The 8 Best Advanced Cameras to Buy in 2017 for Under $500

Buying the best cameras doesn't have to cost you your whole paycheck

The digital camera market can be quite daunting to traverse. Even within a narrow price range you’re apt to find a host of competing standards, designs and use cases. For the sub-$500 category, it is no different. However, if you focus in on a few keys specs and styles, you may be able to find exactly what you’re looking for. Here, we’ve organized a list of the best sub-$500 cameras according to design, style and use case.

Like most of Panasonic’s point-and-shoot cameras, the ZS60 is all about versatility. Whereas some cameras excel in one or two key areas and leave other areas in the lurch, Panasonic affords due regard to the whole photographic experience, and the ZS60 is the pinnacle of that approach. It features a powerful 30x (24-720mm) Leica DC optical zoom lens, specifically catered to travel and outdoor use. The 18-megapixel affords solid performance in a variety of conditions, and the lens-mounted control ring offers a level of control not often found in the point-and-shoot realm. The eye-level electronic viewfinder (EVF) and touch LCD deliver a variety of framing modes and strategies, and with 4K/UHD video recording the camera is pretty much future-proof. The ZS60 is no DSLR or mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, but it proves that the point-and-shoot category as a whole is not to be overlooked when it comes to high-end digital photography.

The $400-$500 price range may sound like a lot of money for a camera, but when it comes to DSLR shooters it’s still fairly introductory. For folks who are looking to dive into the world of interchangeable lenses without breaking the bank, the Canon T6 is a good place to start. It features a solid 18-megapixel CMOS sensor, Full HD (1080p) video recording, a built-in flash with a variety of shooting modes and filters, and a three-inch LCD. The kit comes with a 18-55mm IS II standard zoom lens that’s versatile enough for most first-time SLR shooters. It also includes a nine-point autofocus system, an ISO range of 100-6400 (expandable to 12800). The T6 is an all-around great camera for novice DSLR users, something that could pave the way for intermediate and even advanced photographers.

The mirrorless camera category has one thing that unifies nearly all cameras in it – they’re all a bit expensive. So, when Fujifilm released its X-A10 mirrorless camera in December 2016, heads turned when its price tag came in just under $500 while also promising high-quality images.

The Fujifilm X-A10 measures 6.6 x 6.7 x 3.5 inches and weighs 1.8 pounds, and it sports a modern-yet-retro look with silver and black flourishes. But the technology inside is anything but retro, with a 16.3-megapixel APS-C sensor that provides great color reproduction and stellar image quality. On top of this, the camera offers many filters and shooting modes to help you find the right look for your photos, it has a three-inch LCD screen for viewing photos and it can shoot 1080p HD video. The X-A10 comes with a 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, but it’s also compatible with other X-Series lenses if you want to up your camera game in the future.

The Nikon Coolpix A900 is the quintessential point-and-shoot camera—even if it does have some flaws. It features an impressive 35x optical zoom (and 70 dynamic zoom), a typical 20-megapixel CMOS sensor, 4K video capture at 20 fps, a multi-angle LCD and WiFi/NFC/Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) connectivity for sharing and uploading images wirelessly. It’s a versatile yet robust camera with an unassuming appearance, and that’s sort of what people want from basic point-and-shoots.

The SX720 is another unassuming camera that looks like any point-and-shoot made between the years 1999 and 2016. It’s lightweight, compact, and features a built-in pop-up flash. It has a fixed three-inch LCD and very familiar design with a side grip for easy control. It features Full HD (1080p) video recording, a solid 20.3-megapixel CMOS sensor that will work great in low-light conditions, and it features WiFi/NFC connectivity for easy sharing and uploading. But all that’s beside the point. The main attraction here is the 40x optical zoom lens with intelligent image stabilization for still and video shooting.

This is not your typical point-and-shoot camera. The Ricoh Theta S serves a very unique purpose that some might call gimmicky, and others might call revolutionary. It’s a “Spherical Panorama Digital Camera” that captures 360-degree still images and Full HD (1080p) video with a single click. It includes a 14-megapixel image sensor and offers manual shooting through a f/2.0 lens and shutter speeds of up to 60 seconds. The built-in memory stores up to 8 GB of data, and the associated Theta apps allow you to easily shoot and share your images. You can also edit your images or capture them remotely using the mobile app. A Live View mode allows you to effectively double the camera as a sort of 360-degree camera monitor. The Theta S is not for everyday photography. It serves a very specific function that will likely only appeal to hardcore camera enthusiasts and specific use cases.

The adventure cam category is fairly young, having been around for only a few years, but it is led by a single brand name that everyone knows: GoPro. And the GoPro HERO5 is the cream of the adventure cam crop. These cameras are not for everyone. Some folks buy these impressive little gadgets only to find that the footage they capture is dull and unworthy of social media. For others, though, it’s an indispensable part of their lifestyle. The HERO5 shoots 4K video at 30 fps, and can capture still images through the 12-megapixel sensor. It comes with built-in WiFi and Bluetooth supports the GoPro App, remote function and sharing options. It features a number of shooting modes that allow you to capture cinema-quality footage, and the built-in touch display makes for a fast, easy, intuitive user experience.

There are outdoor cameras, and there’s the Olympus TG-4. This thing is so rugged and so durable it really is in a category of its own. In addition to being waterproof down to 50 feet (yes, 50 feet!), the TG-4 is freeze-proof down to 14°F, shock-proof (drop-proof) up to seven feet, and crushproof up to 220 pounds. In addition to being about the toughest camera we’ve ever come across, it has a 4x wide-angle optical zoom lens, Full HD (1080p) video recording and a16-megapixel CMOS sensor. It also has WiFi and GPS connectivity for easy sharing and geo-tagging capabilities. All that fits into a rugged little point-and-shoot design with a three-inch waterproof LCD, a built-in flash and RAW shooting options.

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