In these challenging financial times, everyone will have their own idea of what’s affordable. Whatever yours is, we believe a limited budget shouldn’t restrict your photographic ambitions. That’s why we’ve extensively tested the best affordable cameras of every type and ranked our favorites in the comprehensive list below. We’ve assessed each one based on several factors, including ease of use, image quality and overall value for money.
DSLRs give great value and we think the best cheap camera for most people right now is the entry-level Nikon D3500. With a capable 24.4MP sensor and massive battery life, it’s one of the best beginner cameras you can buy. Though it’s been discontinued by Nikon, it’s still widely available online.
If you’d prefer a cheap mirrorless camera, our current favorite is the Fujifilm X-T200. With an articulating touchscreen, solid stills performance and the ability to record 4K video, it offers excellent value – all wrapped up in a compact retro shell that’s convenient for travel.
Alternatively, you might like the accessibility of cameras like the super-zoom Panasonic Lumix FZ80 / FZ82, or the pocketable versatility of travel zoom compacts, such as the Panasonic Lumix ZS100 / TZ100.
Whatever your budget and expectations, this guide has been designed to help you find your ideal cheap camera. Each entry has been reviewed by our expert testers in real-world conditions. We’ve also included helpful buying tips to keep in mind, as well as direct links to the best online deals. Read to the end and you should be well-equipped to pick the best cheap camera.
The best cheap camera for 2023
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The Nikon D3400 was a hugely successful and popular DSLR, and the Nikon D3500 has taken its baton into the mirrorless age. DSLRs may be less common now, but they continue to offer excellent value compared to mirrorless cameras due to their optical viewfinders – and the Nikon D3500 remains the best budget camera for beginners.
Key changes over the older D3400 include an improved 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. While it is also worth considering mirrorless alternatives to the Sony A6000, the D3500 is a bit more user-friendly – particularly if you want to use it with longer lenses.
In our tests, we found that it delivered high-quality images and was super-easy to handle and understand – particularly for beginners.
Read our in-depth Nikon D3500 review
We’re still fans of the Fujifilm X-T30, but this cheaper, beginner-friendly version of that camera is our favorite mirrorless option for those starting out on their photography or video-making journeys.
It’s a big improvement over its X-T100 predecessor in almost every way, including autofocus, and has a fantastic 3.5in rear touchscreen. Unlike the Fujifilm X-A7 (see further down), you also get a viewfinder for framing shots, which is especially good news in bright light while traveling. We discovered that image quality was reliably lovely, and we loved the retro design.
The only downside we found during our tests is that the subject-tracking can be a little hit-and-miss during burst shooting and isn’t available for video, but otherwise this is one of the best cheap cameras around for those who want a new mirrorless model.
Read our in-depth Fujifilm X-T200 review
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 by being on the market since 2014.
So, it may be old, but most of the specifications still look 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). We found during our test of it that it delivered fantastic image quality.
Its age shows in other areas, though: it only shoots 1080p Full HD video, and the screen isn’t touch-sensitive – which we found to be a little frustrating for setting AF points. Still, the latter is still the case on many Sony cameras and the A6000’s high-end features ensure that it’s a camera that will grow with you.
Read our in-depth Sony Alpha A6000 review
If you’re an eager beginner who’s in the market for a compact mirrorless camera, the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV should be at the top of your list. An affordable Micro Four Thirds model, the Mark IV pairs a capable 20.3MP sensor with impressive in-body image stabilization to deliver consistently attractive images using the kit lens.
With footage capped at 4K/30p and no microphone or headphone input, video isn’t a major focus. Instead, this is a small, powerful camera for stills: we discovered in our review that dynamic range is better than anything a smartphone can capture, while the IBIS system keeps images sharp even when shooting handheld after dark.
We found that AF tracking across the Mark IV’s 121 points can be a little patchy, but improved face detection and subject tracking from the Mark III mean it’s largely reliable. Our tip is to stick to centre point focus and you’ll find it fast, even in low light.
An ergonomic grip, approachable button layout, and handy flip-down touchscreen make the Mark IV an accessible upgrade for smartphone photographers. And with a wide catalog of lenses available, it shapes up one of the best cheap cameras around if you want a modern mirrorless experience.
Read our in-depth Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV review
A portable full-frame mirrorless camera with a capable feature set, sound performance, and reasonable price: the Canon EOS RP is a compelling proposition for those looking to shoot with a large sensor. Built around the same RF mount as the EOS R, its native lens catalog is limited, but a bundled adapter at least allows you to use existing EF glass.
Despite housing a 26.2MP full-frame sensor, our tests revealed the EOS RP to be remarkably compact yet reassuringly well-made. Button placement will irk some, but we found both the physical controls and touchscreen to be responsive.
With Canon’s Digic 8 processor driving performance, autofocus proved fast and reliable. Burst rates drop to 4fps with continuous focus, but the AF generally did a solid job of locking on. We also found the buffer to be more generous than expected.
As with most affordable cameras, the Canon EOS RP isn’t without compromise. Besides a lack of sensor-based image stabilization, battery life was underwhelming in testing, while the metering system seemed slightly sensitive. Rolling shutter and a 4K crop also limit its video skills. But if you want full-frame mirrorless shooting on a shoestring budget, it’s hard to argue with the Canon EOS RP’s core performance.
Read our in-depth Canon EOS RP review
Launched in 2017, the Panasonic Lumix FZ80 (also known as the Lumix FZ82 outside the US) is still one of the most affordable bridge cameras you can buy. It remains a solid choice if zoom reach is your priority: its lens goes from an ultra-wide 20mm all the way to the far reaches of 1200mm. During our review, it proved capable of producing decent image quality – as long as you’re aware of its limitations.
We found it best to shoot no higher than ISO 800, or ISO 1600 in an emergency, so it’s best to avoid low light. But in daylight conditions, it’s still a very useful companion, particularly at this price – and we found that Panasonic’s Power O.I.S. image stabilization kept things nice and stable at longer focal lengths. Sure, the viewfinder could be better, but this remains one of the best cheap bridge cameras around.
Read our in-depth Panasonic Lumix FZ80 / FZ82 review
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, we discovered that 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, it’s 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.
Read our in-depth Panasonic Lumix ZS100 / TZ100 review
If you need a cheap action camera, then the Brave 7 LE should certainly make your shortlist. Considering its price tag, it’s packed with features including weather-sealing and a front-facing screen that’s handy for vloggers. We also found that this action cam’s audio was better than any other action cam outside of GoPro, in quieter environments at least.
The Brave 7 LE also has an intuitive touchscreen interface, which is another feature that tends to be overlooked by budget action cams. Downsides? While the video quality is decent at 4K resolution, its slightly soft look doesn’t quite match the rest of the action cam’s features. The image stabilization also falls short of GoPro standards. But for the price, it’s still one of the best all-round action cams you can buy.
Breaking your camera is one way to make photography an expensive hobby. Investing in a rugged model should cut replacement costs – and the Olympus Tough TG-6 is one of the best tough cameras you can buy. Freeze-proof, shockproof and waterproof: its reassuringly industrial shell is robust enough to survive all manner of extreme scenarios. It’s also an intuitive camera to use. Large buttons make operation accessible, while an improved 3-inch LCD display ensures good visibility in bright conditions.
Focusing is snappy and an equivalent zoom range of 25-100mm adds welcome versatility, even if a little detail is lost at the telephoto end. Our tests revealed that image quality is decent enough for a 1/2.3-inch sensor, with rich colors – although the TG-6 is prone to overexposure. The older TG-5 is similarly equipped and less expensive, but the TG-6 represents excellent value for adventurous photographers thanks to its significantly sharper screen.
Read our in-depth Olympus Tough TG-6 review
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 of 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. We found that 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.
Read our Should you buy a Fujifilm Instax Mini? feature
How to choose the best cheap camera for you
Buying a budget camera will usually mean accepting a few compromises. A cheaper DSLR might not capture 4K footage, for example, while a more affordable mirrorless model may lack a viewfinder or shoot at lower burst speeds than its costlier competitors. But whichever type of camera you decide to buy, you should consider what and how you like to shoot – and make sure that, at the very least, it ticks the key boxes for your specific needs.
So if you normally shoot stills, a cheap camera’s video skills are less important. Instead of focusing on whether it can capture 4K footage, look for something with a decent sensor and a relatively high resolution (20MP and above). Similarly, if you’re happy framing with an optical viewfinder and using buttons to navigate system menus, you don’t need to worry too much about whether a camera has a sharp touchscreen interface. But it is always worth making sure that a camera’s handling is comfortable and that its physical controls are useful and accessible.
If you’re shopping for an affordable travel camera, your focus should be battery life and zoom versatility. Don’t get too caught up in software tricks or raw shooting. Those are nice extras, but it’s much easier to edit JPEGs when you’re back home than it is to crop in on a faraway subject.
And if you’re planning to buy an interchangeable lens camera, be sure to consider the cost of lenses. A camera body might be cheap, but expensive glass will limit your ability to experiment with different barrels. Look for a camera with a popular lens mount (Micro Four Thirds, for example) to ensure you have maximum flexibility when it comes to buying new glass.
Which camera is best for a low budget?
The list above features a whole range of cameras to suit photographers with a limited budget. Which option is best for you will depend on what you’ll use your camera for and how versatile you’d like it to be.
One option is to consider entry-level models like the Nikon D3500. These are designed with beginners in mind, so they usually offer simple, accessible controls and handling that are easy to get to grips with. To keep costs down, entry-level cameras don’t usually include advanced features or performance but should nail the basics. That means solid battery life, great handling, and decent image quality.
Alternatively, you can consider slightly older mid-range mirrorless models. These won’t offer cutting-edge technology, but should still be very capable – especially if you’re upgrading from a smartphone. And because prices tend to be discounted as newer models arrive, cameras that are two or three years old will normally become much more affordable. Take a look at the Sony A6000 for a good example: its price now is a lot lower than when it launched in 2014, yet it still features a 24.3MP sensor, 11fps burst shooting, and a capable 179-point autofocus system.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for a cheap travel camera, powerful compacts like the Sony HX90V represent excellent value and versatility, thanks to an impressive 30x zoom range. Or if it’s outright bargain affordability that you’re after, instant cameras represent a cheap, accessible way to have some fun with photography. Cameras like the Polaroid Go are easy and enjoyable to use, producing immediate prints that make shooting more tactile.
And you don’t always need to be afraid of unknown names. The Apeman A100 action camera is an example of a camera with cheap looks and a budget body design, yet it captures great 4K video, even in low-light conditions.
How we test cheap cameras
We test cheap cameras in the same way as models with higher price tags – while the value may play a more important role in our overall rankings, the cameras themselves still need to perform. Putting them through our usual test procedures lets us see which ones outperform their price tags, and which haven’t dated so well.
To start with, we look at the camera’s design, handling, and controls to get a feel for the kind of photographer it’s most suitable for. We then take it out on a shoot, where we’ll test its startup speed and use it both handheld and on a tripod.
To test the camera’s performance, we use a formatted SD card and shoot in both raw and JPEG (if available). For burst shooting tests, we dial in our regular test settings (1/250 sec, ISO 200, continuous AF) and shoot a series of frames in front of a stopwatch to see if it matches its official speeds. We’ll also look at how quickly the buffers clears and repeat the test for both raw and JPEG files.
In various lighting conditions, we also test the camera’s different autofocus modes (including Face and Eye AF) in a single point, area, and continuous modes. We’ll also shoot a mix of photos (portrait, low light, landscape, macro/close-up) in raw and JPEG to get a feel for the camera’s metering accuracy and its sensor’s ability to handle noise and resolve fine detail.
Assuming the camera’s raw files are supported by Adobe Camera Raw, we’ll also process some test images to see how far we can push areas like shadow recovery. We’ll also test its ISO performance across the whole range to get a sense of the levels we’d be happy to push the camera to.
Battery life is tested in a real-world fashion, as we use the camera over the course of the day with the screen set to the default settings. Once the battery has hit zero, we’ll then count the number of shots to see how it compares to the camera’s official CIPA rating. Finally, we test the camera’s video skills by shooting some test footage at different frame rates and resolutions, along with its companion app.
We then take everything we’ve learned about the camera and factor in its price to get a sense of the value for money it offers, before reaching our final verdict.