Photographs are often spontaneous creations. Unplanned slices of the world which freeze time. This is why it’s one of the few types of art where you can begin creating beautiful pieces without having to worry about practice and equipment.
What this means for you is that you need not get hung up on which camera to buy. A basic camera with a comfortable body, options to adjust manual settings, and a decent lens is all you need to get started. This list contains a few recommendations for such cameras you can start practicing your photography with, along with a beginner’s guide to help you get familiar with the basics of photography.
Basics to Know When Starting Photography
Before deciding on a particular camera model, you will need to know a few basic features that are important for a photographer and terms like ISO and aperture. These will not only help you in narrowing down your list, but also aid you in taking control of the settings without having to rely on the camera’s Auto mode.
Each photograph is made by exposing the camera sensor to light. And ‘exposure’ decides, in simple terms, the ‘lightness’ of the final photograph captured. Higher the exposure, the higher the brightness of your image.
If your camera is a room, the ‘aperture’ is a window. It’s an opening inside the camera through which light will enter, and a bigger aperture implies that you are letting in more amount of light.
In photographic terms, the aperture is denoted by an ‘F Number,’ like f/2.8 or f/11. An important point to remember is that a lower ‘F Number’ denotes a bigger aperture, so you must try to lower the ‘F Number’ as much as possible when shooting in low light.
Imagine the aperture window was covered by curtains. The ‘shutter speed’ is the speed with which you open and close those curtains, thereby regulating the duration for which light is allowed to come in.
Cameras offer fast shutter speeds like 1/4000th of a second to slow speeds like 1 second or 30 seconds. A faster speed will capture a tiny fraction of time, freezing things like birds and water droplets. On the other hand, a slower speed will introduce motion blur and give a silky ribbon-like look to moving water. Do not forget to set a smaller aperture to balance out a slower shutter speed.
ISO is not a physical feature like aperture and shutter speed. It is simply the electronic sensitivity of the image sensor, and a higher ISO makes the sensor more sensitive to light. While increasing ISO will help you increase the brightness, it comes at the cost of noise and image artifacts.
Old cameras used to come with rolls of film or negatives. These were basically sheets made by a combination of chemicals sensitive to light. Modern cameras contain digital sensors instead of film and come in different sizes.
High-end smartphones and compact cameras contain image sensors that measure only about half a centimeter. DSLR and mirrorless cameras go up to 2 or 3 centimeters and are mainly classified as APS-C (also known as a crop sensor), full-frame (also known as a 35mm sensor), and medium-format.
Being larger, a full-frame sensor captures more light without adding a lot of noise when compared to a smaller APS-C sensor. Although the differences are not easily noticeable, a bigger sensor provides slightly better image quality and can blur the background to a greater extent, which can be especially useful for portrait photography. It goes without saying, cameras with larger image sensors are more expensive.
Type of Camera
Apart from smartphones and compact point-and-shoot cameras where you cannot change the lens, digital cameras can be grouped into DSLRs or mirrorless.
The term ‘DSLR’ stands for ‘digital single-lens reflex’ camera. Their lenses are interchangeable, and they come with an optical viewfinder which you can use to view the scene as it actually is.
On the other hand, mirrorless cameras contain a small digital screen to simulate the scene in front. They are named ‘mirrorless’ because they do not need any mirror to redirect light towards the viewfinder until the shutter is opened like in a DSLR, and the light goes to the sensor directly.
Nowadays, both types of cameras come with similar specifications, prices, and performance. It boils down to your natural preference and budget. A DSLR camera is bigger in size and can survive rough weather. A mirrorless camera is more portable, gives slightly faster autofocus, but does not feel as rugged in hand as a traditional DSLR.
Extras to Look Out For
If you want to grow as a photographer, you will need to upgrade your lenses — usually more frequently than your camera. You must factor in your budget and personal style of photography so that you can get a lens that suits you.
Landscape photographers will prefer an all-rounder lens that can cover both wide and telephoto needs, whereas travel and portrait photographers might need a prime lens that is portable and comes with a wide aperture for blurring backgrounds.
Useful features like Weather Resistance
Camera manufacturers promote dozens of features, but only some of them are really useful. When selecting a camera, keep your eyes open for the weather-resistance feature. Although it won’t make your camera waterproof, it will provide some protection against light rain, snow, and dust.
You can also look for features like an AF joystick, making changing AF points when shooting moving subjects fun and quick. Things like an in-built timelapse mode and tilting LCD display are also helpful.
A few accessories will be required to make full use of your camera and adequately manage your photos.
Investing in a good tripod is a must. Along with helping you take long exposures, a tripod will also let you judge your composition, attach filters, and change settings comfortably. Take a look at the best tripods under $100.
If you want to build a photography business, investing in these accessories and ensuring you do not lose client photos due to some laptop crash or broken hard disk will be paramount.
Best Starter Cameras for Photography
1. Canon EOS M50 Mark II Bundle
The Canon M50 mirrorless camera was a hit, and the newer M50 Mark II offers just the right amount of updates without changing the design. The camera is small, light, and has a 24MP crop sensor, a Digic 8 processor, 4K video, Wi-Fi, and webcam capability.
Targeted at amateur content creators, the M50 Mark II also features Dual Pixel autofocus. This is Canon’s unique technology, where you can simply touch the back LCD, focus, and track subjects and faces. The LCD is also articulating, which makes the camera great for vloggers.
The starter camera bundle on Amazon includes a 15-45mm and a 55-200mm lens, both of which have image stabilization and cover both wide angles and the telephoto range.
- Great image quality
- Portable and light
- Dual Pixel AF is very fast and accurate
- Articulating touchscreen is useful when paired with Dual Pixel
- Boosting shadows might bring in some noise
- 4K video has a 1.5x crop
- No in-body stabilization
2. Nikon Z5 with NIKKOR Z 24-200mm Lens
Those serious about pursuing photography and possibly going professional will love the Nikon Z5. It’s an entry-level 24MP full-frame camera, and shares the same Expeed 6 processor and 273-point hybrid AF system as the high-end Z6.
The image quality is top-notch, and the camera’s ergonomics — including an AF joystick — and weather resistance allow hassle-free handling. The camera also has 5-axis image stabilization, which is a great addition considering its lower price.
To maintain a reasonable price level, the Nikon Z5 provides only cropped 4K and a slow shooting speed of 4.5 fps. Looking at the overall package, though, especially with the versatile and stabilized 24-200mm lens, the Nikon Z5 is one of the best cameras to start a photography business.
- Excellent full-frame sensor at a low price
- In-body stabilization
- Weather resistance and a comfortable grip
- Speed of only 4.5 fps
- 4K video is heavily cropped
3. Fujifilm X-T4 with XF 16-80mm Lens
Fujifilm cameras are stylish and probably the most fun to use among all major brands. And Fuji does not skimp out on customizability for enthusiasts starting photography, allowing the functionality of its dedicated retro dials to be changed.
The X-T4 comes with the expected vintage looks but adds new features like in-body stabilization, 20 fps shooting speed, uncropped 4K video, dual card slots, and a USB-C connector for charging. The image quality is great, with lots of dynamic range for boosting shadows and Fuji’s famous film simulations.
What makes the X-T4 a perfect choice is its powerful video mode. You get 4K, 10-bit internal recording, peaking, zebra warnings, and a mic jack — if you are okay with using a USB-C converter. The AF performance is sometimes unreliable and subject-dependent in video mode, one of the only few quirks.
But in a world of affordable full-frames, this 26MP APS-C mirrorless holds its own beauty as an all-rounder travel camera.
- Dedicated dials for ISO, shutter speed, and aperture
- In-body stabilization
- Powerful combo of stills and videos
- Slightly expensive for an APS-C
- AF performance may become unreliable depending on subject
4. Sony Alpha a6600 with 18-135mm Lens
At the time of its release in 2019, the a6600 was Sony’s flagship APS-C mirrorless camera. Almost the opposite of the Fuji X-T4, the a6600 delivers highly impressive AF but isn’t as easy to use.
The 26MP camera boasts of one of the most powerful AF systems ever, and can easily track any subject you put in front of it. This makes it an excellent choice for budding sports photographers. The specs also include in-body stabilization, a tilting touchscreen, 4K video with log profiles, and a battery life that matches many DSLRs.
As a still-only camera, the a6600 is hard to beat in terms of pure quality and AF. However, as a beginner, you must be wary of the uncomfortable ergonomics and confusing menus.
The Sony a6600, when paired with the all-rounder 18-135mm, makes a great sports and wildlife package for starting photography, as long as you don’t mind the learning curve.
- Excellent image quality
- One of the best AF systems
- Good battery life
- Complex menus and poor ergonomics
5. Canon EOS Rebel T8i with EF-S 18-55mm Kit Lens
While many lean towards the smaller and faster mirrorless options, a suitable DSLR offers a different experience and weight-in-hand that others prefer. The Canon T8i is one such DSLR that is easy to use and affordable.
The T8i camera has everything you need to start photography in a traditional DSLR body with an optical viewfinder. The specs are decent enough: 24MP crop sensor, 45-point AF system, 7 fps shooting speed, an articulating touch LCD, cropped 4K, and dual dials to change exposure settings. And the 18-55 mm lens complements it well, offering silent AF and image stabilization.
The camera is not revolutionary in any way, but it was never meant to be. And the Rebel series is one of Canon’s best sellers for a reason.
- Very affordable and easy to use
- Traditional DSLR design, but lightweight
- Decent image quality
- AF in live view is very slow
- 4K video is heavily cropped
6. Nikon Z fc with 16-50mm Lens
Nikon has done something new, paying an homage to Nikon’s old film cameras with its latest Z fc APS-C mirrorless. The vintage body contains a 20.9MP sensor, burst shooting speed of 11 fps, oversampled 4K, a fully articulating touchscreen, and dedicated retro dials for ISO, shutter speed, and exposure compensation. Although unfortunately, the body does not feel very solid or rugged in hand.
The 20.9MP sensor is found in Nikon’s Z50 too, and delivers excellent dynamic range, with one of the best low-light performances of this category. The video quality is excellent, and the inclusion of a mic jack and tilting screen make the Z fc a vlogger’s camera.
The AF system provides good support here, and allows tracking of eyes and faces accurately. For people considering a camera that can handle both stills and videos, the Z fc is an affordable option.
- Excellent image and video quality
- Stylish looks with dedicated dials
- Very portable when paired with the 16-50mm stabilized lens
- No image stabilization
- Camera body is not the most rugged
7. Sony Alpha a7 III with 28-70mm Lens Bundle
An almost perfect starter camera, the Alpha a7 III represents Sony’s technological prowess, despite being labeled as a ‘basic model.’ A 24MP full-frame sensor, 10 fps burst speed, a 693-point AF system borrowed from the a9 sports camera, image stabilization, high quality 4K, Log capture, AF joystick, and much more — there are very few things the a7 III misses out on.
Sony has even updated the menus to make them easier to navigate.
Getting this future-proof camera as your first would mean that you can grow with it and make it last years. The image quality is best in class, and the exceptional AF makes it easy to shoot any subject without worrying about changing settings each time.
The only drawback that holds back the excellent video segment is the 8-bit recording limit and unreliable tracking that shows up in the footage. The Sony A7 III is used by beginners and professionals starting a photography business.
- Class-leading image and video quality
- Impressive AF
- Stabilized and weather resistant
- Video AF prone to hunting sometimes
- Buttons are small and offer less tactile feedback
8. Nikon D7500 with NIKKOR 18-140mm Lens
The D7000 series from Nikon has always been famous for bridging the gap between affordable and capable. The D7500 is almost at the top of Nikon’s APS-C line, and borrows a lot from the D500, which is the actual flagship.
The 20.9MP sensor is fantastic in low light, and delivers an almost full-frame-like dynamic range. The new 108K pixel RGB sensor boosts the 51-point phase-detect AF system, and allows for very accurate subject tracking. Ergonomics have also been improved, with robust weather sealing, a deeper grip, and a tilting touchscreen.
The 4K video is cropped, and Nikon’s video AF is miles behind Sony and Canon. This is the only thing that holds back the Nikon D7500, which is otherwise a fantastic DSLR that will appeal to enthusiasts wanting the purest form of an optical viewfinder.
And with the wide-to-telephoto 18-14 mm lens attached, the D7500 can take care of all wildlife and action photography needs.
- A traditional DSLR with rugged body
- Excellent image quality all the way
- Improved AF and subject tracking
- Not very portable
- Video features are below average in today’s market
9. Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III with M.Zuiko 14-150mm Lens
The OM-D E-M5 Mark III is a ‘micro four-thirds’ camera, which refers to an image sensor slightly smaller than an APS-C. While the price tag is a bit above the average, the E-M5 III has everything you need from a travel camera.
The smaller sensor allows the camera to be very compact and light, and it offers a 20MP sensor, weather sealing, a 121-point hybrid AF system with face and eye detection, 10 fps burst shooting, 4K video, an articulating touchscreen, and image stabilization. That’s a long list.
Another advantage the E-M5 III has is its distinctive retro looks and pretty thought-out ergonomics — except the convoluted menus. This camera might not be the fastest in terms of autofocus, but as an all-purpose starter camera for travel photography, it serves its purpose beautifully.
- Highly portable and comfortable to use
- Image stabilization of up to 6.5 stops
- Good image quality and uncropped 4K
- The menu requires getting used to
- Subject tracking is not accurate
10. Panasonic LUMIX S5 with LUMIX 20-60mm Lens
Another full-frame mirrorless like the Sony a7 III, the Lumix S5 provides a 24MP sensor with an updated AF system and better video features. The DFD focusing mechanism can track subjects — including eyes and faces — well, although the 5 fps burst speed holds it back from being a capable action shooter. And the image quality is easily comparable with rivaling full-frames.
For landscape photographers, there’s a multi-shot mode that takes multiple photos to create a 96MP image. The feature does provide high-quality photos and is not just a gimmick. And thanks to the weather sealing and in-body stabilization, you won’t have to worry about light rain and low light conditions.
The Lumix S5 has strong video capabilities too — 10-bit DCI and 4K at 30p, with 10 bit 4:2:2 colors. Even highly advanced features like anamorphic mode and waveform display are provided. If you want a future-proof camera that you won’t have to replace, the Lumix S5 should be one of your top considerations.
- Excellent image and video quality
- Provides almost all tools a pro videographer will need
- Image stabilization and weather sealing
- Burst shooting speed of 5 fps only
- Electronic viewfinder’s magnification and resolution is low
Even the most expensive camera in the world won’t help you shoot if it doesn’t feel good in your hands. This is why carefully prioritizing what your needs are is an essential step before buying a camera.
Some people will prefer a compact mirrorless over a rugged DSLR, or a body that offers better video features than one with a fast burst rate. It all depends on you. For a starter camera, you have options like the basic Canon Rebel T8i, the blazing-fast Sony a7 III, or the fun and stylish Fuji X-T4.
In addition, some of these cameras can be used to start a photography business. There are several professional photographers that use APS-C and micro four-third cameras for their photography business.
As long as you buy something which you are comfortable with, the specifications will not matter.