Note: This post is part of our "Learn Blog" for photographers. For workshops, coaching, and other resources designed to help grow your skills as a photographer click here (after you read the article, of course)! To be transparent, all links are paid advertising, as a portion of any purchase made while using these links is credited to us. Please, consider using our links to help support what we do! Thank you!
So, you've decided that it's time to get yourself or perhaps a loved one a nice, entry-level-or-a-little-better digital camera! As wedding photographers, we regularly get asked for recommendation on good digital cameras for beginners and/or amateurs.
If your desire is to become a better photographer, our advice is to always consider what camera you already have and to be sure you're getting your full use out of that. It's easy to overlook all that your camera can accomplish and learning how to use a camera both in technical terms and with artistic skill can vastly improve photos more than getting a more expensive camera.
However, sometimes our camera gear (or lack thereof) may prevent us from being able to photograph in the manner we want. Maybe you have a camera that just won't take photos well in low-light, or maybe you'd really like to find a small and fun-to-use camera that you can take for travel.
Whatever your case may be, in this article we'll take a look at a few of the top digital cameras under $1,200 that we'd recommend!
Things to Consider Before Purchasing an Entry Level Camera
When your speciality isn't cameras, all the technical details and differences between the various cameras can seem overwhelming. But, if you're armed with a few details, it'll go a long way in helping yourself or your loved one capture great images.
One thing to note is that entry level cameras often come with a "kit lens". This is usually a zoom lens that has an variable "aperture", meaning that the aperture gets "smaller" the more you zoom in.
Now, you may be wondering why that matters. In short, an aperture controls 1) how much light can get into your camera's sensor and 2) how much is in focus in your image. With a variable aperture, the more you zoom in, the less light you have available to take your photo. This means that taking photos in low-light may get more difficult the more you zoom in. To learn more about aperture, be sure to check out this article on f stops and aperture!
So, kit lenses typically are 1) not as effective in low light compared to non-variable lenses, and 2) they are not great for creating background blur that is typically desirable for portraits.
So, why do we mention all this?
Well, there's a trade-off that you should be aware of. If you or your loved one just wants a good all-around lens to take to trips to the zoo where you'll need to take really close pictures and pictures further away, you may want to go with the kit lens.
But, if you or your loved one wants a lens that's better for portraits and for low-light scenarios such as indoor events (think birthday parties, family get-togethers, trips to art museums, etc.), then choosing a fixed focal length and constant aperture lens is the way to go.
To make this convenient for you, when we mention a camera that comes with a kit lens, we'll also recommend a fixed focal length lens that might be a better fit if you're on the look-out for something that's better in the low-light portrait realm of photography.
List of the Top 5 Digital Cameras for Beginners-Amateurs
If you're looking for a lightweight, travel-friendly, and sharp-looking camera, the X-T20 if a great choice. With 4K video capabilities, a touch screen, and excellent in-camera jpeg rendering, this little camera is an excellent choice for a walk-around camera to meet all the little moments family get-togethers, trips to new-to-you places, or whatever else comes your way.
•The lens that comes with this camera won't create a lot of "background blur" in most instances. If you're looking for a camera that's a little better for artistic portraits, you might want to consider another option below, or upgrading to another lens like the Fuji 56mm 1.2 later down the road.
The Canon 6D is a fantastic option for photographers that are wanting to do artistic portraits, and maybe step up into some more professional level work. It has fantastic focusing and low-light capabilities, and with the 50mm 1.2 STM lens from Canon you've got a set up that will be great for just about any walk-around situation.
The 6D also features a "full-frame" sensor, as compared to a crop frame sensor that is used in many of the other options $1000 and under. The benefits of a full-frame sensor include more ability to blur your background when desired and typically a more "3D" look to your images.
•This lens is not a zoom, so getting wider and/or tighter shots than 50mm will require another lens.
•It's also not as "trendy-looking" compared to an option like the Fuji X-T20 (if that matters to you.
•Not as travel-friendly as some of the other options, though it isn't a large camera by any means.
•Jpegs don't shine quite as much out of camera as Fuji X-Series cameras like the X-T20.
•No 4K video
•No autofocus for video
The SL2 is a small, lightweight entry level digital camera that packs several great features for beginners. For one, it features an articulating screen that makes it easy to get a cariety of angles without having to twist and turn your body.
It also features built in WiFi, allowing you to take photos and then download directly to your phone.
The SL2 is a nice choice for a travel-size, inexpensive camera set-up for beginners.
Coupled with the 50mm 1.2 STM lens from Canon for just over $100, this combo would be great for walk-around and travel!
•Not a super attractive camera, aethetically speaking
•Some say it feels a bit "toyish" due to size and build
•Can't take pictures as fast as some of the more expensive models
•Some report that the menus are a little more difficult to navigate since some options that are more easily accessed on larger models are tucked within the navigation to accomodate the smaller camera body size
This camera is small, lightweight, has good autofocus, good image quality, an articulating screen, and WiFi capability.
It also can shoot 11 frames per second, which is nice if you'll be photographing action such as kids, sports, etc.
Worth noting, this camera came out in 2014 and seems to still be holding is value well.
Though not as cheap as Canon 50mm lens options, Sony does make a 50mm 1.8 lens that would make this set up low-light friendly.
•Sony is not known for producing the pretty colors
This set up is nice because it does come with two lenses. It also comes with built in WiFi.
Now, you might ask, "well, why is it cheaper if it comes with so much?"
Though it does have a lot to offer in terms of zoom lenses to get both up close, far away, and basically anything in between, the your going to compromise a little on image quality and performance.
Again, you can pair it with a Canon 50mm 1.2 STM lens and have a great upgrade lens-wise in terms of image quality and low-light ability, albeit without zoom.
•No autofocus for video
•Not great for low-light
So, regardless of your budget, you can get started making great photos with whatever camera you have. But, now you've at least got a few good options in mind!
Tell us below in the comments what other cameras you've been considering that we didn't list!