Even if you only have a passing interest in photography, chances are you’ve heard of mirrorless cameras. They’re a relatively new type of camera does away with the mirrors and optical viewfinders of traditional DSLRs entirely while still, impressively, offering similar – and in some cases better – image quality to DLSRs. They tend to be thinner and lighter than DSLRs as a result.
Micro Four Thirds vs. Mirrorless
You may also have heard them being called “Micro Four Thirds” cameras. While a somewhat intimidating and technical-sounding name, in practice all this means is they are mirrorless and use an interchangeable lens system – unlike DSLRs, a micro four thirds lens will fit any micro four thirds camera. The term “mirrorless”, meanwhile, encompasses both micro four thirds and other mirrorless designs that feature different lens mounts. Nikon, Canon, Sony and Fuji, for instance, all have their own “mirrorless” cameras but they use their own mount designs that are incompatible with micro four thirds cameras.
No optical viewfinder
The absence of a viewfinder that creates an optical path for light to pass through the camera from the lens to your eye is one of the key differentiators of mirrorless cameras. The significance of that absence is up to you, though – some photographers swear by optical viewfinders as they offer a “live” view of what the lens is pointed at, while others don’t mind the slight lag introduced by LCD screens. It’s a matter of personal preference, ultimately, and newer mirrorless cameras have all but eliminated LCD lag entirely.
About the only other significant difference between them is that DSLRs have a dedicated autofocus system, while mirrorless cameras rely on their main imaging sensor for it. While this was initially considered a weakness of the mirrorless format, improvements in sensor tech have turned it into a strength. Mirrorless cameras with the best autofocus capabilities have what’s called “Hybrid Autofocus”, so if it’s excellent continuous autofocus you’re looking for, models that support it are the ones to go for.
Where you score with a mirrorless camera is in the size department – they are much thinner and lighter than their DSLR cousins, as no mirror means the lens can be mounted closer to the sensor, achieved by reducing the thickness – and thus bulk – of the camera body. Those lenses are also designed to match the size of the sensor, so they’re smaller and lighter than DSLR lenses.
As you can imagine, mirrorless cameras have been gaining in popularity since their introduction in 2008, as they offer very similar overall image quality to DSLRs, but in a far smaller package. They generally cost the same, or slightly more than traditional dSLRs.
Mirrorless cameras offer a wide range of lens adapters, too, giving people plenty of options.
The main disadvantage of going mirrorless has to do with battery life. Since mirrorless camera bodies are so thin, there’s not a lot of space for batteries. And because the sensors and LCD screens need constant power, mirrorless cameras typically don’t last as long on a single charge as their DSLR cousins, and thus can’t take as many pictures. Having spare battery packs is all but a must if you go the mirrorless route.
Mirrorless is definitely the most exciting thing happening to cameras at the moment. The downsides are only a turn-off if you’re a professional photographer with exacting standards for autofocus efficiency and optical viewfinders and you hate swapping batteries during a shoot.
If you’re a talented amateur or an aspiring DSLR owner on a budget or you simply travel a lot, going mirrorless is a no-brainer. Modern mirrorless cameras are smaller and lighter than dLSRs and they shoot favourably comparable video and still imagery. That’s a compelling argument in anyone’s book.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3
R11 499 body only
The Lumix DMC-GH3 builds on the strength of its predecessor (no prizes for guessing that’s the Lumix DMC-GH2), and improves on that camera’s already-strong video capabilities.
Impressively, it also makes for a better still-taker, plus Panasonic’s engineers have worked hard on ergonomic button placement in order to keep it as hand-friendly as possible. It’s also chock-full of manual controls, complemented by very competent automatic ones.
Ultimately, the GH3 is a fantastic hybrid mirrorless camera that’s brilliant for serious photographers looking for a bit of everything (but with a particular focus on excellent video), as well as curious amateurs looking to challenge their skills.
Rating: 5 Stars
- 16MP sensor
- Well-regarded predecessor
- Fantastic ergonomics
- Five programmable buttons
- Excellent for video
- A bit bulky
- Good button layout
- Supports the most important codecs like [email protected]/30Hz/24Hz
- Takes amazing stills as well as incredible video – a great “hybrid” camera
Olympus PEN E-PL7
Body Only R7 688, 14-42mm lens R9 900
The Pen E-PL7 is a somewhat less serious MFT camera with its all-aluminium body and the absence of an electronic viewfinder, but it does what Olympus is attempting with the PEN series: it makes taking photos FUN.
It even has a respectable selfie-friendly feature – a screen that flips down to make taking selfies just that much easier. That’s far from its primary appeal, though – this is a camera that does a bit of everything, and quite well.
This isn’t the camera to go for if video is your primary use case, though, as it’s far better at stills. On the other hand, if it’s versatility you’re after the PEN E-PL7 will do you just fine.
Rating: 4 Stars
- 16MP sensor
- Flexible display
- Generally streamlined design
- More manual controls, but feels a little cramped
- A little complex to operate
- Grip a bit too small
- Not so great for action shots
- 25 scene modes, 16 filters
- Good for selfies
FujiFilm – X-T10
R11 595 body only, R16 595 with 18-55mm lens (Ormsdirect)
The X-T10 is another great camera that builds on a rock-solid foundation: it adds a built-in flash, a high speed electronic shutter and a threaded cable-release socket to Fuji’s amazing X-T1 mirrorless camera.
Its retro stylings are gorgeous to look at, its real metal dials feel wonderful, and tweaking settings with them is child’s play. And if you’re snapping people pics, this camera makes them look good under just about any lighting conditions.
It’s light, too, at just 371g, and its autofocus is super fast. Should you be in the market for a brilliant all-rounder, FujiFilm’s X-T10 is a great choice.
Rating: 5 Stars
- 16MP sensor
- Built-in flash
- Beautiful looks
- Sharp and undistorted images
- Sturdy body
- Exceptional auto white balance in poor lighting
- Excellent for people, events and portraits
- Threaded cable release socket
Canon EOS M10
R6 695 body only, R8495 with 15-45mm lens
Anyone interested in DSLR-quality photos taken with a camera that really doesn’t require any photographic knowledge will love Canon’s EOS M10 – it’s a mirrorless compact camera with simplified controls that only asks that you point and shoot.
It only has three modes accessible from a dial atop its body – images, videos and auto – and the rest of its options are accessed via its three-inch touchscreen.
The M10 offers faster autofocus than its predecessor, the M3, and supports a good selection of kit lenses. It gets a bit noisy in low light, but overall it manages really well and is a wonderful camera for a beginner.
Rating: 3 Stars
- 18MP sensor
- 3-inch LCD screen
- Touchscreen focus works well
- 4x faster autofocus than the M3
- Mini HDMI output
- Supports WiFi, NFC
R15 999 body only
Go big or go home – Samsung’s NX1 is the mack daddy here, as it’s so stuffed with features that it’ll intimidate all but the most professional of photographers.
Its stonking great 28.2MP sensor shoots amazing 4K and UHD videos at 25fps and 30fps respectively, and uses the latest H.265 codec to keep file sizes manageable. And image quality? Superb.
But it’s speed where the NX1 excels. A hybrid autofocus system and 1/8000s top shutter speed is quick enough to capture even the fastest action scenes, even under low light conditions, so this is the camera to get if action is your thing.
And best of all, this brilliance is packaged up in a lightweight yet sturdy frame. It’s a bit pricy, though.
Rating: 5 Stars
- 28.2MP sensor
- Hybrid autofocus with 205 phase and 2-9 contrast-detection AF points
- Captures 4K at 25 frames per second
- NFC and WiFi connectivity
- USB 3.0 port and high speed SD card support