Best cameras for beginners
Interested in photography as a new hobby?
Looking for a step up from your smartphone camera? Choosing the right kit will help you on your way to capturing spectacular shots. Our expert buyers and trusted reviewers will help you navigate through the jargon to find the features that really matter.
What are the options?
We’ve narrowed the choice down to four camera types;
The cameras that professional photographers carry – but most models also come with lots of auto-shoot settings, making them a smart choice for entry-level users who are eager to learn more.
These have the same exceptional image quality as a DSLR, but don't have the internal mirror system or viewfinder; a great compromise if the bulk and weight of a DSLR is an issue.
A step-up from compact cameras, but easier to use than more advanced DSLRs - they 'bridge the gap' between the two. They have a large fixed lens with impressive zoom power - great for wildlife.
The easiest camera to use and pocket-sized for ultimate portability. Basic functions are pre-programmed so you just need to point and click to capture those everyday moments.
So how do you choose?
Think about how you'll be using your camera. Is there a particular style of photography that interests you - will you be mainly outdoors shooting landscapes and wildlife or are you more interested in action and sport? Will you need to travel with your camera? Answering these questions will help to refine your choices as there are certain camera features and functions that are more suited to particular photographing interests.
What will you be shooting?
You'll need a camera with a great zoom and fast shutter speed (at least 1/1000 for capturing running animals). As a beginner, a bridge camera is a great compromise to more expensive DSLRs and lenses - you'll still get an impressive zoom range but for a fraction of the cost.
Fast shutter speed isn't so much of a priority here, but megapixels are. High resolution cameras (24mp +) will capture lots of detail and let you create quality prints of your images. If you want to capture at night, you'll benefit from a camera that can cope with a higher ISO setting (>1600).
Action and sports photography
Your subject is likely to be moving, so you need a camera that's fast enough to catch all of the action - models that have a frame rate above 5 frames per second are recommended. Are you doing the action? A durable mounted action camera will give you a unique, first-hand view of the experience.
Most camera styles will let you shoot fantastic portraits of people (and pets). You may consider a higher-end DSLR or mirrorless camera with a tripod for more posed shots - but compact cameras are a great lightweight choice to carry around for those candid moments.
Not sure what you'll be shooting - no problem. Most cameras will give you enough flexibility to play around with different styles as you find your photography feet. To help you out our expert camera buyer has picked out his favourite cameras for entry-level users.
Will you be travelling with your camera?
If so, consider lightweight cameras without the bulk. Compact cameras are great for this, or if you're looking for higher capabilities we'd recommend a mirrorless camera over bulkier DSLR models.
Will you want to print your images?
Especially if you plan on gifting or selling the shots, megapixels will be an important factor, as a lower spec camera will create pixilated shots when they're blown-up. Look for 24MP cameras.
Do you want to share your shots on social media?
As you grow in confidence you'll want to show off your snaps. Many cameras are Wi-Fi-enabled, which means you can send your images straight to your smartphone, ready to upload to your social media profiles.
Features to focus on
There's a lot of jargon out there which can be confusing if you're just getting into photography, and actually some of these specs aren't really that important, especially for a beginner - these are the ones to take notice of.
This feature will adjust the camera lens for you to get your subject in focus. The number of AF points tell you how many reference points the camera uses to decide what should be in focus. The more expensive the camera, the more points it has - around 9 is a good number for beginners.
This is how you can adjust your camera sensor's sensitivity to light - higher settings will brighten your image if you're shooting in darker settings - but as you increase the ISO there may be more noise in your shots. Your camera should have an ISO range that lets you adapt the setting.
This is how you get closer to far-away objects. Digital zoom is achieved by your camera enlarging and cropping the shot - in the same way an editing program would. Optical zoom gives you better images, as it's achieved by your camera lens.
What is resolution?
Digital images are made up of millions of tiny tile-like elements called pixels. More pixels (measured in megapixels) = a higher resolution image – so a 24mp camera in theory has a better quality of image vs an 18mp camera.
But that’s not the whole picture
Sensor size is equally, arguably more important than megapixels. For example, a high end DSLR camera and compact camera can both have the same megapixel count – but it’s the larger sensor in the DSLR that will result in a clearer image.
What is a sensor?
Think of it as the electronic version of film. Why is it important? Simply, the bigger the sensor the more light it can use to create an image - making for clearer shots with less noise, and better performance in low-light conditions.
Does brand matter?
Not especially. It’s better to focus on finding a camera with the features that are important to you and seeing who can offer that. It only becomes a factor if you're choosing a DSLR or mirrorless camera because you want to be able to change lenses, as these are usually brand specific. If this is the case, make sure brand has what you want in their offering of compatible lenses before you buy (leading brands will have a good range).
Fellow amateur photographers tell us how they've been getting on with their new cameras.