June 12, 2024


Sapiens Digital

The Best SLR and Mirrorless Cameras for Beginners

7 min read

With a smartphone in your pocket, everyone is a photographer. The latest iPhone, Galaxy, and Pixel handsets capture images that turn heads and rack up social media likes, but there’s a limit to what they can do. If you’re interested in trying new photo techniques, it’s time to think about a camera with interchangeable lens support. Whether it’s for capturing distant wildlife, trying your hand at long exposure landscapes or night sky astrophotography, or delving into the tiny world of macro, you’ll find that a dedicated camera offers big benefits over your phone, and you don’t need to spend a ton of money on one.

Don’t Get an SLR

There’s a better-than-average chance that you’re reading this after searching for recommendations on SLRs for beginners. And here’s what we have to say about that: Most beginners shouldn’t buy SLRs.

Fujifilm X-T200Fujifilm X-T200

Technology has moved beyond the scope of the optical viewfinder. A decade ago the best cameras were all SLRs; today they are mirrorless. The idea is the same—a large image sensor, interchangeable lenses, and a direct view through the lens—but now the view is created by the image sensor and shown on a rear screen or eye-level electronic viewfinder.

There are palpable advantages for beginners. For one, you’ll get a preview of your exposure in the EVF, freeing you to experiment with manual exposure modes and see feedback in real time. Autofocus coverage typically extends much farther, so you’ve got more creative freedom to position a subject in the frame.

See How We Test Cameras

The creative side is there, too. If you’re thinking about making photos in black and white, you can set a mirrorless camera to preview your scenes in monochrome. The same is true for any color looks you want to apply—almost every camera offers vivid and neutral modes, but others extend them to more artistic looks.

Nikon D3500Nikon D3500

That said, we’ve included an SLR in our list for folks who absolutely prefer an optical viewfinder. They’re worth thinking about if your eyes don’t deal well with digital displays, but you’re definitely missing out on the more modern trappings of a mirrorless camera.

Choosing a Mirrorless System

When you buy an interchangeable lens camera, you’re not just buying the camera. The system you choose dictates what lenses you’ll be able to use.

That’s not a big deal if you’re just starting out—you’ll buy a camera with a bundled zoom, and if you want to add a telephoto, wide aperture prime, or macro lens, you’ll have no problem finding one that works with your camera.

Sony a6100Sony a6100

If you think you’re going to move to higher-end equipment down the road, you’ll want to take a little more into consideration. The Fujifilm X, Micro Four Thirds, and Sony E offer the widest range of lenses, and Canon’s EOS M has the basics covered.

For more detail on what every camera system offers, check out our guide to choosing a system.

Should You Go Full Frame?

Most cameras marketed toward budding photographers use image sensors that are smaller than the 35mm film models of yesteryear.

The bigger sensor size means that lenses are also a little bit bigger, and pricier, generally speaking. But there are some real reasons to mull a full-frame camera, even if you’re starting out.

Canon EOS RPCanon EOS RP

I recommend them especially to photographers whose main interests lie in portraiture, landscapes, and other more artistic pursuits, especially those who love the blurred-background bokeh look.

They’re also a good choice if you’re interested in trying out old, manual focus lenses, to give your images a bit of a vintage feel.

We’ve included a couple of full-frame picks here. The Canon EOS RP is built for beginner users and is a recent release. The Sony a7 II is a more advanced model, but has been on the market longer so it’s now selling for less than its successor, the a7 III.

If you’re still mulling a camera and want to get the best shots out of your phone, you can check out our tips for getting better shots with your phone, or our advice for beginning photographers working with phones and cameras alike.

Where To Buy

  • Sony Alpha 7 II

    Sony Alpha 7 II

    Pros: 5-axis in-body stabilization system.
    24-megapixel full-frame image sensor.
    Compact design.
    5fps burst shooting.
    Clean, detailed high ISO images.
    Sharp, tilting rear LCD.
    Focus peaking and magnification.
    Sharp OLED EVF.
    Improved ergonomics.
    Dust and moisture-resistant design.
    Adds 3-axis stabilization to adapted lenses.
    High bitrate 1080p video.

    Cons: Lacks PC sync socket.
    No built-in flash.
    External battery charger not included.
    Battery life is disappointing.
    Sensor design includes OLPF.
    Hyperactive eye sensor.

    Bottom Line: The mirrorless, full-frame Sony Alpha 7 II improves on its predecessor with in-body stabilization, faster autofocus, and a better ergonomic design, and earns Editors’ Choice honors in the process.

    Read Review

  • Canon EOS RP

    Canon EOS RP

    Pros: Compact body with full-frame sensor.
    Vari-angle LCD.
    Integrated EVF.
    Quick, accurate autofocus.
    Macro stacking and time-lapse tools.
    Attractive price.

    Cons: Small EVF.
    Low-cost native lenses not available yet.
    Inconsistent face and eye detection.
    4K video suffers from heavy crop.
    Sensor shows limited dynamic range.
    Small battery.
    No built-in flash.

    Bottom Line: Canon wants to bring full-frame photography to the masses with the affordable EOS RP.
    It’s a solid camera for the price, but Canon needs to release more low-cost RF-mount lenses to pair with it.

  • Fujifilm X-T200

    Fujifilm X-T200

    Pros: Compact build
    Stylish looks
    Built-in EVF
    Swing-out touch screen
    Speedy autofocus
    USB webcam support
    4K video

    Cons: Disappointing battery life
    Sensor isn’t stabilized
    Undersized control dials

    Bottom Line: The Fujifilm X-T200 offers ease of use for beginners, along with enough speed and manual control to keep mirrorless camera enthusiasts happy.

    Read Review

  • Nikon D3500

    Nikon D3500

    Pros: Compact.
    24MP resolution.
    5fps continuous shooting.
    Automatic image transfer via Bluetooth.
    In-camera shooting guide for beginners.

    Cons: Fixed LCD omits touch support.
    Contrast-based live view focus not ideal for video.
    No mic input.

    Bottom Line: The Nikon D3500 debuts at a lower price than its predecessor, making the company’s entry-level SLR more appealing to beginners and families.

    Read Review

  • Sony a6100

    Sony a6100

    Pros: Light and compact.
    Built-in EVF.
    Tilting touch LCD.
    Superlative autofocus.
    Loads of lens choices.
    Up to 11fps Raw capture.
    4K video.

    Cons: Not as well-built as the a6400.
    Low-resolution EVF.
    4K video can show some wobble.
    Underwhelming battery life.
    Charging port isn’t USB-C.

    Bottom Line: The Sony a6100 is a compact, speedy camera with strong image quality and excellent autofocus. Family photographers will love it, but enthusiasts may want to consider the a6400 instead.

    Read Review

  • Canon EOS M50

    Canon EOS M50

    Pros: Compact.
    24MP APS-C image sensor.
    10fps burst.
    7.4fps with tracking.
    Wide focus coverage area.
    Vari-angle touch LCD.
    Mic input.

    Cons: 4K video is cropped with slower autofocus.
    Native lens options still limited.
    Limited shots when shooting Raw bursts.

    Bottom Line: The Canon EOS M50 is the company’s first affordable camera with 4K, but there are better mirrorless options out there for video.

  • Fujifilm X-A7

    Fujifilm X-A7

    Pros: Light and compact
    Swing-out touch LCD
    Terrific in-camera color options
    Raw imaging available
    Good starter zoom
    Big lens catalog
    Image transfer to smartphone
    USB webcam support
    4K video with mic input

    Cons: Omits electronic viewfinder
    No body-only purchase option
    Sensor isn’t stabilized
    Small buffer limits burst capture
    Wi-Fi transfer can be slow
    So-so battery life

    Bottom Line: The Fujifilm X-A7 has a big, swing-out screen, excellent color options, and capable autofocus—but no electronic viewfinder.

    Read Review

  • Olympus PEN E-PL9

    Olympus PEN E-PL9

    Pros: Snappy autofocus.
    8.5fps burst shooting.
    In-body image stabilization.
    4K video.
    Slim, attractive design.
    Tilting touch LCD.
    Built-in flash.
    Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

    Cons: Aging 16MP image sensor.
    No EVF or add-on option.
    4K video not easily accessible.
    Small Raw shooting buffer.

    Bottom Line: The Olympus PEN E-PL9 is, for the most part, the same mirrorless camera as the E-PL8, but adds a built-in flash and 4K video.

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