You like to take pictures, but you’re not exactly pursuing a career in photography. Still, everyone needs a reliable digital camera in their arsenal, that they can count on crisp, consistent images and the occasional video recordings, too.
While smartphone technology has improved significantly over the past few years — letting you take more-than-decent digital photographs — it still can’t replicate the same detail and vibrancy that an actual digital camera can provide. Phones often struggle to shoot in low light, and can’t always capture pictures in motion — which you know if you ever tried taking photos during a concert when the artist is prancing around on stage. Unlike a digital camera, a phone also essentially functions in a single mode, lacking features like adjustable shutter speed, face detection or noise reduction, which let you modify and improve the quality of your pics. Also, you know zooming in with two fingers will never be as accurate or clear as an optical zoom lens.
Whether you need a camera for work, for your next big trip or just to upgrade your Instagram game, we’ve found five, well-reviewed options that deliver a ton of features without breaking the bank.
1. Nikon COOLPIX B500
For a starter digital camera, you can’t go wrong with this bundle from Nikon. Reviewers love Nikon’s best-selling COOLPIX series for its easy set-up right out of the box, and this set includes a camera, two 16GB SDHC memory cards, carrying case, camera strap and cleaning kit.
The camera itself is compact enough for travel, but comfortable enough for you to get a solid grip. It features a 16MP sensor, 40x optical zoom (which lets you shoot everything from wide-angle to telephoto images) and a flip-up LCD screen for easy viewing. Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity let you transfer images easily. While this camera can shoot up to 1080p full HD video, users say it’s better suited to still images. If you’re looking for a true photo/video digital camera, you may want to consider other options on this list.
2. Nikon D3500 Digital Camera
Looking to upgrade to a DSLR? The Nikon D3500 is one of the best-reviewed units online, thanks to its compact, comfortable design and super helpful “auto mode,” which gets you decent photos without having to make any setting adjustments. The autofocus locks onto your subject right away, so you can spend more time shooting and less time waiting for the blurry image to come into focus. Still think your phone could do that? The D3500’s image sensor is 15x larger than those found in most smartphones, not only giving you clearer, crisper images, but photos that capture richer colors and details too. What we like: the thoughtful positioning of the dials, so all the main features are just a fingertip away. The camera also shoots 1080P full HD videos with monaural sound.
3. Canon PowerShot SX740 HS
You already know about the Canon PowerShot, which has been one of the best-selling digital cameras in the market since it debuted back in the late 90s. Their latest PowerShot model, the SX740, features a 40x Optical Zoom that gives you incredible sharpness, even with objects in the distance. Canon’s “Optical Image Stabilizer” technology helps eliminate any shakiness or “fuzzy” pics, while a “Zoom Framing” assistant automatically finds and focuses on the subject you want to capture, even if they’re in motion.
If you’re also shooting video, the SX740 shoots 4K video at a frame rate of up to 30p, for super clear, HD content. Built-in WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities let you send your images and clips to a connected device for easy sharing and editing.
4. Sony DSC-HX400 Digital Camera
This Sony DSC-HX400 handles like a DSLR camera with the ease and convenience of a point and shoot. Packing a ton of features into its pint-size package, it’s one of the best-reviewed cameras in the market for under $500. The camera delivers 20.4 MP images, with a 50x optical zoom for detailed, true-to-life transmission. Its Carl Zeiss lenses give you a more precise view of what you want to capture, while its face detection feature can track up to eight faces at once, to bring your friends into the foreground. What we like: Sony’s built-in white balance modes automatically adjust for different lighting conditions so nothing ever looks blown out or yellow, and the camera’s “burst mode” lets you capture up to 10 shots at 10 frames per second, for when you’re taking photos in a fast-moving environment.
If you’re looking to shoot video, this is a solid camera to add to your kit. Sony’s “high-definition movie mode” gets you 1080p footage and lets you record with two-channel Dolby Digital audio (a benchmark in the film industry). The camera will also actively stabilize your shot, to eliminate any shaking or vibration that could lead to blurry clips. This package comes with an AC adapter, micro USB cable, camera strap, rechargeable battery and a one-year limited parts and labor warranty. Note: the memory card for this camera is sold separately.
5. Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II Digital Camera
Slim and sleek, reviewers like this M10 Mark II from Olympus for its superior image quality, robust outer shell and versatility. The OM-D E-M10 is a mirrorless digital camera that delivers hi-res 16MP photos and full HD 1080p recordings. The in-camera 5-axis image stabilization not only smoothes out any camera shaking, but it’ll detect lighting conditions to adjust for optimal shooting conditions. Olympus’ FAST AF system (yes, that’s the actual name and relax, it stands for “auto focus”) uses 81 contrast-detection areas for quick, accurate tracking. Unlike other cameras, this one features face and eye detection, to pick out people, and blur out unnecessary details.
The included rechargeable lithium-ion battery gets you up to 750 shots per charge – more than enough for a full day of shooting, whether you’re on a safari or covering a concert. A dedicated Silent Mode lets you use the electronic shutter for quiet shooting that won’t disturb the action at hand (say, at a wedding or conference). Recording video? A noise reduction tool eliminates wind and background noise for cleaner sound. What we like: the retro-tinged packaging, accented by a black leatherette wrap and black metal finish, which makes this camera look as good around your neck as it does in action.