The best cheap cameras of 2018

You don't need an epic budget to shoot epic photos with the best cheap cameras

best cheap cameras download 2
best cheap cameras dt of 150 cheapcameras

When it comes to buying a camera, it’s easy to get swept up in the specs and hype of the latest models. Truth be told, most of us are just fine with older imaging tech – especially if we’re looking for our first “real” camera. Buying a used camera can save some money, but navigating that landscape is tricky – and you never know for sure what you’re going to get. The peace of mind offered by a new-in-the-box camera with a full manufacturer warranty is hard to beat. Paying the new price is often equally hard to stomach — which is why we’ve built this list of the best cheap cameras you can buy.

There several older models that can still be purchased brand-new, offering a nice balance of features and power. Below, we’ve selected a few that we feel go beyond simple cost savings. While each of these sells for less than they did new (and often considerably less than their more modern counterparts), the real selling point is that they still hold up today. If you’re looking for modern performance and image quality without breaking the bank, look no further. For something more specific, check our lists of the best DSLR cameras and the best point-and-shoot cameras.

At a glance

Product Category Rating
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 Best cheap camera overall 4 out of 5
Panasonic Lumix GX85 Best cheap camera for video Not yet rated
Nikon D3300 Best cheap DSLR 4 out of 5
Sony A7 Best cheap full-frame camera 4.5 out of 5

Sony Cyber-shot RX100

The best

best cheap cameras 71rowv5xyal  sl1400

Why should you buy this: Excellent image quality for the size, and now at a good price.

Who’s it for: Casual shooters, pros on the go, and anyone looking for a step-up from a phone.

How much will it cost: $448

Why we picked the Sony Cyber-Shot RX100:

Released all the way back in 2012, the still-available RX100 singlehandedly started the one-inch-type sensor revolution. Okay, maybe it wasn’t exactly a revolution, but the then-new format has gone on to be featured in many compact cameras from other manufacturers. The very same sensor is even found in the DxO One camera add-on for iPhones and was the sensor built into Panasonic’s high-end (and somewhat experimental) CM1 smartphone. Perhaps the best part, from the consumer perspective, is that even the latest, fifth-generation RX100 still uses a very similar sensor, so the five-year-old RX100 is hardly built on outmoded technology. Once you hit max level, you can no longer level up.

While a brand-new RX100 Mark V will cost you just shy of a grand, the original is selling for under $450. What’s more, it features a longer zoom (3.6x) than the new model, although the tradeoff comes in the form of a slower aperture. You won’t get 4K video like you do on the Mark V, but the Full HD that you do get should be sufficient for the casual user. You also won’t get the Mark V’s blazing 24 frames per second continuous burst shooting speed, but the original still puts up an impressive 10 fps – we’re certainly not complaining.

This is a camera that’s easy to grab and go, or just keep it stowed in your purse, backpack, or jacket pocket so you’re ready whenever the moment strikes. It features image quality that can only be beat by stepping up to larger-sensor, interchangeable lens cameras (ILC), and will easily blow your phone out of the water, especially in low-light settings (unless your phone is a Panasonic CM1, we suppose). With the RX100, you may technically be buying into five-year-old technology, but there’s no reason it won’t feel like the latest and greatest. Unless, of course, you’ve already used a newer RX100.

Read our full Sony Cyber-Shot RX100 review

Panasonic Lumix GX85

The best cheap camera for video

panasonic g85 gx85 firmware updates lumix review product shot

Why should you buy this: Five-axis image stabilization, 4K video, built-in viewfinder

Who’s it for: Amateurs and enthusiasts alike, or anyone who wants a good balance of power and portability.

How much will it cost: $600 (body only, after $100 instant rebate)

Why we picked the Panasonic Lumix GX85:

Released one year ago, the GX85 is not really that old of a camera. Still, it warrants being on this list because of its unique attributes in this price bracket (it’s a lot cheaper than when it was brand new, and there’s no “older” camera with this much value for the price). It is about as close as you can get to having it all in one camera. It has a compact design, made possible by the smaller Micro Four Thirds format, yet doesn’t leave out the advanced features of a larger camera. There’s a built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF) and a three-inch, tilting LCD screen. There are two command dials and a standard mode dial, so there’s plenty of control, as well.

Inside, the camera features a 16-megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor with five-axis sensor-shift stabilization for sharp still photos and smooth video. Speaking of video, it shoots 4K at 24 or 30 frames per second – the only 4K camera on this list. With a stabilized lens attached, the camera makes use of both lens stabilization and sensor stabilization for even better results. It’s no surprise that it’s a favorite secondary camera among many videographers.

The still image quality won’t match up with the larger and higher resolution sensors of some of the other cameras on this list, but for general use, especially as a travel or vacation camera, the GX85 is hard to beat. Perhaps the best part is how affordable it is at just $600 for the body only, taking into account the current $100 instant rebate. You’d be hard-pressed to find this much tech in any other camera at this price.

Read our full Panasonic Lumix GX85 review

Nikon D3300

The best cheap DSLR

best cheap cameras nikon d3300 lifestyle shot

Why should you buy this: Easy to use, great image quality.

Who’s it for: Beginners, students, and first-time DSLR buyers

How much will it cost: $450 (kit with 18-55m lens)

Why we picked the Nikon D3300:

We could have easily chosen the older D3200, but with the strange way camera companies manage instant rebates, the D3300 (released in February of 2014) is currently selling for the same price. Intended for first-time DSLR buyers, the D3300 is available only as a kit (no body-only option). It includes the new, retractable version of Nikon’s 18-55mm stabilized lens for a grand total of $450. In case you’re keeping track, that means you get a DSLR with a lens for the same price as the Sony RX100 that took the top spot in this roundup. That’s not too shabby.

Inside, the D3300 features an excellent 24-megapixel APS-C sensor that produces some of the best images in its class, which even the newest APS-C Nikons barely eclipse. It shoots Full HD video at 30 or 60 fps, and has a maximum continuous shooting speed of 5 fps. While none of these numbers are exciting by today’s standards, they nevertheless signal a huge bang for the buck. What’s more, pair the D3300 with a good lens and things will get even better. A nice plus: microphone port for better audio.

Most entry-level consumers today are probably leaning toward mirrorless cameras, which are more compact, but DSLRs still have some benefits, like optical viewfinders and longer battery life. And at just $450, it’s hard to argue against the Nikon D3300. (It’s also the camera of choice for many of DT’s reporters.)

Read our full Nikon D3300 review

Sony A7

The best cheap full-frame camera

best cheap cameras sonya7 lifestyle

Why should you buy this: Great image quality, compact size, relatively affordable

Who’s it for: Students, enthusiasts, and aspiring professionals

How much will it cost: $950 (body only, after $50 instant rebate)

Why we picked the Sony A7:

If we’re being honest, we could have picked a Sony camera for nearly every spot on this list. The company doesn’t just make great cameras, it also happens to be very good at keeping old models around long after it would seem to make financial sense. This means you can buy brand-new versions of now-superseded models for much less than they used to be. Released in late 2013, the A7 was Sony’s first full-frame mirrorless camera (well, the A7R was announced at the same time), and like the RX100, it was a game-changer.

Built around a 24-megapixel full-frame sensor, the A7 produces beautiful image quality that still holds up extremely well against the best full-frame cameras today (the replacement Mark II version uses the same sensor). That’s not as much resolution as the 42-megapixel Sony A7R Mark II or Canon’s 50-megapixel 5DS and 5DS R, but it is plenty for most applications. It also isn’t great for high-speed shooting, with a relatively slow autofocus system and a burst rate of just 5 fps. Still, at less than $1,000, finding a camera with better image quality would be tough, if not impossible. (Video performance isn’t too shabby, either.)

One thing found on the A7 Mark II that the original lacks is five-axis sensor-shift stabilization, which is a feature we very much appreciate in a camera. However, even after the current $300 instant rebate, the Mark II is selling for $1,700. It also adds weather sealing and enhanced autofocus performance, but the average user is better off going with the original A7 and putting the money they save toward a good lens.

Want to know more about the A7-series? We have a guide on the differences between models.

Read our full Sony A7 review

How we test

Every camera on this list has either been reviewed or otherwise used extensively by Digital Trends writers. In our testing, we focus on the real-world experience of using a product, not just what’s on the spec sheet. For this article, we selected those cameras that we felt offered a significant performance-to-price benefit. Particularly, we looked at older cameras that were still available to purchase brand-new – models only available as preowned, hard to find, or factory refurbished were not considered. These are not necessarily our favorite cameras, but they are all models we’ve enjoyed using and that have held up well against the test of time, and therefore we feel confident in recommending them – even if they are on their way out to pasture (from a sales and marketing standpoint, at least).

What to look for in an older camera

For casual still photography, many older cameras are still very capable of shooting high-quality photos. Camera technology has entered the point where it’s harder to find an absolutely horrible camera, particularly with interchangeable lens models. In fact, we are still using great cameras that are a few generations old.

Which is great news for inexperienced newbies looking to buy their first ILC, but are on a budget. A camera like the Nikon D3300 allows novices to learn and dabble with advanced photography and videography, without breaking the bank. Once that user graduates to becoming a hobbyist or even an enthusiast (and, hopefully, saved some money), he or she can think about buying the newest camera tech.

Of course, price alone shouldn’t be the deciding factor. If you are into videography, you may want to look for a camera that can handle video with higher frame rates. A model like Canon’s EOS Rebel T5i, for example, is a very good still photo camera, but comes up short in video. When considering an ILC, think about the availability of lenses, as camera glass will grow with you; lenses aren’t interchangeable among different brands. If you like shooting action, get a camera that supports fast burst rates and has good battery life. Do you like to share to Instagram? Find a camera that supports Wi-Fi pairing with a smartphone. Whatever your passion, make sure the camera you buy will be there for you, even if it’s a few years old.

Photography

Adobe Premiere Pro uses A.I. to streamline audio cleanup and other tedious tasks

Adobe Premiere Pro will soon be able to remove background noise and reverb in a few clicks. The upcoming feature was announced along with a slew of new features for Premiere Pro, After Effects, Audition, and Character Animator.
Photography

The best mirrorless cameras pack all the power of a DSLR, minus the bulk

Mirrorless cameras offer a lot of photography firepower, inside a compact body. Explore the best mirrorless cameras, from the pro-level to the beginner-friendly shooters, in this guide.
Photography

These point-and-shoot cameras make your smartphone pics look like cave paintings

If your smartphone camera just isn't giving you the results you're looking for, maybe it's time to step up your game. The latest and greatest point-and-shoot cameras offer large sensors, tough bodies, and long lenses - something no phone…
Photography

When you're ready to shoot seriously, these are the best DSLRs you can buy

For many photographers the DSLR is the go-to camera. With large selection of lenses, great low-light performance, and battery endurance, these DSLRs deliver terrific image quality for stills and videos.
Photography

Drooling over the newest full-frame cameras? You might not need one after all

Now even Nikon and Canon have full frame mirrorless cameras alongside Sony's options -- but what is a full frame camera anyways and do you really need one? We break down the pros and cons of the larger sensor format.
Product Review

Sigma’s 105mm is the best portrait lens money can buy

The Sigma 105mm F1.4 DG HSM Art lens may be unwieldy to use, but for the effort, you’ll get what are possibly the best portrait images.
Photography

Sick of black? Ethnotek’s Raja camera bag lets you customize designs on a whim

Like to change your bag as often as you change your socks? The Ethnotek Raja is a camera backpack that has interchangeable "Threads" or front panels to change up the look while still stashing two DSLR bodies and multiple lenses.
Photography

Aurora HDR 2019 applies A.I. to achieve more natural high dynamic range images

HDR is easy to overdo and difficult to get just right -- but Skylum says the new artificial intelligence inside Aurora HDR 2019 helps create more natural HDR images. The update also brings the LUT mapping popular in video editing.
Social Media

Facebook expands fact-checking net to try to catch doctored photos and videos

Facebook is now fact-checking images and video along with articles, using third-party organizations. New A.I. helps flag potential fakes for human review, but user flags and comments still help recognize what content might not be accurate.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Photography

Photo FOMO: Recharge and stash lenses with this smartphone photo bag

Between lenses and extra batteries, smartphone photographers have lots of accessories too -- and could soon have a bag designed specifically for them. The bag isn't the only new accessory with wireless charging announced this week either.
Photography

These are the best action cameras money can buy

Action cameras are great tools for capturing videos of your everyday activities, whether it's a birthday party or the steepest slope you've ever descended on your snowboard. These are the best money can buy.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Self-balancing skates, tiny tripods, and more

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the Web this week. You can't buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Mobile

Too close to call: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus vs LG G7 ThinQ camera shootout

We take the LG G7 ThinQ and Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus to Rome for a camera shootout, photographing everything from the amazing local sights to an impressive showjumping event. How do these two excellent phones compare?