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The first digital camera for consumers cost $750 (or $1,300 if adjusted for inflation). Despite the fact it only held 8 photos, which couldn't be seen until you downloaded them (this was pre-preview screens), it was considered revolutionary. That was back in 1994.
Twenty-five years later, Walmart alone offers more than 1,000 different digital cameras, all for under $250. But with so many new models and so many new features — like built-in Wi-Fi — shopping for one can be overwhelming. Since digital cameras make great gifts for anyone planning travel this summer and are often requested by dads for Father's Day, we recently talked to some professional photographers to see which cameras they'd buy if they were on a $250 budget. Here's what they picked and why.
The best cameras for beginners
1. Canon PowerShot SX420, $199, Amazon
"This compact camera is perfect if you’re looking a quick point and shoot camera," said Mary Baumgartner, founder of Five2Five Photography in Montana. "It offers several shooting modes that allow you to capture different effects without needing the advanced menu knowledge of higher end cameras." Baumgartner, who has been a Canon fan for years, liked that this model is equipped with Wi-Fi and NFC technology. That means it can send photos straight to a smartphone, tablet or computer.
2. Canon PowerShot SX620, $229, Amazon
"I love this not only for its convenient size and sleek design, but also the 25x optical zoom," said Sean Dalton, a professional photographer based in Thailand. Dalton, who travels all over Southeast Asia for shoots, actually uses the PowerShot SX620 as a side camera. He appreciates the in-body stabilization, which allows him to shoot video without worrying about shakiness. "The colors in this camera's 20mp sensor produces are also amazing," added Dalton. "They rival the colors of more professional Canon cameras." Speaking of colors, Canon's PowerShot SX620 comes in silver, red and black.
3. Nikon Coolpix B500, $227, Amazon
"The Nikon Coolpix B500's 40x optical zoom is pretty awesome if you're trying to take pictures of your kid's soccer game," said Eugene Dela Cruz, photographer at one7communications in Las Vegas. Dela Cruz also liked the various beginner-friendly shooting modes, built-in Wi-Fi, tilt screen and full HD recording. This camera, which also comes in red, has an impressive 4-star rating. However, it does have one negative (or positive if you're old school). It runs on AA batteries.
4. Nikon Coolpix L340 Digital Camera, $180, Target
Gina Ferwerda loves the durability and dependability of Nikon cameras. She owns several and uses the Nikon Coolpix L340 for shooting food photography. "This camera is a great grab-and-go camera because it's lightweight and features a 28x optical zoom," said the Michigan-based photographer.
5. Sony DSCWX220/B 18.2 MP, $196, Amazon
Jesse Volk called the Sony DSCWX220 an absolute game-changer. "In the past week I've shot three on-the-go street style shoots using this camera," said the fashion and editorial photographer who normally has to pack around more than 30 pounds of gear. The Sony DSCWX220 only weighs 4.4 ounces, so you don't even notice it in your pocket. Volk also liked that its high-end automated make it easy to use in any environment, day or night.
6. Panasonic Lumix 4K Point and Shoot Camera, $248, Amazon
"The landscape of digital cameras is constantly evolving," noted Brandon Ballwag, founder of the digital photography magazine ComposeClick. As of May 2019, he recommended the Panasonic Lumix 4K Point and Shoot Camera for photographers on a budget of $250. "It's comfortable to carry around and use, and even though it's small, it still has a viewfinder for composing your shots." Ballwag also picked this camera because it shoots 4K (ultra HD) which takes your video quality up a serious notch or two.
7. Sony DSC-WX350, $268, B&H Photo
"When it comes to low-light photography, white balance and the ability to take a burst of up to 10 pictures per second, this camera is a powerhouse in a compact design," said Aaron Nace, a Photoshop and Lightroom instructor. Nace, whose photography YouTube channel PHLEARN has more than 1.7 million subscribers, said even if your budget is $250, the $17 extra makes a huge difference. "The DSCWX350 is just as lightweight as others in the under-$250 category, but it packs an image quality that is better than almost anything at that price."
8. Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic Instant Film Camera, $120, B&H Photo
While it's not a digital camera, the Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 is maybe the most fun camera on this list. "A nod to the past, it lets you make instant credit card-sized prints and includes a rechargeable digital battery that can last through ten rolls of film," said Amy and Jordan Demos, a married couple who both teach photography. Unlike the film cameras you probably grew up with, this one has a convenient digital display so you can see how many photos you have left on your roll. If the Demos had to pick a digital camera for under $250, they'd probably go with the Sony DSC-H300. "At just $178, it’s an affordable option for someone just getting started in photography."
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