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Best cameras for beginners 2023: Top picks for learning photography

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Capture the perfect picture with our round-up of the best cameras for beginners

Given the widespread availability of smartphones, it’s easy to assume that your phone’s camera is all you need to capture images. However, the best cameras for beginners have more controls and bigger sensors. Maybe you’ve been using your smartphone but would prefer an actual camera to hold. Perhaps you’ve been shooting with a compact automatic camera but want to learn more about manual photography. Whatever your reasons, we’ve got a camera to suit.

There’s a wide selection of cameras available, with mirrorless cameras increasingly overtaking digital SLRs in the popularity stakes. Many of our recommendations are mirrorless cameras, which are smaller, lighter, better for video and give a good idea of how the finished shot will appear as you take it. Seeing in real-time how changing your settings can affect the exposure is a godsend for beginners.

In this guide, we’ve put together our pick of the best cameras for beginners. Each of these cameras comes with a bundled kit lens, which we would recommend to those just starting their photography journey. Not sure what you’re looking for? We’ve also compiled a buying guide to help you narrow your choices.

How to choose the best beginner’s camera for you

With so many cameras on the market, how do you decide what to choose? We’ve compiled a buying guide of things you should consider and tested the cameras so you don’t have to.

How much should I spend?

Cameras are not the cheapest items, but they last years and are worth investing in. We have options from just under £500 to just over £1,000.

What should I look for in a camera?

There are so many bells and whistles on modern cameras that it can be difficult for beginners to decide what’s important. Here are some of the things you should look for:

Manual settings – If you’re investing in a decent camera, you must ensure it will grow with you. So, the most important thing to check is that the camera has a manual mode that allows you to control the exposure triangle (ISO, shutter speed, aperture). Being able to adjust your settings manually gives you control over the images. The aperture also controls depth of field, which is one of the most important things to get right when taking a photograph.

Size and ergonomics – How a camera feels in your hands is something that many people overlook. Much of this is personal preference, but you also need to consider your hand size and finger dexterity. A small camera is no good for someone with big hands or arthritic fingers. Conversely, people with smaller hands may not like a large camera because they might be unable to reach all of the necessary features. Consider weight as well – ensure you’re comfortable with the camera’s size and if you’ll still be comfortable at the end of a day’s shooting.

Sensor size – Digital cameras use a sensor to record images – think of a sensor as a replacement for the film used in older film cameras. There are various sensor sizes on the market. In general, the larger the sensor, the better the image quality (some cameras outperform their sensor size). The main sensor sizes are full frame (the equivalent of a 35mm negative size), APS-C (either 1.5x or 1.6x smaller than full frame), micro four-thirds (half as big as a full frame) and 1in or smaller (generally found in compact cameras).

Image quality – It’s hard to judge the image quality of a camera without using it, which is why we’ve done the testing for you. Remember that much of the image quality comes down to the lens you’re using with the camera, and while the kit lenses we’ve included here aren’t bad, they will never be as good as a more expensive zoom or a decent prime lens. We would recommend investing in a 50mm (or equivalent for your camera’s sensor size) as these lenses are reasonably affordable and have a large fixed aperture (f1.8 or f1.4).

Autofocus – All our cameras have autofocus, but you want one that can focus quickly and has plenty of AF (autofocus) points to choose from. A decent tracking mode for moving subjects is essential. It is also useful having some fps (frames per second) rate, where you can take several photos in a row by holding down the shutter button.

Video mode – It’s useful to have the option to shoot video whether or not you intend to use it. However, many smartphones record video at 4K resolution, so you may not want a bulkier camera just to shoot the odd video. If you’re planning to shoot video, look for a camera with a decent frame rate – 24fps and 30fps are standard, while 60fps and higher is perfect for slow motion. Image stabilisation is essential if you want to shoot without a tripod, and 4K video offers more resolution and better image quality. You’ll want to have an external mic input, and a rotating LCD is helpful for tricky filming angles.

Other factors – A long battery life is helpful, but you can always buy a spare battery (in fact, we would recommend this). A guide mode that displays helpful teaching hints on the screen is handy for beginners, as is a touch screen. We’re big fans of eye/face tracking autofocus, but this isn’t available on all cameras. Lastly, a camera that performs well at high ISOs is handy if you plan to shoot in low light.

How we test cameras for beginners

Our lead tester is a professional photographer who has tested many cameras over their career, meaning they could assess which ones would be most suitable for beginners. The cameras were tested under various lighting conditions and settings. We tested performance across a variety of different genres of photography, including portraits, landscapes and moving subjects. We also looked at the autofocus system in detail and shot in manual and automatic modes to see how the cameras performed. Finally, we assessed the controls and menus for ease of use, looking for camera models that beginners would find easy to understand.

READ NEXT: Best tripod

The best cameras for beginners to buy in 2023

1. Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV: Best overall

Price when reviewed: £720 | Check price at Amazon

best camera for beginners Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IVThis Olympus camera is the most compact and lightweight system on the market, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a simple camera. It’s incredibly advanced, packed with features, stylish and good looking.

The 20.3MP image sensor offers less resolution than some of its rivals. It uses a micro four-thirds sensor, but you’d never guess this from the image quality. This camera hands down beats many of its competitors for the sheer detail and quality it produces. We think it produces some of the best stills on the market.

The kit comes with a 14-42mm, f3.5 – f5.6 lens that’s perfectly adequate, though we would recommend upgrading this to get the full benefit of the system. The camera is easy to hold, with an ergonomic grip, while the button layout is simple and easy to follow. There’s also a flip-down LCD touchscreen and an excellent autofocus system with plenty of AF points and face recognition.

Tracking AF is decent as well. The camera borrows the in-body stabilisation of Olympus’ E-M1 cameras, which is superb. There are also some fun filters to try, such as cross processing, and an Advanced Photo mode for techniques such as long exposures and live composite. This is a fantastic little camera for beginners.

Key details – Sensor size: Micro four-thirds; Resolution: 20.3MP; Autofocus: 121-point Contrast Detection AF; Screen: 3in, 180-degree tilting touchscreen, 1,037k dots; Viewfinder: EVF, 2,360k dots; Max shooting speed: 8.7fps; Max video resolution: 4K UHD

2. Panasonic LUMIX DC-G100: Best budget camera for beginners

Price when reviewed: £699 | Check price at Amazonbest camera for beginners Panasonic LUMIX DC-G100

Like the Olympus above, the Panasonic G100 has a micro four-thirds sensor, 20.3MP and comes packaged in a compact body. It’s heavier than the Olympus, though it’s still very light and well put together. There’s a decent array of buttons, including a dial for adjusting aperture and shutter speed, but there are no dedicated buttons for ISO or white balance.

Much of this is because the G100 is primarily targeted at vloggers. The camera has 4K/30p video recording, albeit with a crop, a video selfie mode, a social media frame marker and a dedicated button to transfer your videos and shots directly to your smartphone for uploading. There’s also Nokia’s Ozo Audio included on the G100’s three internal microphones, with clear sound, picked up no matter where it comes from. The kit we’ve linked to comes with the 12-32mm f3.5 – f5.6 lens and a tripod grip with buttons to trigger stills or video and can be used as either a selfie stick or a traditional mini tripod.

With all this, you might wonder if it’s good at shooting stills. The answer is yes, with well-balanced exposures and accurate colours, even with automatic white balance. It’s a great camera to chuck in your pocket for a day out, and its small size and extensive lens range make it a good choice for your travels. We did feel that the battery compartment was a little flimsy and that the low-light performance could be better. While its RRP is £699, you can often find it on Amazon for under £600.

Key details – Sensor size: Micro four-thirds; Resolution: 20.3MP; Autofocus: 49-point Contrast Detection AF; Screen: 3in, free angle touchscreen, 1,840k dots; Viewfinder: EVF, 3,680k dots; Max shooting speed: 10fps; Max video resolution: 4K UHD

3. Nikon Z fc: Best beginner’s camera for style

Price when reviewed: £1,049 | Check price at John Lewisbest camera for beginners Nikon Z fc

If you’re old enough to remember film cameras (as our tester very much is), you’ll likely be as enchanted by the Nikon Z fc’s looks as they were. It is a beautiful replica of Nikon’s classic FM2 film camera. There are dials for ISO, shutter speed and exposure compensation and a lens control ring that you can customise between aperture and focus control. Essentially it’s the perfect camera for learning to shoot manually, as all the controls are so easily accessible on the dials.

Despite its heftier size compared with cameras such as the Olympus and Panasonic, the Z fc is surprisingly light and incredibly portable. This kit also comes with a fixed 28mm f2.8 lens, giving you a 42mm equivalent field of view perfect for family portraits, candid snaps and vlogging. Underneath its looks, the Nikon Z fc is the same as the Z50, meaning it has that camera’s 20.9MP APS-C sensor and hybrid autofocus system. You’ll get beautifully detailed stills, and we were also impressed by how well the camera performed in low light, retaining detail without unbearable amounts of noise. You’ve also got decent video performance with 4K/30p. Our only niggles are that the battery compartment again felt a little flimsy and that there’s a lack of native lenses.

Key details – Sensor size: APS-C; Resolution: 20.9MP; Autofocus: 209-point AF; Screen: 3in, vari-angle touchscreen, 1,040k dots; Viewfinder: EVF, 2,360k dots; Max shooting speed: 11fps; Max video resolution: 4K UHD

Check price at John Lewis

4. Canon EOS R10: Best beginner’s camera for autofocus

Price when reviewed: £829 | Check price at Amazonbest camera for beginners Canon R10

With a 651-area AF system, you would be hard-pressed to get a shot out of focus with the R10. It’s an ideal camera for beginners to learn about focusing; the AF tracking is exceptional and intuitive, helping those starting out to capture sharp action shots. There’s also a fast burst speed of 15fps and a mechanical shutter to help capture movement.

The camera is compact but still resembles Canon’s SLR and DSLR designs. It comes with an 18-45mm f4.5 – f6.3 lens, which gives you a good focal length range to experiment with, though the maximum aperture is sadly lacking. Again, we would recommend upgrading this lens when possible. The dual-control dials are easy to use and make it simple to adjust your settings.

There’s no in-body stabilisation so the R10’s abilities are more limited once it’s dark. But image quality is excellent, with a 24.2MP resolution, and you’ll find plenty of details in the shadows. We think the Canon controls are some of the easiest to get to grips with on the market, but we would like to see more native lenses for the camera.

Key details – Sensor size: APS-C; Resolution: 24.2MP; Autofocus: 651-area AF; Screen: 2.95in, articulated touchscreen, 1,040k dots; Viewfinder: EVF, 2,360k dots; Max shooting speed: 15fps (mechanical), 25fps (electronic); Max video resolution: 4K at 60p

5. Ricoh GR III X: Best compact camera for beginners

Price when reviewed: £999 | Check price at Amazonbest camera for beginners Ricoh GR IIIx

If you don’t want a camera with interchangeable lenses or size is an issue, then the Ricoh GR III X may be the camera for you. This compact camera can fit in your pocket yet has full manual controls and a big APS-C sensor. There’s also a 26.1mm f2.8 that gives you a 40mm equivalent field of view which is perfect for shooting everything from street scenes and landscapes to portraits and candid shots.

Twin dials allow you to make exposure changes, including exposure compensation. You can also push the rear dial for quick access to picture style, focus mode, metering, file format and screen brightness. It is easy to knock this dial, so watch out for accidentally changed settings.

The image quality is excellent for such a compact camera. It even performs well at high ISOs. Focus-wise, there’s a handy Snap Focus mode for a predetermined focus distance, starting at one metre and going up in half-metre increments, and a useful pin-point touch autofocus mode. Tracking AF isn’t great though, and you may find it a bit laggy.

There’s no viewfinder or built-in flash, and the rear screen is fixed. Video is also limited to full HD and you can’t attach a mic. We think the fixed lens and small size of the camera make it perfect for honing your photography and creative skills. The battery life isn’t great and you will need to carry a spare one.

Key details – Sensor size: APS-C; Resolution: 24.2MP; Autofocus: Hybrid AF; Screen: 3in, fixed touchscreen, 1,030k dots; Viewfinder: N/A; Max shooting speed: 4fps; Max video resolution: Full HD

6. Fujifilm X-T30 II: Best everyday camera for beginners

Price when reviewed: £1,199 | Check price at Amazonbest camera for beginners Fujifilm X-T30

The original X-T30 was launched as a ‘lite’ version of Fujifilm’s X-T3, with a more travel friendly body and similar specs to the more expensive camera. This version offers a few tweaks, mainly behind the scenes. The camera has appealing retro looks and its 18-55mm f2.8 – f4 lens is one of the more superior kit lenses on the market with an excellent variable aperture range.

The autofocus system is excellent, and this Mark II version has a new algorithm that’s more effective at tracking subjects – it’s not perfect but does well with simple subjects. The focusing also works well in low light, which can be tricky for cameras, and we were impressed with this function. Our tester hasn’t always been impressed with Fujifilm’s focusing capabilities, particularly in the brand’s early digital days, so this was a good improvement.

We were disappointed that the screen only tilts and at the lack of in-body stabilisation. The design is similar to the Nikon Z fc above; with dials for shutter speed and exposure compensation and the aperture being controlled on the lens (or by one of the dual-control dials on the front and rear of the camera if your lens doesn’t have an aperture ring).

You’ll get accurate skin tones and vibrancy with this camera. Fujifilm cameras also come with film simulation modes that allow you to replicate the films of old. These are great fun to play around with and, on the X-T30 II, you’ll get all the usual suspects, such as Fuji Provia and Fuji Velvia, along with more stylised options like the ETERNA Bleach Bypass. It’s not the best camera we’ve tested for shooting with high ISOs, but you’ll get great images until around ISO6400.

Key details – Sensor size: APS-C; Resolution: 26.1MP; Autofocus: 651-area AF; Screen: 3in, tilting touchscreen, 1,620k dots; Viewfinder: EVF OLED, 2,360k dots; Max shooting speed: 8fps (mechanical), 20fps (electronic); Max video resolution: 4K UHD

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