The best mirrorless cameras you can buy
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- Mirrorless cameras may be smaller than DSLRs, but they give you many of the same benefits, including great image quality, fast performance levels, and versatility in interchangeable lenses.
- Based on research and testing, the best mirrorless camera is the retro-looking Fujifilm X-T20 with its great price and excellent image quality.
If you’re someone who believes the world of digital photography is incredibly advanced versus what occurred a couple of decades ago with film photography, you’re right … to a point.
Digital photography simplifies the process of shooting photos, making them instantly shareable, versus having to haul your film to the Fotomat. By the way, if you actually have dropped rolls of film at a drive-through window at a Fotomat shack in your life, welcome to being old.
However, you might be surprised to learn that the most popular type of digital camera — the DSLR, or digital single lens reflex camera — is still using the same basic design from the days of film, when these cameras were called SLR cameras or 35mm cameras (because of the film they used).
So if you’re looking for an updated design in a digital camera, the best mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (ILCs) represent the latest advancements in digital photography technology.
Mirrorless vs. DSLR
For those seeking the best quality photographs, mirrorless ILCs and DSLRs represent the two best types of digital cameras. They have some similarities and some differences, as shown by Tech Radar and Beach Camera.
- Similarities: Both types of cameras have larger image sensors and processing chips than simple point-and-shoot cameras or smartphone cameras, allowing for better image quality and faster performance. Both types of cameras use interchangeable lenses, which give you some versatility in the photos you can shoot. Both cameras usually have a hot shoe on the top, allowing you to add components, such as a large flash.
- Differences: The interior of a DSLR camera contains a mirror mechanism that sits in front of the image sensor, blocking the light traveling through the lens. The mirror lifts upward when you press the shutter button, allowing the light to strike the image sensor. Of course, in the days of film cameras, the mirror blocked the light from reaching the film, which would have caused it to be exposed. DSLR makers just kept this basic design after making the switch to digital. As Digital Photo Mentor explains, with a mirrorless camera, the mirror mechanism has been removed. After all, there’s no reason the light has to be blocked from reaching the image sensor anymore. The two types of cameras have several other differences, as Photography Life explains, but the removal of the mirror is the primary one.
- Lenses: With both types of cameras, you do have to purchase extra lenses separately, which can become expensive. A much wider variety of lenses are made for DSLRs than for mirrorless models. You have to pick a lens that specifically fits your model of camera in either case. Nikon DSLR lenses only fit Nikon DSLR cameras, for example.
- Size: Because of the removal of the mirror mechanism inside the camera, mirrorless cameras have a thinner, smaller, and lighter design than DSLR cameras.
- Image quality: As a general rule, DSLR cameras create better images than mirrorless cameras, especially at a professional level. But for beginner and intermediate photographers, you won’t notice a difference in most photos.
For a long time, DSLR cameras have outperformed mirrorless cameras. However, the gap between the two designs in terms of performance has shrunk considerably in the past few years.
Mirrorless camera terms to know
- Burst mode: The burst mode measures how many photos you can shoot per second. Faster cameras provide better performance.
- Focus: With the lens on a mirrorless ILC, you should be able to pick between manual focus and autofocus, depending on your needs.
- Image sensor: Think of the image sensor as the equivalent of the film in a camera … minus the need for a Fotomat, of course. The image sensor measures the light from the scene and records it as digital data. Larger image sensors in physical size generally outperform smaller image sensors.
- Kit lens: A kit lens is a lens that ships with a mirrorless camera. You also can buy the mirrorless ILC separately as the body only, which means no lenses are included.
- Megapixels: This is the number of individual pixels (or dots) the image sensor will record. A larger number of megapixels will yield a better image quality, although the size of the image sensor is more important in terms of image quality.
- Video resolution: Depending on the mirrorless camera you select, you may be able to shoot full HD or 4K resolution video.
- Viewfinder: Some mirrorless cameras offer an electronic viewfinder and some don’t. You may be able to add a viewfinder separately, or you can use the display screen on the back of the camera to frame the scene.
We’ve done the research (and some testing) to bring you the best mirrorless cameras you can buy. Read on to see which one is best for you.
Here are the best mirrorless cameras you can buy:
- Best mirrorless camera overall: Fujifilm X-T20
- Best high-end mirrorless camera: Sony A7R III
- Best mirrorless camera for video: Panasonic Lumix G85
- Best mirrorless camera on a budget: Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II
- Best mirrorless camera with the most lenses: Canon EOS M6
Updated by Owen Burke on 12/13/18: Added the Sony AR7III as a best high-end pick, alternate recommendations, and the best cameras and adapters for switching from DSLR to mirrorless cameras with the lenses you already have. Updated prices and formatting.
Read on in the slides below to check out our top picks.
The best mirrorless camera overall
Why you’ll love it: The Fujifilm X-T20 has all the features you could want in a mirrorless camera, including great image quality, fast performance, a retro look, and a decent price.
The Fujifilm X-T20 offers the best mix of photo quality, speed, and price in the mirrorless digital camera market. Then there’s the very cool retro design of this camera, which we love. It has silver trim across the top and bottom of a black camera body. You can also get it in all black if the retro look is too much.
Fujifilm is one of the best manufacturers of mirrorless cameras, as the company has had a lot of success in this arena, so the X-T20 is a trustworthy choice.
The X-T20 has 24.3 megapixels of resolution and an APS-C sized image sensor, which is comparable in size to what you’d find in an entry-level DSLR camera (or the comparable Sony Alpha A6300). DP Review highlights the quality of this image sensor and points out that the X-T20 can record 4K video, too. You won’t be disappointed with the images this camera takes.
People who buy the camera generally like it as well. One Amazon buyer who has shot with a lot of DSLRs in the past was impressed with the build quality of this little Fujifilm camera.
However, another Amazon reviewer was disappointed in the ergonomics of the X-T20. Small right-hand grips are a common complaint among users of thin mirrorless ILCs, though.
If you’re looking for a simple kit that does it all, the X-T20 is, in our opinion, the best overall mirrorless camera you can buy. But, if you’re looking to upgrade further down the line, and kit out your camera with a host of lenses, consider the Sony Alpha A6300— and, at the time of writing, this kit is an excellent deal.
The X-T20’s 18-55mm kit lens is superior, and “the best kit lens” Art of The Image claims they’ve ever seen, but when it comes to upgrading, Sony may be your better option. Also worth noting: the A6300 is rated as weather-resistant, while the X-T20 is not.
Pros: Comparable image quality to some DSLRs, 4K video recording option, stylish and retro camera body design, very good build quality, tilting LCD for odd-angle photos, fast performing camera, trusted brand name
Cons: Small right-hand grip area makes camera tough to hold, not the best camera if you plan to upgrade (there aren’t as many lens options as there are for the comparable Sony Alpha A6300)
The best mirrorless camera when money isn’t a problem
Why you’ll love it: It’s expensive, but if you need the highest level of image quality found in a mirrorless camera, the Sony A7R III delivers.
The Sony A7R III is an outstanding mirrorless digital camera, creating images that will rival intermediate level DSLRs that have a similar price point. The video quality with the A7R III is excellent too, and according to Gizmodo, “it does an excellent job of smoothly auto-tracking focus while recording.”
The camera’s full-frame image sensor is the largest physical size of image sensor that’s found in a camera for the consumer market, so this Sony model’s image sensor sits at the top of the heap in mirrorless cameras. You won’t find another mirrorless camera that has 42.4 megapixels of resolution, either.
The unit’s autofocus system works extremely fast, giving this Sony mirrorless camera a high level of performance.
Battery life is seriously improved from the previous model, the A7R III, allowing for about 650 frames — or one relatively full shoot (still, keep an extra charged battery or two on hand).
You will pay a lot for this camera, so we wouldn’t recommend it for beginners just looking at getting their feet wet. Furthermore, you’ll need to be an experienced photographer to take advantage of the Sony camera’s metering and white balance capabilities, as adventure photographer and photojournalist Chris Burkard explains (this is filmed by and for Sony).
But when you’re ready to step up your photography game and want a mirrorless ILC, nothing beats the Sony A7R III’s image quality.
If you want to spend a little less, and maybe give yourself a little more room in your lens budget, check out the Sony A7III, which is still a professional-grade camera but offers half (24.2) the megapixels of the A7R III, and is more than sufficient so long as you’re not looking to blow up billboard-sized images. — Kyle Schurman and Owen Burke
Pros: Full frame image sensor creates amazing photos, excellent viewfinder quality, works fast with a high-quality autofocus system, intermediate and professional photographers will appreciate the advanced features
Cons: Older model, extremely high price point, not really aimed at beginners, poor battery life
The best mirrorless camera for video
Why you’ll love it: If you’re looking to record both high-quality still images and video streams with a single lightweight camera, you’ll appreciate the Panasonic Lumix G85.
The Panasonic Lumix G85 has a great set of features for photographers looking to buy their first advanced interchangeable lens camera. This model ships with a kit lens, giving it a reasonable price point, but its greatest feature is the ability to shoot video at up to 4K resolution and 30 frames per second.
The G85 also can record full HD video at 60 frames per second, producing a strong combination of video recording capabilities. You don’t need a separate digital camcorder if you own this Panasonic camera.
The Camera Labs review mentioned the importance of having a long battery life in a camera that is designed for video recording, and the G85 delivers. However, one Amazon reviewer says the camera’s autofocus system doesn’t always work accurately when shooting video in tough lighting conditions.
The touchscreen simplifies the process of operating this Lumix G85 camera, making it run a lot more like a smartphone camera. The G85 includes a viewfinder, too, which gives it a leg up on some other mirrorless cameras, according to TechRadar.
The image sensor in the G85 delivers 16 megapixels of resolution in an image sensor that is similar in size to an APS-C sized sensor. The Steve’s Digicams review says the still image and video quality are both excellent with the G85.
One Amazon buyer mentioned the low weight of the Lumix G85, which makes it easy to carry with you anywhere.
Pros: Excellent video quality and frame rate with 4K resolution, good still image quality, LCD has touch capabilities for easy operation, long battery life, good price point as it also contains a kit lens
Cons: Still image resolution limited to 16MP, some autofocus problems in tricky lighting conditions
The best mirrorless camera on a budget
Why you’ll love it: You’ll appreciate the image quality and feature list of the mirrorless Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II camera, but you’ll absolutely love the low price.
One of the biggest drawbacks to upgrading to an advanced interchangeable lens camera is the cost. That’s one of the reasons why we really like the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II mirrorless camera. It has a low price point compared to other advanced models, yet provides a strong level of performance.
The OM-D E-M10 Mark II is a fast performer, too, offering a maximum burst mode setting of 8.5 frames per second. Unlike some mirrorless cameras, the Olympus Mark II has a built-in viewfinder that yields a sharp image. It’s a great choice for the price, according to Steve’s Digicams.
Additionally, the main display screen with the E-M10 is sharp and provides touch control, which is great for people who are migrating from smartphone cameras to this Olympus model, according to the Photography Blog review. In fact, one Amazon buyer says the overall user interface of this camera is excellent for inexperienced photographers.
The Olympus E-M-10 has an image sensor similar in size to an APS-C sized sensor, offering 16 megapixels of resolution. The Imaging Resource review says this model does a great job recording in the RAW image format. It records video in full HD resolution, rather than 4K.
A few Amazon buyers reported problems with the longevity of the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II, though.
Pros: Excellent price point for an interchangeable lens camera, better than expected performance levels, high-quality viewfinder and display screen, good performance in RAW image format, easy to use interface
Cons: Still image resolution and video resolution lag some other mirrorless cameras, some longevity questions
The best mirrorless camera with the most lenses
Why you’ll love it: The Canon EOS M6 mirrorless camera solves one of the biggest problems with mirrorless cameras by allowing you to use Canon DSLR lenses with an adapter.
If you ask experienced photographers why they have shied away from switching from DSLRs to mirrorless ILCs, one reason you’re sure to hear is the limited number of lenses that are available. DSLR camera models have been around a lot longer, and they have a lot more lenses from which to choose.
To gain access to more lenses with a mirrorless camera, we’d recommend the Canon EOS M6. This camera can use Canon lenses made specifically for its line of mirrorless cameras (with an M mount), but by making use of a mount adapter, the M6 can also fully use many Canon DSLR lenses, opening up a whole new world of photography options.
With the adapter, any Canon lens made in the past three decades is usable with the M6, according to the Ken Rockwell review. An Amazon buyer was excited to have the option to use some of his old DSLR Canon lenses with this model.
The EOS M6 has an APS-C sized image sensor offering 24.2 megapixels of resolution, resulting in strong image quality, according to the Imaging Resource review. It has a nice set of wireless connection capabilities, too, including Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
The M6 creates some amazing images, yet it remains a lightweight camera that works well for shooting one-handed, according to Steve’s Digicams.
However, one Amazon buyer was disappointed in the video shooting options with the Canon M6, especially in less than ideal lighting conditions.
Pros: Trusted Canon name in a mirrorless camera, purchase an adapter to gain access to Canon DSLR lenses, good image quality, high-resolution count, wireless connectivity options, lightweight camera
Cons: Some problems with video recording, no viewfinder included, must buy lens adapter separately
The best cameras and mounts to switch from a DSLR to a mirrorless camera
- If you’re looking to switch over from a DSLR camera, Canon and Nikon have both made it remarkably easier and less expensive because now you can do so and keep the lenses you already have.
- Canon’s EF to EOS Adaptor keeps Autofocus (AF) and Image Stabilization capabilities for EF and EF-S-mount lenses. We like the EOS R for an upgrade, which has a 30.3-mp full-frame sensor and shoots 8 frames per second.
- Nikon’s FTZ Mount allows for tidy interchanging (and AF/AE) between E, G, and D lenses on Z Mount cameras. For an upgrade, check out the Z6 or Z7.
- Sony’s A-Mount to E-Mount adaptor covers all your old Sony A-mount cameras. For an upgrade, look into our top pick, the A7RIII.
Where image stabilization and overall quality and noise reduction made concessions with third-party lens adapters that sufficed, Canon and Nikon have painstakingly taken matters into their own hands to make the transition seamless.
While these adapters aren’t exactly cheap, just consider the utterly prohibitive cost of replacing all of your lenses so you can switch to the latest and greatest.
If you’re still reading, that probably suggests you already have a healthy quiver of either Canon or Nikon lenses.
The best mirrorless Canon to upgrade to is the EOS R. It shoots 8 frames per second, has a 30.3-megapixel full-frame sensor, and is easily compatible with all your old Canon lenses.
The best Nikon mirrorless camera to upgrade to is the Z6, which has a more-than-sufficient 24.2-megapixel full-frame sensor and shoots 12 frames per second. Sidenote: This is a perfect camera for an up-and-coming photojournalist.
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