Smartphone cameras keep getting better and better but if you really want to kick your photography up a few levels, they can only take you so far. If you're a little green when it comes to photography, it can be hard to know where to start looking so you don't want to splurge on your first big camera purchase and slap down a few grand for something you might not even use (or know how to use!).
Whether you’re after a mirrorless camera, DSLRs, action cameras or even a point-and-shoot, we’ve got you covered with our round up of some of the best cameras you can buy for under $1000.
In putting this roundup together, I tried to cover off the various types of modern digital cameras that you might find in retail stores around Australia and give a quick overview of the strengths of buying that particular type. I had a few criteria - I made sure that the prices for mirrorless cameras and DSLRs included a lens for less than the target price. Just getting a body isn't good enough to feature here.
In addition, these are digital cameras so I haven't included things like polaroid cameras in this round up. I've also taken the approach that readers of this article are looking for guidance in finding good picks that kick their photography skills up a notch and take them beyond the back of their smartphone. For this reason, I looked at entry-level DSLRs
I've included links to some of the best prices I can find, as of writing. Some of these are through the eBay store DWI Digital Cameras, which is based in Hong Kong.
Point-and-shoot cameras, or compact cams, are simple, highly automatic cameras that require very little professional photography knowledge. Provided you’re willing to spend a little, you can find a point-and-shoot that will give you a decent step up from the camera on your smartphone.
Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 III
The RX100 sports a huge range of high end features and operates exceptionally well in low-light scenarios, elevating it above the point-and-shoot cameras you might find on the back of your phone. The electronic viewfinder is an obvious bonus, but the control ring around the lens allows you to play with shutter speed, zoom and aperture settings on the fly.
One consideration, for some, is that the humble smartphone allows for selfies. The Cyber-shot provides for selfie power users with a 180-degree screen that flips up over the top of the camera, and because of its size, is a viable replacement for those go-getters that want their selfies at the edge of a cliff, without the worry of dropping their smartphone (though I wouldn’t want to drop this expensive piece of tech either, it does come with a wrist strap for safety).
Overall, it's an expensive purchase, but one that takes the manual labour out of grabbing incredibly detailed, bright and sharp photos. It's certainly a big leap up from your smartphone and the more recent, more expensive models – the IV and V – come in at higher price points but improve quality and speed by including features like 4K video (in the IV) and phase-detection autofocus (in the V).
Olympus Tough TG-5
I'm big on the Olympus Tough series because it has always provided something a little different in the point-and-shoot category. Yes, the TG-5, like its predecessors, is a hulking beast of a point-and-shoot and for good reason: It's approaching bank vault-levels of impenetrability.
It's freeze-proof, shock-proof, water-proof and you can chuck 100kg on it and it will resist that too. As such, it’s not necessarily a camera that's going to output the most sharp, beautiful images of all time, but what it will do is focus and take photos with speed and allow for 4K video recording.
You don't quite get the same level of detail or control as some of the contemporary models, though the TG-5 does have a manual mode that is lacking. The LCD screen on the back is also a little light-on for the price, with a lower resolution than similarly-priced compacts.
Mirrorless cameras are perfect if you want the exceptional quality of a DSLR in a compact frame. Think of them as in between a point-and-shoot and a high quality DSLR: Their body is lightweight and easy to carry like a point-and-shoot, but their lenses can be swapped out like a DSLR.
As their name suggests these cameras lack the mirror you'd find in a DSLR, so they don't reflect light coming through the lens to a viewfinder. Instead, a mirrorless camera uses electronics and sensors to recapitulate the incoming light as an image, digitally.
Sony are juggernauts in this space and their Alpha range wrap some of the best auto focus capabilities and top of the line sensors in a tiny, highly portable frame.
I've gone with the a6000 for this roundup, though Sony also offer the a5000 and a5100 at a lower price point. The major reason is the a6000 has a superior sensor, far more focus points and can shoot burst mode at 11fps. A huge benefit of the a6000 is that it's autofocus time is just 0.06 seconds and offers an electronic OLED viewfinder, which isn't available in the a5000 or a5100.
If this is your first mirrorless camera the a5000 isn't a bad place to start, but for the difference in price, I'd look at the a6000.
Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II
A camera that looks like it travelled through time, the Olympus is highly regarded because it captures great images, has a speedy focus and comes in at a good price.
The Mark II uses a Micro Four Thirds sensor that outputs sharp images. The major advantage, like most current mirrorless cameras, is the ability to quickly and accurately focus and the Mark II provides some of the best focusing you'll find at this price range. It also houses a stabilisation system in its body, which prevents camera shake and aids in creating sharp images even when using slower shutter speeds.
The E-M10 Mark II is more complex than its competitors and photography amateurs will likely be overwhelmed straight out of the box. If you're willing to learn, ingest the contents of the manual and practice shooting in different situations, the Mark II can really work for you.
Digital single-lens reflex cameras, DSLRs, are the behemoths of the camera world and allow the photographer to see exactly what is being captured through the lens. What you see is what you get, in a way. They have large image sensors so can take in a lot of light and operate well in lower-light. Plus, like mirrorless cameras, they're highly adaptable – you can whack whatever lenses you want on and use them in the way that best suits you. Unlike mirrorless cameras, they're mammoth size makes them less portable.
Nikon's entry-level D3400 is the camera I'd be looking at if I was going to get into the business of photography with a DSLR (in fact, it's the one I purchased for my partner last Christmas). It's major advantage in this category is how easy it is to get started. You don't need a comprehensive knowledge of DSLRs, aperture settings, shutter speeds or ISO to begin taking excellent photos, and on the other hand, if you're looking to improve your photography, the D3400 can provide in that department too.
Nikon's low-end cameras still contain great sensors, so the quality of the images coming out of the D3400 is high – even in low light situations. It has a Guide Mode that really helps get the most out of the camera if you're an inexperienced user, superb battery life and its video functionality – 1080/60p – is enough to get started filming high quality videos. Nikon have also included Bluetooth with the D3400, so you can transfer photos from the DSLR straight to your phone or PC if you so desire.
Look, it is a DSLR, so it is bulky. Transporting it becomes a hassle compared to your smartphone or the other cameras in this roundup, but the trade-off is the image quality is likely comparable to the more expensive mirrorless cameras listed here. Unlike previous iterations, there's no 3.5mm mic jack so while the video capabilities are adequate, the audio capabilities are not.
Canon EOS 1300D
The direct competitor to the D3400 for those beginner-photographer dollars, the EOS 1300D is Canon's entry-level DSLR and it’s definitely one to look at. Coming in at around $100 cheaper than the Nikon, the 1300D is just as beginner-friendly as the Nikon and easy to get started with, but those who end up ready to branch out into professional territory might be found wanting down the track.
The quality of the image you get off the EOS 1300D's 18MP CMOS sensor is very good for this price and will produce the kind of images that can make your smartphone camera look just a bit shit. Unlike the Nikon it doesn't have bluetooth, but can connect to Wi-Fi and NFC if you want to share your pictures across various social media pages.
If you were set on grabbing a Canon and wanted to go a step or two up, then you could look at the 750D, which sneaks in under the $1000 mark and offers a range of improvements over the 1300D such as greater ISO, better focus and a higher resolution (24MP).
Though I haven’t included it in this roundup, I would even look at some of Canon's mirrorless options such as the M3.
Action cameras are designed to get you vision from the thick of it and are built to withstand all sort of tough conditions. If you've ever performed any sort of extreme sport, jumped out of a plane or bungeed off a cliff, you've likely strapped one of these to somewhere on your body. If you're after an action camera, you're not going to be using it to take stunning portraits – you just want to capture whatever crazy moments you find yourself.
GoPro Hero 6 Black
When it comes to action cameras, there is one name that is unavoidable: GoPro. The Hero 6 is the most recent addition to the family and comes with incremental changes over its predecessor, the Hero 5.
Those changes include better recording quality, a touchscreen, HDR and improved resolution at 240fps. Improvements have been made to the image stabilisation capabilities and the processor, so the camera performs better in low-light situations.
You could also look at the older GoPro Hero 5, which was a huge seller over the Christmas period in 2016 and is just a damn reputable action camera that performs exceptionally well. You won't quite get the same functionality, but you will save yourself around $100.
When I worked in retail, GoPro's would fly off the shelves around Christmas time. Often that could lead to disappointment for prospective buyers who were a little slow to make a purchase. But as a good retailer should, I always demonstrated a similarly excellent product that doesn’t quite have the same level of recognition.
I never feared that a customer would come back unsatisfied if they purchased the FDR-X3000 instead of a GoPro.
This action camera is waterproof up to 60m, has a ZEISS Tessar lens and can shoot still images at approximately 12 megapixels, with stunning, crisp 4K video. The image stabilization is better than you get with a GoPro and although its sensor isn't quite as powerful, video is where it really shines. The major trade-off is that it feels unnecessarily cumbersome to use, but the big bonus is it's price – coming in at around $100 cheaper than the latest GoPro.
Prices and links are correct at time of writing, November 22, 2017. Let us know in the comments what kind of digital camera you're running around with. What's treated you well? What do you like to shoot with?