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Date: 03/09/2013 | By: Heather

Which are the best mirrorless cameras under $500?

DSC-RX100M2, 1/30, f/ 18/10, ISO 800

Which are the best mirrorless cameras under $500?

One of the most common grievances we hear about mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (MILC) is that they are overpriced.

Consumers feel that the compact body of a mirrorless camera should be the harbinger of a lower price point, but fail to realise that these cameras are often equal to their larger DSLR counterparts in terms of performance and image quality.

It is true that many mirrorless cameras, especially those designed for professionals such as the Olympus OM-D E-M5, Fuji X-Pro1, Panasonic Lumix GH3 and Sony NEX-7, can easily end up costing you thousands between the camera body and the many lenses and accessories you can buy for it.

However, the happy reality is that as of late 2013, there are many mirrorless camera models that actually sit below the $500 price point with a kit lens included, the same price as a low-end DSLR with similar specifications. This is because this genre of cameras has now been around long enough for the older models to have “aged” and come down in price with the release of newer versions.

Below you will find a short analysis of just how well each brand is doing at pricing their mirrorless cameras for a beginner/amateur audience. I have a sneaking suspicion that their affordability will surprise you!

Olympus and Panasonic

DMC-GH3, 1/125, f/ 4/1, ISO 1600
Mathieu and the Olympus Pen E-P3

Two camera companies with several models under $500 are the Micro Four Thirds giants Olympus and Panasonic. They were the first to seriously invest in the mirrorless movement back in 2008 and have since produced numerous MILC cameras under the Micro 4/3s name, many of which sit comfortably under the $500 mark.

Olympus’ Pen series is a great example of a line that has become extremely affordable in the past couple of years. In fact, every Pen save the new E-P5 can now be found for less than $500, with the oldest models being available for less than $300. A good example of an affordable model is the excellent E-P3 which, despite having been replaced by the E-P5, is packed with lots of interesting features such as a 3-inch OLED touchscreen, a 12MP sensor and ISO up to 12800. We tried this camera a few months ago, and it was a pleasure to use for street photography.

Similarly, Panasonic only has three Lumix models (the GH2, GH3 and GX7) in the $1000 range, while nearly all the rest can easily be picked up for around half that price. The most interesting models include the GF5 and G5, both of which have excellent image quality and performance that even a professional could appreciate for casual photography.


The Canon EOS M: Canon's only mirrorless contribution so far
The Canon EOS M: Canon’s only mirrorless contribution so far

Canon‘s one contribution so far to the mirrorless category, the EOS M, is also a bargain these days. You can get the camera body and kit lens for just over $400. Originally, this camera would not have interested me as the AF was horribly sluggish, but a firmware update has changed all that, and the EOS M is now a very interesting option for amateur photographers looking to step up their photography, and pros searching for that perfect compact travel companion. (The only drawback is that Canon has only created three lenses for the system so far.)

The move to lower the EOS M’s price point is no doubt in preparation for the release of Canon’s second MILC which is due for release before the end of this year.


The Nikon 1 J2 won’t take a huge chunk out of your wallet.

The Nikon 1 system was originally met with much fanfare when Ashton Kutcher stepped up as the line’s official celebrity representative. However, sales have since fallen, so much that Nikon is now reconsidering the 1 series completely. This is not because the Nikon 1 is a poor camera system–far from it in fact. (Its AF and burst rate are amongst the fastest in its class.) It is simply because mirrorless camera sales, and camera sales in general, have been disappointing as of late.

Luckily for consumers considering the Nikon 1 system, this deceleration in sales has also brought about some pretty significant price drops, especially for the J line. Depending on the colour you choose, the J1 and J2 can both be found far below the $500 mark.


E-M5, 1/1000, f/ 28/10, ISO 200
The wonderful entry-level NEX-3N was released this year (2013) but still comes in at less than $500 with the kit lens. See our full review of the Sony NEX-3N.

Sony was another early player in the mirrorless game with the release of its first two contributions, the NEX-3 and NEX-5 in 2010. Now, seven models later and many more on the horizon, it is easy to find a NEX camera with kit lens under $500, especially if you look at the early versions of the 3 and 5, or the entry-level C3 or F3.

We have a particular soft spot for the NEX-3N which we reviewed last month. Besides producing wonderful image quality even in low-light, it also has an exceptional video function and a pretty fast burst rate for its class.

I wouldn’t be surprised if NEXs that cost over $500 now come down in price when the NEX-7n and NEX full frame are released in the coming months.


Much like Canon, Pentax isn’t exactly an active producer of mirrorless cameras but they do have three models to choose from: the Pentax Q, Q7 and K-01. You can easily find all three for under $500. Pentax isn’t a brand that interests me personally–I tried the Q line at the PhotoShow in Milan, and I wasn’t overly impressed by the build or image quality.


Samsung’s NX series is another curious case in the mirrorless world. The company has produced more or less the same number of models as Sony, but has failed to effectively promote its products in much of Europe and the Americas. Moreover, the only NX camera I’ve ever seen under $500 is the NX2000. If Samsung wants to remain competitive, they would do well to reduce the prices of their older models to make them more accessible to entry-level and amateur audiences.


Fujifilm’s focus is primarily on professionals, which means that you’ll rarely see a camera for under $500 from them. The closest we’ll get is the yet-to-be released X-A1 which sits at around $500 for the body alone.

So, which are the best?

My opinion is that the three companies which provide the widest and most diverse selection of cameras under $500 are Olympus, Panasonic and Sony. Not only, but these companies also have a very wide assortment of lenses to choose from, making them more flexible as a system. Below you can find a list of cameras I really feel give you more bang for your buck.

Olympus Pen E-P3

Panasonic G5

Panasonic GX1

Sony NEX-5R

Sony NEX-3N

While the Canon EOS M is now much improved thanks to the firmware update for AF, there simply aren’t enough lenses to satisfy anyone with more than a beginner-level interest in photography. The Nikon 1 System too seems interesting, but not having had an in-depth look at it as of yet, we will reserve judgement for now. Pentax feels a bit cheap and Samsung remains too expensive for the average consumer. We know that these companies have the potential to create high-quality yet reasonably-priced cameras, so let’s hope they decide to play catch-up with the three mirrorless giants. :-)

Do you agree with my selection of the best mirrorless cameras under $500? Is there a camera you’d add to my list?

Also check out: Which mirrorless camera should I buy as a beginner?

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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!

  • norman shearer

    Fuji XA-1 can be a serious bargain. Spend a bit more and get it with a lens (plus a free lens) and you could sell the lenses and get the body for practically nothing.

    Sigma DP Merrils are also worth a mention. Bit of a niche camera but selling for about £350 in UK and can outresolve most DSLR’s.

  • Mathieu

    Hi Romelle, for you budget the Sony Nex 3n might be the best deal for you, also because it more recent than the other cameras (except the E-P5). The E-P3 is also a very good camera but has an older sensor. I’m afraid that the E-P5 will cost more than that, on Amazon I saw it around 650$ used.
    The Nex 3n is also better for video than the pen cameras.
    As for the samsung, I haven’t tried it so I cannot really tell.

  • Romelle

    First off, I’ve been on your site for the last week trying to determine which camera I should buy and it is such an amazing one!

    Summer of 2011 I took my kids at a boys and girls club camping and ended up losing my Nikon D5000. I’ve never thought to replace it I feel it’s finally time to buy a new camera.

    Money is somewhat tight. I have about $400 to spend. I like the mirrorless cameras and feel that would be better for me now. I’m really torn on what camera to buy. I narrowed it down to a few and would like to know your opinion of which to buy. A Sony Nex 3n, Olympus Pen EP3 or EP5 (maybe PL5), or Samsung Nex300 (second hand).

    I would much rather pay less than $400 if possible but I do have $400 to spend if it’s worth it. What’s the best bang for my buck? I don’t want a lesser camera just cause of the price, you know? I just honestly want a good camera,

    Thank you in advance,


  • Βill

    Thank you so much Heather,you really help me decide.I will go for the cheaper EP3 which feels great(i found also a nice leatherette to make it look like EP5) in order to save money to invest on lenses(which i could use in future in my next m4/3 camera).I m really grateful for your help!!

  • Heather

    Hi Bill,

    I own the E-P5 and use it for most of my personal photography because I love the 5-axis stabilisation. It is great help if you enjoy hand-held macro and long exposures. That said, the 3-mode IBIS of the E-P3 is definitely sufficient for most situations. As for the IQ, you’ll notice the biggest difference at high ISO speeds (in low light).

    If you liked the feel of the E-P3, I’d say go for it. (If you can find one second-hand, all the better!) You can use that extra $250 to save up for a good lens, which is actually more important than the camera body itself in many ways.

    Good luck!

  • Βill

    Hello Heather,

    Thank you for your fast and kind reply.Truly you ve got a wonderful site and seem to really love what you re doing.Well i ve gone to the camera shop today..What a beautiful camera EP3 is!!!! I knew that the build quality was great,but that great?!!! I was really excited and the camera fits in my hand perfectly.Also i saw EM5 and i can say that the EP3 is more impressive (not that the build quality isnt great at EM5 too).Well,to tell you the truth i m a little confused.I ve decided to take for sure an EPx camera,cause i m interested for a “compact” system with great build quality and great picture quality.But i really cant decide if its woth it investing on an EP5 model.I can find a EP5 for around 550 euros used(body only) and i can find also an EP3 body at 300 euros(new).I cant decide cause i dont know if the leap to the 16 MP sensor and 5axis IS (plus other pros of EP5),are features that gonna be noticeable from me(an amateur that wants to learn how to take great pictures).Thank you in advance for your time,i m really grateful!!!

  • Heather

    Hi Bill and thanks for the lovely comment!
    Since you are a beginner and your interests are fairly broad, I would say that an E-P3 with the kit zoom is an great choice to start with. My only word of warning is that it does not have a built-in viewfinder, something which many prefer to have on a digital camera. If you are fine without, the E-P3 is perfect.
    I would also recommend that you ask to try out the E-P3 at your local camera store to see how it feels in your hands before you take the leap. Ergonomics and comfort are just as important as the inner workings of the camera, and what may be right for one person may not work for another.
    Let us know how you get on, and feel free to ask more questions if you have any.
    Heather :-)

  • Bill

    Hello there! What an amazing site you ve got. Well, I am a beginner and really like to take very good photos (amateur not proffessional use) and I prefer buyin a mirrorless camera instead of a premium compact. My budget is low and if I could afford it I would go for EP5 or EM10 as I love their retro style and build quality.Do you think I shall wait till my budget is good enough to take one of these, or an EP3 would be good for this. I m thinking of using the camera mainly for street photography and landscapes, but I really wanna try other things too!!!Also an epl5 used is an option, but really I can’t resist the quality and style of EP line. I would be glad to hear your opinion.Thank you in advance and greetings from Greece !!

  • Jamal

    Hi Heather…

    As I’ve been reading more about micro 4/3 cameras, now there is more that am understanding and becoming a little picky :P.
    I had finalized E-PL5 (because of the tilting LCD as I read it would be more useful compared to EPM2 which is cheaper) but am not sure if it has the following options. I’m willing to invest a little more (around 800-900 usd, including camera + fast aperture lens + filter). I read somewhere that the basic function of a filter is to protect the camera lens from dust etc, is that correct?

    -fast AF (for shooting children)
    -good internal mic (for video recording)
    -good battery life?
    -viewfinder (is there an advantage to it? I think LCD would work well for shooting children?)

    Please note that the camera prices are higher here in Pakistan, can’t get them imported from amazon here. For example am getting the EPL5 here after discount for around 570usd where as its available for 480usd on amazon.

  • Heather

    Hi Jamal,

    Whether you need something beyond the kit lens totally depends on what you plan on shooting and how “picky” you are about the sharpness of your images, the lens’ performance in low light, the attractiveness of the background bokeh, and so on. You are right when you say that a lens with a fast aperture (f/1.2 to 1.8 are common) will produce better results in low light, but another advantage is that it will also give you a shallower depth of field.

    600-800 gives you quite a lot to work with. I would suggest investing in a mid-end mirrorless camera such as the Olympus Pen E-P3 with the 14-42mm kit lens. It costs around $400 these days (lens included), has a very fast AF which is useful for capturing children, is light and compact, and has a wide variety of lenses at its disposition. The only downside is that it doesn’t have a viewfinder – I don’t know if that is a priority for you or not.

    On top of that, you may want to pick up my favourite portrait lens, the M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8, to start off. It has a wonderful bokeh, is very affordable, can be used for many kinds of photography, and has a fast aperture, making it good for low-light photography and portraits. You can see my full review here if you’re interested.

    Of course, as I always say, pop into your local camera store and try out some models before making your decision. You can never predict how a camera will feel in your hands until you actually try it.

  • Jamal

    Hi Heather…

    I plan to buy the camera in around july-august this year…hopefully I’ll have saved 600-800 usd by then 😛

    BTW, will the default camera lens which comes with either the dslr or mirror-less (like 18-55mm) be enough or will I’ve to purchase another lens (something like a f/1.8 etc) though I’ve really no idea about the lenses but I think its faster then then 18-55mm lens and performs better in low light?

    I don’t know if the prices will go down by the mid of this year but I might spend a little more as well as I want to buy something which will last me atleast 4-5 years as I’m purchasing it for purely personal use….

  • Heather

    Hi Jamal and thanks for your comment.

    The price of recent models can be quite high, it’s true, but no higher than many DSLRs in a similar category. If you look at some older mirrorless models, you’ll actually find that the price is quite reasonable, just as the three-year-old 60d is now.

    As for the lens issue, Micro Four Thirds cameras from Panasonic and Olympus have a wide variety of lenses at their disposal. Fujifilm, too, is catching up.

    Can I ask what your price range is? I’ll be able to give you a better answer once I know how much you’re willing to spend.

  • Jamal

    hi Heather…

    I’ve recently purchased Nokia 808 (yes its sumbian! :P) only because of its camera. Its taking quite good pics compared to my other cellfone (5MP cam) and Sony Point & Shoot camera.

    Currently, my main passion is to take pictures of my daughter..and 808 is doing a good job.

    I was planning to buy a dslr sometime in future and had finalized either to go for Canon 600d or 60d…but now have come across these mirror-less camera. Although I do like the small size of these MC but their price is putting me off

    I’ve read a few comparisons of 60d vs mirrorless cameras and 60d wins in all of them…plus there is this flexibility of additional lenses with canon-dslr which is not the case with MC

    What do you advise for me plz… 😀

  • Heather

    Great to know, thanks!

  • Phil

    The Lumix GX1 with a 14-42mm kit lens is now available within your $500 price range. That’s got to be a good buy. Goodbye!

  • Heather

    Thank you for letting us know. We have sent them a request to remove the content immediately.

  • Vanguard

    Did you give permission for this post to be reproduced in someone else’ blog? If not, then your article has been stolen and reproduced here:

    (link has been removed)

  • Mathieu

    That’s great. I’d love to see some of your shots!

  • Emanuele.A

    I have buy a E-PL5 for 450 eur in Italy, body only, and I am very happy: a light version of my OM-D.

  • Mathieu

    I agree with you Torsten.
    As for the 1 system, I think Nikon should also release more interesting and fast lenses, such as the recent 32mm f/1.2. About the ergonomic, I prefer the V “versions” especially the V2 but again it is very expensive.
    The GX7 is exciting, I can’t wait to test it. A built-in viewfinder is a huge difference in my opinion, especially when you compare it to its direct competitor the Pen E-P5.

  • Matt S

    Both are great! The E-PL5 has the Image Quality edge, especially with Raw files. It also (to me) has more features like HDR bracketing, tilting screen….. The E-P3 has more control dials but I feel it fall short in the RAW department. Still a great camera, built solid, but if you have an OM-D and you want a second body… the little extra for an E-PL5 is worth it.

  • Martin

    Hello Matt. I saw your comment, but I’m little confused :) Please, which is better according to you? E-P3 or E-PL5? Thanks

  • Torsten

    You are probably right, Mathieu – Canon and Nikon are watching this carefully, considering what to do seeing how much more money the make with DSLR. I would suspect they will focus more on lighter DSLR models and entry level as that’s where the volume is. However, releasing bad mirrorless cameras, not really developing the system, getting the marketing all confused and whatever else went wrong and then concluding that mirrorless is not right, seems, well, wrong.
    Having said that, certainly in the US market there seems to be a perception amongst customers that bigger is better and it is probably not easy going against that. However, having confused marketing and release strategies and overpricing won’t help with that either. Seeing how much cheaper mirrorless systems can be manufactured the original Canon and Nikon pricing seemed a little odd.
    Anyway, the Nikon 1 is a really exciting system, not just the AF but also very high frame rates and other features that really show what mirrorless can do. Now that the prices for the bodies are much better and there is a decent selection of lenses it is worth looking into. Sadly for me – I shoot Nikon FX and have some lenses that would make sense on a Nikon 1 body – I am just not overly excited about how the cameras feel in my hand. Seeing how good the IQ of most systems has become now (who’d thought I’d be okay shooting a compact camera at ISO 6400 if I have to) I find the ergonomics and “tactile excitement” to be even more important. That’s why I will check out the GX7 – the grip looks just like what may fit well in my hand.
    Sorry for the rambling!

  • Matt S

    I picked up a factory demo E-PL5 for $450 US. This lite PEN……. is only light in weight! Heavy in features, quality, and it has the same sensor as my OM-D! Kudos to the E-P3! The E-PL5 is my upgrade to the E-P3. I’m going to keep it because the JPEGS that come out of the E-P3 are great! Can’t explain it. Keep an eye out for those factory demos, they come and go quickly and glass usually $100 less than new. Haven’t failed me yet.

  • Mathieu

    Thanks for your feedback Torsten.
    I don’t know what Canon intends to do with the Eos-M. I think the poor sales of the camera and mirrorless cameras in general (except some models/brands) has made them take a step back. They are probably observing the market and waiting to make the right move. The fact that only one lens has been released since the introduction of the camera (and as you said it is not available everywhere) is proof that Canon is interested in other segments.
    I always found the Nikon 1 system very interesting, but the sales aren’t good. Let’s see what they come up with 😉

  • Torsten

    No cameras to add, but a comment on the EOS M. I have used it with the firmware update and the AF is still very slow – no comparison to the m4/3 crowd or the Nikon 1 with its excellent AF system. You can photograph moving targets, but it takes a little practice and for things like photographing kids or street photography that has more action in it I wouldn’t recommend it. The touch screen is great though and the body feels very solid. As far as I am aware only two lenses are available everywhere, the third is not in all markets. No idea what Canon may plan with the system, if you want to call it one. Nikon now has a good range of lenses but it remains to be seen where they take the 1 system For people having Nikon lenses it is certainly very interesting as the adapter also supports AF – with the high pixel density long lenses have amazing reach with fast AF on the Nikon 1.
    And finally a personal statement: I found the GF5 serious fun. The sensor is perhaps not as good as others and it is really designed more as a point and shoot, but it does admirably in this regard. I only had a limited time shooting it but probably the most fun I had with any mirrorless so far.

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