A few years ago, the idea of a DSLR under $1000 was just a distant dream, but these days the financial bar to entry is much lower than it was in the past. And DSLRs aren't the only game in town anymore either - mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras are maturing quickly, and there are plenty of affordable options on the market. Here's our list of the top five interchangeable lens cameras that we'd currently recommend for under $1000 - including a kit zoom lens.

Prices given are representative of street pricing, and our recommendations are arranged from most to least expensive.

Recommendations are subject to change and are current as of December 2014

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM5 (w/12-32mm lens)

$900 / £600 | 16MP | 1.2m-dot viewfinder | 3in, 921k-dot LCD| 1080/60p video

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The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM5 is one of the smallest compact system cameras available, and surprisingly it is a good deal smaller than many non-interchangeable-lens compact cameras. Part of the micro four thirds system, this model is compatible with all of Panasonic’s Lumix G lenses, as well as those from Olympus, Sigma, Tamron and others – a collection of lenses to almost rival Canon’s, in number if not variety. 

Although not officially a replacement for the earlier GM1, the GM5 comes will all the same features but crucially adds better handling for menu controls and feature navigation via a new four way button cluster. The other principle difference is the addition of an electronic viewfinder with 1,166K-dot resolution – quite something on a camera so small. While the GM1 has a tiny built-in flash unit the GM5 has a hotshoe instead, that houses the appropriately-small bundled flash unit as well, of course, as other larger guns in the range. 

Although small the camera is not just for beginners, as it features the same sensor and processor as the mid-range Lumix DMC-GX7, and a full complement of advanced shooting modes. A top ISO setting of 25,600 and a fastest shutter speed of 1/16,000sec lend the camera plenty of flexibility for both low and bright light conditions, while the responsive 3-inch screen offers all of Panasonic’s excellent touch functions, such as touch AF, touch shutter and swift menu navigation. 

Also consider...

Nikon 1 V3: The Nikon 1 V3 is built around an 18.4 MP CX-format sensor, and uses a hybrid contrast (171 points) and phase detect (105 points) AF system. The V3 boasts 20 fps continuous shooting speed with full autofocus. The camera is also capable of 1080/60p Full HD video, includes built-in Wi-Fi connectivity, and a new touch-panel tilting LCD display. It's pricey ($1200 with accessory grip and finder) but impressively capable.  

Olympus OM-D E-M10 (w/14-42mm lens)

$800 / £600 | 16MP | 8fps max framerate | 3in, 1.04m-dot LCD| 1080/30p video

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The little brother of Olympus’s OM-D E-M1 and E-M5, the OM-D E-M10 offers users less of a pared-down OM-D experience than the OM-D experience in a smaller package. Using the same sensor as the OM-D E-M5, the OM-D E-M10 acts in almost the same way as its big brother and produces identical image quality – the principal differences are that the OM-D E-M5 is weather-sealed and offers 5-axis image stabilization instead of the 3-axis system of the E-M10.

Fitted with the standard micro four thirds 16 million pixels, the E-M10 can shot at up to 8fps for as many as 20 raw images, features a 1.44-million-dot electronic viewfinder and a 3-inch tilting rear screen that allows touch AF, touch shutter and image scrolling with a finger swipe. 

The camera comes with the full collection of Olympus’s art filters that allow users to shoot with a choice of 12 image effects applied, while at the same time offering the level of manual and semi-automatic control we would expect from a DSLR. 

Unlike the E-M1 and E-M5, the E-M10 has a built-in flash that pops up above the hotshoe to provide light with a guide number of 5.8m @ ISO 100, and synchronisation shutter speeds as short as 1/250sec. 

Also consider...

Fujifuilm X-M1: The X-M1 is a great low-cost introduction to Fujifilm's excellent X system. It uses Fujifilm's proprietary 16MP X-Trans CMOS sensor which offers an ISO range of 200-6400 in RAW and 100-25600 in JPEG, and is also capable of Full HD movie recording at 30 fps. Despite the camera's small size there's still a decent amount of external control.

Sony a6000 (w/16-50mm lens)

$700 / £550 | 24MP | 179-point hybrid AF | SVGA OLED viewfinder| 1080/60p video

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The standout feature of Sony’s a6000 compact system camera has to be its sensor. With 24 million pixels in an APS-C sized area it is, even at first glance, a specification to rival that which you might expect from an advanced DSLR – such as the company’s own A77. It's not just resolution that makes the a6000's sensor appealing though - its new hybrid autofocus system combines on-chip contrast and phase detection technology and allows focusing across 92% of the frame. 

The hybrid AF aims to combine the speed with which a phase detection system can move with the accuracy of contrast detection – and it seems to have worked, with the a6000 performing extremely well in our test. To make the most of the speed of the AF system, Sony has included a maximum frame rate of 11fps even when the AF is tracking a moving subject.  

Despite the sensor size and pixel count, this is a small camera that is part of a system of small lenses and accessories, and for those who dislike using a camera’s rear screen to compose and navigate menus, the a6000 offers an OLED electronic viewfinder with a 1.44-million-dot resolution. Other standout features include full HD video at 1080/60p and 24p, clean HDMI output, a 3-inch tilting LCD screen with 921,000-dot resolution and Wi-Fi with NFC connectivity. 

Also consider... 

Samsung NX300M: Samsung's NX300M is a midrange, rangefinder-styled interchangeable lens camera that offers a lot of functionality for its modest street price. Its APS-C format sensor boasts 20MP - good for this class, if not class-leading - and extensive connectivity features plus capable autofocus and quick shooting rates make the NX300M quite the bargain.

Pentax K-S1 (w/18-55mm lens)

$670 / £500 | 20MP | 5.4fps max framerate | 51200 max ISO| 1080/30p video

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The attention-grabbing LED lights dotted around this Pentax DSLR will not be to everyone’s taste, so we will mention right away that they can be switched off to create a more 'normal-looking' camera. Normal though is perhaps not the right word, as Pentax cameras usually produce exceptional image quality, and the K-S1 follows that established form. Fitted with a 20-million-pixel APS-C sized CMOS sensor, the K-S1 defies its own beginner looks to provide a range of features and functions that will keep advanced users happy too. 

Of note is the in-body image stabilization system that not only counters camera shake, but which can also shift the image sensor left and right for recomposing when mounted on a tripod, which can help users track moving stars to avoid trails in long exposures, and which can shake itself just enough to simulate the effects of a sensor covered by an anti-aliasing filter. 

Like all Pentax DSLRs the K-S1 has a glass pentaprism optical viewfinder with 100% coverage of the scene you are about to capture, which gives the user a big bright view that makes composition easier. It’s a feature not often found in cameras of this price. Other features include 5.4fps shooting, a top shutter speed of 1/6000sec and an ISO setting of 51,200 – as well as a back catalogue of K mount lenses that stretches into the history of photography. 

Also consider...

Canon EOS Rebel SL1 / EOS 100D: The SL1 is Canon's smallest DSLR yet, but despite its slimline form factor the SL1 doesn't skimp on features, offering a capable 18MP APS-C CMOS sensor, and Canon's 'Hybrid CMOS AF II' autofocus system which is especially useful when shooting movies.

Nikon D5300 (w/18-55mm lens)

$630 / £570 | 24MP | 1.2m-dot viewfinder | 3in, 1.04m-dot dot LCD| 1080/60p video

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Although it has been on the market for some time, the Nikon D5300 is holding its own extremely well and is still an impressive beast that is capable of producing excellent image quality even when compared to more recent models. Sitting between the entry level D3300 and the more high-enthusiast D7100, the D5300 offers a great deal of what the camera above it does, but at a much lower price. 

Fitted with a 24-million-pixel APS-C sized sensor that has no optical low pass filter to blur fine detail, the D5300 is capable of creating very high resolution images. With Nikon’s noise reduction at work even high ISO images are relatively noise-free, and beginners and enthusiasts alike will enjoy the flexibility and detail to be found in the camera’s raw files. 

While suitable for those at the beginning of their photographic journey, this is also a camera that will keep more experienced photographers happy with its serious feature-set. The camera offers a 39-point AF system that is based around the same Multi-cam 4800DX system used in the D7100, as well as the same 2016-pixel RGB metering system. A top ISO setting of 12,800, a 3.2-inch 1-million-dot fully articulated LCD screen and full HD 60p video round up the main features this body has to offer. 

Also consider...

Canon Rebel T5i / EOS 700D: The Canon Rebel T5i offers an 18MP APS-C CMOS sensor, which delivers good image quality across a wide ISO sensitivity span of 100-25,600. Autofocus performance is good, especially when paired with one of Canon's higher-end USM lenses and a large, fully-articulated 1.04 million-dot touch-sensitive LCD screen is great for live view and movie shooting.