best camera for astrophotography under $500

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The smartphone you carry every day can be used to capture a range of night-sky objects. Credit: iStock

The smartphone you carry every day can be used to capture a range of night-sky objects. Credit: iStock

Many smartphones can perform entry-level astrophotography, while some offer the ability to take long exposures, meaning you can pick up Milky Way details or star trails.

You can also hold smartphones up to a telescope eyepiece to take pictures, or use a smartphone adaptor (more on this below). This enables lunar and planetary imaging, but it’s difficult to get sharp images.

Andromeda taken using 1.55x zoom. Exposure: 16

Andromeda captured on the Google Pixel 4 smartphone using its ‘Night Sight’ mode. Credit: Paul Money

Although some smartphones have multiple cameras installed, these are tricky to line up to eyepieces. In a nutshell, smartphones are not dedicated astrophotography products and don’t offer the exposure control of a DSLR camera.

For more on smartphone astrophotography, read our top tips for photographing the night sky with a smartphone, or the best smartphone astrophotography gadgets.

Best suited for Star trails, Milky Way and general wide-field imaging

Limitations Deep-sky photography

Ideal accessories Tripod, telescope adaptor


Canon EOS M100 camera review

Canon EOS M100 DSLR camera

DSLRs (Digital single-lens reflex cameras) are good all-rounders. Because you can alter the ISO level and manage exposure lengths, these cameras are easily adapted for many astronomy targets.

Increasing the ISO setting ensures a DSLR can pick up details from deep-sky objects, including nebulae, but if this is coupled with a long exposure time there can be an issue with noise (unwanted artefacts) creeping in, which can be because the ISO is too high (the best ISO varies between cameras) or because the exposure time is causing the sensor to warm up.

The Andromeda Galaxy Tom Howard, Isle of Wight/Crawley, December 2018 and August 2020. Equipment: Nikon D7000 DSLR camera, TS-Optics 65mm quadruplet refractor, Sky-Watcher EQ6 mount

The Andromeda Galaxy, captured by Tom Howard  with a Nikon D7000 DSLR camera, TS-Optics 65mm quadruplet refractor and Sky-Watcher EQ6 mount.

DSLRs with ‘Live View’ or video capability can be used for planetary imaging, although they’re less efficient at cutting through atmospheric distortion than a planetary camera. For more on this, read our guide to astronomical seeing.

Some astro imagers modify a DSLR by removing the infrared (IR) filter, which makes it more sensitive to nebulae. A modified DSLR also allows narrowband filters to be used, which improve image details.

Keep your camera in pristine condition with our guide on how to clean a DSLR camera. Get more out of your camera with our DSLR guide.

Best suited for Wide-field, lunar and deep-sky imaging

Limitations Exposures lasting over ~5 minutes, planetary imaging

Ideal accessories Tracking mount, intervalometer (remote shutter release cable)

Planetary cameras and webcams

If you're a planetary imager, make sure your laptop and software are ready for a new season of astronomy. Credit: Steve Marsh

Planetary and web cams require a laptop and the latest software. Credit: Steve Marsh

Planetary imaging requires a telescope and you’ll find that reflectors are most suitable because of their long focal lengths.

If a planetary camera is also coupled with a 2x Barlow lens you’ll be able to achieve the magnification required for planetary detail, while the camera’s high frame rate will allow you to cut through atmospheric turbulence.

You’ll require a laptop to run these cameras and, as you’re viewing an object up close, a solid tracking telescope mount is also needed, which allows you to keep the planet central in the field of view.

01 - Moon mosaic Craig Towell, Bristol, 21 September 2019 Equipment: Altair Astro GPCAM3 290M mono camera, Fullerscope 8.75

A mosaic of the Moon captured by Craig Towell from Bristol, UK, using a an Altair Astro GPCAM3 290M mono camera, Fullerscope 8.75″ f/7.5 Newtonian and Sky-Watcher EQ6 mount.

When it comes to deep-sky imaging, planetary cameras have small sensors, which means they’re not always suited.

It’s also possible to modify an off-the-shelf webcam for planetary imaging, so that it fits into the eyepiece holder of your telescope (see below for more details).

Best suited for Lunar and planetary imaging

Limitations Deep-sky objects and wide-field imaging

Ideal accessories Laptop, 2x Barlow lens, processing software (eg RegiStax)

CMOS & CCD cameras

QHYCCD QHY 168C CMOS colour camera. Credit: BBC Sky at Night Magazine

QHYCCD QHY 168C CMOS colour camera. Credit: BBC Sky at Night Magazine

CMOS and CCDs are ‘dedicated astrocams’ designed to be fitted to a telescope. Each comes in ‘colour’ – for RGB (Red, Green and Blue) imaging – or ‘mono’ variants. Mono cameras require the use of colour or narrowband filters.

CCD (charge-coupled device) cameras are suited for long-exposure astrophotography (10-plus minutes per frame) because they have ‘set-point’ cooling systems that keep the sensor temperature constant, which is known as ‘active’ camera cooling.

CMOS sensors perform better with shorter exposures and come as either actively or ‘passively’ cooled.

Southern Pinwheel Galaxy Rogerio Alonso, Minas Gerais, Brazil, 19 August 2018. Equipment: ZWO Optical ASI1600MM CMOS camera, SkyWatcher 200/1000mm Newtonian, SkyWatcher AZ-EQ6 GT mount

The Southern Pinwheel Galaxy captured by Rogerio Alonso, Minas Gerais, Brazil, with a ZWO Optical ASI1600MM CMOS camera, Sky-Watcher 200/1000mm Newtonian and SkyWatcher AZ-EQ6 GT mount.

Laptops are needed to run either device. To maximise CCD exposure times, additional accessories – including guiding equipment and software – are often required. Using these cameras can be a steep learning curve, so it’s best to build up to it gradually.

There are adaptors available that fit these ‘astro cams’ to DSLR camera lenses, which allows you to use them for wide-field deep-sky imaging.

For more on CCDs, read our guide to the best CCD cameras for astrophotography or our beginner’s guide to CMOS astrophotography.

Best suited for Deep-sky imaging

Limitations Milky Way and wide-field imaging

Accessories Laptop, telescope, guide equipment and software

How to connect a camera to your telescope

telescope smartphone holder

A smartphone adaptor will let you line up your phones camera with your telescope eyepiece.

You can go far with astrophotography by using a DSLR and lenses, but for a deep-sky object or planetary photography the addition of a telescope to your setup will widen your options. Your target will appear larger, allowing more detail.

Smartphones can be fitted to a telescope eyepiece holder via an adaptor: you just need the right one for your model. If you fancy making your own, read our DIY guide to making a smartphone adaptor for your telescope.

To attach a DSLR you will need a T-ring and nosepiece. The T-ring fits to the camera like a lens. For example, if you are using a Canon DSLR, you’ll need a Canon-fit T ring. The nosepiece is either 2-inch or 1.25-inch and you’ll find that most telescopes take either diameter.

If you are using a webcam, you’ll need to consider modifying it to fit to the scope’s eyepiece holder. This often involves stripping the webcam down to rehouse it in suitable casing. How difficult and effective this is will depend on the model.

If you are using a 2x or 3x Barlow lens and a reflector, you’ll pop the Barlow into the eyepiece barrel before attaching your webcam.

Designated planetary cameras, CCD and CMOS devices, come with a nosepiece attachment that fits to your scope.

Research thoroughly so you know what sort of astrophotography camera is best for what you want to capture. Credit: Misato Nomura / EyeEm / Getty Images

Research thoroughly so you know what sort of astrophotography camera is best for what you want to capture. Credit: Misato Nomura / EyeEm / Getty Images

We’ve reviewed a lot of astro imaging cameras over the years at BBC Sky at Night Magazine, from value models that provide reliable quality for those on a lower budget, to more high-end cameras for professionals or those who want to take their astrophotography to the next step.

If you want more information about buying astrophotography cameras, browse all of our camera reviews. And for help using your camera to capture images of the night sky or deep-sky targets, we have numerous astrophotography guides written by our team of experienced experts.

And don’t forget to send us your astrophotos. We always love to see them, and they could end up appearing in print in a future edition of BBC Sky at Night Magazine.

Nikon D3400 w/ 18-55mm Lens

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Megapixels: 24.7
Sensor Size: 
4.9 x 3.9 x 3 in. (124 x 98 x 75.5 mm)
445 g ( 15.7 oz )
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Let me preface this review with one caveat – you may struggle to get hold of this excellent entry-level Nikon DSLR. At the time of writing, only a few ‘refurbished’ models are available, with the stock quickly dwindling.

The popularity of the Nikon D3400 with 18-55mm lens has mainly been due to its price – for less than $500, you’re getting a helluva-lot of camera for your money!

I’m a big fan of entry-level DSLR cameras. Typically, the technology from the more expensive ‘flag-ship’ models trickles down the ranks, so the cheaper cameras in the line up can also take advantage of class-leading features.

I tested a Nikon D3400 over the holidays and was very impressed with its performance (see my Nikon D3400 review). Coming from a DSLR costing 5x the price, I did of course miss all the bells and whistles of my pro-level camera, but this compact DSLR still did a fine job.

I say ‘compact’, but entry-level DSLRs are more like a jacket-pocket-size. They’re small and light enough to palm easily, but still retain excellent ergonomics, providing adequate comfort for all day shooting – this isn’t the case with most mirrorless cameras and compact cameras.

Nikon D3400 DSLR under 500

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With its 24.3MP sensor and high-tech image processor, the Nikon D3400 delivers great looking RAW and JPEG images, which are large enough to allow you to zoom in on all the details.

Having a lot of megapixels allow you to ‘crop’ into a photo after you’ve taken it, effectively allowing you to ‘zoom’ in on your subject and still retain decent quality.

They also allow you to blow up your prints to be displayed on your wall, which is exactly what I intend to do with a shot of my son taken with this camera, like the one below.

Auto-focus on the Nikon D3400 is decent too, with 5 fps continuous shooting – more than enough to keep up with fast-moving kids or pets.Nikon d3400 best camera 500

The image quality out of the Nikon D3400 is excellent, even with the kit lens | 1/250 f/4 ISO200

One thing to note is that the 11 AF points are quite sparse in frame coverage, so I recommend the focus-recompose technique over individually selecting focus point.

The camera’s ‘guide mode’ is perfect for beginners, teaching you how to shoot in various situations. This is one of the main reasons I chose this as one of the best entry level DSLR cameras.

Battery life is excellent, at approximately 1,200 shots per charge – more than twice as many as most mirrorless cameras, and a huge advantage if you plan to take this camera on holiday.

The Nikon D3400 normally comes bundled with an 18-55mm zoom lens, which is lightweight and a good complement to the camera.

Despite this lens being capable (see my sample images), I recommend upgrading to a ‘prime’ lens as soon as you feel comfortable with the camera since a lens such as the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G (reviewed here) will really open the doors to what is possible with this camera (See: lens recommendations for the Nikon D3400.)

At only 22.8 oz (645 g) with the lens attached, the Nikon D3400 was a joy to use, and I found myself reaching for it far more than my phone when I wanted to take a snap of the kids. D3400 review Shotkit-4

The included 18-55mm f/4 ‘kit lens’ did a stellar job, and can even blur the foreground/background | 1/200 f/4 ISO200

You can also take advantage of low-light shooting without having to resort to a flash, thanks to the ISO range of 100 – 25,600.

Realistically, 25,600 will produce a very noisy image, but it’s usually better to have a moment captured ‘noisily’ than nothing at all!

Pro Tip: If there’s a lot of noise in your image (due to using a higher ISO), try changing it to black and white using your image editing program of choice – usually noisy photos look much better with the colours removed.

Nikon ‘Snap-Bridge’ technology is built-in to the D3400, allowing you to transfer images in real time via Bluetooth over to a smartphone or tablet. It’s a fun gimmick, useful perhaps to those who spend a lot of time uploading images to social media.

After my 3 weeks with the Nikon D3400as my holiday camera, I have no hesitation in recommending it as one of the best DSLR cameras under $500 available in 2021 – the only challenge you may have is finding it in stock!CHECK CURRENT PRICE

Nikon D5300 w/ 18-55mm Lens

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Megapixels: 24.2
Sensor Size: 
4.9 x 3.9 x 3 in. (125 x 98 x 76 mm)
Weight: 530 g (1 lb 2.7 oz)

Nikon offers a range of entry-level DSLRs with similar specifications, making the choice of which to buy rather difficult. To make matters harder, several of the DSLRs cost under $500.

If you can’t find the above Nikon D3400 in stock, the next best bet is the Nikon D5300 with 18-55mm lens – in some ways, it’s actually better.

The Nikon D5300 was released 2 years before the D3400, but that doesn’t mean it lacks the latest technology. Strangely enough, it actually has several features that don’t exist in other entry-level DSLRs, including the D3400.

It’s also slightly more expensive, but in my mind, it’s completely worth it.

It still offers that excellent 24MP sensor for rich, vivid and detailed RAW and JPEG files. If you’re going to be spending $500 on a digital camera, you’ll want the images to be much better than your smartphone’s, and thankfully this is the case here.

Nikon D5300 DSLR under 500

There’s also the 5 fps shooting speed, meaning that you can get a succession of 5 shots off a second, perfect for capturing the moment.

However, whereas the D3400 had only 11 AF points, the Nikon D5300 offers 39 AF points which are spread wider across the viewfinder. There’s also Nikon’s excellent 3D-tracking, which senses your subject and tracks it across the frame – perfect for capturing sporting events or fast moving children and pets!

The ISO range runs from 100-12,800, which is less than the D3400’s 25,600 maximum ISO. However, this should be taken with a grain of salt, since on an APS-C camera of this calibre, the sweet spot of low-light ability:image noise is around ISO 6,400, so the higher ISOs are largely left unused.

The main reason I actually prefer the Nikon D5300 over other entry-level Nikon DSLR cameras is the 3.2” articulating screen, which allows you to get more creative with your shooting angles and compositions.

If you’re photographing children, in particular, you’ll want to get down to their height when taking the shot, and the tilting LCD screen helps enormously in getting a quick, candid shot.

Pro Tip: Tilting the screen to face upwards allows you to hold the camera at chest height, and still see the screen to be able to compose the image. This helps you to take candid photos of your subject, who usually won’t notice the camera since it’s held much lower. I do this all the time with my wedding photography and it works a treat!

There’s also built-in GPS on the Nikon D5300, which the D3400 doesn’t offer. This is great for recording where you took your photos whilst on holiday, and Lightroom has a handy map function that will help you organise your photos based on location.

So, what improvements can we see in the 2 years between the release of the Nikon D5300 and the D3400?

Well, battery life is a big one – expect roughly 600 shots out of the D5300, compared to 1,200 from the D3400. Is this a deal breaker? Well, batteries are affordable, so probably not since you can buy a couple. Also, 600 photos in a day is more than enough for most people.

Then there’s a slight weight saving (395 g vs 480 g), and also the difference in price – you’ll see that the Nikon D5300 sometimes creeps a little over $500 with a lens included, but it’s still excellent value for money.

The 18-55mm lens is versatile and delivers great results, but as mentioned before, I’d recommend you invest in the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G to get the most from your camera purchase later down the line.

All in all the Nikon D5300 deserves its spot as one of the best DSLRs under $500, and if your budget allows for it over the D3400, I highly recommend you take a look.CHECK CURRENT PRICE

Canon EOS Rebel T6 (EOS 1300D)

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Megapixels: 18
Sensor Size: 
5.08 x 3.99 x 3.06 in. (129 x 101 x 77 mm)
17.11 oz. (485g)

Canon and Nikon offer a lot of bang for your buck in their DSLRs under $500 – they know that if they can get new consumers ‘in’ to their brand at a reasonable price point, they’ll usually have them for life.

Before you read any further, let me just say that if you can find the above Nikons in stock, I think you should consider them before this Canon. The Nikon D5300, in particular, offers a lot better value for the money.

For this reason, I won’t go into a full review of the Canon T6 (aka the EOS 1300D) here. So why am I including it at all then?! Well, two reasons.

First, the Canon T6 was actually named the best DSLR under $500 by DPReview a couple of years ago, and those guys go pretty deep with their review criteria!

Canon Rebel T6 dslr camera

The second reason is that I wanted to include a Canon entry-level DSLR just to give you another option on which to build your camera system.

Later down the line, if you want to invest in other Canon lenses, you’ll find there’s a greater selection with Canon, and often at cheaper prices. There are also many more ‘exotic’ lenses, featuring larger apertures (f/1.2, etc) and crazy wide angles.

Pro Tip: it’s always a good idea when buying a camera to have a think about what lenses you might want in the future. Consider focal lengths, maximum apertures, cost… when you invest in one brand, you usually need to stick to that brand’s lenses, so it’s good to plan ahead.

Click the button below to check out some user reviews on the Canon T6 and make your own mind up. My money would be with the Nikons above, but for diehard Canon fans, the T6 is also a solid investment.CHECK CURRENT PRICE

Best Mirrorless Cameras under $500

Mirrorless cameras are the technology of the future. Small, light, and crammed with useful functionality not available on DSLRs, the best mirrorless cameras under $500 deliver a lot for the money.

(If you’re still undecided about what camera format to invest in, read my DSLR vs mirrorless camera buyer’s guide.)

In short, mirrorless cameras offer the main advantage of being able to ‘see’ your exposure before you take the shot. Whereas on a DSLR the viewfinder is essentially a ‘window’, a mirrorless camera offers an electronic viewfinder or an LCD screen, both of which show the effects of aperture, ISO and shutter speed, before you take your image.

There’s no right or wrong here – I love the shooting process with DLSRs as much as I do with mirrorless cameras. However, the format is quickly gaining popularity this year, and the number of amazing mirrorless cameras under $500 in this roundup proves it.

Sony a5100 with 16-50mm Lens

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Megapixels: 24.3
Sensor Size: 
4.2 x 2.4 x 1.3 (109 x 62 x 35 mm)
283g (9.9 oz.)

Before you yell, “but where are the cameras under $500?!”, remember that you’re getting a Sony a5100 mirrorless camera body with a lens included. That’s damn good value for money if you ask me!

It has to be said that the top mirrorless cameras under $500 do offer a considerable step up in technology from the dinosaur-like DSLRs.

The autofocus technology on the a5100 is borrowed from much more expensive cameras, and as such, performs surprisingly well.

The Sony a5100 brings 179 AF points and 6 fps to the table, meaning ultra-fast autofocus performance, perfect to capture all of life’s little moments as they happen.

Sharing many features as its elder sibling the excellent Sony a6000 (a camera I highly recommend if you can stretch your budget – check out my Sony a6000 review and this Sony a6000 vs a5100 guide), the Sony a5100 sports a 24.3MP APS-C CMOS sensor with its AF points covering 92% of the frame.

Sony a5100 mirrorless camera under 500 1

What this means is that there’s an AF point ready to be moved exactly where you want focus, or you can let the camera track focus automatically for you, updating the focus point as the subject moves across the frame.

If you’re looking for a compact camera with a viewfinder, you’ll have to look elsewhere since the Sony a5100 only sports a rear LCD display – a gorgeous 3” touchscreen which can flip 180 degrees for simple selfies or for vlogging.

I didn’t mention the video functionality on any of the recommended DSLRs under $500 (despite them all having it), since recording video on a DSLR is inconvenient, to say the least. Auto focus during video isn’t possible with DSLRs at this price point.

On the mirrorless Sony a5100 however, the lack of mirror means autofocus during video recording works well, and the phase-detection AF points track your face around the screen eerily well.

Aside from autofocus that blows DSLRs out the water, the Sony a5100 produces vivid, punchy and detailed JPEGs and RAWs at 24 MP, meaning you can print 300 dpi enlargements at around 20 x 13.3 in.

The 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 kit zoom performs well and complements the tiny Sony a5100 body perfectly. If you’re looking for a pocketable digital camera set up, pairing a compact mirrorless camera with a small lens is the best option.

I wrote an entire post on the best lenses for Sony a6000 owners, and any of the lenses mentioned there can be used equally well on the Sony a5100, so be sure to check it out.

A decent prime lens is the best investment you can make on an entry-level camera, bringing out the most of what it’s capable of.

When we reviewed the Sony a5100 in more depth, our reviewer chose to pair it with the excellent Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 lens – ‘FE’ lenses refer to ones made predominantly for the full frame sensor, but they also work with APS-C crop sensor cameras like the one on the a5100.

Pro Tip: Whether you think you’ll be upgrading to a full frame camera in the future or not, it’s a good idea to consider full frame lenses, even if you have a crop sensor body. Despite being larger, heavier and more expensive than lenses designed for APS-C bodies, full frame lenses usually offer better image quality and more robust build quality.

Having said that, the ‘kit’ lens that comes bundled with this a5100 performs surprisingly well – as you can see in the image below, you’re able to get that coveted blurred-background-look (‘bokeh’) really easily. (Another way is to blur the background using Lightroom.)SonyA5100_Review

You can get some great bokeh out of the Sony a5100 + kit lens | © Matthew Murray

As is typical with Sony cameras, there’s a button for everything and a few that can even be customised to suit your needs.

On the Sony a5100, you can use the control wheel next to the screen to control exposure compensation, shooting modes, ISO and aperture – basically everything you need to take a well exposed photo, or get creative with under/over-exposing your subject.

Sharing photos is a lot of fun with the built in WiFi and NFC – if your smartphone supports it, simply install the Sony Play Memories App, then touch the camera to the phone for a connection, and your images to transfer, or to be able to control it remotely – amazing!

The Sony a5100 is aimed at anyone who wants a big step-up in quality and control over their smartphone but without the bulk of a DSLR.

Its size makes it a good travel camera, but remember to try and pair it with a small-ish lens to really take advantage of its proportions – see also Sony a5100 vs a5000.

Overall, this is a great mirrorless camera + zoom lens option, that’s more than worthy of your hard earned cash! It’s also arguably the best budget camera you can buy for travel.CHECK CURRENT PRICE

Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II with 14-42MM Lens

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Megapixels: 18
Sensor Size: 
Micro Four Thirds
Dimensions: 4.6 x 3.2 x 1.8 in. (119 x 83 x 46 mm)
399g (14 oz.)

The Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II is what’s known as a ‘micro-four-thirds’ camera (MFT). This refers to the size of the sensor, being slightly smaller than an APS-C sensor.

The sensor size largely determines the size of the lens, and the MFT format was developed to offer great image quality without sacrificing portability. With the EM-10 Mark II, you’re getting a lot of the latest technology crammed into a compact body that still retains those pleasing DSLR-like ergonomics.

Also packed inside is the latest image processor, 5-axis image stabilization, 8.5 fps, a touch screen tilting LCD display, class-leading autofocus performance and a whole lot more.

(If you’re looking for something newer, check out our review of the OM-D E-M10 Mark III.)

The Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II is the only camera in this list with image stabilization – a feature normally found on much more expensive camera bodies, enabling you to handhold the camera in low light, allowing the use of slower shutter speeds and lower ISOs (for a cleaner image).

Despite it having the smallest image sensor out of all the cameras mentioned here, the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II can definitely hold its own in terms of image quality. It’s also fantastic value for money, although you’ll see the price is actually slightly over $500 since a lens is included – purchasing the body alone is of course cheaper.

The tried and tested 16MP sensor is used across the board on Olympus mirrorless cameras, delivering very good JPEG and RAW image quality. 

Olympus OM D E M10 Mark II mirrorless camera

The dynamic range performance when editing a RAW file is impressive, providing a good degree of post processing latitude at low ISOs and no more noise than is expected at higher ISO settings.

Typically, the smaller the sensor size, the more limited the high ISO capabilities (i.e. the ability to shoot in low light without a flash).

Thankfully, Olympus MFT cameras perform competitively, being almost on par with APS-C cameras, meaning you’ll be able to forgo the flash for a good while after sunset.

If you really want to take advantage of low light shooting (and blurred backgrounds for subject separation), I highly recommend upgrading the kit lens to something like the Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8.

Expensive as it may be, this is the single biggest upgrade you can make for your Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II, bringing image quality in line with DSLRs costing twice the price.

(You can see examples of what’s possible in my review of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II, which has the same sensor as the E-M10 Mark II.)

The autofocus is incredibly responsive and accurate (even more so than DSLRs costing 3x the price, in fact). I absolutely love the ability to touch your subject on the rear LCD, to have the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III focus and shoot in a split-second.

Being able to shoot a subject without even raising the camera to your eye is perfect for capturing candid photos, and great for photographing children.

Face and eye detection in autofocus are also hugely rewarding for shooting portraits, and especially useful when you don’t have time to select an AF point manually.

Another thing I love about the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II, and the reason for my preference of it over the other best mirrorless cameras under $500 on this list, is its handsome styling and ergonomics.

Borrowing from the classic Olympus OM film cameras of old, the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II features well-placed dials that mimic professional-level DSLRs. This means you can adjust all your exposure settings quickly and easily, without having to delve into the menu.

Speaking of the menu system, this is the only area that really lets the camera down. The Olympus mirrorless camera menu is notoriously deep and confusing, so once you have your camera set up, it’s preferable to stay clear of it!

If you’re looking for a lightweight, compact camera with ergonomics that make sure that it doesn’t feel like a bar of soap in your hands, the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II should be at the top of your list. It offers a lot of camera for the money and will stand you in good stead in your development as a photographer.CHECK CURRENT PRICE

Canon EOS M100 with 15-45MM Lens

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Megapixels: 24.2
Sensor Size:
4.2 x 2.6 x 1.3 in. (108 x 67 x 35 mm)
Weight: 302g (10.6 oz.)CHECK CURRENT PRICE

It’s taken a long time for Canon to release a mirrorless camera, but it finally happened in 2017 with the pocket-sized Canon EOS M100.

Whilst it wasn’t the DSLR-beating Canon mirrorless camera many were hoping for, the Canon EOS M100 represented a step in the right direction and has been a hugely popular camera for all levels of photographer.

The advanced technology of the 24MP APS-C sensor and Dual Pixel autofocus system is borrowed from cameras much higher up in the Canon camera range, meaning that the Canon EOS M100 is one of the best cameras for the dollar available this year.

The Dual Pixel autofocus delivers fast, accurate subject tracking, and coupled with the responsive, 180 degrees tilting touchscreen, this compact mirrorless camera really is a lot of fun to use.

Video shooters will appreciate the ability to ‘rack focus’, simply by dragging a finger across the touchscreen from one subject to another. This advanced feature isn’t normally seen on a compact camera, let alone a mirrorless camera costing less than $500.

Canon EOS M100 mirrorless camera under 500

As for image quality, Canon knows what it’s doing with colours, and the JPEGs out of the Canon EOS M100 look great.

With the selfie-friendly rotating screen, a skin smoothing/background blurring feature, interchangeable camera ‘jackets’, Creative Filters (e.g. grainy film, vintage, fish-eye, etc.) and Wifi for quick image to smartphone transfer, it’s clear that the Canon EOS M100 is aimed at the Instagram generation.

Weighing in at only 266g (9.4 oz.), the Canon EOS M100 is small and light enough to be carried anywhere, with its form factor being compromised only by the lens you choose to attach.

On the topic of lenses, the 15-45mm does a good job in a versatile focal range, but I’d recommend investing in the dinky Canon EF-M 22mm f/2 STM lens to really start seeing the capabilities of this little camera (not to mention making it more compact).

There’s already a solid range of EF-M lenses available for the M100, but where it gets especially interesting is if you invest in an M Mount Adapter to shoot with EF and EF-S lenses.

This opens up a world of creative options, and allows you to take advantage of any of the best Canon lenses – my first choice would be one of the lightweight primes.

However you plan to use your Canon EOS M100, you’re in for a lot of fun. With fun features that reflect the kind of user it’s aimed at, this compact Canon mirrorless camera offers some of the best image quality you can get in a camera of this size, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.CHECK CURRENT PRICE

Best Compact Cameras under $500

Compact cameras also fall under the heading of ‘mirrorless’ cameras, since they don’t rely on a mirror like a DSLR. However, I’ve chosen to keep this category for compact cameras under $500 with 1 inch sensors.

Typically, the smaller the sensor, the smaller the camera, and this is the case with these compacts, which can be slid into a jeans pocket and carried comfortably all day.

Smartphones and other compact cameras often have smaller sensors than 1 inch, and this usually means they struggle in low light.

However, the compact cameras recommended below produce great image quality even after sunset, and represent a solid upgrade from any smartphone or smaller sensor’d point and shoot camera, but we wouldn’t recommend them for professional photography applications.

Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II

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Megapixels: 20
Sensor Size: 
1 inch
4.1 x 2.4 x 1.6 in. (105 x 61 x 42 mm)
11.2 oz (318 g)

The Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II is currently available as a bundle, featuring some useful gadgets. It’s a little over our $500 budget, but it’s such an excellent bargain that I had to include it.

Building on an impressive 20.2MP 1″ sensor, the 24-100mm equivalent lens is the real stand out feature, offering an aperture range of f/1.8 – 2.8.

Having an aperture this ‘fast’ allows you to shoot without a flash in low light, without having to resort to higher ISOs which may bring about a noisy image. (Read this post on understanding aperture if you want to learn more about how fast apertures can help.)

The ISO performance on the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II is actually good for a sensor of this size, but shooting at lower ISOs is always favourable.

In practice, I was able to get relatively clear shots as high as ISO800, but that didn’t mean that I’d be limited myself to that number – my preference is to allow the camera to push ISOs = all the way up to ISO10,000, meaning that at least I could capture the moment.

Even at extremely high ISOs, the Canon G7X Mark II can produce a great looking image | 1/500 f/1.8 ISO10,000

Thanks to the surprising amount of data in the RAW files out of the Canon G7 X Mark II, it’s easy to clean up the noise from any image shot at high ISO, as you can see in the photo above.

The fast aperture range allows you to produce images with blurry backgrounds, helping to separate the foreground subject – your smartphone may be able to do it with AI, but it’s not as efficient as using a dedicated camera to do it.

As you zoom the lens (whether with the dedicated control slider or with the lens ring set to one of the two zoom functions), the aperture changes from f/1.8 at the lens’s widest point, to f/2.8.

For such a compact mirrorless camera, the Canon G7 X Mark II has excellent ergonomics, with a raised, rubberised grip on the front and the rear – something that its predecessor was lacking.

Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II review

Packing a 24-100mm zoom into a camera that can easily slide into your pocket is no mean feat – the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II is one of the smallest in this roundup of compact digital cameras under $500, and provides a significant step up in image quality from your smartphone.

Physical knobs and buttons provide quick access to all the manual exposure settings, or you can leave the camera on Auto to get an accurate exposure in most situations.

A new processor allows for better face detection and provides snappier shooting and operation speeds than the previous model. 8fps (both JPEG and RAW) and accurate AF will make sure even fast-moving subjects can be captured with ease.

Whilst it lacks a viewfinder, the tilting LCD touchscreen on the G7 X Mark II is responsive and fast, and the menu easy to navigate. I love being able to tap menu items to select them, as well as being able to tap to focus and shoot.

Shooting in this way in conjunction with the tilting LCD screen, with the camera held at hip level allows for discrete photography and totally candid subjects.

As a unique feature to the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II, ‘Dual Sensing IS’ helps to reduce blur caused by camera shake. This is especially helpful when shooting at the 100mm end of the zoom, where even small camera movements can cause blur on other cameras.

The only small area of concern is battery life, which at around 265 shots per charge, lags a little behind its competitors – if you’re traveling or shooting a lot in a day, invest in some spare batteries.

If you’re lucky enough to find the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II for around $500, snap it up – despite the lack of an International warranty at this sale price, it’s a reliable, solidly built camera that won’t let you down.CHECK CURRENT PRICE

Sony RX100

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Megapixels: 20
Sensor Size: 
1 inch
0.8 x 1.4 x 3 in. (22 x 36 x 77.5 mm)
 240 g (8.46 oz.)CHECK CURRENT PRICE

Yes… I’m writing this roundup of the best cameras under $500 in 2021, and yes this Sony RX100 was released in 2012 – get over it! Cameras don’t need to be the very latest to be great at what they do! (If you absolutely need the latest model, check our review of the RX100 VI and RX100 VII.)

If you’ve only got 500 bucks to spend, ignore the more recent versions of this camera and stick with the one that rewrote the rule book for what is capable with a compact camera.

The Sony RX100was the first camera to put a 1″ sensor into a camera you can slip into your back pocket. Whilst a 1″ sensor is smaller than an MFT and APS-C sensor, it still offers imaging performance that’s unrivalled among other compact cameras.

Check the latest price of the Sony RX100, as last time I checked, it was the cheapest 1″ sensor compact camera on the market. This makes it a great option if you’ve only got $500 to spend, but still want a camera with you at all times (that’s much better than your smartphone).

I don’t care if you have the latest iPhone or Pixel smartphones – the Sony RX100 will wipe the floor with them!

Sony RX100 mirrorless camera under 500 1

The 20.2MP sensor coupled with the 28-100mm f/1.8-4.9 zoom lens (3.6x zoom) is all you’ll ever need for most situations.

Shooting at an aperture of f/1.8 means that you can capture candid shots in low light without having to resort to flash, and if you’re close enough to your subject, you can get that coveted blurred background look too.

The Sony RX100 is a great camera for beginners with a simple, effective AUTO mode, but it also offers full manual controls for those who wish to learn. I highly recommend you take your camera off the automatic modes as soon as possible, so you can learn how to be more creative with your exposure settings.

Face recognition and 10 fps (!) will ensure you don’t miss your shot, and typical of Sony, the movie functionality is second to none at this price point.

JPEG and RAW image quality are great and much better than you’d typically expect from a pocketable camera of this size.

The lack of dynamic range is consistent with its 1″ sensor size, but the Sony RX100 does a good job at nailing exposure and white balance, so there’s not much need for post production.

You could shoot this camera in JPEG all day, and never have to worry about sitting in front of the computer editing the photos – the image quality is that good.

If you need the smallest possible camera with decent image quality, the Sony RX100 is a good bet. Although it’s getting a little long in the tooth compared to the more modern mirrorless cameras in this list, it’s still a camera with some amazing features and one you can keep comfortably in your back pocket all day long.CHECK CURRENT PRICE

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