Entry-Level Mirrorless Camera Roundup (2013)
Entry-level mirrorless cameras provide a nice middle ground between fixed-lens point-and-shoots and lower-end DSLRs. It's an ever-growing category with options for photographers of varying skill level and intentions. The common factors in this class are the huge step up in image quality over most compacts and the friendly interfaces aimed at those stepping up from point-and-shoots.
The story of the entry-level mirrorless category is a tale of sensor sizes. Sony, Fujifilm and Samsung's mirrorless models use APS-C-sized sensors, the same larger-sized chips used in traditional DSLRs. Nikon's 1-series, on the other hand, use a 1"-type sensor that's considerably larger than that of an advanced point-and-shoot camera. Sitting roughly in between the two formats size-wise are the Four Thirds sensors used by Olympus and Panasonic's mirrorless cameras. Pentax's tiny Q7 is an outlier - it has a 1/1.7"-type sensor, as found in many advanced point-and-shoots. Accordingly, the camera itself is more point-and-shoot-like in size.
Large sensors present some benefits - they're able to gather more light and generally produce less-noisy high ISO images. Depending on the lens in front of it, larger sensors are also better able to produce the blurry background effect and a look that photographers moving up from point-and-shoots typically want. Here are the cameras we've identified as entry-level mirrorless models:
- Olympus E-PM2
- Fujifilm X-M1
- Sony NEX-3N
- Samsung NX2000
- Fujifilm X-A1
- Nikon 1 J3
- Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF6
- Pentax Q7
- Nikon 1 S1
- Sony A3000
- Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM1
Beginners who are looking for better-than-smartphone image quality will definitely find it in this class, and may also like how lightweight and portable these cameras are as compared to a DSLR. They make great cameras for everyday, good light shooting and will generally take better low light images than a phone or point-and-shoot.
The way we see it there are two kinds of users who will consider cameras in this class - those who are looking for a point-and-shoot experience with better image quality, and those who are looking for a step-up camera with which to learn the ins-and-outs of photography without going all the way up to a DSLR.