With the quality of digital cameras continually improving and prices falling, $500 or less can buy you an excellent digital camera in 2016. All within this price range, you can get an entry-level digital SLR, a mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera, an advanced point-and-shoot, or even a superzoom. Below are our picks for the best cameras under $500, with options from leading brands like Nikon, Canon, Samsung, and Sony. We will continue to update this list as new models are released and price drops bring some of our favorites below the threshold. For more background, see our comparison table and buying advice below the picks. 
 

Digital SLRs Under $500

1. Nikon D3300 ($497 with 18-55mm kit lens)

Nikon D3300 DSLR cameraMegapixels: 24.2
Sensor size: 357 sq. mm
Weight: 15.1 oz.
What we like: Great image quality for the price.
What we don’t: For those who value size, the D3300 is larger than the mirrorless cameras below.

With the release of the new D3400, the D3300 is once again under $500 and back to its rightful spot on this list. Here’s the good news: the new version offers little in the way of improvements—a better battery life is the most notable—and we still like the D3300 best. With this camera you get everything most first-time DSLR users need: great image quality for the price, an easy-to-use interface from one of the best in the business, and an improved kit lens that is sharper and lighter than past models. At this price, the D3300 will outperform any point-and-shoot and can go head-to-head with the mirrorless cameras below. For those looking for an interchangeable-lens camera in this price range, it’s our top choice. 
See the Nikon D3300

 

2. Canon Rebel SL1 ($488 with 18-55mm lens)

Canon Rebel SL1 DSLR camera

Megapixels: 18
Sensor size: 332 sq. mm
Weight: 14.4 oz.
What we like: Small form factor.
What we don’t: We still prefer the D3300 above for a DSLR in this price range.

You can’t crack the Canon Rebel T6i or T5i in this price range, which are $750 and $650 respectively with kit lenses, but the Rebel SL1 offers similar image quality in a trimmed-down package. The Rebel SL1 is the smallest digital SLR in Canon’s lineup, weighing just 14.4 ounces for the camera body, and is competition to the increasingly popular mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras. What do you sacrifice with the Rebel SL1 compared to bulkier and more expensive Canon DSLRs? It doesn’t have a flip-out screen, the autofocus isn’t quite as advanced, and the camera shoots only 4 frames per second. However, the compact size and low weight are great for uses that require mobility, and we love the price.
See the Canon Rebel SL1

 

3. Canon Rebel T5 ($399 with 18-55mm lens)

Canon Rebel T5 camera

Megapixels: 18
Sensor size: 332 sq. mm
Weight: 15.3 oz.
What we like: One of Canon's cheapest DSLRs.
What we don't: Video quality could be better.

The Canon T5 is a trimmed-down version of the popular Rebel T5i, bringing it below $400 wit h the 18-55mm kit lens. This is a great camera for beginners and those making the jump from a smartphone or point-and-shoot to a DSLR, but keep in mind that it doesn’t have the bells and whistles of its more expensive siblings. For example, the rear LCD creen isn’t as advanced as the T5i—it’s not a touch screen and doesn’t flip out for video—and the T5 shoots only 3 frames per second. However, the T5 is slightly lighter than the T5i, and perhaps most importantly, around $250 cheaper. 
See the Canon Rebel T5

 

4. Nikon D3200 ($417 with 18-55mm lens)

Nikon D3200

Megapixels: 24.1
Sensor size: 366 sq. mm
Weight: 17.8 oz.
What we like: Good resolution for the price.
What we don't: Not all that much cheaper than the newer D3300. 

The Nikon D3200 is one of the top DSLRs under $400 and a solid value. This camera boasts a 24.1-megapixel sensor that is almost identical to pricier Nikon DSLRs like the D5300. You don’t get features like in-camera HDR or a flip-out screen for movies, but all things considered, the D3200 is a quality camera that was unthinkable in this price range only a handful of years ago. It’s a tough call choosing between this model and the newer Nikon D3300 above, especially given that the latter is only slightly more expensive. You can’t go wrong with either, but we would spend for the added features, which include faster shooting, a better battery life, a lower weight, and a superior kit lens. 
See the Nikon D3200

 

Mirrorless Cameras Under $500

1. Olympus OM-D E-M10 ($399)

Olympus OM-D E-M10 mirrorless cameraMegapixels: 16.1
Sensor size: 225 sq. mm
Weight: 13.8 oz.
What we like: Great image quality for the price. 
What we don’t: Camera is small in the hand and can be tough to grip.

Olympus makes some of the top mirrorless cameras on the market (they are part of the Micro Four Thirds family), but most are closer to $1,000. Even this camera, the OM-D E-M10, had been around $700 for much of 2016 before going on sale. At its current price we absolutely love the OM-D E-M10: it’s small and light for travel yet offers the same image sensor as the much pricier Olympus E-M5 Mark II. New to the camera is 5-axis image stabilization and improved electronic viewfinder, among other features. All in all, you get a whole lot of camera here for $430, although we do expect the price to go back up. Until then, OM-D E-M10 is the top mirrorless camera under $500 and will run circles around the Olympus PEN E-PL7 below. 
See the Olympus OM-D E-M10

 

2. Sony Alpha a5000 ($448 with 16-50mm lens)

Sony Alpha a5000 camera

Megapixels: 20.1
Sensor size: 357 sq. mm
Weight: 9.5 oz.
What we like: APS-C image sensor.
What we don’t: No electronic viewfinder.

The Alpha a5000 is Sony’s leading entry-level mirrorless camera and currently available for under $450 with a kit lens. Most importantly, the Sony a5000 has a large APS-C image sensor and 20.1 megapixels of resolution, but it does forego the bells and whistles of higher-end models like the pricier Sony a6000. Perhaps its biggest shortcoming is the lack of an electronic viewfinder (you’ll have to use the LCD screen around back to line up your shots). But this issue aside, the a5000 is a solid value for those who want quality photos at a reasonable price.
See the Sony Alpha a5000

 

3. Nikon 1 J5 ($497 with 10-30mm lens)

Nikon 1 J5 cameraMegapixels: 20.8
Sensor size: 116 sq. mm
Weight: 9.4 oz.
What we like: Super fast shooting speed and improved ergonomics.
What we don’t: Smaller image sensor than other mirrorless cameras.

Nikon has not been aggressive with the sheer number of its mirrorless offerings, but that doesn’t mean you should overlook the 1 J5. This compact camera lags behind in the size of its image sensor but makes up for it in features and functionality. With the 1 J5 you get extremely fast shooting at up to 20 frames per second, 20.8 megapixels of resolution, built-in Wi-Fi and NFC, and better ergonomics than past versions with an improved grip. In addition, the 1 J5 does not have an optical low pass filter like many of Nikon’s latest DSLRs, which results in better sharpness. If you can overlook the small image sensor (we should note that although it is smaller than the other mirrorless models on this list, it’s the same size as Sony’s popular RX100 series) the Nikon 1 J5 is a fun and very fast camera. 
See the Nikon 1 J5

 

4. Olympus PEN E-PL7 ($399 with 14-42mm lens)

Olympus E-PL7 mirrorless cameraMegapixels: 16.1
Sensor size: 225 sq. mm
Weight: 10.9 oz.
What we like: The low price tag.
What we don’t: Very light on features.

It’s hard to argue against the Olympus OM-D E-M10 above at the same price, but should that camera go up again, give the PEN E-PL7 a serious look. The entry-level PEN series has been a mainstay in Europe and Asia for years, and recently has become popular in the United States as well. The E-PL7 is a solid deal at around $400 with a kit lens and boasts a 16-megapixel Micro Four Thirds image sensor, a sturdy all-metal build, and a 3-inch rear LCD touch screen for lining up your photos and videos. For those who want to add lenses, the options for Micro Four Thirds are immense. Again, we prefer the more advanced OM-D E-M10 and its electronic viewfinder, but the E-PL7 is slightly lighter and has better battery life. Both make great travel cameras for those who want to go light. 
See the Olympus PEN E-PL7

 

Point-and-Shoot Cameras Under $500

1. Sony DSC-RX100 ($448)

Sony DSC-RX100Megapixels: 20.2
Sensor size: 116 sq. mm
Weight: 8.5 oz.
What we like: One of the top point-and-shoots on the market.
What we don’t: No electronic viewfinder.

Sony has released three versions of the RX100, all of which are terrific cameras that many enthusiasts and professionals use when they can’t carry larger set-ups. The new RX100 IV is selling for a whopping $948, but the original RX100 is less than $500 and can go head-to-head with any camera on this list. For the price you get a large sensor that produces high-quality 20.1-megapixel images, a fast Carl Zeiss lens, manual settings, and RAW capability, all packaged in a lightweight and durable body. The newest version has an electronic viewfinder and 4K video—the original X100 does not—but it’s a great camera nevertheless.
See the Sony RX100

 

2. Canon PowerShot G9 X ($479)

Canon PowerShot G9 X cameraMegapixels: 20.2
Sensor size: 116 sq. mm
Weight: 7.4 oz.
What we like: Longer zoom range than the Sony RX100.
What we don’t: Smaller 1" sensor.

Canon expanded its high-end point-and-shoot lineup at the end of 2015 with the release of G9 X and G5 X to compliment the existing G7 X. The G9 X is the simplest of the bunch in terms of features without an optical viewfinder or ultra-high resolution articulating LCD screen. You also get fewer manual controls on the camera itself. However, the G9 X boasts the same large 1” CMOS sensor as the other two models, has even more zoom at 28-300mm, and is extremely light at only 7.4 ounces. If you’re choosing between this camera and the Sony RX100 above, we prefer the larger sensor but the extended zoom range of the G9 X is valuable for uses like travel photography. The built-in Wi-Fi is a nice touch as well. 
See the Canon G9 X

 

3. FujiFilm X30 ($499)

Fujifilm X30 cameraMegapixels: 12
Sensor size: 58 sq. mm
Weight: 14.9 oz.
What we like: Fujifilm image quality and color rendition.
What we don’t: The retro styling isn’t for everyone.

Fujifilm has more of a purist following than Canon or Nikon, but we love the image quality and colors. For people photography and travel, the X30 can go head-to-head with any compact camera on the market. With a fast 28-112mm f/2.0-2.8 lens, Full HD 1080p video, and RAW capability, the images and footage produced by the X30 are superb. It’s true that the Sony RX100 and Canon G9 X above have larger image sensors, but the X30 has an electronic viewfinder, which adds a lot of value for serious photographers. If you haven’t shot with Fujifilm in the past, we heartily recommend the experience. And despite the old-school looks, the X30 has modern features like built-in Wi-Fi, an electronic level, and panorama mode. 
See the Fujifilm X30

 

4. Canon PowerShot SX710 HS ($299)

Canon SX710 HS cameraMegapixels: 20.3
Sensor size: 28 sq. mm
Weight: 9.5 oz.
What we like: A well-rounded camera for under $300.
What we don't: Image sensor is smaller than advanced point-and-shoots.

If you’re willing to move down to a smaller sensor, the Canon SX710 HS is a popular superzoom and a great travel camera on a budget. Most impressive is its 25-750mm of reach, which far exceeds any of the more expensive point-and-shoots above. You also get Full 1080p HD video capability and built-in Wi-Fi, among other features. In most conditions, the SX710 HS can produce quality images and you’ll barely notice it’s in your pocket. However, for people who plan on making large prints, the resolution can be limiting and you may want to consider a point-and-shoot with a larger sensor or an interchangeable-lens camera. Editor’s note: the Canon 720 HS has been released with 24-960mm of zoom, but that camera is $80 more. Unless you need the extra zoom, we prefer to save with the older model. 
See the Canon SX710 HS

 

Camera Comparison Table

Camera Price Type MP Sensor Burst Weight
Nikon D3300 $497 DSLR 24.2 357 sq. mm 5 fps 15.1 oz.
Canon Rebel SL1 $488 DSLR 18 332 sq. mm 4 fps 14.4 oz.
Canon Rebel T5 $399 DSLR 18 332 sq. mm 3 fps 15.3 oz.
Nikon D3200 $417 DSLR 24.1 366 sq.mm 4 fps 17.8 oz.
Olympus OM-D E-M10 $399 Mirrorless 16.1 225 sq. mm 8 fps 13.8 oz.
Sony Alpha a5000 $428 Mirrorless 20.1 357 sq. mm 3.5 fps 9.5 oz.
Nikon 1 J5 $499 Mirrorless 20.8 116 sq. mm 20 fps 9.4 oz.
Olympus PEN E-PL7 $399 Mirrorless 16.1 225 sq. mm 8 fps 10.9 oz.
Sony DSC-RX100 $448 Compact 20.2 116 sq. mm 10 fps 8.5 oz.
Canon PowerShot G9 X $479 Compact 20.2 116 sq. mm 6 fps 7.4 oz.
Fujifilm X30 $499 Compact 12 58 sq. mm 12 fps 14.9 oz.
Canon PowerShot SX710 HS $299 Compact 20.3 28 sq. mm 8 fps 9.5 oz.


 

Deciding on a Camera Type in the Sub-$500 Price Range

The good news for consumers is that you have all three choices when shopping for a camera in the sub-$500 price range:
 

Digital SLRs
Digital SLRs are the classic camera used by professional photographers and enthusiasts, although mirrorless cameras below are making inroads. Even in the sub-$500 price range, you can get an entry-level DSLR from Nikon or Canon including an 18-55mm kit lens. Prosumer and full-frame DSLRs are well out of reach from a cost perspective, but entry-level DSLRs are excellent for budding photographers. Nikon D3300 sunset photo

Mirrorless Cameras
This relatively new breed of camera was built entirely for digital and boasts DSLR-like image sensors in a more compact form. You also get interchangeable lenses, offering greater flexibility than a point-and-shoot that comes with an attached lens. The sacrifices of mirrorless cameras are that the lens choices are still catching up to DSLRs, the experience feels more digital including the prevalence of electronic viewfinders, and the cost can supersede a comparable DSLR.
 

Point-and-Shoots
Point-and-shoots generally are cheaper than the cameras above—they come with an attached zoom lens and a range of features from 1080p video to Wi-Fi. They also have the smallest image sensors, which is why many professional photographers opt for a digital SLR or mirrorless camera. Despite the inferior image quality, you can get a ton of features for under $500 in a very easy-to-use package. Your DSLR or mirrorless camera choice will be relatively basic in terms of functionality, but not so with a point-and-shoot.
 

Features

Video
Video has become a highly sought-after feature, even at the entry level. All of the cameras on this list shoot Full HD 1080p, and unfortunately none shoot 4K (you’ll have to spend around $1,000 or more for that). Shooting speeds vary depending on the camera model, and quality generally correlates with price. All things considered, most cameras under $500 will shoot decent video but not nearly as good as an enthusiast or full-frame camera. The Canon Rebel series in particular is known for video, but only the T5 made this list (the T6i and T5i are better options for videographers but they are more expensive).
 

Burst rate
Those who shoot action scenes will want a high burst rate, which is the amount of times per second that the camera will fire. Entry-level DSLRs tend to have the slowest burst rates (in the range of 3 to 5 frames per second), while point-and-shoots and mirrorless cameras can be many times better, depending on the model. The Nikon 1 J5 is the fastest camera on this list at 20 frames per second, while the Sony RX100 is very respectable for a point-and-shoot at 10 frames per second.
 

Rear LCD
As the price of a camera rises, the rear LCD screen tends to get more advanced. Depending on the model, you may find a tilting or swiveling LCD and even touchscreen functionality. And the higher the resolution on the screen, the easier it will be to read and navigate. This is an area where manufactures tend to trim features to save money, but our top picks like the Olympus OM-D E-M10 and Nikon D3300 both have good, bright LCDs for the price. Point-and-shoots tend to have the smallest LCDs with the least amount of functionality, with the exceptions being at the high end of the spectrum.
 

Viewfinder
For advanced photographers, the viewfinder is central to lining up a shot and making sure focus is correct. Many entry-level cameras, however, lack a viewfinder and these actions must be done via the rear LCD. We tend to appreciate this technology and it makes creating serious photos easier and more accurate. All of the digital SLRs on this list have optical viewfinders, the Olympus OM-D E-M10 has an electronic viewfinder, as does the Fujifilm X30. Those who value the composition aspect of photography should take this feature into account. 
 

Sensor Size and Megapixels

You’ll notice that we’ve included both sensor size and megapixel count in the specs for each camera as well as on our handy comparison table. Sensor size—the surface area used to collect light and other information for your digital photographs—is the more underrated of two. Megapixels, the amount of tiny dots on the sensor (mega=millions), get much more marketing attention but actually have less impact on image quality. Sony RX100 flowers

We recommend taking both specs into consideration when making a camera buying decision. It’s a tough call—you can get an entry-level DSLR with a large APS-C image sensor for the same price as an enthusiast point-and-shoot with a much smaller sensor, but the experience varies significantly. The DSLR will produce superior images, particularly if you plan to enlarge or print them, but the point-and-shoot will be packed with features, lighter, and more fun to use. We place a higher priority on sensor size over megapixels, but your intended use for the camera should dictate the final decision. 


Our Recommendations

With a $500 budget, we prefer either an entry-level DSLR like the Nikon D3300 or a high-end point-and-shoot like the Sony RX100.  The D3300 is a terrific DSLR for getting started and there are a number of Nikon DX-format lenses that can be added later at reasonable prices. Just a few years ago the RX100 was the top compact camera on the market and Sony has continued to churn out new versions (they currently on the RX100 IV, which costs a whopping $949). The biggest omission on the RX100 is the lack of an electronic viewfinder, but with an extra large sensor for a point-and-shoot and a superb lens, this camera is winner and a great value.

Mirrorless feels like the mostly iffy category here—the kit lenses are comparatively weaker than their Nikon or Canon counterparts and the prime and zoom options are more scattered. The Sony a5000 is a great little camera but the 16-50mm kit lens leaves something to be desired and there just aren’t many cheap Sony E-mount lens options. Samsung and Nikon offer even fewer lens choices. We still love mirrorless in general, but the field is markedly better in the $500 to $1,000 price range and up.


Accounting for the Cost of Lenses

When choosing from the top two categories above (DSLR or mirrorless), the camera often includes a kit lens that will be serviceable but not a stand out. The 18-55mm kit lenses from both Nikon and Canon are great for getting out of the door and shooting around town, but as your photography skills expand, you may want to add another prime or zoom lens or two (a good landscape or portrait lens, for example). This will send the total cost of your kit above $500 and counting, but if you are expanding your lens collection, that’s usually a good sign. 
 

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