Our pick of the best Starter and Enthusiast level cameras
So what’s the BEST camera?
If we had a penny for each time we get asked: “What’s the best camera to buy?” And I really wish I could just say – THAT one. But I can’t. Even if we take the cost out of the equation, there are still a lot of reasons that make one camera the right fit for someone and a terrible for another.
So how do you know? Here are a few questions that may be of help.
What’s your skills level?
If you’re just starting up, you certainly don’t need the £3,000 article. Instead go for a camera that will not be too complicated to handle when you don’t know much, but at the same time, one that you won’t want to replace as soon as you’ve learnt a little.
That’s why we tend to recommend cameras that are one shelf above the absolute star camera – if possible. The production cycle of cameras these days is approx 18 months and sometimes the technical differences between the newest model and its predecessor are really insignificant ( like for example having or not having built in wifi) so in some cases it’s better to choose a slightly older model from a shelf up ( which had gone down in price since the newest version came out) than the brand new shiny model from the bottom shelf.
Weight and size – are those important to you?
Does size and weight matter to you? If you have a few small people swarming around you, perhaps carting a larger piece of equipment is not really for you. Getting a heavy camera, however great it might be, won’t be of any use to you if its weight and bulk are to make you reluctant to bring it with you frequently. The saying goes – the best camera is the one you have on you – and we certainly subscribe to this view. If you don’t use it, what’s the point of spending lots of money on it?
So if weight and size is a key consideration, you want something small and light ( that includes smaller lenses) which means you’re looking either at the smaller end of DSLRs or going even lighter and switching to a mirrorless.
Do not confuse mirrorless cameras with ‘bridge cameras’. Bridge cameras are essentially upgrades to point-and shoot cameras which include the capability to shoot in manual modes and to manipulate a few other settings. More often than not they have one fixed lens which is not interchangeable with any others. We don’t tend to recommend these for one reason – even if they boast most of the features of an entry level DSLR, they areusually designed with an Auto user in mind – not someone planning on using them in semi-manual and manual modes. The key settings tend to be hidden deep in the menus and not easily or ergonomically accessible.
But mirrorless cameras – that’s a whole different story. They are essentially designed to be the new DSLRs. They make away with some of the mechanical elements from the DSLR design ( the mirror which sends the image from the lens to the viewfinder – which does not actually take part in the photo creation, just pre-viewing the image) ) and often pack some great features and advanced settings. The quality they give you is as good or better than DSLRs. As of the last few years they even come in professional grade, full frame varieties and we’re seeing more and more photographers switch away from bulkier pro DSLRs to the much smaller and lighter Mirrorless.
The pros of mirrorless cameras are certainly the size. The downsides – well, they are on the pricier side, there are still fewer lenses available for them and they tend to be more expensive too and they can be more fragile. In some cases, depending on how you will be using them, the lenses can be almost as large as the ones for DSLRs ( though there are quite a few small and light ones so that’s certainly not a rule)
What will you be using the camera for?
Do you plan to use it as your family camera or perhaps thinking of working towards becoming a pro? If you have such ambitions, you will need a camera that’s reliable and precise above all. Those – and lenses that come with them – tend to be a lot heavier and bulkier so worth considering whether it’s a now or future purchase.
If you’re planning for it to remain a family focused hobby ( for now at least) don’t worry about going full frame and go instead for a good, small and compact camera that will be easy to take with you everywhere. It doesn’t need to be a mirrorless, there are some lovely small dslrs out there that aren’t that much bigger.
Don’t forget that when you buy a camera, you are also buying into the lens and accessories ecosystem linked to that particular brand. So your canon will only work with canon lenses ( or made-for-canon third party lenses – like Sigma or Tamron), and also that you will need different lenses for your starter DSLR, full frame DSLR and a mirrorless – even if it’s the same brand
And finally – budget
Let’s not beat about the bush. Photography is not a cheap hobby. The gear can be very expensive, but you don’t always need all that. We don’t all need to drive a Lexus if all we do is pop down the shops from time to time. All the more reason to shop with care and buy the kind of camera that’s actually well suited to what you need. It might also mean buying a camera body and lens separately to maximise your money.
Used is not a dirty word
There is a thriving second hand market for photography gear. Specialised sellers like mpb.com and wexphotovideo.com or camerajungle.co.uk will service all their second hand gear before selling it on and then offer between 6 months to 1 year warranty on it ( depending on the seller). This means you’re getting quality gear which you can rely on for a lot less than buying it new. If money is a serious concern but you want to get more than just the entry level gear, I would recommend considering second hand.
So with all that being said , what do we actually recommend?
A beginner PhotograpHER
A beginner photographer does not need a £3000 camera. She does need a solid camera that is designed to allow her a bit of growth beyond the most basic features, that she’ll be able to build up on.
If you’re on a budget and she’s just starting up – Nikon d3500 ( from £385 on wexphotovideo with a standard kit lens) , if you can push the money a little further d5600 ( from around £600) . Alternatively you could opt for the slightly older d5500 – Nikon d5600 is newer and more expensive than d5500, but beyond adding a few wireless features they are practically the same camera). D5500 can now be bought quite easily second hand from £349 second hand)
Canon cameras :
Canon 100d was for a long time our fave start-up camera – small and easy to handle, with a good balance of simplicity in handling and a few more features than the very beginner 1000d series. It was replaced by Canon 200d and we’re still huge fans – it’s a briliiant choice for a new photographer who wants to push herself further at some point. It currently comes in at just over £400 including a standard lens. Canon 100d can still be bought second hand for around £150. both 100d and 200d are really light and small for DSLR so a great choice for someone who doesn’t want to carry a lot of weight on them. If money allows, Canon 800d offer several more advanced settings, and features and an improved focus system – currently on sale at just above £500 including Canon’s Black Friday double cashback.
While Canon and Nikon have the majority of the camera market, we do like Pentax cameras a lot too. They tend to pack more features and extras for the same price as comparable Canon and Nikon models, sometimes coming in smaller, lighter and better weather sealed packages. In terms of accessories, there are a good amount of dedicated lenses and accessories – including third party like Sigma and Tamron and a lot of second hand legacy lenses ( Pentax is a brand that’s been around for a while). We love the Pentax K70 – it has a weather sealed body, dual controls for managing both Aperture and Shutter speed separately ( very handy for shooting in manual and something you don’t get in Canons and Nikons till the higher end models), brilliant low light performance due to an improved sensor and shake and vibration stabilisation mechanism. It comes in at just under £600 but in terms of features it’s comparable to Nikon d7200.
If it’s a mirrorless camera you want to get, we have a few favourites from the entry level range :
- Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III
Currently on sale for around £550 including a standard kit lens – ( or the earlier mark II model as not a lot changed between them- around £450 incl lens)
Great looking, very capable camera with a lot going for it. With very good performance on the move and a great focus mechanism, it definitely packs a lot of features in. Bonus – it uses a micro 4/3 lenses which means the pool of lenses available for this camera is wider than some of its competitors as you can use both Olympus, Panasonic and a few other third party lenses.
- Fujifilm X-T20 ( around £700 incl lens)
A great model, with an attractive retro design. It has plenty of great features – comparable with the higher end model – Fuji X-T2 but a a much lower price. The downside is a less weather proof body and some of the more pro-functions missing, but still a cracker of a camera. Fuji enthusiast love the range for the rich saturated colours and tones – comparable to their earlier, film cameras.
- Sony a6000 or A6300
We love the sony Full frame range (a7 and a9 ) but the crop sensor models are great and full of features too. Sony d6000 ( around £400 incl lens) or the newer version – Sony d6300 ( on sale for around £649 incl lens) are both great cameras in little packages, capable of great things. Sony has been at the mirrorless game for a little while now so the range of lenses available is getting bigger with some third party lenses available as well.
She knows her way around her current camera. She wants the better low light handling, higher resolution, better focus options and other more advanced features that her current camera doesn’t give her. Or maybe her current model is just a little too old now to handle it all as well. Either way, you want to be looking at the mid-high range.
The recently released Nikon d7500 ( approx £890) is a great choice up from entry level – a lot of the features trickled down from the the higher end, full frame models and for once, it is a significant update to Nikon d7200 ( approx £700) which already was a great camera.
If Santa’s money can stretch further – all the way to full frame, pro grade – Nikon d750 ( approx £1150 now) is one of the best entry full frame models – relatively small and light but with lots of features from the higher end models. Just be aware that with a switch to a full frame body, you will need full frame lenses. And those do not come cheap.
Canon 80d ( around £790 at the moemnt) is one of the newer Canon cameras for enthusiasts which is receiving great reviews. Without having to go for a full frame camera, you get quite a few of the advanced features without the price tag and having to change your lenses to full frame.
If you’re ready to make a switch to full frame, canon 6d is amazing value right now – £790 at the moment directly from Canon). The newer version – 6d mark II which had a few updates is £1,500. There have been some significant upgrades to the mark ii version but even the older 6d is still a great camera to get started in full frame with.
Fuji X-T2 has been a darling of photographers for a while now. We love it for the cool design ( lets not pretend it’s without importance) but above all, for beautiful richness of colours, great focus and a good selection of small and light lenses. Wex feers it now for £750 ( body only) or £1,019 ( including a great F2.8-4 lens)
But you could also go full frame with a mirrorless – Sony a7 range is still reigning in this area ( though both Canon, Nikon and Panasonic are following in their footsteps). Sony a7s are small and fast, brilliant with low light and with a truly impressive focus mechanism. As with other full frames, dslr or otherwise, the lenses can be a bit o a pricy side so keep that in mind when budgeting – but even the standard kit lens is sharp and fast. The oldest – Sony a7 comes in at around £650 for camera body only, a7 mark II ( £899) and the youngest a7 mark III – £1,990
Whatever camera you choose, remember it’s just an instrument. A great photographer will capture an amazing image with the simplest camera. It really doesn’t matter all that much if yours is a Nikon, Canon or anything else – noone has ever looked at a photos and went – oooh, yes, I can see what that canon did here…. It’s the person behind the camera that matters most.
Let me leave you with a quote by a magnificent photographer, Ernst Haas