Cheap Camera Gear, Good Photos - It Doesn't Have To Cost The Earth

Cheap camera gear, good photos?

Is it possible?

Course it is. Here are 10 awesome camera / lens combos under £500 that I’ve personally used over the years. I’ll even pop some other suggestions at the end of the blog.

(and yes I know £500 is still a lot of money, but in the grand scheme of photography you can certainly spend a whole lot more!)

A boring disclaimer before we begin: All prices in this list are estimates only, and subject to change at any time. The links in this blog will take you to your regional Amazon store for more up to date info..

1 — Lumix GH2 with Olympus 9-18mm lens — £400

I bought the GH2 for the princely sum of £180 with TWO Canon FD lenses (going to be featured later), so I’m putting the GH2 down as costing me £100. The Olympus 9-18mm I got for £300. I’m STILL over the moon about this bargain to be honest.

The GH2 might be getting on a bit now, but you can still get some great images from it (and video too!) I sort of made a mistake during my trip to Sardinia in 2017. I was planning only to TEST the GH2, and use my GH5 for the majority of the time. But I forgot to pack the GH5 charger so I ended up using the GH2 for the majority of the holiday. At first I was gutted, but when I actually started using it I was so pleasantly surprised.

2 — Lumix G7 with Meike 28mm lens — £270

I bought the G7 (another of my crowning bargain-hunting moments!) from John Lewis off display. Someone had stolen the stock lens, leaving the sensor all exposed and nakey. I managed to convince the manager I’d take it off his hands for £199, even though it would be a risk, because the sensor has been exposed. And he agreed. What a score! It even came with a 2 year warranty because all cameras from John Lewis do.

The Meike 28mm prime lens is a great little manual focus, budget-friendly lens, which goes for £70.

I took this very incognito combo around Manchester to get some test shots and I was a lot of fun to play with. the 28mm focal length (I can’t quite figure out if the Meike lenses are 28mm in full frame or APS-C terms? But either way this lens is cropped in quite a bit on M43) gave a different perspective to my walkabout photography, where I’d usually rely on a much wider lens.

3 — Pentax Q with 5-15mm lens — £170

This is an oldie but a goodie! I used to be OBSESSED with my Pentax Q back in the day. If you don’t know, it’s the world’s smallest digital interchangable lens camera. It is DINKY. I ended up selling it in favour of M43 along the way, but I always find myself looking on eBay for a bargain. They go for around £150/£200 now, and they have a bit of a cult following. Possibly the most fun camera I’ve ever owned.

I even managed to smuggle it onto that toboggan ride thingie (photo below) to take a shot of being pulled up the tracks.

You can still find them on Amazon, but I think given the age of the camera you’re probably better holding out for a bargain on eBay.

4 — Lumix GX80/GX85 with the stock lens that comes with it — £349

The GX80 (or GX85 if you’re American) is such great value it constantly blows me away. I got mine when Panasonic were running a cashback deal, so I paid £399 but got £50 back. Bargain trousers if you ask me. I’ve got some wonderful images and video from this little dude.

The stock lens actually exceeded my expectations. It’s one of those more plastic-y, slower, pack-down-able stock lenses, so I didn’t have high hopes. But it served me so well during this holiday. I would suggest a few tasty primes for more challenging lighting though.

If you’re in the market for a suuuuper portable M43 camera which can take all your existing m43 lenses, this is the one I’d go for.

5 — Lumix G7 with Olympus 9-18mm lens — £500.

This is the most expensive combo on the list, and I admit, if I’d got this combo at full price without all those cheeky bargains it would work out quite a bit over budget. But I absolutely love this combo as a travel setup. I did me more than proud.

And I really appreciated how light this combo is — honestly, the G7 feels like it might float away in your hand, and I’m quite sure I’ve bashed the build quality of the Olympus 9-18mm to bits enough of this blog by now. But every gram saved was priceless when I got my unprepared butt to the top of Angels Landing in Zion National Park.

This isn’t a combo I’d like to accidentally drop, but it works really well on a Black Widow strap when I go on walks. You forget it’s even there.

6 — My Phone — ??

Not sure whether to count the price of this as the cost of my phone, or as free, as I’d have a phone on me regardless of if it had a camera?

I’ll let you decide the ethics of this one.

That old addage of “the best camera is the one you have with you” is very very true. My phone (currently the Note 8, which I really don’t like the camera of to be honest) has got the shot when I haven’t had anything else with me. That’s pretty cool. I quite like some of these, even if they’re just from my phone. Of course I wish I had a proper camera with me though.

(Also, what does it say about a person that they’ll happily dangle over a castle wall to take a photo with their phone, but wouldn’t risk it with their camera?)

7 — Lumix GX80 with Canon FD lenses — £410

The GX80 body-only is about £270 (if you grab a bargain) and I paid £80 for 2x Canon FD lenses (the 28mm and the 50mm primes). And I’m going to add my focal reducer adapter too, which I paid £60 for, because that definitely helps with the quality of the images. You can buy purely passive adapters, but the extra money is worth it.

Manual focus is a bit of a learning curve, but I love the soft-yet-sharp look these older lenses can give.

Focus peaking isn’t the best on the GX80, but the in-body stabilisation in the camera helps to keep the shots stable at lower shutter speeds. For better focus peaking at a similar price, the G7 is a beaut, but I like to use vintage lenses on stabilised bodies for a bit of a helping hand.

8 — 35mm Film Camera — Olympus OM1 — £80

I have a few film cameras in my collection, and you can’t argue their benefits. They’re cheap, they’re fun, and they force you to learn manual settings at a very fast rate (unless you want to waste loads of film!)

I have an Olympus OM30, OM10, and a Pentax K1000. My favourite is the Olympus OM1 though. I love how it looks, and how it feels, and how easy it is to use. My light meter isn’t a hundred miles away from accurate, either, I got lucky.

Getting such old gear can be very hit and miss. Sometimes a cheaper version isn’t the way to go. Sometimes it absolutely is. You need to try a camera or two, and get your head around film cameras, before you know what to look out for. But as a general guide: Does the shutter and winder work? Does the back casing close completely? Has it been refurbished at all? Has the owner put any film through it recently and can they show you the results?

Bargain Hunter Tip! People not in the know will often list these cameras as broken just because the light meter doesn’t work. Which is how I managed to get a bargain myself. I took a punt, bought the battery (£1.50 for 10) and it works like a dream!

Another Bonus Tip! You can take the best images in the world with a film camera but if you cheap out on where you get them developed you’ll lose a ton of quality. Go to someone who cares, even if it’s an online specialist company.

9 — Lumix GX80 with the Olympus 15mm Body Cap Lens — £300

Lumix GX80 body-only is about £270. I bought the body cap lens for £30. You might think…. oooo, bargain! But it really is a bit shoddy.

Well, I suppose it depends on how you think about this lens. Either it’s the worst lens ever made, or the best body cap ever made? You ain’t gunna get a photo out of another body cap, are ya?

I suppose the results aren’t that bad? But it isn’t at the top of my recommended list, put it that way. It’s pinned at f8, so you need good light. And even in good light, it’s very soft and vignettes around the edges. But then again what exactly did I expect for a body cap?

P.S. I didn’t add these vignettes in editing, if anything I tried to make them less prominent.

10 — Lumix GX80 with Meike 25mm 1.8 lens — £350

Lumix GX80 body only around £270, Meike 25mm lens around £80. Under budget. Winner winner.

The Meike lenses can be a lot of fun. They’re manual focus, and manual aperture too, so you need to know your way roughly around your settings before taking one on. Or use it as a challenge to get up to speed. I like them because you can get sharp results at fast apertures for relatively cheap.

They’re ridiculously well made too. Almost comically so if you pair them with a lighter body, such as the Lumix G7. In a tragedy, the G7 body would disintegrate and the Meike lens would laugh in the face of danger, ha ha ha ha!

I think I’ve gone a bit delirious in the process of finishing this list.

Anyway. 25mm Meike lens. Cheap body. Good combo. Great way to level up your skills. Nice results.

But Emily, there are other notable combinations, surely? There’s a whole heap of Lumix on this list!

Well.. yes. Sorry about that. I thought it would be good to write from my own experience, and as I’m a shameless Lumix FanGirl at times, this list has come out somewhat weighted towards Lumix. But of course there are tons of other camera and lens combos out there that will fit this challenge.

How about…

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Olympus EM10 Mark II

Super high quality camera that’s come down a lot in price. Pair this with a cheaper lens and it’d be a great combo under budget

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Olympus EM10 Mark I

This comes in WELL under budget, and while it’s getting on a bit now, it’s still a really solid offering.

Olympus Pen PL8

Olympus are at least 100x sexier than Lumix, let’s be honest. This camera is small and stylish, and under budget.

Thanks so much for reading! Consider popping your email address into my subscription box (ooo errr) for more fantastically Nerdy content!

— Emily