Unlike professionals and advanced amateurs, those who dabble in photography as a part-time hobby want a camera that will allow them to capture those special moments without too much hassle, be it a vacation abroad, a birthday party or a simple walk in the park with the kids. Generally, they look for four main qualities when purchasing a camera: portability, ease-of-use, reasonable price, and good image quality. With these four golden rules as a guide, deciding which mirrorless camera to buy as a beginner becomes a whole lot easier.
By definition, mirrorless cameras are small and compact – not as compact as a point and shoot camera, to be sure, but half the size of your average mid-range DSLR. This means that, regardless of the mirrorless camera you purchase, it will be easier to carry around than a reflex camera. As of June 2014, some of the smallest mirrorless cameras on the market are: the Pentax Q, Panasonic GF5, Sony RX100 and the Panasonic Lumix GM1, all of which weigh under 300 grams. With these models, you can write a camera bag off as an unnecessary expense, as your jacket pocket will make the perfect storage compartment.
Our personal recommendation: the Sony RX100
Ease-of-use refers to intuitive menus and helpful auto modes. Happily for beginners, all mirrorless cameras have an auto mode of some sort, but some are more developed than others. The Sony NEX series, in particular, is known for its iAUTO mode, and the Canon EOS M has an intelligent auto mode which instantly adjusts settings including exposure and ISO on your camera according to the scene and lighting. Seeing that every mirrorless camera has sections within the menu intended for beginners, you really cannot go wrong, especially if you take an hour or two out of your day to familiarise yourself with the camera before using it. The Nikon S1 also has some special features such as Smart Photo selector and Motion Snapshots that will add some extra pleasure to your shooting.
Our personal recommendation: the Sony NEX 3N
Price is an aspect which draws a stark line between mirrorless cameras intended for beginners, and those meant for pros. Most professionals will pay upwards of $1000 for a high-end mirrorless camera, while a casual hobbyest would be pushed to spend more than $600. Thankfully, many mirrorless cameras from 2011 and early 2012 have been replaced with more recent models, and have therefore come down in price. The release of the Sony a6000, for instance, has reduced the price of the superb Sony NEX 6 with the kit lens included. At the moment, some of the cheapest mirrorless cameras around are: the Olympus Pen E-PL3, Nikon 1 J1, Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3, Sony NEX-F3 and the Pentax Q.
Our personal recommendation: the Olympus Pen E-PL3
Good Image Quality
Finally, the primary reason beginners decide to purchase a mirrorless camera instead of a compact camera is for the image quality. They desire professional-grade images without the heavy bulk of a DSLR. Mirrorless models such as the Fujifilm X-T1, the Sony A7r and the Olympus OM-D EM1 are at the top of the food chain in terms of image quality but they are far from cheap, sitting at over $1000 each just for the body. If, as a beginner, you are looking for a mirrorless camera with good image quality that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, a few good bets include: the Fujifilm X-A1, Sony NEX 3N and Olympus Pen E-PL5. All three have an excellent 16 MP sensor which would satisfy any novice.
Our personal recommendation: the Fujifilm X-A1
In the end, you, as the photographer, must decide which of these four golden rules are the most important to you. Know that there are lots of great models out there – it just takes a bit of research to find the perfect one!
Enjoyed this article? Then be sure to check out:
- The best mirrorless cameras under $500
- The 6 best mirrorless cameras for experienced amateurs (2014)
- Four great mirrorless cameras that have recently become more affordable
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