Best Digital Camera Under 500

Best Digital Camera Under 500 USD 

The world of photography is exciting and creatively fulfilling, but just looking at some of the prices for equipment can make your heart skip a beat.

Fortunately, as the technology behind digital cameras gets better and better, it also starts to get cheaper.

In today's market you can get some excellent quality digital cameras without breaking the bank.

Here are a few of our favourite options for the best digital camera under 500 USD.

What to Look for in an Entry Level Digital Camera

It may be a surprise that a $500 camera still counts as an 'entry level' camera.

But when you consider that some DSLRs can cost as much as $8000, you start to see why they're named that.

That being said, $500 is still a lot of money, so it's important to make sure you know what to watch out for before you make your purchase.

DSLR vs Mirrorless Cameras

It used to be impossible to find a DSLR for under $500.

But because of the way the market has changed there are now several options in this price range aimed at beginner photographers looking to sharpen their skills with a quality camera.

However, the same technological advances have allowed mirrorless cameras to come close to DSLR levels of image quality, although the best mirrorless cameras are usually a bit more expensive than their DSLR competitors.

The primary difference between the two from a mechanical perspective is that mirrorless cameras (unsurprisingly) have no mirror system to direct light from the lens upwards into the viewfinder.

Instead, they use an electronic viewfinder that shows exactly what the camera's sensor sees, although this constantly drains your battery while the screen is on.

The advantage of this mirrorless method is a lighter camera body and the ability to view the results of your current exposure settings in real time, but the downside is much shorter battery life which can seriously limit the number of shots you're able to take.

Image Quality

Two main factors influence a camera's image quality: resolution and sensor size.

Resolution

The resolution of your camera's sensor is measured in megapixels.

At this price point most cameras fall into the 16-20 MP range which will allow you to make film-quality prints at roughly 11" x 17".

Higher resolution cameras allow you to do more cropping and editing of your photos, as you'll be able to recrop your photos while still keeping things at a decently printable and shareable size.

Sensor Size​

Sensor size is a bit more complicated from a technical perspective.

The short version is that the larger your sensor, the better your image quality will be.

Large and medium format cameras take the highest quality pictures, but they tend to cost upwards of $10,000.

In the $ 500 price range the best and biggest sensors you'll find fall into the APS-C category.

These sensors are still capable of producing high-quality images, and many semi-professional cameras use the same technology.

Kit Lenses

All our camera choices in this roundup come with a kit lens included as part of their sub-$500 price.

After all, what's the point of shopping on a budget if you have to turn around and buy an expensive lens right away?

Not all lenses are created equal, however, and all camera manufacturers use a different method of attaching their lenses to their cameras.

Nikon lenses won't mount onto a Canon body, and Olympus lenses won't mount onto Pentax camera bodies, and so on.

Since you're probably going to be shooting with your kit lens for a while until you get more familiar and comfortable with your new camera, it's important to have a lens that blends quality with a range of capabilities.

The best kit lenses include some kind of image stabilization system to allow you to shoot at slow shutter speeds without blurring, which is a huge advantage in low-light situations.

In terms of aperture, the faster your kit lens the better, but most lenses at this range only open up to f/3.5 or f/4.

Typically, kit lenses at this price range offer a decent 18-55mm zoom range, although some mirrorless cameras offer much more expansive zoom ranges.

The trade-off for the expanded capability in mirrorless camera kit lenses is that most mirrorless cameras have a much smaller range of additional lenses available for sale than DSLR cameras.

So while they pack more capability into a single lens, you're much more limited in your overall choice.

Of course, if you have no plans to buy additional lenses, a mirrorless camera provides a lot of functionality for the same price as a DSLR in a much lighter and more conveniently portable package.

The Best Digital Cameras Under $500

DSLR: Nikon D3400

The Nikon D3400 is a refresh of the popular D3300, and has the highest megapixel count of any of the cameras we looked at with a 24.2 MP APS-C sensor.

It has an impressive ISO range for this price point, reaching up to ISO 25,600 without resorting to boosting techniques.

This means that you get great low-light pictures with minimal noise distortion.

It doesn't have the best autofocus available with an 11-point phase-detection system, but that's one of the few shortcomings of this camera.

The kit lens it comes packed with is Nikon's AF-P 18-55 VR lens.

It is a fairly new offering from Nikon that incorporates a new type of stepping autofocus motor for smoother and quieter operation.

The image stabilization system (VR for 'vibration reduction' in Nikon terminology) provides an impressive 4 stop boost, allowing you to shoot hand-held at much slower shutter speeds that you otherwise would be able to, all without noticeable image blur.

One important note - in order to save on manufacturing costs and to keep the weight of their cameras down, Nikon made the choice to remove the autofocus motors from their entry-level line of DSLRs, including the D3400.

Almost all modern lenses included an autofocus motor, but if you're hoping to use older Nikon lenses on this body you'll be restricted to using manual focus.

DSLR: Canon EOS Rebel SL1

Canon's Rebel SL1 is starting to show its age a little bit when compared to the D3400, but it's still an excellent camera, packing an 18 MP APS-C sensor.

The ISO range is a good example of what you'll usually find at this price range, ranging from 100-12,800 with a boost that can push its range up to 25,600.

Unfortunately, the fact that it needs to be boosted to reach this point will add a bit of extra unwanted digital noise to your images, but it still performs fairly well in low-light shooting conditions.

The SL1 has a somewhat less flexible 9-point autofocus system, but it uses Canon's hybrid autofocus system that combines phase detection and contrast detection for a more capable AF system than the limited number of points would suggest.

In case the 9 point system isn't capable of matching what you had in mind, you can use the SL1's touchscreen to select exactly where you want the focus to be, although this is a bit counterintuitive unless you're always using the camera's Live View system to compose your shots.

The kit lens that comes standard with the SL1 is Canon's 18-55mm IS STM lens.

'IS' stands for image stabilization which provides 4 stops of stabilization for better low-light shooting.

STM means that it's a stepping autofocus motor, similar to the one offered with the D3400, although Canon has been using the technology for some time.

The lens is very sharp at all settings, which an impressive feat for a kit lens, and it can focus as close as 0.82 feet for surprisingly effective close-up shooting.

DSLR: Pentax K-50

Pentax doesn't have nearly as big a share of the DSLR market as Canon or Nikon, so they try to make up for it by packing in some extra features that the bigger manufacturers reserve for their more expensive cameras.

The K-50 has a decently-sized APS-C sensor, but at a slightly-disappointing 16 MP in resolution.

Its ISO range is the best of all the cameras we looked at, however, reaching up to 51,200 without requiring any boosting.

The K-50 is also the only camera we looked at to have a fully weather-sealed body, which is quite unusual for cameras at this price point.

It also features an excellent image stabilization system built into the camera body.

This means that even older Pentax lenses that were designed before stabilization became a popular technology will benefit from being mounted on this body.

The kit lens that ships with the K-50 is a standard 18-55mm lens, with the exception that it's also weather-resistant like the camera body itself.

Mirrorless: Sony a5100

DSLRs aren't the only way to get great image quality, as the a5100 from Sony shows.

It has an APS-C sensor, which is quite unusual for a mirrorless camera at this price point, and an impressive 24 MP resolution.

The ISO range is a solid unboosted 100-25,600, and the AF system uses a combination of phase and contrast detection systems similar to the Canon SL1.

The a5100 comes bundled with a 16-50mm Power Zoom lens, but unfortunately it uses Sony's E-mount lens system. 

The E-mount range is fairly impressive for a mirrorless camera system, but Sony is the only one making lenses with this mount and that means that they have no competition on price.

There are a few affordable lenses at the $200-$300 price point, but most are more expensive, and some of them cost as much as $1800 which sort of defeats the purpose of an entry-level camera system.

Mirrorless: Canon EOS M10

Canon has been making waves with the new entries in its EOS M mirrorless camera line, and the M10 is a solid performer for the under-$500 class.

It has an 18MP APS-C sensor that shoots at an ISO range of up to 25,600, although it has to boost to reach this level.

It has a great 49 point autofocus system that uses Canon's newest Hybrid CMOS AF II technology, combining a large number of phase and contrast detection points.

The lens that ships with the M10 is a decent 15-45mm lens, but the real virtue of this camera is in the ability to mount Canon's full range of DSLR lenses with the proper adapter.

This provides a much larger range of capabilities than you usually find in a mirrorless camera, and almost makes it a better choice than the SL1 that we reviewed earlier, although the lack of a viewfinder can make your shot composition more difficult.

Our Final Recommendation

Most entry level cameras are stepping stones on the way to future photographic greatness, and so it's smart to choose a camera that will help you on the way to that goal.

The Nikon D3400 has a great range of features that make it easy for the beginner to get comfortable with the world of DSLR photography without breaking the bank.

It's powerful enough to give more advanced photographers a little taste of what a professional camera can do.

It's by far the cheapest camera that we looked at in this roundup, but you wouldn't know it from looking at its impressive features.

It's 24 MP APS-C sensor made it the highest-resolution DSLR we looked at by far, and it has a respectable ISO range that was only rivaled by the K-50.

It packs a lot of capability into a small and lightweight body, and it even has some great connectivity features that allow you to automatically download your photos onto your smartphone or other Bluetooth enabled device for easy sharing.

One of the most important advantages of an entry-level DSLR is that any additional lenses that you buy can be used later on with your next camera (as long as it's from the same manufacturer or if the adaptor is available on the market).

This makes it a lot easier and cheaper to develop your skills and your lens library before you take the plunge and buy an expensive semi-professional or professional camera.



Best Digital Camera Under 500

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About the Author Luca

Hi, I am Luca, founder and editor in chief at photographyambition.com. I am crazy about photography and I always have a camera with me. When I am not busy with my day job, enjoying my family or taking photos, I am on Photography Ambition to share what I have learnt so far.

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