As technology continues to grow, we’re seeing the rising popularity of mirrorless cameras for numerous reasons. For one, their photo and video quality is unmatched by many, and paired up with their amazing autofocus and interchangeable lenses, really give the usual dominance of DSLR cameras a run for their money. Today we wanted to take the time to review, compare and contrast the best mirrorless cameras for beginners, not only if you’re just starting out in photography and want a camera that’ll last you in the long run, but for those who are interested in what these things even are. We found 10 to give you options through numerous price-points, shapes and sizes.
What is a mirrorless camera?
A mirrorless camera is a bit different from DSLRs. Instead of a single-lens reflex, it lacks a mirror reflex optical viewfinder (hence the name, of course). Light passes through the lens straight into the image sensor. They were first announced around the mid-2000’s, however haven’t become too popular until the past few years.
The benefit? Mirrorless cameras are smaller and lighter yet still gives you some previews through your lens. Like point-and-shoot cameras, the versatility they bring due to size is tremendous; however, the quality really demolishes any old-fashioned digital camera out there. It’s a nice balance between a traditional smaller-sized digital cam and quality of a DSLR.
Picking the best mirrorless camera for beginners
- Your budget – We saw in our best mirrorless cameras under $500 that there were only a few located within the lower-end of the price-range, so keep in mind these things aren’t exactly “cheap”. This is one of the main reasons people still prefer DSLR cameras nowadays in both digital photography as well as videography. However, price isn’t always everything — as you continue reading, you’ll see how amazing these cameras are. In fact, it may even inspire you to save up some more cash before making your purchase.
- Overall specs – Keep these key features in mind before you read the model summaries: megapixels (we recommend nothing less than 16.0 MP), type of sensor, processor (how fast the camera processes light data recorded by the sensor — the faster, the better of course), ISO range (level of sensitivity of your camera to available light), and type\strength of the autofocus system within (typically the more AF points the better, although any mirrorless camera is going to have a great system).
- Video? Although most have this feature already, we recommend grabbing a mirrorless camera with video even if you don’t plan on filming right at this moment — you never know if it’ll come in handy. If however you were seeking a mirrorless camera with video for sure, we’ll specify which models allow you to do so (note that most are 1080p HD, although if you want 4K video resolution it’ll cost you quite a few more dollars).
- Additional features – As our previous overall specs tab helps keep in mind what necessary factors you want to look for, some have additional, but not too necessary features as well. These include Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity, filters and effects, special LCD screens, and more.
- Extra gear – Does your mirrorless camera already come with a lens? Thankfully you won’t have to buy one separately. Some come as ‘body only’ (without a lens) so keep in mind you may need to factor this into your budget (some lenses come even more expensive than the actual camera itself!). Aside from the lens, do you have your photo editing software already? What about a tripod, carrying case, external microphone and more?
The best mirrorless cameras for beginners and starters
Up first for our definitive answer to our first choice of the best mirrorless camera for beginners, we present the a5100. First and foremost, the entire line of Sony’s Alpha mirrorless cameras are becoming some of the most popular in the market (we have quite a few in here for a reason). We chose this particular model since it is in our opinion their best all-around as well as most reviewed by users around the net to give us some confidence when it comes to knowing it holds up to it’s name. This lightweight, handy and versatile mirrorless camera is equipped with a 24.3 MP (megapixels) APS-C Exmor CMOS Sensor as well as a unique BIONZ X Image Processor that will guarantee some amazing image quality. The intuitive and easy to use 3 inch tilting LCD touchscreen enables you to easily switch through the options and functions and choose what you want to do – take sharp photos, beautify them with interesting effects (pasteurization, pop color, partial color, retro photo, soft focus, monochrome, watercolor, illustration, etc.) or even film 1080p HD videos. Another reasons that might make the Sony a5100 the best mirrorless camera for starters is the built-in Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity that will allow you to instantly share your photos and videos with friends and family. This in our opinion covers all bases in what we feel to be the best for not only beginners but those who want to hold on to it for a while and learn some advanced techniques during their photography journey.
Here’s another awesome solution for those looking to start out with a mirrorless camera. Coming in a bit cheaper than our previous pick, we’d recommend this one if you wanted to save a few extra dollars while still grabbing a camera that’s worth it when it comes to quality. With its 16.3 MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS sensor, ISO in a decent range from 200 to 6400 (that can be expanded up to 12800/ 24600) and excellent flash system, you can count on great image sharpness even in dim light settings. An auto focus of 49 points also contributes to excellent image quality. Its 3 inch LCD screen that can be tilted enables easy and intuitive usage of the camera. Besides excellent images, you can also take high-definition 1080p video with as much as 30 frames per second. In terms of numbers and specs, it isn’t professional whatsoever or groundbreaking, but he Fuji X-M1 is worth considering as the best mirrorless camera for starters, especially if you wanted something priced on the lower-end of this top 10 guide.
Up next, we have another fine choice that many around the net praise for its capabilities despite super low price-point. If you’re torn between this and the previous Fuji pick, we’d say grab whichever is cheapest at the moment. In terms of numbers, we have a 16 MP MOS Live sensor and unique TruePic VII Image Processor to give us some very clear photos. Working together with its VMC image stabilization function, you can count on solid image quality regardless of what conditions you’ll find yourself in. The autofocus system isn’t anything insane for professional use, but it does get the job done for more common scenarios where you don’t want to fiddle around with the blurriness of what’s in front of you. For full expression of your creativity (if you’re into that), you have loads of effects to play with – there are 14 different art filters, such as partial color and vintage effect. A big 3 inch flip touchscreen provides easy and intuitive access to the numerous functions this camera offers, which is the reason why many consider the Olympus E-PL7 one of the top picks for the best mirrorless camera for starters. You can also make movies with built-in 1080p HD video.
The GF7 is definitely another model we found that qualifies for the title of the best mirrorless camera for starters with its Live MOS Sensor, unique Venus Engine image processor, and ISO that can be expanded up to 25,600. If you’re able to get past the minimal 16 megapixels, you’re still getting some high quality images and video with this thing considering it’s one of the cheapest camera in this guide (since MP still doesn’t completely dictate “quality”). These specs and features will enable you to take excellent photos in different lighting and weather conditions. The bundle of Lumix Micro Four Thirds mount lenses with the Lumix G Vario 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH is another reason why we believe this is the best mirrorless camera for beginners since it’s all included in the cost without the need for additional gear (unless you want a tripod or case). Its large 3 inch LCD touchscreen will help you to quickly scroll through the menu and options and get exactly what you need and the built-in Wi-Fi connection allows you to instantly share photos online. There is also an HD 1080p video shooting option of the Panasonic GF7 and loads of different art effects that can be used both in videos and photos if you were looking for some additional features as well. It’s one of our picks for the best budget-friendly mirrorless cameras out there, and we just love the compact size it brings us, too.
As we near the half-way point of the top 10 guide, check out the NX3000 if you want another solid model within the lower-end of the price-point. It is equipped with a very nice 20.3 MP APS-C CMOS Sensor that will enable you to take sharp photos and capture great detail even in dim lighting. It comes with a 16-50mm Power Zoom Lens, awesome vintage design, ISO range from 100 to 25,600, a “Remote Viewfinder Pro” (turns your phone into a viewfinder to preview pictures, adjust some settings and more), as well as 1080p HD video recording on top of it all. Its standard 3″ LCD tilting touchscreen aids in easy navigation and one other element that qualifies the Samsung NX3000 for the running of the best mirrorless camera for starters is its powerful zoom with 4 aspherical elements that further improve image quality. This one also has Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 included in the package if you were still in need of a photo editing software, which is well worth the package if you do. This one definitely packs a powerful punch.
Here’s another Sony model to look at, and we’ve added yet another one of their popular Alpha cameras for a reason. The a5000 could very well be the best mirrorless camera for beginners with its 16–50mm retracting lens, 20.1 MP APS-C Exmor HD CMOS sensor, BIONZ X image processor and ISO with a wide range from 100 to 16,000. With all these elements, you can count on excellent image quality, especially in low light settings. Along with some sharp and detailed photos, you can also shoot full HD videos (standard 60i or cinematic 24p frames per second, full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution). A few other highlights include a built-in pop-up Flash, anti-motion blur mode, and the capacity of 420 shots per battery life. Most importantly, this one brings 25 autofocus points for great sharpness and less time to concentrate to help your photo adventures tremendously. Like the others, the 3″ 180 degree tilting touchscreen will give you some easy and intuitive usage various settings and tweaks. We recommend grabbing the Sony a5000 over the original #1 pick if it’s listed cheaper and you wanted to save a few bucks yet still grab a famous Alpha mirrorless camera.
Nikon 1 J5
The first Nikon appearance now? It’s quite surprising considering they dominate the DSLR market. For mirrorless cameras, it’s a bit different, however this is by far their best model for starters. Aside from the sleek look, The Nikon 1 J5 is not only affordable but is praised for its easy controls, overall camera quality, and speed of the processor. Here are the specs: 20.8 MP CX Format BSI CMOS image sensor, relatively powerful EXPEED 5A processor and ISO that can be expanded up to 12,800. On top of it all, we have our recommended video function take high-quality full hd 1080p clips with ease. The size is also relatively convenient and compact, spitting in most small compartments of backpacks and the like. There is a shutter button that will help you take up to 20 photos in sequence; on the other hand, the autofocus lets you take as much as 60 frames in a second. The large tilting touchscreen will allow you to easily browse through the menu and use all the different options this camera has to offer. Although we’re far into the guide now, the Nikon 1 J5 is a great mirrorless camera, especially if you want a camera proven to be effective but also easy on the wallet.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7
Nearing the end of our guide, we want to give you beginners who want to invest in the future an option if you have the budget. First and foremost, this thing films in 4K video resolution at 30fps (use a card rated as UHS Speed Class 3), so if you were planning on shooting some videos with your mirrorless camera, this is a big one. Although the megapixels aren’t completely high (16 MP), the Live MOS Sensor and beastly Venus Engine 9 image processor combine to justify the lower MP to give us amazing quality. There’s also ISO that can be expanded up to 25,600 and intuitive 2.36 OLED viewfinder. There are some 4K photo modes available (4K burst, burst s\s, and pre-burst) for some extra fun. The AF system is also noticeable here, with intelligent auto focusing to track color, size and motion vectors of what’s in front of you. It comes with the ability to take up to 8 fps in a single AF shot as well as 30 frames per second when recording in 4K UHD. Videos can also be taken in full HD 1080p (and then shared online thanks to built-in Wi-Fi connectivity with NFC. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7 borders semi-pro and starter-level, and we recommend it if you can afford it since you’ll be taken care of for years of photography and video filming.
Olympus OM-D E-M10
The OM-D E-M10 is becoming more and more reputable as time goes on when it comes to starter mirrorless cameras. This one should be considered a step-up within the category since it’s a bit more expensive than many in here (depends where you look). However, if you can gather that extra cash, the quality definitely justifies the price-tag (depends if you’re grabbing it with what type of lens). 16.1 MP Live MOS sensor, TruePic VII image processor, and ISO in a range from 100 to 25,600 — you can count on excellent image quality and having the capability to catch the finest details and sharpness even in difficult lighting. Full HD 1080 videos, quick autofocus system and a 3 inch LCD tilting screen all combine to give it the essentials. Built-in Wi-Fi, too. The Olympus OM-D E-M10 definitely has a name for itself, especially if you wanted something a bit higher up in regards to processor and sensor quality.
Sony Alpha a6000
Last but not least, we’re ending the top 10 guide with another one of Sony’s best. The a6000 should be on your list if the previous a-series cameras peaked your interest, but you wanted just a tad bit further in regards to quality and price-point. The specs speak for itself: 24.3 MP APS-C Exmor APS HD CMOS Sensor and BIONZ X image processor. The OLED EVF viewfinder will help you to capture details even when taking photos of moving objects, while the ISO that is expandable up to 25,600 to provide excellent image quality regardless of your light situation. Its hybrid autofocus system (179-point focal plane phase-detection and 25 contrast detect points) will allow quick and sharp focusing when taking photos as well as when taking Full HD 1080/24/60P video. The Sony Alpha a6000 is a beast if you wanted something within the middle of the prices you’ll find in beginner mirrorless cameras.