Best cameras for beginners: what to buy to learn photography

Best cameras for beginners: Olympus OM-D E-M10 III
Buyers Guide

When you’re just starting out in photography, it can be a little daunting wading through the huge range of cameras currently on the market to find the one that’s right for you.

Image quality is, of course, crucial, but a camera which is straightforward and intuitive to use can be the difference between your hobby being frustrating and being a pleasure.

In this guide, we’ve rounded up some of the best cameras to learn photography with, at a range of price points. Read on to find out more details about each of our choices.

Best cameras for beginners: Olympus OM-D E-M10 III

Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III

Not much bigger than a compact camera but compatible with a wide range of lenses

Sensor: Four Thirds Type (17.3 x 13mm) CMOS Megapixels: 16.1 Lens Mount: Micro Four Thirds AF System: 121-point contrast-detect system. Viewfinder: Electronic OLED with 2,360,000 dots, 100% coverage Screen: Tilting 3-inch,  1,037,000-dot touchscreen Max video resolution: 4K Max frame rate: 8.6fps in S-AF mode, 4.8fps in C-AF mode

Pros: Compact with viewfinder and tilting touchscreen, Extensive range of features
Cons: Controls fiddly for those with large hands, Sub-APS-C size sensor

The Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III is a high-quality compact system or mirrorless camera with an extensive feature set that includes a good viewfinder, a tilting touchscreen and shooting modes that are designed to suit novice and experienced photographers. It also measures just 121.5 x 83.6 x 49.5mm and weighs 362g (body only) so it’s easy to find room for it in your bag – or even a large pocket. It’s especially portable with Olympus’s M.Zuiko Digital ED 14‑42mm f/3.5‑5.6 EZ Pancake lens.

Mirrorless cameras offer some significant advantages to beginners over a DSLR. Most notably, they work in permanent live view mode. This means that they show the impact of the camera settings in the viewfinder and on the screen. So if the settings mean the image is going to overexposed, you’ll see it and be able to correct it before taking the shot. You can also see the impact of the different white balance and Art Filter settings at the shooting stage.

The OM-D E-M10 III’s images look good throughout the sensitivity range with pleasant colours, nice exposure and noise that is controlled well.


If you want to spend a little less money, also consider the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II, which uses the same sensor. It’s still available new but there are some great secondhand bargains to be had.


Best Cameras for Beginners: Nikon D3500

Nikon D3500

The intuitive guide mode helps beginners learn how to use the camera

Sensor: APS-C (DX format) CMOS Megapixels: 24.2 Lens Mount: Nikon F AF System: 11-point phase-detect system, including one cross-type sensor. Viewfinder: Optical pentamirror viewfinder, 95% coverage Screen: 3-inch, 921k-dot Max video resolution: 1080p Max frame rate: 5fps

Pros: Guide mode, Snapbridge
Cons: No 4K, fixed, non-touch-sensitive screen

One of the things we loved about the Nikon D3400 was its intuitive guide mode and that has continued into its successor, the D3500. You can use this to help learn about photography with on-screen instructions guiding you through how different settings will affect your image.

With its 24Mp APS-C sized sensor, it’s capable of producing great images – once you get a little more confident you might want to consider swapping out the 18-55mm kit lens for a prime lens or two.

If you’re used to sharing your images straight from your phone, make use of Nikon’s Snapbridge connectivity to send images across to your phone via Bluetooth for uploading to social networking sites and the like. If your budget can stretch a little further, also consider the Nikon D5600. Amongst other things, it adds a vari-angle touchscreen to the mix.


Canon EOS 200D / Rebel SL2 Review Name Badge

Canon EOS 200D/ Canon Rebel SL2

If small and light is your main concern, the 200D has you covered

Sensor: APS-C CMOS Megapixels: 24.2 Lens Mount: Canon EF AF System: 9-point phase-detect system, including one cross-type sensor (Dual Pixel CMOS AF available in Live View). Viewfinder: Optical pentamirror viewfinder, 95% coverage Screen: Vari-angle, touch-sensitive, 3-inch, 1040k-dot Max video resolution: 1080p Max frame rate: 5fps

Pros: Articulating touch-screen, user-friendly interface
Cons: 95% viewfinder, no 4K

The world’s smallest and lightest DSLR with a vari-angle screen, the 200D is an ideal first-step for those new to DSLR photography. It features a bright and colourful user interface which explains how certain settings will have an impact on your final image – making it a great camera to learn photography with.

The vari-angle touch-sensitive screen is great to use, especially when shooting in Live View as the quick and snappy Dual Pixel CMOS AF is very responsive. There’s also Wi-Fi, NFC and Bluetooth for quickly sharing with your phone. High image quality is delivered thanks to the APS-C sized sensor.

Once you’re ready to move on to better and more advanced optics, Canon has one of the biggest and most varied lens ranges on the market.


Best mirrorless cameras: 04 Panasonic GX80

Panasonic GX80 / Panasonic GX85

A dinky CSC which still packs a range of great features for a bargain price

Sensor: Four Thirds (17.3 x 13mm) Live MOS Megapixels: 16 Lens Mount: Micro Four Thirds AF System: 49-point Contrast Viewfinder: Electronic 2,764,800-dot viewfinder, 100% coverage Screen: Tilting 3-inch touch-sensitive 1040k-dot Max video resolution: 4K Max frame rate: 30fps (using 4K Photo)

Pros: 4K Video / 4K Photo, tilting touchscreen
Cons: Smallest sensor in this list (same as the Olympus OM-D E-M10 III), viewfinder quite small

This rangefinder style compact system camera is small and light, making the jump from using your smartphone to something more advanced a little less of a strain for your back. There’s a range of great features for beginners, but the GX80’s party piece is 4K Photo Mode (available on all current Panasonic models).

You can use this to grab 8 megapixel stills from 4K video, in essence meaning you can record 30 images every second – in theory you’ll never miss a moment again.

The tilting screen is great for shooting from awkward angles, while the lens range for Micro Four Thirds cameras is incredibly varied – especially since it shares the mount with Olympus. If you prefer a DSLR style shape, take a look at the also excellent Panasonic G80.


Best cameras for beginners: 04 Sony A6000 16-50 kit

Sony A6000

A very capable all-rounder, a camera you can learn and grow with

Sensor: APS-C CMOS Megapixels: 24.3 Lens Mount: Sony E-mount AF System: Fast Hybrid AF, 179 phase detection points, 25 contrast detect points Viewfinder: Electronic 1,440,000-dot viewfinder, 100% coverage Screen: Tilting 3-inch 921k-dot Max video resolution: 1080p Max frame rate: 11fps

Pros: Great AF system, tilting screen
Cons: No 4K, screen not touch-sensitive

Sony is one of the most innovative companies currently making cameras, and its Alpha range of mirrorless models produce excellent images. The A6000 is available for a very reasonable price, with a range of great features for beginners.

That includes a snappy AF system and a viewfinder which offers 100% coverage. You can record video at Full HD, while the maximum frame rate of 11fps should see you well for action/sports type shots.

Sony’s 16-50mm power zoom lens is small and light, so it’s also a great camera for travelling – the APS-C sensor inside the A6000 is the same size as you’ll find in many DSLRs. Sony has a great range of lenses for its E-mount too, if you find you outgrow the kit optic.


Fuji X-T20

This simpler version of Fuji’s flagship model is a great camera to learn with

Sensor: APS-C X-Trans CMOS III Megapixels: 24.3 Lens Mount: Fuji X Mount AF System: Intelligent Hybrid AF, 91-points Viewfinder: Electronic 2,360k-dot OLED, 100% coverage Screen: 3-inch, 1040k-dot, touch-sensitive tilting LCD Max video resolution: 4K Max frame rate: 14fps

Pros: 4K video, great viewfinder
Cons: Expensive, can’t use touch-control for everything

Fuji’s X series cameras are beautiful to look at, but it’s fair to say that the X-T2 model is intended for advanced users. The X-T20 shares many of its features, but in a simpler, smaller – and crucially – more affordable body.

You get the same image sensor and processor, plus access to all the same lenses and accessories. You can record in 4K for video, and the autofocus system is very capable. With 14fps burst shooting to utilise, you can also use it for sports and action photography too.

Beginners may be pleased to know that there’s an “automatic” option, but as your confidence grows, the full complement of manual modes is also available.