The best overall camera and lens combination for under $500
posted Saturday, July 16, 2016 at 4:07 PM EDT
Everyone's idea of the best overall anything is subjective, and for the best cameras and lenses it's dependent on a variety of factors. The type of subject matter you like to shoot certainly comes into play, as well as your preferences on gear price and size. Recently, a deal became available for a $500 camera *and* lens combination that for my shooting taste and style trumps everything else currently available for $500 or less.
That rig is the Olympus E-M10 paired with the Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150mm (80-300mm eq.) lens. These are sold seperately, and both have recently dropped in price such that the E-M10 is down to $399 and the 40-150mm f/4-5.6 is now just $99 (50% off retail).
Put them together and you have a very solid and capable combination indeed, all without overly straining your biceps or your bank account!
Dubbed by Olympus as the "OM-D for all" when it was released, and rated with very high marks from us at IR, including winning Best Entry-level Mirrorless camera in our Camera of the Year awards for 2014, the E-M10 offers much of the guts of the classic E-M5 but in a smaller and less expensive frame.
And for that $99 lens? One of our longtime reviewers called it "…an excellent companion to the 14-42mm kit lens…" while showcasing "…good all-around performance…" And get this: the entire package weighs in at just 20oz (565gm)! One-handed sports shooting never got much easier than this.
Olympus E-M10 + 40-150mm M.Zuiko: Sports + Action
(Images have been cropped and resized to fit this page, as well as edited in post-production software primarily to balance shadows and highlights. Clicking any image will take you to the original, unedited image as produced by the E-M10 and provide you with access to the full resolution file and associated EXIF data.)
Capturing bodies in motion is addictive, but it's tricky business. A camera must be able to focus well, in still mode and continuous, depending on the subject you're after. And, at least for me, there needs to be a good level of control over settings and parameters, and having twin control dials is something I can no longer live without. The E-M10 provides not only twin control dials but an excellent array of options and settings designed to allow user-customizability, and once set up is just really easy to use.
The single biggest drawback of the rig of course is that the aperture of this lens is neither bright nor constant, and so you need an adequate amount of light in order to capture fast action without too much noise. But of course the relatively large Four Thirds sensor (about ten times as large as traditional compact sensors, and roughly twice as large as the high-end enthusiast 1" inch sensors) can produce fairly clean images up to as high as ISO 3200, so you still have a decent amount of flexibility in your exposures.
Olympus E-M10 + 40-150mm M.Zuiko: Portrait Shooting
Portrait work is also a lot of fun, both to shoot and to share with people, but generally requires the ability to achieve good subject to background isolation, ensuring the ability to attain that coveted "bokeh" when desired. As most of you know, small sensors married to small apertures are not the path towards bokeh heaven, yet most camera/lens combinations and smartphones in this price range are typically of the small + small variety, and therefore just can't pull it off too well.
As mentioned earlier, the sensor in the E-M10 is roughly ten times the size of traditional compact camera sensors, and the 40-150mm when zoomed out to its widest allows for an aperure of f/4. This isn't considered "bright" by portrait lens standards, but it's still able to provide a generous amount of subject-to-background isolation! The images below showcase this to varying degrees given the zoom range, aperture and subject matter.
Best overall camera + lens under $500?
Camera quality for the price has gotten better and better, but $500 is still way on the low side for a capable camera and zoom lens for subjects like sports, portrait shooting, etc. Grab the Olympus E-M10 and the M.Zuiko 40-150mm and you're in business! This goes for anyone who's yet to step into the land of larger sensors and interchangeable lenses, all the way to seasoned enthusiasts who demand good image quality but don't want to haul their large, expensive rig on a family outing or vacation.
Is this as good as a $1700 DSLR with a $1200 constant aperture zoom lens attached? No. But it's a lot closer to that ballpark than the ballpark of smartphones and compacts in this price range. And the fact that it's interchangeable allows for expansion that smartphones and compacts can't provide down the road. After all, as soon as you're ready, you can start growing your lens arsenal!
(Special note: This camera is already sold out at Amazon and Adorama, so if you want this deal, head to B&H now before they run out!)
[Making your purchases through our trusted affiliate links gets you the same low price, and helps us continue to bring review content your way. And buying through B&H gets you automatically entered for the chance to win a $500 gift card each month!]
[UPDATE 7/18: If you can live without a built-in viewfinder, the Olympus E-PL7 just went on sale for $349! This camera is quite similar to the E-M10, has twin control dials, and is priced slightly better. Or you can get the E-PL7 *with* the 14-42mm kit lens for just $399, and still have the extra Ben Franklin left over for the 40-150mm zoom lens. So if the E-M10 stock runs out, one of these would be another terrific option. To see more of how the Olympus E-PL7 fares in the real world, please see our E-PL7 Field Test!]