What's the best camera for beginners? I've avoided naming names until now, because all digital cameras in 2017 are fine. But a few makes and models keep cropping up as the best-loved in my workshops and online courses, so I now feel that I have enough hands-on experience to make some recommendations. What follows is my 2017/18 Digital Camera Buying Guide.
Before I get started, a couple of explanations:
1. You might not need a new camera. You might just need a new lens. Read this post before you buy: Don't buy a new DSLR until you've read this
2. All of the Amazon links in this post have affiliate links. Unlike any other camera review site, not only do I tell you this up front, but I also donate all the affiliate income from this page to my favourite charity, Charity Water. If you click one of the links in this post, and then go on to buy the camera, Amazon will refund between 4 and 8% of the purchase price to my affiliate account at no cost to you. I pass on all this income to Charity Water.
Total donations made to date: January 2018, £300 ($400)
3. Prices are approximate, at December 2017. The prices on the Amazon thumbnails will vary day to day, depending on the offers they have when you are reading this. The prices in brackets in the text are the approximate RRP.
4. These recommendations are for someone who wants to learn photography, not just have a big camera that takes better photos.
Best DSLR camera for beginners on a budget
If you want to learn how to use all the dials, get the Canon 1300D. I would recommend getting the body only (£280) and then buying the 50mm f1.8 lens (£120) if you don't want to grow out of it quickly. The 1300D plus kit lens is slightly cheaper (£320) but you will notice severe limitations on the available apertures on the kit lens, if you really want to learn how to use it properly.
What my students say:
"Such good value for an entry-level camera."
"I LOVE my Canon 1300d."
"I am getting great results for an entry-level price."
The entry-level Nikon is just as good, but I'd recommend getting the 50mm lens just the same, instead of the kit lens, for the same reasons. Some Nikons don't have Live View, which is very useful - just check before you buy.
Best mid-range mirrorless camera
The one I have enjoyed using on my workshops is the Panasonic Lumix G80 (G85 in some places) (£800). It is very intuitive to change the settings, it's a nice weight, and the image quality is outstanding.
If you want a more compact camera, but one that still has manual controls, I've seen plenty of students getting on well with the Panasonic GX80 (£600).
What my students say:
The Panasonic Lumix G80: "What made the Lumix so much easier was the wheels and buttons to make adjustments to settings quickly and without looking at them."
"I have an Olympus EM10 mk2 which was a gift last year. It is lightweight which is good for me as I have Rhumatoid Arthritis in my hands."
For a quick summary of the differences between a DSLR and a mirrorless camera, read this post: Mirrorless Cameras vs DSLRs
Best camera for anyone with no budget
Any top of the range mirrorless cameras will be fabulous. I use a Fuji X-T1, but if you are a beginner with no budget, why not go straight for the newer X-T2? (£1,700). If you don't want to spend quite that much, the X-T20 (£1,100) is also a great camera that won't disappoint. The thing about these cameras is that all the controls are analogue. You do not need to scroll through endless menus and twiddle different dials to change the settings. You want a bigger aperture? You twist the aperture ring on the lens. You want a different shutter speed? Turn the dial with all the shutter speeds printed on it. It makes learning the technical side of photography much quicker.
Higher end DSLRs will give you equally good image quality. You are paying extra for better quality sensors, possibly larger sensors if you go for a full frame, and things that are useful but not essential, like better quality photos at higher ISOs, and faster burst rates. A Canon 5DIV (£2,700 without any lenses) or a Nikon D850 (£3,500 body only, not available on Amazon) will give you the best, and heaviest, camera that money can buy. Do try either of these before you buy - they are too heavy for me, and for many.
It's worth remembering that the previous model high-end camera is often a complete bargain. London Camera Exchange have a few second hand Canon 5DIIIs on sale today at about £1,500.
What my students say:
Of the X-T2: "Amazing image quality and build quality. I love the simple separate dials for aperture, shutter speed and ISO. It's the perfect size for traveling with and so much fun to use"
"The better you get, the more demanding you become."
Best beginner's photography book
If you're buying someone a camera, get them my workbook/s as well. They will hate reading the camera's manual, and they won't have to if they have my book. Book 1 will take them step by step through everything they will need to learn actual photography, rather than just taking snapshots. Book 2 will take them from intermediate to advanced. And the planner will keep them on track.
"I am 6 weeks into the course and have learnt more in that time than in all the years I have been using a camera" - Dawn H., 5 star Amazon review
"Best photography 'how to' book you'll ever find. I absolutely recommend this book for every photography beginner" - Mrs S J Ryan, 5 star Amazon review
Why don't I recommend bridge cameras?
My students want to learn photography, not just to have a decent camera that takes good photos. Bridge cameras are severely limiting in this respect. You can't change the lens, and the aperture range on the fixed lens is too small to be of any use to anyone beyond a complete beginner.
What camera do I use?
A 5 year old Canon 6D (for the full frame) and a newer Fuji X-T1. I would love a Canon 5DIV, but it's just too heavy and the 6D works just fine. My next upgrade will be an X-T2, or whatever the newest model is in a couple of years.
Some general questions to ask before you buy:
- Do you need wifi, and does the camera have it? (It makes it easier to transfer photos to your phone.)
- Is the camera too heavy?
- Is the camera too small for your hands?
- Do you need to shoot video?
- Do you need to share lenses with anyone?
- Is full frame important to you?
"My photography has improved in leaps and bounds since I discovered Emma's method of teaching." - current AYWMC student