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.

Product Review

What do you do with 187 megapixels? The Lumix S1R is glorious overkill

The Lumix S1R is one of the most capable cameras ever made, from its robust build to extensive feature set. But its key feature, a 187MP high resolution mode, is something few customers will have use for.
Mobile

Sony's Xperia 10 smartphone boasts a 6-inch screen and is now available

Sony took the wraps off of three new phones at Mobile World Congress 2019, including the new Xperia 1, which is the company's new flagship phone and the first with a 4K OLED display with a 21:9 aspect ratio.
Product Review

Sony's Xperia 10 falls frustratingly short of budget brilliance

Better know for premium products, Sony does also have a budget smartphone range, but can the Sony Xperia 10 compete with great cheap phones from Nokia and Motorola? We put it through its paces to find out how it measures up.
Deals

The best budget-friendly GoPro alternatives that won’t leave you broke

Cold weather is here, and a good action camera is the perfect way to record all your adventures. You don't need to shell out the big bucks for a GoPro: Check out these great GoPro alternatives, including some 4K cameras, that won’t leave…
Photography

Loupedeck Plus can now edit video, audio with Final Cut Pro

The list of Loupedeck Plus-compatible software is growing. The photo-editing console now works with Final Cut Pro and Adobe Audition for video and audio editing. The controls can be configured to be used on either platform.
Photography

Photography News: Taking a smartphone photo probably saved this guy’s life

A man was snapping a photo in Australia when the smartphone stopped an arrow shot at his face. In this week's photography news, see Canon's plans for a stabilized mirrorless, Hasselblad's newest accessories, Samyang's latest lens, and more.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Write music with your voice, make homemade cheese

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Computing

Nvidia’s A.I. Playground lets you edit photos, experience deep learning research

Nvidia is making it easier to access information on deep learning research. It has launched an online space with three demos for image editing, styling, as well as photorealistic image synthesis. 
Photography

Paper designs digitize in real time using an Illustrator-connected paper tablet

Love graphic design, but prefer the feel of real paper? The new Moleskine Paper Tablet - Creative Cloud Connected syncs with Adobe Illustrator in real time, turning paper sketches into digital drawings.
Photography

Insta-checkout? New Instagram service lets you shop without leaving the platform

Shopping on Instagram no longer means leaving the platform to checkout in a web browser. Instagram checkout launched in beta today with a handful of retailers, allowing users to checkout without leaving the app.
Computing

Make the most of your toner with our five favorite color laser printers

Color laser printers have improved dramatically over the years, and today's models offer both blazing print speeds and great image quality. Here are our favorite color laser printers, from massive all-in-ones to smaller budget options.
Photography

Sony’s latest sensor is stacked, backlit, and equipped with a global shutter

Say this five times fast: Backlit, stacked, global shutter sensor. Sony managed to cram all three technologies into one sensor. The result is a high-speed sensor with a higher resolution without sacrificing low-light quality.
Mobile

You can now use the innovative Red Hydrogen One on Google Fi

The Red Hydrogen One was first announced in 2017 and has been delayed a few times since then. Now, the Red Hydrogen One is finally available, featuring a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, 6GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage.
Photography

Looking to keep prying eyes at bay? Here's how to hide photos on your iPhone

People take tons of photos using their smartphones, but not all are meant to be shared or seen. Luckily, hiding photos on your iOS device is easy, whether you want to use built-in utilities or apps with added security.