For a long time if you wanted to take good photos, the best options on the market were DSLRs or film cameras. And while a lot of photographers still prefer these large camera bodies, many people are turning to mirrorless cameras for their small, easy to handle size. DSLRs are powerful machines but they’re also big, heavy, and expensive. When mirrorless cameras first hit the market a few years ago it took a while for them to catch on – but now that they have they’re taking the photography world by storm.
As their name suggests, mirrorless cameras are ones that don’t use mirrors to help make an image. In traditional DSLRs, a mirror reflects incoming light up to a prism and then to the viewfinder, which is how you see the shot you are about to make. Mirrorless cameras simplify this process by allowing the light to go straight to the sensor. Removing the mirror dramatically decreases its size and weight while still keeping many of the features that make DSLRs so great. Most mirrorless cameras have interchangeable lenses, autofocus, and video capabilities. They can accomplish most of the same things as a DSLR but come in a way smaller package. If you are interested in a larger package option, you can visit our guide for the best Canon DSLR cameras.
There are some important things to consider when choosing a mirrorless camera. In this article we’ll give you ideas on what to look for when making a decision and then tell you about some of our favorites.
The Best Mirrorless Cameras for Enthusiasts
Things to consider when choosing a mirrorless camera:
Sensor Size and Resolution – Like DSLRs, mirrorless cameras come with a variety of sensor sizes. The most common sensor sizes in mirrorless cameras from (smallest to largest) are Micro Four Thirds, APS-C, and full frame. Generally speaking, the larger the sensor the better the camera will perform in low light. Keep in mind that the larger the sensor, the bigger the camera will be. While a full frame mirrorless will still be much smaller than a comparable DSLR, it will still typically be bigger than one with an APS-C or Micro Four Thirds sensor. If you plan to shoot in low light, look for a full frame camera. If size and weight are most important to you, choose a camera with a Micro Four Thirds or APS-C sensor.
Video – Mirrorless cameras can be very good at taking video but how good they are varies by model. Most mirrorless cameras take video at 1080p resolution but some can even shoot at 4K.
Interchangeable Lenses – While most mirrorless cameras have interchangeable lenses, some do not. Not being able to swap out lenses cuts down on the versatility of the camera but simplifies things quite a bit. Taking things one step further, some cameras like the Fuji X100T have a fixed focal length so that you can’t zoom at all. While this is obviously a hindrance in terms of versatility, many photographers like the challenge of only being able to shoot at one focal length.
Lens Selection – We talk a lot about camera bodies but the reality is that the lens you put on the front of your camera is as important as the camera itself, it not more so. Many of the best mirrorless cameras are made by slightly smaller manufacturers (i.e. not Canon or Nikon) so lens selection may be a bit limited. Be sure to choose a system that has lenses with the features and quality that you want.
Also keep in mind that many mirrorless cameras have the ability to take other companies’ lenses with the use of an adapter. Using an adapter adds additional expense to your purchase and weight and bulk to your camera but it does give you more lens options. It’s important to note that you may also lose some lens functionality when using an adapter.
Camera Size and Weight – If one of the reasons that you are looking to purchase a mirrorless camera is because you like the idea of a smaller body, be sure to double check the size and weight of the camera you are considering. While mirrorless cameras are all generally smaller than DSLRs there is still a wide range in their size. And keep in mind that smaller isn’t always better. People with larger hands may want a bigger body for easier handling.
Weatherproofing – The portability of mirrorless cameras makes them very popular among photographers who like to take their cameras on outings – whether it’s on long hikes in the backcountry or urban adventures in exotic locations. If you’re that type of photographer, you’ll probably want to look for a mirrorless camera with some degree of weatherproofing to help your gear stand up to the elements.
While there are a lot of excellent mirrorless cameras on the market, some stand out in the crowd. Here is our list of the best mirrorless cameras:
|Camera||Sony Alpha a7R II||Panasonic Lumix GH4||Fuji X-T2||Sony Alpha a7S II||Olympus OM-D E-M10 II||Sony Alpha a6300||Panasonic Lumix GX85|
|Type||Full Frame||Micro Four Thirds||APS-C||Full Frame||Micro Four Thirds||APS-C||Micro Four Thirds|
|Resolution||42 MP||16.05 MP||24.3 MP||12.2 MP||16.1 MP||24 MP||16 MP|
|Extended ISO Range||50-102400||100-25600||100-51200||100-409600||100-25600||100-51200||100-25600|
|Max Burst Rate||5 FPS||12 FPS||8 FPS||5 FPS||8.5 FPS||11 FPS||10 FPS|
|Display Screen||3″ tilting LCD||3″ flip screen||3″ tilting LCD||3″ tilting LCD||3″ tilting LCD||3″ tilting LCD||3″ tilting LCD|
|Video Resolution||4K at 30 FPS||4K at 24 FPS||4K at 30 FPS||4K at 30 FPS||1080p at 60 FPS||4K at 30 FPS||4K at 30 FPS|
|1.4 lbs||1.2 lbs||1.12 lbs||1.4 lbs||13.8 oz||14.3 oz||15 oz|
($104 weekly rental, $3200 retail, body only)
The Sony Alpha a7R II has a high price tag but there’s a really good reason for it: this camera is one of the best mirrorless options on the market. Sony designed the a7R II with professional photographers in mind and outfitted it with a 42 MP full frame sensor. While the vast majority of photographers don’t need that many megapixels, they can be nice to have – especially if you like to make big prints with loads of detail. But the a7R II is about more than just its extremely high resolution. It also has 4K video, built-in stabilization, and WiFi. This camera was designed to do everything a DSLR can do but in a much smaller package. The price of the a7R II may put it out of reach of many enthusiasts but if you are the type of photographer for whom only the best will do, the a7R II is a phenomenal choice. If you need better low light performance or have a stronger focus on video capabilities, Sony’s a7S II is another strong contender in this price range.
($83 weekly rental, $1,200 retail, body only)
Panasonic’s Lumix GH4 is one of the most capable mirrorless cameras on the market for both still photography and videography. This camera can shoot stills at 10 FPS, making it one of the fastest on our list and putting it on par with many professional level DSLRs. While this 16 MP Micro Four Thirds camera is more than capable of taking photos, it is in the video department where it really outshines its competitors. The Lumix GH4 can take 4K video in both the DCI 4K and UHD 4K resolutions. It can also shoot at 60 FPS for slow motion video. In 2017 Panasonic will be releasing the GH5, which will feature 6K photo. The GH4 and soon to be released GH5 are both good options for people who want a mid-range mirrorless camera that is good at taking photos and great at video.
3. Fuji X-T2
($99 weekly rental, $1,600 retail, body only)
Fuji is one of the undisputed leaders in mirrorless camera technology and the X-T2 is one of their best cameras. This APS-C camera, which is a follow up to the popular X-T1, has a 24 MP sensor, 8 FPS burst rate, and built-in WiFi. With a 3-inch flip screen and the ability to shoot 4K video, it’s a great option for videographers as well as people who take stills. While it can’t quite match the video chops of the Panasonic Lumix GH4, it does have more megapixels and a higher maximum ISO. If you are looking for a camera that excels at video, the GH4 may be your best bet but if you want a mid-priced camera that is a true “jack of all trades”, the X-T2 is a very good choice.
($171 weekly rental, $3,000 retail, body only)
The Sony Alpha a7S II is a good choice for people whose primary focus is videography rather than still photography. While this 12 MP camera lacks the enormous pixel count of its sibling, the Sony Alpha a7R II, it’s the clear winner when it comes to video and low light capabilities. The a7S II has the ability to shoot full frame 4K video and HD video at speeds of up to 120 FPS. It is also a beast when in low light situations. The a7S II can shoot at shockingly high ISOs (up to 409,600 in extended mode) making it one of the best cameras on the market for low light photography and videography. While the a7S II is designed with videographers in mind, it also performs very well for still photography, especially when things get dark. The a7S II is the best mirrorless camera for videographers and those who often shoot in low light.
($48 weekly rental, $550 retail, body only)
Olympus’ OM-D E-M10 II takes many of the best features of mirrorless cameras and makes them available at a really affordable price. This camera builds on the success of its predecessor the EM-10 and added things like built-in stabilization and a larger and more powerful electronic viewfinder. This 16MP camera has built-in WiFi, the ability to take 1080p video at 60 FPS, and a 4K time-lapse mode. While it can’t quite match the firepower of some of the cameras farther up our list, it’s also a lot less expensive. This camera is an ideal option for photographers who want to try a mirrorless camera without spending a lot of money. The low price but high quality build of this camera makes it a great choice for travel photographers or those who are hard on their gear.
($68 weekly rental, $1,000 retail, body only)
Sony makes some of the best mirrorless cameras on the market and the a6300 is your chance to get one without spending the cash required for the higher end models like the a7R II described above. Don’t be fooled by this camera’s low price tag – it still packs a punch. The a6300 takes features like a 24 MP APS-C sensor, 4K video capabilities, and built-in WiFi, that are often found in higher end cameras and adds a fast and accurate 425-point (yes, you read that right) autofocus system. The a6300 recently got an upgrade with the release of the a6500. The a6500 has the same sensor and autofocus system as its predecessor but with improvements like a faster burst rate and 5-axis stabilization.
($56 weekly rental, $600 retail, body only)
Panasonic designed the Lumix GX85 to be an affordable option for beginner and enthusiast level photographers who are looking for a solid mirrorless camera to get started with. This Micro Four Thirds camera has a 16MP sensor, speedy 10 FPS burst rate, 4K video capability, and 3-inch tilting LCD. It’s also one of the smaller options on our list, making it ideal for people who like to take their cameras everywhere. While the autofocus system isn’t quite as accurate as some of our other options, it’s more than good enough for the average enthusiast. The GX85 delivers excellent photo and video quality for a very reasonable price.
Mirrorless cameras have been making waves in the photography world due to their small size and the incredible photos and videos they take. If you’re looking for more reasons to rent a mirrorless camera and may be taking a vacation in the near future you can find more helpful information with our guide to the best mirrorless camera for travel. Always keep in mind that if you’re having a hard time deciding between the excellent options on the market, renting a camera may make your decision a lot easier. Few things will give you confidence in your purchase quite like getting a camera in your hands and taking it for a spin!
Panasonic Lumix GX85 CC Image courtesy of Helder Mira on Flickr
Sony Alpha a6300 CC Image courtesy of Dennis Jarvis on Flickr
Olympus OM-D E-M10 II CC Image courtesy of Frank Meffert on Flickr
Fuji X-T2 CC Image courtesy of MK Wyman on Flickr
Panasonic Lumix GH4 CC Image courtesy of stuart Burns on Flickr
Sony Alpha a7R II CC Image courtesy of Mitchel on Flickr
Sony Alpha a7S II CC Image courtesy of Xataka Foto on Flickr
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