Mirrorless cameras are getting more and more popular as photographers realise the benefits of a lighter system. Which is best for you? Read on for our guide.
They’re not just a point-and-shoot, but they’re not a chunky DSLR either. They’re mirrorless cameras, and they’re getting more and more popular by the year.
As the name implies, mirrorless cameras are distinguished by the fact that they eschew the mirror that you’ll find inside a DSLR. This means that they do not have optical viewfinders, but also allows them to be smaller and lighter than a DSLR, which can really open up creative potential.
There’s no shortage of choice, and a newbie to mirrorless could be forgiven for becoming overwhelmed. Do you plump for the stylish retro cool of the Fujifilm X-series, or the 4K capability of Panasonic? Is the full-frame might of the Sony a7 series to your taste, or are you tempted by the Olympus OM-D series?
The answer to this question is a complex one, and depends entirely on what you like to shoot and how you like to do it. So we’ve put together some recommendations based on exactly that!
Remember, these aren’t definitive, as different cameras work for different people and everyone is working on a different budget. However, if you use these cameras as a starting point then you should be able to find the exact mirrorless model that works for you.
What do you want from your mirrorless camera?
I want to shoot fast action and sports
This is a demanding genre that necessitates a camera with sophisticated AF tracking, plenty of frames per second in burst mode, and ideally a generous shot buffer to soak up continuous shots.
With this in mind, we’d recommend you start by taking a look at the Sony a6000. This is a small camera that packs a punch. Capable of 0.06-second autofocus, the a6000 will allow you to shoot 49 consecutive Jpegs at 11fps before buffering becomes an issue, which should be more than enough to get that speeding rally car racing around the corner at every step of its journey! If you want to shoot Raws as well this number drops to 21, which for our money is still pretty decent. This is all thanks to the Sony Bionz X processing engine housed inside, which powers the a6000 to its impressive speeds.
I’m interested in street photography
As they’re small and unobtrusive, mirrorless cameras are a great choice for street photography, where you don’t want to be noticed clicking away at your shutter.
Street photographers, we’d recommend trying out the Samsung NX500. This is a pleasingly diminutive camera that packs a lot into a relatively small package, while managing to retain a nice curved handgrip that aids one-handed operation. It doesn’t have a viewfinder, but as a street photographer you don’t necessarily need one, and the responsive touch-LCD will suit your needs nicely. The 28.2MP sensor means you’ll be pumping out high quality images that will make for great prints too, and the maximum ISO of 51,200 will allow you to keep on shooting even as the sun goes down.
I want to shoot in low light
Night owl? Reckon you’ll be doing a lot of your photography after the world has gone to bed? Then you’ll be wanting a mirrorless camera that handles well in low light. In this case, it’s difficult to argue against the Sony a7S Mark II.
Part of Sony’s full-frame a7 series, the a7S Mark II can capture images within a whopping ISO image of 100-409,600. This makes it pretty much the last word in high-sensitivity stills photography, not just in the mirrorless world but in terms of cameras in general – only the Nikon D4s, a pro-standard DSLR, matches it.
With 12MP of resolution and 4K video capability, the a7S II is seriously capable in other areas too, and the original Sony a7S is also a competitive camera in its own right if you’re shopping at a lower price point.
I like the idea of photographing nature and wildlife
Here you’re going to have similar requirements to action and sport, wanting fast AF and quick-shot action so that you don’t miss moments that are not only fleeting but also unpredictable. Since you’re likely to be slogging through the outdoors as well, you also want a camera with a durable build and some heft to it. With that in mind, we’d say go for the astonishing Samsung NX1.
It shoots at 15fps, carries a 28MP BSI sensor, and its 3-inch tilting display allows for intuitive touch focusing. It’s an astounding achievement and could make a case for being one of the best cameras outright in the APS-C class.
I want to shoot landscapes and/or studio portraits
With both landscapes and studio portraits you have the luxury of being able to make the most of a stationary subject, and to capture all the beautiful detail you want. A camera with high resolution is therefore your best bet, and it doesn’t get higher than the 42.4MP Sony a7R Mark II. This marvellous camera produces astonishing images, however its impressive high-ISO performance and optical image stabilisation also give it a degree of versatility.
Of course, not everyone can afford to splurge £2,000+, so we’d also recommend looking at the Olympus OM-D E-M1, which (a few years down the line from release) is available at a pretty competitive price and also produces beautiful images.
I want to be able to choose between lots of different lenses
One of the scariest things of buying a new mirrorless camera or DSLR is the prospect of committing yourself to a system. What if you find it’s not to your taste, or – perish the thought – a beautiful lens comes out that isn’t easily compatible with your camera?
Given the financial commitment involved, it’s understandable to want to hedge your bets. If you want reassurance that you’ll have as many lenses as possible, we’d recommend picking up a camera that’s part of the Micro Four Thirds system. This is a joint venture between Olympus and Panasonic that is designed to allow photographers who subscribe to those two systems the option to switch between lenses at will. So you can mount Panasonic’s Lumix G lenses onto your Olympus OM-D E-M1 at will, or pick up a few nice bits of Olympus M.ZUIKO glass for your Panasonic Lumix G7. You’ll also have access to a huge range of third-party lenses from manufacturers such as Sigma, Tokina, Tamron and others.
I know mirrorless cameras are generally small, but I want something really, really small.
About the smallest you can get a camera without compromising on image quality is the tiny Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM5. In a body that’s only a little larger than a pack of cards Panasonic have crammed a 16MP Micro Four-Thirds sensor, a 1,166k dot EVF and a 3-inch 921k dot screen. There’s even a tiny pop-up flash!
In truth we’re not even sure how they did it, but Panasonic’s little Lumix GM5 is a hugely capable camera, offering class-leading autofocus skills to boot.
I admit it, I’m shallow. What’s the coolest-looking mirrorless camera there is?
Though it’s a few years long in the tooth now, we’re still going to have to give this to the Fujifilm X-Pro1. Realistically the winner here was always going to be a Fujifilm camera, and the X-Pro1’s simple but elegant and classic styling perfectly underpins what the X-series is all about. There’s a reason a lot of photographers out there are impatiently tapping their feet and muttering about wanting an X-Pro2…
I don’t want to spend much time in front of the computer, what produces great images straight out of camera?
You could probably ask five photographers this question and receive ten different opinions back, but we’ll take the punchy, vibrant colours of the Fujifilm X-T1. The Jpegs this camera spits out are very good indeed – it shares its X-Trans sensor with a lot of other Fujifilm X cameras, meaning you’ve really no shortage of choice here, but, well, we’re in love with the X-T1. We just are. Deal with it.
If your budget really doesn’t stretch then consider the Fujifilm X-T10, affectionately known as a ‘baby-X-T1’ in some circles it delivers a lot of the same functionality and quality in a more affordable package.
I’m an enthusiast and know what I’m doing – what will offer me a good level of control?
This is a tough call, but we reckon you’ll have the most fun with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II. This is a wonderfully complex camera with plenty of functions to explore, and it’s designed so that the various controls can be customised to exactly how you want them. It takes a while to master but if you’re prepared to invest some time into the camera you’ll find it richly rewarding.
As a bonus, there are also some enjoyable additions from the first E-M5 camera, including a much-improved video mde and a 40MP composite mode that uses sensor-shift technology to create a huge, detailed image from multiple exposures.
I want to shoot video as well as stills
The mirrorless camera shaking up the world of video, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 has become the firm’s flagship thanks to its professional-grade 4K video, up to an ultra-high bitrate of 200Mbps. With the GH4 you can put out video in a range of formats including MOV, MP4, AVCHD and AVCHD progressive, with the hugely capable Venus Engine under the bonnet handling the processing.
Panasonic’s Depth from Defocus AF technology makes the GH4 acquire focus with speed, and its rugged handling pleasingly recalls that of a tough DSLR. It is, to put it simply, a superb tool for photographers and videographers alike.