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 smartphone cameras and the friendly interfaces.
The story of the entry-level mirrorless category is a tale of sensor sizes. Sony, Fujifilm and Samsung's NX3000 use APS-C-sized sensors. Nikon's 1-series, and the Samsung NX Mini use a 1"-type sensor that's considerably larger than that of most enthusiast compacts. It's the increase in sensor size that makes much of the image quality benefits of these cameras possible - larger sensors are able to gather more light and generally produce less-noisy and higher dynamic range images. Pentax's tiny QS1 is an outlier - it has a 1/1.7"-type sensor, as found in many advanced point-and-shoots.
Sensor size is not the only thing that matters though; for many, connectivity is king when considering an entry-level mirrorless camera. The majority of the cameras here can be used in conjunction with a smartphone, to share instantly with the world. Some do it better than others, and some don't do it at all.
Another important factor to consider when purchasing an entry-level mirrorless camera is the quality of the kit lens included. A fast kit lens (smaller F-number), with a wider range of focal lengths will do the camera you choose more justice than a slower lens, or one with a lesser zoom range. This is true regardless of the size of the camera’s sensor. Here are the cameras we've identified current entry-level mirrorless models:
- Fujifilm X-M1
- Fujifilm X-A1
- Sony a3000
- Samsung NX3000
- Samsung NX Mini
- Pentax Q-S1
- Nikon 1 S2
- Nikon 1 J4
- Olympus Pen E-PL7
- 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, in a body that will also play nice with their smartphone, 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.