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Date: 15/01/2013 | By: Heather

Which mirrorless camera should I buy as a beginner?

X-Pro1, 1/75, f/ 14/10, ISO 200

Which mirrorless camera should I buy as a beginner?

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

Reasonable Price

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-PL3Nikon 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!

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About the author: Heather Broster

Heather Broster was born in Canada, has lived in Japan and Italy but currently calls Wales home. She is a full-time gear tester at MirrorLessons. You can follow her on Google+, Twitter or Facebook!

  • avrumeleh


    I spent some time here and elsewhere on the web and found the info available here the best and most usable of all that I’ve seen…and it’s much appreciated. I wonder if you might have time to give me your opinion about a new mirrorless camera and lenses that would be very helpful to me. I’m a watercolorist and I do my painting in a very detailed manner. I specialize in old-world architecture which I photograph on my many visits to Europe (we don’t have any what I’m most interested in painting here in the USA!) so photography comes into play as an important adjunct to what I ultimately want to do. That being the background, I have no need for certain features such as continuous shooting of fast tracking. Nor is nighttime photography of much importance to me. On the other hand, the rather narrow streets in old town centers are often what I want to photograph so a wide-angle lens (fixed or zoom?) with minimal distortion would be extremely helpful to me. Another lens that is frequently very helpful is a telephoto that enables me to photo details that are far off if, for example, the subject I’m contemplating is a town-scape of a village or a farmhouse in its country setting that is far afield from where I’m able to take photographs that would eventually be used to for a composition for a painting. (I’ve been using a point and shoot…a Nikon Coolpix s9500…but the distortion of it’s wide angle lens it not really optimum for what I am aiming for, even if its telephoto capability isn’t bad…and…I’d very much like a view-finder, which this Nikon doesn’t have.)

    I like the notion of a mirrorless camera (I’ve been primarily considering Sony and Olympus) because of the size and available capabilities, preferring not to carry around too large a camera and gear all day. I would like to keep the maximum spent to around $1,000 for the camera and lenses, if possible. If you have the time, your thoughts would be very helpful AND appreciated. THANKS….Alan

  • Heather Broster

    Both are excellent but since you say you do a lot of sports, I would suggest going for the a6000. The AF is excellent, and you can choose between a variety of telephoto lenses. Hope this helps!

  • Anita

    Hello Heather,

    I am just looking for some 2nd opinion. I was already decided to buy Sony a6000 16-55 & 55-210mm and than one friend told me not to do that. That I can just buy Lumix lx100…that is everything you need – no extra lenses needed and perfect for traveling.
    What is your opinion on comparision of these two cameras?I do lots of sport and traveling. I am not a professional photographer (yet) but I really like taking photos with a good quality.

    Thank you a lot.

  • Brian

    Yes, I mean continuous shooting.
    Thanks for the info. It’s really helpful.

  • Heather

    The Sony cameras have an APS-C sensor so, yes, their low-light performance is marginally better. Sony cameras, as well as Lumix, are well-known for their video quality, whereas Olympus and Fujifilm tend to focus more on stills.
    When you say continuously motion pictures, do you mean continuous shooting? We use Sandisk Extreme 16MB SD card and it works just fine.

  • Brian

    Hi Heather,

    Thank you so much for your reply. I went to a camera store today and tried holding E-M10. I also did extensively read at most Sony mirrorless cameras reviews. If buying reconditioned Olympus E-M10 (w/kit len) + another lens, it may be cheaper than Sony @ Amazon.

    After watching a6000 vs E-M10 review, I personally like the camera shape of E-M10, but I heard that taking night time pictures & motion pictures are subpar (vs. a6000/NEX-6). What are your opinion? Because I plan to take more night time pictures.

    Or should I just not too worry about the night time pictures & motion pictures because E-M10 is good enough that I may not distinguish the subtle differences, considering I am the beginner. I feel that E-M10 places buttons way better than Sony NEX6/a6000, which is more user-friendly.

    About the SD card, should we buy the highest transfer speed & capacity, so as not to miss continuously motion pictures?


  • Heather

    I’ll do my best to answer your questions, Brian.

    1. I prefer having the viewfinder in the middle as well but Mat tells me that a6000’s viewfinder is quite comfortable to use. I don’t think it makes a big difference where it is located on the camera and how you use it. Everyone has their own style.

    2. Yes, absolutely. We do this as much as possible. You can also look at second hand cameras in your local camera store.

    3. We buy reconditioned and second-hand lenses all the time from our local camera stores. Just make sure that they are in good working condition.

    4. The E-M10 with 14-42 is more than enough for a beginner. In fact, I’ve listed it as a camera for advanced amateurs. The kit lens (either the new pancake version or the older version) covers a nice range and is very compact so I would suggest you start with that. You can then move on to a few primes if you find that you really enjoy the hobby.

    5. Panasonic and Olympus are completely interchangeable. However, Olympus M.Zuiko lenses do not have internal stabilisation so if you use them with Panasonic Lumix bodies (which, with the exception of the GX7, aren’t stabilised either), you will not have any stabilisation. On the other hand, Olympus bodies are stabilised so you can use any Micro Four Thirds lens with them and have stabilisation. The Micro Four Thirds system (Olympus and Panasonic Lumix) is the one with the most lenses at its disposition of all mirrorless cameras.

    Have you looked at the NEX 6? I know it is a little over your budget but there is a very good deal on Amazon which will get you the camera and two zoom lenses. It is one of the most well-loved mirrorless cameras around.

  • Brian

    Hi Heather,

    Just found your webpage yesterday and discovered a lot of useful info. that I really interested to know & buy a mirrorless camera.

    I have read about Olympus OM-D E-M10 and am really interested. I want to end my research & buy it, after asking you several questions.

    I am like the reader (very beginner) “Philip” written on Feb. 6.

    I plan on shooting at parties, at night (fireworks, full moon (iPhone camera can’t handle)), random occasion maybe at dogs parks, sunrise, sunset etc…somewhere I can practice.

    My budget is about US$800 or below.

    I want to take better pictures and not just from my iPhone, intermediately serious.

    I think having viewfinder can get me learning more about formal photography, rather than just looking at the 3″ screen. Do you agree?

    1. About viewfinder, Sony a6000’s viewfinder is at the upper right corner but E-M10 is in the middle. I feel more normal & comfortable looking in the middle but awkward looking at the upper right corner. My friend said it’s better one eye looking at the viewfinder and another eye looking at the outside view. What do you think?

    2. Do you think buying “factory reconditioned” mirrorless camera from camera maker’s website is a good idea to save some money? I see 20% discount comparing with new one.

    3. What do you think about buying reconditioned vs. new lenses?

    4. Do you think E-M10 with 14-42mm 2RK Lens is enough for beginner? You said you prefer it for zooming manually. I think about buying pancake lens because I may put it in my pocket. Which lens you think beginner should buy? or one is enough at the beginning?

    5. My friend told me buying camera with more lenses compatible with different brands is better. What do you think? Is Olympus & Panasonic lenses interchangeable? Should it be an important decision when choosing a mirrorless camera? My friend said Olympus lenses are not as interchangeable a lot” as Canon or Nikon.

    Thank you and will continue to read your blog.

  • Chris

    Thank you for this review. I am in the market for a new camera.

  • Heather

    Congratulations on your purchase! I hope you’ll share some images with us soon in the Flickr or G+ community. :)

  • jikmay

    Hi heather ,

    I finally purchased the EM1 and 12mm prime lens and 40-150mm lens today . Thank u so much for ur help . I appreciate a lot .

    Thanks again.

  • Heather

    For street and low-light, I’d push you in the direction of a Fuji X-E1 body with the 35mm prime for street/landscapes and the 55-200mm zoom. Another option could be the E-M1 body plus the 17mm for street/landscapes and 40-150mm zoom for everything else. We’re fond of the Sony A7 but there aren’t enough native lenses for the system yet.

  • jikmay

    Also since my budget is only 2000usd , please make sure I get a good camera with a prime lens or a standard lens if you can find it under my budget :) thank you

  • jikmay

    Hi Heather ,

    I’ve been searching all around the places to search for a new mirroless camera and a prime lens , also a zoom in lens , but I’m pretty new at hybrid cameras , until now I’ve been using canon g12 and I want to upgrade to a better camera. I like street photography , low lights , places , people . My budget is 2000usd and I’ve come across Sony alpha 7, Sony nex 7 and a Olympus EM1. It’ll be so helpful if you can just choose a camera and two lenses :) I hope to hear from you soon ! Thanks a lot .

  • Heather

    All the Nikon 1s are great little cameras and you can find them second-hand for a very good price. The only problem is the lack of lenses for the system but as a beginner, this shouldn’t be a big issue for you. Let us know what you end up buying! :)

  • iAwani

    thanks for the tip, Heather! i am looking for camera to buy. After reading this article, i think the Nikon 1 is suitable for me. I am a beginner in street photography.

  • Heather

    Given your price range, I have a couple of suggestions:

    1. The Nex 6n with 16-50mm and 55-210mm lenses. It has an APS-C sensor, fast hybrid AF, 10 fps continuous shooting, HD video, and Wifi.
    2. The OM-D E-M10 with the 14-42 kit zoom, 40-150mm zoom, and 45mm portrait lens. It has a M4/3 sensor, 3-axis stabilisation, tiltable touch screen, Wifi, fast AF and 8 fps continuous shooting.

    As an Olympus user myself, I would lean towards the OM-D but the NEX, with its APS-C sensor, will give you slightly better low-light performance.

    Hope this helps!

  • Anita


    I really need some advice. I am struggling with a question which camera to buy. I love photography and i am ready to take it to the next level. First I was sure that I will buy Canon EOS 60D with kit lens 18-200mm. It’s in the price range I am willing to pay ($1000-1100$) and I am attached to canon. But than I heard about mirorless cameras and I love the size. I travel a lot and hike and I don’t like to carry big camera with me, but at the same time I would like to have great photos. I would like a camera, which takes good pictures in low light, landscape, animals (birds,..-so i need little bit zoom) and portraits. Which one would you recommend me-which one is comparable to Canon EOS 60D quality? And I don’t have any lenses yet. I would in the future probably buy more, but at first I would like maybe two. So advice on lenses would be great also.

    Thank you for your advice. You are great.


  • Heather

    In terms of X models under $1000, you don’t have many options unfortunately. There is the X-E1 which is basically the same as the X-E2 minus a few improvements to the VF, overall speed, AF, ergomomics, etc. Being an older model, you can probably find it for a very good price second hand. If you’re lucky, you may be able to find the X100/s for under $1000 but keep in mind that it has a fixed 35mm equivalent lens which isn’t ideal for landscapes.

  • Jacob

    Also what are your thoughts on the x100s?

  • Jacob

    The XM-1 looks really nice. But like you mentioned the fact that there is no viewfinder is a bit of a bust for me. I know from experience that the screens can get washed out by the sun or reflections. I really like the retro look the x line has going for it. Not so much of a fan for sony. Nothing against the camera just have had bad luck with them elsewhere. What other x line models would you recommend?

    thanks again,

  • Heather

    If you are keen on low-light photography, I’d say that Fuji is a good choice. However, the X-E2 plus kit lens will easily put you out of pocket by more than $1000. Have you considered the X-M1 as an alternative? It is about half the price, provides the same quality and user experience, but lacks a viewfinder. Otherwise there is the excellent Sony NEX 6 which has an APS-C sensor like the Fuji. You’ll easily be able to find it cheap second-hand now that Sony is pushing its FF line-up.

  • Jacob


    I am looking at making a good investment that I won’t want to replace in a year or 2. So no more than a $1000. I don’t mind changing lenses. I don’t see my self packing more then 2 though to be honest. Looking into the fujifilm lenses seems like there are a couple that people seem to favor as a go to lens and i can see they can get pricey. I do a lot of hiking camping. Tropical vacations. One thing that i do want is to be able to take nice low light images. The full moon over the dark water of the indian ocean is not ver obtainable with an iPhone a haha.


  • Heather

    Can I ask what your budget is? Do you feel the need for a viewfinder or are you happy without one? Finally, do you feel comfortable with the idea of changing lenses? Knowing these things will allow me to give you a better idea of the various options.

  • Jacob


    I travel around the world a lot for business and pleasure my camera phone just doesn’t capture my experiences as I would like to share them. I have been doing a lot of research and many friends have been suggesting DSLR. But i am a minimalist and carrying that bulky thing around seems like a big pain. The X-E2 seem to be like a good investment and from all the reviews sounds like a camera to really grow into. I am just worried it might be to advance for a beginner? I have also notice the Lumix GM-1 which gets a lot of praise as a great travel cam.

    I am a big outdoors guy and love to shoot scenery pics. Some wildlife and some sporting stuff but nothing to fast paced. Let me know your thoughts please. While in the outdoors its nice to be able to pic the cam up and get a shot off with out having to worry about settings. But at the same time when you have a setting that you can sit and appreciate it it would be nice to have the option of tweaking settings for your own creative feel….Thanks for your help

  • Heather

    We use the 35-100 on the E-M5, E-P5 and E-M1, and so far we’ve had no issues whatsoever. The latest Olympus bodies utilise the in-body stabilisation (3 or 5 axis) to stabilise Lumix lenses. :)

  • Heather

    You’re welcome, Sai! The a6000 is certainly one of the fastest out there at the moment. We may get to try it out during a street workshop in a couple of weeks. :) Enjoy!

  • sai

    Hey Heather.. after quite a bit of hanging around camera shops trying out the em-1 em-10 x-t1 and other cameras i finally got the a6000 with the 16-50 kit zoom.. i love the grip on this thing.. i havent used any other camera extensively so cant compare AF performance but this things locks on to anything very quick.. i am hoping to use the kit for a bit of time and see what focals lengths i use before getting more lenses…

    Thanks for your help here :)

  • Andrew

    Hello Heather. I really appreciate the information and experience that both you and Mathieu provide here.

    Because of price I was considering the e-m10. I’m after image quality and fast accurate focus and shallow DOF but I’m on a budget which is about $1800 Aus (or 1210 euro). I also want the panasonic 35 – 100mm 2.8 lens. Just this one lens (I tend to use telephoto more). It’s for general photography and a one month trip coming up.

    I was wondering if this lens has any issues on an olympus body? And, what happens with image stabilisation?

    If you have a better recommendation for camera body with this lens I would love to hear it or any advice you may have.

    Kind regards – Andrew

  • sai

    Thanks for your patient replies :) I am going to pop into a store to see how the EM-1 feels.. ill get a look a the XT-1 as well while I am at it.. just out of curiosity what makes the X-T1 a deal breaker?

  • Heather

    Unfortunately, forums tend to blow things out of proportion. It is true that you’ll have better low-light performance and DOF with an APS-C sensor but MFT sensors these days have really improved. On the E-M1, you can comfortably go up to 3200 ISO without losing too much detail, and the presence of 5-axis stabilisation means that it often isn’t necessary to use high ISO speeds for low-light shots without movement. As for shallow DOF, it is possible to achieve it if you use fast lenses (the M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8 or 25mm f/1.8 for instance) at a close distance.

    If you want to see some examples of what the E-M1 is capable of in low light, have a look at the section about the modern dance performance in our review of the E-M1.

    As for achieving a shallow DOF on MFT cameras, Mat has written a whole article on this topic here.

  • sai

    Thanks for your response Heather… i have never considered the MFT system.. i know this is argued to death in forums etc but can you let me know about your opinion if there is a lot of difference between 1. Low light performance 2. Depth of Field between APS-C (Mirrorless and SLR’s) and MFT ?

    aother option is to bite the bullet and get a Pentax K-3 (which I love but hate its weight)

  • Heather

    Hi Sai and thanks for commenting. I’m not going to lie – the X-T1 is a pretty big investment for someone just beginning to experiment with photography but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good choice if your budget allows for it. It is a very straightforward camera to use despite not having scene modes, and can be used semi-automatically if you set it to aperture or shutter priority. The same goes for the X-E2.

    Considering your budget, an alternative could be the OM-D E-M1, which is the camera that will soon be replacing Mat’s E-M5 for work. No matter which camera you choose of the three, you can expect high IQ and excellent performance.

    I would suggest dropping into your local camera store and handling all three cameras to see how they feel in your hands. Your choice may come down to your preference for one body over the others.

    If you have any more questions, feel free to ask. :)

  • sai

    Hi Guys,

    I am looking to get my first mirrorless.. mostly used a P&S and phone camera only before other than using friends dslr’s.. I understand basics of iso, exposure and shutter speed(not to say i am a master, i merely understand them) ..I will mainly be looking to photograph landscapes, birds, buildings and travel photography.. I am looking at the Fuji X-T1 since it offers good high iso and also offers weather sealing.. I am kind of worried if the X-T1 (or X-E2) might be a bit too much to begin with, considering it has no scene modes etc..

    What is your opinion and are there any other alternatives you might suggest

    Thanks :)

  • Heather

    Thanks Charles, we do our best! :) The electronic kit zoom is nice but since I like to zoom manually, I prefer the second generation 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R.

  • Charles

    I was seriously considering the Olympus. What’s your opinion on the kit lens that comes with it? Great site by the way.

  • Heather

    I’d say you’ve done your research – the X-E1 plus kit lens is a very good option in that price range. The only downside is that the autofocus a little slow. If you think you might end up taking lots of photos of fast-moving objects (kids, animals, etc.) you also might want to consider the new Olympus OM-D E-M10 or Sony NEX a6000, both of which have a blazing fast autofocus. However, for landscapes and general street photography, the X-E1 is perfectly fine.

  • Charles

    Hi Heather,
    I was wondering what mirrorless camera would be the best one for me. I am tired of what point and shoot cameras have to offer and want more. I have minor photography skills (took a semester in high school 10 years ago but that’s it). I love to backpack and travel so that’s what it will be mostly used for. I really like the look of the Fujifilm xe1. In the end though I’ll choose performance over aesthetics. 700ish is my budget and a viewfinder is a must.


  • Heather

    $1000 is a lot to work with, and in all honesty, is probably more than you’ll need to spend in the beginning.

    May I ask a few questions before answering?

    1) What do you plan on shooting?
    2) How serious are you about developing your skills?
    3) Do you need a viewfinder or not?

  • Philip

    Hi Heather,

    I am new to photography and am in the market for my first camera. I just ordered a book to explain what ISO, shutter speed and fn mean (this should give you an idea of how much of a beginner I am). But I would like to buy a camera that I can learn to use and improve my photography skills and knowledge.
    My budget is around $1000. I do like the Fuji x series but feel stumped when it comes to choosing a camera that is suitable for a beginner.

  • Mathieu

    Hi Shaun, the X-E2 is currently one of the best cameras out there. Wonderful colour rendering, great dynamic range, great OOC JPGs, you could like it a lot. The AF isn’t Fujifilm strongest point but it shouldn’t stop anyone for buying those cameras, unless AF speed and accuracy is top priority. Also, the kit lens (18-55 f/2.8-4) is better than the usual kit lenses. I have the X100s that shares the same exact sensor and I can say without doubt that image quality is amazing.
    Some alternatives for you could also be on the MFT side, a Lumix GX7 or an Olympus E-M5 are great cameras. With the E-M5, you also get the advantages of the internal stabilisation (the claimed 5-axis) that works really well.

  • Shaun

    hi there, first of all great reviews..!!! i wanted to ask your advice about buying a mirrorless camera, i am a beginner and at the moment want to upgrade from my G11, which camera would you recommend as an upgrade, the X1-pro or the new XE-2, really like the look of these cameras, i travel a lot and want to take shots of my family and travels etc. thanks Shaun

  • Heather

    If your budget is $1000, I can recommend a couple of cameras. The first is the Olympus OM-D E-M5 which was released just over a year ago. It has blazing fast autofocus, very good low-light performance up to 3200 ISO, and is very portable. Now that the OM-D E-M1 is out, you can easily find one for as low as $850 with the kit lens. Another camera I adore is the Panasonic GX7. It’s interface is easier to navigate than that of the E-M5, it tracks very well, and the low-light performance is great up to 3200 ISO. The AF is fast but not quite as fast as the E-M5. You can find it for around $850 second-hand with the kit lens.

    Recently, there have been some very good deals on Amazon for both cameras, so it would be worth popping by to have a look. What we always recommend to our readers is that they go and try out the cameras in a store to get a feel for them. It’s the best way to discover whether the camera is the right fit for you and your style. :-)

  • Deb

    Hi Heather,

    Thank you for all the fine work you’ve done on your website! You’ve organized your information very nicely!

    I’m a bit stuck in making a decision about a camera to fit my particular needs. I have a dog daycare business and part of my service is to provide pictures of the little guys in action to their owners. I miss so many shots due to their fast-moving nature (my current camera is a Canon G15). As you can probably guess, Auto-Focus/Motion tracking is very important. Also, low light/high ISO quality is important for indoor shots — especially trying to avoid the reflective “pet eye” phenomenon that accompanies flash shots.

    Additionally, I’d like a small-ish camera, because I take many shots one-handed (while I hold a ball or treat in the other hand in order to get the dog’s attention).

    Since photos are just an added bonus and not a paid service, I don’t want to spend more than $1000 on a camera. Also, I prefer a fairly simple user-interface — I can adjust shutter speed or fill flash here and there, but not looking for a whole lot more adjustment.

    Any feedback or advice that you have would be valuable!


    ~ Deb

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