When we look around us and observe which camera photographers are shooting with, we find that all the camera brands and models are represented. This tells us that every photographer had certain specific criteria in mind as he or she made a purchase decision. Quick question: How do you choose? Do you choose based on features on paper? Do you choose based strictly on your budget? Or, as one person I know is always asking me, “Tell me which one is the best? Money is not a factor.” We want to show you a better way.
As long-time readers of Photoxels know, we have always insisted that you should stop trying to find and buy the best camera. We used to do that: reading countless reviews, doing side-by-side comparisons, peering intently at image samples… By doing this, we end up all the more confused and frustrated and end up railing at manufacturers who seem to omit certain features on purpose. It’s also a moving target as the next model is introduced with some new features — but not the ones we want. Or, we just buy the most expensive model — and then find it has more features and is way more complicated than what we intend to use it for. Let us share with you a better way: Choose the camera that is best for you — at your current abilities, interest and budget.
Ability: Buy a camera you are comfortable using. There is no point in choosing a camera that is way beyond your ability to use it properly. It will frustrate you and discourage you from further pursuing your hobby. You are also not going to necessarily get better pictures with a more expensive camera if you do not know how to use it. If you are not comfortable using it, chances are your photography will suffer or you will just leave it at home. So, think honestly about your current ability as a photographer and what you can comfortably handle in a camera. Then, choose among those that are just a little bit above that level, giving you the opportunity to grow.
Interests: Based on your interest, one camera and lens combination may serve you better than another combination. Are you mostly interested in portrait photography? Then consider a prime portrait lens with fast aperture and a camera that has accurate Face AF and Eye AF. Do you shoot mostly sports? Then a telephoto zoom paired with a camera that can shoot fast consecutive shots is ideal. For landscape photography, an extra wide-angle lens, a sturdy tripod and a camera with high sensor resolution will capture the scene in all its intricate details. Do you want to shoot insects or flowers? Then, a macro lens and a camera with built-in image stabilization will come in handy. Think hard at what type of photography you want to be doing the most.
Budget: Unless money is not a problem, we all have to stay within a budget. Since the most expensive camera will not necessarily make you a better photographer, decide what features you really need in your camera. Do you really need weather proofing? What about ultra fast Tracking AF? Or, a body milled from one piece of metal? You need to figure out how much you can comfortably spend, then don’t look at that amount when looking for the camera that is best for you. Why? Because you want to find the camera that is best for you — not the camera that you can best afford. But, what if your ideal camera is over this budget? We recommend that you then wait a bit and save up longer to be able to make sure you get the camera that is just right for you.
So, take all these factors into consideration as you read up on the mirrorless cameras in this guide. To help you out, we have divided them into four main groups: Entry-Level (for those who mainly “point-and-shoot” but want the option to be able to change lenses and explore further), Serious / Advanced (for those who want to take up photography seriously and need a more advanced camera), Enthusiast / Expert (for those who are expert at using any camera model as well as in post-processing) and Pro.
Once you have a better understanding of your ability, interests and budget, you still need to consider what type of mirrorless camera you want to buy.
A SYSTEM CAMERA
A mirrorless camera is often referred to as a Compact System Camera (CSC), emphasis on the word System. That’s because a mirrorless camera accepts interchangeable lenses, external flashes and other accessories that give it flexibility and extend its usefulness. Therefore, in selecting a mirrorless camera, you may want to give some thought to which system you want to standardize on.
Professionals do that all the time. They will carefully select a camera brand and then stick with it. Once they start spending thousands of dollars on camera bodies, lenses and accessories, they do not want to switch to a different camera system because it would be financially prohibitive. They would also need to relearn how to shoot with a different camera. The lenses and accessories for one camera brand are more often than not incompatible with other camera brands. Some camera systems are also more complete than others. For example, if astrophotography through a telescope is your hobby, then find a camera system with accessories that make it easy for you to shoot through a telescope.
Don’t fret if you are new to all of this. If you are selecting an entry-level mirrorless camera and do not intend to invest heavily in lenses and accessories, you may afford to be brand-insensitive. With time, experience and use of the different camera brands, you slowly get a better feel for which system you definitely prefer. Don’t go asking which is the best camera system. They each have their strengths as well as quirks. So, if you want to make a choice that will make you happy, be patient, try them and see for yourself. Once you decide to invest in lenses (which can be much more expensive than the camera body), you then need to carefully decide to standardize on one camera brand and system.
There are currently four (4) major sensor sizes: medium format, full-frame, APS-C and Micro Four Thirds (MFT). Professional photographers shoot mirrorless cameras in all of these sensor sizes, so sensor size will not necessarily dictate the quality of the pictures you take.
Pros who need to capture very intricate details, especially in landscape and some portrait photography, may opt to use a medium format mirrorless camera. Most will settle on a full-frame mirrorless camera. However, because mirrorless technology allow for more compact and lighter camera bodies, a full-frame sensor will not reduce the size of the lenses, thus negating the size and weight gain of mirrorless technology. You will therefore find pros who opt to use the APS-C sensor or even the MFT sensor to gain the size and weight advantage of mirrorless. The MFT sensor gives the best size and weight advantage in mirrorless camera/lens combinations.
Do not judge a mirrorless camera by the presence or absence of the viewfinder hump. Since a mirrorless camera does not have a mirror, it therefore does not need a prism/optical viewfinder. It can therefore locate its high resolution EVF (electronic viewfinder) anywhere it wants. However, since most people still tend to equate a high-level camera with the tell-tale DSLR viewfinder hump, mirrorless camera manufacturers have therefore continued to locate the EVF on some of their mirrorless cameras at the center top with a hump that mimics the DSLR viewfinder hump. Sometimes, lack of space or ergonomic design will dictate that the EVF should be at that central top location. So, yes, most of the mirrorless cameras will sport a viewfinder hump, but some top-of-the-line mirrorless cameras also has a beautiful retro styling with a clean flat top.
HOW TO USE THIS GUIDE
Here are some of the best mirrorless cameras you can buy. To make it easy to find a camera, I’ve listed the camera brands in alphabetical order by rows. Since the naming conventions used by each camera manufacturer are not always clear enough to indicate which of their model is higher level than another, I’ve ordered the models higher level to lower level. This is by no means an exhaustive list and we will add and remove from the list as new models appear and old models are retired (some older, but popular models, may stay for some time until they are retired).
Remember also that today’s mirrorless cameras have many useful and practical features that cameras of old did not have, such as in-body image stabilization, face detection, eye detection, etc. While these are great to have, if the camera you have set your heart on does not have one or more of these features, it does not mean it’s not a good choice. It only means that you need to develop more as a photographer, learning to anticipate action, pre-focus, etc.
When you have identified a camera that you would like to learn more about, click on the manufacturer links to read more about the specifications. 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 purchase decision.
If you are purchasing your first mirrorless camera, we recommend that you also purchase it together with the kit lens (one is usually offered). The kit lens is usually of good enough quality and costs much cheaper when bought as a kit together with the camera than if you bought it separately.
Lastly, if you have found this guide useful, consider purchasing from one of our sponsors by clicking on the link below a camera. Remember that it will not cost you one cent more — and we do get a referral fee that will go a long way to help support this site. Since there are always deals going on, click on the link to see the latest price and to take advantage of any new deals. We thank you beforehand for your support!
X-T30 II / X-T30
GFX 50S II
X1D II 50C
Olympus / OM SYSTEM
A7R IV / A7R IVA
A7R III / A7R IIIA
Models that are highlighted are still in production. Those that are not highlighted are discontinued, but you can still buy them second hand. Those with no links are new models that have not been released yet.
Do not get too hung up if you find your camera listed under the “wrong” column in the table above. In fact, as new models come out with even better features, cameras may shift from one column to a lower one. But it does not mean that your camera is now less able to take great pictures. In addition, cameras listed under the Enthusiast column are also extensively used by professional photographers, so those two columns could be viewed as one (pro-level/enthusiast-level). However, more and more mirrorless cameras specifically targeted to pros are starting to come out that may delineate between the two levels more clearly in the future.