Searching for the best cheap camera you can buy? Thanks to the arrival of smartphones, there are certainly a lot of great options right now. That’s why we’ve drawn on our in-depth testing of all of the best options – new and old – to bring you this guide to the biggest camera bargains, from DSLRs to compacts.
The latest cameras always come with a premium, so it’s always wise to keep an eye on their predecessors to find great value. If you’re happy to forgo features like 4K video and the latest sensors, then previous generation models like the ones below can make great cheap cameras.
We haven’t just looked at older models for this guide, either. Whether you want a compact, mirrorless camera or a DSLR, the list below includes our pick of the latest budget and entry-level models, along with older options that offer similarly great value.
Overall, we think the best cheap camera right now is the Nikon D3500. An entry-level DSLR with an impressive battery life and a capable 24MP APS-C sensor, it also works with a huge range of lenses – perfect for novice photographers just starting out on their shooting journey.
But it’s not necessarily the best choice for everyone. If you want a compact camera or instant camera, then the Sony RX100 III and Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 are our picks in those categories. Our guide below includes a range of camera types, with options to suit every budget and preference, so it’s worth reading all the way through to find the right cheap camera for you.
Best cheap cameras 2020 at a glance:
- Nikon D3500
- Sony Cyber-shot RX100 III
- Sony Cyber-shot WX220
- GoPro Hero 7 White
- Sony A6000
- Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III
- Fujifilm X-A7
- Olympus E-PL9
- Panasonic Lumix ZS100 / TZ100
- Fujifilm Instax Mini 9
- Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / EOS 200D Mark II / EOS 250D
- Nikon D5600
Best cheap cameras in 2020:
The Nikon D3400 was a hugely successful and popular DSLR, and it retained plenty of appeal once the D3500 was introduced, as it managed to offer much the same thing for less money. Now, the D3500 has dropped enough in price to make it the clear best buy. Key changes over the older D3400 include a newly developed APS-C sensor (though still with 24MP) and an even better battery life of 1,550 frames per charge, next to the D3400’s very capable 1,200 shots per charge. You also get a better grip and a slightly redesigned body that’s a bit lighter too. The D3400 is still around and remains an excellent first-time buy, but this newer model just has a slight edge.
This series has now reached its seventh generation, but it’s the RX100 Mark III that currently offers the best value for those looking to upgrade from their smartphone. It was the first model in the series with a built-in electronic viewfinder – a huge boon for shooting in sunny conditions – and it has a large 1-inch sensor, which produces excellent image quality. You also get a tilting screen and a speedy 10fps continuous shooting mode for capturing moving subjects. If you need 4K video or slo-mo video, then it’s worth stretching to the RX100 Mark IV – but the Mark III has recently dropped to some impressively low prices for such a capable, smartphone-beating compact camera.
It might be getting a little grey-haired, but the Sony Cyber-shot WX220 remains a great value compact camera. A fine all-rounder, it offers a great blend of performance, zoom range and decent image quality. And it’s now a certified bargain.
Aimed at smartphone upgraders, the WX220 isn’t one for control freaks. The menu system is convoluted and there are relatively few buttons on its compact body. There’s no thumb rest or front grip, either. Instead, you get a lightweight, tiny shell that will fit in any pocket.
Despite its diminutive proportions, the WX220 still packs a 10x optical zoom – nowhere near the longest, but impressive in such a small model, and longer than most smartphones.
Paired with the 18.2MP CMOS sensor and optical image stabilization, it delivers bright images with great colors and good detail. Look closely and you’ll notice a little image smoothing, especially at long zoom lengths, but nothing that’s noticeable at normal sharing sizes.
A solid performer that ticks plenty of boxes without breaking the bank, the WX220 is well worth a look at current prices.
If you’re looking for a tough, waterproof action sports camera without the heftier price tags of the GoPro Hero 8 Black, then the Hero 7 White is a great option. While you won’t be shooting in 4K and it lacks GoPro’s Linear Mode, it offers the pretty much the same image quality as its more expensive counterparts for far less. The Hero 7 White is remarkably easy to use, with all the mounting accessories from action camera maker available at your disposal. It might also lack GoPro’s signature image stabilization, but it’s still fine when mounted on a bike, for example. The body is waterproof down to 10m (33ft) without any housing, so you can recording your adventures – or misadventures as the case may be – pretty much anywhere too.
Don’t let the price fool you. The A6000 costs the same as other entry-level DSLR and mirrorless cameras, but it’s an advanced and powerful camera that has only dropped to this price through being on the market since 2014. So it may be old, but most of the specification still looks surprisingly fresh today. This includes a 24MP APS-C sensor, a fast hybrid 179-point autofocus system and continuous shooting at 11 frames per second (fps). Its age shows in other areas, though; it only shoots 1080p Full HD video and not 4K, and the screen isn’t touch sensitive. Still, the latter is still the case on many new Sony cameras and the A6000’s high-end features ensure that it’s a camera that will grow with you.
Launched in 2017 but still a current model in its range, the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III remains a very capable mirrorless all-rounder camera that offers superb value for anyone looking for a small but capable DSLR alternative to grow their photography skills or take traveling.
On the face of it, the 16MP resolution looks dated alongside the higher megapixel counts of more recent APS-C rivals, but the Mark III can still deliver excellent results, with decent detail and good noise control.
It more than makes up for that limited resolution in other ways, too. Five-axis in-body image stabilization is very effective, while the OLED electronic viewfinder and 3-inch LCD touchscreen are both impressive for this price. The 121-point autofocus system is swift, too, even if tracking could be better.
All of that, in a retro-style magnesium alloy shell that’s satisfying to hold and still feels premium. With 4K video on-board as well, there are plenty of reasons to consider this mirrorless classic.
Proof that entry-level doesn’t have to be a synonym for underpowered or basic, the Fujifilm X-A7 packs a seriously impressive spec list for an affordable mirrorless camera.
Its hybrid autofocus system isn’t the fastest, but real-world performance is superb, with superlative subject detection and tracking. Images are crisp and sharp with outstanding color reproduction, while noise control is likewise stellar, even as high as ISO 1600.
In the hand, a shallow grip means the X-A7 isn’t especially comfortable to hold for long periods and the position of the joystick makes it tricky to reach with your thumb. Then again, the trade-off is a shell that’s compact, lightweight and stylish, in an old-school sort of way.
Image stabilization would’ve been a welcome addition and some might want a viewfinder, but with 4K video in the mix, the X-A7 stands out as an ideal traveling companion. Set aside those ergonomic niggles and it’s an almost perfect affordable option – and an ideal smartphone upgrade.
It may have since been succeeded by the Olympus Pen E-PL10, but this mirrorless model is almost identical and is now a serious bargain as a result. If you’re looking for a stylish camera that can take smartphone-beating snaps and has a huge range of lenses, the E-PL9 is well worth a look.
One of the benefits of its small, friendly design is that it’s not too intimidating or noticeable, making it ideal for taking people shots or portraits. This does mean the E-PL9 lacks a built-in viewfinder, but those coming from a smartphone won’t miss that, and it does otherwise combine good handling with a straightforward, beginner-friendly menu system.
The E-PL9’s tried-and-tested 16.1MP Live MOS Micro Four Thirds sensor captures nicely rendered shots in most situations. And despite its compact size, its 3-axis image stabilization system is there to give you a helping hand in low light situations. At current prices, there aren’t many interchangeable lens cameras that offer a better range of features than the E-PL9.
Back in 2017, we called the Panasonic TZ100 “the perfect compact camera.” And, while several models have since arrived with superior specs, the TZ100 remains a fantastic option for those after an affordable compact travel camera.
Its metal shell is solid yet sufficiently small to slip into a pocket. The main controls are clustered on the back for easy one-handed control, while function buttons offer the welcome option of customization – and the touchscreen is responsive, too.
On the go, the TZ100’s 1-inch sensor (which is larger than today’s smartphones) delivers vibrant, punchy images with a fair level of detail for an older compact, even in low light. Dynamic range is also decent and noise isn’t generally an issue. The 10x optical zoom will be versatile enough for most, while the option of shooting 4K footage makes simple vlogs an option as well.
Sure, its not quite as powerful as today’s premium compacts, but the TZ100 is plenty good enough for taking travel snaps to share online and will still surpass most smartphones too.
If it’s easy instant snaps you’re after, Fujifilm’s Instax Mini 9 remains a firm favorite, despite the arrival of the very similar Instax Mini 11. Forgoing almost all the controls you’d expect on a modern compact camera, the Mini 9 instead makes fun its focus.
Look through the straightforward viewfinder, click the shutter button and in a jiffy you’ll find a credit card-sized print coming from the top of its retro shell.
Charming for its simplicity, the plastic shell of the Instax Mini 9 ships in a spectrum of bold shades, while a little mirror on the front makes framing selfies a cinch. A simple five-level brightness adjustment dial is the extent of its inputs, making the affordable Mini 9 perfect for parties and play-dates.
Print quality is naturally limited, but the idea here is to capture retro-style memories rather than crystal clear images. The color film is a little pricey, so you’ll want to make your shots count.
When the original EOS 200D / Rebel SL2 launched, it became an instant hit with anyone looking to enter the world of photography. Its easy-to-use menu system and on-screen user guide was a great help and the EOS 250D (confusingly also called the Rebel SL3 and EOS 200D Mark II) carries on that tradition. It offers beginners room to grow into more confident shooters. Canon’s superb Dual Pixel CMOS AF system is available for smooth focusing during Live View, although 4K video is subject to limitations. Still, it’s quite easy to find a dual lens kit for the EOS 250D for well under the $1,000 mark.
The D5600 is a step up from the D3000-series models, with a stronger set of specs to rival the likes of the Canon EOS Rebel T7i / EOS 800D. Key advantages over the D3500 (listed in position one here) include a larger LCD screen, which not only flips out and swivels all the way around to face the front, but also responds to touch, together with a more advanced autofocus system, Wi-Fi and a healthy range of additional control on the inside. Sure, you pay a little extra for the privilege, but if you need a little more growing space it makes sense to go for the D5600 so that it stays with you for years to come.