Getting started in photography can be hard and expensive. However, to get started you don’t need the best quality camera or the most up-to-date model. When you are starting it is best to have a camera that is simple to understand and set up but at the same time gives you really good photographs.
Whether you are looking for your first camera for travel photography or are starting to get interested in photographing wildlife, your choices for a first camera are very similar.
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Summary of the best cameras for beginners
This is not the definitive guide to buying a camera as that would be overwhelming. This is a bite-size introduction to camera buying which will hopefully be the start of your journey. There are so many options out there that I have kept it simple and included just one from each of the following categories of camera.
|Camera||Type||Megapixels||Optical zoom||Lenses||Manual control||Weight||Price|
|iPhone 14 Pro||Smartphone||48||3x||No||With apps||206g||Amazon|
|Canon G7 X MarkIII||Compact||20.1||4.2x||No||Full||304g||Amazon|
|Sony Alpha a6100||Mirrorless||24.2||3.1x||16-50mm||Full||403g||Amazon|
|Olympus Tough TG-6||Underwater||12||4x||No||Full||250g||Amazon|
|Akaso Brave 7 LE||Adventure||20||No||No||No||155g||Amazon|
|Canon IXUS 185||Kids||20||16x||No||No||130g||Amazon|
Things to consider when buying your first camera
- Image Quality
- Feel and Appearance
- Weight and Size
- Optical Zoom
- Manual Control
- Latest models
When you are choosing your first camera there are so many options that it can be confusing. Prices spiral and before you know it you will need a mortgage to pay for everything you want.
My advice is to start simple and build once you know whether you enjoy having a camera and what you like to photograph. I have a few cameras but my little Canon SX600HS is always in my bag and gives me great shots when I want a bit more than my phone!
Image Quality and Megapixels
Image quality is how good the picture will look when printed. For use on social media and printing your memories all the cameras included here will give you great image quality. However, if you want huge prints then you may need to look at the number of pixels and the sensor size. These two factors will alter how much light is detected by the camera and ultimately how good your photograph will look when printed.
Megapixels are becoming less important and any camera with over 12MP is perfectly fine for most situations that a beginner may encounter.
The ultimate question is – will this camera give me a better photograph than my phone? While this seems daft and obvious, some of the really cheap cameras really don’t give you photographs that are worth looking at.
How It Feels and Looks
While appearances aren’t everything having a camera that feels good to hold can make all the difference between wanting to take it out and wanting to leave it in the car. If you can look at and hold the camera you want to purchase. Think about how it feels – are the buttons too close together, does your nose keep pushing the touch shutter control, is it too small or too big to hold?
Similarly, do you want a discreet-looking camera? If so then a bright red camera is not really going to work. Are you going to be using it in wild wet conditions? Then maybe looking for weather sealing or a chunky build will be better for you.
While it isn’t always easy to find a camera shop nearby, ordering on Amazon and checking the terms of the return means you can feel and look at a number of cameras. Alternatively, there are some good camera hire companies to try before you buy. My favourite is Lenses for Hire.
Weight and Size
This needs careful consideration. Are you going to be using your camera while walking the dog and need it to fit in a pocket? Will you be taking your camera up a mountain and need to keep weight to a minimum? Do you have a medical condition that makes holding large or small objects difficult? All of these factors should be considered. If you opt for a DSLR or a mirrorless camera as well as the weight of the body you will need to add on the weight of the lens. Some of the larger lenses can weigh over 2kg making the cameras heavy to lug around.
The optical zoom in a compact camera describes how much of the surrounding area or how close you get to your subject without moving your position. This is in a similar way to adjusting the zoom on a normal camera lens. The larger the optical zoom, the greater the range your lens has. If you are interested in wildlife then you may want to consider a camera with a larger zoom than general landscapes or street photography.
If you are looking at a DSLR or a mirrorless camera you will need to look at the lenses that are available. Most cameras come with the option to purchase them with a kit lens. These are a great place to start and will help you explore what your camera can do and what you like to photograph before spending potentially £1000’s on a lens.
Even if you are buying a camera with a kit lens, look at the range of lenses available from the manufacturer. Canon, Nikon and Sony lenses are designed to work on their camera bodies. Once you have a number of lenses it is harder and more expensive to switch brands.
When you are starting out with a camera using auto mode is the easiest option. However, as your skills improve you will find that you want to set your own exposures to make the camera do what you want, not what it thinks you want. Buying a camera with the option to set some or all of the exposures yourself and override the autofocus is worth considering at the beginning. You don’t have to use them immediately but it gives you space to grow into your camera.
While it is tempting to purchase an older model, this can be a false economy. Cameras are progressing at such a rapid rate that getting the most recent model will give you the best quality images and the most up-to-date software. If your budget does not allow you to get the most recent model, only ever consider one earlier model. Any older than this and you will find that the model will be dated and will be frustrating when you try to do the things you see are possible with the newer model.
Where to buy your first camera
While it is tempting to go for a nice cheap camera on eBay or social media unless you know the seller this is an absolute minefield. Cameras are delicate pieces of kit and while they can look perfect on first inspection any faults may become obvious once it is too late to get a refund.
I always recommend you buy your first camera from either a high street shop or from an online seller with a good reputation and a clear refund and support policy.
In the UK I suggest John Lewis or London Camera Exchange for shops where you can go and try the camera out. If you are lucky to have a little local independent camera shop then this would be my first choice above anything else. Jessops used to be my favourite for a high street browse but their shops are slowly disappearing.
Online the best options are WEX, Amazon, Park Cameras, Jessops or Ffordes. I have used all of these suppliers and have been really happy with the service provided.
Best cameras for beginners – reviews
Below you will find a brief summary of what to look for when selecting a camera for a specific use and then a summary of the key features of each camera. This is not a definitive list and is designed to be a starting point to take your research and purchases forward.
Favourite smartphone camera – iPhone 14 Pro
A smartphone can be the perfect introduction to photography for many people. These small but very clever phones can take amazing photographs and can have more features than some of the budget-friendly compact cameras.
If you are into sharing your images on social media then a phone is the perfect option as you have all of the apps you need in one place.
A smartphone can also be a cost-effective option. Most people own a smartphone and by combining your camera and phone in one device you are saving money, chargers and the number of devices you are carrying.
The iPhone is my choice of smartphone for photography as it has one of the best cameras and can integrate well with all your other devices. Syncing between devices is easy and the iCloud backup works flawlessly.
Learn more about the Apple iPhone 14 Pro HERE
Key Features of the iPhone 14 Pro for Photography
- 6.1-inch Super Retina display with a more responsive feel
- The cinematic mode adds shallow depth of field and shifts focus automatically in your videos
- Three camera styles can be selected – Telephoto, Wide, and Ultra Wide
- Macro, night and portrait modes are all easy to use
- 4K Dolby Vision HDR recording
- Up to 23 hours of video playback which means you aren’t charging all the time
Disadvantages of the iPhone 14 Pro
- Quite expensive
- Tied to Apple so not everyone’s first choice
- Apps limited to those in the Apple Store
- Doesn’t like cold temperatures meaning the battery life vanishes
Alternatives to the iPhone 14 Pro
An iPhone isn’t for everyone, so if you are not an Apple fan then you may want to consider
- Google Pixel 7
- Samsung Galaxy S23
Best compact camera for beginners – Canon G7X Mark III
A compact camera is the first step up from a smartphone camera. these cameras as the name suggests are compact and small and are sometimes known as point-and-shoot cameras.
These small cameras are much easier to operate than the larger mirrorless cameras and DSLRs and often have great features to help you get photographs easily without having to use the manual mode or understand the settings for taking a photograph.
The big advantage over a smartphone is the zoom range. Many have fantastic built-in zooms that help you to photograph objects that are some distance away from you.
Look at the Canon G7X Mark III HERE
Features of the Canon G7X Mark III
- 20.1MP images from a larger sensor
- 24mm f/1.8-2.8 wide-angle lens and 4.2x optical zoom
- 30fps meaning that you can burst shoot and get lots of images (ideal for fast-moving situations)
- Capture highly-detailed 4K Video
- LCD Touchscreen flips up to make vlogs and selfies easy
- USB charging lets you top up on the move
- Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for remote camera control and wireless image transfer meaning you don’t need extra cables
- Live stream to your YouTube channel using your smartphone
Disadvantages of the Canon G7X Mark III
- No viewfinder which takes some getting used to
- Lots of options on the menu screens which can be confusing
- There can be some focus issues when you are using the video mode
Alternative Compact Cameras to the G7X Mark III
- Sony RX100VII – gives even more zoom
- Panasonic LUMIX DC-TZ90EB-K – similar zoom as the Sony but with more pixels
Best mirrorless camera for beginners – Sony Alpha a6100
A mirrorless camera is like a traditional DSLR but relies on digital technology to take photographs including producing the image you see through the viewfinder.
Mirrorless cameras have larger sensors than compact cameras which means the amount of light reaching the sensor for each photograph is increased. The larger sensor gives you more flexibility in exposure settings and cropping if needed after you have taken your photograph.
Like a DSLR, mirrorless cameras have interchangeable lenses which makes them much more flexible. However, this does increase the cost depending on the lens you choose to purchase. All of the mirrorless cameras come with ‘kit’ lenses which are a great place to start while you work out what you want to photograph and the lens that will work best for you.
Look at the Sony Alpha a6100 HERE
Features of the Sony Alpha a6100
- APS-C sensor (the same as you would find in a DSLR)
- Fast auto-focus making it good for fast-moving birds
- Titling touch screen, perfect for low-level photography
- WiFi to help with image transfer
Disadvantages of the Sony Alpha a6100
- No weather sealing – if this is important have a look at the a6600
- A huge range of lens options can be confusing
Alternatives to the Sony Alpha a6100
- Canon M200 – a good starter mirrorless camera
- Nikon Z50 – more expensive than the Canon M200 but has different lens options
Best DSLR camera for beginners – Nikon D5600
A DSLR (Digital single-lens reflex) is the largest of the camera types and what most people think of as a ‘traditional’ camera with interchangeable lenses.
DSLR cameras come with either an APS-C sensor or a full-frame sensor. Having an APS-C sensor can have advantages meaning that your standard lenses will give a longer reach when compared to the full frame. The full frame however has a number of advantages that can be read about here.
When selecting a DSLR you will need to consider the ISO range, especially if you want to start astrophotography or will be photographing in low light like indoors or in bad weather conditions.
Many DSLR cameras come with weather sealing meaning they are not damaged in light rain and drizzle. This is a big consideration if like me you are out with your camera in all weather.
It is also worth thinking about the future when you buy a DSLR. Once you start buying lenses which are the important part and make the most difference to your photographs (beyond you being an amazing photographer) you are financially tied to the maker. Look at all manufacturers, and their lens selection and think about how you may ‘grow into’ their range of lenses.
Look at the Nikon D5600 HERE
Features of the Nikon D5600
- 24Megapixel APS-C sensor
- Small compact design
- Huge range of excellent lenses to choose from
- Rotating screen allows photographs from all angles while being able to see the screen
- Snapbridge feature allows you to view photographs on your smartphone as you take them
Disadvantages of the Nikon D5600
- The slightly less robust feeling when compared to other DSLR cameras
- No 4k video but can shoot up to 60fps at 1080px
Alternatives to the Nikon D5600
- Canon EOS 2000D – this is the camera I purchased for my boys when they wanted their first DSLR. Great starter if you prefer Canon
- Pentax 1599301 K-1 II – finding a DSLR that isn’t made by Canon or Nikon is quite difficult. One option is Pentax, but do check the lens options available
Best underwater camera for beginners – Olympus Tough TG-6
Underwater photography is a whole different world from the normal choice of cameras. It can get very expensive very quickly and is one of the easiest types of photography to have a ‘mishap’.
When choosing an underwater camera you need to consider how deep you are going to go with the camera. Below certain depths, the pressure increase may cause problems to the camera including crushing the body or breaking the seals.
If you are just snorkelling then any of these cameras are good, but if you are going to dive then you are much better off choosing a camera and specialised underwater housing. The cameras listed here are good to 15 metres which for many divers is not enough depth.
Check out camera housing for use underwater HERE
When choosing an underwater camera you also need to consider how easy the controls are to use. You may have cold fingers or not be able to see the controls clearly and this means that anything complicated or fiddly is not going to work well.
Some underwater cameras come with underwater mode which can be helpful but is not essential.
Find out about the Olympus Tough TG-6 HERE
Features of the Olympus Tough TG-6 Underwater Camera
- Waterproof to 15metres
- Dust-proof, shatterproof, frostproof – pretty much indestructible
- Good as a land camera as well as an underwater camera
- 4K video
- WiFi is useful when you are wet or there is dust and sand around
- Underwater housing for additional protection
Disadvantages of the Olympus Tough TG-6
- Only 12 Megapixels – not awful but significantly lower than other cameras
- Lots of features that you need to learn to get the most from the camera
Alternatives to Olympus Tough TG-6
- Rioch WG-80 – a great compact alternative which can be used up to 14metres and includes an underwater mode
Best beginner camera for adventures – Akaso Brave 7 LE
While almost any camera will do for adventures it is often worth looking at the more compact and robust options. Most of the active cameras are very similar in design. Being waterproof, dustproof and shock resistant is absolutely essential for an active adventure camera.
You will usually be using them in wet or fast-moving environments so you need to make sure they are easy to use. No multi-screen jumps to start recording or downloading your images.
You should also check if they have 4K video recording and image stabilisation as this is key to recording your adventures.
Finally, check the accessories they come with and what is available to purchase. Harnesses, bike adaptors, floats and waterproof housings are all essential to make the most of your adventure camera.
Find out more about the Akaso Brave 7 LE
Features of the Akaso Brave 7 LE
- Small and compact with a weatherproof casing
- Can be used up to 40 metres underwater
- 4K video
- Image stabilisation to give gimbal-like stabilisation when you are moving around
- Large range of accessory options
Disadvantages of Akaso Brave 7 LE
- Not as well known as GoPro so some accessory options are not available
- WiFi and app integration can be glitchy
Alternatives to the Akaso Brave 7 LE
- GoPro Hero 11 – the tried and tested active camera favourite but you pay over double the price
Best kids camera – Canon Ixus 185
When choosing a camera for kids there are a number of key factors that are slightly different to buying a camera for an adult (however clumsy they may be!).
Kid’s cameras need to be simple. They need instant results and minimal controls to fiddle with.
Having a basic camera that has lots of preset styles is great. This is sometimes called a creative filter on the description and includes monochrome, miniature (like a toy), super vivid and movie mode.
You should look for cameras that are solid and can take a battering like the Olympus Tough TG-6, although the controls are far more than kids really need.
For younger children looking at the chunky kid’s camera are a great place to start their love of photography from a very young age.
Learn all about the Canon IXUS 185
Features of the Canon IXUS 185
- Simple controls with lots of creative modes
- 20 Megapixels which is more than the other options for kids
- Compact size making it easy to take on any adventure and be ‘looked after’ when not needed
- True point-and-shoot camera with great results
- Choice of colours
- Simple movie mode
- Similar menu options to other Canon cameras make the transition to a new camera easier when they outgrow the IXUS 185
Disadvantages of Canon IXUS 185 for Kids
- Not as robust as some of the other options
- Small and fiddly for younger, smaller hands
Alternatives to the Canon IXUS 185 for Kids
- Instax 16654982 mini 11 Camera – great fun for those who like real photos as this produces small prints straight from the camera
- VTech Kiddizoom – a chunky robust camera for younger kids. Lots of creative modes and stickers to keep them creating for ages
Important things to remember when looking for your first camera
Choosing a camera can be a daunting task, especially for beginners. There are so many different types of cameras on the market, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.
First, you need to decide what type of photography you want to do. If you are interested in taking photos of landscapes, you will need a different type of camera than if you want to take photos of people. Once you know what type of photography you want to do, you can start to narrow down your choices.
Another important factor to consider is your budget. Cameras can range in price from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. It is important to set a budget before you start shopping so that you do not overspend.
Finally, you need to think about the features that are important to you. Some cameras have features such as image stabilization, which can help to reduce camera shake. Other cameras have features such as Wi-Fi, which allows you to transfer photos to your computer or smartphone wirelessly.
Once you have considered all of these factors, you will be able to choose the best camera for your needs.
Want to learn more about photography? Read all my Photography Guides