Maybe you are a looking for a step-up from your smartphone, an affordable back-up device, or a starter camera for a relative or friend. Whatever your motivation, here’s our guide to the best compact, DSLR and mirrorless cameras around the £500 mark.
Camera makers are increasingly focusing on higher-end, higher-margin models in these economically uncertain times – they’re facing a perfect storm caused by Covid-19, the silicon chip shortage, the unstoppable surge in smartphone camera quality, and other factors.
As a result, the latest mirrorless models, often with lots of heavyweight video features, can seem expensive. However, the good news is that there is still a reasonable choice of decent ‘new’ digital cameras for around £500. We put new in inverted commas as some have been around for a few years, but older certainly doesn’t mean obsolete.Olympus Tough TG-6
While there is still uncertainty about where we can travel to internationally given the continued problems caused by Covid, at least most of us can enjoy summer holidays closer to home.
For families, rugged travellers or photographers who drive their kit hard, this tough compact is ideal – it’s waterproof to 15m, can withstand a 2.4m drop, and is also crushproof and freezeproof. That’s quite enough for a week in Cornwall, in other words.
As for the camera, you have a versatile 25-100mm equivalent lens, along with a 12MP sensor; while this is not a lot these days in terms of resolution, the TG-6 can also shoot in raw, to ensure you get the most from this rugged travel companion. Another big attraction is the ability to record 4K and 120fps Full HD video.
This is another handy travel compact with a built-in 10 x zoom lens, equivalent to 25-250mm, and offering an aperture range from f/2.8-5.9. This covers a decent range of wide-angle to telephoto situations, while Panasonic’s Depth From Defocus technology enables fast autofocus.
The camera also comes with hybrid optical / electronic 5-axis image stabilisation, which helps to keep images sharp when shooting hand-held or using slower shutter speeds. The main drawback is the rather small electronic viewfinder, though it does offer 1.16-million-dot resolution, and a 3-inch rear LCD with touch sensitivity further helps with the handling.
You can also record 4K video, process raw files in-camera and access a small pop-up flash. The Panasonic is very compact too, weighing just 312g with battery and card.
Another versatile and highly portable compact, this features a 1-inch 20.1MP Exmor sensor and Bionz X image processor, enabling the RX 100 III to deliver a maximum ISO sensitivity of ISO 25,600 while shooting at up to 10fps in its Speed Priority Continuous Shooting mode.
The lens, which is equivalent to 24-70mm, allows an aperture of f/2.8 to be used at full telephoto, while it can also focus to within 30cm of a subject. Furthermore, a built-in ND filter makes it easier to use slower shutter speeds in stronger light. There is also a pop-up electronic viewfinder, but video can only be recorded at full HD, rather than 4K.
Panasonic Lumix GX880 with 12-32mm lens
Moving on to interchangeable-lens mirrorless models, this attractive camera has a 16.1Mp Micro Four Thirds sensor without a low pass filter for better image quality. Being Micro Four Thirds, you can use a wide variety of Micro Four Thirds lenses from both Panasonic and Olympus, greatly extending the camera’s versatility.
Other useful features include the ability to shoot at up to 5 frames per second in burst mode, and an LCD display that tilts 180º to face the camera user. It’s great for selfies in other words; there are additional modes for taking selfies at night and a wide 4K option, so you can get more of the background into your self-portraits.
A portrait mode, meanwhile, enable you to soften your subject’s skin and slim their faces, so this is a great choice for families, travellers and vloggers (it records 4K video and has built-in Wi-Fi).
Panasonic Lumix TZ90
Panasonic’s travel zoom compact builds on the successes of all that came before it, and if you’re looking for as much zoom as possible in a compact, pocketable camera, then the Panasonic Lumix TZ90 is a great option.
It features a 30x optical zoom, but in return for that large zoom range, you need to accept a smaller sensor than its one-inch comrade, the TZ100.
Probably the most well-featured superzoom compact on the market, as well as the huge zoom, you get an built-in electronic viewfinder (albeit small), 4K video shooting, a touch-sensitive screen, manual controls, raw format shooting and a body which just about fits in your pocket.
A great choice for those looking for something to take on their travels, in low light it suffers by comparison to its larger sensor rivals. If you’re mainly going to be using it on your sunny holidays, you shouldn’t worry too much about that.
The Panasonic Lumix TZ90 was updated by the TZ95 with a slightly larger EVF and the addition of Bluetooth, but the TZ90 remains excellent value for money.
Sony A6000 with 16-50mm lens
Despite being seven years old, there is still a lot to like about this mirrorless veteran, especially at this price. It features a 24.3-million-pixel Exmor APS HD CMOS sensor, which still delivers reasonably high-resolution images, backed up by an improved Bionz X image processing engine.
This is still a pretty nippy camera too, offering a fast 0.06sec autofocus time and a 179-point hybrid AF system. In addition, the A6000 can shoot 11fps of RAW+JPEG for 21 frames or 49fps of fine JPEG before it begins buffering. There is also a tilting LCD, a pop up electronic viewfinder with 1.44-million dot resolution providing 100% frame coverage, and full HD video recording (not 4K, unfortunately).
Nikon D3500 with 18-55mm VR lens
Now we move on to budget DSLRs, and this is one of the best options for beginners. While the market momentum is with mirrorless cameras at the moment, DSLRs remain great value and can take a very wide choice of affordable lenses.
The D3500 is an APS-C (DX) format DSLR, featuring a still-very-capable 24MP sensor, a decent sensitivity range up to ISO 25,600, and the ability to shoot at 5 frames per second.
It also comes with a Guide Mode, which helps beginners figure out the essential functions in order to take better pictures, but there is also full manual control for more confident photographers. For a DSLR, the D3500 is relatively compact and lightweight too, at 365g, and can record full HD video.
Canon EOS 2000D with 18-55mm IS lens
This is a similar DSLR proposition to the Nikon, featuring a 24.2MP sensor in a refreshingly small and compact body. Other key features include a reasonably versatile 9-point autofocusing system, 3-inch 920k-dot LCD screen, 3fps continuous shooting and ISO capability of 100-6400 (expandable to 12800).
Wi-Fi connectivity comes as standard too, and you can record Full HD video. The layout is intuitive for beginners, and there is also a guided user interface to help – as with the Nikon, however, one of the biggest attractions is the option to use a very wide range of compatible and relatively affordable lenses.