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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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/)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.