Just because you don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on a top-of-the-line camera doesn’t mean that there’s not a camera out there perfect for both your needs and budget. Believe me. I know the feeling! I was a college photography student for a long time, and my budget could only support mid-range products. And you know what? A lot of them were fantastic! So, take it from me: there are some absolutely fantastic cameras in the $300 price range. Check it out!
Best Camera Under 300 Dollars: A Buyer’s Guide
|Nikon 1 J2||$$$$|
|Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX7K||$$$$|
|Olympus PEN E-PL3||$$$|
|Canon PowerShot SX510||$$$|
|Nikon COOLPIX S4200||$|
|Nikon COOLPIX L830||$$|
|Canon PowerShot A2500||$|
We’ll discuss this more below, but please keep in mind that the above table represents a wide variety of cameras in this price range. Some cameras will be better for specific projects. Most of these, though, are digital point and shoot cameras. Still, any of those cameras would be a great buy. In fact, I’ve owned a few of them myself!
Reviews of Digital Cameras Under $300
Best Digital Camera Under $300: Fuji FinePix SL100
The Fuji FinePix SL100 tops our list of cameras in the $300 price range for a couple of reasons. Most importantly, though, is that it’s probably the best camera on this list, and it comes in under 300 bucks, which leaves you a lot of elbow room to pick up other things you might need, like a bag or a strap or whatever.
Here’s a great video of the Fuji Fine Pix SL100 in action:
This is a 16 megapixel camera (16.3 to be exact), and we found the image quality to be very, very good. Really, it shoots like a $600 camera. Part of the reason it can do that is that a backside, illuminated CMOS censor, which lets it take much better photos in low-light conditions. It also makes it an excellent choice for nighttime photography.
The camera has some high speed capturing capabilities as well; it’s able to shoot at about 10 frames per second. That’s not the fastest in the world by any means, but it’s pretty speedy.
However, one of the best features by far is the enormous optical zoom lens that is built directly into the camera’s frame. Most photographers like to have the option of buying new lenses or changing them out, and you can’t do that here, but you probably don’t need to. The lens is very high quality and zooms to a whopping 50x.
Overall, this is a great camera for the money, and it’d probably be what I’d buy if I had $300 to spend.
Nikon 1 J2
For instance, it’s got a built-in, pop-up flash, making it convenient to carry around while still giving you the ability to use a flash when you need to.
It’s also got a big, super-high-resolution display with an anti-glare coating. And it works! It really does shoot like a dream on bright, sunny days. This might seem like a small feature, but it’s something I really appreciated when I was snapping pictures out on vacations.
Again, adding to the features built for taking photos on the go, the J2 comes with a unique motion capture feature. To be honest, I’m not even really sure how it works, but you can easily tell the difference when taking action shots. They are just so much clearer, and it’s very easy to see the camera doing the work for you.
Check out this review Digital Camera World to see the J2 in action:
The camera can shoot 10 frames per second, but each frame is able to fully autofocus itself, which means you’ll be a lot less likely to get blurry pictures during rapid fire shooting.
So, what’s the verdict? This is probably not the best camera for the photographer hobbyist; it’s just not sophisticated enough. However, it’s absolutely perfect for travelers, moms, and anyone else chasing other people around taking photos. It’s a great, great, great vacation camera.
Fujifilm FinePix S8200
Another Fujifilm camera. Can you tell they’re doing something right? And they are! I wasn’t the biggest Fujifilm fan in the past, but I’ve been impressed with their cameras in the last few years, and they’ve been making fantastic products at the mid-level price points.
And the S8200 is no different. Really, the S8200 is great for a lot of the same reasons the SL100 is great; it’s just not quite as powerful or precise. Still, there are a lot of things to be happy about here.
Great video review of the S8200 from Newegg:
Like it’s cousin, it’s also a 16 megapixel camera, so there’s plenty of raw power here. It’s also got the same CMOS image censor, which makes it fantastic in low light. The combination of a big LCD screen and an electronic viewfinder make the S8200 exceptionally easy to shoot with.
It doesn’t have the 50x zoom capability of the SL100, but it does have a 40x zoom. No, it’s not 50x, but it’s still huge! Most of the cameras on this list can’t hold a candle to that. The massive zoom capabilities of the Fujifilm cameras make them really great choices for nature photography, especially when you are photographing animals, and you need to stay hidden.
The best thing about this camera, though, is the price (again). This camera is even cheaper than the SL100. And it’s still very, very powerful. You just get a lot of bang for your buck here. It’s a huge amount of power for well under $300.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-7K
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-7K is another great camera in this price range. However, it’s not as quite as powerful as the SL100, and it certainly doesn’t match the SL100’s zoom capability. Still, it’s a very solid all-around product that does everything well.
It’s a 10 megapixel camera that features a 3.8x optical zoom. At this price, we usually like to see slightly more zoom, but this is more of a jack-of-all-trades camera, and we understand that. So, really, we can’t complain.
It does beat many cameras, however, in the high-speed shooting category. The Lumix can shoot up to 11 frames per second, which isn’t too shabby.
Additionally, this camera can shoot full HD video. We’ve come to expect that feature for most of our digital cameras in this day and age, but it’s still worth noting, especially because the HD videos this camera shoots look really great.
They also sound great, which is something we photographers don’t talk about often enough. You don’t need to worry about lugging around a bunch of audio equipment with this camera. The full stereo microphone records beautifully.
Overall, this is a good camera, and it does lots of things really well. Our only real grip is with the price; it’s just a little bit too expensive, and it’s still outclassed by cameras like the SL100.
Olypus PEN E-PL3
The Olympus PEN E-PL3 falls somewhere in the middle of all these cameras. It’s not quite as powerful as the Fujifilm cameras, but it’s still a 12 megapixel camera, which is nothing to sneeze at. It features an MOS sensor and is optimized for m.Zuiko lenses. So, it works well in all conditions, including low light. It records in full HD video, too – just not as well as some of the other cameras in this price range.
So what do we really like about this camera? Mostly, the stabilization technology. I have no idea how this works. Maybe it’s gyroscopes or something. I don’t know. But it’s amazing. It’s almost difficult to shoot a blurry picture with this camera. It does this better than almost any camera at this price range, making it a winner for greener photographers.
Additionally, this camera boasts the “fastest autofocus in the world.” I don’t know if that’s true, but it certainly feels like it. Shoot at five frames per second, the stabilization technology plus the super-fast autofocus makes action shots incredibly rewarding with the E-PL3.
All in all, this camera is in kind of a weird spot. It’s great at shooting exciting stuff, but it’s not really small or convenient enough to be a travel camera. So who does it work for? It’s probably a great choice for up-and-coming photographers who are going to be shooting people who are moving around (think babies, weddings, etc.). The E-PL3 does this kind of thing really, really well.
What to Consider When Buying a Camera on a $300 Budget
So, you’ve got a camera all picked out and ready to go. You’re pumped. You just want Amazon to deliver it so you can take some sweet pictures. Well… wait! I know you’re excited, but before we click that buy button, let’s make sure we have our ducks in a row. We want to be totally, positively, 100% sure this is the best camera for us! Here is my own little pre-purchase checklist. Check it out…
Don’t blow your whole budget on your camera. Remember, this is photography. The camera isn’t the only think you’re going to need. Depending on which camera you choose, you should also plan to buy some accessories. That might include a tripod, lens, camera bag and camera strap. You may even need some software. Of course, if you’ve been doing this a while, you may have all that stuff already, but beginners should plan for some extra purchases.
Get recommendations. Get recommendations from people you trust. This is especially true if you can’t actually go try out the cameras before you buy. If you’re a college student, talk to your professors. If you know other photographers, see what they think. At the very least hop on a few hobbyist sites (like this one!) to get some good opinions.
Consider insurance. Even if it means you have to get a slightly cheaper camera, setting some money aside to buy camera insurance can save you a lot of money in the long run. I’ve known more than one photography who’s accidentally dropped a brand new camera in a pond or something. And bam. Just like that, your $300 is gone!
Get the best camera for your needs. The list above is a general list, and it’s a very good one to go by. However, if you plan to do very specific kinds of photography – nature photography or underwater photography, for example – you might need a more specific camera. Again, this usually comes down to just reading reviews. Here’s a bit more about that…
What type of camera do you need?
Like we just mentioned, you want to be totally sure you’re getting the best camera for your specific needs. So, what kind of cameras are out there? Well, tons! But at the $300 range, you only need to know about a few:
DSLR Cameras. These cameras are all the rage these days, and they are best for practicing photographers and photography students. They are single-lens reflex cameras, so they combine a mechanical optics system with a digital capturing system. This produces high quality images that can be captured, stored and edited digitally.
Subcompact cameras. Subcompact cameras are smaller digital cameras that are built to be easily stored and carried around. As you could have probably guessed, these are ideal for travel and general shenanigans. These cameras are almost always digital and do not have a detachable lens.
Superzoom cameras. Superzoom cameras are often very similar to a subcompact, if a little bigger. They offer 15x zoom, and some models feature mechanical lens controls. Most cameras in this family are digital as well.
Advanced point and shoot cameras. Advanced point and shoot cameras features a lot more manual options, so they are great for experienced photographers who love to tinker with their camera’s settings. These cameras also have a hot shoe, so you can use an external flash; plus, most models support RAW files. A lot of these cameras will allow you to attach different lenses, but you still won’t be able to shoot through a viewfinder – you’ll be using a digital display.
Film cameras. Who doesn’t love a great film camera? Really, everyone should try or own at least one film camera, I think. They’re just super fun. Plus, they often have a wider price range. Just be careful here. Some manufacturers have recently capitalized on the renewed cultural demand for these by selling cheap cameras for steep prices.