The 10 Best Mirrorless Cameras
This wiki has been updated 33 times since it was first published in February of 2015. Mirrorless cameras are designed to have the advantages of smaller size, lighter weight, and lower cost over DSLRs. Most also use a reliable digital image relayed through an electronic viewfinder, rather than an array of light through complicated pentaprisms. Whether you're a hobbyist or a professional photographer, one of the models on our list may be just what you are looking for. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
January 14, 2021:
I’ve updated a couple of the older models to their newer variants, like the Fujifilm X-T3, which I’ve updated to the X-T4, and, while there are a lot of things that haven’t changed between the two models, like the 26.1-MP, APS-C CMOS sensor, and ISO settings, the X-T4 does add a few tweaks, the most notable of which is perhaps its in-body image stabilisation – other changes include a slightly larger body and battery, as well as a sharper and fully articulating screen. Similarly, the Sony a9 II (or a9 Mark II) adds a higher dynamic range and color depth, but is otherwise virtually the same as its predecessor, despite being a bit bulkier. Sony makes some of the best professional-level models on their alpha (a) system, with entries like the Sony a7S III, Sony a9 II and a7R IV, all of which also have full frame sensors. Remember that mirrorless cameras use an EVF (Electronic Viewfinder), not an optical viewfinder like DSLRs use – this tends to make them more compact.
March 27, 2019:
The two most exciting additions to this list since its last iteration come from the two biggest companies in cameras: Nikon and Canon. After dragging their feet for way too long, both companies finally released mirrorless bodies that could compete with — and in some cases outperform — the likes of Sony's a7 and a9 cameras. To make room for these, Olympus and Sony both saw slightly older models removed from our ranking, with Sony's a7S II being the one I was most saddened to send packing. It was a revolutionary video machine for its time, but Sony has taken far too long to update it. When they do, I'm sure the a7S III will find its way into a top slot, but for now, the series has been demoted utterly.
Leica SL2 While traditionalists and enthusiasts typically flock to Leica for their high-end, hand-assembled rangefinder cameras, like those of the M-series, the German company does also offer a range of highly impressive mirrorless and compact models, and they’ve adopted the same quality-and-precision-over-cost-efficiency-based approach they’ve always taken to design and build these digital models, which is why they can be markedly expensive. As a result, everything from the lens to the internal components of the Leica SL2 help to deliver a stunning level of photography which is hard to replicate on a mass-produced model, regardless of how much advanced software or how many technical features you otherwise pack into it. leica-camera.com
Through With The Looking Glass
Either way the light travels, it ends up in the eyepiece at the back of the camera through which you frame your image.
On a traditional single lens reflex camera, or SLR, 'reflex' refers to the action of a small mirror in the camera body that sits behind the back element of the lens. That mirror reflects the light coming through the lens up into another series of mirrors, or, in more expensive cameras, into a complicated prism of glass called a pentaprism. Either way the light travels, it ends up in the eyepiece at the back of the camera through which you frame your image.
With that mirror in the way, however, it'd be impossible for the light coming through the lens to reach the film or the digital sensor (D-SLR indicates a digital version of the SLR design). Thus, all SLRs have a mechanism the reflexively pulls the mirror up and out of the way in a fraction of a second, just in time for the shutter to open and expose the sensor to light.
The problem with a reflexive mirror is that its movement creates vibrations in the camera, vibrations that decrease sharpness in your images. The reflex mechanism also necessitates that the camera be a certain depth to accommodate it, making your system bulkier and heavier.
The great challenge in designing a pro-level mirrorless camera was in the viewfinder. That mirror or pentaprism pathway was excellent at maintaining brightness and conveying real time framing of the scene before you without any lag. Early mirrorless viewfinders were always a step behind the action, making the cameras useless in sports, events, and other fast-paced shooting environments.
In the past few years, however, viewfinder technology has skyrocketed, mainly due to advances in smaller OLED displays. Now, not only do you get the full benefit of a sharp, bright OLED viewfinder that conveys info in real time, but you also can use that viewfinder to give you actual exposure feedback, so the brightness and contrast of the image you see is just what you'll get in your picture.
Altogether, these cameras result in a fast, informative shooting experience with no unnecessary vibration. What's more, some companies have utilized the room saved by the removal of the mirror to install on-sensor image stabilization that can correct for up to five axes of vibration, essentially doubling down on the original benefit of getting rid of the mirror.
Since mirrorless cameras are, in many ways, children of a marriage between early digital point-and-shoots and professional D-SLRs, some of their manufacturers have decided to make their camera bodies without any viewfinders, putting their focus on the quality of the viewing screen at the back of the camera body, while offering optional viewfinders for purchase.
A Good Time To Rethink Brands
There was a time in the dying art of film photography, and even in digital photography, when Nikon and Canon were the only significant players. In today's market, however, brand means less than ever.
Years ago, photographers found themselves locked into systems by the lenses they'd bought. They might own a camera body that costs two or three grand, but they'd also own about four or five times as much in lenses, so jumping ship was almost never an option. There are mirrorless systems on the market that work with all the old lenses, but most of them require adapters, and the use of giant lenses kind of flies in the face of one of the major advantages of mirrorless systems, which is that they're smaller.
Nature and portrait photographers will want to know that there's an excellent selection of lenses for the system.
If you've been shooting or a while, either in film or digital, and you're looking to make the jump to mirrorless, the chances are you're doing it to save on that size, to travel lighter than you otherwise could. You probably have a bevy of nice lenses that you don't want to just lose, or take a beating on in their resale.
The good news is that there are a couple of companies specializing in cross-platform adapters, meaning you can buy a camera off our list based on its technical specs without worrying about which lenses will or will not work with it.
You may be new to photography, however, and you want to start small without throwing a lot of money into moribund platforms. That's smart. You're lucky in that you have such a wide field of options, but that abundance can easily become confusing. Before investing in any camera system, you should know what you plan to shoot.
If you want to do street photography, taking clandestine pictures of unsuspecting people, you should aim for the smallest camera on our list that has a silent shutter. That way, you can take shot after shot without ever alerting your subject to your presence.
Event and sport photographers will want to put an emphasis on burst rate (maximum number of shots a camera can take in a second) and auto-focus speed. Nature and portrait photographers will want to know that there's an excellent selection of lenses for the system. Ten years ago, that would have sent photographers either to Nikon or Canon, but in the mirrorless market it's Fuji and Olympus who currently boast the best glass.
A Range Of Possibilities
While most people think of Sony, Panasonic, and Olympus when they think of the early pioneers of mirrorless, interchangeable-lens camera systems, it was a company known much more for printing pictures than for taking them that was first to the party.
In 2004, Epson created a digital rangefinder camera that utilized Leica's M-mount lenses. The 6.1 megapixel marvel, called the RD-1, was modeled after the Voigtlander Bessa 35, which was a film camera released in the late 1990s, and it came out costing consumers a hefty three grand.
Now, I know a rangefinder is a mirrorless system to begin with, so making a digital rangefinder with interchangeable lenses is kind of a shortcut toward mirrorlessness, since there was no mirror to replace. But the idea of a digital camera with interchangeable lenses and no mirror was a total novelty, and the big brands we now associate with the mirrorless revolution all took notice, leading toward the relatively young, extraordinarily exciting products that continue to evolve.