Wondering what the best cameras are for your budget? Don’t worry, we’ve got you totally covered.
Before you take the plunge and get shooting though, you need to decide what it is that you want and, perhaps more importantly, what you need. Cameras come in a variety of different form factors, sizes and prices, ranging from $100 for casual cameras all the way up to $10,000 for pro-level bodies.
Here, we’ve focused on the lower end of that price range, listing the best cameras up to $2,500. That’s not to say, however, that in this price range you won’t get a fantastic camera. Indeed, many camera bodies up to and at the $2,500 are more than enough even for professional use, so will certainly suit enthusiasts. Within this budget, there are also still a huge range of options, allowing you to select the perfect camera for your needs, whether it be a full frame mirrorless camera which allows you to swap lenses; a DSLR which operates in a similar way and provides similar benefits with a few key differences; point and shoot cameras which feature a lens built in and fit in your pocket; instant cameras for a retro look and experience; or action cameras that will deliver incredible video.
Each model on this list has been tested extensively and evaluated by Tom’s Guide experts to rate its image and video quality, features, handling and value for money. So you can rest assured that our opinions and recommendations are reliable, and will help find the best camera for you.
Whether you’re after one of the best action cameras, best DSLRs, best mirrorless cameras, or best cameras for vlogging, all you have to do now is read on.
What are the best cameras?
We think the best camera for most people is the Sony Alpha a6100. This mirrorless camera is compact, shoots excellent photos and video, and can be had for around $750 with a 16-50mm lens. The Sony a6100 has a 24MP sensor, records sharp 4K video, and has a fast autofocus system. Its battery life is a reasonable 420 shots, but you’ll want to invest in an extra battery if you’re planning to use it a lot.
If you’re looking for a DSLR camera, we think the best option for most people is the Canon EOS Rebel T8i; this midrange camera boasts a 24-megapixel sensor, a wide ISO range (100-25600, expandable to 51,200), and a very good rated battery life of up to 1240 shots. It has a number of built-in guides for helping novices, and it can record video at 4K/24 fps; still a rarity for DSLRs in this price range. What’s more, the T8i can record vertical video and has a microphone jack, so you can get better audio.
If you prefer Nikons, we suggest the D5600, which also takes excellent photos, handles well, and has a 3.2-inch swiveling touchscreen. It’s great for experienced photographers looking for full-featured manual controls, while still including a number of assisted shooting modes to help teach and educate beginners. However, because the D5600 is a little bit older, it can only capture video at a max resolution of 1080p/60 FPS.
Read on for all of our top picks for the best camera.
The best cameras you can buy today
With its excellent image quality, great feature set and bargain price, the Sony a6100 isn’t just the best mirrorless camera — it’s also the best camera overall.
The a6100 is compact and well built, with excellent ergonomics: it’ll fit comfortably into your hand and all of the controls are easy to reach. In our testing, we were also impressed with the Sony a6100’s ability to take sharp, clear photos no matter the situation; its intelligent, fast autofocus certainly helped, as did its 11fps shooting speed. Plus, with a rated battery life of 420 shots, you should be able to get through an entire day without needing a recharge.
The a6100 can also record 4K video, and has a microphone jack for picking up better audio. However, you’ll need to look to the Sony a6500 or the a6600 if you want in-body image stabilization.
Still, that’s a fair compromise at a price of around $750, or $850 with a lens — it really is a photographic bargain.
Read our full Sony a6100 review.
Most casual photographers will find the Canon EOS Rebel T8i to be the best camera for them if they’re looking for a DSLR-style system. Like its predecessors, the T8i takes excellent photos and has a number of handy built-in guides to help newbies learn the ins and outs of the camera.
The EOS Rebel T8i can also shoot video at a resolution of 4K; while the framerate is capped at 24 fps, it should suffice for those who want to capture higher-quality movies. It also has a microphone jack for better audio and can even shoot vertical video, ideal for social media.
Read our full Canon EOS Rebel T8i review.
Boasting many of the features as the more expensive X-T3, the Fujifilm X-T30 is one of the best mirrorless cameras you can find for less than $1,000 and well deserving of its place on our best camera overall list. We love its retro look and abundance of dials, as well as its more modern articulating touchscreen.
The X-T30 took fantastic pictures in a wide variety of lighting settings, and there are an abundance of settings and artistic filters to get more out of your photos. It has a fast processor that allows you to take DCI 4K video at 30 fps. However, you’re limited to 10-minute clips, so if your main purpose is video, check out the Sony a6600 instead.
Read our full Fujifilm X-T30 review.
The Canon EOS R6 is the most expensive camera on this list, but it’s also the best overall. That high price means it won’t be the best camera for everyone — hence why it’s not number one — but if you can afford it, it’s an easy recommendation.
A mirrorless camera with a 20MP full-frame sensor, the R6 excels when it comes to autofocus. In our testing, we found it to be unerringly accurate when tracking subjects including fast-moving pets; it can even lock on to a dog’s eye as it runs and stick with it, and we have the photos to prove it. Its built-in image stabilization is almost as special; with the right Canon lens on it, it can give you 8 extra stops and even without it’s good for 5. In our testing, we regularly got sharp shots handheld at 2- or even 4-second shutter speeds. Plus, it’s brilliant in low light, with images shot at ISO 6400 showing hardly any noise; we took perfectly acceptable images at 102,400.
On the minus side, 20 megapixels may not be enough for everyone. Video is also a slight negative: it shoots 4K at up to 60 fps, but overheating issues mean it can only do that for 30 minutes or so. If you favor stills over video, though, and can afford the $2,500 body-only price, it’s hard to beat.
Read our full Canon EOS R6 review
The full-frame Panasonic Lumix S5 may not seem a likely candidate for vloggers, but its relatively compact body and extensive video features — many inherited from its higher end S1H sibling — are qualifying factors. But it’s because of these features, and the relatively high price tag, that the S5 best serves those who want a hybrid camera with capabilities that extend beyond vlogging. On the other hand, the S5 provides features not normally found in a sub-$2000 camera, making this model a good value for the money — if time code, waveform, vectorscope and LUT are part of your video lexicon and, perhaps, on your must-have feature list.
Five-axis image stabilization delivers 5 stops of OIS; bump that to 6.5 stops with a stabilized L-mount lens. A bright, fully-articulating LCD, dual card slots, microphone and headphone jacks, USB power charging and a dust- and splash-resistant body round out some of the appealing features of the S5. It’s not a camera for everyone, but this full-framer has a lot to offer to the right person.
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Sporting a 24-megapixel sensor, 3.2-inch swiveling touchscreen and compatibility with a huge range of lenses, the Nikon D5600 is the best camera for most people looking for a Nikon DSLR. In our tests, we found it took great photos, and has a nice wide usable ISO range. We also liked its battery life; rated at 970 shots, we were able to easily make it through a day’s worth of shooting. With Nikon’s traditional d-pad and a number of dials and knobs, it’s great for experienced photographers looking for full-featured manual controls, while still including a number of assisted shooting modes to help teach and educate beginners.
One of our quibbles with the D5600 is that it can only capture video at a maximum resolution of 1080p/60 fps. However, that’s not unreasonable for a camera at this price, and it has a dedicated microphone jack. All in all, it’s a great kit.
Read our full Nikon D5600 review.
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At the top end of Sony’s Alpha line of APS-C mirrorless cameras is the Sony a6600, which has everything you want: an excellent processor that delivers a wide ISO range (100-32,000), AI-enabled eye autofocusing in both still and video, 5-axis in-body image stabilization, 4K/60 fps video, and a speedy 11 fps shooting speed. Top that with a battery that can last up to 720 shots, and you’ve got one of the best camera options for the price.
In our Sony a6600 review, we were impressed with the image and video quality, as well as the camera’s handling. It’s made of a solid magnesium-alloy frame, and is both dust and moisture-resistant. It has a large, bright electronic viewfinder, as well as a 3-inch touchscreen that flips up a full 180 degrees and down 74 degrees. If you don’t want to pay full freight for one of Sony’s full-frame a7 cameras, the a6600 is the one to check out.
Read our full Sony Alpha a6600 review.
At less than $700 — and that’s with a lens — the Canon EOS Rebel SL3 is one of the least expensive DSLRs that can shoot 4K video. More than that, though, this camera, which is aimed at beginners, is also very small and light, and has a bevy of in-camera guides to help novice shooters. We also like the EOS Rebel SL3’s articulating 3-inch touch screen, which makes it easier to take photos from odd angles.
In general, this camera takes good photos and video, but its internal image stabilization is only moderately effective, and its hot shoe doesn’t work with third-party flash units. Also, this model is aimed at beginners, so it has a limited number of autofocus points, and a fairly slow shooting speed. But, for the price, it’s a great DSLR for those new to photography.
Read our full Canon EOS Rebel SL3 review.
Though it’s now five years old, the Nikon D500 remains Nikon’s premier DX-series DSLR and puts many a newer camera to shame. It’s a big, solid and fairly weighty thing, so if you’re after something to stick in a bag and take out for a day at the beach, you might be better off with a mirrorless camera. But as semi-pro enthusiast models go, it’s hard to beat. Much of that is down to its superb image quality: its 20MP stills are as good as you can get outside of more expensive full-frame models. It also has excellent autofocus and a fast shooting speed of 10 fps.
The Nikon D500 was one of the first DSLRs that could shoot 4K video, but that maxes out at 30 fps — though you do get 60 fps at 1080p. Newer (and cheaper) models will likely trump it on that front, and if video is your primary concern you’ll want to look elsewhere. But for stills photographers who shoot a lot of sports or wildlife and prefer a DSLR to a mirrorless camera, it’s a great option.
Read our full Nikon D500 review.
The Sony ZV-1 is the only entry in our best camera list that’s aimed squarely at vloggers — and if filming yourself for videos on YouTube or similar is important to you, then it’s well worth considering.
Although based on Sony’s RX series of high-end point-and-shoot cameras, it comes with a number of features to make vlogging that bit easier. For instance, it has a swiveling touchscreen LCD screen that opens on the side rather than vertically, so it doesn’t get in the way while filming. And it has several specialist modes, including one that smooths out skin and one that swiftly switches focus from person to product. There’s also a directional mic and an included wind muff to improve audio performance.
Autofocus is generally good and the 4K video and 20MP stills are high quality too, but image stabilization isn’t the best — if you’re shooting on the go, a DSLR or mirrorless camera on a gimbal will be a better bet. Still, it’s well priced and can also act as a webcam thanks to a firmware upgrade.
Read our full Sony ZV-1 review.
The GoPro Hero11 Black has a large 1/1.9-inch image sensor with an 8:7 aspect ratio. This squarish format lets you capture expansive views, but more importantly, gives you much more flexibility when editing the video afterwards. In the GoPro Quik app, you can output your video in a number of formats, including the TikTok-friendly 9:16 ratio.
What also makes the Hero11 Black the best action camera overall is its superior image stabilization — you can literally rotate the camera all the way around, and it will keep the horizon level. New shooting modes also let you capture star trails and try your hand at light painting, and GoPro’s Quik app makes editing your videos a real pleasure.
Read our full GoPro Hero 11 Black review.
The Nikon Z50 isn’t a full-frame mirrorless camera like the Z6 and Z7 models, but it’s available at a much cheaper price of around $850 (body only) and comes in a much smaller package, making it a great choice for Nikon fans who don’t want to spend upwards of $1,000.
It offers a solid feature set including a 3.2-inch touchscreen that flips down by 180-degrees and a sharp 3-inch electronic viewfinder, and its 20.9MP stills are detailed and colorful. It’s a fine performer in low light, too, handling noise well up to ISO 6400. The lack of in-body image stabilization counts against it, but otherwise it’s an impressive option in an increasingly crowded space.
Read our full Nikon Z 50 review.
Packing a fantastic, sharp 20-MP 1-inch sensor and 15x optical zoom lens in a pocket-friendly body makes the Panasonic Lumix ZS200 as the best camera for those who want to take great vacation photos, but don’t want to schlep a larger mirrorless or DSLR around. This camera measures just 4.4 x 2.6 x 1.8 inches and weighs 12 ounces, so you can stuff it in a pocket with ease.
The ZS200 has plenty of physical controls for its size, and still manages to pack in an electronic viewfinder — a must for those days when the sun washes out the camera’s non-swiveling 3-inch touchscreen. We found that the ZS200 performed well in a variety of situations, including low-light photography; we were able to shoot as high as ISO 6400 without image noise becoming too much of a distraction. While there’s no hot shoe, the camera does have a pretty robust built-in flash. And, the ZS200 can record 4K video as well, which should get you some really nice vacation home movies.
Read our full Panasonic Lumix ZS200 review.
The Pentax K-3 III is the newest DSLR on the block, and it’s a very good one — albeit with a few irritations. On the plus side, image quality from the new 25.7-megapixel APS-C sensor is outstanding, serving up bags of detail and accurate colors. Noise is supremely well controlled, and together with 5-axis in-body image stabilization that helps you get great shots in low light. Build quality is also excellent, with full weatherproofing, and there are plenty of manual controls; it’s a fine camera to use.
Against that, autofocus can miss the mark at times and 4K video is only available in cropped mode. It won’t rival the best mirrorless cameras in those regards, but as a straight still shooter it’s an excellent addition to Pentax’s line-up.
Read our full Pentax K-3 III review.
Sony proudly boasts that its mirrorless A7C is the smallest and lightest interchangeable lens full-frame camera in the world, and it really is a marvel of engineering. Gone are the days when you’d get shoulder-ache from carrying around a hefty full-frame DSLR — with a weight of just 17 ounces, you’d hardly know the A7C was even there. Add in the similarly featherweight 28-60mm kit lens and you have a quality camera that you can easily take with you on trips out. Sony has made some compromises to achieve that small footprint, though; it lacks some of the controls you might expect and the EVF could be bigger. It’s not cheap, either — but on the plus side it’s a great performer, serving up sharp images and video with a wide dynamic range. If size is you main consideration, it’s well worth a look.
Read our full Sony A7C review
The Mini 40 is more than just an instant camera — it’s an instant camera in a seriously cool retro body. Alright, so that alone isn’t enough to make it worthy of recommendation, but the fact that you’ll actually want to take it out and show it off certainly doesn’t hurt. Fortunately, Fujifilm hasn’t forgotten the really important stuff here: the Instax Mini 40 is incredibly simple to use and takes lovely photos, with vibrant colors and good exposures.
While it lacks the bells and whistles of some instant cameras — there’s no smartphone app and it can’t double as a printer, for instance — it’s not without any features either. So, you do get a selfie mode, plus a constantly firing flash that gives it better skills in low-light conditions. At less than $100, it’s the kind of camera you could treat yourself to for a holiday or special occasion and have lots of fun with.
Read our full Fujifilm Instax Mini 40 review
How to choose the best camera for you
There are a lot of factors that go into choosing the best camera for you. The first question you should ask yourself is what do you plan to shoot? If you’re doing more portrait photography, and don’t plan on moving the camera around a lot, a DSLR may be the best way to go. If you’re looking for something more mobile, a mirrorless camera is probably a better bet. Be sure to check out our DSLR vs. mirrorless camera guide, which goes into detail about those two camera systems, and also scroll down for a bit more info about all of the options.
It’s important to be realistic about your abilities and your intended use, as you can easily spend thousands of dollars on equipment that you don’t need, or don’t know how to use. Before making a purchase, it’s also worth your time to go to a camera store to see how a particular model feels in your hands, and how comfortable you are holding it.
What different types of camera are there?
DSLRs — or digital single-lens reflex cameras — use a mirror to reflect light from the lens on to the sensor, and as a result are bigger and heavier than mirrorless cams. But they’re still a great choice for beginners and enthusiasts alike, thanks to the ability to swap out lenses, good handling, sturdy build quality and excellent battery life. Some are also quite cheap these days, and they also benefit from large lens and accessory lineups. Canon and Nikon are the main players, with Pentax another option. Prices can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, but you can get a good one for as little as $450.
Here’s our guide to the best DSLR cameras.
These do away with the mirror of a DSLR but have the same advantage of being able to change the lens. As camera makers have switched to mirrorless they tend to get the latest tech, so they are often faster and have better autofocus and video options, plus features such as in-body stabilization. They’re smaller and lighter, too, but battery life is not as good and there aren’t as many lenses. Canon and Nikon both make mirrorless cams now, but the biggest player is Sony. Fujifilm, Olympus and Panasonic are all alternatives. Prices are similar to DSLRs.
Here’s our guide to the best mirrorless cameras.
Also known as compact cameras, they can’t swap lenses but are much smaller and lighter than either DSLRs or mirrorless cams. Some are small enough to fit in a pocket and they make great travel cameras. This is a broad category, with many different options; you can choose one for under $100 that you use simply as an alternative to a smartphone, or spend $1000 and get something with a big sensor and that takes photos to rival those from a DSLR. Sub-categories include tough cameras that you can use underwater or in extreme conditions and bridge cameras, which have a large body and very long zoom range.
Here’s our guide to the best point-and-shoot cameras.
As the name suggests, instant cameras give you a physical photo as soon as you press the shutter (or a few seconds afterwards). They’re basically what the old Polaroid cameras were, but updated — and indeed, Polaroid still makes some of the best. Many of them use different film formats that vary in size, so make sure you choose one that fits your needs. And also look out for extra features such as app integration and a flash.
Here’s our guide to the best instant cameras.
These tend to be focused more on video than stills, although they will all do both. GoPro is the main player here (check out our guide to the best GoPro cameras for more), but all are designed to capture your daring exploits in (ideally) 4K footage.
Here’s our guide to the best action cameras.
Cameras vs smartphones: Do you even need a digital camera?
These days, almost everyone has a very capable camera in their pocket, in the form of a smartphone. So is there still a need for a dedicated camera in 2022? To an extent, that depends on what type of camera you’re talking about.
The best camera phones have now reached a level that would have seemed impossible a few years, with the likes of the iPhone 13 Pro Max and Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra packing multiple lenses, large sensors (for a phone) and advanced software tricks. People can and do take incredible photos with their phone every day, and in some situations there really is no need for a dedicated camera.
But some types of camera still have key advantages over a phone. DSLRs and mirrorless cams, for instance, are still capable of taking better images than a smartphone in many situations.
That’s partly due to sensor size — even the biggest smartphone sensors are many times smaller than those in an enthusiast DSLR. And because sensor size plays a key role in how much light a camera gathers, that has a massive effect on the overall quality of an image.
Lenses are another factor: while smartphones may have one or two wide-angle lens plus one telephoto lens, mirrorless cams and DSLRs have a choice of dozens, each optimized for its specific focal length or task.
Instant cameras can also do something that smartphones can’t, while rugged cameras also have an advantage in one specific area (namely that they won’t break if dropped down a mountain). With compact cameras, it’s a different matter though, and unless you’re looking for a really long zoom range, a smartphone may now be a perfectly good alternative.
Of course as the old adage has it, the best camera is the one you have with you — so either way, just make sure you get out there and use it.
How we test the best cameras
Regardless of the type of camera we review, they’re all subjected to a similar testing regimen: we use them in a variety of settings, including low light, outdoors, indoors and more. We also photograph a number of subjects, such as people and pets, to see how well the camera captures skin tones. If a camera comes with a kit lens, we generally use that lens with the camera, to more closely emulate the same experience as consumers purchasing the camera.
In addition to still and video quality, we also rate the camera based on its ease of use: are the physical controls easy to access, and are the menus logically laid out? Finally, we evaluate the camera’s battery life and other features, such as wireless control. Once we’ve done all that, we’re in a position to decide whether a model deserves to be on our best camera list.
Next: The Fujifilm X-E4 wasn’t the camera I wanted — but I am so glad I bought it.
Be sure to check out all of our camera picks:
Best DSLR cameras | Best action cameras | Best waterproof cameras | Best point-and-shoot cameras | Best instant cameras | Best mirrorless cameras | Best cheap cameras | Best GoPro camera | Best GoPro accessories | Best drones | Best 360 cameras | Best iPhone lenses | Best iPhone tripods |DSLR vs. mirrorless | Best Nikon accessories | Best Sony a6000 accessories | Best ring lights | Best ring lights for phones | best cameras for vlogging
The best apps and software for editing, managing, and sharing your photos:
Best photo organizer apps | Best photo storage sites | Best photo editing software | Best photo editing apps | Best photo collage apps