The best mirrorless cameras you can buy
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- Mirrorless cameras may be smaller than DSLRs, but they give you many of the same benefits, including great image quality, fast performance levels, and versatility in interchangeable lenses.
- Based on research and testing, the best mirrorless camera is the retro-looking Fujifilm X-T20 with its great price and excellent image quality.
If you're someone who believes the world of digital photography is incredibly advanced versus what occurred a couple of decades ago with film photography, you're right … to a point.Digital photography simplifies the process of shooting photos, making them instantly shareable, versus having to haul your film to the Fotomat. By the way, if you actually have dropped rolls of film at a drive-through window at a Fotomat shack in your life, welcome to being old.
However, you might be surprised to learn that the most popular type of digital camera - the DSLR, or digital single lens reflex camera - is still using the same basic design from the days of film, when these cameras were called SLR cameras or 35mm cameras (because of the film they used).
So if you're looking for an updated design in a digital camera, the best mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (ILCs) represent the latest advancements in digital photography technology.
Mirrorless vs. DSLR
For those seeking the best quality photographs, mirrorless ILCs and DSLRs represent the two best types of digital cameras. They have some similarities and some differences, as shown by Tech Radar and Beach Camera.
- Similarities: Both types of cameras have larger image sensors and processing chips than simple point-and-shoot cameras or smartphone cameras, allowing for better image quality and faster performance. Both types of cameras use interchangeable lenses, which give you some versatility in the photos you can shoot. Both cameras usually have a hot shoe on the top, allowing you to add components, such as a large flash.
- Differences: The interior of a DSLR camera contains a mirror mechanism that sits in front of the image sensor, blocking the light traveling through the lens. The mirror lifts upward when you press the shutter button, allowing the light to strike the image sensor. Of course, in the days of film cameras, the mirror blocked the light from reaching the film, which would have caused it to be exposed. DSLR makers just kept this basic design after making the switch to digital. As Digital Photo Mentor explains, with a mirrorless camera, the mirror mechanism has been removed. After all, there's no reason the light has to be blocked from reaching the image sensor anymore. The two types of cameras have several other differences, as Photography Life explains, but the removal of the mirror is the primary one.
- Lenses: With both types of cameras, you do have to purchase extra lenses separately, which can become expensive. A much wider variety of lenses are made for DSLRs than for mirrorless models. You have to pick a lens that specifically fits your model of camera in either case. Nikon DSLR lenses only fit Nikon DSLR cameras, for example.
- Size: Because of the removal of the mirror mechanism inside the camera, mirrorless cameras have a thinner, smaller, and lighter design than DSLR cameras.
- Image quality: As a general rule, DSLR cameras create better images than mirrorless cameras, especially at a professional level. But for beginner and intermediate photographers, you won't notice a difference in most photos.
For a long time, DSLR cameras have outperformed mirrorless cameras. However, the gap between the two designs in terms of performance has shrunk considerably in the past few years.
Mirrorless camera terms to know
- Burst mode: The burst mode measures how many photos you can shoot per second. Faster cameras provide better performance.
- Focus: With the lens on a mirrorless ILC, you should be able to pick between manual focus and autofocus, depending on your needs.
- Image sensor: Think of the image sensor as the equivalent of the film in a camera … minus the need for a Fotomat, of course. The image sensor measures the light from the scene and records it as digital data. Larger image sensors in physical size generally outperform smaller image sensors.
- Kit lens: A kit lens is a lens that ships with a mirrorless camera. You also can buy the mirrorless ILC separately as the body only, which means no lenses are included.
- Megapixels: This is the number of individual pixels (or dots) the image sensor will record. A larger number of megapixels will yield a better image quality, although the size of the image sensor is more important in terms of image quality.
- Video resolution: Depending on the mirrorless camera you select, you may be able to shoot full HD or 4K resolution video.
- Viewfinder: Some mirrorless cameras offer an electronic viewfinder and some don't. You may be able to add a viewfinder separately, or you can use the display screen on the back of the camera to frame the scene.
Here are the best mirrorless cameras you can buy:
- Best mirrorless camera overall: Fujifilm X-T20
- Best high-end mirrorless camera: Sony A7R III
- Best mirrorless camera for video: Panasonic Lumix G85
- Best mirrorless camera on a budget: Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II
- Best mirrorless camera with the most lenses: Canon EOS M6
Updated by Owen Burke on 12/13/18: Added the Sony AR7III as a best high-end pick, alternate recommendations, and the best cameras and adapters for switching from DSLR to mirrorless cameras with the lenses you already have. Updated prices and formatting.
Read on in the slides below to check out our top picks.
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