A YouTuber's guide to cheap vlogging cameras under $500
Here's the truth:
Youtubing can be an expensive hobby if you are not careful.
But can you actually look decent on video with a cheap vlogging camera?
Thankfully, the answer is yes.
Using one of these cheap vlog cameras can help you create an impressive YouTube channel without a huge investment.
You might also want to start with our YouTube camera buying guide so that you know what features are right for you.
Let's take a look at the best cheap cameras for vlogging in 2017 that won't break the bank!
Cheap Vlogging Camera Summary
Our top pick!
Cheapest vlogging camera
Best video quality
Most people think that if they are looking for a vlogging camera under $300 then they are going to end up with cheap looking videos.
Fans of the Nikon COOLPIX B500 would say otherwise…
While not on par with higher end DSLRs, this camera impresses with 1080p video resolution at 30fps.
That is likely the best you will find at this price, especially after its recent price drop (check the current price now). We have found simple video capture on a tripod to be very clear in decent lighting. Quality decreases slightly in low light, but that is a common shortcoming in this budget range.
The camera allows for a bonkers 40x optical zoom which can come in handy, and the image stabilization is serviceable. Just don’t try and take action videos as you won’t love the results.
If you are keeping it simple with your vlog, then the COOLPIX B500 is an excellent value pick. We have found this to be a great camera overall for beginners – there is very little learning curve in its various settings, and navigation between its options is intuitive.
Basically, you’ll be vlogging in no time, and your quality is definitely going to make you look legitimate as you grow your audience.
This is the cheapest vlogging camera with enough power that we still feel like it is worthy of a recommendation.
The Fujifilm FinePix S8600 surprised us with its quality relative to its price. If you want to keep things simple and are happy with your videos looking ‘good enough’ then this is a very cheap Youtube camera that still produces respectable videos at 720p/ 30fps.
If you are just starting out, jumping into an expensive DSLR vlogging camera might be intimidating, so this is a good camera to try first. It is very easy to use and designed for beginners while still offering several features and camera modes rarely found in such a cheap vlogging camera.
The point is this:
Can you grow an audience with the S8600? Yes. Will you want to upgrade once you are ready to level up your YouTube channel? Most likely.
Let’s look at some physical features:
Lighter than a DSLR camera, but heavy enough to notice the difference if you are upgrading from a small point and click style camera. It is ergonomically designed well, and easy to handle so it won’t weigh you down when you are on the move.
Basically, you can take the FinePix S8600 to different shooting sites, but consider getting a good case first.
The FinePixS8600 isn’t going to blow anyone away, but if it is important to get a cheap vlogging camera that will still look decent on YouTube, then it doesn’t come much cheaper than this.
The Canon PowerShot ELPH 360 HS is a good cheap vlogging camera for budget conscious people who really care about video output, and won’t be taking many photos for their content.
This price point for 1080p video resolution is pretty fantastic.
If you want the cheapest vlogging camera with great video, this is it.
The video performance really shines. Videos look clear while zoomed in, and we were surprised how good they look in low light settings. The stabilization isn’t high end, but it also performs better than you would expect.
There are a lot of options for different modes for such a cheap vlog camera, so you will need to spend some time getting familiar with them to get the best performance. While having choice is great, we should note that this camera isn’t as easy to use as others on this list.
The videos are strong but the catch here is that still photographs don’t look like anything special. You aren’t going to hate them but they won’t win awards, and that is ok for most vloggers.
Let’s be honest:
If you are reading this list, then budget is important and your best bet is to focus on the features that really matter to you. The PowerShot ELPH 360 HS isn’t perfect but if you want clear video and value, this is a great pick.
Camcorders seem like a forgotten breed sometimes, but they can be a great pick for vloggers on the move.
The Canon VIXIA HF R72 Camcorder is a cheap vlogging camera that still produces high end video up to par with some much more expensive rivals where many of the expensive components are primarily for still photos.
For starters, the 1080/60p video resolution looks great. In fact, this is as good as it gets for cheap vlogging cameras. To the untrained eye you will look every bit as good as top YouTube stars in clear HD video.
Unlike other cameras on this list, the VIXA HF R72 camcorder also includes an LCD flip screen so that you can see yourself while vlogging. This is a huge win as it is a key feature you often need to pay top dollar for.
A flip screen is a key feature for YouTube cameras and you can see our top recommendations here.
One other hiccup to note is we have seen some reports of issues with computer connectivity and the Canon photo software. It works for the most part, but isn’t the most user friendly technical experience.
Physically, the VIXIA HF R72 is light weight and easy to hold with its classic slim camcorder design. That is a big part of why this is an excellent go to camera if you want to include live action content and not just speak into the camera.
The battery performance is solid, and the camera comes equipped with 32 GB of space out of the box which is a welcome upgrade from many other cameras.
This isn’t the cheapest camera on our list, but if high quality video performance is important and you have a few extra bucks, we recommend the VIXA HF R72 for its (almost) professional level video output at a competitive price point.
What do you need in a cheap vlogging camera?
When it comes to finding an affordable camera, you are going to need to make some sacrifices. There is always the option to buy one of the best vlogging cameras on the market and get everything, but if you are reading this, you probably want to start somewhere more affordable 🙂
But what is worth paying for and what features are OK to skip? Let’s take a look:
Skip it – Spending extra for zoom
A truly powerful zoom feature is generally only useful in specific scenarios, and those occur more often in photography than filming.
If you are creating video for YouTube, then having a camera that can capture a picture with all the spikes on a porcupine from 50 yards away isn’t going to be helpful.
Generally you are better off being close to the camera and in focus for your audience.
Worth it – Durability
Many cheap cameras are not as durable as higher end options, but that doesn’t mean you need to settle for something flimsy.
If you are setting up your camera on a tripod in your own personal studio, then don’t sweat this one too much. If you are going to be on the move, you might want to consider a cheap action camera as an alternative.
Skip It – Paying for a ton of megapixels
Megapixels are a bit overrated at times.
Their value for photos are a separate discussion, but know that for video, you do not need more than 2-3 MP to capture video sin 1080p.
A large MP count might come in handy for shooting photos that can capture large scale photos in great detail, but it is unlikely to improve your vlog.
Worth it – Filming in 1080p
Even though many YouTube videos are viewed on a mobile phone in 720p or less, 1080p has become the standard for crisp looking videos online.
In most cases it will be worth it to get a camera that films on 1080p to look like you belong among credible YouTubers – especially when so many cheap cameras now offer this resolution.
Skip It – Spending extra money on 4K
At least for now, 4K is still something that only high end TVs will display. While 4K TVs and monitors are becoming more popular, most of your audience will be watching in 1080p or less – especially those on mobile.
Save your money and don’t worry about 4K video while you get your channel up and running.
Worth it – Good Autofocus
Buying a camera with serviceable autofocus (AF) will save you a headache and make sure that you look good on camera.
AF is is what will bring you into focus on camera without anyone else there to aim and correct it. Sometimes it takes a bit of configuration to get exactly right, but having this feature in your corner is important for any on camera vloggers.