It's that time of the year, when - if you were thinking about upgrading your camera - you are starting browsing the stores offerings and wondering if now is the time to take the plunge.
But also, if you want a new camera or lens - which one?
We have researched and tested and thought about some key considerations for you. All accurate as of Nov 2021. Please note that wherever we provide links to our best used equipment buys, they may no longer be available by the time you click on them - used cameras tend to be one of a kind and once they're gone - they're gone. But if you have your heart set on it, worth having a search on other sites to see if another - maybe only a few more pounds more expensive may be available. Our favourite second hand sellers are mpb.com, wexphotovideo.com and parkcameras.com
SO WHAT’S THE BEST CAMERA FOR ME?
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 piece of gear. 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 learned a little.
That’s why we tend to recommend cameras that are one shelf above the absolute starter camera – if possible. The production cycle of cameras these days is approx 12-18 months nowadays 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.
If you're upgrading your camera, you already know a bit about what's important to you and you know the degree to which you tend to use it. If you find it lacking - I'd recommend going for a model that's 1-2 levels above what you currently have, so you can get some longevity out of it.
Weight and size – are those important to you?
Does the size and weight of your camera 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 will 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 mirrorless.
What's 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, bridge cameras 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 are usually 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. They are available at every level - from beginner, entry level cameras to fully blown professional gear with all the bells and whistles a pro might desire.
The future is Mirrorless
More importantly, camera manufacturers are definitely putting their money that way - Nikon for instance announced a couple years ago that they they will not be further developing and updating their entry level DSLR ranges, and instead offering entry level Mirrorless in the coming years. So if you're thinking long term, mirrorless maybe the way to go. Most recently, Canon followed with a similar announcement - this time saying they are no longer planning on updating new DSLR lines of their flagship top end models.
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 camera 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 Tesla 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 maximize your money.
Used is not a dirty word
There is a thriving second-hand market for photography gear. Specialized 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 a 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.
Sometimes the differences between the older models and their new version can be almost purely cosmetic - in recent years there were a few cases where literally the only things that change from an older to the newer model were the addition of wifi and touch screen - and all the actual photo taking bits remained exactly the same.
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?
Below you will find a roundup of cameras we recommend up to about £750. We're focusing on entry level and enthusiast cameras rather than advanced and pro end of the spectrum because typically if you are shopping for that advanced upgrade, you already have a strong idea of what you like and need. So these are the cameras we'd recommend for beginner through to intermediate photographer.
Cameras under £300
Bad news if you were hoping to get a brand new camera in that budget - there is literally nothing worth looking at in either DSLR or Mirrorless ranges.
BUT, if you're not above picking up some used gear ( always buy from a reputable professional seller which will offer warranties on their used gear and accept returns) , there are some great options out there:
Our pick for under £300: Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III (second hand)
Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III - currently at £253 used at Wex used or £269 at Park Cameras ( if used with discount code used-20)
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. The slight downside is that the smaller sensor which results in a smaller resolution - of 16MP. However that really only matters if you plan on printing your images in large format, which most people don't tend to do often. A big bonus is 5 axis image stabilization which makes shooting sharp images in low light MUCH easier.
If budget is tight, you might also consider OM-D E-M10 Mark II (£209 used at Park Cameras if used with discount code used-20) which is only 2 years older than mark III and shares the same sensor, Iso range etc - the key difference between these two is an improved focus system in the newer camera. Having said that, the older one still wasn't bad - boasting 81 focus points ( vs 121 in the newer version). Compare that to just 39 focus points for the Nikon d5500 or just 9! focus point for the Canon 2000 and you can see why this is our pic for under £300.
Other worthy options:
Canon EOS M5
Currently £294 used at mpb - Canon describes it as a Flagship mirrorless and it's a really capable24MP mirrorless camera featuring a Dual Pixel APS-C sensor ( giving it depth-aware focus across most of the frame). We also love how ergonomically well designed it is with all the key functions on the twin twin control dials or well positioned buttons and a well implemented touchscreen.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7 ( also called G70)
currently £289 at mpb
This is another capable little mirrorless with lots of controls at your fingertips. at 16MP it has resolution at the same level as the Olympus and smaller than the M5. The Autofocus is fast and it performs well enough in low light
If you want to go down the DSLR route, here are the two options we'd possibly consider. I will say though, that the mirrorless options we listed above are actually more advanced and capable, and for that alone, I'd opt for one of them before these entry level DSLRs
Nikon D5500 - £290 at Wex - the most recent Nikon DSLR from this line is D5600, however, the only thing separating d5500 and d5600 is a few added frills in the newer camera - such as wifi connectivity. So if money is tight, I'd opt for d5500
Canon EOS 2000D - £292 at Mpb - a basic, no-frills, good, entry-level DSLR camera in a small and light package from Canon.
Cameras from £300 - £500
Much more choice here, although the brand new camera ranges are still fairly limited:
New camera picks:
Still quite limited in the new mirrorless range - Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX9 ( £449 at Wex) and Sony a6000 ( £379 at Clifton Cameras) rangefinder style cameras are probably the only two notable choices. Both pretty capable, and again, if I were to pick a new camera within that price range, I would aim for either of those. The Panasonic camera, like the Olympus camera we listed above is a Micro 4/3 camera and therefore the lenses for the Panasonic and the Olympus are interchangeable making the pool of choices possibly slightly wider.
Both the Panasonic and the Sony are rangefinder style camera - a little smaller and flatter compared to 'traditional' DSLRs - they rely mostly on the live view screen at the back of the camera, although they both also have a viewfinder that you can press your eye to - in my opinion an essential part of a decent camera as sun glare and reflections can make shooting with a screen only inaccurate and frustrating experience. That is also the reason why I wouldn't recommend other mirrorless cameras in this price range, since they don't have the optical viewfinders.
Used camera picks:
If you don't mind buying a used camera, the £300 to £500 range has some genuinely fantastic options.
Our favourites include:
Fujifilm X-T30 - a really great and capable mirrorless and the Fujifilm range really highly rated by photographers for its capability of producing beautiful, film like tones - available used from Park cameras at £499 when used with the voucher code used-50) . If you cannot score an X -T30 at a good price , the slightly older X-T20 is still a great option (those start from around £379 at mpb)
On the DSLR front I would consider the Canon 250d which is a pretty good and small DSLR from Canon, with very comparable features to its mirrorless older brother m50 ( the DSLR is 1 year younger) - canon 250d comes at around £459 at mpb.com
The nearest Nikon DSLR at this level is d5600 but considering it is built on a technology which is around 5 years older than the d250, I wouldn't really consider it as an alternative. ( the cameras themselves are only 3 years apart, but the d5600 is built on the same sensor as d5300 which dates to 2014)
Cameras from £500 - £750
With this level budget to spare, you can score yourself some real gems
New camera picks:
Nikon Z50 - on sale now at Park cameras and a steal at just £629 for a brand new model. Big sensor, great in low light, fast autofocus - there is plenty to love about this mirrorless. If you want one that comes with a kit lens, £749 is what you will need to pay
Canon M50 mark ii ( £589 at Camera Centre for body only or £615 at SLR Microsystems inclusive of a lens) ( inclusive of a lens) - updated version of the M50 we recommended used in the under £500 range). Since it comes with a lens, it is a very comparable deal and you may want to consider it over the used option if you can stretch the money that little bit further.
Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV - a newer and updated version of our top pick from the under £300 category. It comes with an improved autofocus and updated stabilization. £576.47 on sale at Photospecialist.co.uk
Fujifilm X-T30 II - another updated top pick of ours - XT-30 was one of the most beloved models of the Fujifilm range and this updated version takes the best of what was in that range and tweaks it to improve its functionality, especially in the autofocus. coming at £769 ( so just a whisper above our £750 ceiling at Wex)
Used camera picks
Fujifilm X-T30 II - an ' open box but not used' condition one at Wex comes in at £689 which is almost £100 less than a brand new one - which given all that was done to it was open and maybe take a few test shots - it's a steal.
Fujifilm x-t3 - a more serious and advanced sister of the x - T30 series we have been recommending above (the x-T30 was developed as an enthusiast version of the X-T3 aimed at pros) We love it for the cool design (let’s not pretend it’s without importance) but above all, for the beautiful richness of colours, great focus and a good selection of small and light lenses. Unlike X-t30 it has a weather sealed body and more customisable and ergonomic buttons and dials - important for a photographer who wants to change settings without takeing the eye off the viewfinder - starting from £674 at Mpb
Panasonic G9 - I've not mentioned Panasonic mirrorless in the entry-level section and that's partly because as far as its more junior models go, other brands take the edge on the quality vs cost comparison. But G9, aimed at an Enthusiast level is a different story. It's a very capable camera that excels in several areas such as fast focus, great low light handling - it has built-in 5 axis stabilization, great video performance, and all-round great handling. It's also splash and dustproof, which is a great feature when you cart it around kids that - like mine, love to roll in mud and splash in puddles. Like some of its competitors, it also offers face/eye detection. Currently on sale at Park cameras at £589 (you must use of their Black Friday code USED-50) which is a great price for all the features within.
Sony a7 ii - an earlier incarnation of Sony's wildly successful a7 range. A full frame camera with a large pool of native ( sony) and third party lenses it fares pretty well. In case you wonder why this camera comes in at almost half the price of the next level up sony a7iii - there was a major update to the software between these two models and the a7iii is more aimed at the pro level photographer as a result. Having said that, the a7ii is still a very capable, well performing camera that has a lot going for it both in terms of it's focus and low light performance. £639 at Park cameras ( if purchased with their black Friday £50 off code USED-50 )
And in the DSLR ranges:
Canon 80d - from £521 at mpb is one of the Canon cameras for enthusiasts which is receiving great reviews. Without having to go for a full frame camera, you get lots of the advanced features without the price tag and having to change your lenses to full frame.
Nikon d750 - full frame Nikon DSLR from £675 at wex - one of the most popular and successful full frame DSLRs from Nikon - relatively small and light for a full frame Enthusiast / pro camera, with a lightning fast auto focus and other great feature - if you want to trade up from crop sensor to full frame in the Nikon DSLR range, this would be a good choice. Just be aware that with a switch to a full frame body, you will need full frame lenses. And those do not come cheap.
With or without a lens?
A lot of the cameras I listed above come as a Camera body only, without an actual lens. Where the lens comes bundled with the camera, it is usually a basic, small zoom, so called 'kit lens' typically sold as 18-55mm range. Before you commit to purchasing a camera with or without the extra lens, it's worth checking how much the same lens is worth if bought separately - often, if you buy the lens second hand, you'll actually get a better deal - certainly in the case of DSLR cameras, because that is usually the first lens a photographer replaces with a better option and over the years, a large pool of those starter lenses has built up. Mirrorless cameras being generally younger have not yet generated quite the same second hand pool of options, but I would always check how the with and without lens bundles compare.
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