The Best Mirrorless Cameras Will Help You Elevate Your Photography
In hobbyist and professional photography circles, mirrorless cameras have replaced the mighty Digital Single-Lens Reflex (DSLR) as the go-to for capturing the sharpest images and video. These hobby- and professional-grade cameras offer excellent optics, large image sensors and advanced features, empowering you to produce exceptional photos and videos.
As the name implies, mirrorless cameras remove the mirror-based optical viewfinder found in DSLR cameras, which lets you see through the camera, in favor of a purely digital “Electronic Viewfinder.” Taking the mechanism out allows manufacturers to build a more compact and efficient camera that, in many cases, can produce sharper images.
Mirrorless technology is still relatively new, but major manufacturers like Canon, Sony, and Fujifilm have already invested deeply in making the next wave of camera body design. There are already a wide array of options, from affordable daily carry cameras to top-of-the-line professional gear. If you’ve reached a point with your photography where a smartphone isn’t cutting it, the best mirrorless cameras will elevate the quality of your images and inspire new creative possibilities.
Best Mirrorless Cameras
The Expert: I’m a freelance writer and editor who’s written about cameras for publications like Reviewed, Gear Patrol, and Popular Science. I’ve also been a photographer for over a decade. Over the years, I’ve traveled around the globe with various camera systems, from Fujifilm’s pocketable x100 series to Canon’s old-school DSLRs. I currently own a Sony A7 III, which I use with different prime and zoom lenses to shoot stills and videos.
What to Consider When Buying a Mirrorless Camera
Picking a camera, mirrorless or otherwise, is a big decision. Many accessories, including lenses, are brand-specific, so you’ll very quickly lock yourself into buying equipment from that manufacturer. Every camera system has pros and cons, but there are great options from every major brand that can produce amazing images. Whether you’re getting ready to buy in for the first time or looking to upgrade, here are the things we recommend checking out before buying a new mirrorless camera.
Buying a high-quality camera lens is a critical step on your journey as a photographer. While you can purchase a camera “body” without a lens, cameras generally come with a “kit lens” that offers a standard zoom of 35mm to 100mm. A kit lens is very useful, and an excellent place to start for beginners.
Over time, as your skills progress, you may find yourself looking for a wider range of lenses to optimize for more specific shooting scenarios.
Different lenses are most effective from varying distances based on their focal length, measured in millimeters (mm), which indicates the viewing angle of the lens. Lenses with a small focal length have a wider viewing angle, and high focal-length lenses have a narrow one.
Since most lenses are manufacturer-specific and often work on a specific range of camera models, it’s important to make sure that you can buy any lenses you might want for the photos and videos you plan to shoot.
Here are some of the broader categories of lenses that I would consider essential for most expert photographers to have access to over time:
Standard lenses generally offer a focal length between 35mm and 85mm. Standard lenses are versatile and can be used for portraits, landscapes, and street photography.
Prime lenses have a fixed focal length and can’t zoom in or out. They typically have a simpler optical design than zoom lenses, producing sharper, more detailed images with less distortion. Most photographers invest in prime lenses early because they’re often small, affordable, and perform well in low light.
Zoom lenses cover a range of focal lengths, allowing you to change the angle of view by making it narrower (zoom in) or wider (zoom out).
Wide-angle lenses have a shorter focal length than standard lenses and provide a wider field of view. They are ideal for taking pictures of landscapes, architecture, and interiors.
Telephoto lenses offer a longer focal length than standard lenses and provide a narrower field of view. A telephoto lens is great if you plan to take pictures of distant subjects, such as wildlife or athletes.
Macro lenses generally have a longer focal length, allowing you to focus close to subjects and capture intricate details. They are often used to photograph flowers, insects, and other small objects.
The sensor is the most important component of any camera. It captures light and converts it into an image. In a mirrorless camera, you want the largest possible sensor: Not all sensors are created equal, but a larger sensor can collect more information, which leads to more detailed images.
Professionals look for mirrorless cameras with a “full-frame” sensor (36mm x 24mm), which mimics the standard 35mm format in film-based cameras. In addition to collecting a large amount of detail, a full-frame sensor produces an excellent depth of field and performs well in low-light conditions. Professionals generally favor cameras equipped with a full-frame sensor because they are great for portraits, landscapes, and sports.
Not every camera has to have a full-frame sensor, though: Smaller and less expensive cameras often have smaller format APS-C or “micro four thirds” sensors, often called “crop sensors,” because they crop down to a smaller field of view. Full-frame sensors are generally better for professional or high-end photography. In contrast, crop sensors can be a good choice for hobbyists or those who need a more portable or affordable camera.
While most consumer cameras use a full-frame or crop sensor, some manufacturers offer cameras with a “medium-format” sensor that, perhaps confusingly, is actually larger than a full-frame sensor. The larger sensor produces more detailed images at higher resolutions, which makes the cameras especially useful for commercial and fine art photography where you plan to produce large prints.
It’s really frustrating when you take a picture, only to look at the viewfinder and find the final result is blurry because the camera wasn’t perfectly still. Luckily, many of today’s cameras feature In-body image stabilization (IBIS), which compensates for how a camera may move in less steady hands to minimize blurring. That extra stability usually leads to sharper, clearer images, especially when using slow shutter speeds in low-light situations.
In addition to IBIS features, some lenses provide stabilization, but it’s a costly luxury feature that you shouldn’t expect to find on every lens. It’s helpful for image stabilization in larger glass, like telephoto lenses, which may add additional sway or shaking in unsteady hands.
Continuous Shooting and Autofocus
If you plan to take pictures of fast-moving action like sports (or your small child), you’ll want a camera that supports continuous shooting, which allows you to capture photos in rapid succession.
Camera-makers measure continuous shooting rates in frames per second, similar to video framerate. An entry-level camera may offer 5fps, which means the camera takes five photos per second. More advanced cameras may be able to shoot at 30fps or higher.
There are limitations to faster continuous shooting modes, though. Some cameras with high continuous speeds can only sustain their top rate for a short time. And, as you take more photos, you have to be careful not to fill up your memory card with dozens of large RAW files. (Memory card read/write speeds can also impact continuous shooting.)
Your camera’s autofocus system, which finds the subject of a photo in the frame and adjusts your settings to emphasize it in the photo, is also vital. Autofocus allows you to snap photos without adjusting your settings between each shot.
Many of the options on our list use a phase detection autofocus system, similar to what you’d find in a smartphone. With that kind of system, pay attention to the number of autofocus points your camera can handle, which indicates how many points your camera can focus on. The more autofocus points in the system, the more likely your image will look crisp everywhere, including the edges of the frame.
Today’s best cameras, DSLR or Mirrorless, are frequently used for both still photography and recording video. The best mirrorless cameras for video should be able to record in 4K resolution, which is the highest resolution currently available on YouTube and other online video platforms.
We also recommend checking to see whether the camera supports advanced color depth, which indicates how well your camera can reproduce the subtle distinctions between colors in very bright and dim lighting. We usually look for a camera that supports 10-bit color, which indicates the amount of data used to produce color in each pixel. (Currently, you will likely see 8-bit or 10-bit color, though 12-bit is on the way.)
On a less technical level, it’s also useful to have a fully articulating LCD screen on the back, which you can pop out and flip around so you can set up your camera and watch yourself recording while standing in front of it. (This is especially helpful for single-person productions where you plan to record yourself, like vlogging for YouTube and streaming on Twitch.)
Lastly, consider how you plan to record sound when shooting on your camera. Though some cameras can record audio with extra gear, we recommend simply making sure your camera features a microphone input, which will allow you to attach an on-camera microphone.
Increasingly, new mirrorless cameras like the Sony ZV-E10 feature a high-quality in-camera microphone and fully articulating LCD to specifically cater to aspiring YouTubers and streamers.
How We Evaluated The Best Mirrorless Cameras
To select the best mirrorless cameras, I relied on my prior photography testing experience, market research, and insights from Popular Mechanics’ test team, based on its previous coverage. When evaluating each pick, I considered all the essential features I listed above, as well as secondary features like battery life and memory card slots.