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