheap camera can be a trickier task than you might have thought – not all cheap cameras are worth their price tag. Now that everyone has a camera in their pocket in the form of their smartphone, a camera has to offer something special to be worth purchasing. Many of the cheapest point-and-shoots simply do not meet this standard – thus, you won’t see them in this guide.
So what have we included? Well, we’ve taken our extensive experience of testing and reviewing cameras, and have applied it to the market as it exists in 2022. This means our list includes a selection of models from the past few years, including many that are a good deal cheaper than they were at launch. We’ve included both new cameras and ones you’ll likely pick up second-hand – the only rule is, it has to cost around £500 or less, and it has to be worth its asking price.
We’ve included both UK and US prices in this guide. Be aware that changing prices and exchange rates mean that things can and will fluctuate. Some of our choices may nudge over the £500 / $500 mark in one territory or the other – but in general, it won’t be significant.
How to choose the best cameras under £500 / $500
If you’re not sure where to start with choosing your cheap camera, don’t worry. We’ve included the key specs for each model to make it simpler to compare them – and there are a few questions you can ask yourself before you start looking that will make things easier.
To start, one of the first things worth ticking off is figuring out whether you want an interchangeable-lens camera (i.e. a DSLR or a mirrorless camera) or a fixed-lens compact? Interchangeable-lens cameras, as the name implies, allow you to change lenses. If you have another lens of the same mount (e.g. Nikon F, Canon RF, Micro Four Thirds, etc) you can swap it out at will. This gives you a great deal of versatility – but naturally, extra lenses will cost more money.
Compact cameras have a fixed lens that cannot be changed. Sometimes it’s a prime lens, more commonly it’s a zoom. This gives you an all-in-one package that tends to be very affordable, with the downside being restrictiveness. If you buy a compact with a 24-72mm lens, you’ll be never be able to go wider or longer than that focal range.
What’s also worth thinking about is sensor size is also a factor. Cameras have sensors of different physical sizes – larger sensors give you better, richer images, with more detail and better dynamic range (see our guide to APS-C vs full-frame for a detailed rundown). However, as you might have guessed, these cost more, and require physically larger camera bodies to house. And on that subject – how portable do you need your camera to be? Do you want to slip it into a pocket, or is a little extra weight not too much of a concern?
You should look at the resolution of your sensor, which is measured in megapixels (MP). You might think you want as many of these as possible, but this is really only the case if you’re planning to print images, where as many pixels are required as possible. If you only want to share images on social media, then all those pixels will only clog up your cards and hard drives.
Planning to shoot video? We’ve listed the video resolution and frame rate of each camera on this list, as well as whether they have videographer-friendly features like a mic input socket for clean audio.
We’ve laid out the advantages and drawbacks of each camera, drawing on our extensive testing and reviewing experience. So, without further ado, here is our round-up of some of the best budget camera buys currently on the market…
Price: TG-6 kits from £399 / RRP $499
Olympus Tough TG-6 – at a glance
- 12MP 1/2.3-inch image sensor
- 4x optical zoom; 25-100mm (35mm equivalent)
- Waterproof down to 15m
- Shock resistant – 2.1m (dropping from height)
- Crushproof (to 100kg)
- Freezeproof (to -10°C)
- 4K Movie
- 16 scene modes
- Available in black or red
- Measures 66x113mm
For families, intrepid travellers and photographers who drive their kit hard, this tough 12MP compact is ideal – it’s waterproof to 15metres (perfect for snorkelling), can withstand a 2.4metre drop, and is also crushproof and freeze-proof.
As for the camera, you have a versatile 25-100mm equivalent lens, along with a 12MP sensor; while this is not a lot these days in terms of resolution, the TG-6 can also shoot in RAW, to ensure you get the most from this rugged travel companion. Another big attraction is the ability to record 4K and 120fps Full HD video.
The Olympus TG-6 comes with a host of shooting options from 16 different scene modes to an aperture priority setting. The ISO ranges from ISO 100 to 12,800, and the bright F2 lens enables faster shutter speeds for capturing moving subjects, meaning it should be able to cope underwater pretty well.
If you want to take the TG-6 for a deeper dive, the Olympus PT-059 Underwater Housing retails at £279 and enables the TG-6 to go down as far as 45 metres beneath the waves.
- Incredibly tough construction
- Better specs than other tough compacts
- Bright f/2 lens
- Small 1/2.3-inch sensor
Panasonic Lumix TZ100 – at a glance
- 20.1MP 1-inch image sensor
- 10x optical zoom; 25-250mm (35mm equivalent)
- Light Speed DFD AF technology
- 4K Movie
- 5-axis image stabilisation
- 3-inch, rear LCD screen
- Available in grey and silver or black
- Measures 110.5×64.5×44.3mm
- 312g (with battery and card)
The Lumix TZ100 is another handy travel compact with a built-in 10x zoom lens, equivalent to 25-250mm, and an aperture range of f/2.8-5.9. This covers a decent range of wide-angle to telephoto situations, while Panasonic’s Depth From Defocus technology enables fast autofocus.
The Lumix TZ100 is built around a 1-inch, 20.1MP sensor. It’s a really well designed camera that looks especially swish in its grey-and-silver configuration, although an all-black version is also available. Ergonomically, the TZ100 benefits from a small handgrip plus a thumb rest on the back for a secure grip, with all the camera’s buttons clearly labelled and falling within easy reach. We especially like how Panasonic has managed to cram four Function buttons onto the camera, each of which can be assigned to a function you regularly use.
The camera also comes with hybrid optical/electronic 5-axis image stabilisation, which helps to keep images sharp when shooting hand-held or using slower shutter speeds. The main drawback is a rather small electronic viewfinder, though it does offer a 1.16-million-dot resolution, but a 3-inch rear LCD with touch sensitivity further helps with the handling.
You can also record 4K video, process raw files in-camera and access a small pop-up flash. The Panasonic is very compact too, weighing in at just 312g with battery and card. Those looking for a pocketable camera with a powerful zoom, excellent customisation and good image quality need look no further.
- Useful do-it-all zoom lens
- Small and pocketable
- 5-axis stabilisation
- Small electronic viewfinder
Panasonic Lumix GX80 at a glance:
- 16MP Four Thirds sensor, no optical low-pass filter
- ISO 200-25,600 (ISO 100-25,600 extended)
- Dual IS: 5-axis in-body stabilisation working with 2-axis in-lens
- 4K video recording and 4K Photo mode
- 2.76-million-dot equivalent EVF (16:9 aspect ratio)
- 1.04-million-dot 3-inch tilting touchscreen
- New low-vibration shutter: 60sec – 1/4000sec (1sec – 1/16000 sec electronic)
The Lumix GX80 hails from the time when it seemed like Panasonic was bringing out a new enthusiast-focused camera every other day. Those days are certainly over now, but they produced some excellent mid-range choices that are still highly credible today, especially with prices having come down in the intervening years.
The GX80 sports the one-two punch of effective 5-axis stabilisation and high-quality 4K video, making it as fearsome for video as it is for stills. As has been completely standard on Panasonic cameras for a long time, it also offers 4K Photo modes that allow for high-quality stills to be extracted from 4K footage, meaning you effectively have a 30fps burst mode. This was also one of the first cameras to offer Post-focus, Panasonic’s clever feature that allows for an image’s focal point to be selected post-capture (it basically whips through a series of frames at every focal distance, then lets you pick the keeper).
Design-wise, the rangefinder feel of the Lumix GX80 won big with us in our review at the time, and still does today; it’s a comfortable, satisfying camera to hold. The shutter is also quiet, which is handy for street shooting, and we were generally impressed with image quality across the board. That is, until you get to the top ISO settings, which we wouldn’t really recommend using, unless at the utmost end of need.
A throwback of a camera in multiple ways, the Lumix GX80 makes for a superb sub-£500 buy.
- Great ergonomics and handling
- Clever 4K burst features
- Price has come down
- No mic socket for video
Sony RX100 III – at a glance
- 20.1MP Exmor image sensor
- 24-70mm zoom, f/1.8-2.8
- 30cm close focus
- Full HD video
- Built-in ND filter
- 1,440k-dot OLED Tru-Finder
- 3-inch, 1,288,800-dot Xtra Fine TFT LCD ,180º tiltable
- ISO 125-25,600
- Measures 101.6×58.1x41mm
- 290g (with battery and card)
Another versatile and highly portable compact, this Sony model features a 1-inch 20.1MP Exmor sensor and Bionz X image processor, enabling the RX 100 III to deliver a maximum ISO sensitivity of ISO 25,600 while shooting at up to 10fps in its Speed Priority Continuous Shooting mode.
The lens, equivalent to 24-70mm, allows an aperture of f/2.8 to be used at full telephoto, while it can also focus to within 30cm of a subject at the long end of the zoom. The lens’s improved light-gathering capabilities also allows faster shutter speeds to be used to freeze fast-moving subjects. Furthermore, a built-in ND filter makes it easier to use slower shutter speeds in stronger light. There is also a pop-up electronic viewfinder, but video can only be recorded at Full HD, rather than 4K.
Another area Sony has looked to improve the RX100 III is in terms of its viewfinder. Those familiar with the RX100 II will remember the optional, and very expensive, EV1MK electronic viewfinder that was designed to clip onto the camera via the hotshoe and connect via the accessory port. The accessory port and hotshoe have both been removed from the RX100 III and in its place is a pop-up flash that’s raised using a small switch above the screen.
Sony’s answer to clipping a viewfinder onto the body was to produce the first ever premium compact with a pop-up EVF. This rises ingeniously from the corner of the body and helps to keep the body as streamlined as possible. It features a 1,440k-dot resolution and uses a Zeiss T coating to help reduce reflections and deliver excellent edge-to-edge clarity. What’s also impressive is the way Sony’s engineers have designed it, so that it can be used to power up the camera as an alternative to using the On/Off button. With an in-built EVF, it offers the perfect blend of what users want from a premium compact camera.
- Large-aperture lens
- Pop-up EVF
- No 4K
Panasonic Lumix GX880 with 12-32mm lens
Panasonic Lumix GX880 – at a glance
- 16.1MP Micro Four Thirds sensor
- Interchangeable lens system
- Contrast AF System with Depth From Defocus technology
- 4K video at 30p, 25p or 24p
- 5.8fps shooting in high burst mode
- 3-inch, 1040K-dot static type touch control monitor with 180-degree tilt
- Available in black, silver or tan
- Measures 106.5×64.6×33.3mm
- 270g (with battery and card)
Moving on to interchangeable-lens mirrorless models, this attractive Panasonic Lumix camera has a 16.1MP Micro Four Thirds sensor without a low pass filter for better image quality. Since the camera uses a Micro Four Thirds lens mount, you can use a wide variety of MFT lenses from both Panasonic and Olympus, greatly extending the camera’s versatility.
Other useful features include the ability to shoot at up to 5 frames per second in burst mode, and an LCD display that tilts 180º to face the camera user. It’s great for selfies in other words; there are additional modes for taking selfies at night and a wide 4K option, so you can get more of the background into your self-portraits.
A portrait mode enables you to soften your subject’s skin and slim their faces, so this is a great choice for families, travellers and vloggers (it records 4K video and has built-in Wi-Fi). Taking advantage of 4K technology, users can enjoy 4K PHOTO as well as variety of related functions such as Focus Stacking, Post Focus and Light Composition. For more creative freedom, Creative Control, Creative Panorama and Photo Style including L.Monochrome mode are included.
The GX880 is also capable of shooting images in RAW format and developing them inside the camera. For those who are new to digital interchangeable lens system cameras, the Gx880 provides a variety of shooting assist functions such as iA (Intelligent Auto) mode and Scene Guide. All-in-all, it’s a beautiful looking camera with a potent mix of shooting options.
- Tiny for a mirrorless camera
- 180º tilting screen
- Not available in US
- Will be too small for some
Panasonic Lumix TZ90 / ZS70
Panasonic Lumix TZ90 / ZS70 – at a glance
- 20.3MP 1/2.3-in image sensor
- 30x optical zoom; 24-720mm (35mm equivalent)
- Light Speed DFD AF technology
- 4K video (at 30p); 4K PHOTO
- Viewfinder: 0.2-inch, 1,166k-dot device; 100% field of view, 0.46x magnification
- 3-inch, 1040K-dot, touch sensitive rear LCD screen, 180-degree tiltable
- Measures 112×67.3×41.2mm
- 322g (with battery and card)
Panasonic’s travel zoom compact builds on the successes of all that came before it, and if you’re looking for as much zoom as possible in a compact, pocketable camera, then the Panasonic Lumix TZ90 is a great option.
It features a 30x optical zoom (equivalent to a monster 24-720mm range in 35mm format), but in return for that large zoom range, you need to accept that it has a smaller sensor than its one-inch comrade, the TZ100.
It’s arguably the most well-featured superzoom compact on the market and, as well as the huge zoom, you get an built-in electronic viewfinder (albeit small), 4K video shooting, a touch-sensitive screen, manual controls, RAW format shooting and a body which just about fits in your pocket.
A great choice for those looking for something to take on their travels, in low light it suffers by comparison to its larger sensor rivals. If you’re mainly going to be using it on your sunny holidays, you shouldn’t worry too much about that. The Panasonic Lumix TZ90 was updated by the TZ95 with a slightly larger EVF and the addition of Bluetooth, but the TZ90 remains excellent value for money at not much over £300.
- Excellent zoom range
- Useful touchscreen
- Smaller sensor than TZ100
Sony A6000 with 16-50mm lens
Price: from £429 / $648 (with lens)
Sony Alpha 6000 – at a glance
- 24.3-million-pixel Exmor APS HD CMOS sensor
- ISO 100-12,800 (expandable to ISO 25,600)
- Three times faster Bionz X image-processing engine
- 179-point hybrid AF system
- Fast 0.06sec autofocus time
- Full HD video
- 1,440k-dot OLED Tru-Finder with 100% field of view
- 3-inch, 921,600-dot rear LCD ,180º tiltable
- Measures 120x67x45mm
- 278g (body only)
Despite being launched back in the spring of 2014, there is still a lot to like about this mirrorless veteran, especially at this price. It features a 24.3MP Exmor APS HD CMOS sensor, which still delivers reasonably high-resolution images, backed up by an improved Bionz X image processing engine.
This is still a pretty nippy camera too, offering a fast 0.06sec autofocus time and a 179-point hybrid AF system, covering almost 100% of the frame. The Alpha 6000 has 25 precision contrast-detection AF points. The hybrid autofocus system not only makes it easier for the camera to recognise scenes, but it also boosts the ability of the Alpha 6000 to lock onto the correct subjects and track them tenaciously.
In addition, the A6000 can shoot 11fps of RAW+JPEG for 21 frames or 49fps of fine JPEG before it begins buffering. There is also a tilting LCD, a pop up electronic viewfinder with 1.44-million dot resolution providing 100% frame coverage, and Full HD video recording (but not 4K, unfortunately).
Most of the camera’s weight sits in the grip, which houses the battery and memory card, but this is countered by the weight of the lens, making the Alpha 6000 well balanced. It’s comfortable to operate one-handed. Top-spec technology and a host of cutting-edge features have given the Alpha 6000 longevity and keeps it competitive even today.
- Super-fast burst and AF
- Generous shot buffer
- APS-C sensor
- No 4K or mic socket
Panasonic Lumix LX15/LX10
Panasonic Lumix LX15/LX10 – at a glance
- 20MP 1in sensor
- 24-72mm (equiv) f/1.4-2.8 lens
- 3in tilting touchscreen
- ISO 100-12,800 (extendable to ISO 25,600)
- 10 fps shooting
- 4K video recording up to 15 minutes
- Dimensions: 105.5 x 60 x 42mm
- Weight: 310g
The Panasonic Lumix LX15 (or LX10 in North America) is a continuation of a popular line of premium compacts, and it punches above its weight for a camera at this price point. Having a 24-72mm equivalent zoom lens is nice, but the f/1.4-2.8 maximum aperture truly puts it a cut above, making the Lx15 much more suitable for low-light work and portraits.
With focus fixed, the Lx15 can manage continuous shooting at up to 10fps, and even if you turn the autofocus back on, it tops out at a still-impressive 6fps. Panasonic has also incorporated loads of useful features you might nor have expected, like the ability to close focus at distances of just 3cm when the lens is at its wide setting, or 5-axis image stabilisation.
In our review we were impressed by just how much tech Panasonic managed to pack into the Lumix LX15. The lack of a viewfinder will be a strike against the camera for some, but otherwise the on board physical controls make it a highly agile and pleasant camera to use. Having a lens dial, aperture ring, top-plate dial and touchscreen can make the user feel positively spoiled for choice.
In a way, this is sort of a premium, up-market version of the TZ100 listed above. If you’re willing to sacrifice some zoom range for a lens that will give you more versatility in low light, it’s the camera to pick out of those two options.
- f/1.4 is great for low light
- Tactile physical controls
- No viewfinder
Nikon D3500 with 18-55mm VR lens
Price: £489 / $650 (with lens)
Nikon D3500 – at a glance
- 24.2MP APS-C CMOS sensor
- ISO: 100-25,600
- Up to 5 frames per second continuous shooting
- Screen: 3-inch, 921k-dot fixed TFT LCD
- Full HD (1920×1080) at 60p, HD (1080×720)
- AF points: 11-point system
- Viewfinder: Pentamirror type, 0.85x magnification; 95% coverage
- Dimensions: 124×97×69.5mm
- Weight: 415g (including battery and memory card)
Now we move on to budget DSLRs, and this is certainly one of the best options for beginners. While the market momentum is with mirrorless cameras at the moment, DSLRs remain great value and can take a very wide choice of affordable lenses. The D3500 is an APS-C (DX) format DSLR that features a still-very-capable 24.2MP sensor, a decent sensitivity range up to ISO 25,600, and the ability to shoot at up to 5 frames per second.
It also comes with a Guide Mode, which helps beginners figure out the essential functions in order to take better pictures, but there is also full manual control for more confident photographers. For a DSLR, the D3500 is relatively compact and lightweight too, at 365g, and can record full HD video.
Although the sensor has the same effective 24.2MP resolution as Nikon’s earlier D3400 and D5600 cameras, the sensor in the D3500 is an updated version. It does away with an optical low-pass filter to help to maximise the ability of the sensor to resolve fine detail images.
The D3500 is also notable for its a great body design, deep grip and an intuitive layout of controls that make it straightforward to use. You’ll also find a range of Nikon lenses available, with Nikon ‘DX’ lenses being specifically designed for the the camera’s APS-C sensor. The D3500 remains not only a great Nikon DSLR but a great Nikon DSLR full stop.
- Great for beginners
- Huge F-mount lens range
- Solid image quality
- Fairly basic AF system
Canon EOS 200D / Canon Rebel SL2
Canon EOS 200D – at a glance
- 24.1MP APS-C CMOS sensor
- DIGIC 7 image processor
- ISO: 100-25,600 (expandable up to 51,200)
- Up to 5 frames per second continuous shooting
- Screen: 3-inch, 1040k-dot, vari-angle touchscreen LCD
- Full HD video
- Dual Pixel AF system
- Metering: 63 zone dual-layer metering sensor
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi, NFC and Bluetooth
- Dimensions: 122.4×96.2×69.8mm
- Weight: 453g
This is a similar DSLR proposition to the Nikon D3500, featuring a 24.2MP sensor in a refreshingly small and compact body. Other key features include a reasonably versatile 9-point autofocusing system, a 3-inch 920k-dot LCD screen, 3fps continuous shooting and ISO capability of 100-6400 (expandable up to ISO 12,800). It has since been superseded by the Canon EOS 250D, but can still be picked up for a good price on the second-hand market.
The EOS 200D is petite in DSLR terms, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s lacking an impressive set of features. It boasts a good spec for its size and adopts a good number of features found throughout Canon’s DSLR range, including Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology, a vari-angle screen, Wi-Fi and you can record Full HD video.
The 200D presents a fairly basic layout of nine AF points in a diamond formation, with one single cross type in the centre. This arrangement is identical to that of the EOS 100D and presents an AF working range of 0.5EV to 18EV.
As well as offering the full manual shooting control you’d expect from a DSLR, the Canon EOS 200D offers good options for any newcomer to photography in the shape of a Scene Intelligent Auto mode, a selection of Creative Filters, as well as 11 scene modes. All of these beginner-friendly modes are easy to access directly from the mode dial.
As with the Nikon D3500, however, one of the biggest attractions is the option to use a very wide range of compatible and relatively affordable lenses. Overall, it’s a great APS-C format DSLR that won’t break the bank.
- Enormous lens catalogue
- Beginner-friendly auto modes
- Dual Pixel CMOS autofocus
- Limited burst mode
If you have more money to spend, then why not have a look at the best cameras available for under £1000/$1000?