Want top-notch image quality without the bulk? Mirrorless cameras are better than ever: we’re talking amazing autofocus performance, great image quality and a huge library of lenses, ranging from ultra-wide-angle glass to long telephoto lenses. All in packages that shoot ace HD video too, yet weigh less and take up much less space than comparable DSLR cameras.
So whether your budget is low three-figures or mid four-figures, there’s a mirrorless camera to suit – one you’ll be able to take anywhere, without sacrificing the images you create. Read on for our pick of the very best, plus our guide to choosing the perfect camera.
How to buy the best mirrorless camera for you
What is a mirrorless camera anyway?
The traditional DSLR design uses an angled internal mirror in front of the sensor, which reflects the view through the lens up into the viewfinder. Mirrorless cameras do away with this: instead, the view from the sensor is shown on a screen on the back, or sometimes in an electronic viewfinder (EVF) on top of the camera.
The big advantage of this is size. If you’re happy to frame up an image using the large screen on the back, your camera can be much smaller, thinner and lighter than a DSLR – and the pictures themselves will be every bit as good.
Are there any disadvantages?
Some photographers aren’t terribly keen on using screens or EVFs for framing images, but modern ones give an impressively sharp and natural view of your scene. Mirrorless cameras also tend to offer worse battery life than a DSLR, as the EVF or screen has to spend a lot more time switched on – so if you’re going away for a few weeks a spare battery is a sensible accessory.
Do I need to worry about sensor size?
Mirrorless cameras come in a variety of sensor sizes. Bigger sensors are able to capture better, cleaner images in poor light – but don’t be too quick to write off cameras with small sensors. Many modern cameras with “crop frame” sensors produce excellent images even at high ISO settings. A small sensor also effectively brings your subject nearer; if you want to shoot sports or wildlife, you won’t need such a big zoom lens to really get into the thick of the action.
What else should I look out for?
Sensor size is just one thing that differentiates cameras. Pricier cameras also tend to have bigger batteries, and more capable burst modes, which means more frames per second for sports photographers. Autofocus performance is worth weighing up too – the fast a camera focusses the fewer frames you’ll miss. These are multimedia days, as well, so expect a high-end mirrorless camera to shoot 4K video.
READ NEXT: Just can’t live without a mirror? Our roundup of the best DSLRs should provide you with food for thought.
The best mirrorless cameras to buy
1. Canon EOS M100: Best for smartphone upgraders
Price: £399 | Buy it now from Amazon
A mere 300g handful, the EOS M100 packs a 24.2-megapixel, APS-C sensor into a package that’s only about the size of an old-school compact camera – aside from the sticky-out lens. And there’s plenty of glass to choose from, from the 11-22mm wide-angle to the zoomy 25-200mm. Or, pop on a £99 adapter and you can attach any of Canon’s vast range of EF-S or EF lenses.
Advanced shooting modes such as aperture and shutter priority are available, but the default point-and-shoot mode is simplicity itself. The 3in, million-pixel tilting touchscreen is a peach, and can be flipped 180° to allow for uncommonly good selfies. Indeed, image quality is superb all round, with Canon’s 49-point phase-detection autofocus system delivering quick, sharp results.
Wi-Fi, NFC and Bluetooth are all included too, making this perfect for enthusiasts moving up from a smartphone. Just note that the maximum video resolution is “merely” 1080p, and battery life could be better at a shade under 300 shots per charge.
Key specs – Sensor: 24.2 megapixel APS-C CMOS with 1.6x magnification; Sensor stabilisation: None; ISO range: 100 – 25,600; Shutter range: 30s – 1/4,000th, bulb; Autofocus points: 49; Lens mount: EF-M; Continuous shooting: 6.1fps; Video modes: MP4, H.264; Video resolutions: 1080p, 720p, 480p; EVF: None; Touchscreen: 3in, 1,040,000-pixel; Connectivity: Mini-USB, 802.11b/g/n wireless, NFC, Bluetooth 4.1; Memory cards: SD, SDHC, SDXC (UHS-I compatible); Battery life: 295 shots; Dimensions: 67 x 35 x 108mm; Body-only weight: 302g
2. Fujifilm X-T20: Best for fashionista cinematographers
Price: £780 | Buy it now from Amazon
Call us nerds if you will, but one thing we love about mirrorless cameras is their retro designs. The Fujifilm X-T20 is a case in point, with its metallic finish, old-school dials and angular viewfinder.
Inside though it’s bang up to date, with a 24.3-megapixel APS-C sensor, which pushes the ISO range up to a screamingly high 51,200. Image quality is superb, with 325 autofocus points providing plenty of accuracy – and face and eye detection allow portrait photographers to nab sharp images without too much of a fiddle. Experienced snappers, meanwhile, can get hands-on with the top-mounted controls.
The X-T20 also benefits from Fuji’s huge range of X Mount lenses, which gives you a very good range of options at all price points. And its ability to shoot 4K video at a variety of frame rates is another plus. It’s a superb, great-looking camera for photographers, and especially good for filmmakers.
Key specs – Sensor: 24.3 megapixel APS-C CMOS with 1.6x magnification; Sensor stabilisation: None; ISO range: 100 – 51,200; Shutter range: 30s – 1/32,000th, bulb; Autofocus points: 325; Lens mount: Fujifilm X; Continuous shooting: 14fps; Video modes: MP4, H.264; Video resolutions: 4K, 1080p, 720p; EVF: 0.39in, 2,360,000-pixel; Touchscreen: 3in, 1,040,000-pixel; Connectivity: Micro-USB, 802.11b/g/n wireless; Memory cards: SD, SDHC, SDXC (UHS-I compatible); Battery life: 350 shots; Dimensions: 118 x 41 x 83mm; Body-only weight: 383g
3. Sony Alpha A7R III: Best for pros
Price: £3,199 | Buy it now from Wex
Traditionally, one of the benefits of a mirrorless design is a smaller, lighter camera. You can scrub that with the Alpha A7R III, which at nearly 700g is pretty chunky. Look at what it can do, though, and you’ll forget your aching arms.
Image quality is front and centre – the A7R III is one of the very few mirrorless cameras to feature a “full frame” image sensor (that is, one as large as a frame of 35mm film). As a result, it produces huge images, with a whopping 42.2-megapixel resolution, giving you loads of editing potential and nearly limitless opportunities to crop in. There are incredible amounts of detail, and five-axis sensor stabilisation helps keep everything sharp.
Other pro-level features include twin memory card slots, to ensure your shots won’t be lost if one card dies – or you can simply use them to shoot twice as many photos in a session. And at the end of the day, the full gamut of wireless, Bluetooth and NFC makes it easy to transfer your pictures off the camera. It’s expensive, to be sure, but this incredible camera is luring plenty of pros away from their Canon and Nikon DSLRs.
Key specs – Sensor: 42.4 megapixel full-frame CMOS with no magnification; Sensor stabilisation: 5-axis; ISO range: 100 – 102,400; Shutter range: 30s – 1/8,000th, bulb; Autofocus points: 399; Lens mount: E-mount; Continuous shooting: 10fps; Video modes: MP4, H.264; Video resolutions: 4K, 1080p; EVF: 0.5in, 3,686,400-pixel; Touchscreen: 3in, 1,440,000-pixel; Connectivity: Micro-USB, 802.11b/g/n wireless, NFC, Bluetooth 4.1; Memory cards: SD, SDHC, SDXC (UHS-I/II compatible), Memory Stick PRO Duo, Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo; Battery life: 530 shots (EVF), 650 shot (monitor); Dimensions: 127 x 74 x 96mm; Body-only weight: 657g
4. Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III: Best for long zoom shots
Price: £560 | Buy it now from Amazon
The gorgeous OM-D E-M10 Mark III recalls Olympus’s glory days. Finished in retro silver or good-looking matte black, it also feels like it can take a few knocks.
Inside, the micro four-thirds sensor is smaller than the sensors you’ll find in Canon or Fuji’s mirrorless cameras, so you’re going to see more noise in your images once the light starts to fade. However, it also means you get twice the effective magnification of a full-frame sensor: attach a 300mm lens and you’ve effectively got yourself 600mm worth of reach. That makes this a very tempting choice for amateur wildlife and sports photographers; the sensor isn’t hugely high resolution, but 16.1 megapixels is still plenty for huge prints.
The Mark III is a pleasure to use, too. The dials and controls make manual exposure adjustments easy for advanced photographers, and five-axis image stabilisation is helpful not only for stills, but also for 4K video modes. What’s more, as with the Fuji, a vast range of lenses is available, from low-end stills lenses to high-end cinematography lenses such as the five-figure Zeiss Cine Zoom lenses – how far you go is up to you.
Key specs – Sensor: 16.1 megapixel 4/3in Live MOS with 2x magnification; Sensor stabilisation: 5-axis; ISO range: 100 – 25,600; Shutter range: 60s – 1/16,000th, bulb; Autofocus points: 121; Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds; Continuous shooting: 8.6fps; Video modes: MP4, H.264; Video resolutions: 4K, 1080p, 720p; EVF: 2,360,000-pixel; Touchscreen: 3in, 1,040,000-pixel; Connectivity: Micro-USB, 802.11b/g/n wireless; Memory cards: SD, SDHC, SDXC (UHS-I/II compatible); Battery life: 330 shots; Dimensions: 122 x 50 x 84mm; Body-only weight: 410g
5. Panasonic Lumix G9: Best for filmmakers
Price: £1,499 | Buy it now from Wex
The G9’s micro four-thirds sensor is just half the size of the Sony A7R III’s 42.4-megapixel monster – yet the camera itself is slightly bigger, and nearly as heavy. It’s also decidedly more expensive than your average mirrorless camera.
Features-wise, though, it ticks all the boxes. 802.11b/g/n wireless and Bluetooth make connecting and sharing images easy, and five-axis sensor stabilisation helps ensure sharp snaps even at lower shutter speeds (although the small sensor means that things get a bit noisy at the highest ISO settings). The G9 also has an amazing continuous shooting mode, capturing up to 60fps a second at full resolution – perfect for those worried they’ll miss a shot.
Where the G9 really shines though is filmmaking. 1080p and 4K footage can both be recorded at frame rates up to 60fps, allowing you shoot butter-smooth sequences. The EVF is also unusually good, with 3.7 million pixels giving loads of clarity to help filmmakers and stills photographers alike keep things perfectly in focus. A very good camera for stills; a near-perfect one for video.
Key specs – Sensor: 20.3 megapixel 4/3in Live MOS with 2x magnification; Sensor stabilisation: 5-axis; ISO range: 100 – 25,600; Shutter range: 60s – 1/32,000th, bulb; Autofocus points: 225; Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds; Continuous shooting: 60fps; Video modes: MP4, H.264; Video resolutions: 4K, 1080p; EVF: 3,680,000-pixel; Touchscreen: 3in, 1,040,000-pixel; Connectivity: Micro-USB, 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.2; Memory cards: SD, SDHC, SDXC (UHS-I/II compatible); Battery life: 380 shots; Dimensions: 137 x 97 x 92mm; Body-only weight: 586g
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