The 7 Best Cameras for Under $300 in 2021

Buy some of the best digital cameras for under three Benjamins

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The Rundown
"The camera has built-in Wi-Fi and Near Field Communications for easy pairing with your computer or smartphone."
"This camera can handle full submersion up to 65 feet."
Best Budget Waterproof:
Nikon COOLPIX W100 at Amazon
"It can survive drops of up to 5.9 feet and temperatures as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit."
"This is a very light camera that's easy to carry, point, and shoot, boasting 42x optical zoom."
"You'll get a camera that looks and behaves a lot like a full DSLR, but everything is integrated for simplicity."
"The 50x optical zoom can be adjusted by using two levers, making it easy to zoom in and out regardless of how you hold the camera."
"This DSLR can capture 180-degree panoramas with built-in software that stitches your photos together for a beautiful landscape."

There are a lot of reasons you might want to find the best camera for under $300. Cameras on phones are getting really great these days, but there are still plenty of reasons to want a separate camera for capturing those special moments.

The most obvious reason is zoom. While some phones have optical zoom, many others will use software "zoom." The kind of zoom you can get from a standalone camera blows them out of the water. Phones with optical zoom are often stuck at a fixed zoom point, whereas cameras can zoom in and out with movable optics. It's a much better experience and much better quality.

There's also the idea that you don't want to put all your eggs in one basket. If you're out on the town or at your child's recital, and your phone dies, so does your camera. Having a separate device ensures you have the power when you need it. We could also talk about storage, ease of use, one-handed use, and more. Suffice it to say, if you're reading this, you've considered all this, and you have a budget. We've gathered our favorites for your consideration.

Best Overall: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX350

What We Like
  • Comes with a case and memory card

  • 20x optical zoom

  • Large display

  • Wi-Fi and NFC

What We Don't Like
  • No optical zoom viewfinder

When you think about digital imaging, Sony is probably one of the first companies that comes to mind. Sony has been at the forefront of imaging for decades, and the Cyber-shot DSC-WX350 is one of its entry-level point-and-shoot cameras. This camera has an 18.2MP 1/2.3" Exmor CMOS sensor, 20x optical zoom, and doubles 40x Clear Image Zoom. The camera's back has a 3-inch screen with no optical viewfinder. 

The camera comes with a 64GB memory card and case, which is a nice set of extras. The camera also has built-in Wi-Fi and Near Field Communications (NFC) for easy pairing with your computer or smartphone, allowing you to share photos on the fly as you take them. In short, this is the perfect complement to your smartphone.

Resolution: 21.1MP | Sensor Type: Exmor R CMOS | Max ISO: 12,800 | Optical Zoom: 20x | Connectivity: NFC, Wi-Fi

Best Waterproof: Fujifilm FinePix XP130 Waterproof Digital Camera

What We Like
  • Comes in a number of colors

  • Waterproof up to 65 feet

  • Bluetooth connectivity

  • Super slo-mo capture

What We Don't Like
  • Limited to 5x zoom

If you plan to have a little water in your future, the Fujifilm FinePix XP130 might be a good choice to tote along with you. Some smartphones are water-resistant, but this camera can handle full submersion up to 65 feet. That's pretty tough and should stand up to any but the hardest core of scuba excursions. The camera comes in up to five different colors, but we recommend yellow for maximum visibility underwater. You can also connect this camera to your smartphone using Bluetooth to transfer photos for easy sharing as well.

While the camera is rated for great depth underwater, it's also limited to just 5x optical zoom. That's largely due to the lack of exterior moving parts, which would create gaps for water to get in. All the same, it's a little disappointing when you're above the waves. Video capture is limited to just 1080p at 60fps. But the video camera is also capable of super slo-mo capture at 320fps. That gives you some good options for high-speed shots that capture a lot of detail.

Resolution: 16.4MP | Sensor Type: BSI-CMOS sensor | Max ISO: 3,200 | Optical Zoom: 5x | Connectivity: Bluetooth

Best Budget Waterproof: Nikon COOLPIX W100

Nikon COOLPIX W100
What We Like
  • Waterproof up to 33 feet

  • Built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and NFC

What We Don't Like
  • Limited to 3x zoom

  • Bad video quality

The Nikon Coolpix is a great alternative option for people looking for a waterproof camera on a budget. This camera can be submerged up to 33 feet underwater and it can take a beating too. It can survive drops of up to 5.9 feet and temperatures as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit. In short, it's built pretty tough. Like the Fujifilm above, the optical zoom is limited here—this time to 3x for the same reasons. Moving parts mean gaps where water can penetrate. 

This camera has several methods of connecting to your smartphone, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and NFC. The 13.2MP camera sensor is capable of taking some good stills, but you'll want to pass on video capture. It can get by on brightly lit scenes, but anything less than that usually ends up being unusable. That's unfortunate, considering underwater tends to be a low-light environment. But if you need something inexpensive to get by on an underwater trip, this might be a good option for you.

Resolution: 13.2MP | Sensor Type: CMOS sensor | Max ISO: 1,600 | Optical Zoom: 3x | Connectivity: Bluetooth, NFC, Wi-Fi

"The Nikon Coolpix W100 doesn’t try to be something it isn’t. It’s a budget waterproof camera and it has everything you need to take decent photos underwater or in dirty conditions." — Gannon Burgett, Product Tester

Best Zoom: Canon PowerShot SX420 IS

Canon PowerShot SX420
What We Like
  • 42x zoom

  • Very light

  • Built-in Wi-Fi

  • Good price

What We Don't Like
  • Slow shutter lag

  • Battery life

  • No RAW support

When it comes to carrying a separate camera, there's really only one reason to do so, and that is zoom. That's where the Canon Powershot SX420 comes into play. This is a 20MP 1/2.3 inch sensor that has 42x optical zoom that will get you up close and personal with your subject, wherever it is. This is a very light camera that's easy to carry, point, and shoot. It comes at a low price point as well.

The battery life isn't the best and the shutter lag can sometimes be a problem, depending on your environment. The camera pretty much lives in auto, and there are few manual controls. When the auto mode is having trouble deciding the best settings, it can be frustrating. Also, since this isn't considered a professional camera, there's no RAW support at all, so you'll be left with compressed .jpg images. That's not the worst thing, but it gives you less control over your final product. Built-in Wi-Fi lets you easily share your photos.

Resolution: 20MP | Sensor Type: CCD sensor | Max ISO: 1,600 | Optical Zoom: 42x | Connectivity: NFC, Wi-Fi

"There isn't enough difference between a smartphone camera and a basic model to entice people to carry both units. That's where the Canon PowerShot SX420 sets itself apart in the market by making use of a large optical zoom lens." — Kyle Schurman, Product Tester

Best Budget Zoom: Canon PowerShot SX530

Canon PowerShot SX530
What We Like
  • 50x optical zoom

  • Wi-Fi and NFC

  • Feels like a DSLR

What We Don't Like
  • Plastic body feels cheap

  • Short battery life

If you want to get up close and personal with your subjects, the Canon Powershot SX530 is a great option. The 16MP sensor is magnified by a 50x optical zoom lens. That's a whole lot of glass at a low price point. You'll get a camera that looks and behaves a lot like a full DSLR, but everything is integrated for simplicity. The camera comes equipped with both Wi-Fi and NFC for file transfers to your smartphone.

The plastic body on the camera feels a little cheap, which breaks up the DSLR illusion. The battery life is also not the best, lasting only 210 shots. But if you can carry a spare battery or two, you'll get unparalleled zoom, which is great for everything from nature hikes to school recitals. Low light shooting isn't the best, but what it lacks in low light, it makes up for in zoom. This is a lot of zoom for not a lot of money.

Resolution: 16MP | Sensor Type: High-Sensitivity CMOS sensor | Max ISO: 3,200 | Optical Zoom: 50x | Connectivity: NFC, Wi-Fi

"The Canon PowerShot SX530 offers a 50x zoom lens in a very compact body, and delivers better image quality than a smartphone, especially in low-light. It has a comfortable grip, handles well, and shoots solid photos." — Benjamin Zeman, Product Tester

Best DSLR: Canon PowerShot SX540 HS

Canon PowerShot SX540 HS
What We Like
  • 50x optical zoom

  • Dual zoom buttons

  • Built-in Wi-Fi and NFC

What We Don't Like
  • No optical viewfinder

  • Display hard to see in direct sunlight

When you're looking to get up close and personal with your subject, 50x optical zoom is a great way to do that. That's just what the Canon Powershot SX540 HS will do. The massive 50x optical zoom can be adjusted from either of its two levers, making it easy to zoom in and out regardless of how you hold the camera. The camera also has built-in Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity for easily transferring your photos to your smartphone for sharing.

Where this camera suffers is in its lack of an optical viewfinder. The camera sports a large, 3-inch screen on the back to serve as a viewfinder, but it's difficult to see in direct sunlight, making it hard to get the shot you're looking for. It's the sort of complicating factor that you really need to consider before putting down your hard-earned money. But if you're looking for a camera with a powerful zoom, this is a good one to consider.

Resolution: 20.3MP | Sensor Type: CMOS sensor | Max ISO: 3,200 | Optical Zoom: 50x | Connectivity: NFC, Wi-Fi

Best Budget DSLR: Kodak PIXPRO Astro Zoom AZ401

What We Like
  • Low price

  • 40x zoom

  • 180-degree panoramas

  • Runs on AA batteries

What We Don't Like
  • Limited to 32GB SD cards

  • Very finicky when it comes to SD cards

  • Video limited to 720p

If you're looking for a DSLR experience and you're on a tight budget, check out the Kodak PIXPRO AstroZoom AZ401 camera. It's extremely affordable and comes with an awesome 40x optical zoom. Plus it can capture 180-degree panoramas with built-in software that stitches your photos together for a beautiful landscape.

The camera does not have a rechargeable battery. It instead runs off of two AA batteries, which is both good and bad news. On the one hand, batteries are easy to replace. On the other, it's nice to just recharge rather than waste batteries.

This camera is a little finicky when it comes to SD cards. First of all, it cannot support any card above 32GB in size, which is fairly small by today's standards. It also cannot support MicroSD cards in an adapter, nor can it support Ultra, Ultra Plus, Extreme, Extreme Plus, Extreme Pro, or SDXC cards. That's a lot of caveats for one camera. But, this camera is extremely affordable, so it's worth putting up with some inconveniences considering all you get for the price.

Resolution: 16MP | Sensor Type: CCD | Max ISO: 3,200 | Optical Zoom: 40x | Connectivity: N/A

Final Verdict

We have to recommend the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX350 (view on Amazon) as our top overall pick. It's a mouthful, but the camera itself is compact, light, easy to carry, and still manages a 20x optical zoom in its tiny body. It's the kind of camera you can slip into a bag and pull it out only when you need it. The optical zoom will get you close up to any subjects you need to capture in a hurry. It's really the best compromise of features and performance on the list.


If you're looking for more of a DSLR experience, check out the Canon PowerShot SX530 (View on TigerDirect). This camera gives you the look and feel of a DSLR, 50x optical zoom, and a 16MP sensor. With all of that, it's still a lightweight camera that's easy to carry and shoot with. It would be hard to go wrong with any camera on this list, but those are the two that stand out the most.

About Our Trusted Experts

Adam Doud has been writing in the tech space for almost a decade. In addition to hosting the Benefit of the Doud podcast, Adam shoots photos and videos for his blog and YouTube channel. He's spent a lot of time behind the viewfinder of his Canon and Panasonic cameras.

Gannon Burgett reviews photography-related products for Lifewire, like chargers, cameras, printers, and more.

Kyle Schurman is a former freelance contributor for Lifewire, where he wrote extensively on camera and photography topics for more than seven years.

Benjamin Zeman is a business consultant, musician and writer based in southern Vermont.

What to Look for in a Camera Under $300

Megapixels -  Your camera's sensor is the part that actually "sees" and captures the image. The larger the megapixel count, the more detailed your photo can be. In the case of megapixels, higher is better.

Optical zoom - We spent a lot of time in this article talking about zoom. That's because it is a standalone camera's key advantage over your smartphone. Zoom determines how close you can get to your subject without moving. It's achieved in one of two ways: optical zoom or digital zoom.

Optical zoom physically moves the lenses in the body of the camera to achieve different focal lengths which brings you closer to your subject. Digital zoom is usually achieved by cropping and blowing up an image, which often causes degradation in the image. Optical is always better than digital zoom, and higher is better.

Memory cards - All digital cameras accept memory cards, but not all of them accept the same size or speed of memory cards. Memory card sizes are straightforward, but speeds are different. Speed is written on a card as a UHS speed rating, or a speed-class rating. In this case, faster or slower isn't as important as compatibility. Be sure to consult your camera's manual to see what speed and size memory you should buy.

FAQ

What is a DSLR?

The term "DSLR" stands for Digital Single-Lens Reflex. Generically, it is interchangeable with the term "digital camera," but it specifically refers to cameras that have interchangeable lenses. For our purposes, we're using the more generic meaning of the term—none of the cameras in this list are able to use interchangeable lenses.


What is the advantage of an optical viewfinder as opposed to a screen viewfinder?

Optical viewfinders are the part of the camera you look through to line up your shot. Many cameras use digital screens as viewfinders, as opposed to a part of the camera you look through. There are a number of advantages. One key advantage is battery life—keeping a camera's screen off can save its battery by quite a bit. Also, using a viewfinder allows for a more natural point and shoot motion that gets lost using a digital viewfinder.


How do I transfer photos to my phone?

Most of the cameras in this list allow you to move photos from the camera to your phone. Most of them have an app that allows this communication and organization of files on your phone. The key advantage to moving files to your phone is it allows social sharing on the spot, rather than waiting until you get home.

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