Photography - it’s great! But, it’s nothing without a camera. Getting the right tool for your picture-taking endeavours is key to success. While you may know about DSLRs, the latest evolution is ‘mirrorless’, and it brings with it some amazing advantages over the older get-up. However, there’s minefield of amazing tech out there to navigate and it’s not just as simple as a trip down to Jessops (trust us, it was a thing).
Not only do you need to decide which format is right for you, from full-frame to APS-C and even Micro Four Thirds, but you need to understand that investing in a system is like investing in a children… one is never enough, you’ll love it more than life itself and you’ll always find yourself needing more cash. We jest of course, it’s a wonderful feeling.
What is a mirrorless camera?
In essence a mirrorless camera is just a DSLR camera without the mirror. It is also called a digital single lens camera, which features a removable lens and digital display.
What are the benefits of using a mirrorless camera?
Mirrorless, or CSCs, boast electronic viewfinders that show you the effect of your settings in real-time. They generally have a much higher continuous shooting rate and the focus system boasts hundreds of AF points, improved tracking systems and in some cases, outstanding eye tracking AF.
Related: The best cameras for beginners
So, whether you’re looking to upgrade your older kit, or you’re looking for a step up from your previous CSC, these mirrorless cameras are at the top of their class, and represent the best value for money, while helping to create high-quality images. Are mirrorless cameras the future? Whether it's the best full-frame mirrorless camera or the best mirrorless camera for beginners, read more to find out...
The best mirrorless cameras shortlist:
Best Mirrorless Camera
1. Nikon Z6
Representing one of Nikon's first two entries into the full-frame mirrorless market, alongside the Z7, this compact CSC boasts a 24.5MP BSI sensor, 273-point on-sensor phase detect AF system, that covers 90% of the frame, and ISO range of 100-51,200 - rivalling the Sony A7 III. It's capable of shooting at up to 12fps, and with a firmware update is able to offer face and Eye AF - a godsend for wedding and portrait shooters. The image quality is first-rate, though you also have access to 4K 30p and 120fps at Full HD 1080p. Pair this with a 5-axis image stabilisation system, N-Log and 4:2:2 10-bit out, making this an ideal hybrid. Finally, the ergonomics are world-class, and the 3690k-dot EVF and 3.2in 2100k-dot touchscreen are a joy to use. You also have a small, but growing range of native Z lenses, as well as an FTZ adapter to allow you to use traditional AF-S lenses. Sounds like an amazing way to start our list, right? It is, but there's one slight catch, it features a single XQD card slot, which is more expensive than traditional - oh the controversy! ProsTerrific high ISO performanceConsTouchscreen could be improvedSpecBody Type: SLR-style Size: 134 x 101 x 68 mmWeight: 675g
2. Sony A7 III
The A7 III collected numerous camera of the year awards for 2018, and stands up amazingly well in the face of the newer releases. In fact, it's possibly the most well rounded camera in existence. You'll get a 24.2MP full-frame BSI sensor, with 100-51,200 ISO range and a 693-point phase detect AF system lifted straight from the flagship A9. It also received the latest AF algorithm firmware updates, strengthening the Eye AF to frankly insane levels, as well as including real-time animal Eye AF. As well as glorious looking photos, you can also shoot 4K video at 30fps, or 1080p Full HD at 120fps. As with the Z6, you can record 4:2:2 10-bit externally, and shoot with S-Log 2, S-Log 3 and even HLG for an instant HDR workflow. You even have a 5-axis in-body image stabilisation system. Sure, the EVF may be a touch lower than the best in-class, and the 3in 921k-dot touchscreen isn't something to write home about, but it does boast dual SD card slots and 10fps continuous shooting speed. We reckon the amount of tech packed in here means it's more than worth the investment. Pros24MP full-frame BSI sensorConsOnly one card slot is UHS-IISpecBody Type: Compact System Size: 127 x 96 x 74 mmWeight: 945g
3. Fujifilm X-T3
Fujifilm are pioneers of two things, APS-C mirrorless, and stunning retro style… oh, and colour, so maybe three things! The X-T3 is more than a half-hearted upgrade to the X-T2, it's better in almost every conceivable way. The BSI 26.1MP sensor returns crisp, sharp shots, and the Film Simulation mode gives you stunning coloured JPEGs right out of camera. You'll get a 425-point phase detect AF system that covers 100% of the frame, ISO 160-12,800 and astonishing video chops to boot. You'll get access to 4K at 60fps - up to a colossal 400Mbps bit rate - as well as 1080p Full HD at 120fps. You can shoot 4:2:0 10-bit internally, or 4:2:2 externally, as well as record in F-Log or use the company Film Simulations, such as the movie-orientated Eterna for impressive out-of-camera footage. Sadly, it doesn't come with image stabilisation, but who doesn't use a gimbal these days? Are we right? The AF system is brilliant, with tracking and Eye AF impressing greatly, and the ability to shoot at 11fps with the mechanical shutter is none too shabby. However the ability to switch to the Sports Finder mode and belt out 30fps with a 1.25x crop and 16MP image resolution - blackout free by the way - adds an extra dimension of brilliance. Finally, this may be the best looking camera on this list, with stunning retro visuals and soli ergonomics. Oh, and it also takes dual SD cards (take that Nikon) and boasts a tilting 3in 1040k-dot touchscreen! Read more about why this is one of our favourites in our Fujifilm X-T3 review. ProsHigh-speed burst modesConsNo in-body image stabilizationSpecBody Type: SLR-styleSize: 133 x 93 x 59 mmWeight: 539g
4. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II
We're halfway, and it's worth noting that not everybody is looking for an ultra-high resolution full-frame mirrorless. So, what are the options? Well, this Micro Four Thirds from Olympus boasts some meaty photo chops, and its compact design makes it great for travel photography or as a second camera. Your £1000 will nab you a 20.4MP Live MOS sensor with 121 points of on-sensor phase detection AF and 5-axis in-body image stabilisation - a specialism of Olympus. Weighing in at just 500g, Olympus puts an emphasis on ease of use, and the layout is simple. However, you'll still find a powerful set of stats, such as 4K video at 30fps or Full HD 1080p at 60fps - no 120fps. It records internally at 4:2:0 b-bit, but can achieve 4:2:2 externally, though the bitrate remains at 8-bits, unlike the more advanced 10-bit offerings of others. One feature we applaud is the Live Composite mode, which lets you take multiple shots. However, after the initial shot, the Olympus only exposes for the highlights, making this ideal for first time star or traffic trail shooters - bonus! While it may not be the standout choice on this list, Olympus' lenses are renowned for quality, and are relatively inexpensive compared to their full-frame alternatives. This means you'll be able to get pro lenses, such as the M.Zuiko 300mm f/4 or 40-150 f/2.8 without denting the savings too badly. The Micro Four Thirds sensor also means the effective focal length is doubled, making this great for budding wildlife photographers. ProsIncredible image stabilization for both still and video shootingConsExpensive SpecBody Type: SLR-style Size: 134 x 91 x 67 mmWeight: 574g
5. Panasonic Lumix GH5
Continuing on the Micro Four Thirds trail, the GH5 from Panasonic has built a reputation as being the must have camera for YouTubers. This compact, yet pleasingly chunky crop sensor body may boast a wealth of hybrid photo/video features, but it's definitely aimed more at moving visuals than static ones. You'll find a 20.3MP Live MOS sensor, 225-point DFD (Depth From Defocus) contrast detection system - Panasonic hasn't jumped on the phase detection AF bandwagon as of yet - and 5-axis in-body image stabilisation. You'll get an ISO range of 200-25,600, though it's not quite as capable as other larger sensor offerings on this list, and a flip out touchscreen for composing yourself in the shot. Where the GH5 shines, however, is the ability to create brilliant video footage that's endeared it to the hearts of vloggers and indie film makers everywhere. You get 4K at 60fps 4:2:2 10-bit internally (yes! a world's first at the time), as well as 1080p Full HD ad 120fps, or even up to 180fps using the high speed VFR mode. To top it all off, a firmware update even allowed it to film 6K anamorphic at 30fps - our minds were completely blown. You are able to shoot in V-Log, allowing you to take advantage of the 10-bit colour depth for grading, however this is an £83 paid update - how very 2017! You could, of course, look at the updated GH5S. It packs a 10.28MP sensor and Dual ISO for greater low-light performance and V-Log out of the box. However, it's a tad more expensive, and doesn't feature image stabilisation, though with a gimbal, it's the more refined choice. Read more about why this is one of our favourites in our Panasonic Lumix GH5 review.ProsNew 20-megapixel sensor (high res)ConsNo high-res composite modeSpecBody Type: Compact System and Mirrorless Size: 138.5 x 98.1 x 87.4mmWeight: 725g
6. Sony A7R III
Given the announcement of the A7R IV, the current, or slightly older model if you're reading this post-release, has received a rather tasty discount. Boasting some of the most impressive specs, this 42.2MP high-resolution A7R III features a 399-point phase detect AF system, covering 68% of the frame, and native ISO range of 100-25,600. It also boasts the latest firmware update to give it vastly improved Eye AF, as well as the new animal Eye AF function. You'll get a sleek design, as seen in the A7 III, and meaty 10fps continuous shooting speed. There's a 3690k-dot EVF and 1440k-dot touchscreen for composition, as well as a 5-axis in-boy image stabilisation system. For those wanting to switch to video, there's 4K at 30fps or 1080p at 120fps. You can also record in S-Log 2 and S-Log 3, as well as 4:2:0 8-bit internally, or 4:2:2 externally, though still at 8-bit. While it's not the most video savvy option on the market, the RAW files look astonishing, and the clarity is beyond question. If you're looking for a compact high-resolution full-frame CSC and you like the sound of the stunning G Master lens line-up, you may have just hit the jackpot. However, if you're looking to upgrade, the A7R IV boasts a 61MP sensor… it may be a grand more expensive, but WOW! ProsImproved dynamic rangeConsOnly one card slot is UHS-II compatibleSpecBody Type: SLR-styleSize: 127 x 96 x 74 mm Weight: 657g
7. Sony A6400
Sony left quite a gap between the A6500, it's flagship APS-C mirrorless, and the A6400, but it was well worth the wait. This latest mirrorless boasts a 24.2MP APS-C sensor, and also includes the recent AF firmware update to give real-time tracking and improved eye and animal AF - a boast only rivalled by the full-frame A9. Beyond a class-leading AF system, you also get a compact body with maximum 11fps continuous shooting, ISO 100-32,000 and time-lapse movies - a new addition to the Alpha range. The 425-point phase detection AF system is stunning, and the tracking abilities are world-class, despite costing under £1000 with a kit lens. It also boasts some very respectable video specs, such as 4K video at 30fps, or 1080p Full HD at 120fps. You can shoot in V-Log, increasing the dynamic range and allowing for colour grading, as well as use external mic jack for superior audio. Oh, and it also features a front facing flip up touchscreen. However, when raised, it makes the hotshot unusable, so mounting a shotgun mic may prove a bit tough without a premed cage… Oh Sony, you giveth and you taketh away! Small issue aside, and the fact that it lacks the in-built image stabilisation of the A6500, the A6400 is a brilliant choice for budget-seeking stills and video shooters.ProsHighly advanced autofocus ConsNo built-in image stabilizationSpecBody Type: Rangefinder-styleSize: 120 x 67 x 60 mmWeight: 403g
8. Sony A9
Sony's 4th entry into our list should give you a heads up to the level of innovation and quality the company puts into every release. The pinnacle of this is the A9, a pro-sports orientated CSC that has been dutifully named ' The DLSR Killer'. Not only does it boast a 24.2MP stacked BSI sensor with a front end LSI to help negate any rolling shutter – an issue with some electronic shutters. It features a solid 100-51,200 ISO range, 693-point phase detection AF system and colossal 20fps blackout free continuous shooting – astonishing! The 5-axis in-body image ikon ization is perfect for capturing images at slower shutter speeds, as well as helping use Sony's pro-level G Master telephoto optics hand-held. As you'd expect in a pro-body – listen up Nikon – it boasts dual SD card slots, as well as a tilting LCD screen and brilliant 3686k-dot EVF. Did we mention that thanks to the same firmware update as the A6400, it also boasts one of the most polished and accurate AF systems on the planet? The real-time tracking is exceptional when it comes to tackling action, and the improved Eye AF is essential if you're capturing player sports, or even portraits or weddings. With so much excellence, it seems as though Sony is now setting the bar, and it's setting it rather high. ProsExcellent image quality at low & high ISOsConsSlow buffer clearingSpecBody Type: Full-frameSize: 127 x 96 x 63mmWeight: 673g
Are mirrorless cameras better than DSLR?
It all depends on how and where you will be using your camera. Although DSLR cameras are renowned for their high-quality shots and optical viewfinders suited for low light conditions, the advancements in mirrorless technology today is mind-blowing. You can now buy a mirrorless camera that is far lighter, faster, more compact and with much higher video quality. Yes, you may have fewer accessories to choose from, but there are far more lenses on the market than a couple of years ago, and the selection is only growing.
What type of photography are mirrorless cameras best for?
There is no real limitation to what mirrorless cameras can be used for. Despite situations where you would choose your camera purely on its performance in low light conditions, photographers could argue that mirrorless cameras are good and if not better for travel photography or any kind of photography where being fast and lightweight is in your favour.
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Kirk Schwarz is one of our resident tech experts. A tech-addicted photographer with more than a decade's experience, Kirk's used to putting new gear through extreme field-testing.
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