Buyer’s Guide 2015: The Best Mirrorless

Even though many people now rely on their smartphone cameras to take still photos and to shoot videos, a dedicated camera is what you need if you want to learn about photography and become a better photographer. For anyone serious about photography, it has traditionally meant purchasing a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera but mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (now referred to as simply “mirrorless”) are quickly becoming a favorite of enthusiast and professional photographers.

Like a DSLR, a mirrorless camera features PASM shooting modes. This allows you to start shooting in Full AUTO mode as you get used to the handling and operation of your new camera, then to progressively explore the semi auto modes to learn about the creative effects of aperture and shutter speed on your photos. Finally, you can switch to Full Manual mode for complete creative control over your camera and your pictures.

The acronym PASM stands for Program Auto, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and full Manual shooting modes.

When you set your camera’s shooting mode to Full AUTO (variously called Intelligent AUTO, Smart AUTO, etc.), the camera automatically selects both the aperture and shutter speed, as well as pretty much everything else (ISO, white balance, etc.) to obtain a correctly exposed picture. The camera is in total control.

Switch to P – Program Auto mode and you decide on ISO, white balance while still letting the camera automatically select the aperture and shutter speed for a correctly exposed picture. The camera is basically still in AUTO mode but allows you a measure of control also.

Switch to A – Aperture-priority mode and you decide on aperture (and, if desired, ISO, white balance) while letting the camera automatically select the appropriate shutter speed for a correctly exposed picture. In this mode, setting an aperture is your priority since you want to control depth of field: Selecting a small aperture will give your picture a large depth of field (most everything from near to far will be in focus), desirable when shooting landscape; selecting a large aperture will give your picture a small depth of field (only the part of your image you focus on will be in focus), desirable when shooting portraits with a blurred background.

Switch to S – Shutter-priority mode and you decide on shutter speed (and, if desired, ISO, white balance) while letting the camera automatically select the appropriate aperture for a correctly exposed picture. In this mode, setting a shutter speed is your priority since you want to depict motion: Selecting a fast shutter speed will freeze action, desirable when shooting sports or (incredibly) fast moving small children; selecting a slow shutter speed will blur action, desirable when depicting flowing water or using the blur itself to creatively depict action.

Switch to M – Manual mode and you decide on both aperture and shutter speed (and, if desired, ISO, white balance). You are in total control. Why would you ever desire to do that? Because, even with all its fancy technology, a camera can still be “fooled” by certain lighting situations that require you to manually adjust exposure settings so as to obtain a correctly exposed picture–or, to purposefully bring out the effect you are after.

During the many years that you will own and use your mirrorless camera, you will discover that a certain lens is more appropriate to a certain type of photography.

For example, if you love to shoot close-ups of insects, flowers and other objects, a tele macro lens will allow you to move in close while keeping a safe distance from your subject (perfect for skittish insects).

If you’re into portraits, you would want to consider a fast (large aperture) mid telephoto lens that will nicely frame your subject while allowing you to stay at a comfortable distance from your subject (and hence avoid being literally in their face) and throw the background out of focus for that professional “bokeh” look.

Wide vistas and large group shots beg a wide-angle lens.

Landscapes can be shot with both a wide-angle or a telephoto lens, depending on the effect you’re after: Showing the whole landscape or picking out an interesting element in the distance.

A mirrorless camera is an interchangeable lens camera and so allows you to attach the lens that is more appropriate to your photographic needs.

Do not get confused by terminology. Point-and-shoot level cameras never had mirrors in the first place and are sometimes wrongly marketed as “mirrorless.”

Mirrorless cameras are known under various names: Compact System Cameras (CSCs), Interchangeable Lens Cameras (ILCs), Digital Single Lens Mirrorless (DSLM), Mirrorless DSLRs, or simply, mirrorless.

Though all of these cameras are Interchangeable Lens Cameras, not all of them are “mirrorless.”

To understand, we need to go back to the driving imperative behind the mirrorless camera: to build a DSLR-level camera that 1) delivers DSLR-level shooting performance, and 2) produces DSLR-level image quality.

And to do so using the latest innovation in sensor and electronic viewfinder technologies that make it possible to forego the use of the bulky mirror and viewfinder prism.

In other words, to build a DSLR that had no use of the mirror. Hence, the early term, “Mirrorless DSLR.”

Although technically a misnomer, the term “Mirrorless DSLR” can help us identify a real mirrorless camera: it is a DSLR-level camera that doesn’t use a mirror system anymore; in all other respects, a mirrorless camera should deliver the same shooting performance and produce the same image quality that you’d expect from its equivalent DSLR competitor.

The thing about a mirrorless camera is that since there is no mirror mechanism, there is also no need for a viewfinder prism which, in a traditional-mirrored DSLR, has the job of reflecting the image from the mirror a number of times until it is presented right side up to the viewer.

Without the need for a prism, the top of a mirrorless camera can now be flat, which makes it easier to carry in a coat pocket or stow into a camera bag. This results in more compact models, and hence the term “compact mirroless.”

So, why then do so many of the mirrorless cameras sport a tell-tale “hump” at the top, as though there was a prism up there? Simply to look more professional because that is how DSLRs look.

But now you know better than to judge a mirrorless camera by its viewfinder hump. It’s however still a good place to locate the electronic viewfinder eyepiece as well as a pop-up flash.

The first mirrorless cameras were introduced in 2009 when Panasonic and Olympus introduced the Micro Four Thirds System, which removed the mirror box from a DSLR camera design, and replaced the OVF (optical viewfinder) with a live view LCD display screen and an EVF (electronic viewfinder). So, it is not surprising that we see those two companies offering some of the best loved mirrorless cameras today.

Some people choose an entry-level mirrorless over an entry-level DSLR because the former is often smaller and lighter (especially with a retractable tele zoom lens attached). Enthusiast photographers love the large live view display for easier composition and the many pro features available at a fraction of the cost. Professional photographers are attracted to not only a smaller and lighter overall package (when you throw in the accessories and lenses) but also, among other things, the ability to shoot in extreme low-light (low noise at extremely high ISOs), a totally silent shooting option (when an electronic shutter is available), and being able to see exactly what will be recorded onto the image sensor as they change white balance, contrast or apply electronic filters.

Here are some of the best mirrorles cameras you can buy, listed in alphabetical order. Since we are only looking at the best mirrorless cameras, this is by no means an exhaustive list. We’ve also tried to include models that span the entry-level to the pro level.

As you read about the various cameras, don’t get hung up with buying the “best camera”; instead, find the “camera that is best for you.

When you’ve identified a camera that you would like to learn more about, clink on the links to visit the manfacturers’ sites. Note that there might be typos, firmware upgrades will add or change certain features, and not all countries include the same accessories in the box–so do some careful research before you make a final decision to purchase.

If you do decide to purchase from one of our sponsors by clicking on one of the links below each camera, we thank you beforehand! Since there are always deals going on, click on the links to view the latest prices and to take advantage of the latest deals.

Lastly, remember that mirrorless cameras are sold either as body only (i.e. without a lens) or with a kit lens. So, if you are purchasing your first mirrorless camera, always check that a kit lens is included in the price. The kit lens is usually of good enough quality and cheaper when bought as a kit with the camera. If you buy “body only,” you will also need to separately purchase the lens (for the appropriate lens mount) you want to attach to the camera, unless you already own one or more.