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If you haven’t tried a mirrorless camera yet, you’re missing out. In the last decade, the invention and subsequent popularity of mirrorless cameras have completely changed the photography landscape, giving amateur and pro photographers an exciting new tool for their creativity.
If you're not familiar with mirrorless cameras, or how they differ from the best DSLRs, the key differentiator is, you guessed it, mirrors. DSLRs require mirrors to bounce images up to a viewfinder, while mirrorless alternatives don't have optical viewfinders and no longer need the additional, often bulky, mirror boxes that DSLRs require.
The great news for photographers is that this makes mirrorless cameras lighter than a traditional DSLR, and also less bulky and more affordable. The compact size of a mirrorless camera means it’s easy to pop in your bag and travel with— leaving more room for your lenses!
If you’re ready to make the switch from DSLR to mirrorless, here are the best mirrorless cameras on the market.
Shoots incredibly fast
24.3 megapixel resolution
Sleek and compact
Lacks some landscape features
The Sony Alpha a6000 mirrorless camera was designed for speed – it can shoot an amazing 11 photos in just one second. This premium camera boasts 24.3-megapixel detail (ideal for enlargements) and the world’s fastest autofocus so you won’t miss a detail in that crucial shot. Two quick-access dials let you change settings in a flash so you can adapt to a fast-changing environment or try out different settings on the same shot.
Compact and lightweight, Sony boasts that the a6000 is about half the size and weight of a typical DSLR though it still has the same size APS-C image sensor, proving you don’t have to sacrifice quality for portability. Change out the lenses or the mounting system for a camera that can do it all.
You may want to compare the differences between DSLR cameras and mirrorless cameras before you settle on a purchase.
Awesome 45 megapixel resolution
Great low-light performance
Excellent ISO range
A true powerhouse in mirrorless camera technology, the Nikon Z7 puts professionals first. For starters, it has a full-frame, CMOS sensor, letting you wield 45-megapixels of stellar low-light performance. It takes F-mount lenses and Z-mount lenses, and because Nikon has taken time to make sure the controls and shape feel like a Nikon camera, brand loyalists will feel right at home. A 493-point autofocus system boasts some extra subject-tracking features while the ISO ranges from 64-25,600.
Nikon is promising up to 9 frames per second of continuous shooting at the maximum resolution, too. But the video features are the real highlight. 5-axis in-body image stabilization ensures that you won’t be limited to stabilized lenses. You can, of course, shoot up to 4K video at 30 progressive frames per second, landing this camera squarely in the professional category. And because Nikon’s image and video processing software is built-in, the footage will hit your editing bay at the highest possible quality. All in all, this is a great camera for videographers, even if it is a steep investment.
Handy LCD screen
Suite of apps for beginners
Lacks some advanced features
New to the world of mirrorless cameras? Help yourself get adjusted with the Sony a51000. It features a helpful 3-inch flip-up LCD screen that helps you frame your shot (or achieve a great selfie). Ease into learning about your camera’s features by using the included PlayMemories Camera apps. They automatically adjust your settings based on the type of shot you are trying to achieve — everything from portraits, detailed close-ups, sports photos, time-lapse, or motion shots.
Better yet, the built-in Wi-Fi means you can share photos directly to your smartphone or tablet for quick editing and sharing. Connecting is a breeze – simply touch your camera to the compatible NFC device you are using to connect them. You can even frame an image on your phone or tablet’s screen then click the camera’s shutter to capture the image, which is nice for novices still learning how to set up their favorite shots.
The Sony a5100 may be good for beginners, but it isn’t short on performance. It boasts ultra-fast autofocusing, 179 AF points and 6 fps, plus 24.3 megapixels for beautifully detailed photos.
Awesome phase-difference detection system
Huge ISO range
Great for nighttime shoots
No in-body image stabilization
The customizable EOS R is Canon’s response to the mirrorless camera’s success in the market, first pioneered by the Sony Alpha several years ago. The camera has a full-frame 30.3MP CMOS sensor and a phase-difference detection system with the 1D X Mark II’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF. The result? A total of 5,655 focus positions, covering 88 percent of the frame horizontally and 100 percent vertically. If you want to capture a longer moment, the camera has strong video recording capabilities as well: it can record internally at 4:2:0 8-bit with Rec. 709 color space and externally at 4:2:2 10-bit with Rec. 2020.
Along with featuring a 12-pin connection, the camera has an ISO range of 100 to 40,000, some of the best on the market, and it can autofocus down to -6EV, which is excellent for low-light or nighttime shooting. However, it does lack in-body image stabilization, which can be found in many of its competitors.
Super fast autofocus
Divisive 4/3s sensor
A jack-of-all-trades mirrorless camera that can do everything well, the Panasonic Lumix G9 makes a smart choice for travelers. If you're a photographer that's often on the road, or even just a vacationer looking to capture some unforgettable memories, you'll want a camera that's compact, speedy, and has superior stability. The Lumix G9 fits that bill.
The ultra-fast 0.04-second autofocus lock captures quick-moving subjects while the five-axis gyro, accelerometer and image sensors combine for increased stabilization, preventing "shaky" photos. For additional stability, an optional vertical grip adds both increased control and doubles the battery life for all images and videos captured with the 20.3-megapixel sensor.
The camera's 0.83x OLED optical tunnel viewfinder is also a beneficial addition because you don't always have to rely on the rear display for framing shots. That being said, the fully-articulating three-inch LCD screen does come in handy for selfies or for capturing footage from a difficult angle. Dual SD memory card slots, as well as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities, ensure travelers can capture all the photos and videos they want and then transfer them to a computer or mobile device for immediate sharing with friends and family.
Compares well to the best DSLRs
693 phase-detection points
Can shoot up to 20fps RAW
Sony’s flagship mirrorless camera, the Alpha A9 is a high-performance full-frame shooter that rivals the best DSLRs. It utilizes a 35mm EXMOR RS CMOS sensor with 24.2 megapixels to get professional-level results, and an eye-popping 693 phase-detection points help the autofocus system capture your subjects in perfect clarity (a boon for any kind of action photography). Another pro: Sony’s Bionz X image processor allows the A9 can shoot up to 20fps RAW in burst mode for up to 362 shots. So if you're the kind of photographer who prioritizes speed, this is a major selling point.
Professionals who need to operate in quiet environments (i.e. wedding and event photographers) will appreciate the whisper-quiet operation of the electronic shutter. And with dual SD card slots, there’s plenty of storage for all your images — and even some 4K video.
A bevy of available lenses makes this camera extremely versatile and suited for all kinds of shooting. And you don't have to worry about your battery unexpectedly dying. The Alpha A9 can handle up to 480 still frames on a single charge, with the option to increase battery life even further with a separately-purchased vertical grip accessory.
Shoots same field as a 35mm camera
Great lens variety
4K, 60fps video capable
Large sensor means lower practical resolution
The S1 is the latest entry into the Mirrorless field from Panasonic, and it also marks their strongest option for pro photographers for one key reason: It offers a full-frame MOS sensor, which means it shoots the same field as a 35mm film camera. It fills that sensor with 24.2 Megapixels, which is sort of the standard for mirrorless cameras. It’s important to note that these pixels are spread over a larger sensor, so they won’t go as far as a 24MP micro 4/3rds sensor, for example.
The camera uses an L-mount system—Panasonic and Leica’s partnership that gives you options to use a wide variety of lenses. There’s 5-axis in-body image stabilization, which gives you great options for video filming, even if the lens you’re using doesn’t have image stabilization. You have the capability of shooting 4K HDR video at up to 60p, so you’ll be able to take advantage of the IBIS with high-quality video. There’s a max ISO of 51200 so it’ll handle low-light situations really well, which is further assisted by the larger sensor.
Plus, you can opt for a 96 MP high-resolution mode, which uses sensor-shift functionality to effectively quadruple the actual megapixels. Plus, like many mirrorless cameras, it offers dust, splash, and cold-proof build so you can bring it with you on outdoor shoots and vacations alike.
The Sony Alpha a6000 shoots with blinding speed and produces absolutely gorgeous photos, and boasts the fastest autofocus on the planet, earning it our top honors. For those on a budget, however, the Canon EOS M10 is a fantastic alternative, a beginner-friendly camera that still takes incredibly sharp, detailed photos and supports a ton of lenses.
Our expert testers and reviewers evaluate the quality of mirrorless cameras the same as we evaluate most cameras, though we put a stronger focus on image quality, optical zoom, and video quality. We also look at physical elements and design features, examining weight, portability, and durability, but also lens options when it comes to macro and zoom lenses.
For image and video quality, we test by taking sample shots and video, both indoors and outdoors, in a variety of environments, modes, and lightning conditions. Then we look at the resulting images and video on a monitor to evaluate their sharpness, focus, and color reproduction. When recording video, we also pay attention to frame rates, stabilization, and general clarity. Finally, we take a look at the price and competition to evaluate how much value a mirrorless camera offers before making our final judgement. All of the mirrorless cameras we test are purchased by Lifewire; none are provided by manufacturers.
Katie Dundas is a tech writer for a range of publications. She is an avid travel photographer and personally shoots with the Sony Alpha a6000.
Gabe Carey is a tech journalist with more than seven years of experience covering a wide gamut of consumer electronics and industry developments. His background includes a specialization in cameras, accessories, and photography equipment, and his byline has appeared in a wide variety of leading tech publications.
Lens availability - Many mirrorless cameras have proprietary lens mounts. This means that if the manufacturer doesn’t make the type of lens you want to use, you can’t just buy any lens and use it with your device. Some mirrorless cameras have adapters that allow you to use full-size DSLR lenses, but it also makes sense to take stock of the available lenses before you buy and make sure the majority of your camera needs are covered.
Video - While many of us buy mirrorless cameras strictly for still photography, some of these little cameras have the power to take excellent video. If you are interested in using your camera for video shooting, or think you may want to in the future, then it’s important to look at those capabilities (can it shoot in 4K?) before you purchase.
Sensor - Many mirrorless cameras sport cropped APS-C(Advanced Photo System type-C) sensors, which are smaller than full-frame sensors. You can take great pictures with a cropped sensor, and it’s not always worth splurging for a larger sensor, especially if you’re a hobbyist. But if you have the cash for it, then you may want to pay more for better image quality.