Mirrorless cameras are there to fill the gap between point-and-shoot cameras with their sluggish focus and poor image quality, and full DSLR’s, which are exceptionally high quality, but require loads of gear, extra lenses, and are uncomfortable to tote around. The mirrorless camera is the perfect bridge, offering excellent quality along with portability, with a price that isn’t quite as daunting as DSLR but pictures that easily outshine your average compact. They’re the semi-pro camera of choice, and beloved by photographers who need less heft in their camera bag.
The challenge we faced when looking for reasonably priced mirrorless cameras wasn’t in finding them, but in finding those that could actually give us a lot of value. We wanted inexpensive shooters that made us happy with the money we spent, where the manufacturer didn’t scrimp where it mattered, but instead chose to beef it up where it counted; keeping costs down on parts that are less important. Once we pushed out all the pretenders and cheap imitations, only the 6 best mirrorless cameras under $1,000 were left in the picture.
Olympus OM-D E-M10
Pro: Built-in viewfinder
Con: Very weak video
Immovable Object: You can’t really make an error if you’re getting an Olympus mirrorless, but for those who want a camera that will give you some of the clearest shots in the worst conditions, the M10 is a wonder. Using 3-axis stabilization along with a massive array of lenses, you’ll find that it’s capable of working well for the old pro and helping teach the newbie a thing or two about photography, while never limiting growth. The manual controls are some of the best around, capable of giving you loads of control without ever needing to rely on a dicey auto-focus. Despite the small size it bears a 16 MP Four Thirds CMOS sensor that punches well above its weight, leaving many bigger shooters in the dust.
Pro: WiFi and NFC built in
Con: Lacks a touchscreen
Practically Perfect: As far as CSC (Compact System Cameras) go, the A6000 is a serious contender for the top spot on the boards, and in our hearts. Alphas are the upgraded version of the NEX line. With 179 autofocus points, it has one of the fastest and simplest detection methods at this level, and is able to find the shot even in adverse conditions. 25 of those points are dedicated to contrast detection, which is extremely helpful at making magic without fighting the autofocus, as so often is the case. Sony has claimed the A6000 bears one of the fastest AFs in the game, and among compacts, most DSLRs, and those with APS-C class sensors, we’re likely to agree. Using their Bionz X processor, this camera flies when it comes to producing images with less noise and greater clarity.
Pro: Built-in stereo mic
Con: No shutter control when shooting video
Extreme Enthusiast: In 2012 Fujifilm launched their X system, which has been beloved by pros and rank amateurs alike. The X-E1 was designed to replace their former flagship of the X’s, the X-Pro1. The X-E1 improves in almost every area and is stiff competition for other intermediate cameras what with its 16MP X-Trans CMOS sensor and 2.36M dot OLED electronic viewfinder. Those who like odd lighting conditions will find the expanded 100 – 25600 ISO range more than enough for working whether the sun’s obscured or blindingly bright. The body is nicely compact for easy transport, but not so small that larger users will find it uncomfortable over long shoots. That size comes at a price, however, with the degraded 2.8″ 460k dot LCD viewscreen acting as the biggest disappointment of an otherwise stunning piece.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7
Pro: Highly ergonomic body
Con: Noisy jpg images
Natural Order: There’s a lot of tricks up the sleeve of the GX7. Capable of shooting up to 40 frames-per-second with focus fixed, able to give you shots with light levels all the way down to EV -4, and equipped with sensor-shift image stabilization, it’s got a lot of meat on its bones. It can do in-box HDR (High Dynamic Range), uses a Micro Four Thirds (MFT) chassis that can handle all the MFT lenses, so if you’re coming up from a weaker model, there’s no need to junk your photography trunk. This makes it able to get shots down to 14mm and all the way up to 600mm so you won’t have to settle for standard shots. You’ll be able to shoot HD video, but it falls shy of 4K. It’s good practice, and great for what it is, but there’s room to grow beyond it should you so choose.
Sony Alpha NEX-6
Pro: Smooth video in most lighting conditions
Con: No neutral color preset
Old Timer: There’s a few newer models out there, including the NEX-7, which is fine, but is actually a step back from the NEX-6 in a lot of ways. That is why we prefer to stick with the less expensive, yet more impressive model. The image processing on the NEX-6 is nothing short of exceptional, putting many more expensive models to shame, especially when you stick to the mid-ISO range. The cool white balance helps this work extremely well for indoor photography, though will require some adjustment for shooting when it’s cloudy. The lack of a neutral setting is annoying, but you can still get the right color saturation if you do a little tweaking, thanks to the lovely manual controls. Most impressive is the video, which is where many cameras under the $1,000 mark fall short. You might get a little moiré, but it’s hardly heartbreaking.
Pro: Wicked quick startup
Con: Errs on the side of underexposure
Super Clean: At a whopping 28 MP backed up with a fully articulated 3” touchscreen that can move 180 degrees, the NX500 is one of the most utilitarian cameras we’ve found. It keeps the price down while putting a lot more of the fun back in shooting. The AF on this beast is lovely, offering up 205 phases detect autofocus points; or you can go manual and take the stick all by your lonesome. Using a 1.5x focal length and shutter speeds that run from 30 seconds to 1/6000 seconds, you can almost always get the shot you want. You’ll get real DSLR quality pictures with more portability thanks to the APS-C sensor. Able to shoot at 3840 x 2160 resolution, budding 4K videographers will want to snap this up.