Instagram enthusiasts are happy to use their smartphone cameras to capture the moment, but if photography has really sparked your interest, it's time to upgrade. Even with the jumps in performance that smartphones have gone through in the past few years, their cameras are still very limited. Luckily, entry-level DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are now priced low enough that those curious about the craft can try it out on a relatively modest budget.
Cheapism.com has identified four entry-level models that are inexpensive yet lauded in expert reviews. Two are DSLRs, or digital single-lens reflex cameras, while the other two are more compact mirrorless cameras. In either case you'll have access to a wide range of interchangeable lenses and manual controls galore, as well as automatic settings. Of course you'll also be able to shoot high-quality photos and videos -- all four cameras can capture video in 1080p HD.
The recommended cameras use image stabilization to keep pictures looking crisp, even in low-light situations, and they range in resolution from 16 to 24 megapixels. Manufacturers may tout megapixel counts, however the image sensor is what really makes the difference. DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have larger image sensors than you'll find in a smartphone or point-and-shoot camera, which is one reason you'll get higher quality photos even if the number of megapixels is the same.
The Canon EOS Rebel SL1 (starting at $599 with lens) is an attractive choice if you're looking for something to bring on a trip. It's compact and lightweight for a DSLR, features a touchscreen LCD along with an optical viewfinder, and can take advantage of Canon's large selection of lenses. Consumer and expert reviewers like the feel and responsiveness of the camera, as well as the admirable photos and video it produces.
The Sony A3000 (starting at $348 with lens) is the least expensive camera of the four, and although it doesn't have many bells and whistles, it captures very good photos. This mirrorless camera can take advantage of Sony's interchangeable lenses and has an electronic viewfinder in addition to the LCD screen. Although the screen has half the resolution of most competitors, the camera performs well, responds quickly, and impresses reviewers overall, making it a solid choice on a tight budget.
The Nikon D3300 (starting at $597 with lens) has a longer battery life than many other budget cameras, and certainly most smartphones: It lasts for more than 700 photos (as opposed to about 500 or fewer with a competitor). Compatible with an array of Nikon lenses, the D3300 is a good entry-level pick that takes very high-quality photos and video, according to user and expert reviews.
The Panasonic Lumix GF6 (starting at $449 with lens) is feature-laden mirrorless camera with a budget price. There's built-in Wi-Fi for quick and easy sharing of photos online and a tilting LCD touchscreen, which can swivel around to show you the picture you're taking while your arm is fully outstretched (perfect for selfies). This is another top pick for consumers looking for a high-quality camera for travel, as the entire setup (body, lens, battery, and memory card) weighs less than a pound.