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What Is the Best Used Camera and Lens You Can Get for Under $500?

Photography is more accessible than ever before, with a plethora of cameras and lenses available and affordable. So, I decided to figure out what the best setup I could build with a maximum budget of $500 was.

Taking the first step into photography can be daunting for so many reasons. There are numerous paths to go, tomes of information you don't yet know, and gear expensive enough to bankrupt you. The truth is, however, we're in a state at the moment where you can buy a lot of camera and a lot of lenses for reasonable prices. This is in part due to the usual rise in technology and the fall in the cost of older versions, but also due to the shift towards mirrorless cameras over DSLR.

Anyone looking at getting their first camera could look at this one of two ways: DSLRs are outdated and you need to get a mirrorless, or the second-hand DSLR market is a brilliant hunting ground for value. I implore you to take the latter stance. Your first camera doesn't need to be mirrorless, and there are far more DSLRs available, spanning a far longer period of time. So, picking up a good deal is much easier. That said, some companies are many models deep into mirrorless and some bargains can already be had.

I've decided to see about creating some interesting combinations for under $500 on the used market. But, I ought to point out I've gone a different route than how many do when they tackle similar questions of beginner setups. Firstly, I'm not looking for a ton of features in camera and then a walkabout lens with mammoth range. In my experience, new photographers don't want to capture everything; they want to capture a few easier things, but like they have seen and admired. Whether you like it or not, that tends to be a shallow depth of field with lots of bokeh and good sharpness. So, that's what I'm heading towards. And that means lovely, lovely prime lenses.

Option 1: Canon 550D and Sigma 30mm f/1.4 Art (APS-C DSLR)

This is a very tight fit for $500, but it's possible and I managed it (albeit in theory) from used vendors in the U.K. and eBay (with buy now options, not just low bids.) The Canon 550D is a camera I've owned, and it flew a little under the radar of good Canon bodies. It has a crop sensor — which ought not to put you off — that boasts 18 megapixels, which is more than enough. It has a max shooting speed of 3.7 fps, a strong LCD, and good ISO performance. It was a very comfortable camera to use, and I thoroughly enjoyed it for a couple of years. It has aged very well indeed.

The lens is a gem and a little trickier to get for a good price, but possible. The Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC HSM Art is $499 brand new, but second-hand, I found one for $300 in good condition. The Art series of lenses by Sigma has a stellar reputation and for good reason — they're superb lenses. This 30mm f/1.4 is nearing as quick as you can get for Canon APS-C bodies, and 30mm is the 35mm (full-frame) equivalent of 45.9mm, nearing that magical nifty-fifty range. This combination is guaranteed to be a lot of fun and create some beautiful results.

Option 2: Fujifilm X-T100 and 27mm f/2.8 (APS-C Mirrorless)

Next, we have a mirrorless and one of the prettiest cameras you ever did see. The Fujifilm X-T100 might be small in form (and did I mention very pretty?) but it has an impressive 24 megapixel, APS-C CMOS sensor, a 3-inch, flip-out LCD monitor, and a deep ISO range. It also has WiFi, Bluetooth, and my personal favorite addition to cameras in recent years: an OLED electronic viewfinder. It has its limitations, but if you want to take some family portraits and landscapes to get started, this body with this lens is an unbelievable place to start.

The XF 27mm f/2.8 Fuji lens on the front is close to 40mm on a full frame, which puts it in a versatile spot. It's tack sharp, doesn't suffer from distortion, and is as light and compact as you're likely to find. The two together will be close to the maximum $500, but after some searching, I was able to make it happen, so you can too.

Option 3: Nikon D700 and Nikon 50mm f/1.8 G (Full Frame DSLR)

I've not owned a digital Nikon camera, though I have used several and have spent over a decade looking at images from them. If someone asked me for legendary cameras from each manufacturer, this would be my knee-jerk answer for Nikon. So, when I started researching this article, I didn't expect it to be within the price range. Yes, it isn't as high resolution as competitors at only 12 megapixels, but I promise you it won't matter. The D700 was a revelation upon release and had aged tremendously well. It's famed for its incredible ISO performance, its 14-bit raw files with a lot of flex, its weather-sealing, its stellar autofocus, brilliant processor, and so on. I was frankly stunned to see that I could pick up a well-looked-after copy for around $400.

With only $100 left to play with, I had a couple of options. Firstly, I could have gone for something obscure, like adapted vintage glass or a lesser-known manufacturer. Or, the second option, you grab a second-hand nifty-fifty by Nikon which is guaranteed results, and I went for the latter. The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G is a staple of most Nikon shooters' bags, and for good reason. This combination of body and lens is guaranteed to have a results ceiling so high that it will be able to grow with you for a long time to come.

What Is Your $500 Budget Body and Lens Combination?

It was difficult to narrow it down to just three options. There is now such a selection around this mark that you can really get creative. So, let's see what you can come up with. I would prefer options that would yield the maximum enjoyment to new photographers as opposed to a lens and body combination that tries to be the jack of all trades, but it's up to you which way you take the money. Share your ideas in the comments below.

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58 Comments

Alex Cooke's picture

Had the Sigma 30mm years ago. Great lens and very affordable.

Dan Jefferies's picture

The Sigma 24mm f/1.8 lives on my 6D. Love it.

Rk K's picture

A zoom, even a kit one, is a far more appropriate first lens. It lets you explore more genres and decide what you want to invest your time and money into. Makes no sense to get a 35mm if you'll end up doing landscapes or want to shoot portraits. You can easily get shallow dof, even with a slower zoom, and this prime lens snobism just turns new people away.

M S's picture

Being an Olympus shooter I'm definitely a little biased, but you can get a bunch of micro four thirds cameras and lenses under that price point - e.g. https://www.getolympus.com/us/en/outlet/e-m10-mark-ii-two-lens-kit-black.... There are some super cheap and amazing primes lenses for the micro four thirds system too. The Olympus 45mm(90mm equiv) f1.8 is a great lens and I picked mine up new for around $150

Drew Rickerson's picture

The features Olympus put into their cameras are compelling, recently recommended this to a beginner friend based on price and room to grow.

Adam Palmer's picture

A6000 and too many great lenses to pick

Steve White's picture

My goodness: just going to the Canon refurb shop shows any number of decent APS-C DSLR cameras, with kit lenses even, for less than $500. The Canon T6 or T7, each with the venerable 18-55 kit lens or the two-lens (add the 75-300, we all know that one), and you're still under $500. For someone who is more point-and-shoot, either the M50 or the M200, each with the 15-45 zoom, is right in there.

That's just Canon, and one could check the outlet stores for each of the other major brands and find similar bargains.

Drew Rickerson's picture

If it has to be Canon, I would steer people toward the M series, as the T bodies lack key features like AF adjust that can lead to disappointment, see my post below. Within the budget, there are many other brand options including Olympus E-M10 II, Panasonic GX85, Sony 6000, Fujifilm X-T100/200/X-A7, which are a lot more feature-rich than Canon's cash-cow DSLRs, and none of which involve any AF adjustment headaches.

Christian Fiore's picture

Unfortunately, the M series looks like it will be eliminated soon for an R series APS-C line. Makes sense, as the M line has almost zero support from Canon.

Drew Rickerson's picture

It may or may not happen. Cancelled camera systems have a habit of appreciating in price over time in the used market, so it's not a financial risk to get into the system. That said, you'd have to be prepared to get only what's in the market right now - I agree it's more fun to get into a system with a lively lens and body update roadmap, such as Fuji X. Most mirrorless bodies also permit adapting vintage lenses, which is a whole 'nother kind of fun, and does not require manufacturer-supported lens systems.

Dan Jefferies's picture

No Rebel ever. Buy a used 7D. Much better than any Rebel can ever hope to be. Unless you're a video nut then Ok. Otherwise NO.

David B's picture

The 7D is a FANTASTIC camera. It's low price just makes it even better

Dan Jefferies's picture

Completely agree.... whack whack whack.... it just packs the images away.

Danny K's picture

The Lumix G7 with 14-42 kit lens is great. In general for someone starting out I would highly recommend using m 4/3 as it's much smaller and cheaper (but I am biased). Brand new this kit comes in at $500 so it's extremely affordable and extremely capable. Honestly love everything about mine. Only two things missing on it which is IBS and weather sealing. Other than that, it's great!

Timothy Roper's picture

Love that combo for what it is: a cheap, durable little camera that has pretty good IQ and is very easy to use. I make very little effort to take care of it, and it keeps on going.

Timothy Roper's picture

Why use a photo of a woman with a Leica for this?

Deleted Account's picture

Full frame 13Mp Canon 5D classic with the 50/1.4 Ultrasonic

Dan Jefferies's picture

I dunno. My 5D had a pretty bad backfocus and with no way to adjust focus it was pretty much worthless to me. The kit lens worked fine but any lens set less than f/3.5 was a failure. Sold it cheap to the Church.

Deleted Account's picture

Weird, mine focuses fine with 50/1.4 and 100/2 wide open, same for the slower 70-210mm. Maybe yours had the mirror adhesive replacement done and whoever did the work did not properly adjust the shims?

Dan Jefferies's picture

Anything is possible and the 5D did have a history of the mirror falling off. I seem to remember on mine the serial number indicated it came out after that problem was addressed but I won't swear by it. I will swear by the back focus problem tho.

Drew Rickerson's picture

A DSLR without an AF adjustment feature makes taking a sharp image a matter of luck rather than skill. Any new lens you buy produced within specs is liable to by +-20 adjustment units off. Either you're on a lucky streak or your requirements are less stringent than the rest of us.

Deleted Account's picture

Thousands of 5D cameras were sold to working pros. I guess all the buyers are just retarded and you’re the lone genius. Or maybe we simply know how to work around the shortcomings.

Drew Rickerson's picture

The 5D was released when most people were still shooting film, and sharpness was less of a priority to producers and consumers of photography than it is today (the focal plane of a bulging piece of film is not as flat or guaranteed to be in the same plane compared to a digital sensor). If you can get a camera that is competitive in 2020 for the same budget, why should you get a camera that hasn't been competitive since 2008, when Canon corrected their mistake with the introduction of the 5D mark II?
Yes, if you work very hard and put a lot of time to every image, you can get a sharp image out of a misadjusted DSLR. Step 1: flip it to live-view. But then again, you could buy a mirrorless from 2020 instead of using the big, heavy, slow, body with underperforming contrast-detect only live view AF from 2005. That 2020 mirrorless will also capture the shot you missed while fiddling with the live view AF of your outdated 2005 DSLR.
PS: you are using "appeal to popularity", look it up some time, and you're also using otherwise less than convincing language. To convince anyone to adopt your point of view, I'm convinced that you can do better.

Deleted Account's picture

LOL

Drew Rickerson's picture

Happy to take you to school

Jan Holler's picture

A Nikon D7100 for $180 with a 18-55mm DX for about 100$ and a 55-200mm DX for another $100, makes $400. This is an actual offer I'd get at a local store.

Jerome Brill's picture

A used A6000. There are plenty of kits on ebay with a bunch of lenes from people switching over. The good thing? A lot of them just sat on tripods from youtubers.

Franciscus van der Maat's picture

I'd go for a secondhand e-m10 II for the body. And then a prime that suits your type of photography. Personally I love the compact panasonic 20mm f1.7. That combination would cost you around 300-350 dollars secondhand. The original Sony A7 is also a great option if you want to try full frame. Got my A7 for 300 dollars. Linking the A7 to a vintage prime and you are set for 350 as well.

Matt Williams's picture

Hard to beat something like an Olympus E-M1 or E-M5 Mark II + Panasonic 12-32. Probably leaves you another $100 leftover or so to get a nice prime like the Panny 14/2.5 or 20/1.7.

For full frame, the D700 is absolutely the answer.

James Jami's picture

Title: "What Is the Best Used Camera and Lens You Can Get for Under $500?"
Picture: woman with Leica

Dave Haynie's picture

I actually did this last year: I bought a Fujifilm X-Pro1 and three 7artisans lenses (25mm f/1.8, 35mm f/1.2, and 55mm f/1.4) for just about $500, all used but in great shape. I already owned a full Olympus system at the time. It does pay to shop around, too. Used prices can vary considerably.

Rk K's picture

Also, two of the recommended cameras are on dead mounts that will not serve these beginners long term. Get a first gen A7, a Fuji, an a6xxx... Otherwise, when it's time to upgrade they'll have to replace everything once again, spending even more money. Not a very well thought out article...

Deleted Account's picture

I haven’t bought new camera gear in years. All these “dead” mounts have used lenses available to buy.

David B's picture

whats the best mount nobody is using?

Rk K's picture

They are dead because soon no new cameras will be produced for them. And digital cameras are just consumer items, they don't last very long and they get outdated quickly. Why would someone starting from scratch build up a lens collection and then loose all that money when the time to upgrade the camera to something more modern inevitably comes. It doesn't make sense.

Deleted Account's picture

My 15 year old Canon 5D says hi

Rk K's picture

My phone outperforms your 15 year old 5d... So do all the 1" sensor compact cameras. You can't even crop anymore with 12mp.

Deleted Account's picture

No, no, and yes you can.

Rk K's picture

You're not very serious... 12mp on the 5d is barely more than 4k! If you crop you can't even use it as a screen wallpaper, much less for nice, large prints. Phones easily outperform it at low light (the 5d has a noisy iso 1600, and modern phones can shoot at night with computational techniques). A modern 1" compact will be faster, better resolution and iq, better af, and so on. Cheaper as well overall. So, stop lying?

Brandon Hopkins's picture

I use a D3s, which is also 12mp. I have 13x19 prints on my wall and have printed larger poster sizes for friends. You act like agencies and artists never made large prints when these cameras were current..lol

Timothy Roper's picture

Why don't you try looking on Ebay, instead of cooking up senseless theories. These mounts are not dead at all.

Rk K's picture

What are you talking about? Of course you can buy used canons and nikons on ebay. But what about five years from now? When the best camera you can buy for your very expensive lens collection is 5-7 years out of date and used? That's what a dead mount means.

Drew Rickerson's picture

Canon bodies are dead to me (see below) but lenses can be adapted. For size-does-not-matter applications, adapting can save you a pretty penny.

Timothy Roper's picture

What's wrong with buying a used camera body? Like with cars, that's usually what I go with. And with the magic of the interest, it's very easy to do.

Roger Cozine's picture

Sony A5100 or A6000 (APS-C) with a secondhand Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC DN. It's a combination that will guarantee stellar results at an affordable price point under $500. All readily available on Facebook Market and used camera suppliers like B&H

Reid Thaler's picture

My D700 fell out my son's camera bag into ocean saltwater on the beach this last summer. The "little wet" he described translated into opening the side rubber door and watching water drain out of the electrical connections. I then turned in on and watched the top panel flicker and fade. I tend to think of salt water as the gift that keeps on giving.

A couple of weeks later, I was going to pack it up and send it off to repair. I happened to turn in on, and it powered up just fine and has since. The think is a beast. Deciding I wasn't ready to watch it meet another attempt at dead, I bought my son a D300 and a 18-70 lens for less than $200. There was a sales receipt in the box for $1,800 in 2007 which would be $2,200 today.

My full frame Nikon lens of choice is the 28-105mm. You can get them on eBay for $100 or less. It was a kit lens for the F100. The reviews are something like, "a lens this cheap shouldn't work this well." I think it's on my 5th body. It even does 1/2 size macro. Smaller, cheaper, and lighter than the current 24-120. If I need more reach, I'll just crop.

Drew Rickerson's picture

I have previously owned the Canon 550D (aka Rebel T2i). It lacks key features that makes a DSLR camera work correctly, among others autofocus micro-adjustment (aka AF fine tune) and Kelvin white balance. Along with the poor dynamic range of its sensor, that makes it a no-go in 2020. In regular use, I found the 550D got in the way of taking good photos rather than enabling it. If you are ok with micro-adjusting every lens, the D700 is better, and the X-T100 or X-T200 (recently on sale brand new as a kit for the budget of $500) is a no-brainer, as mirrorless cameras don't require AF adjustment, and Fujifilm does not withhold features like Kelvin WB. The X-T200 reportedly also works as a webcam, if that makes a difference. (Full disclosure I do not currently own any of the cameras listed above.)

Christopher Lindeman's picture

A6000 and Sigma 30mm 1.4 ...or Sigma 56mm .. or 16mm

Blaine Thurlow's picture

I'm in Canada, so dollars are different, but I bought, separately, a used Sony A5000 and a used Sony E 18-200 F3.5-6.3 OSS, for around USD$500. I also bought a new Sony E 10-18 F4 OSS, but that was a different great big pile of cash (and now I just found a used one for sale, so I hate myself).

Dee J's picture

Nikon F100 + 50mm f/1.4D. Should run you about $400 or less altogether. Or consider the 85mm f/1.8D for a little bit more.

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