If you're casual about your photography, then smartphones and compact cameras more than do the job. Generally though, they are limited by small sensors and fixed lenses that don't offer the kind of next-level control that you need when taking your photography that little bit further.
With that in mind, an interchangeable lens camera is the perfect upgrade. In this guide, we've picked out the best entry-level mirrorless cameras that should fit your budget, aren't too bulky and hopefully won't be too perplexing as you learn how to use them.
Many of the mirrorless cameras in this group have APS-C sensors, but some of our favourites have slightly smaller Micro Four Thirds sensors. Both offer such a big improvement over smartphones and compacts that really there’s little to choose between them.
Mirrorless cameras also offer interchangeable lenses. They will often come with a general-purpose 3x ‘kit’ zoom lens which are great to get you started with. Once you get a little bit more into it, you might find it worth investing in telephotos, macro lenses, super-wide-angles and more. It’s worth checking the lens ranges on offer, particularly if you might want to upgrade to a better camera in the range later on.
The retro-tastic E-M10 Mark III is styled like a DSLR, with a viewfinder mounted on the top, but this camera is so small it scarcely takes up more space than mirrorless cameras with no viewfinder at all. It has a Micro Four Thirds sensor a little smaller than the APS-C sensors used by rival makers, and 16 megapixels rather than the usual 24, but the smaller sensor means smaller, faster-focusing lenses, and you’re not likely to notice the difference in megapixels in real-world shooting. What you will notice is this camera’s great build quality and finish, its responsiveness, its excellent built in Art Filters and the rather clever shooting options in its Advanced Photo mode. Olympus offers a good range of lenses, too – as it shares the Micro Four Thirds mount with Panasonic, you can also swap lenses between manufacturers.
While the absence of an X Trans sensor is a little disappointing (Fujifilm's premium sensor), the reality is that this has allowed Fujifilm to price the camera a little more aggressively. It's also fair to say that for most photographers the difference will be negligible, with the X-T100 delivering some of the best results you'll see from an entry-level mirrorless camera. 4K video capture capped at 15fps is also a bit of a let down for those who do a lot of video recording, though, while focusing speeds can be a little bit slow on occasion. Otherwise, Fujifilm's entry-level mirrorless camera doesn't generally disappoint. Lovely to look at and use, the X-T100 is a great choice if you're looking for your first mirrorless camera.
The Lumix GX9 from Panasonic represents excellent value for money. Its small size and weight not only make it ideal for those new to an interchangeable lens camera, but it's also well-suited for travel photography, too. The great feature set includes a built-in viewfinder, plus 5-axis dual image stabilisation. One of our favourite features of all Panasonic cameras is the 4K Video and 4K Photo Modes. You can use the latter to extract stills from a movie to in order to freeze the perfect moment. As standard, the GX9 comes with a 12-32mm lens, which is a good optic to get you started with. Further good news is that there are dozens of different lenses available in the Micro Four Thirds mount, so this is a camera you can truly grow with.
Sony's A6000 was one of the most popular mirrorless models of the past few years, and while you can still buy it, the brand has refreshed it in the shape of the A6100. That brings a whole set of new features to Sony's entry-level offering, including improved video features which now include 4K. You also now get a touch-sensitive screen and advanced autofocus options which include the very well-performing Eye AF (for both humans and animals). An extensive range of different lenses are available for Sony's mount, so it's also a system you can be confident when investing in. As it stands, the A6100 is one of the most expensive models on this list – but the good news is that if you're happy with older tech, the A6000 is still very much available, and right now is a veritable bargain.
This great little all-rounder is the only budget-friendly EOS M series camera with an integrated viewfinder. Otherwise, you're doing your composing via the screen – not such a big deal if you're coming up from a smartphone, but viewfinders are great when bright light makes the screen a bit awkward to use. Plus there's the fact that shooting through a viewfinder just feels a bit more “authentic”. Other tempting features include 4K video (just note that it's cropped), great autofocusing and an easy-to-use interface.
Olympus is not the only company to make Micro Four Thirds mirrorless cameras. They’re also made by Panasonic and, in fact, the lenses are interchangeable. Where Olympus cameras are all about style and creativity, Panasonic cameras are at least as technically capable but a little more down to earth. And they don’t come much more down to earth than the Lumix GX800 (known as the GX850 in the US), which combines small size with powerful features and exceptional value. You don’t get a viewfinder, but you do get 4K video and Panasonic’s 4K Photo modes, a 180-degree selfie screen, touch control and a terrific little 12-32mm retracting kit lens.
Fujifilm has made its reputation with its high-end X-mount mirrorless cameras, but it also makes a series of simpler X-A cameras for novices. The X-A5 sports a retracting 15-45mm kit lens which makes the camera far easier to cram into a bag. There’s no viewfinder, but the touch-screen display works very well and flips through 180 degrees for selfies. The image quality is terrific, even though its regular CMOS sensor rather than Fujifilm’s special X-Trans sensor, though the 4K video mode only works at 15fps, which is a let-down.
Launched in the same year as the A6000, the A5100 is also a highly competent camera whose price has dropped to bargain basement prices thanks to its age. Of course there's always a trade-off to be made for saving cash. Here the compromises are the lack of an electronic viewfinder, while the external controls are a lot more basic. Sony has done a great job to make a camera this small but it does leave it feeling slightly dwarfed by the 16-50mm kit lens. On the plus side, the A5100 does, however, have a 180-degree selfie screen. Now that we've seen some new APS-C mirrorless models – and lenses – from the company, we can also feel pretty confident that Sony is keen to keep investing in this format, too.
Canon’s cheapest EOS M model is very competitively priced and offers an easy introduction to interchangeable lens cameras for smartphone or compact camera upgraders. But to make it ‘simple’, Canon has taken away a lot of the external controls, which means you spend more time in the menus and touchscreen interface. The plain rectangular body is also a little awkward to hold and shoot with. It doesn’t always capture sharp shots in low light, either, when rival cameras manage this perfectly well. The EOS M100 is small, simple and affordable nonetheless.
The Olympus PEN series is aimed squarely at beginners and smartphone upgraders, catering specifically for fashion-conscious bloggers and Instagramers. It does this with a blend of style, responsiveness and image quality that’s instantly endearing. Olympus’s ‘EZ’ pancake lens is a must-have companion for this camera, offering a 3x zoom range in a super-slim retracting design that means the PEN takes up little space in your bag. The latest of these is the E-PL9, which brings 4K video and better image stabilisation over the older model.