So you want to step up your photography game and have decided that an interchangeable lens mirrorless camera is the way to go. But which camera, and system, should you choose? Here New Atlas looks at some of the best mirrorless cameras available for beginners in 2016, and which ones might be right for different users.
As we observed when we looked at various types of camera, there are a lot of reasons to like mirrorless cameras. They offer a great balance of portability and image quality. The manual controls and array of lenses which can be used with them also open up a world of creative opportunities for anyone from beginner photographers to professional snappers.
When investing in a new interchangeable lens camera, it's worth remembering that the brand of camera (or lens mount) is as important as the actual model. This is because you are probably going to want to use the same lenses on your next camera, too. Therefore you'll need to consider not just what you want now, but what you might want in the future.
Canon EOS M10
The Canon EOS M10 is a small compact mirrorless camera which, thanks to a large 18-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, can offer the same image quality as many DSLRs. However, despite this, it keeps things simple for beginner photographers with straightforward minimal physical controls. With compact camera looks, it's not intimidating in the way some control-laden cameras can be.
Users stepping up from a smartphone are also going to like the Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity of the EOS M10, which makes it quick and easy to get images onto your smartphone ready for editing and sharing. The camera also shoots Full HD 1080p video at up to 30 fps (frames per second), and features a hybrid autofocus system which will keep your subjects in focus.
The Canon EOS M10 is a good bet for photographers who want better quality images, but not a steep learning curve, such as smartphone upgraders or parents who want better snaps of their kids. A rear tilting touchscreen and simple user interface help out in this regard. The camera uses Canon's EF-M lenses (or other Canon lenses with an adapter) and is priced at US$450 with a 15—45mm kit lens.
Product page: Canon EOS M10
The retro good looks of the Fujifilm X-A3 might be the first thing you notice, but the 24-megapixel APS-C shooter also has a lot going for it inside, too. This includes a high ISO setting which can be extended beyond its native 200 to 6,400 range up to ISO 25,600, meaning the camera will deliver much better low light images than you could ever hope for from a smartphone.
A cost-effective entry into the Fujifilm X-series, the X-A3, makes the move to a serious camera straightforward, with a selection of automatic and scene modes which are accessible from a top dial. This can be helpful while you master those manual settings. On the video front you also get Full HD recording at up to 60 fps.
The Fujifilm camera is being marketed on its selfie-centric features, such as its flip up tilting touch screen and a portrait enhancer mode. However, with other specs such as wireless connectivity for sharing and remote shooting, it's a capable camera which is equally suited for users who want a stylish shooter. The X-A3 costs $600 with a 16-50-mm kit lens.
Product page: Fujifilm X-A3
Olympus E-M10 II
Olympus recently announced the OM-D E-M1 II, which looks like one of the most impressive mirrorless cameras yet. However, with a $2,000 price tag, it costs considerably more than most beginners are going to want to spend on a new camera. Luckily, its little brother, the E-M10 II, can be purchased for a much more wallet-friendly price.
Highlights of the OM-D E-M10 II include its OLED viewfinder with 2.36 million dots, which allows for traditional shooting as well as using the tilting rear touchscreen monitor. There's also 5-axis sensor shift image stabilization, burst shooting at up to 8.5 fps and Full HD video recording at 1080p up to 60 fps. Olympus' wireless sharing and remote shooting is also one of the better Wi-Fi systems out there.
As with the rest of the OM-D line-up, the E-M10 II uses a Micro Four Thirds lens which is significantly smaller than the APS-C sensor used in the above cameras. This means that lenses for the system can also be smaller, which is good news for photographers who want to travel light. The Olympus E-M10 II sells for $700 with a 14-42-mm kit lens.
Product page: Olympus E-M10 II
Panasonic Lumix GX80/85
The Panasonic Lumix GX80 (called the GX85 in some regions) is a 4K shooting camera which offers plenty of room for beginner photographers to grow into. It boasts specs including a 16-megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor, an electronic viewfinder, and a combo of in-body and lens stabilization to help cut movement induced blur. It can also rattle off images at a respectable 8 fps.
However, it's the 4K features of the GX80/85 which helps it stand out from the crowd. In addition to shooting 4K video at up to 30 fps, it also benefits from Panasonic's 4K Photo features. These include the ability to get an 8-megapixel still from 4K video footage, shoot 4K images at bursts of 30 fps, and effectively select focus after shooting (which can be handy for beginners) with a Post Focus mode.
The video skill set of the camera is going to mean that it will appeal to budding videographers as well as street shooters and beginners with ambitions of developing their photo skills. Once again there's built in Wi-Fi for sharing images on the go. The Panasonic Lumix GX80/85 costs $800 with a 12-32-mm kit lens.
Product page: Panasonic Lumix GX80
Sony Alpha A5100
Sony has recently upgraded its high-end camera offering with the likes of the A99 II and A6500. Compared to those cameras the A5100, which hails from way back in 2014, might seem quite old. However, it's still one of the best mirrorless cameras for a beginner photographer and is a good introduction to Sony's E-mount line-up.
With a 24.3-megapixel APS-C sensor and a super-fast autofocus system, the A5100 (or α5100 ) combines quality and speed, two important factors in any camera. It also offers a tilting touchscreen monitor, built-in Wi-Fi and NFC, and can shoot Full HD 1080p video at up to 60 fps.
The A5100 would suit beginners looking for a good all round camera, or someone looking to get started with the Sony E-mount system and who might end up with a higher-end Sony in a few years time. That way any lenses you get now can also be used with your future camera. The Sony A5100 costs $600 bundled with a 16-50-mm kit lens.
Product page: Sony A5100
We are not going to bestow the title of "overall best mirrorless camera for beginners" on any one of the above, because different beginners will want different things out of their camera. For some, portability might be the priority, for others it could be continuous shooting speed, or a need for 4K video recording. Hopefully this roundup has helped you recognize what you want from a new camera.
All that said, we think any of these cameras would be a good option for beginner photographers. They can all deliver great quality images, shoot Full HD if not 4K video, and have wireless connectivity which means you can share and edit content quickly. So whichever camera you choose, have fun shooting with it. You might also want to check out our guide to what lenses you should invest in to go with that shiny new camera.