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11 June 2021

Best cheap DSLR and mirrorless cameras for 2021

We round up the best DSLR and mirrorless cameras costing less than £500, to help you find the best bargain model for your needs
JM
Jake Massey
Lumix dc gx880 488781

If you're looking to take wall-worthy photos and record high-definition video, you need to get your hands on a DSLR or mirrorless camera. However, some of these can cost thousands of pounds, and you'll need to find a balance between quality and affordability if you're shopping on a budget.

Fortunately, we've done the research to help you find quality cameras at low prices. We've uncovered bargains and great-value models through our lab testing, and we've handpicked our top DSLR and mirrorless cameras available for less than £500 in the tables below.

Only logged-in Which? members can view our recommendations. If you’re not yet a member, you can get instant access by joining Which?.

Best cheap DSLRs

  • 71%
    £469.00

    It offers functionality above and beyond a compact model, and image quality is good; the camera produces balanced, highly-detailed shots with good colours and natural skin tones, especially when used in bright, evenly lit scenarios.

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  • 67%
    £386.00

    It isn’t the highest-performing model on the market, but it's worth adding to your short list if you want a cheap DSLR. Picture quality is perfectly acceptable, as is video. It’s a good entry-level model.

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  • 63%
    £369.99

    Image quality is pretty good and it's easy to use. There are some shortcomings in the operating speed and specification. That said, if you’re looking to make your first move up from a compact camera to a DSLR and don’t want to spend much, you may think these are sacrifices worth making.

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Pricing, recommendations and test scores correct as of March 2021. 

Not found the right DSLR for you? Browse all our DSLR camera reviews. 

Best cheap mirrorless cameras

  • 75%
    £499.99

    This model promised to be an alternative to your smartphone’s camera, and it's a better one at that. As a starter model, you won’t find it difficult to use, but it offers great picture and video quality, plus plenty of features.

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  • 71%
    £349.00

    This is an outstanding price for a high-performing, compact mirrorless camera. Picture and video quality is impressive (although, video is far better when shooting in good lighting) and we had no real issues apart from the zoom, which could be smoother. It’s a great choice if you want the option to change lenses, at the price you might pay for a compact model.

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  • 67%
    £400.00

    If you’re looking for a mirrorless camera that takes decent photos, this does the job. At a low price, it’s an easy-to-use, entry-level model. The video quality isn’t great, though, so if you want to record often, look elsewhere. It’s worth a look if you want an inexpensive step up from basic digital cameras.

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Pricing, recommendations and test scores correct as of March 2021. 

Happy to spend more than £500 to get an even more exceptional mirrorless camera? Browse all our mirrorless camera reviews.

Should you buy a DSLR or a mirrorless camera?

If you're looking to take a step up from a basic compact camera to develop your photography skills, you may be unsure whether to opt for a DSLR or a mirrorless camera. 

In most ways that matter, particularly to an amateur photographer, DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are very similar, with interchangeable lenses, large sensors, and a range of manual options for advanced photography. We've found good budget cameras of both types. 

Your best bet is probably to find the camera you're most interested in on its own merits. We test all DSLRs and mirrorless cameras according to the same test programme, so they're all directly comparable. 

DSLRs vs mirrorless cameras

There are a few key differences that might nudge you in one direction or the other. We've highlighted some of the main ones, below. 

Viewfinders

DSLR cameras have optical viewfinders. With optical viewfinders, you view the scene via reflex mirrors inside the cameras that bounce light up into the viewfinder. You'll see exactly what will be captured in the final photo. Many also display this image on a preview screen.

Mirrorless cameras, as the name suggests, do away with the mirrors and instead rely on the camera's image sensors to show a digital preview of the image on a preview screen. Most, though not all, also allow you to view this preview through an electronic viewfinder, which may be easier to use if bright light makes the screen hard to see. 

The preview will typically be very accurate, and mirrorless technology is improving all the time, but in conditions where the camera sensors have to work harder (in low light conditions for example), the preview may not quite match what will appear in the final photo. 

Size and weight

Mirrorless cameras are usually smaller and lighter than DSLRs, which is in part the result of doing away with space-consuming mirrors. 

Range of accessories

Each type of camera will have a library of lenses and accessories that are only available for that type. Because DSLRs have been around for a lot longer, they usually come with more choice of accessories, but there is significant investment in mirrorless lenses and this gap is narrowing. 

If you're still undecided about which type of camera to choose, check out our detailed guide on mirrorless vs DSLR cameras: what's the difference?