The Best Mirrorless Cameras For Beginners

Taking the plunge to buy a mirrorless camera system can be daunting with so much choice available on the market today. Whether you are completely new to photography, deciding to switch from a point and shoot, or upgrading from using your smartphone, we look at the best mirrorless cameras for beginners and how you can choose the right system to suit you.

What are the choices for a new mirrorless camera system for beginners

Before we get into our post we have to remind our readers about our huge Black Friday camera sale event just around the corner! This is probably the best time of year to pick up a camera or lens bargain, so why not sign up and be the very first to hear about deals available for our customers! If you do decide to buy a new (or used) camera for your hobby, you will find amazing savings not available during the rest of the year, for beginners up to professional level.

Summary of beginners camera recommendations

If you are in a hurry, here is a summary of our overall recommendations for beginner photographers. There are individual product links listed at the bottom of this article and the reasons why we make these recommendations further along in our post.

  1. For a budget of around £500 you can get a brilliant, long-lasting mirrorless system, with either micro four thirds or crop size sensors, which includes one or two versatile lenses straight away.
  2. We recommend choosing an interchangeable lens mirrorless camera system for ultimate flexibility in the long term. A different lens allows for a different perspectives and different subject matter. 
  3. Choose a model which is in its’ second or third iteration ideally, as the manufacturer will have refined the camera body to be the best model available.
  4. Choose a mirrorless body which enables both automatic and manual settings. As you advance your skills from beginner to enthusiast and beyond, you can take full control of your camera choosing your own settings for the most creative control. 
  5. Advanced features like in-body-stabilisation can help to capture more ‘keepers’ in darker situations where the shutter speed is slower. Features like stabilisation help the camera to avoid shaking, which results in fewer blurred photos or videos. 
  6. If the idea of video appeals for some stage in the future, choose a model which supports the best quality movie recording from the outset. Most mirrorless cameras pack incredible video quality these days, but some are specifically geared towards stills. 
  7. Read camera reviews, watch video reviews or better still, try out a camera system before you buy it. We have large stores in London and Sussex. Our staff are friendly and knowledgeable, and nothing beats hands-on testing of ergonomics and styling before you commit. 

Main decisions when choosing the best mirrorless camera

There are a couple of big decisions to make from the outset when setting out in this fabulous hobby of photography.
The first decision is whether you want to be able to change lenses. Having a camera body with the option to switch your lenses provides the most flexibility in the long term. When just starting out, this may seem like wasted money over a simple ‘point and shoot’ camera, with just one fixed zoom lens. However, beginners don’t always know which type of photography most interests them. We may start off perhaps taking photos from travel or family holidays, maybe portraits of our friends. We might like carrying a small camera to capture architecture that interest us, or street scenes with characters from towns and cities. Changing lenses lets you change your style of photography.

The second big decision for a mirrorless camera is generally budget based and is which size of sensor to go with. There are really a couple worth considering for beginners. The smallest and therefore most compact and lightweight are micro four thirds cameras. Being smallest is definitely no disadvantage here, with Olympus and Panasonic Lumix being the big names in micro 4/3. There are some very well known photographers using this system, as it offers incredible quality, compact size and a host of lenses, which are usually considerably more lightweight than their equivalent in larger sensor cameras. Take a look at Panasonic Lumix ambassadors to see the amazing quality micro four thirds cameras are capable of. Examples in the image below:
Example images from Panasonic Lumix ambassadors

The next size up in sensors is ‘crop size’ also called ‘APS-C’. These are smaller than full-frame sensors, which are the industry benchmark size. There are some advantages of crop size cameras over micro four thirds, such as the ability to get slightly less noise in lower light and the increased ‘depth of field’ they offer. This will not necessarily affect your images for some time whilst you learn your skills as a beginner. One of the biggest advantages of crop sensors is that almost every camera company makes a mirrorless in this size. This means you can choose between Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji and just about every other manufacturer.

Finally we have 'full-frame' or 35mm sensor size which is the benchmark standard. This refers to the old film size which dominated the camera industry for decades until digital came along. These will tend to be the most expensive regular camera systems, and choosing full-frame means at least double the price. However full-frame is a long term investment in the ability to shoot a wider field of view, with best low light performance. The downsides apart from cost are larger and heavier lenses. Typically you will spend a minimum of £1000 on the camera body alone (even second hand), so we cannot really recommend these for beginners as much as the other two as they tend to be favoured by advanced or professional photographers.

Lenses in more detail

The ability to be able to change lenses essentially means we can be more flexible about what we like to photograph. These type of systems are called ‘interchangeable lens mirrorless cameras’. If you are a beginner we would often recommend these as you can change your lens as you get further into your hobby and it starts to become a passion!

Here are some quick lens tips for beginners:

  • Buying into an interchangeable lens system means you will be able to use your lenses even if you upgrade your camera body later on. 
  • Buy the best lenses you can afford. Whilst camera bodies may be updated every couple of years, lenses tend to be around for far longer before they are replaced by the manufacturer. This means if you buy a good lens, you can use it for decades on future camera bodies. 
  • Think about what style of pictures you most enjoy taking to get the right lenses from the outset. For general scenes, portraits and travel choose between 35mm-75mm. For architecture, city and landscape choose wider lenses, perhaps 12mm-35mm. If you love wildlife, sports or action, get the longest lens possible as you’ll tend to be further away from your subject. 
  • If a longer lens has stabilisation built in, just like a camera body, you’ll get more stable and sharp photographs. Shorter (or wider) lenses don’t tend to have stabilisation as they are easier to hold steady.
the array of lenses available for Fujifilm X-system

Which camera brand to choose?

There are more manufacturers designing cameras today than ever before and choosing between them can be purely down to personal preference. The main drivers tend to be:
  1. The number of lenses available for the model you are considering
  2. The quality and colour of images and video they capture
  3. The style and usability of the camera system
  4. The brand popularity (this can affect resale value and optional accessories)
  5. Which brands your family or friends use. You can always borrow lenses to try out!
Check out the roadmap of future lenses to ensure manufacturers are continuing with developments. See Fuji’s X-system roadmap here as an example.

Video recording capabilities for beginners

Even if our interest in photography doesn’t include making movies, it’s an option well worth having for the future. Most mirrorless cameras do have very good video capabilities these days. If it’s an area you’d like to explore at some time, it is well worth noting the camera’s video quality, which start at 1080p, on to HD and then 4k and beyond. Most Youtube videos look great at any of these qualities, but the higher resolution the more future-proof you will be.

The best beginner mirrorless cameras for around £500

Here are the considerations for our choices in a nutshell:

  • All include at least one interchangeable lens for general purpose photography
  • They all have simple shooting modes as well as the ability to take full control
  • They are all compact and can go anywhere you go (except underwater!)
  • Investing in any one of these can give you excellent performance for years to come
  • They are all capable of quality video recording
  • All are from major manufacturers who have been around for many decades
  • They all cost in the region of £400-£700 with the lenses, which is remarkable value for what they offer.

Micro four thirds:

Crop sensor:

Full-frame sensor:
If you want to go full-frame, we would recommend considering used unless you have a very healthy budget. Full-frame bodies will need at least double the budget over smaller sensors, coming in at around £1000 for a used body before you get a lens. You can potentially source a camera which is a few years old, but remember, mirrorless hasn't been around that long. Read our post about whether you should buy a used camera here for more insight.

  • Sony A7 or Sony A7 II - a brilliant choice if you have the budget, despite being a previous generation camera. 
  • Canon EOS RP (none currently in stock, as they are quick off the shelves). 
We hope you have found this post useful if you are a beginner photographer. It’s such an incredible hobby for so many reasons; from getting out to meet people, seeing new places and generally being creative. We hope that you find a new passion to enjoy. As ever, if you have any questions, recommendations or would like to browse equipment before you buy, visit one of our stores or call our telephone staff and we’ll be more than happy to help.

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