2016 best cameras within your budget (with manual settings)

Looking for a camera this holiday season? Feeling overwhelmed by all of the camera options?Want to gain control in manual mode? I have compiled a list of the best cameras that have manual settings so you can start talking control.

Here are just a few pointers and some things to keep in mind before you purchase a camera: 

  1. figure out your budget. stick with it. You could always get a better camera but you don't need to spend $45,000 to get a good picture. stick to your budget.

  2. what is important to you? weight and size? interchangeable lenses? long lasting battery?

  3. remember you will need to purchase a memory card and possibly other accessories like tripod, camera bag, a second lens, extra batteries, and/or protection filters (highly recommended with kids so you can easily get the smudges off).

I have listed below cameras under $400, $600, $800, and $1,000. There are great cameras under $400, you do not need to spend an arm and a leg to get higher quality images than your point-and-shoot camera or the camera on your phone. All cameras below come with a kit lens and other bundles and refurbished ones are listed after the short review. 

Refurbished is great for DSLRs, but I do not recommend them for mirrorless cameras or compact cameras just because everything in them is more digital and less mechanical so there could be more wrong with it. Another thing to look for is if it is an "international version", this will mean it does not come with a warranty. You want the warranty, I promise.

What is a mirrorless camera?

"Mirrorless cameras are simpler, smaller and lighter than DSLRs because they do not need a mirrorhousing, a movable mirror, or a viewing prism with reticle making up the optical viewfinder. Neither do they need a secondary autofocus mirror, an autofocus sensor array and a separate light metering sensor. Yet, a mirrorless camera provides real time preview of what the camera lens sees." - definition from wikipedia. I personally shoot with mirrorless because of how light-weight and small they are, plus they are less intimidating for the Day in the Life sessions I do. I love them!

click on the images and they will direct you to Amazon to show current price.

disclaimer: I did spend a lot of time with research and creating the links and I do get a small percentage if you click(and purchase) on the links that I provide. thank you for reading!

 

cameras under $400

Nikon D3300 (REFURBISHED)

QUICK SPECS

  • Body type               DSLR
  • Megapixels              24
  • Weight                    .95 lb
  • Screen size             3"/ fixed
  • Touch screen          no
  • Battery life              700
  • Focus points           11
  • ISO(maximum)       25600
  • Built-in flash           yes (pop-up)
  • GPS/Wifi                optional/optional

The Good: An impressive spec list for the price. Long battery life, light weight, and full HD video.

The Bad: Hard to find things in menu, slow auto focus in live view.

Overall: A great entry level camera.

Other Options: There is nothing wrong with a refurbished camera especially when you save $100, but if you like new things, here is the link:

 

Sony a3000

QUICK SPECS

  • Body type               compact SLR /mirrorless
  • Megapixels              20
  • Weight                    .91 lb
  • Screen size             3"/ fixed
  • Touch screen          no
  • Battery life              470
  • Focus points           25
  • ISO(maximum)       16000
  • Built-in flash           yes (pop-up)
  • GPS/Wifi                no/no

The Good: Excellent image quality and noise performance, highly customizable, and auto panorama feature.

The Bad: Low resolution, buttons not in ideal places, bad quality viewfinder and LCD screen.

Overall: Inexpensive, ease of a point-and-shoot camera with the benefit of a big sensor for great quality image and the chance to swap lenses.

 

 

cameras under $600

 

Nikon D5300 (REFURBISHED)

QUICK SPECS

  • Body type               DSLR
  • Megapixels              24
  • Weight                    1.06 lb
  • Screen size             3.2"/ fully articulated
  • Touch screen          no
  • Battery life              600
  • Focus points           39
  • ISO(maximum)       25600
  • Built-in flash           yes (pop-up)
  • GPS/Wifi                yes/yes

The Good: Excellent image quality, solid feature set, good focus with 39 focus points, and full HD video.

The Bad: Live view is slow to use and slow to focus, menu is hard to operate quickly.

Overall: Well rounded, has the highest resolution sensor in this consumer-grade class. Although, big issue is with the slow to use live view and on screen menu.

Other Options: Brand new will bring you over the $600 budget:

 

Canon T5i (700D)

QUICK SPECS

  • Body type               DSLR
  • Megapixels              18
  • Weight                    1.28 lb
  • Screen size             3"/ fully articulated
  • Touch screen          yes
  • Battery life              440
  • Focus points           9
  • ISO(maximum)       25600
  • Built-in flash           yes (pop-up)
  • GPS/Wifi                optional/yes

The Good: Comprehensive touchscreen interface, good subject tracking, high image quality with good detail and noise reduction.

The Bad: Slow live view auto focus, not good in low light(high noise levels)

Overall: Not best in low light. Easy to use interface.

Other options: plus telephoto only $80 more

 

Nikon D3400

QUICK SPECS

  • Body type               DSLR
  • Megapixels              24
  • Weight                    .87 lb
  • Screen size             3"/ fixed
  • Touch screen          no
  • Battery life              1200
  • Focus points           11
  • ISO(maximum)       25600
  • Built-in flash           yes (pop-up)
  • GPS/Wifi                 no/yes

The Good: Simple control layout, lightweight, excellent battery life, full HD video, and updated kit lens.

The Bad: Cheep feeling body, no built in sensor cleaning, slow auto focus, no secondary control dial for easy access to aperture and ISO settings.

Overall: Good image quality for the money, good dynamic range with JPEGs and RAWs. Not many features if looking to go above using camera on auto. 

 

Canon T6 (1300D)

QUICK SPECS

  • Body type               DSLR
  • Megapixels              18
  • Weight                    1.07 lb
  • Screen size             3"/ fixed
  • Touch screen          no
  • Battery life              500
  • Focus points           9
  • ISO(maximum)       12800
  • Built-in flash           yes (pop-up)
  • GPS/Wifi                 no/yes

The Good: Simple control layout, built in wifi, nice quality JPEGs, good battery life

The Bad: Limited ISO range, slow live view auto focus.

Overall: Sensor is out of date, makes for poor image quality (still better than point-and-shoot cameras). Reason for 'higher price' is the wifi capability. 

Other options: 

 

Pentax K-50

QUICK SPECS

  • Body type               DSLR
  • Megapixels              16
  • Weight                    1.43 lb
  • Screen size             3"/ fixed
  • Touch screen         no
  • Battery life              410
  • Focus points           11
  • ISO(maximum)       12,800
  • Built-in flash           yes (pop-up)
  • GPS/Wifi                 optional/yes

The Good: Solid, weather resistant body, front and rear controls, and real pentaprism that shows 100% of image.

The Bad: Poor battery life, lens motor is louder than most, not best in low light(high noise levels)

Overall: With the weather resistant body and rapid frame rate, this is a good camera for the active outdoorsy type.

Other options: with 2nd lens

 

Sony Alpha a6000

QUICK SPECS

  • Body type               mirrorless
  • Megapixels              24
  • Weight                    .76 lb
  • Screen size             3"/ tilting
  • Touch screen          no
  • Battery life             360
  • Focus points           179
  • ISO(maximum)       51200
  • Built-in flash           yes (pop-up)
  • GPS/Wifi                 no/yes

The Good: One of the best sensors in its class, small and light body, class leading continuous auto focus, wifi, USB charging offers convenience.

The Bad: Flash exposures are not always correct, too much noise reduction, poor battery life, lack of included external charger makes keeping a second battery charged awkward.

Overall: Great value for your money. Lots of high end features but lacking in some ares. This camera is great for a traveler or someone who wants something smaller than a DSLR so they can throw it in their (big) purse.

 

 

cameras under $800

 

Nikon D5500

QUICK SPECS

  • Body type               DSLR
  • Megapixels              24
  • Weight                    .93 lb
  • Screen size             3.2/fully articulated
  • Touch screen          yes
  • Battery life              820
  • Focus points           39
  • ISO(maximum)       25600
  • Built-in flash           yes (pop-up)
  • GPS/Wifi                 no/yes

The Good: Excellent image quality with dynamic range, fully articulating screen, touchscreen makes menu searching and auto focusing easy, advance ISO controls, wifi, and strong battery life.

The Bad: Lacks second control dial, limited buffer memory affects continuos shooting, no exposure simulation in live view, and buttons are small.

Overall: One of the best entry-to-midrange DSLRs on the market. It offers a very good selection of features along with impressive quality, with most of the negatives being things that would mainly effect the pros.

Other options: refurbished (save some money!)

 

Fujifilm X-T10

QUICK SPECS

  • Body type               mirrorless
  • Megapixels              16
  • Weight                    .84 lb
  • Screen size             3"/ tilting
  • Touch screen          no
  • Battery life             350
  • Focus points           77
  • ISO(maximum)       51200
  • Built-in flash           yes (pop-up)
  • GPS/Wifi                 optional/yes

The Good: Good image quality at both low and high ISO, solid build quality, fast accurate focusing , extremely quite and discreet to shoot with, and lots of great lenses to purchase in the future.

The Bad: Buffer during 8 fps burst is very limited, poor video quality, and face detect and subject tracking are too slow to be useful.

Overall: This camera is well built, discreet, highly customizable, with retro-styling, and plenty of physical controls. It offers incredibly-pleasing JPEGs, out of camera, and decent RAWs.

Other options: another lens(telephoto) for $100 more

 

 

cameras under $1,000

 

Sony DSC_RX100 V

QUICK SPECS

  • Body type               compact
  • Megapixels              20
  • Weight                    .66 lb
  • Screen size             3"/ tilting
  • Touch screen          no
  • Battery life             220
  • Focus points           315
  • ISO(maximum)       25600
  • Built-in flash           yes (pop-up)
  • GPS/Wifi                 no/yes

The Good: Great 24-70mm F 1.8-2.8 lens (if you wanted this quality lens for a DSLR, it would cost you well over $2,000) and is awesome in low light and perfect for portraits. Great focusing with 315 focus points, 24fps, burst shooting is insane, high quality 4K and slow motion video, well built body, and fits in almost any pocket.

The Bad: Short battery life, limited contros and no touchscreen, lens reach can be limiting for a 'carry-everywhere' camera, and lack of external charger makes it harder to charge spare batteries.

Overall: This camera is a pro's point-and-shoot camera. I personally would purchase this as my second(third) camera for traveling or simply going out with friends. It's small and easy to use with all of the controls and quality that professional photographers like to use.

Other options: bundle for an extra $1

or the previous version which is still amazing for $100 less

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 IV 20.1 MP Digital Still Camera
 

Canon T6s (760D)

QUICK SPECS

  • Body type               DSLR
  • Megapixels              24
  • Weight                    1.25 lb
  • Screen size             3"/ fully articulated
  • Touch screen          yes
  • Battery life             440
  • Focus points           19
  • ISO(maximum)       25600
  • Built-in flash           yes (pop-up)
  • GPS/Wifi                 no/yes

The Good: Great sensor quality, 19-point cross-type(faster focus) system, continuous AF in live view, fully articulated touchscreen, LCD display on top of camera, wifi, and HDR video.

The Bad: Poor battery life, no AF micro-adjustments, dynamic range and subject tracking are lacking in their class. Rear dial is awkward to reach for some users. AF points are all grouped in middle of frame.

Overall: This camera is good for someone who shoots a lot in live view and wants to take more control over there camera. Make sure to buy extra batteries!

 

I hope that this wasn't too over whelming and it was helpful. Remember that all of cameras that I have listed are the best options under the price ranges. At the end of the day, the quality of the image doesn't matter, it's the subject and the moment that create the story and memories. 

Spend less time shopping and more time making memories with family.

Have a great holiday weekend!

- katherine

P.S. I do offer workshops for beginners. Next one is November 27th, 2016. More info here.

 


resources:

http://www.theverge.com/2014/6/25/5838756/best-camera-under-250

http://www.techradar.com/news/photography-video-capture/cameras/buying-guide-best-slrs-for-beginners-1251700

https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/nikon-d3300/12

https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/nikon-d5300/18

https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/canon-eos-rebel-t6-1300d-review/4

http://www.cameralabs.com/reviews/Sony_Alpha_A3000/verdict.shtml

https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/sony-alpha-a6000/13

https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/consumer-dslr-camera-roundup-2014/7

https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/nikon-d5500/10

https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/fujifilm-x-t10/12

https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/sony-cybershot-dsc-rx100-v-review/8

https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/canon-eos-760d-rebel-t6s/12