If you are an amateur photographer thinking about making the leap from point-and-click shooters to the more advanced DSLRs, mirrorless cameras may be a better alternative. Though these cameras were first unveiled only in 2004, their popularity has risen rapidly in the last decade. Smaller and lighter than DSLRs, these user-friendly cameras have image and video capabilities comparable to professional DSLRs.
A mirrorless camera is a thinner, more compact version of a Digital Camera or DSLR. Like other DSLRs, they can accept different lenses. But unlike a DSLR (or any Single Lens Reflex Camera), they lack a mechanical mirror inside them. Ordinary DSLRs use this mirror to reflect the image coming from the lens into a viewfinder so that you can get a preview.
In a mirrorless camera, the image is instead passed on to a digital display at the back of the camera for the user to preview. Some models may also include a second smaller screen in an electronic viewfinder, for those who want the traditional experience of peering in to get the preview.
Mirrorless cameras are also called Compact System Cameras (CSC), Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras (MILC), or only "Hybrid Cameras."
A DSLR might be the only option for you if you are a pro photographer, or if you are a hardcore enthusiast. These two categories of camera buyers seek the absolute best regarding performance, features, and most importantly, accessories.
But if you are a beginner or amateur photographer who has no prior experience wielding a DSLR, you might be better off trying a mirrorless camera first. There are several reasons for this. DSLRs are in another league altogether when compared to the small point-and-click cameras, or your smartphone shooters.
They are heavier, bulkier and have more complex mechanics. Sure, there is no harm in jumping into the deep end to learn pro photography the hard way. That is what most photographers had to take at some point or other, but in the past. The thing is, now that these mirrorless cameras exist, you no longer have to make that leap.
Mirrorless cameras offer a convenient stepping stone, with a less steep learning curve. And they come with performance and image quality that can easily hold its own against a DSLR. You can always upgrade to a Nikon or Canon DSLR in future. But for many users, this upgrade may seem entirely unnecessary, thanks to the capabilities and ease of use of these mirrorless cameras.
Sensor Size: Several size options are available in mirrorless cameras. If point-and-shoot cameras have the smallest sensors, and DSLRs the largest, then CSC cameras would fall somewhere in between. Some have larger APS-C sensors found in consumer DSLRs and can give a better image and video quality. Others may sport a Micro Four Thirds sensors, which is better than a point-and -shoot sensor, but inferior to the APS-C. Another smaller sensor is the CX format, available from Nikon. For the best performance, you need a camera with a full frame sensor, like those found in pro-grade DSLRs. But this niche is still growing at the moment, and you may have to wait awhile before such mirrorless cameras become more prevalent in the market.
Low Light Performance: This factor is directly linked to the sensor on the camera. DSLRs have the best performance in low light conditions due to the larger sensors on board. If you don’t plan to do much clicking under low light conditions, or do not prioritize this feature, then smaller mirrorless cameras with smaller sensors may suit you perfectly fine. But if this feature is important to you, then look for nothing less than APS-C sensors, if not full frame, in a mirrorless camera.
Lens Compatibility: if you are migrating from a point-and-click camera, you will enjoy the added versatility and flexibility of mirrorless cameras. With the interchangeable lens feature, you can use many different kinds of lenses with the camera. If you already have a DSLR and some lens lying around, you can probably get them to work with your new mirrorless camera. While not all SLR lens is compatible with them, many do in fact work, even if the autofocus feature may not work well on them all. The dedicated mirrorless camera lens market is also growing in leaps and bounds these days, and you can probably find a mirrorless version of most DSLR lens out there,
Autofocus: Regular mirrorless cameras use contrast detection for autofocus, while DSLRs use the superior method called phase detection. If you need a better low light performance, look for mirrorless cameras with a “hybrid focusing method.” This is a new feature, found mostly on some of the latest mirrorless cameras in the market.
Videography: The video quality of a mirrorless camera will be much better than what you get from a point-and-shoot camera. Shooting videos with such cameras may also be easier than with DSLRs, due to a variety of reasons. Mirrorless cameras are lighter and easier to hold for a longer time, have a better focusing system for videos, and offer more precise depth control than other cameras. But if you are serious about videos, look for mirrorless cameras with high-quality format support (like AVCHD or XAVC S), compatibility with external mics, video monitors, and recorders.
No shortlist of the top mirrorless cameras in the market can be considered as complete without at least a mention of the Sony Alpha a6000. This is probably the best all -round mirrorless camera in the market. It is certainly the most popular one based on sales figures. But these cameras don’t come cheap, especially the ones with better lens.
But the base model of the a6000 does fit into our budget restrictions, though at the cost of not having a lens as part of the package. Still, we feel that this camera is a great option, especially if you have any compatible DSLR lens with you already. The sensor is 24 megapixel, APS-C CMOS, which is what you want if you seek performance comparable to a DSLR.
The camera is incredibly compact, making it ideal for shooting videos. The image quality is also on par with a DSLR. The settings and controls are elementary to learn, which makes it perfect for beginners. It even comes with WiFi connectivity, making file transfer to your PC or mobile devices an absolute breeze. If you can stretch your budget by $100, you can get a camera with the Sony kit lens.
The Canon EOS M10 comes as a complete camera kit, with a 15-45mm STM lens as part of the package. If you are upgrading from a point-and-click camera, this may be a good choice, as you don’t have to spend extra cash to get a decent lens. The APS-C sensor is CMOS and rated at 18 megapixel, which is great for good quality photos and videos.
The camera has a hybrid autofocus, which is great if you are planning to do a lot of low light photography. With WiFi and NFC, you also have the ability to easily transfer your images to your PC or mobile devices. The camera can create 1080p videos which is great if you are into making a lot of home movies and stuff.
It weighs just under 0.5lbs, making it very easy to hold and carry while traveling. The features and controls are very intuitive and beginner friendly. Since the LCD display has touchscreen, taking selfies and using other features is extremely easy.
If you cannot afford the latest versions from Sony, the a5100 is still a good alternative, among the best mirrorless cameras under 500. The main attraction of this camera is that you can get a basic 16-50mm kit lens as part of the package. The ultra fast autofocus is a great feature, as it allows you to take quick action shots.
The camera is capable of providing DSLR quality shots, with a 24 megapixel APS-C sensor. If you need high-quality HD videos, this Sony camera can handle that with its 1080p recording, but it does have pronounced overheating issues when shooting videos. The build quality is pretty decent, and on the whole, the camera is lightweight and easy to hold and shoot.
The combination of a flash and the CMOS sensor ensures acceptable quality images even in low light conditions. The a5100 features a flip-up LCD screen with touch capabilities, which makes menu navigation extremely simple and fast. WiFi and NFC allow you to transfer files quickly without having to look for memory cards or cables.
If you like your cameras bright and colorful, the EOS M2 Mark II series may be ideal, as they are available in blue and pink shades along with the usual black and white. The 18 megapixel CMOS APS-C sensor with hybrid autofocus delivers great images with close to DSLR quality, even under low light conditions.
You can also shoot 1080p videos with the M2. The continuous subject tracking feature is great for this, as it gives a clearer videos with improved focus. The camera also has WiFi and app support, so you can actually use your smartphone to control the camera remotely.
But one major issue with this particular model is the warranty. Though it is very affordable, being an international model, this one comes with no warranty if bought in the US.
The NX Mini is a feature packed mirrorless camera from Samsung. For that sub-$500 price, you get a 20.5 megapixel shooter with BSI CMOS sensor and a truckload of “SMART” features. It is very slim and light, at just 158g, making it almost like a smartphone. The WiFi and NFC allows for instant image sharing and uploads.
The touchscreen makes the menu controls very easy. You can shoot full HD 1080p videos with this camera. The battery life is also pretty decent at 530 photos, or 265 minutes of video. The kit lens is quite satisfactory.
If they were a bit less expensive the Sony a6000 cameras would have been our top pick from this list. But as things stand, the Canon EOS M10 is our pick for the best Mirrorless Cameras under 500, thanks to a good balance of features and excellent value for money pricing. The M10 has everything going for it: High quality performance, WiFi connectivity, compact body, capable kit lens, and unlike many other cameras, very few notable cons. This is one of the best mirrorless cameras under 500 for beginners and amateurs, as well as pros who need a lightweight backup for their DSLRs.