Best Mirrorless Cameras Under $1000

Mirrorless cameras, also known as mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras or MILCs, offer a more compact alternative to single lens reflex cameras (SLRs).

These lighter weight, all digital cameras discard the mirror assembly and optical viewfinder, so, depending on the lenses you use, they can take up less space in pockets, purses, backpacks, and luggage. Even the lenses are smaller and lighter weight.

The Differences Between Mirrorless Cameras and SLRs

SLRs, whether they are digital (DSLRs) or film, use a mirror that reflects the image seen through the camera's lens to an optical viewfinder. Mirrorless cameras may have a digital viewfinder that displays the image from the camera’s image sensor. While either viewfinders may cut off a small fraction of what the lens takes in around the edges, when you look through the viewfinder, you see most of the image that the camera will photograph.

In addition to an optical viewfinder, DSLRs also have a digital display screen identical to the display screen of mirrorless cameras. The image you see in the display comes directly from the camera's image sensor, and it is the image sensor that both DSLRs and mirrorless cameras use to capture your images. As with an optical viewfinder, though, the camera's display may cut off a small fraction of what the camera lens takes in around the edges. In addition, the resolution of the camera's display screen may be far lower than the resolution of the image that the camera will capture. So, the image in the display will not show all of the detail and texture captured in the actual image.

The only difference between a mirrorless camera and a DSLR, and the deciding factor, is whether or not you care about having the option to view the analog image through an optical viewfinder, or whether you only care about seeing the digital display. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirrorless_interchangeable-lens_camera)

How Cameras Capture Your Photos

In film cameras, when you press the shutter button, the shutter opens, exposing light-receptive chemicals on the film to the scene framed by the camera's lens. Pressing the shutter button on a digital camera, whether it is a mirrorless camera or a DSLR, causes the photoreceptors on the camera's image sensor to capture and store the scene framed by the camera lens. So, mirrorless cameras and DSLRs capture your images in exactly the same way.

Image Quality

The quality of the image is determined by the size of the image sensor, which determines how many photoreceptors the sensor can hold, and whether the camera uses a CCD or CMOS image processor (http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/cameras-photography/digital/question362.htm). When there are fewer photoreceptors, each one captures a larger percentage of the image, and small details and fine gradations from one color to another begin to be lost. When there are more photoreceptors, each one captures a smaller percentage of the total image, so details and subtle gradations of color and shading are preserved.

Each photoreceptor equals one pixel, so the larger the image sensor is and the more photoreceptors it has, the more pixels per inch the images will contain. The more pixels in the image, the more details your photos will contain and the larger the print you can make from the image.

CCD versus CMOS

A CCD image sensor can hold more photoreceptors than a CMOS image sensor of the same size because CCD image sensors process the signals from all of the photoreceptors as a group. The signal from each photoreceptor on a CMOS image sensor is processed separately, so the space around each one is filled with the circuitry that completes the processing. Consequently, in addition to having fewer photoreceptors, parts of the image that would be received by photoreceptors in a CCD image sensor fall on spaces occupied by processing circuitry in a CMOS image sensor. However, CMOS image sensors are improving, are less expensive than CCD sensors, and are easier to mass produce so, CMOS sensors are being used more and more. In addition, CCD image sensors operate more slowly than CMOS sensors and draw much more energy from your camera's battery. These two factors also add to the increasing use of CMOS image sensors. (https://www.teledynedalsa.com/imaging/knowledge-center/appnotes/ccd-vs-cmos/)

Image Sensor Sizes for Mirrorless Cameras

Wikipedia offers an extremely technical article on image sensor formats (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image_sensor_format), but if you click on the link to the table of image sensor formats and sizes and look at it and the section on interchangeable lens cameras, you will gain insight into the size of image sensors you can expect to find in mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras.

Autofocus in Mirrorless Cameras

Several automatic focusing systems (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autofocus) have been developed. Active systems emit a high frequency ultrasound or an infrared light that bounces off of the subject. Receptors in the camera measure how long it takes for the reflected light or sound to return to calculate the distance to the subject. These systems work even in complete darkness, but cannot focus through a window because the glass reflects the light or sound before it reaches the subject. In addition, passive systems are more accurate.

Passive systems include phase detection and contrast detection.

Phase detection is similar to the portion of the eye exam during which your optometrist splits the single image you are looking at into two images and asks you to signal when the two images merge back into one. The camera splits the focus point of the image in the lens into two and then adjusts the focus until the two images merge into one. Some autofocus modes lock the focus at that point while continuously focusing or tracking modes use predictive elements to continuously refocus the camera as the subject moves. Phase detection systems work quickly, allowing them to track athletes, race horses, and even racecars, but they may not work with slower lenses.

Contrast detection systems measure the amount of distinct contrast between neighboring pixels and adjust the focus to the point at which the most distinct contrast is achieved. Contrast detection works with any lens but provides no information that can be used to track a moving subject.

Both types of passive systems require light in order to have an image to analyze. While some cameras use an infrared assist lamp to provide the required light, others use a strobe flash. However, a strobe flashes can startle live subjects, causing wildlife to flee and humans to become annoyed.

Hybrid systems combine two or more of the above systems to compensate for the limitations of each solitary system. Systems that use some form of assisted lighting, phase detection to track moving subjects, and contrast detection for fine tuning the focus gain speed, accuracy, and the ability to focus in low light.

Camera Lenses

Most cameras come with a general purpose zoom lens that has a focal length ranging from 35mm to 100mm or 150mm, and they often emphasize the magnifying power of the lens when the focal length of the lens is the more important number. The magnifying power of the lens only tells you how much larger your subject will appear through the lens than when you are looking at it with your eyes. The focal length tells you the width of the view provided by the lens when compared to lenses for film cameras.

The standard general purpose telephoto lenses can capture images at a range of distances from portraits to some longer distance telephoto shots. If you plan to use your camera for recreational photography in a variety of settings, purchasing a camera that comes with a general purchase lens lets you begin taking pictures immediately. However, lenses with ranges of 200mm or even 400mm and beyond are better for sports and nature photography, and lenses with a range of 28mm are better for group photos and family portraits while those with a range of 28 mm or even 24mm are better for photographing architecture, landscapes, cityscapes, waterscapes, and panoramic views. Macro lenses let you photograph the tiniest subjects from distances of a few millimeters. Even if you start with a general purpose lens, you might want to add some specialized lenses later.

Cameras that use interchangeable lenses are sometimes sold without any lenses. These cameras will be labeled “body only”. If you are buying a camera specifically for macro photography; individual and group portraits; telephoto images of wild birds and animals; sports photography; or wide angle views of landscapes, seascapes, cityscapes, panoramas, or photographs of architecture; especially at a professional level, then you will take better photographs by purchasing a body only camera and a lens specifically for that type of photography.

When choosing lenses for your camera, refer to your owners' manual for the lenses designed to be fully functional with your cameras focusing system. Some lenses may be only partly functional, and others may be completely incompatible with your camera.

Image Formats: JPEG versus RAW

Some cameras shoot in jpeg or jpg format only while others offer a choice of RAW or jpeg.

Shooting in jpeg condenses the image, allowing the camera to operate more quickly and to use less memory for storing the image. However, because the image is condensed, details are lost. Further, each time you open a jpeg file, edit it, and then resave it, it is further condensed, losing more detail. For that reason, if you shoot in jpeg, when you transfer your images to your computer for editing, you should save them as TIFF files so that they will not be condensed any further. More and more sites will allow you to upload either jpeg or TIFF files for sharing.

Shooting in RAW format may slow the operation of your camera, but that is because RAW format captures and preserves all of the details, colors, and color gradations. If you are planning to sell your photographs professionally, you should shoot in RAW whenever possible, although you may need to use jpeg for fast action shots. If you need to upload your images to the internet, though, you will have to save then as TIFF files.

Other Important Features to Consider

  • ISO settings from 16 to 2400 or higher which compare to film speeds
  • Image stabilization
  • Autofocus settings for a wide range of lighting conditions to use while you and your family learn photography
  • Manual controls enabling you to take over the camera settings as you learn
  • Timer delay settings so everyone can get into the picture
  • Face recognition software that adjusts camera settings for faces separately
    Multiple focus points
  • Tracking focus, especially helpful for photographing kids and pets
  • Lighting jack to connect external flashes
  • Burst mode, or the ability to rapidly shoot a series of still images, also helpful for photographing kids and pets as well as adults who blink, birds, and wildlife
  • HD movie mode with sound
  • Microphone jack for better sound quality

The Best Mirrorless Digital Camera Under $1000 Reviewed


The Sony Alpha a6000 comes with a 16-50mm wide angle lens, which makes it a great choice for group shots of family and friends as well as for capturing architecture and outdoor panoramas. You can purchase additional Sony E-mount lenses for other uses. Sony puts its image stabilization technology in the lenses rather than the cameras. The Sony Alpha uses a 24 MP CMOS image sensor and a fast hybrid autofocus system with tracking and face recognition. In addition to the LCD display screen, the camera also offers a digital viewfinder. The LCD screen can tilt up to a 90° angle or down to a 45° angle so that you can see the view screen whether you are holding the camera high over your head or down for a low level shot. The camera captures HD movies with sound and includes a multi-interface shoe for connecting microphones, external flashes, and lighting. It can also capture a series of still photos at 11 shots or frames per second. You can also transfer photos and movies to your smart phone, computer, or other devices via Wi-Fi. Users report that the camera functions well in low light and at night, but one user recommends turning on airplane mode until you want to connect to Wi-Fi because, otherwise, the camera drains the battery by constantly searching for Wi-Fi devices.

PROS

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    Image stabilization is contained in the lenses, not the camera
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    Tilting LCD display screen allows shooting from high or low angles
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    Fast, hybrid autofocus with tracking and face recognition
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    Built-on multi-interface shoe for connecting external microphone, flash, and lighting
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    Captures HD movies, and burst mode captures 11 still fps

CONS

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    Comes with a wide angle lens, not a general purpose lens
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    Several users complain that the camera stops recognizing the lens that comes with the camera and must be sent to Sony for repair
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    Some users report that the LCD screen blacked out and stopped functioning
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    Users have many complaints about Sony's customer service

The Olympus Mark II comes with a 14-42mm wide angle lens which, again, is a good choice for capturing group shots and expansive outdoor vistas. A large selection of Zuiko all digital lenses is available for other uses. The Olympus Mark II is equipped with a built-in flash, a 16 MP CMOS image processor, a digital viewfinder, an LCD that tilts up and down, and 5-axis image stabilization. This is the same stabilization system that Olympus uses on its top of the line cameras, and it allows you to move along with the action while taking still photos or making a movie without jarring the image or causing it to blur. When you don't want your picture taking to be a distraction, you can silence the shutter noise. You can shoot full HD movies in your choice of five different speeds or frames per second (fps), and you can shoot a series of crisp still images at 8.5 fps. You can choose to capture images in jpeg or RAW format. To make it easier to share your movies, you can divide them into one, two, four, or eight second clips and recombine them in any sequence. While making a movie, you can use the display screen to change your settings as you shoot. Live Guide helps you learn about the camera and the different settings while Live View lets you preview the effects of the different art filters, such as partial color, before you use them when shooting. You can transfer your photos and movies via Wi-Fi, and you can also use your smart phone as a remote shutter button through a Wi-Fi connection -- no more rushing to beat a timer to get into a picture.

PROS

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    Equipped with 5-axis image stabilization in the camera
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    Tilting LCD display screen allows shooting from high or low angles
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    Fast, hybrid autofocus with tracking and face recognition
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    Captures HD movies at five different speeds, and burst mode captures 8.5 still fps
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    Video CLIPS enables you to divide movies into short segments and rearrange segments for easier sharing

CONS

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    Comes with a wide angle lens, not a general purpose lens
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    Users complain that the Live Guide is difficult to navigate
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    Users also complain about the placement of the "OK" and "Info" buttons
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    Users report that the camera consumes batteries rapidly

The Panasonic Lumix G7 includes a 14-42mm wide angle MEGA O.I.S. lens, and Panasonic Micro Four Thirds lenses are available for other purposes. It includes face recognition, tracking, a digital viewfinder, a 16 MP CMOS image sensor, and an LCD display that both tilts up and down and swivels out from the camera allowing you to shoot at any angle. The Lumix G7 shoots 4K Ultra HD movies, and when shooting at 30 fps, you can use one of three modes to capture a series of 8 MP still photos. This capability ensures that you will never miss the perfectly timed photo. While shooting a movie, you can capture stereo sound by connecting the DMW-MS2 Stereo/Shotgun Microphone, which is available for purchase separately. You can also purchase an external flash for this camera. You can capture images as either RAW or jpeg files, and with a BUS Class UHS-I/UHS-II SDXC/SDHC SD card, you can even capture RAW images in burst mode. You can silence the shutter for unobtrusive picture taking, and with a Wi-Fi connection you can control the camera from your smart phone or tablet. You can also transfer files to your devices.

PROS

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    Tilting LCD display screen also swivels out from camera allowing shooting from high or low angles as well as to the side
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    Hybrid autofocus with tracking and face recognition
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    Captures 4K Ultra HD movies
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    Can extract 8 MP still photos when shooting movies at 30 fps
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    Can capture RAW images in burst mode

CONS

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    Comes with a wide angle lens, not a general purpose lens
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    Lacks image stabilization in the camera and only some Panasonic include it
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    Some users complain that the autofocus is slow and doesn't track well
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    Users also complain about the blurry pictures that result from the lack of image stabilization in the camera

The Canon EOS M5 is a body only model that can be purchased with either a 15-45mm wide angle lens or an 18-150mm general purpose lens. You can also purchase additional Canon EF-M lenses for other uses, and an adaptor that can be purchased separately allows you to use Canon's EF and EF-S lenses. This camera is equipped with a 24.2 MP CMOS image sensor, a tilting LCD display, a built-in flash, and an electronic viewfinder. The display tilts up to 85° and down to 180°. It captures images in both jpeg and RAW, and it can capture a series of still images at 7 fps. The Canon EOS M5 includes 5-axis image stabilization, face recognition, and tracking focus. It can connect to devices through either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. You can use the Wi-Fi connection to upload your HD movies and pictures to Facebook or YouTube directly from the camera or to print your pictures on a wireless printer. Use the Bluetooth connection to control your camera and to download photos and movies to your phone.

PROS

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    Equipped with 5-axis digital image stabilization in the camera and can be used with lenses with built-in image stabilization
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    Tilting LCD display screen allows shooting from high or low angles
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    Fast, hybrid autofocus with tracking and face recognition
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    Captures HD movies, and burst mode captures 7 still fps
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    Can upload movies and photos directly to Facebook and YouTube

CONS

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    Users report that the camera body feels "plasticky" and cheaply made
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    Users complained about outdated features such as only being able to shoot video in 1080p format at 60 fps
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    Users report that the selection of M size lenses is limited and recommend purchasing an adapter to enable use of EF and EF-S lenses
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    Users also report that attaching a tripod blocks the battery and memory card compartment

The Fuji X-T20 comes with a wide angle C16-50mm F3.5-5.6 OISII lens and additional Fuji XF and XC lenses for other purposes can be purchased separately. It is equipped with a 24.3 CMOS image processor, a tilting display screen, and an electronic viewfinder. It includes image stabilization, tracking, face detection, and eye detection. It can capture a series of still images at a rate of 8 fps, and it captures movies in 4K HD. You can apply filters, such as partial color, or film simulation effects for photographs or movies and preview and change them on the display screen as you are shooting. The Fuji X-T20 captures 120° and 180° panoramas, and you can set the timer to time lapse mode to capture up to 24 hours at a time or to take a single photograph at a certain interval over a certain period of time, such as one photograph every five minutes for one hour. You can also use a Wi-Fi connection to control the camera from your smart phone or tablet or to download your movies or jpeg photos.

PROS

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    Equipped with image stabilization in the camera
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    Tilting LCD display screen allows shooting from high or low angles
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    Fast, hybrid autofocus with tracking and face recognition
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    Captures 4K HD movies, and burst mode captures 8 still fps
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    Captures 120° and 180° panoramas and time lapse images for up to 24 hours

CONS

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    Comes with a wide angle lens, not a general purpose lens
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    Users report that custom settings are only for film simulation and cannot be set up for taking photos in RAW
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    Users report that the Wi-Fi disconnects frequently
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    Users also report that the remote control Wi-Fi menu does not allow you to switch from one menu option to another without disconnecting from Wi-Fi and reconnecting
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    Users report that an L-bracket is needed to keep a tripod from blocking the battery and memory card compartment

Our Winning Choice Among the Best Mirrorless Cameras Under 1000: Sony Alpha a6000 Mirrorless Digital Camera

The Sony Alpha a6000 Mirrorless Digital Camera uses the speed of its CMOS image sensor to support its fast hybrid autofocus system. Sony’s autofocus combines phase detection and contrast detection to quickly and accurately focus on your subject, identify faces, and track a moving subject.

The 24 MP sensor offers a high degree of resolution, allowing you to create posters from your images. Image stabilization reduces the chances of blurred images, and you can capture images in jpeg or RAW, shoot HD movies, or capture a series of still shots of kids, pets, or wildlife at 11 fps, greatly improving your chances of capturing the perfect shot.

In addition, the multi-interface shoe allows you to connect an external flash, a continuous light. and an external microphone to your camera. With this feature, you can improve the lighting of your photographs and the lighting and sound of your movies. Finally, Wi-Fi connectivity allows you to download your movies and photos to your smart phone or tablet.

You can use the automatic settings to take great photos without knowing anything about camera settings, or, as you learn, you can take more manual control. So, the Sony Alpha a6000 is a good choice for a family that includes members with varying levels of photographic skill as well as a beginning photographer who wants a camera that will remain useful as his or her photographic skills and knowledge grow.

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