Best Beginner Mirrorless Cameras
The world of photography changed forever with the introduction of the digital camera. In the past few years, we have seen another sea change in photography hardware, though it is not nearly as disruptive. The mirrorless camera has begun to overtake the classic DSLR style camera now that technology has caught up.
Whereas once mirrorless cameras were clearly inferior to their DSLR cousins, they now perform just as good if not better. These developments have made the advantages of mirrorless cameras all the more attractive now that the downsides have been mitigated. No longer are they a technical novelty to be taken lightly by “serious” photographers.
But, if you want to make the switch to mirrorless cameras or are getting into photography for the first time and want to explore mirrorless options, where do you start?
Here we will look at the differences between the mirrorless camera and the DSLR camera to better understand the advantages and disadvantages of mirrorless. Armed with that knowledge, we will then go over what to look for when buying your first mirrorless camera, and our picks for what we think are the best beginner mirrorless cameras out there.
DSLR Vs. Mirrorless
When you start to get serious about photography, you graduate from smartphone cameras and little point and shoot cameras up to the big leagues. When you think about a serious camera, you probably conjure up an image of a massive camera big enough to clobber a mugger with an equally huge lens. When you snap a photo, it makes that iconic shutter click that your phone simulates when you take a picture with it.
The camera you are imagining is a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera. Sometimes they are known as "digital SLR" cameras. These expensive hulks take much better pictures than your phone because of their much larger camera sensors and myriad of swappable lenses.
The "reflex" in digital single-lens reflex refers to the mirror inside of the camera. When you point a DSLR at something, light enters through the lens, and some of it hits a sensor that detects things like light level and focus. However, most of the light that goes into the camera is reflected up into the viewfinder, so that you can look through, see what you are pointing at and more effectively frame the shot.
When you hit the shutter switch, the mirror physically flips up and out of the way of the light so that it can proceed to the camera sensor to take the picture. This action is brief, and it is what causes that ubiquitous, almost nostalgic click sound. This action is also the reason why the viewfinder goes dark momentarily when taking a picture
For many years the DSLR has been the standard for enthusiasts and professionals everywhere. However, a few years ago the market saw the arrival of a competitor that managed to do away with this mechanical apparatus entirely.
As the name suggests, a mirrorless camera has no mirror inside. It does not have a mechanism to reflect light to the viewfinder or flip up to expose the sensor. The sensor is always exposed and is constantly forming an image. But, if there is no mirror for the viewfinder, how do you know what you are looking at?
Mirrorless cameras do have viewfinders or, if they don't, they have screens on the back that show you the image that you are about to capture on your camera. The viewfinder is completely digital and is made in real time by the camera sensor. Think of it like a tiny closed-circuit camera that shows you what you are snapping.
While similar in shape, the first thing you will notice about a mirrorless camera is its size. Without the apparatus to house and control the mirror and the absence of the mirror itself, the camera can be made much slimmer. With mirrorless cameras, the future has finally arrived, and professional grade cameras have finally gone completely digital, abandoning the last vestiges of analog.
Pros and Cons of DSLRs and Mirrorless Cameras
So why are DSLRs still around if mirrorless cameras are technologically superior? Well, like most new technologies, it has had its fair share of growing pains, and it could not overtake the DSLR right away; it had to wait for further technological development. Some photography purists, of which there are many, believe that the mirrorless camera has not overtaken DSLRs and will not for some time.
Both have their advantages and their disadvantages, but the gap is closing with every new release of mirrorless camera model. Let’s compare the two.
DSLR Pros and Cons
While they are an older technology, DSLRs have had more time to develop and are still superior in some ways to mirrorless, but their disadvantages are becoming more clear as mirrorless cameras grow in popularity.
DSLRs still have, by most accounts, faster and better autofocus features. This is partly due to its analog nature, as the image need not be processed by the sensor first.
Many photographers are of the belief that DSLR lenses are simply superior. Regardless of if this is true or not, what is certain that there are more and varied lenses for DSLRs on the market now because of their long tenure. This advantage will likely wane over time.
The image in a DSLR camera viewfinder is crisp and lifelike because it is the actual light that is entering the camera, not a simulation.
Because of the mirror apparatus, the DSLR will always be big and heavy, almost to the point of unwieldy at times.
As fast as some DSLRs can be, their capture speed is limited by mechanics. This may not be important for most, but it can be vital for photographers who shoot moving subjects like sports photographers.
- Viewfinder Image
- Shutter Speed
Mirrorless Pros and Cons
Mirrorless cameras have their technological advancements, but nothing is perfect. However, their drawbacks are being focused on, as they have more room to grow than the stalwart DSLR.
Without the mirror and its mechanical housing, mirrorless cameras are significantly smaller and lighter which is a godsend for traveling or field photographers.
Since the viewfinder is completely digital, special overlays and filters can help you get a better shot like focus outlining which superimposes an outline on the object that is in focus.
As mirrorless cameras don’t rely on moving parts, they can capture at exceptionally high speeds.
Since they are newer and require more complex technology, mirrorless cameras are more expensive. For the price of a low-end mirrorless camera, you can get a feature-packed DSLR.
The image you see in the viewfinder of a mirrorless camera is at the mercy of the technology that produces it, meaning that sometimes there can be lag or pixel discrepancies.
In the past, the autofocus of mirrorless cameras were much inferior to DSLRs, but this is one area where the tech has caught up, and newer, higher-end cameras have eliminated this distinction.
Perhaps the most glaring drawback, mirrorless cameras are always using their sensors to create the viewfinder image, so it drains the battery much faster. Extra batteries and a charger should always be kept on hand.
Viewfinder Image Quality
Mirrorless Cameras: A Buyer’s Guide
So, which is best for you? If you are a traveling photographer or are always on the go, mirrorless cameras are an attractive option. It seems like a small distinction, but bulky and heavier cameras are at greater risk of damage, and holding them up can affect your shots ever so slightly. If you do mostly action shots like in sports, mirrorless cameras are also your best bet.
But what goes into a good one, and what is the best beginner mirrorless camera? There are a few things to look for when selecting your first mirrorless camera:
Features and Controls
If you are a beginner, you are stepping up from smartphones but you still likely don't know all the ins and outs of the many settings and functions of higher-end cameras.
You want a camera that has enough features and settings to get you those great shots you want, but also few enough to not be confusing. More is not necessarily better, as you may get lost or not even figure out how to use all those buttons.
Good lenses are important but don't get upsold on a variety of large and complex lenses that you aren't familiar with yet. A decent enough selection of lenses should be good enough for the beginner, but there should also be room for growth. The mirrorless camera should be compatible with many lenses, even third party ones so you can expand in the future.
Interestingly, this is the least important of considerations. Most entry-level cameras across the board have very similar image quality. You'll likely be paying little for your camera relative to higher-end models, and there is only so much quality you can get from that price range. Don't stress it too much.
How We Chose Our Ratings
Let’s take a look now at the best beginner mirrorless camera on the market right now. We looked around and rated our favorites. Here are some of the criteria we used in rough order of importance:
Our Top 3 Best Beginner Mirrorless Cameras
These might be our favorites, but make sure you look at each one as our pick for number one may not be best suited to your needs.
- Ultra-fast auto focus with 179 AF points and 6Fps
- Capture life in high resolution with 24MP APS-C sensor.Lens compatibility Sony E-mount lenses
- Instant sharing via smartphone with Wi-Fi and NFC1
Sony has taken it upon themselves to be one of the leaders in the mirrorless camera field, and this camera is one of the results. The a5100 is powerful and almost unbelievably compact and light.
Its APS-C sensor will get you the shots you wish your phone could, even in low light. It comes standard with HD video shooting, WiFi/NFC connectivity and a 180° tilt screen to snap at different angles. We recommend springing for the optional 16-50 mm Power Zoom Lens as the camera is already quite affordable.
CANON EOS M6
- 24.2 Megapixel CMOS (APS-C) sensor
- High-Speed continuous shooting at up to 7.0 fps (up to 9.0 fps with AF lock)
- Built-in Wi-Fi**, NFC*** and Bluetooth
This beginner-friendly model has one of the best sensors around on an entry-level camera. It's a bit pricey, but it has few peers amongst beginner cameras for image quality. It is small and light, and very intuitive to use.
Unfortunately, there are not many lens options as Canon has not thrown much of their weight into mirrorless until recently. The screen was OK, although not as nice or responsive as the Sony one in our opinion. This is a great camera that is outdone by Sony mostly because of the price and lack of lens options.
OLYMPUS OM-D E-M10 MARK III
- In-body 5-axis image stabilization for blur free stills and smooth 4K video
- 16 Megapixel Live MOS sensor and TruePic VIII image processor
- 4K 30P video plus HD 120 frames per second high speed video
This little number is exceptionally powerful for its size, and affordable, too. Even the many and powerful lenses it is compatible with are compact and light. It shoots video in 4K and boasts an excellent viewfinder for those who like to use their cameras analog style.
The image quality is decent, but the sensor is smaller than the other two cameras on this list. Its focus tracking also lags behind the others a bit. Its slow focus is not as conducive to fas photography as the others.
However, we think that it makes up for its shortcomings with nifty features like 5-axis image stabilization which really helps cut down on things like blur. The electronic viewfinder and 4k video features are somewhat rare for entry level cameras, so we think it deserves its place on this list.
Last update on 2021-02-24 at 18:30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API