We have put together this Mirrorless Camera Buyer’s Guide to help you find, not “the best” mirrorless camera, but the mirrorless camera that is “best for you.”
Each person has different needs and has different photographic knowledge and aptitude. For example, one person may simply want a Point-and-Shoot camera with the camera making all the decisions; others may want a camera that will allow them to learn and grow as amateur photographers. So, a mirrorless camera that may be best for one person may not necessarily be the best for another person.
This Mirrorless Camera Buyer’s Guide will help you narrow down about a hundred of mirrorless camera choices currently available down to a manageable handful that specifically meet your current needs.
1. What Type of Photographer Are You?
The first thing to consider is to ask yourself what kind of photographer you are. In other words, HOW do you intend to use your digital camera? Select the type of photographer you are from the table (The Four Categories) below.
|Beginner||You are starting out in photography and this is probably your first digital camera that is not your smart phone. You need something that is relatively easy to use to start out with. You may or may not want to get serious about photography later on, so you want a camera that will let you try a few things without getting overwhelmed. Your digital camera will have Auto mode, plus a few controls to allow some learning and experimentation.|
|Serious||Well, you’re hooked! Photography is fun, and digital photography has opened up new horizons in seeing and artistic expressions. You want to learn about f/stop, depth of field, and freezing action; how to apply the rules of good composition; proper exposure in different situations; and faithful color reproduction. You do not want to be restricted as to who, when, where, what, and how. You want to learn, imagine, and create. Your digital camera will allow you to explore and experiment: You’re ready and not afraid to learn what all those controls are for, experiment with them to see the different images you obtain, and start to discover your own likes and dislikes, as well as your preferred photographic style.|
|Enthusiast||You’ve been at it for years now, and you know both your own personal strengths and limits, as well as the strengths and limitations of digital cameras and image editing software. You’ve learned to not only follow the rules, but also when to break them. You know the type of photography you like best. Your digital camera should give you total creative control as well as the best image quality possible. You want a digital camera that you can customize to work the way you like to work (and, in many cases, it does require you to customize its settings before you can obtain quality images from it). But, you can also work around the limitations of a digital camera; it is, after all, just a tool to you.|
|Professional||You are a pro. Only the best will do. Buy whatever you want from any of the categories — and why are you even reading this?|
Note that the Beginner and Serious categories tend to overlap each other to a great extent because cameras in these two categories basically have a similar feature set. However, digital cameras targeted to a serious amateur photographer usually have more accessible features, features have more range, and there is usually a larger and better image sensor, better lenses, and accessories.
Once you’ve found your category, read up on the mirrorless cameras in your category to familiarize yourself with their features and capabilities. All the mirrorless cameras we feature on this site has a category assigned to it, which might or might not necessarily match the manufacturer’s. Remember, these are our personal opinions and a mirrorless camera may well straddle categories. Feel free to disagree and move one up or down a category if you so choose. Our categories are presented to help you — not to constrain you.
In the table below, each category is one column. The camera manufacturers are listed alphabetically. Select your category, and just go down to explore all the mirrorless cameras for that category.
X-T30 II / X-T30
GFX 50S II
X1D II 50C
|Z 5||Z 7II
|S5IIX / S5II
A7R IV / A7R IVA
A7R III / A7R IIIA
Note that although we intend to keep this table as up-to-date as possible, it will from time to time get out of step with what is most current on the market. We also plan to retire old models. In determining which models are considered “current,” our guide remains the camera manufacturers’ web sites. We may leave an older popular model there, especially if it has not yet been replaced by a newer model or if it is still available for purchase (new or used).
OK, so you’ve found the one digital camera that appeals most to you in your category. However, you also notice that there is one in the category across which is priced about the same. Should you buy that one instead? It depends. It’s probably quite safe to do so up to the ‘Serious’ category. When you come to the ‘Advanced’ category, however, caution is ‘de rigeur’ (recommended). You may find that some digital cameras in this category require you to fiddle with more settings than you may want to — or know how to — before you can obtain quality images. When using such a digital camera in the Auto mode, you might be disappointed with the results compared to your point-and-shoot. But, if you know how to adjust the controls properly, the image quality you obtain far surpasses what you would obtain from your point-and-shoot. We’re not saying that you shouldn’t do it; we’re just saying to take this into consideration before you do it.
Most likely, though, you have identified a shortlist of candidates and you are wondering how to choose among them. Besides determining how you intend to use the camera, it helps to also know WHAT you intend to take with the camera.
2. What Kind of Photography Do You Like?
Give a group of photographers a digital camera each, take them to a particular location — say, at a farm in the countryside — and ask them to shoot what they see. One might shoot a landscape shot with the farm at mid distance and the mountains in the horizon; another may shoot the same scene but include the white undulating fence in the foreground; a third photographer may shoot close-ups of the wild flowers; a fourth photographer may use the telephoto on his camera to bring details on the mountains up close; yet, a fifth photographer may only shoot the animals on the farm.
Each one of us has a certain preference about the kind of photography we like. If you like to shoot close-ups of flowers and insects, a digital camera that does not allow you to shoot macro photography is not the best digital camera for you. The same digital camera may have a 10x optical zoom and would be the best camera for our friend who likes to shoot telephoto mostly. Similarly, one person may take most of his pictures outdoors; yet another takes most of her pictures indoors. One excellent way to figure out your photographic style preference is to look at a number of pictures that you really like, and ask yourself what they have in common.
One of the reason why there are so many different models, even from the same camera manufacturer, is because one camera cannot have all features equally at an excellent level. That is why it is a mistake to select digital cameras based on features on paper alone. Just because a camera has a feature on paper does not necessarily mean that the feature is practically usable. For example, the feature may be hidden so deep down into the menu structure that to use it requires an excessive amount of button presses, thus making it practically useless: Your subject may have moved and even disappeared by the time you reach the feature in the menu and turn it on. Another feature may just not work as well as advertised, and falls into the category of a “gimmick.” Educate yourself so that you do not fall for clever marketing claims, slick advertisements and ignorant sale persons.
3. What Next?
One major step that many consumers skip over is to go into a store and actually handle the camera. Often, when you cannot choose between two cameras, just handling them is enough to help you make up your mind. Usually one of them just feels ‘right’. Remember, choosing the digital camera that is right for you is a decision only you can make.
After you have purchased your digital camera, take time to learn its features. Read the manual, experiment, and practice, practice, practice.
Get out some photography books from your local library. Be inspired. Study the photographs that evoke a positive response from you. Why do you like them? Is it the composition, the colors, the content? Try to select a few that do not look too difficult to emulate. Then go out with your brand new digital camera, and try to see if you can take a similar picture. If, at first, you don’t succeed (and chances are you won’t), don’t get discouraged. Learn! Be patient with yourself, and enjoy the process.
It should only be when you have learned a whole lot about photography, and it is now the camera that is limiting your growth, that you should consider upgrading to the next category.
So once you’ve made your purchase decision, relax, and enjoy becoming a better photographer. Whether it is landscape, portraits, macro, action, abstract — discover your own unique style. If it brings pleasure to you, that is all that really matters. Have fun!
Whichever digital camera you end up buying, we hope you derive great joy from using it for many years.
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