The Basics: How to Choose Your First Mirrorless Camera

Mirrorless cameras are not the newfangled technology they used to be. Mirrorless systems from Sony, Fujifilm, Panasonic, and Olympus have had years to build solid systems with various camera and lens options that allow them to be capable of creating stunning images just as well as any DSLR. So you may be considering your first interchangeable lens camera, or maybe you have a DSLR and you are interested in taking advantage of some of the features that mirrorless brings to the table, whatever your reason is you may be asking yourself how to choose between the various options.

In this post, we hope to be able to help you figure out what questions to ask yourself when considering these various cameras and systems. Ideally, this will allow you to pick up a mirrorless camera in a system that will fit your wants and needs as a photographer so that you can take full advantage of it.

To EVF or Not to EVF

This question really speaks towards how you plan on using this camera. Generally, we would recommend going with a mirrorless camera that has an integrated EVF, but for some of you simply being able to see the rear LCD is enough for you. This question is getting less relevant in recent mirrorless generations as most of the serious options out there do include and integrated EVF, but for those considering both new and old options, this is something that you will want to consider.

The only real advantage to the LCD only cameras is that they are usually smaller and more compact, taking up less weight and space in your bag. These make for good travel cameras, but that said, even mirrorless units with EVFs are pretty small these days, so this is really only relevant if you have REALLY specific size requirements that an EVF unit can’t meet.

How Do You Like To Control Your Camera?

Unlike DSLR cameras which all offer a fairly consistent control mechanic, Mirrorless cameras can vary quite a bit in how you interact and control the camera and its settings. For example, you have cameras like the Fujifilm X-T20 and X-E2s which offer an analog film camera sort of control dynamic. Then you have cameras like the A6500 and A6500 from Sony which offer an approach more closely based on a modern DSLR. Then you also have options like Canon’s EOS-M line which feature touch screens and fewer buttons and dials, meaning a lot of customization comes from interacting with the screen.

If this camera will be your first, we recommend trying some of the various options out and figuring out what you prefer. If you do a lot of smartphone photography than a touch-focused interface may be more at home for you, while if you have a heavy film background something like the Fuji’s may be more up your alley. Put simply, just figure out your preference in this regard and look at cameras that offer it.

What Do You Plan on Shooting?

Are you a portrait shooter? Street and Urban Landscape photographer? Maybe you like to shoot Sports and Action? There are mirrorless cameras that work well for all or some of these niches, but to find the best camera for you knowing what you plan to shoot most often is key.

Sports photographers will likely want to investigate Sony/Panasonic cameras the most, as those offer what is generally accepted to be the best AF speed and tracking throughout their range. Fujifilm and Olympus also have great higher end options with great AF, but in the mid-low end side of the spectrum, the Sony and Panasonic offerings are generally superior.

That said if you are shooting portraits or mostly static subjects, or even things moving, just not super quickly – virtually any current generation mirrorless camera you can get your hands on right now will do well for you.

How about sensor size preference?

There is a wide variety of sensor sizes available in the various mirrorless systems, from 2x Micro Four Thirds to Sony’s 35mm full frame FE mount and Fujifilm’s semi-MF GFX system. If you want a full frame equivalent, your only option currently is Sony. Fujifilm and Hasselblad offer very expensive medium format options, but if this is your first mirrorless we are going to assume those are out of your budget.

Micro Four Thirds options from Olympus and Panasonic offer good performance and quality files, but the x2 crop makes shooting wide trickier and some may not like the lower light and depth of field that you give up shooting on a sensor that small.

APS-C options are the most common, you can find APS-C cameras from Sony, Fujifilm, and Canon. Sony and Fujifilm have been doing it the longest, Sony has been developing their full frame lineup most, so Fujifilm probably has the more complete APS-C lineup. Canon’s offerings are not terrible options from a camera body perspective, but Canon’s lack of serious native lens options in their system makes it really hard to recommend going that direction.

We honestly feel like APS-C is still the optimal mirrorless sensor size for today’s photographers, but your specific needs may vary in some way that means you going with another option making more sense. That is fine, you just need to think about it so you can come to that conclusion. Not base your opinion on marketing hype from camera company X, Y or Z.

Lens Ecosystems and Third-Party Support

 

This is obviously another consideration you need to think about. Which system has the best lens support for the sort of shooting you plan on doing most? Most of these systems (Canon aside) have great lens support throughout the range, with the one exception being really long telephoto options for sports and wildlife (but even that is starting to get worked on in some of these systems).

Fujifilm offers some of the best and most affordable native prime lens options, but their zoom lenses are much more spendy and fewer options. They also suffer from fairly low third party support, with only a few native third party options being offered, and most of those being manual focus primes.

Sony has a good spread and has done well expanding their lineup of lenses to cover a lot of holes they once had. Their native lenses tend to be much more expensive than comparable lenses in other systems. They do, however, have some of the best third-party lens support with options from multiple companies as well as a ton of AF-enabled adapters.

Olympus/Panasonic and the Micro Four Thirds mount also has some good third party support with options from several companies. As well they have some good native glass. Your hold up with this system will be on the sensor size if you have one, not with the lens selection.

Finally, Canon has an absolutely embarrassing mirrorless lens lineup at the moment which has seen their basic budget zoom lenses refreshed multiple times and no good pro or semi-pro options. They do have an adapter to allow you to use regular Canon EF glass, but it’s not great from a performance standpoint and leaves a lot to be desired.

Some Good Initial Mirrorless Camera Options

OK, so you have read through our points above and now you may have narrowed down your ideas as to what you may be looking for in your first mirrorless camera. Now we wanted to share a few recommendations as to what we see as the best ‘first mirrorless camera options’ available right now.