It was a while ago, but certainly within recent memory, that even relatively rudimentary digital camera setups cost a great deal of money. These days, with developing technology and a much more comprehensive range of sensors and systems on the market, you can still purchase high-quality digital cameras for a fraction of the price they were even a few years ago.
If you're looking at getting started with image making, want to learn a specific style of photography like astrophotography, or are simply looking for something affordable to take on vacation, a budget sub $500 camera is well worth a look. Although they don't offer the exact technical specifications as semi-professional or professional full-frame cameras, they will do a perfectly adequate job for most people and provide an excellent platform to build your craft. Additionally, some of the compact options for the price offer a great deal of portability for travel and vlogging — a few on our list here even feature 4K video and the ability to add additional accessories for filmmaking such as monitors and microphones, a nice feature for the money.
Here's what we'd recommend as some of the best budget cameras for under $500 in 2022.
Best for beginners
Although it's showing its age and its specifications don't match up to more expensive DSLRs in Canon's lineup, if you're just starting out with DSLR photography and on a strict budget, this small camera offers the ideal setup for beginners. The good news is that some excellent bundles are available online, with lens and accessory kits thrown in for well below $500.
Best for performance
Since the range's inception in 2014, the Sony A6000 is largely regarded as one of the best compact camera setups you can buy. At time of writing this model is a little over our $500 limit, but the price fluctuates often so do keep an eye out for a dip!
The A6000 still offers good value for money with speedy autofocus, excellent handling and fantastic image quality that often punches above its weight. Unlike many contemporaries, it doesn't have 4K video, but if you're a casual stills shooter happy to forgo the latest tech, handling and performance wise the A6000 is still one of the best on the market.
Best for action photos
We all know the GoPro brand for their action-camera orientation, but we think that $400 for the latest in their range is a bit of a steal for the technology you're getting. It has fantastic stabilization, 5K moving footage, and time-lapse options, and it also takes stunning 23MP photos. Waterproof to 33 feet and built using the brand's famous tough, durable mentality, it's well worth a look if you're looking for a lightweight, easy-to-use travel companion.
Best for vlogging
For a small package, the real highlight of the Lumix G100 is 4K video capability. It can shoot 4K at 30FPS, with a 5-axis image stabilization system, making it a great option for vloggers and beginner content creators. Built-in audio tracking offers excellent microphone quality, although there's always the option to add external mics. The micro four-thirds system also has a good selection of small, lightweight, adaptable lenses.
Best for every-day use
Lightweight and easy to use, with a comprehensive UI, excellent responsive touchscreen and an ergonomically pleasing design, the ZS80 is only a minor improvement to the ZS70 but still packs a punch for the money, with 4K video recording and a mightily impressive 30x optical zoom. It's a small, lightweight, well-built setup that produces excellent results in everyday usage.
Best for durability
At first glance, the outright specifications of the Tough TG-6 aren't on paper particularly impressive, but when twinned with 50 feet of waterproof ability and a rigid shell that can withstand more than 100kg of crushing force, you end up with a compelling camera that you won't be precious about. 4K movie shooting at 120fps certainly sweetens the deal and five underwater shooting movies provide room for exploration. Great for traveling families and kids getting used to taking photos.
How we test the best budget cameras
In order to guarantee you’re getting honest, up-to-date recommendations on the best cameras to buy here at Space.com we make sure to put every camera through a rigorous review to fully test each product. Each camera is reviewed based on a multitude of aspects, from its construction and design, to how well it functions as an optical instrument and its performance in the field.
Each camera is carefully tested by either our expert staff or knowledgeable freelance contributors who know their subject areas in depth. This ensures fair reviewing is backed by personal, hands-on experience with each camera and is judged based on its price point, class and destined use. For example, comparing a 60MP full-frame mirrorless camera to a sleek little crop-sensor DSLR wouldn’t be appropriate, though each camera might be the best performing product in its own class.
We look at how easy each camera is to operate, whether it contains the latest up-to-date imaging technology, whether the cameras can shoot high-quality stills photos and high resolution video and also make suggestions if a particular camera would benefit from any additional kit to give you the best viewing experience possible.
With complete editorial independence, Space.com are here to ensure you get the best buying advice on cameras, whether you should purchase an instrument or not, making our buying guides and reviews reliable and transparent.