Mirrorless cameras may not have taken-off in all global markets yet, but they're making progress, both in terms of technology and sales. The marketing efforts have reached almost hysterical levels, helping to raise awareness that mirrorless interchangeable lens camera is here. We've had a chance to use all of these cameras extensively (and have reviewed most of them), so now seems like the ideal time to look at all the cameras and help you decide whether a Mirrorless camera is for you and, if so, which models you should consider.

Getting to grips with sensor sizes

It's difficult to engage with customers about the merits of sensor sizes so, to a great extent, the manufacturers sell these cameras on the strength of them offering interchangeable lenses. The association of interchangeable lenses with 'DSLR quality,' combined with the promise of flexibility that changeable lenses bring help to differentiate Mirrorless cameras from compacts. But it's primarily the increased sensor size that brings the image quality improvement, both in terms of low-light performance and control over depth-of-field.

The other key thing to consider is lens availability. The Micro Four Thirds lens mount, used by Panasonic and Olympus has by far the widest range of lenses, followed by Samsung's NX range, Sony's E-mount, Pentax Q and Nikon's 1 system. However, when considering the lens availability, it's worth being honest with yourself about how many lenses you're planning to buy - if you're only going to buy one additional lens, then it doesn't really matter how extensive a 'system' is, so long as it includes the lenses you might want.

What's out there?

Being a fairly new market, it's taken a little while for a consensus to develop amongst manufacturers about who might want a Mirrorless camera and what they might want it for. The result is a diverse ecosystem yet to be exposed to the evolutionary pressures that tend to result in homogeneity. In general, we feel it's possible to break down most of the Mirrorless class into three main groups, much as can be done with DSLRs: beginners, intermediate users and enthusiasts. But, beyond this classifications, there are some interesting niche cameras and alternative takes on the concept.

As you'd expect, the more sophisticated the audience, the more external control you get, the more features you can expect a camera to have and the more you can expect it to cost. In some cases this means more external control, or the option to add an external viewfinder, but it also tends to mean higher-resolution sensors and higher-resolution rear screens. The classes aren't precise - you could argue, for instance, that the Panasonic G3 offers more features and functionality than the GX1. But here we're trying to consider the overall intent - a balance of features and price, to split the cameras by the shooting style we believe they're intended for.

In this overview we're restricting our coverage to relatively recently-released cameras that we consider to be 'current generation'. Of course some older models are also still for sale new, often at a bargain prices. You can find more information about these cameras in our database or previous reviews.


Beginners' cameras

This is the area in which all the manufacturers think Mirrorless systems offer the most advantages: as small cameras that are as simple to use as point-and-shoot compacts, but with substantially better image quality. Between these and entry-level DSLRs there's been plenty of price competition, and even though we're only really on the second or third generation of these cameras, you can get a pretty mature product for a bargain price.

 Sensor SizePixel CountMovie capabilityScreen SizeTouch Screen?Viewfinder?
Sony NEX-C3 APS-C
(23.4 x 15.6 mm)
16.2MP 720p30
MPEG4
9Mbps
3"
920k
No No
Olympus PEN E-PM1 Four Thirds
(17.3 x 13 mm)
12.3MP 1080i60
AVCHD
17Mbps
3"
460k
No Optional 1.4m or 920k EVF
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 Four Thirds
(17.3 x 13 mm)
12.3MP 1080i60
AVCHD
17Mbps
3"
460k
Yes No

Intermediate cameras

The intermediate class is directly comparable to the popular 'Rebel' level of DSLRs. These are aimed at people who have perhaps already owned a enthusiast compact or an older DSLR and want a newer, more capable camera, or who are upgrading from a point-and-shoot compact but want to develop as photographers and take more control over their cameras.

The result is more external buttons, improved features and, in many cases, more accessory options.

 Sensor SizePixel CountMovie capabilityScreen SizeTouch Screen?Viewfinder?
Sony NEX-5N APS-C
(23.4 x 15.6 mm)
16.1MP 1080p60
AVCHD
28Mbps
3"
920k
Yes Optional 2.4m EVF OLED
Olympus PEN E-PL3 Four Thirds
(17.3 x 13 mm)
12.3MP 1080i60
AVCHD
17Mbps
3"
460k
No Optional 1.4m or 920k EVF
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 Four Thirds
(17.3 x 13 mm)
15.8MP 1080i60
AVCHD
17Mbps
3"
460k
Yes 1.4m equiv. EVF
Samsung NX200 APS-C
(23.4 x 15.6 mm)
20.3MP 1080p30
MPEG4
u/n
3"
610k
No No

Enthusiast cameras

These are the cameras aimed at people with extensive shooting experience. Perhaps intended as a second camera, or as a replacement for a similarly high-end camera. These tend to be the models that offer the highest levels of external controls, the strongest specifications and product design that says 'I'm serious about my photography.'

 Sensor SizePixel CountMovie capabilityScreen SizeTouch Screen?Viewfinder?
Sony NEX-7 APS-C
(23.4 x 15.6 mm)
24.3MP 1080p60
AVCHD
28Mbps
3"
920k
No 2.4m EVF OLED
Olympus PEN E-P3 Four Thirds
(17.3 x 13 mm)
12.3MP 1080i60
AVCHD
17Mbps
3"
610k
OLED
Yes Optional 1.4m or 920k EVF
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 Four Thirds
(17.3 x 13 mm)
15.8MP 1080i60
AVCHD
17Mbps
3"
460k
Yes Optional 1.4m equiv. EVF

Specialist cameras

A couple of niches have sprung up in the Mirrorless camera sector, from the video-focused Panasonic GH2, through to the fun, rather irreverent Pentax Q. We've currently put the point-and-shoot targeted Nikon 1 cameras in this group too, given their conceptual differences from all the other 'Beginner' level cameras (smaller sensors, more flexible autofocus), but you may wish to consider these too.

 Sensor SizePixel CountMovie capabilityScreen SizeTouch Screen?Viewfinder?
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 Four Thirds
(˜19 x 13.5 mm)
16.1MP 1080p30
AVCHD
24Mbps
3"
460k
Yes 1.5m equiv. EVF
Ricoh GXR Mount A12 APS-C
(23.6 x 15.7 mm)
12.1MP 720p24
Motion JPEG
3"
920k
No Optional 1.4m EVF
Nikon 1 J1 CX format
(13.2 x 8.8 mm)
10.1MP 1080i60
MPEG4
3"
460k
No No
Nikon 1 V1 CX format
(13.2 x 8.8 mm)
10.1MP 1080i60
MPEG4
3"
920k
No 1.4m EVF
Pentax Q

1/2.3" Type
(mm)

12.4MP 1080p24
MPEG4
3"
460k
No No

Click here for page 2 - Beginners' cameras