If you want to upgrade your camera, DSLRs are still generally the most powerful on the market, but it can be shocking how expensive most models are.
As a result, many aspuring photographers or vloggers stick with their phones, or settle for less powerful digital cameras.
Buying a good DSLR for under $500 can be tricky, but it can be done. Truthfully, if your budget is under $300, then you should probably look at other affordable camera alternatives.
If you know what to look for then there are still options that will help you step up your content for both video and photography.
Best DSLR Cameras under $500
In this Buyers Guide:
How to Buy a DSLR for Beginners
If you are buying a DSLR for the first time, or you are a beginner to vlogging cameras and photography then congrats! This will help you step up your content game and look much more professional.
Just be sure to keep in mind a few key factors that you should be thinking about when buying a DSLR - if your budget is $500 or less then you want to make sure that your money is going towards the most important features.
Here is a good primer from Beebom.
4 key factors when buying a DSLR
#1 - What will you be using it for?
Generally people purchase their first DSLR because they want to make better looking photos, or videos, or both. Knowing what sort of content you want to make will be important in helping you choose the right features.
Fore example, if you are mostly interested in DSLR filming, look for specs like video resolution and frame rate speed. You should be able to find 1080p HD recording, even in the lower cost range. You might also want to looking to investing in accessories like a DSLR gimbal which will help to smooth out videos.
If you are going to use this as a YouTube camera, then 1080p HD video should be considered a must. You will find that most successful vloggers have a DSLR in their camera collection, though many start with cheaper cameras to begin with. If you are on a budget, you could also look into good affordable camcorders to film your YouTube videos as they take great video, but are not ideal for photography like a DSLR is.
For photos, you don't need to worry too much about megapixels as modern DSLRs have more than enough to produce great pictures. Unless you are a professional, you will likely be satisfied with anything above 18 MP. However,you will want to pay close attention to the next key factor.
#2 - What is the sensor size?
There are 3 popular frame sizes in modern cameras, and they will impact your videos, and photography. Check out the differences below.
Full Frame sensors provide the best clarity for photography, and you will essentailyl capture everything that you see through the view finder.
APS-C sensors are ideal for those who care about both videos and photography.
Four Thirds sensors are less common, but can offer some advantages for videographers.
#3 - What is the ISO range?
The ISO value indicates how sensitive the DSLR sensor is to light. A larger ISO range provides you with more flexibility in different lighting situations.
Today most cameras come with a larger range than beginners are likely to use, but you do want to make sure that it goes up to at least 1,600.
#4 - Convenience features
There are a wide range of features that can be found in a DSLR, and you will want to decide which are most important for you.
Depending on your needs, look for things like a flip screen camera for vlogging, Wi-Fi connectivity, and adequate weather proofing.
With a budget of $500 or less, you won't be able to get every premium feature, but you might be able to get a couple that will help your experience.
#1 - Canon EOS Rebel T6
If you are new to DLSRs, or looking to upgrade from your smartphone, the Canon EOS Rebel T6 might be a good fit. It is easy to pick up and use, has a strong autofocus system, and provides excellent photos & video for less than $500.
Features & Specs
While not a technical powerhouse (the 18 MP sensor is relatively underpowered, even at this budget price point), the Canon EOS Rebel T6 is still a strong contender for those who want a good mix of value, ease of use, and ergonomics.
It comes with an interchangeable lens, and it is compatible with Canon EF lenses. This gives you lots of options and makes the T6 a camera that you can learn to excel with in many scenarios.
Given that DSLRs are generally larger cameras, the Rebel T6 has a nice design that it a notable advantage over some alternatives. It is light enough for you to carry it around in a purse, and feels nice to hold in part due to its ruberized surface.
It has a 3 inch LCD display screen that is a bit lacking in some nice-to-have features. It is not a touch screen, and even more dissapointing, it is not a flip screen which has become a staple for many content creators.
Fortunately, once you get into the menus, it is relatively easy to use. This camera won't overwhelm you with too many advanced settings which is nice for people who only need a good entry level DSLR to learn with.
It contains various filters and creative options to experiment with which help you to change modes and add detail to your pictures. Your pictures may sometimes be unclear due to various shaded light sources, but the Canon’s white balance mode helps so that even in these cases, your photos will come
For video content, the Canon EOS Rebel T6 captures your videos at 1920x1080 full HD resolution at 25/30 frames per second. The videos are clear and colorful, and while the auto-focus sometimes misses the mark, the video output overall is very good quality for the money.
#2 - Nikon D5300
If you aren't just looking for the cheapest camera, then the Nikon D5300 is a nice option as Nikon's mid tier DSLR.
It is more expensive than other son this list, but also more powerful in some important aspects.
Features & Specs
This camera packs in a lot of nice features given its relatively low price point when compared to 'professional' DSLRs. It is a good pick for someone who cares about quality for both photogtaphy and video.
Along with the powerful sensor, this camera's 39-point autofocus with 9 cross-type sensors provides noticably faster and more accurate autofocus when compared to other cheap DSLRs.
Despite the rich feature set, the D5300 manges to contain itself into a relatviely compact package. Where some high end DSLRs on the market become bulky and heavy, the D5300 manages to stay within a range that feels comfortable for bringing it anywhere.
The screen is another plus for this camera, especially for vloggers. It is slightly larger than normal at 3.2" size, but more importantly, it is a flexible flip screen camera which lets you get in front of the camera yourself, while still keeping an eye on what it is seeing.
#3 - Nikon D3400
The Nikon D3400 is an update to its predecessor (#4 on our list) which makes small improvements in a number of areas.
The cost is slightly higher, and the differences are not astronomic, but it may be worth the extra investment if you want a camera with better battery life and features like remote control with your smartphone via bluetooth.
Features & Specs
Like all the DSLRs on this list, the image quality of the D3400 is a strong point. It includes a powerful CMOS sensor for photography, and shoots video in 1080p full HD.
Unforutnately, neither the D3300 or D3400 model features notable image stabilization which can be a challenge if you are creating a lot of content on the move.
The D3400 has an especially long battery life - it can last for up to 1,200 shots which is well above average.
Unlike the D3300, the D3400 includes the very handy feature of bluetooth remove control. This means that despite not having a flip screen, you can keep an eye on what the viewfinder is seeing, regardless of where you are standing relative to the camera. That opens up a lot of creative options.
Considering it is only a small difference in price, we would tend to recommend the D3400 vs its predesessor - but both are definitely worth a look.
#4 - Nikon D3300
If image quality and price are your top priorities, then the NikonD3300 might be the right pick.
With its 24.2 megapixel sensor and suite of editing options found within the camera itself, this is an excellent choice for aspiring photographers, while also producing very high quality video.
Features & Specs
One of the nice advantages of this camera is the noticable long battery life. It can take up to 700 shots in a single charge which is significantly more than the Rebel T6 which can only go as high as 500 before a recharge.
(The battery is not so impressive when taking video, which we will get to in a moment.)
The 24.2 MP sensor produces some very nice shots and we found that it performs well above average in low light. It also has a paranoma option, allowing the user to glide left, right, up or down to capture a larger scene.
There are retouching options right in the camera itself, with a variety of settings and backgrounds to enhance your photos.
The D3300 records videos at 1080p/60p and has a manual movie mode to let you access exposure controls. It has tracking and face detecting options as well. The videos look really sharp, and we noticed that audio captured from the the built in microphone was better than we expected.
The only challenge is that the battery tends to drain very quickly when taking video, and it does not have a flip-screen so it is not ideal to take out for a day of vlogging.
If you are going to set the camera up on a tripod and record however, you are likely going to be happy with the results
#5 - Sony SLT-A58K
The Sony SLT-A58K is not the most powerful DSLR on our list, but it is the cheapest one that we still feel good about recommending.
This could be a good choice for beginners who want to get a taste of DSLR photography for the lowest cost.
Features & Specs
For a cheap camera that is now a few years old, the SLT-A58K impressed us in terms of its performance. It produces crisp looking photos, and videos, including good performance in low light.
One aspect that is less advanced than more recent DSLR releases is the autofocus. While not a total disaster, it is far from the most accurate AF on the market.
The Sony SLT-A58K is a notably small DSLR, which has its pros and cons. In terms of handling, the small size and light weight is ideal.
One aspect of the camera that suffers with the size is the screen, which is only 2.7". It is also relatively low resolution so this is a weakness overall.
This is certainly an adequate DSLR for beginners, and because it is a slightly older model of camera, there are several refurbished and used units on Amazon. You can potentially find a good one for a great price.