You can’t browse YouTube or any photography blog without a debate raging over mirrorless cameras. Which is the best? What lenses? Should you stick to DSLRs? Pros and Cons of each. It’s endless, so we decided to collect the best models out on the market right now into a guide and explain the benefits and drawbacks of each.
Our breakdown includes the highest end models which have the latest in weather sealing, electronic viewfinders and excellent autofocusing. And we include the budget models that can get you kitted out for less than $500 including a lens. Perfect for those not wanting to jump into the deep end of photography.
For those new to the hobby, you’ll want to know what is a mirrorless camera? Instead of tossing around DSLR, a mirrorless camera (for the purpose of this guide) is a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. It’s in the name, but it lacks a mirror found in traditional DSLRs and uses an image sensor to send an image to the EVF or LCD screen. The lack of a mirror allows the camera bodies to be more compact.
1. Sony a7 III
Sony may call the a7 III its ‘basic model,’ but it’s anything but basic. The newly announced camera comes packed with all the latest tech from the a9 and a7r III and puts the vast majority of it into a camera body priced under $2000.
Sure, it doesn’t have the absurd megapixel count of the a7r III, relying on a brand new 24MP BSI sensor. The a7 III can’t match the 20 fps of the a9, instead easily hitting 10 fps using both mechanical and the silent electronic shutter.
What it does borrow is the autofocus system from the a9 – a 693-point AF system covering 92% of the sensor. The new Z battery makes an appearance, along with two SD cards. 4K video is finally introduced into the a7 line and outperforms the a7r III in that it gives a full pixel readout of the sensor. No more pixel binning. It oversamples to 6K and has the option to enter APS-C mode, effectively giving you two focal lengths with one lens.
- Advanced 24.2MP BSI Full-frame Image Sensor w/ 1.8X readout speed* Advanced 24.2MP Back-Illuminated 35mm Full-frame Image Sensor * Sony test conditions....
- 15-stop dynamic range, 14-bit uncompressed RAW, ISO 50 to 204,800
- Up to 10fps Silent or Mechanical Shutter with AE/AF tracking
It has 15 stops of dynamic range, and the battery life will get you in the area of 700+ shots. That’s damn good for a mirrorless system, and the Sony a7 III promises to be a low-light champion.
Sony may bill the camera as the basic model, but damn if it doesn’t impress on the price point. If you are looking to get into full-frame mirrorless, this is one hell of a camera. It has its drawbacks, but the features trimmed from the a7r III and the a9 are ones users work around. 10 fps is still lightning fast. 24 MP is a solid sensor. 4K video is there, and Sony’s IBIS is ever present.
And at less than $2K, you can immediately invest in solid glass for the body.
2. Sony a7R III
Think what’s great about the Sony a9, shove most of it into an a7r II body, and you get the a7rIII. And the pricing is absurdly aggressive. I know Sony has other divisions, but damn if they aren’t taking the DJI approach of muscling competitors out of the way.
Not saying they will ever knock off Canon or Nikon, but the old guard needs to act with a sense of urgency as mirrorless captures more of the market share. It’s a hell of a response against Nikon’s D850 and is priced to move at $3200 – same launch price as the a7r II. It is Sony’s megapixel monster, sporting a 42MP BSI CMOS sensor, 10fps, and a 399-point AF system.
- 42.4 MP back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor with gapless on-chip lens design
- New front-end LSI and updated BIONZ X processing-engine for maximum processing speed
- Advanced Hybrid AF system with 399 focal-plan phase-detection AF points cover 68% of the image Plane and 425 contrast AF points covering 47% of the image area
Other retailers include: B&H
Video lovers have plenty to like with the oversampling of 4K. This isn’t a knock against Sony, but with all camera companies. Where is 4K60p? The new iPhones shoot that. It’s time to push the limits as the hybrid shooters grow in numbers.
What you’ll love: It’s a better version of the a7r II is every way. Better battery life. Frames per second. Autofocus. You name it; it has it. And the price is something professionals and enthusiasts can handle.
What you might not: Weather resistance was mentioned in passing. At this point, we have to start asking what gives on equipment stretching past $3000. And we are still waiting for Sony to play catchup in the lens department. The company is working on it, but it can’t match the catalog of Canon or Nikon just yet.
3. Sony a7R II
The new a7rIII means cheaper prices for the a7r II. The Sony a7R II is no longer a bank account buster, and you can say budget shooters are getting one hell of a camera. Yes, there is the Sony a9 and what is sure to be an a9r variant, but who has the patience to wait for release dates? There is also the added benefit of the camera being on the market for a couple of years now to work out all the bugs.
- World's first Full-frame back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor-42.4MP, 5-axis in-body image stabilization optimized for 42.4MP full-frame, 4K movie recording...
- 2.4-million dot XGA OLED Tru-Finder w/ ZEISS T* coating, Simple connectivity to smartphones via Wi-Fi and NFC w/ camera apps, Fast focal plane phase-detection...
- Shutter vibration suppression, first curtain shutter, and silent shutter, Resolution meets sensitivity 42.4MP up to ISO 102,400 / 4K up to 25,600, Durable,...
It is a mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera, so the nearly $2300 price tag is for the body only. Luckily, there are deals to be had, and if you are making the switch from Canon or Nikon, adapters are your friend over buying all new glass. If you have the cash to spare, Sony and other lens manufacturers are happy to make a grab for it. Stick with a dedicated prime and nice zoom if you’re getting started.
Weight: 22.1oz (body). Start stacking telephoto lenses and it can get bulky in a hurry.
What you’ll love: Damn near everything including the price. Sony has since upped its game with the a7r III, but don’t sleep on the newfound deals you can get on the a7r II.
What you might hate: If you plan on shooting video, there are battling reports of the a7r II overheating after a bit of time. It’s something to be aware of. Also, no dual card slot. I’ve never had a card fail on me, but you need to be aware of it.
4. Panasonic Lumix GH5
Big on video? The Panasonic GH5 is the camera for you. One drawback is it’s not full-frame. It shouldn’t be a drawback, but newcomers to photography need to be aware when selecting lenses. For those wanting the ultimate vlogging camera, the GH5 is hands down one of the top mirrorless cameras.
You’ll recognize the name from its predecessor, the GH4. The upgrades on the GH5 are substantial, with the ability to shoot in 4K up to 60fps. Other features include in-body stabilization, 20.3 megapixels versus 16, a better viewfinder, 10-bit recording for those Premiere and After Effects gurus out there. Yeah, the feature set is impressive as hell and represents a hell of an upgrade over the GH4.
- Professional photo and 4K video performance in a durable magnesium alloy body.
- 20.3MP Micro Four Thirds sensor with no low pass filter.
- 4K video: internal recording at 4k60/50P (4:2:0 8bit) & 4k30/25P/24P (4:2:2 10bit).
While not the insane amount of lenses to choose from on a full-frame, the micro four-thirds mount does offer plenty of primes and zooms. The thing about lenses is you can edge into Gear Acquisition Syndrome in a hurry. Grab a fast prime and a zoom and see where it takes you. Then add if you need to. Don’t buy just for the hell of it. Trust me; you find your favorite three lenses and the rest become paperweights.
Weight: 25.6 oz.
What You’ll Love: It’s simply one of the best for video in the price range.
What Might Hate: Nothing. If you’re getting a GH5, you already know why. Complaining it’s not full-frame is disingenuous. Buy a Sony a7s II if you need a full-frame.
5. Fujifilm X-T2
Who says mirrorless cameras have to give up the old school feel? Fujifilm definitely agrees with the recent release of its flagship X-T2. It’s a massive leap over the X-T1 with upgrades on all fronts. More megapixels, 4K video and one hell of an upgrade to the autofocus system.
- 24.3MP X-Trans CMOS III APS-C sensor reduces moiré and false colors to improve image quality and X-Processor Pro engine increases response times, achieves...
- Dust and moisture-resistant body with approximately 63 points of weather sealing; Freeze resistance to 14 Degree Fahrenheit
- High-precision 0.48-inch, 2.36 million dot OLED viewfinder featuring a magnification of 0.77x and Ultra-fast Real Time Viewfinder with a lag-time of 0.005sec
If you don’t have the cash for a Sony a7rII, the Fujifilm offers a solid alternative for $1599. And it wins on aesthetics. You’ll immediately fall in love with the old school knobs on top to give it that retro feel of an analog camera. Add in Fujifilm’s insanely gorgeous image and color quality, and it’s a winner. Those needing lenses have their pick from a wide assortment of Fujinon lenses.
The $1599 price point definitely doesn’t hurt its cause. Fujifilm has shifted with its latest flagship away from being a direct competitor to Sony in the full-frame space. The company has instead moved towards medium format, leaving the flagships like the X-T2 in the APS-C category of sensors.
Weight: 17.9 oz
What You’ll Love: All the technology packed into a retro body. Hard not to love the fusion of the two.
What Holds it Back: It has 4K video, but if you lean more videographer over a photographer, the GH5 or a Sony is your better option. Still, at $1599, if you give a little on the quirks of the 4K, it’s a solid deal and will always start a conversation thanks to its style.
6. Sony a9
The company’s latest flagship to take on the likes of Nikon and Canon. Before the a9, fast shooting remained firmly in DSLR territory. That ended with the announcement of the Sony a9 and its 20fps capability. Compare that to 14fps on the Canon 1DX Mark II or the 12 on the Nikon D5. Then, of course, there’s the price difference.
- World's first Full-frame stacked CMOS sensor w/ integrated memory
- World's first blackout-free continuous shooting up to 20 fps
- Silent, vibration-free, anti-distortion shutter up to 1/32,000 sec.
At $4,498, the Sony a9 isn’t cheap unless you compare it to the other flagships. Other features include a 693-point phase-detection autofocus system, five-axis image stabilization, 4K video and everything else Sony keeps innovating and shoving into cameras at a blistering rate.
Weight: 23.7 oz.
What You’ll Love: If you’re an action or wildlife photographer looking for a mirrorless system, this is it.
Why You Don’t Need It: Same reason why some will love it. If you’re not hardcore into the above niches, there are better, cheaper options. Especially the a7rII which chops the price in half. Better to have a previous generation camera and amazing glass over the latest without the lenses to back it up.
7. Sony a6500
Sony shocked and angered more than a few fans of its a6000-series when it quickly updated the a6300 with the a6500. It’s not necessarily worth an upgrade, but if you’re in the market, the Sony a6500 does offer more than a few welcome additions to the APS-C format.
It sits firmly in the mid-range budget wise, offering 4K video, five-axis stabilization found in its full-frames, weather sealing and a superb autofocusing system for under $1400. That’s hard to pass up.
- 24.2MP APS-C Exmor sensor w/ advanced processing up to ISO 51.200
- Wide 425 phase detection AF points, Fast 0.05 sec. AF acquisition
- 5-axis in-body image stabilization steadies every lens. Silent Shooting
And if the tech doesn’t sell you, the form factor will. The a6500 is compact and punches well above its weight class. You’ll see plenty of shooters using it as a backup or even as their primary camera. Sure, we all want more E-mount lens options, but Sony is rapidly building up a stable of glass for any situation.
Weight: 16 oz.
What You’ll Love: It’s compact enough to make you think you bought a point-and-shoot that’s an interchangeable-lens camera.
What You Might Hate: Lens options and the same overheating issues with 4K video. It’s not as bad, but if you’re going vlogging, the GH5 is the better camera.
8. Sony a6000
Value with a side of value. It lists for under $600 with a 16-50mm lens. You are sacrificing 4K video and weather sealing, but if you want to get started in photography without approaching $1000, the a6000 is your best bet. Those wanting more should look towards the a6500 for all the latest bells and whistles.
- 24 MP APS-C CMOS sensor and Focus Sensitivity Range :EV 0 to EV 20 (at ISO 100 equivalent with F2.8 lens attached)
- ISO 100-25600 (expandable to 51200). Lens compatibility- Sony E-mount lenses
- Hybrid AF with 179-point focal plane phase-detection and 25 contrast detect points
The Sony a6000 is easily our top choice for those looking for a budget mirrorless camera.
Weight: 12.2 oz.
What You’ll Love: Your bank account will give you a hug.
What You Might Not Like: It lacks all the features of the a6500. No image stabilization, touchscreen or 4K video. If you need any of those or know for sure you’ll love photography; you may want to invest a bit more cash for a better body.
9. FujiFilm X-Pro2
Don’t let the ‘Pro’ in the name confuse you. The X-T2 is the better camera head-to-head, but the X-Pro2 does offer a few unique features which may appeal to some. First is the hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder. It’s great for still photography and those not wanting to completely give up the optical viewfinder.
- Newly-developed 24.3MP X-Trans CMOS III APS-C sensor reduces moiré and false colors to dramatically improve image quality and X-Processor Pro engine increases...
- Advanced Hybrid Multi Viewfinder featuring a Multi-Magnification function that automatically switches view-finder magnification according to the lens and...
- Electronic shutter maximum speed of 1/32000 sec and a focal plane shutter with a top speed of 1/8000 sec. with flash synchronization of up to 1/250 sec.
It also has the benefit of being a hell of a lot cheaper than other brands – Leica and the sort – which offer the same. Fujifilm has been diligent with firmware upgrades that improved the AF system, but if you’re deciding between the X-Pro2 and the X-T2, the features on the X-T2 make it the better purchase.
Weight: 15.7 oz.
What You’ll Like: The hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder is its selling point.
What You Won’t: The Fujifilm X-T2 is the better camera if you’re not set on the hybrid viewfinder.
10. Fujifilm X-T20
Don’t want to drop the cash on the two flagship Fujifilm cameras above? The X-T20 is still a great camera and nice deal with the 18-55mm kit lens. It may not have the incredible styling of the X-T2 or the wild viewfinder of the Pro2, but the image quality is nearly the same. In the end, that’s what matters.
- 24.3MP X-Trans CMOS III APS-C sensor with no low-pass filter and X-Processor Pro
- 5.0Fps Live-view shooting, start-up time of 0.4sec., shutter time lag of 0.050sec. And shooting Interval of 0.25sec
- 3.0" tilting Touchscreen panel for operation at almost any angle
Video performance takes a nosedive, but that’s expected in an older generation, and there’s no weather sealing. If you plan on getting dusty or wet, it’s something to be aware of. The sub-$1000 price tag is definitely a nice benefit. You are saving nearly $600 and have the same sensor as the latest Fujifilm flagship.
11. Canon EOS M5
I may get flack for putting it near the bottom, but we all keep waiting for Canon or Nikon to blow us away with a mirrorless system. Instead, Canon has the EOS M5. It’s not a bad camera, but the landscape is competitive and to release a midrange without 4K is nearly malpractice in 2017.
- Canon EOS M5 EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM Lens Kit
If you’re a Canon user debating the switch, it does have the ability to use the EF-S lenses with an adapter – that includes the ability to use any image stabilization or AF in the lens. Granted, it’s an adapter, and we all know how well those can work.
Canon will be one to watch later this year and possibly next. Sony keeps innovating which has to force Canon to counter at some point with more than the EOS series.
12. Nikon 1 J5
It’s the same story as Canon. Fans of the company keep waiting for this massive shoe to drop and be blown away but their best mirrorless offering is the Nikon 1 J5. The company is odd with their mirrorless offerings, Small image sensors, but a ton of functionality built into the cameras.
- 208 effective megapixels
- Operating temperature:32 to 104°F (0 to 40°C).105 Phase-detection AutoFocus Points
- 20 frames per second continuous shooting with AF-C
The J5 shoots fast and takes full advantage of the EXPEED 5A processor. At 20.8 megapixels, it’ll produce a quality image at an affordable price. Though rumors have been percolating for years a professional mirrorless system is around the corner, 2017 or 2018 feels like the year Nikon will finally dive into the deep end of the pool and offering something truly innovative. We shall see.
Camera Buying Advice
The biggest mistake is chasing numbers. The most expensive camera isn’t always the best. Take the Sony a9. That’s perfect for hardcore sports and wildlife photographers. But you can just as easily take an a6500 out on your porch and snap away at birds or to your kid’s game.
What matters in photography is education. Learn everything you can about your camera – the function buttons, menu systems, its pros and cons. Snap a ton of pictures. All the theory in the world means little if you aren’t outside filling up SD cards.
Lenses. Quality over quantity. Unless you absolutely need a ton of glass, you can get by with two or three lenses. In the end, you’ll find your favorites, and the rest will collect dust. Don’t buy a macro lens because you saw something amazing on Instagram. Ask yourself how often you’ll be out there snapping macro photos. I love it, but it’s a personal preference. I know I’ll use the lens.
|Sony a7rII||$2698.00||42.4||Yes||Yes||5 fps||Yes|
|Panasonic GH5||$1999.99||20.3||Yes||Yes||12 fps||Yes|
|Fujifilm X-T2||$1598.98||24.3||Yes||Yes||8 fps||Yes|
|Sony a9||$4498.00||24.2||Yes||Yes||20 fps||Yes|
|Sony a6500||$1398.00||24.2||Yes||Yes||11 fps||Yes|
|Sony a6000||$598.00||24.3||Yes||No||11 fps||No|
|FujiFilm X-Pro2||$1699.00||24.3||Yes||No||8 fps||Yes|
|FujiFilm X-T20||$1149.00||24.3||Yes||No||14 fps||No|
|Canon EOS M5||$1049.00||24.2||Yes||No||9 fps||No|
|Nikon 1 J5||$496.95||20.8||No||No||20 fps||No|
Wrapping the Best Mirrorless Cameras entering 2018
It looks like a Sony list, but there are others. The Fujifilm X-T2 is an excellent camera and won’t break the bank. If you have the cash, the a7rII is at the top of the pack. Vloggers should stick to the GH5, while new shooters should get comfortable with something like the Sony a6500.
And now we wait for the next crop of mirrorless cameras. Come on Canon and Nikon. We need you to go to war with Sony. The consumer always wins.
What’s next for mirrorless cameras? For that, all eyes turn towards Sony. It’s expected the company will continue its unrelenting camera release schedule. Most observers think the a7sIII is a lock in the first part of 2018. Other camera releases from the mirrorless giant include a possible successor to the a6500 and maybe a new a5000-series. If that pans out, it will signal Sony’s willingness to secure a foothold in the entry-level interchangeable lens camera category.
Outside of Sony, everyone is looking to Nikon and Canon. Oft-rumored, but never seen, could 2018 be the year of mirrorless for the two titans of DSLRs? Nikon has damn near admitted it’s coming. No date, but look out for surprises in 2018. Sound off below on what you want to see.
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Last update on 2018-04-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API