The best mirrorless cameras have many of the benefits of larger DSLRs (such as great image quality) but are generally far more compact, making them easier for amateurs and professionals alike to carry.
Mirrorless cameras work a bit differently than DSLRs. The latter has a mirror that flips up to expose the sensor to light from the camera's lens. As their name suggests, mirrorless cameras lack this feature, which makes them more compact. However, this also means that they don't have a traditional optical viewfinder like DSLRs, so any image you see has been digitally produced. For most people, this shouldn't be too much of a big deal. You'll find a wide selection in the models now in the market, with prices starting at less than $500. So, there's a mirrorless camera to suit almost every photographer.
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- Which is best for you? DSLR vs. mirrorless cameras
- Best DSLR cameras
What are the best mirrorless cameras?
After testing dozens of models, we think the best mirrorless camera for most consumers is the Sony Alpha a6100. This camera costs around $700 with a lens, takes great photos in low light, has a fast autofocus system, and can record video in 4K. The a6100 has a similar design to other cameras in Sony's mirrorless camera lineup, which means a compact design that's easy to hold, a nice large touchscreen, and an electronic viewfinder.
The a6100 is capable of taking photos at up to 11 frames per second, and can record video up to resolutions of 4K. However, it lacks in-body image stabilization — you'll have to jump up to the Sony a6500 if you're looking for that features.
If you're just breaking into photography, the best mirrorless camera for beginners is the Sony a6000. The original camera in the lineup, the a6000 costs less than $500 with a lens, yet shoots at a fast 11 fps, and takes great pictures in all conditions. This camera lacks a touchscreen, and it can only shoot video up to 1080p, but these are fine compromises at this price.
Having trouble deciding which Sony mirrorless camera is right for you? Check out our best Sony mirrorless cameras page.
Nikon announced the Nikon Z5, a new entry-level full-frame mirrorless camera with a 24.3MP CMOS sensor, 273 autofocus points, 4K UHD/30p video capture, a 3.2-inch LCD monitor and 3.6M-dot Quad-VGA electronic viewfinder. It will be available in August for $1,399 (body only) $1,699 with the NIKKOR Z 24-50mm lens) and $2,199 (with the NIKKOR Z 24-200mm lens).
The best mirrorless cameras you can buy today
We think most consumers will find the Sony a6100 to be the best mirrorless camera for their needs. Selling for around $700 with a kit lens, it's not overly expensive, but has many of the modern features you'll want, including an excellent autofocus system, a fast 11fps shooting speed, a bright electronic viewfinder, and sharp 4K video. (The camera even has a microphone jack for better audio.) Plus, the a6100 has an excellent design with a good hand grip, as well as an articulating 3-inch touchscreen, which makes it easy to hold the camera above or below eye level and still get the shot you want.
What you don't get at this price are features such as in-body image stabilization, and the A6100's viewfinder is a lower resolution than higher-end models. But these tradeoffs are more than acceptable.
Read our full Sony a6100 review.
The Sony a6000 is the best mirrorless camera for beginners, in that it's an ideal compromise between power and portability. Its autofocus is as good as a DSLRs, and it shoots at a blistering 11 frames per second with continuous autofocus and metering. Electronic viewfinders are a weak point on many mirrorless models, but the a6000's OLED eyepiece is bright and crystal-clear, and doesn't suffer from the stuttering you'll sometimes find on EVFs with lower refresh rates. A DSLR shooter would be comfortable moving over to this eyepiece.
The a6000 shines in low light, and features the ability to capture clean images up to ISO 1600 sensitivity and usable shots in very dim conditions way up to ISO 12,800. On top of that, the a6000 shoots gorgeous full-HD video at up to 60 fps, as well as 24 fps for a cinema look. Clips show fine detail, rich color and buttery-smooth motion rendering, even in low light.
Read our full Sony a6000 review.
The Sony Alpha a6600 is the successor to the older, but still great a6500, and brings with it such features as 5-axis in-body image stabilization, 4K video recording at 60 frames per second, and a compact but sturdy magnesium-alloy body that's protected against dust and mist.
The a6600 has the same 24.2-MP sensor as its predecessor, but now, with a faster processor, it has a wider ISO range (100-32,000), and AI-enabled eye autofocusing in both still and video. And, the a6600's rated battery life of 720 shots is double that of the a6500; while we still recommend you pick up a spare battery, it's good to know the a6600's will hold out for a lot longer.
Read our full Sony Alpha a6600 review.
With even cellphones shooting 1080p video up to 60 fps, Olympus had to up its game for video. It certainly did, with an amazing five-axis image-stabilization system in the Olympus OM-D E-M5 MII that allows you to capture steady video even while walking around — something unthinkable until now. That video also boasts fine detail and attractive color, with one of the best auto white balance capabilities we've seen for avoiding the typical orangey look during indoor shooting. All these virtues serve the M5 MII equally well for still-photo shooting, too. Its resistance to water means you can shoot under nearly any condition.
In addition, the M5 MII's truly tiny dimensions and weight, coupled with a nice selection of compact lenses, make it the most portable high-performance mirrorless camera out there. It's a joy to carry anywhere, and for an entire day.
Note that Olympus has introduced the OM-D E-M5 Mark III ($1,200; $1,800 with lens) which has a 20.4MP sensor, and can capture video at 4K resolution and 120fps slow-mo HD.
Read our full Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II review.
It's the world's first full-frame mirrorless camera to carry in-body 5-axis image stabilization, but there's more to the Sony a7 II than just steady shooting. This petite, sexy camera fits in most bags, and packs a bunch of customizable buttons and knobs for quick access to your favorite controls. We also loved the bright, clear pictures and relatively low amount of noise (graininess) even at high ISO light sensitivity levels. Thanks to effective wireless capability, you'll be able to beam your shots to your smartphone or computer within seconds.
The Sony a7 II is a few years old at this point — it's been succeeded by the Sony a7 III, which offers full frame HDR 4K video and better battery life, to name a few things — but the a7 II is still a powerful camera, and it's now less than $900, making it a better bargain.
Read our full Sony A7 II review.
Until recently, most full-frame mirrorless cameras cost at least $2,000 just for the camera body. The Canon EOS RP is part of a trend of less-expensive models, bringing higher image quality at a lower price. The EOS RP has a 26 megapixel sensor, user-friendly controls, a fully articulated touch screen, and a compact body, all for less than $1,000. Not surprisingly for Canon, the EOS RP also takes great pictures, and can shoot video at resolutions up to 4K.
However, there are some compromises: The EOS RP lacks in-body image stabilization, it has a comparatively short battery life, and a slower shooting speed than other mirrorless cameras. Also, because Canon is relatively new to mirrorless cameras, there are fewer lenses available when compared to models from Sony.
Read our full Canon EOS RP review.
Nikon was a bit late to the mirrorless camera category, but it's making up for lost time. Following the launch of the full-frame Z6 and Z7 mirrorless cameras, Nikon introduced the Z 50, which doesn't have a full-frame sensor, but offers a solid feature set, great image quality and good performance — in a smaller form factor at a more consumer-friendly price.
The Nikon Z 50 is a great mirrorless camera for Nikon enthusiasts; we liked its build and deep, comfortable grip, as well as its sharp electronic viewfinder. Its 3.2-inch touchscreen flips down for selfies, but is obscured if you have the camera on a tripod. The Z 50 has intuitive controls, in-camera retouching, and good performance in low light. However, there's no in-body image stabilization, and the single card slot only supports lower-end SD cards.
Read our full Nikon Z 50 review.
With 4K video and 5-axis image stabilization, the Sony a6500 is the best mirrorless camera for those looking to capture stable video. Detail and color are excellent in video, but you may want to use the camera's Center Lock-on AF feature to make sure focus stays on a moving subject.
Image quality is equally fine in detail and color, with excellent dynamic range (combined shadow and highlight detail). And images stay fairly clean of pixel noise up to ISO 6400. Autofocus is superb, with the camera able to shoot 11fps, adjusting focus as needed for each shot. Combined with a memory buffer holding over 300 images, you're nearly guaranteed to get a shot that captures the action perfectly.
Keep in mind that Sony is phasing out the a6500 in favor of the a6600, so it may be harder to find it going forward.
Read our full Sony a6500 review.
Canon's second-generation EOS M6 Mark II mirrorless camera has a lot to like: It has a 32MP APS-C size sensor, the highest resolution in its class, and shares a number of features with the Canon EOS 90D, its DSLR sibling, such as the image processor, 4K video and Dual Pixel CMOS AF. And, it comes in a much more compact package, weighing in at 14.4 ounces with the battery.
However, Canon sacrificed a built-in viewfinder, and while the M6 Mark II has an excellent 3-inch touchscreen, you'll want to purchase this camera as part of a kit, or be prepared to shell out an extra $200 for the optional electronic viewfinder that slides into the camera's hot shoe. If you can live with this compromise, though, you'll be rewarded with crisp photos and fast shooting speeds.
Read our full Canon EOS M6 Mark II review.
How to pick the best mirrorless camera for you
The criteria when shopping for a mirrorless camera are pretty much the same as when you're looking for any sort of camera.
First, what is your budget? While our picks of the best mirrorless cameras all fall under $1,500, you can find models that are twice as expensive, and their features are very tempting.
Next, what is your experience level? If you're new to mirrorless cameras or photography in general, it's worth getting a lower-priced model with more beginner-friendly features, such as in-camera guides that explain various settings.
Last, consider what you want to do with the camera. If you're shooting sports or wildlife, you'll want a camera that can take a lot of pictures quickly, as well as one with in-camera stabilization. And, while mirrorless cameras are known for their smaller size relative to DSLRs, you'll want one that's more compact if you're planning to take it traveling.
How we test mirrorless cameras
To determine which models make our list of the best mirrorless cameras, we first put each through a battery of tests, and evaluate them for such things as image and video quality, battery life, design, and usability. How fast can the camera shoot? Is its autofocus quick to lock on to subjects in the frame? When recording video, does it use the full sensor, and at what resolution can it record?
We also look at things such as button placement, how easy it is to navigate in-camera menus, if its touchscreen can fold outwards, and if you can access all the camera's settings using the display.
Finally, we consider such things as what features the camera has, and what competitors are offering in cameras that cost around the same price.
How to choose a lens for your mirrorless camera
One of the most important qualities that mirrorless and DSLRs share is that they accept interchangeable lenses, which can dramatically improve image quality and bring your photography to a new level. But there are scores of lenses to choose from, which can be confusing. To help you get better acquainted with this important camera accessory, here's a quick rundown of types of interchangeable lenses that are available for your mirrorless camera:
Standard zoom lenses: It's the lens that most people who buy an entry-level SLR or mirrorless model as a kit know first. Mirrorless kits generally come with a 14-42mm lens. They typically include a small amount of zoom (3x), and are often inexpensive, but not the highest quality. However, in the past several years, the quality of these kit lenses has improved.
Prime lenses: You can save money by choosing a prime or non-zoom lens. They offer excellent quality, and are often much more affordable. If you need to zoom, just use your feet and walk closer to your subject!
Telephoto zoom lenses: If you shoot a lot of sports or other types of events, consider these powerful zooms, which can bring you closer to the action and provide features to capture images with shallow depth-of-field. They can be a bit heavy and bulky, but most manufacturers have been inventing new lenses that are smaller and more compact, but are still high quality. The 70mm-200mm is a good example of this type of lens.
Wide-angle lenses: If you're traveling, this type of lens, such as a 16-35mm zoom, can be very valuable, since it allows you to capture different types of wide-angle shots. Want to shoot a group portrait? Set the zoom lens towards the 35mm end of the range, which will avoid distortion at the edges of the image. Or if you want to capture a broad, sweeping landscape, use the lower end of the zoom, nearer to the 16mm end. However, these lenses can be pricey.
Macro or Close-up lenses: If you're looking to capture close-up shots of small objects, you'll want a good quality macro lens, which come in a variety of focal lengths, such as 50mm and 100mm. Be sure to do your research to be sure the lens you want has macro capabilities.
Specialty lenses: One of the most notable specialty lenses in this category is the ultra-wide fisheye lens, which some photographers love for the exceptionally distorted point of view. Other types include tilt-shift and soft-focus lenses.