Choosing the Best Mirrorless Camera

best mirrorless cameraOnce a distinctly amateur niche, in recent years the Mirrorless camera system has really come into its own. Now the best Mirrorless cameras offer many of the advantages of top-end DSLRs, but with few of the disadvantages. So whether you’re an experienced and demanding photographer looking to make the transition across from a DSLR, or a smartphone photographer wanting to move up to a more flexible and powerful camera, our guide to the best Mirrorless cameras will likely include a model that’s right for you.


The Advantages of Mirrorless Cameras

The mirror in a DSLR camera is there to reflect the view through the lens up to the camera’s optical viewfinder, allowing you to see what you’re shooting right up until the moment you press the shutter. When you fire off a shot, the mirror flips up out of the way, and the light falls onto the camera’s sensor.

The movement of the mirror creates two main problems for camera designers. The least serious of these is that this action creates the classic “click” or “snap” noise that we associate with taking photos. This can render DSLRs less suitable for shooting in situations where silence is essential. For example, on a film set or discrete documentary work.

More problematic still is that the flip of the mirror may cause the entire camera to move slightly, creating a risk of blurred photos due to camera shake. While this was a more serious problem back in the days of analog film photography – when the heavy mechanical construction of cameras was more basic and less reliant upon electronics – it nonetheless remains an issue that camera manufacturers must deal with today. A Mirrorless camera is one way around this problem, allowing for silent and steady shooting.

Also, a Mirrorless camera’s design doesn’t need to incorporate space for a mirror to flip, which allows for a slimmer camera body.

In short, the advantages of a Mirrorless camera are threefold:

– Silent operation

– Reduced risk of camera shake

– Smaller camera body


The Disadvantages of Mirrorless Cameras

Cameras without mirrors have existed side by side with SLRs for the best part of a century: think of the iconic Leica rangefinders favored by many classic documentary photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson. Nonetheless, SLRs have historically been the most popular form of camera. Clearly a camera using a mirror system must offer some advantages.

Without the use of a mirror, the photographer has no way of seeing exactly what the camera sees. Old 35mm Leica rangefinders do indeed have a viewfinder that the user looks through to focus and compose the photo, but this is simply a small window going directly through the camera body from front to back, and not a true representation of the view that will be captured on film.

However, as the viewfinder and lens are positioned very close together on a 35mm Leica, the difference in viewpoint and perspective between the two is minimal, especially when photographing more distant subjects. For dedicated Leica fans, this slight degree of divergence in view is quite acceptable.

Some larger format film cameras also employ the rangefinder focusing system (e.g. the Mamiya 7, or some Linhof field cameras). The distance between lens and viewfinder is usually much greater, causing a more significant difference in viewpoint, known as parallax error.

This can become a serious problem when photographing subjects very close to the camera. For example, you might clearly see your subject peeking over from behind that wall, but the lens is actually positioned lower down than the viewfinder, so all it sees is bricks. And unfortunately, it’s bricks that you’ll get on film.

Modern digital Mirrorless cameras can get around this problem by means of an LCD: light falling into the lens is captured by the sensor and displayed on a screen at the back of the camera, thus bypassing the need for a mirror. The drawback of this, from some purist photographers’ point of view, is that what the eye sees is not a direct and unmediated depiction of the scene in front of the camera, but instead just a video representation of it. These photographers argue that although the view on an LCD is almost instantaneous, and is identical to what will be captured by the sensor, it’s not the same as looking at reality with the naked eye.

While many younger photographers reared on smartphones will likely be fully comfortable with shooting via a screen rather than an eyepiece, plenty of older photographers do not find this way of composing a photograph very satisfactory. The view on a screen also tends to be trickier to see in bright lighting conditions, making LCD shooting more difficult in strong sunlight.

Thankfully some manufacturers of Mirrorless cameras have taken this complaint onboard and begun to add Electronic View Finders (EVFs) to many more recent models. These are essentially just tiny – but usually very high resolution – video screens inside an eyepiece on top of the camera.

While the addition of an EVF doesn’t change the fact that the photographer is still looking at a digital image of the scene rather than a direct view, it does provide a shooting experience that is closer to that of an old-school SLR while also eliminating any problems associated with viewing an LCD in bright light.

At present, though, EVFs are rarely to be found on entry-level Mirrorless cameras. Some people really prefer looking at an optical – rather than electronic – view of the scene.

Thankfully a few Mirrorless cameras now offer both an EVF and an optical rangefinder – such as the Fujifilm X-Pro2 for example. This gives users the choice of either a high-tech shooting experience or one closer to that of using the classic rangefinders of yesteryear by means of an optical viewfinder. Unsurprisingly, though, cameras offering both an electronic and optical viewfinder tend to be priced towards the higher end of the spectrum.

There’s another reason why professional photographers have been relatively slow to jump onboard the Mirrorless system: even just a few years ago there were relatively few lenses available for Mirrorless cameras. Quite how many lenses a single photographer needs is of course debatable. But it’s understandable that photographers already fully invested in a DSLR setup, with the enormous choice of optics this system provides, would not be quick to embrace a new and untested format offering a vastly restricted range of lenses.

Another issue is that, until fairly recently, Mirrorless cameras were mostly synonymous with the “Bridge” category: small and portable cameras that fell somewhere between compact point and shoots and DSLRs. These invariably had tiny image sensors and came with built-in, non-interchangeable “megazoom” lenses. Due to the compromised image quality associated with such extreme zooms, this is not the kind of camera that would appeal to more serious shooters.

Thankfully though, both of these points have rapidly changed in a very short space of time. Most Mirrorless cameras today will take interchangeable lenses.

While many still come with smaller Micro Four Thirds format image sensors, there’s an increasing trend for manufacturers to offer flagship Mirrorless models with much larger sensors and high pixel counts. Indeed, there’s now a growing choice of Mirrorless cameras on the market that are equipped with full-frame sensors – and sometimes even bigger.

In the end, then, the once quite significant differences between DSLR and Mirrorless cameras have become less of an issue with every year that passes. Indeed, with several high-resolution full-frame options now available, and a much greater choice of lenses than even just a couple of years ago, neither image quality nor convenience can be considered valid reasons for not choosing a Mirrorless system.

To help you decide which will be the best Mirrorless camera for your budget and shooting style, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most convincing Mirrorless options currently on the market.


The 5 Best Mirrorless Cameras of 2018

1. Sony Alpha 7 III

Sony Alpha 7 III

Pros:

+ Full-frame 24 MP image sensor

+ 4K video

+ Good low light performance

+ Fast AF

+ 10 fps burst rate

+ Long battery life

+ Dual HD card slots

+ High-resolution touch screen and EVF

+ Completely silent when used in Silent Mode

Cons:

– LCD is tilt only, not fully articulating

– No built-in flash

Every so often a camera manufacturer drops a technological bomb that changes the photographic landscape for good. Some years ago it was Canon’s 5D Mark II, with a quality of video that, for the time, was virtually unthinkable in such an affordable camera. Almost overnight the 5D became an industry standard and completely recalibrated what consumers could expect from a DSLR.

It was a smart move on Canon’s part, as everyone who wanted a piece of the full-frame video action was forced to invest in the company’s system. Hordes of photographers and filmmakers made the move to Canon at the time, and of these many will still be with the brand today. This year Sony did something similar in the Mirrorless market when it released the full-frame Alpha 7 III.

The a7 III isn’t the first full-frame Mirrorless camera by any means. In fact, it isn’t even Sony’s first full-frame model. What it is though is a very affordable full-frame Mirrorless camera, offering fantastic usability and features, and with genuinely very little in the way of compromise. And this despite Sony labeling the a7 III as its “basic” camera.

Sure, with a resolution of “only” 24 MP, the a7 III pales in comparison to flagship Sony Mirrorless offering the a7R III. But then again, given that pixel count isn’t the be-all and end-all of the image quality anyway, who really needs a 42 MP camera?

A 24 MP image sensor on a full-frame camera is already capable of producing exceptional quality images. And, in the case of the Alpha 7 III, for much, much less money than most comparable Mirrorless options.

How does the rest of the camera hold up against its peers? Well, it’s true, the a7 III can “only” manage a burst rate of 10 fps. Yet think of poor old Cartier-Bresson with his manual-wind Leica: that didn’t stop him from capturing some of the most famous “decisive moments” in history.

In any case, bear in mind that the 20 fps continuous shooting rates offered by some more expensive models is practically the speed of video: total overkill. If you can’t get the shot at 10 fps, you probably never will.

Assisting you in this quest is excellent autofocus with facial recognition across the frame. The camera also features a Silent Mode that is, well, genuinely silent. And in addition to the LCD, there’s a high-resolution electronic viewfinder. Despite sharing the same battery as Sony’s a9, performance here is actually even better than with its sibling.

Finally, the earlier comparison with Canon’s 5D Mark II is apt, as the a7 III also offers excellent quality 4K video. That’s full-frame 4K video, remember.

The a7 III isn’t what you would call cheap, and nor does it offer the absolute pinnacle of Mirrorless features and design. But it’s much less expensive than anything with comparable specs and is more than capable of delivering excellent quality images in almost any conceivable situation. In our book, that makes the Sony Alpha 7 III the best Mirrorless camera out there right now.

Sony a7 III Full-Frame Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Camera Optical with 3-Inch LCD, Black (ILCE7M3/B)
  • Advanced 24.2MP BSI Full-frame Image Sensor w/ 1.8X readout speed* Advanced 24.2MP Back-Illuminated 35mm Full-frame Image Sensor * Sony test conditions. Compare to the α7 II
  • 15-stop dynamic range, 14-bit uncompressed RAW, ISO 50 to 204,800
  • Up to 10fps Silent or Mechanical Shutter with AE/AF tracking
  • 693 phase-detection / 425 contrast AF points w/ 93% image coverage.Focus Sensor:Exmor R CMOS sensor
  • In the box: Rechargeable Battery (NP-FZ100), AC Adaptor (AC-UUD12), Shoulder strap, Body cap, Accessory shoe cap, Eyepiece cup, Micro USB cable


2. Panasonic Lumix GH5

Panasonic Lumix GH5

Pros:

+ 4K video at 60p

+ Burst rate of 9 fps with continuous AF (12 fps with focus locked)

+ Dual card slots

+ Big, bright, high-resolution EVF

+ 3.2-inch articulating touchscreen

+ No low pass filter

+ WiFi, NFC, and Bluetooth

+ Weather sealed

Cons:

– Micro Four Thirds format sensor

– No built-in flash

The Panasonic Lumix GH5 presents a good option for the photographer-videographer, boasting as it does excellent credentials in both departments. ISOs span from 100 through to 25,600, dynamic range is very good, and – as is increasingly the trend – the GH5 comes minus antialiasing filter, leading to much sharper detail.

The camera’s build and design are excellent, and the body features many handy controls for easy access to the GH5’s numerous functions without the need to dig deep into submenus. In addition to a slightly larger than standard touchscreen LCD, the GH5 also features a bright and sharp 3,680,000-dot resolution EVF.

One of the stand-out features of the GH5 is its ability to shoot 4K video at up to 59.94p and 48p using the entire sensor. While this makes the GH5 a great option for video within this price bracket, it’s worth bearing in mind that this is an M4/3 sensor, not the full-frame one offered by the Sony a7 III (above). Nonetheless, should Sony’s offering not meet your needs for some other reason, the GH5 is definitely one of the better Mirrorless options for videography out there right now.

As the GH5 also delivers well in the stills department too, it makes a great camera for those who need to shoot both photos and video. In fact, with the ability to extract 18MP still images from high-quality video footage, you can easily kill two birds with one stone.

As packed with features as the Panasonic Lumix GH5 is, it doesn’t come as a huge surprise to discover that it’s considerably bigger than its predecessor, the GH4. Still, in some ways, this increase in bulk just makes the camera all the more usable, as it’s very satisfying to hold. Although, as some Mirrorless cameras edge towards DSLRs in size, they risk losing one of their initial advantages; particularly when the sensor is considerably smaller than even many entry-level DSLRs, as is the case here.

Sale
PANASONIC LUMIX GH5 4K Digital Camera, 20.3 Megapixel Mirrorless Camera with Digital Live MOS Sensor, 5-Axis Dual I.S. 2.0, 4K 4:2:2 10-Bit Video, Full-Size HDMI Out, 3.2-Inch LCD, DC-GH5 (Black)
  • PROFESSIONAL PHOTO AND VIDEO PERFORMANCE: 20.3-megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor with no low pass filter to confidently capture sharp images with a high dynamic range and artifact-free performance
  • RUGGED SPLASH/FREEZEPROOF DESIGN: Durable magnesium alloy body withstands heavy use out in the field and is freezeproof down to -10-degrees; Splash/dustproof construction with weather sealing on every joint, dial and button
  • CLASS-LEADING DUAL IMAGE STABILIZATION: 5-axis dual image stabilization corrects all lenses, including classic lenses not equipped with O.I.S, to eliminate blur and nearly eliminate body and lens shake in both photo and 4K video recording
  • 4K VIDEO CAPTURE WITH VARIABLE FRAME RATE: Records silky smooth 4K 60p/50p (QFHD 4K: 3840 x 2160 / MOV or MP4) video with internal 4:2:2 10-bit 4K video recording, plus exclusive LUMIX 6K PHOTO and 4K Post Focus allows you to record photos up to 60fps
  • CONNECTIVITY AND PORTS: Listen to headphones with a 3.5mm audio port, connect to devices with USB 3.0 and connect to an external monitor or external recorder with a full-size HDMI port; Available twin SD Card slots (UHS-II U3 compatible)


3. Fujifilm X-T20

Fujifilm X-T20

Pros:

+ 4K video at 30p

+ 3-inch tilting LCD and bright EVF

+ 8 fps burst shooting rate

+ WiFi and Bluetooth

Cons:

– Battery life is decidedly average

– Only single SD card slot

– Not weather sealed

Looking a lot like a very basic old Pentax film camera from the ‘70s, the Fujifilm X-T20 manages to cram a lot of the best features of the highly-popular and higher-priced X-T2 into a somewhat smaller and lighter-bodied mid-range offering. A great all-around shooter, the X-T20 features a 24 MP X-Trans CMOS III APS-C sensor and images produced with the camera display impressive dynamic range and plenty of sharp detail.

Despite its more budget-conscious price tag, autofocus is fast and accurate. What’s more, the X-T20 features 4K video, a tilting LCD, and a crisp, bright electronic viewfinder.

The screen is touch sensitive and can be used to focus when shooting both video and stills. Meanwhile build is reassuringly sturdy and the camera body is really quite small and lightweight.

All in all, the X-T20 is a step up from more entry-level cameras.

Fujifilm X-T20 Mirrorless Digital Camera w/XF18-55mmF2.8-4.0 R LM OIS Lens - Silver
  • 24.3MP X-Trans CMOS III APS-C sensor with no low-pass filter and X-Processor Pro
  • 5.0Fps Live-view shooting, start-up time of 0.4sec., shutter time lag of 0.050sec. And shooting Interval of 0.25sec
  • 3.0" tilting Touchscreen panel for operation at almost any angle. Weight (approx.) excluding caps and hoods- 310g
  • 4K video using the x series' famous film Simulation effects (including ACROS). you can output recorded video to an external monitor via the HDMI port and input audio from an external microphone
  • Af-c custom settings for moving subjects.Advanced SR AUTO mode


4. Fujifilm GFX 50S

Fujifilm GFX 50S

Pros:

+ 51.4 MP medium format image sensor

+ 3.2” high-resolution dual-hinge touch-screen

+ AF joystick

+ Removable EVF

+ Weather sealed

+ Dual SD card slots

+ Onboard WiFi

+ Good ergonomics and design

+ Excellent battery life

Cons:

– Slow autofocus

– 1/125 flash sync speed

– No 4K video

– 3 fps burst shooting rate

Another Fuji makes it onto our list, but this is an altogether different beast to the low-to-mid-range X-T20 we looked at above. In some respects the Fujifilm GFX 50S is actually an “entry-level” camera: but that’s an entry into medium format photography, not into photography more generally.

Indeed, the price will rule out all but very serious shooters, so this is not intended as an option for total beginners. But given that the image sensor on this camera is bigger than full-frame, what you get for your money is exceptional image quality.

The reason the GFX 50S is merely at the bottom end of the Medium Format spectrum is because the sensor is a little smaller than the negative size of even the smallest traditional MF film cameras – such as the still much sought after Contax 645. Nonetheless, this makes for a much bigger sensor surface area than even top of the range DSLRs.

However, it’s worth bearing in mind that, as pixel-counts continue to rise, the difference in image quality between the GFX 50S’s 51.4 MP sensor and a flagship Sony, Nikon, or Canon may not be so significant in the end anyway.

But the resolution is not everything, and the GFX 50S offers other advantages too, namely excellent color rendering. Indeed, as is fairly typical with Fuji, skin tones, in particular, are very attractive.

To truly get the best out of the GFX 50S you will want to shoot at the slowest ISO setting, 100, whenever possible. However, rest assured that the camera produces perfectly usable images up to ISO 1600 and even beyond.

Despite offering a bigger sensor than a full-frame DSLR, the GFX 50S is not actually much bulkier or heavier to handle than one. Indeed the GFX 50S is surprisingly portable and would make an excellent workhorse for fashion, portrait, travel, and landscape photographers looking for maximum resolution while out on the road.

With that said though, with a burst rate of just 3 fps, this is not a camera designed for fast shooting. Also, while autofocus works well enough most of the time, it can occasionally become confused before locking onto the subject. Once it does though, the camera is extremely accurate. Hopefully, this is an issue that will be improved in future software updates.

Another drawback is that many photographers will find the somewhat slow flash sync speed to be a real turn off, syncing as it does at only 1/125 of a second: too slow to freeze fast action. Finally, some prospective users may be disappointed to learn that there is no 4K video capacity. This is really a camera designed for shooting exceptional quality stills rather than video, and the 1080/30p offered by the GFX 50S will be plenty for most stills photographers’ purposes.

Fuji currently only makes a handful of lenses for the GFX 50S system. The company tends to expand new lens ranges very rapidly, so we can expect plenty of additions to the line up in the near future.

In any case, the lenses that are currently available for the camera are excellent. Be warned, though, that for most photographers the limited choice of focal lengths will be much less of an issue than the price of purchasing them: lenses for the GFX 50S are far from cheap!

There are other medium format cameras out there offering larger image sensors and higher resolutions than the Fujifilm GFX 50S , but few of them are mirrorless. So if you’re looking to avoid the shutter-caused blur that cameras like the Pentax 645Z are prone too, the GFX 50S is the way to go. Despite the GFX 50S’s medium format status though, its main competition doesn’t come from the likes of Pentax and Hasselblad “above,” but from top-end DSLRs “below.”

Fujifilm GFX 50S 51.4MP Mirrorless Medium Format Camera (Body Only)
  • 43.8mm x 32.9mm, 51.4 MP CMOS sensor, boasting Approx. 1.7x the area of full frame sensors + x processor Pro
  • Operating temperature -10°C - +40°C (+14°F - +104°F)C.Compact and lightweight body with high rigidity due to the adoption of magnesium alloy
  • Detachable 3.69M-dot organic EL electronic viewfinder
  • 2.36M-dot, three-directional tilting, Touchscreen LCD
  • Newly developed large diameter g mount with excellent robustness and durability.Operating Temperature:-10°C - +40°C (+14°F - +104°F)C


5. Canon EOS M50

Canon EOS M50

Pros:

+ Vari-angle touch screen

+ Excellent EVF

+ Fast and accurate autofocus

+ WiFi

Cons:

– Poor battery life

– Plasticy build quality

The Canon EOS M50 is an entry-level Mirrorless camera offering good image quality from a 24.2 MP APS-C image sensor in a stripped-back body. Despite the fairly minimal spec, where the EOS M50 stands out from other similarly priced models is with the inclusion of an excellent electronic viewfinder. This makes it an accessible choice for those moving up from a smartphone or compact camera and planning to shoot street photography or reportage images – where composing on an LCD tends not to provide a very satisfactory shooting experience.

Being an APS-C sensor, you don’t get the same high resolution as with a full frame camera. However 24 MP is a respectable figure, and the detail displayed by images produced by the M50 is nonetheless impressive. What’s more, digital noise is well contained even at ISO settings as high as 6400.

A 10 fps burst shooting rate puts the M50 in the same league as much more expensive cameras when it comes to capturing fast-moving subjects. And the highly effective dual pixel CMOS AF system almost guarantees your images will be sharply focused every time.

While the good news on the video front is that the Canon EOS M50 offers the ability to shoot 4K footage, the bad news is that using it entails a 1.6 x crop. This means that your field of view suddenly becomes much narrower than when shooting stills: frustrating if you’d purchased a wide-angle lens specifically to shoot video.

Canon EOS M50 Mirrorless Camera Kit w/ EF-M15-45mm Lens and 4K Video (White)
  • Improved Dual Pixel CMOS AF and Eye Detection AF
  • 24.1 Megapixel (APS-C) CMOS Sensor with ISO 100-25600 (H: 51200)
  • 4K UHD 24p and HD 120p for Slow Motion
  • Built-in OLED EVF with Touch and Drag AF


Final Thoughts

Will we one day soon find ourselves in an entirely mirrorless world, with single-lens reflex cameras a thing of the past? The professional photography market was initially cautious on the uptake of Mirrorless technology.

While this hesitance was actually quite rational (does anyone remember APS film and Minidisk technologies from the 1990s?), things have moved on significantly from the early days of Mirrorless. Now firmly established, the Mirrorless system offers a huge choice of cameras: from easily-operated and pocketable entry-level options through to big, powerful, medium format workhorses for photographic professionals.

Indeed, manufacturers who restrict their business to DSLRs may soon find themselves in serious trouble, as Mirrorless cameras increasingly close the gap on the DSLR’s traditional advantages. Today the best Mirrorless cameras easily rival top-end DSLRs regarding image quality and features, while often also outdoing them in terms of size and weight.

Innovative and affordable full-frame models such as the Sony Alpha 7 III offer such a convincing solution to portable high-resolution photography that many longterm DSLR users will now be tempted to jump ship – if they haven’t already done so. Meanwhile, given that the step up in price between a smaller-sensored Mirrorless model and the full-frame Sony is not so huge, many entry-level photographers may decide that their money is better spent on the superior image quality offered by the a7 III.

Nonetheless, while the Sony a7 III gets our vote as the all-around best mirrorless camera on the market today, we understand that different users may have different requirements. Hopefully, this guide has provided you with the necessary information to make your own decision as to which Mirrorless camera is best for your particular needs.

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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