As good as smartphone cameras have become, they still don’t match the power of a good DSLR camera. But DSLRs are bulky, expensive, and a bit more complicated than the average user needs.
Mirrorless cameras are the better option for regular consumers. You might have heard of them referred to as compact system cameras (CSC) as well, or micro-four-thirds cameras.
If you know how a DSLR works, you will know that the mirror in the body is integrated into the frame. As you might have guessed, mirrorless cameras eliminate this mirror. The result is a more compact body, but that also means you don’t get an optical viewfinder. Instead, you use the screen to compose your image.
So why should you use a mirrorless camera instead of a regular point-and-shoot? Two reasons: the sensor and the lens. Mirrorless cameras are equipped with the same large sensors that DSLRs come with. And like DSLRs, you can change the lens of these mirrorless cameras.
As a rule of thumb, mirrorless cameras cost less than DSLR cameras, but that obviously doesn’t hold true once you get into the top-range models.
So with all that in mind, let’s move on to the business at hand. Which DSLR camera is worth your money today?
The Cheapest You Should Go: Canon EOS M10 ($450/C$550/£280)
While you can get some mirrorless cameras for as low as $250, those compromise on quality and features. At lower prices, you actually won’t notice the difference between that and a good point-and-shoot. The cheapest you should pay, in our opinion, is $450 for the relatively new Canon EOS M10 (read our review).
The EOS M10 looks and feels like a point-and-shoot. In fact, it doesn’t even offer manual controls. But if you’re the type of person who will buy a DSLR and always shoot on Auto mode, then this is a better option. It’s more compact, simpler to use, and has a DSLR sensor for good picture quality.
Plus, in the $450 package, you also get 15–45mm image stabilized lens, which is the perfect for beginners. Once you get used to it, though, you can upgrade from the default lens to a higher tier option.
The only complaint that EOS M10 users have is that the autofocus is a bit slow, which is a common issue with mirrorless cameras.
The Best Budget Mirrorless Camera: Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7 ($600/C$580)
Sometimes, a gadget is priced too high when it launches. You wait a while, the price drops, and suddenly it’s perfect. That’s exactly what happened with the Panasonic Lumix G7. Once it reached the $600 mark, it became the best budget CSC money can buy.
It ticks all the right boxes: good photo quality, 4K video, speedy autofocus and continuous autofocus, and decent low-light performance. And getting a kit lens at this price is an absolute steal.
The only issue, if any, with the G7 is its battery life. It’s not bad, mind you, but getting 360 total shots is hardly anything for a mirrorless camera. It may shoot videos and photos throughout a day, but it might not last into the night.
The Best Under $1,000: Olympus OM-D E-M10 II ($750/C$833/£677)
Near the $1,000 mark, you have to start thinking of lenses. After all, what’s the point of getting a mirrorless camera if you aren’t going to change the lens? If you’ll stick with the lens you get in the box, don’t buy a CSC. You should pick something like the Sony RX-II point-and-shoot instead.
The Olympus OM-D E-M10 II (read our review of its predecessor) strikes the right balance between a really good camera and a range of affordable lenses. Olympus was one of the first entrants in the mirrorless camera market, and so it has a wide range of lenses to choose from. Instead of spending $1,000 on the Olympus PEN-F, I’d recommend buying the E-M10 II with two lenses in the kit.
The E-M10 II has been hailed by reviewers for its unparalleled autofocus system, which some say is better than cameras twice its price. Olympus has also worked hard to improve the low-light performance, and this is especially noticeable in the video quality.
If you were thinking of buying your first DSLR camera for $1,000, reconsider. The E-M10 II is probably going to serve you a lot better as you take your first steps into the world of serious photography.
The Best Balanced Mirrorless Camera: Sony Alpha A6300 ($1,000/C$1400/£1,016)
Ask any expert which mirrorless camera a beginner should buy, and they will recommend the Sony A6300 (read our review). The main reason for that is the improved autofocus, which is as fast as some of the high-end mirrorless cameras.
In many ways, the A6300 is what a smartphone photography enthusiast looks for when moving from an iPhone to a dedicated camera. The pictures look flawless, and among the budget CSCs, this performs the best in low light.
Importantly, the Sony A6300 pays a lot of attention to video capture. You can shoot in 4K video, and it includes a dedicated microphone jack for those who love to make YouTube videos. The improved autofocus also helps here, since continuous autofocus in video is the Achilles’ Heel of mirrorless cameras.
Even though it is made of metal, the body itself weighs in less than a pound, and the scale tilts just north of a pound with the kit lens attached.
The Best Mirrorless Cameras Over $1,000
If you’re willing to spend over $1,000, you’re spoiled with choices. These are the crème de la crème of mirrorless cameras. You’ll get the best sensors, amazing lenses, and cameras that make DSLRs cry. If you have the money, this is what you should buy:
For $1,500: Olympus OM-D E-M5 II [CA/UK]
You know what? Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I think 4K video doesn’t make a big difference. There are far more important things that determine the quality of a video. And Olympus knows that, so it made a good camera that doesn’t rank high on specifications, but is a fantastic gadget nonetheless.
The E-M5 II is a couple of years old now, but like with the Panasonic G7, the price drop makes it perfect. For $1,500, you get a top-of-the-line camera, 1080p video recording, and a 14–150mm (f/4.0) lens. And like we said earlier, Olympus has perhaps the best set of interchangeable lenses, available for a decent price.
For $1,900: Fujifilm X-T2 [CA/UK]
Fujifilm X-T2 is the latest and greatest mirrorless camera. The best word to describe it? Fantastic. There is nothing you would dislike about this one. In fact, it’s a good DSLR camera replacement.
The image quality is excellent, it shoots 4K videos, and the autofocus is top-notch. Even the tilting viewfinder screen ranks among the best around. The X-T2 is as good as a mirrorless camera gets.
For $3,400: Sony A7R II [CA]
Ken Rockwell, one of the most prolific names in camera reviews, says the Sony A7R II is “the world’s best camera for hobbyists.” If you’re a DSLR lover who wants to move over to mirrorless cameras, this is what you buy.
It’s smaller, lighter, and its battery lasts a long time. On top of that, you can charge it with regular AA cells. The only real problem with it is that it lacks a built-in flash. That’s a small price to pay for all the awesomeness you get in return.
Which Mirrorless Camera Do You Love?
There is still a war brewing between the two major amateur photography camps: DSLR vs. mirrorless camera. Which of the two do you prefer? Do you think mirrorless cameras are now as good as DSLR cameras for amateur photographers?
Also, if you like mirrorless cameras, we would love to know which model you love the most. And what do you think is the right price to pay for a mirrorless camera before going for a DSLR?