Mirrorless cameras are less than ten years old, when Panasonic introduced its first G-series model in the late summer of 2008. Since then, this type of camera has grown to be the most robust sector in the camera business. In fact, Nikon and Canon, the two pillars of the DSLR market, have stated that each company is entertaining the idea of producing a full-frame mirrorless camera, which most likely would be targeted at the pro market. That's a telling trend and should be good news for consumers, since features on such pro-level cameras trickle down rather quickly to consumer-targeted models.
But if you don't want to wait for a Nikon or Canon mirrorless camera, here are some of our favorite models you can get your hands on today: The mirrorless camera we'd recommend for beginners is the Sony a6000, which costs just under $650 with a lens, yet shoots at a blazing-fast 11 fps, takes great pictures in all conditions, and has a compact body. More advanced photographers might prefer its successor, the Sony a6300 ($900), which takes even better photos in low light, and can record video in 4K. If you want to wait—and splurge a bit more—Sony has also unveiled the a6500 ($1,400), which also has 5-axis image stabilization. Regardless of which one you choose, you should check out our guide for taking great pictures with Sony's line of A6000 cameras.
If you prefer mirrorless cameras not made by Sony, check out Olympus' OM-D E-M5 Mark II, which at $899, is a great camera for both stills and video. (Or consider its successor, the OM-D E-M5 Mark III.) Some of the OM-D E-M5 Mark II's most noteworthy features include 5-axis image stabilization, a sturdy weather-resistant body, and a super high-resolution 40-MP mode.
Still not sure if a mirrorless model is for you, or if the technology is really as good as a DSLR?For the past few years, most camera-testing websites and magazines as well as market research companies have reported that mirrorless cameras aren't really playing second fiddle anymore to their DSLR cousins. In fact, some models are outpacing the performance and quality of DSLRs, and forcing the large, bulkier cameras to up their game. In other words, mirrorless cameras are driving innovation in the advanced-camera market.
Here are additional reasons for going mirrorless: Since they don't need a mirror to reflect an image onto the camera's sensor, most mirrorless cameras are still smaller than DSLRs, but more are offering a wider array of physical controls, levers, and buttons to offer the same quick access to settings that DSLRs do. So you have the best of both worlds — small size, but quick access to controls.
If you're having trouble deciding, check out our Mirrorless vs. DSLR guide to see which best suits your needs.
For those looking to step up from a smartphone or point-and-shoot, size and ability to frame shots on the LCD screen make mirrorless models a natural upgrade, although most DSLRs allow you to frame on LCDs as well. Even for advanced shooters, the screen adds the flexibility to frame shots from odd angles and to interact with their subjects instead of hiding behind an eyepiece. But many mirrorless cameras also offer high quality electronic viewfinders and the best of them can exceed what you can see through a DSLR through-the-lens viewfinder: Because you can electronically adjust the brightness and contrast of an EVF, you can see more accurately in extremely dimly lit situations.
Four Tips For Choosing a Mirrorless Camera
In today's diverse marketplace, choosing a mirrorless model is too expensive to be an impulse purchase. To make sure you end up with the right camera, here are four tips to help you decide which is best for you.
Try out your mirrorless model before your buy. Advanced mirrorless cameras come in different form factors, sizes, and types. In order to really know if a particular mirrorless camera is the right model for you, make sure you actually pick it up, hold it in your hands, and try it out in a store. Or borrow a model from a friend. That way, you'll get a sense of how the controls respond to your touch, how heavy it is, and if it really feels good in your hands.
Decide what features are important to you. Are you interested in buying a mirrorless camera that can capture bursts of photos with the fastest possible frame rate? Or maybe you're looking for a model that offers stunning image quality with a high megapixel count? Or perhaps you want a model that has a touchscreen LCD that lets you snap images right from the display? Do your research on the camera manufacturer's product pages on the web to get in-depth information on these and other features, and then prioritize which features are most important to you.
Be skeptical of sales staff. Although you might get lucky, it's hard to rely on in-store help, particularly at a large, retail consumer electronics stores. Oftentimes, the sales staff will either not understand the technology or features, or they'll purposely try to push certain cameras based on features like a high-megapixel count, which is not the only factor in determining a mirrorless camera's quality.
Skip extended warranties. There continues to be fierce competition in the mirrorless camera market, which is good news for consumers. Such competition drives camera manufacturers to continually produce and improve their products, which in many cases means it's very likely the mirrorless model you buy will be very reliable for years to come. So, it may not be worth it to buy an extended warranty for your mirrorless camera.
Here are the top mirrorless cameras for a variety of users, from beginners to pros.
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