9 Powerful Cameras for Beginners

Break the shackles of auto mode! These digital cameras give you more creative freedom and boost your photography IQ with manual controls, RAW shooting, and in-camera guides.

A Point-and-Shoot That Does Raw Format

The Casio Exilim EX-FH100 is an excellent choice for beginning photographers who are interested in learning more about cameras but aren’t ready to commit to a larger, pricier DSLR. The EX-FH100 is a point-and-shoot, but it has full manual controls and can shoot raw files. It also has impressive battery longevity, great image quality, and a high-speed mode for sports photography. Though the EX-FH100 might not be the best option for a seasoned photographer due to its limited aperture options, it is packed with features that make it an attractive model for photo rookies.

Compacts With Manual Controls

Canon usually excels at packing power into point-and-shoot cameras. The PowerShot SD4000 IS offers limited manual controls (aperture- and shutter-priority only) for the novice shooter looking for a simple interface. Feeling a little more adventurous? The PowerShot S90 ups the ante with full manual controls, manual flash control, and advanced features such as Focus Bracketing. Both take excellent pictures, but the S90 has a slight edge thanks to its somewhat larger sensor and its ability to shoot raw images.

Interchangeable Lens With Training Wheels

The Olympus PEN E-PL1 is the perfect compromise between a full-featured DSLR and a compact point-and-shoot. What makes the E-PL1 great for learning is its Live Guide, which explains manual settings in plain English. For example, to help a user learn how aperture and depth of field work, it provides a Blur Background setting: When the user increases the blur amount, the camera automatically opens the aperture wider for a shallow depth of field. The E-PL1 also offers an Art mode that includes fun filters and effects. This camera is compact and reasonably priced, and it offers the image quality and manual settings of a higher-end model.

Sophisticated Camera With a Retro Feel

With solid HD video quality, interchangeable lenses, and a raw shooting mode, the handsome Panasonic Lumix Micro Four Thirds DMC-GF1 is a great camera for photographers of any level. But certain features make it particularly appealing for beginners. The design is clean and intuitive, which makes learning manual controls less confusing than it would be with a full-featured DSLR camera. This model also allows users to experiment with lenses, and it has a reasonable price tag. The GF1 is a terrific training tool for any photographer interested in eventually moving up to a DSLR.

DSLR Image Quality in a Compact Package

The Sony Alpha NEX-5 stands out among interchangeable-lens cameras in that it combines the small size and simple design of a point-and-shoot with a full, DSLR-size image sensor. Like the E-PL1, the NEX-5 has a help guide that explains each setting when you select it. You can get general shooting tips at the touch of a button, too. The NEX-5 even has a Background Defocus Control (shown here) for users learning about aperture and depth of field. For someone new to manual controls, these tools are the perfect way to master the essentials without cracking open a manual.

A User-Friendly First DSLR

The Canon EOS Rebel T2i is a high-quality entry-level DSLR with a competitive price tag. It comes with the full spectrum of user-friendly DSLR features, is lightweight without being delicate, and offers a higher resolution and better movie quality than previous Rebels. For the new photographer ready to jump into DSLRs, the T2i is a great option. It has a fantastic Auto mode, so taking impressive photos with the T2i isn't dependent on your mastering the manual modes.

Full-Size DSLR With Help Modes

The Nikon D3000 is another smartly priced entry-level DSLR. Like many compact interchangeable-lens cameras, the D3000 has a help feature that guides users through the multitude of features and settings it offers. When turned on, this mode educates novices on the basic settings and techniques, including how to create shallow depth of field and how to take photos of fast-moving subjects.

Help at the Touch of a Button

The affordable Pentax K2000 may run a little slower than is suitable for the experienced photographer, but it's a good starter DSLR camera. The image quality is beautiful, and the camera has full manual controls as well as scene modes and filters. The K2000 has an intuitive design and a help button (indicated by a white question mark) next to the shutter button. Press the button and select the feature you want to learn about, and an explanation appears on the LCD.

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