Looking for the best cameras under $500? We’ve rounded up all of the camera world’s biggest bargains in this regularly updated guide – so whether you’re looking for a DSLR, compact vlogging camera or something for instant prints, you’ll find the best option for you.
It wasn’t long ago that you’d have to spend closer to $1,000 to get a camera that offered a noticeable step up from a smartphone. But after some significant leaps in camera technology, high-end features from previous flagship cameras have trickled down to the entry-level options that you can pick up for under $500.
There’s also the option of buying an older flagship camera at a discount, many of which were ‘camera of the year’ award winners when they were first released. You can, for example, find the Sony RX100 III and Nikon D3500 in our guide below. Top camera models like these from a few years ago still offer amazing specs and build quality today.
Whatever your reason for arriving at this round-up, we’ve got you covered with a varied list of the best cameras under $500. Each camera in our list has been chosen based on its combination of specs, usability, system and features. We’ve included models aimed at beginners, as well as a couple of higher-end choices that offer pro performance.
Each camera in this list is a great snapper in its own right and will help you get more from your photo and video capturing. So whatever your visual needs, here’s our ranked list of the best cameras you can buy for under $500.
- 1 The best cameras under $500 in 2021:
- 1.1 1. Canon EOS Rebel T7 / 2000D
- 1.2 2. Canon G9X Mark II
- 1.3 3. Canon EOS M100
- 1.4 4. Panasonic Lumix TZ100 / ZS100
- 1.5 5. Fujifilm Instax Mini 40
- 1.6 6. GoPro Hero 9 Black
- 1.7 7. Nikon D3500
- 1.8 8. Sony RX100 III
- 1.9 9. Olympus Tough TG-6
- 1.10 10. Insta360 ONE R
The best cameras under $500 in 2021:
Canon’s entry-level DSLR cameras are famed for their ease of use. They opt for simplified control layouts and easy-to-follow, color-coded menu systems. The EOS Rebel T7 (or 2000D as it’s known outside the US) continues this trend while still packing a punch, carrying a large 24.1MP sensor and a 9-point, phase-detection autofocusing system.
This may seem slightly underpowered considering the resolutions and focusing capabilities of many smartphones today. However, the APS-C sized sensor of the 2000D gives it the edge when it comes to capturing detail. What’s more, this Canon DSLR benefits from thousands of lens options that are compatible with the Canon EF-S mount, including Canon’s full-frame lenses. Wise lens investments will help you build a collection of glass that can last a lifetime.
Being lightweight and compact is another bonus, as it makes the Rebel T7 / 2000D easy to travel around with. It has a nice ergonomic grip with rubberized sections and a clear button layout. We would have loved to see a flip-out or articulated screen here, but the 2000D still offers a bright 3.0-inch fixed display for composing images. Video recording is limited to Full HD, which may disappoint some. But it does offer some modern features such as smartphone pairing via NFC and WiFi for easy transferring of photos to phones and printers.
Read our in-depth Canon EOS 2000D review
The Canon G9X Mark II is a fantastic, stylish and pocketable point-and-shoot with a 20.1MP 1-inch sensor. If you want something highly portable that takes better pictures than your smartphone with no fuss, this could be the best camera for you.
Firstly, it’s a great-looking camera. The G9X II grabs attention with its sleek metal body and tan-colored wrap. Its milled lens ring and dial with flashes of anodized red around the controls also give it a classy feel. With its 28-84mm f/2-4.9 zoom lens retracted, the G9X II only measures 31mm thick. As one of the slimmest cameras of this type, the G9X II is ideal for pockets, purses, and shoulder bags.
Its menu system is approachable and straightforward, too. The majority of exposure adjustments are made by using the touchscreen on the rear or the control ring that sits around the camera’s lens. All settings can be changed manually, but you can also get pleasing results straight out of the camera shooting on auto. The G9X II offers raw shooting and in-camera raw processing for those who want to make finer adjustments, too.
Our favorite feature is this camera’s three-stop ND (Neutral Density) filter, which is built into the lens. This can be engaged manually or automatically and enables you to use a wide aperture in bright light. The benefit of this is that the camera will allow you to capture more attractive images with greater background blur on bright days. It can also help to convey smoother motion when recording Full HD videos. The only real regret here is that the G9X II doesn’t capture 4K video. But for the more photo-centric among us, it ticks most of the important boxes.
Read our in-depth Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II review
Compact and lightweight, the Canon M100 neatly bridges the gap between smartphones and DSLRs. Thanks to Canon’s fast Dual Pixel autofocusing and some responsive touchscreen controls, the M100 makes it easy to capture moments on-the-fly.
The M100 has a large 24.2MP APS-C sensor and uses Canon’s Digic 7 image processor, which delivers great image quality in a wide variety of conditions. The processor also makes it possible for the M100 to capture a continuous burst of images at up to 6.1fps, which is great for freezing action. With a stated ISO range of 100-25,600 and raw shooting capabilities, it delivers superior low-light performance compared to most smartphones and many other cameras with smaller sensors.
Whether you’re keen to explore street photography, travel, or wildlife, the M100’s portable size, and interchangeable lens system makes it a versatile camera to carry around. As a small mirrorless camera, the M100 is compatible with equally lightweight Canon’s EF-M lenses. There are only eight native EF-M lenses in total, but it’s possible to use thousands of EF mount lenses on the M100 with the Canon EF-EOS M mount adapter.
Read our in-depth Canon EOS M100 review
Panasonic single-handedly invented the pocket travel zoom category with this range of cameras. Although the Lumix TZ100 is a few years old now, it still holds its own when compared to the competition.
Housing a capable 20.1MP 1-inch sensor and weighing just 312g, the TZ100 is a camera that slips into pockets with ease. Having a companion camera that offers up to 10x optical zoom while only taking up about as much space as five stacked iPhone 12 Mini’s is a huge benefit, too.
The TZ100’s motorized zoom Leica DC Elmarit lens provides a 25-250mm equivalent focal range, with an f/2.8-f/5.9 variable aperture. The maximum aperture range may seem a little tame at f/2.8, but it still delivers beautiful out-of-focus highlights, sharp details, and rich tones in good light.
Despite its diminutive size, Panasonic has managed to include a live viewfinder on the left shoulder of the TZ100. It is quite a small display at only 0.20in, but it manages to offer a great alternative option for composing images in direct sunlight. It’s also handy for capturing pictures in a more stable position with the camera held up to your eye.
Being super compact comes with some sacrifices, though. The TZ100’s 3-inch rear touchscreen is fixed and the controls are a little limited, due to the lack of space around the body. Still, even though it was released almost five years ago, the TZ100 offers 4K/25p-video recording. It also includes 4K Photo mode, which captures up to 30 frames per second for a maximum of 15 minutes. You can then scrub back through the footage and pull out 8MP JPEGs from the video clips. This can be a great tool for capturing particularly tricky or fast-moving subjects.
Read our in-depth Panasonic Lumix ZS100 / TZ100 review
Instant cameras have stood the test of time, proving the magic of instantly printed images is still strong. The Fujifilm Instax Mini 40 is a basic instant film camera that takes aim at a youthful market with a keen eye for retro chic.
Most affordable ‘toy’ cameras look like they’re designed for kids, but the Mini 40 has a more stylish appeal with its faux leather and metal finish, despite being made from plastic. As is the case with many cameras of this kind, there’s very little in the way of manual controls. There are only two buttons; one to turn it on and one for the shutter. The camera handles all of the exposure decisions for you with a shutter speed range between 1/2 to 1/250sec.
Whether you’re taking pictures in broad daylight or in low light, the Mini 40 will try to select the best possible exposure for the scene. It has a flash that sits next to the Instax logo on the front, which fires every time you press the shutter, regardless of the lighting conditions.
The Mini 40 has a 60mm equivalent f/12.7 lens, which is a good everyday focal length, great for portraits and general use. But it also offers a selfie function that helps the camera focus between 30cm-50cm for taking shots of yourself at arm’s length. It also has a cleverly placed mini mirror on the lens to make it easier to ensure everything you want is in the frame.
Something that tends to put people off instant film cameras is the overall cost, but thankfully Fujifilm’s Instax Mini film is among the most affordable per print. There are a variety of sizes for both color and monochrome film packs to choose from, but as an example, a 20-shot pack can be picked up for under $15, giving you two 10-sheet cartridges. Each pack gives you a 46 x 62mm image area and takes about five minutes to develop. They’re an ideal size for notice boards, scrapbooks, desks, and fridges. Finally, the Instax Mini 40 accepts widely used AA batteries, which are good for around 100 shots.
Read our in-depth Fujifilm Instax Mini 40 review
The GoPro Hero 9 Black is one of the most impressive action cameras around. Action cameras aren’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, but hear us out. The Hero 9 can capture 20MP photos, as well as shoot 5K videos at 30 frames per second in a super-compact form factor that can be mounted easily to pretty much anything.
It’s also shock, drop, and waterproof, meaning it can truly go anywhere you can. If you’re more video-focused, you will also enjoy the Hero 9’s impossibly steady HyperSmooth Boost stabilization. HyperSmooth allows you to capture professional-looking videos while on the move, whether you’re walking and talking to the camera or riding a mountain bike at speed.
There are a few GoPro cameras to choose from at this point, but the GoPro Hero 9 Black is the first GoPro to feature a front-facing display, which is really helpful when composing self-shot images and videos. It’s also handy to have if you want to use the Hero 9 Black for streaming or as a webcam.
Its three mods are also now on sale, allowing you to add a better microphone, a third display, and external lighting for a reasonably small extra fee.
Read our in-depth GoPro Hero 9 Black review
Designed to help beginners discover their passion for photography, the Nikon D3500 is an ergonomically pleasing camera thanks to its deep grip and manual controls. Those keen to get started with a ‘proper camera’ won’t be put off by the lack of mod-cons like an articulated touchscreen or 4K video recording. This is a camera aimed squarely at budding photographers – and on that front, it certainly doesn’t disappoint.
It houses a high-resolution 24.2MP DX-format sensor, with an ISO sensitivity range of ISO 100-25,600, which can produce stunning results. As a beginner camera, it has an approachable menu system and Nikon has also included a handy optional guide mode to help photographers learn how to make manual adjustments. Guide mode can tell you which settings to use for desired effects, such as motion blur or capturing fast-moving action for example. It’s a great way to help people learn more about the technical side of photography.
This camera is compatible with a wide range of Nikkor lenses, making it a good system to invest in as you’ll have plenty of lenses to upgrade to as your experience grows. The D3500 is well built and offers a sterling 1,550-shot battery life, which is unrivaled in this category. Surprisingly, it does also have Bluetooth connectivity, allowing you to connect it to Android and iOS devices for sharing images to your smartphone on the go.
Read our in-depth Nikon D3500 review
Despite being released in 2014, the Sony RX100 Mark III is still one of the best compact cameras you can buy right now. It offers an impressive 1-inch Exmor R CMOS sensor, Bionz X imaging processor, and a 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 Zeiss lens; a powerful combination that makes this camera capable of producing stunning images in most conditions.
Sony’s tried and tested 20.2MP 1-inch Exmor R sensor combined with the Bionz X processor delivers clean and sharp images, with an ISO sensitivity range of 125-12,800. This can also be expanded to ISO 25,600 when using the camera’s specialized multi-frame noise reduction mode. This RX100 III may only offer a 2.9x optical zoom, but it remains a highly versatile camera. It’s suitable for shooting broad landscape images, portraits, and close-up shots with its minimum focusing distance of 5cm at its wide end and 30cm at its telephoto end.
Unfortunately, the RX100 III can only shoot up to Full HD video recording at 60p, so this may not be the best camera if video is your main interest. However, if you want a pocketable camera that takes high-quality photos, this is one of the best compact cameras you can buy at any price point.
Read our in-depth Sony Cyber-shot RX100 III review
The tough compact camera category has been dominated by Olympus for a number of years now. Despite being a 2019 release, the Olympus Tough TG-6 still represents great value for money and remains our pick of the best waterproof cameras.
Aside from being near-indestructible, the industrial-looking TG-6 is pretty easy to use, thanks to some straightforward menus. It has control and mode dials, as well as a zoom lever positioned around its large shutter button for composing images and adjusting settings.
The camera has a fixed 3-inch LCD screen on the back. It’s bright, but it’s not touch-sensitive and there’s no dedicated viewfinder. This is because the camera needs to be fully operable while submerged in up to 15m (45ft) of water, or in extreme environments including temperatures as low as -10°C. It’s also dustproof, shockproof to 2m (7ft) falls, and crushproof under a maximum of 100kg.
The TG-6’s 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS sensor may seem a little underwhelming at only 12-megapixels, especially when you consider some of the high-resolution sensors we’re now accustomed to seeing in smartphones. That said, it does have a stacked 25-100mm equivalent f/2-f/4.9 aperture zoom lens, with a minimum focusing distance of 1cm for macro shots. It also shoots raw files, for greater flexibility when editing pictures.
This may be quite a niche camera, but if you do find yourself going on adventures or perhaps you have small children and need a camera for the whole family to enjoy, this could be the one.
Read our in-depth Olympus Tough TG-6 review
Insta360’s One R platform is a modular camera system consisting of a battery, control module, and camera brick. Depending on your needs, the Insta360 One R can be tailored to capture practically every type of content imaginable.
The base model ‘only’ offers a 12MP wide-angle camera with up to 4K/60p video-recording and 2.7K video at 100fps (which is ideal for slow-mo). Upgrade to the Insta360 One R Twin Edition and you get the exciting possibility of capturing immersive 5.7K/30p 360-degree video, which keeps everything in shot. The third mod for the Insta360 One R platform adds a premium 19MP 1-inch sensor with a 14.4mm equivalent f/3.2 lens, delivering class-leading photography performance.
Bringing a modular design to the action camera category is a stroke of genius because it lets you choose the type of camera you need, without having to carry around too many accessories or third-party add-ons. The One R is also waterproof to a depth of five meters. If you’re serious about underwater exploring, its optional Dive Case will protect the camera system to a depth of 60 meters. Insta360 has also developed an Aerial Mod, which will attach the One R system to a drone for capturing an immersive simulated flying experience
Even if you’re not familiar with action cameras, the Insta360 One R is intuitive to use and includes some top creativity features, such as timelapse, HDR, and voice controls. Insta360 has also created a great support app for both Android and iOS, which includes community-generated content and tips to help inspire and teach people how to get the most out of the camera system.
Read our in-depth Insta360 One R review