Best beginner mirrorless camera 2020: 10 budget options for new photographers

Panasonic GX9

(Image credit: Future)

Looking for the best beginner mirrorless camera you can buy? Whether you’re new to photography or upgrading from a smartphone, entry-level mirrorless cameras have plenty to offer. And if you’re not sure where to start, this is the list you need: we’ve reviewed, rated and ranked all of the very best mirrorless cameras for beginners in this handy buying guide.

Smartphones and compact cameras are great starter tools for budding photographers, but mirrorless cameras allow you to unlock the next level of your creativity. With larger sensors, interchangeable lenses and enhanced controls, the even entry-level mirrorless cameras represent a significant upgrade. They’re straightforward enough for beginners to use, yet offer features which will allow your photography to grow down the line – all without adding too much bulk to your bag.

Whether you choose a mirrorless camera with an APS-C or slightly smaller Micro Four Thirds sensor, you should notice a big difference in image quality and performance compared to a smartphone or compact camera. Most mirrorless cameras are also capable of capturing excellent high-resolution video footage, as well as offering comprehensive connectivity options – ideal if you want to share your snaps straight to social media.

Most entry-level mirrorless cameras ship with a multi-purpose ‘kit’ lens. These usually offer around 3x zoom and should be more than versatile enough to get you started. Once you’re familiar with the system, you’ll be able to invest in a whole range of lenses to suit your style of shooting – from macros to telephotos and more. It’s always worth checking what lenses are available from a particular manufacturer, especially if you think you might upgrade to a better camera in the range later on.

Our current top pick for the title of best beginner mirrorless camera is a Fujifilm X-T200. Styled like a retro DSLR, it features a large, sharp touchscreen, an excellent autofocus system and plenty of processing power. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best entry-level mirrorless model for your specific budget and requirements. Whatever you’re looking for, read to the end of our list below and you’re sure to find the ideal beginner mirrorless camera for you.

What about Black Friday 2020?

If you’re holding out for a good deal on an entry-level mirrorless camera, you might just be in luck: the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales kick off in earnest on November 27, which many deals expected to be released in the run-up to that event. Cameras are often the target of significant deals during the event, including entry-level mirrorless options. For example, last year saw significant savings offered on the slightly older Fujifilm X-T100, while the Canon EOS M50 was also discounted as part of an impressive lens bundle deal.

Best beginner mirrorless cameras 2020 at a glance:

  1. Fujifilm X-T200
  2. Panasonic GX9
  3. Sony Alpha A6100
  4. Panasonic Lumix G100
  5. Canon EOS M50
  6. Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III
  7. Fujifilm X-A7
  8. Canon EOS M6 Mark II
  9. Sony Alpha A5100
  10. Olympus PEN E-PL10

Best mirrorless cameras for beginners in 2020:

(Image credit: TechRadar)

1. Fujifilm X-T200

A beginner winner that’s better than the X-T100 in every way

Sensor size: APS-C CMOS | Resolution: 24.2MP | Viewfinder: EVF OLED, 2,360,000 dots | Monitor: 3.5-inch fully articulating touchscreen, 2,780,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 8fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Beginner

Excellent color and dynamic range

Sharp 3.5-inch rear touchscreen

Sleek and lightweight retro design

No subject tracking in video

Low buffer depth

A pared-back version of the Fujifilm X-T30, the X-T200 makes for a much better entry-level camera than its predecessor. In fact, it’s better than the X-T100 in almost every way: it has more processing power, a substantially improved autofocus system and a larger, sharper 3.5-inch rear touchscreen. It’s also much nicer to hold while retaining that attractive and distinctive retro DSLR styling.

Essentially a Fujifilm X-A7 (see below) with a viewfinder, it’s actually easier to use the X-T200’s screen for framing and focusing thanks to an awkwardly placed joystick. The only other downsides are that subject tracking is a bit hit and miss during continuous shooting and isn’t available for video.

The considerable plus sides, though, include outstanding image quality and an easy-to-use setup that is ideal for new photographers. As it’s been out for a while, the X-T30 is now more affordable and offers specs that novices can grow into – but if you want Fujifilm’s best dedicated beginner camera, look no further.

Panasonic GX9

(Image credit: Future)

2. Panasonic GX9

An ideal beginner camera that’s also travel-friendly

Sensor size: Micro Four Thirds | Resolution: 20.3MP | Viewfinder: EVF, 2,764,800 dots | Monitor: 3-inch tilting touchscreen, 1,240,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 9fps/30fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Beginner/intermediate

Built-in viewfinder

5-axis dual IS

Functional not stylish

Still only 16 megapixels

The Lumix GX9 from Panasonic represents excellent value for money. Its small size and weight not only make it ideal for those new to an interchangeable lens camera, but it’s also well-suited for travel photography, too. The great feature set includes a built-in viewfinder, plus 5-axis dual image stabilization. One of our favorite features of all Panasonic cameras is the 4K Video and 4K Photo Modes. You can use the latter to extract stills from a movie to in order to freeze the perfect moment. As standard, the GX9 comes with a 12-32mm lens, which is a good optic to get you started with. Further good news is that there are dozens of different lenses available in the Micro Four Thirds mount, so this is a camera you can truly grow with.

Sony A6100

(Image credit: Future)

3. Sony Alpha A6100

Sony’s popular beginner-friendly model is a great first camera

Sensor size: APS-C | Resolution: 24.2MP | Viewfinder: EVF, 1,440,000 dots | Monitor: 3-inch tilting, 921,600 dots | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 11fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Beginner/Intermediate

Great range of specs

Value for money

Fiddly buttons 

Small viewfinder 

Fairly pricey 

Sony’s A6000 was one of the most popular mirrorless models of the past few years, and while you can still buy it, the brand has refreshed it in the shape of the A6100. That brings a whole set of new features to Sony’s entry-level offering, including improved video features which now include 4K. You also now get a touch-sensitive screen and advanced autofocus options which include the very well-performing Eye AF (for both humans and animals). An extensive range of different lenses are available for Sony’s mount, so it’s also a system you can be confident when investing in. As it stands, the A6100 is one of the most expensive models on this list – but the good news is that if you’re happy with older tech, the A6000 is still very much available, and right now is a veritable bargain.

Panasonic G100

(Image credit: Future)

4. Panasonic Lumix G100

An excellent entry-level choice for vloggers

Sensor size: Micro Four Thirds | Resolution: 20.3MP | Viewfinder: EVF, 3,680K dots | Monitor: 3-inch fully articulating touchscreen, 1,840K dots | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 10fps | Movies: 4K/30p | User level: Beginner

Compact design

Relatively affordable

Smaller sensor than some rivals

Cropped 4K video

If you want an entry-level mirrorless camera to kick-start your content creation, the Panasonic G100 is an excellent choice. The lightweight G100 is the smallest mirrorless camera with a fully articulating screen, making it both versatile and portable for budding videographers. Yet even with the compact shell, it still offers good grip and a decent number of direct access controls. At its heart is a 20.3MP sensor which delivers great color and detail across both stills and video, while the hybrid image stabilization system is designed to counter walking motion, ensuring that self-shot footage is smooth and steady – even if a crop on 4K video means you’ll need long arms to film yourself. One of the headline features is the three-mic Ozo Audio setup, which detects the source direction of vocals and prioritizes them over background sounds. It’s very effective, especially when you’re narrating from behind the camera. Less impressive is a real-world battery life of 45 minutes, but it’s enough for capturing a series of short clips. It might not quite be the perfect package, but the G100 is ideal if you’re looking for something small, light and powerful to start your vlogging journey.

5. Canon EOS M50

An affordable Canon mirrorless EOS M with a viewfinder

Sensor size: APS-C | Resolution: 24.1MP | Viewfinder: EVF, 2,360,000 dots | Monitor: 3-inch vari-angle, 1,040,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 10fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Beginner/Intermediate

Great viewfinder

Easy to use

Heavy crop on 4K video

Plasticky feel

This great little all-rounder is the only budget-friendly EOS M series camera with an integrated viewfinder. Otherwise, you’re doing your composing via the screen – not such a big deal if you’re coming up from a smartphone, but viewfinders are great when bright light makes the screen a bit awkward to use. Plus there’s the fact that shooting through a viewfinder just feels a bit more “authentic”. Other tempting features include 4K video (just note that it’s cropped), great autofocusing and an easy-to-use interface. 

6. Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III

The E-M10 III is small, powerful and beautifully designed

Sensor size: Micro Four Thirds | Resolution: 16.1MP | Viewfinder: EVF, 2,360,000 dots | Monitor: 3-inch tilting touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 8.6fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Beginner/Intermediate

Premium finish

Great in-body stabilization

Only 16 megapixel

Minor update to Mark II

The retro-tastic E-M10 Mark III is styled like a DSLR, with a viewfinder mounted on the top, but this camera is so small it scarcely takes up more space than mirrorless cameras with no viewfinder at all. It has a Micro Four Thirds sensor a little smaller than the APS-C sensors used by rival makers, and 16 megapixels rather than the usual 24, but the smaller sensor means smaller, faster-focusing lenses, and you’re not likely to notice the difference in megapixels in real-world shooting. What you will notice is this camera’s great build quality and finish, its responsiveness, its excellent built in Art Filters and the rather clever shooting options in its Advanced Photo mode. Olympus offers a good range of lenses, too – as it shares the Micro Four Thirds mount with Panasonic, you can also swap lenses between manufacturers. 

7. Fujifilm X-A7

Fujifilm’s beginner-friendly CSC brings great looks and great photos

Sensor size: APS-C | Resolution: 24.5MP | Viewfinder: No | Monitor: 3.5-inch tilting touchscreen, 2,760,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 6fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Beginner

Excellent autofocus

Big, hi-res screen

No viewfinder

No built-in stabilization

We’ve long been big fans of Fujifilm’s beginner-friendly X-A cameras, which are the cheaper, simpler alternatives to its X-mount mirrorless cameras. And the X-A7 is its best one yet, with a revamped rear screen and improved autofocus performance. That large touchscreen LCD in particular makes it a great choice for those upgrading from their smartphones, while the new 24.5MP sensor produces crisp, sharp photos and now supports 4K / 30p video capture. Its autofocus is a big selling point too, with strong face- and eye-tracking that makes it particularly suitable for shooting people, if not action and sports. If you can get past the slightly awkward ergonomics, which are still a step up from a smartphone, then it’ll make a great choice as your first camera.  

Canon EOS M6 Mark II

(Image credit: Future)

8. Canon EOS M6 Mark II

A portable powerhouse with impressive specs

Sensor size: APS-C CMOS | Resolution: 32.5MP | Viewfinder: N/A | Monitor: 3.0-inch tilting touchscreen, 1,040K dots | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 14fps / 30fps RAW Burst mode | Movies: 4K/30p | User level: Beginner

Great size for travel

High-resolution sensor

No built-in viewfinder

No in-body image stabilization

In many ways, the Canon EOS M6 Mark II redefines the term ‘entry-level’. With a 32.5MP APS-C sensor, 14fps burst shooting and uncropped 4K video skills, it’s a pretty tasty package. It’s also an ideal size for travel, with a compact form and low weight that make it a truly portable powerhouse. At the core of the M6 Mark II is Canon’s Digic 8 processor, which supports the impressively speedy and accurate 5481-point autofocus. There’s no in-body image stabilization, but shots nevertheless have bags of detail and excellent colors, especially with the Fine Detail setting enabled. Videos are nicely saturated, too. The absence of a viewfinder will be a dealbreaker for some, but the tilting touchscreen offers a familiar experience for smartphone users – and there is an optional EVF available. A trio of dials atop the M6 Mark II make in-depth adjustments accessible, and it’s generally a lovely camera to grip and shoot with. The 305-shot battery life might be unremarkable, but the M6 Mark II is still a fantastic camera overall, with lots to offer for first-time mirrorless buyers.

9. Sony Alpha A5100

An older model, but it’s cheaper and designed for novices

Sensor size: APS-C | Resolution: 24.3MP | Viewfinder: No | Monitor: 3-inch tilting, 921,600 dots | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 6fps | Movies: Full HD | User level: Beginner

Sophisticated autofocus

Flip-up selfie screen

No viewfinder

Now four years old

Launched in the same year as the A6000, the A5100 is also a highly competent camera whose price has dropped to bargain basement prices thanks to its age. Of course there’s always a trade-off to be made for saving cash. Here the compromises are the lack of an electronic viewfinder, while the external controls are a lot more basic. Sony has done a great job to make a camera this small but it does leave it feeling slightly dwarfed by the 16-50mm kit lens. On the plus side, the A5100 does, however, have a 180-degree selfie screen. Now that we’ve seen some new APS-C mirrorless models – and lenses – from the company, we can also feel pretty confident that Sony is keen to keep investing in this format, too.

10. Olympus PEN E-PL10

A stylish entry-level camera with effortless creative modes

Sensor size: Micro Four Thirds | Resolution: 16.1MP | Viewfinder: N/A | Monitor: 3.0-inch tilting touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 8.6fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Beginner

Beginner-friendly creative modes

In-body image stabilization

Lovely JPEG colour rendition

No viewfinder

Dated sensor

Limited dynamic range

An attractive option for beginners, the PEN E-PL10 combines a range of novice-friendly modes with a stylish shell to create a competent camera that’s perfect for smartphone upgraders. The polycarbonate shell is a treat to hold, while the tilting touchscreen makes selfies a cinch.

While the 16.1MP sensor isn’t game-changing, the PEN E-PL10 still produces JPEGs with lovely colour rendition. Add 4K to the mix, as well as in-body image stabilisation and the option to edit RAW images in-camera, and you’ve got a strong package for mirrorless first-timers – provided they don’t need a viewfinder.

It’s worth mentioning that you can get many of the same features on the older, more affordable but equally as chic E-PL9. The main difference with the E-PL10 are the fine-tuned art filters and Advanced Photo modes, which make it easy to experiment with more advanced creative techniques. If you don’t need those, the former is still well worth a look.

How much should I spend?

Just because something is ‘cheap’, that doesn’t necessarily mean it represents value for money. If you find you quickly outgrow it and need to upgrade very soon, then you’ll end up spending even more money. Some of the cameras here might seem expensive to somebody buying their first camera, but we will have recommended them as something that should last you for many years to come.

If you view your photography hobby as an investment, it will pay huge dividends if you can invest as much as you possibly can when you first get started. Inexpensive cameras can still do a good job, but when cutting back on price inevitably means that features and controls are missing – so ask yourself if the saving is worth missing out on something you think you’ll need.

For example, the cheapest mirrorless cameras don’t usually have viewfinders, but these can be invaluable for shooting in bright light, when the screen on the back can easily suffer from glare and reflections, so we’d always recommend stretching to a camera with a viewfinder if you can.

Check out the specs of the rear screens, too. The size and resolution are not so important since they’re all quite similar these days, but a touchscreen display will make the camera feel more like a phone, making the transition to using a “proper” camera a little easier since you’ll already be used to tapping, swiping and so on.

Finally, if you like to shoot video, you might want a camera that can shoot 4K, and not all of them can. Although it’s becoming more common, it’s still a somewhat new area for entry-level mirrorless cameras, and they don’t all do it (though they do all offer regular 1920 x 1080 Full HD).

All the mirrorless cameras we’ve chosen for this list are well suited to beginners because of their price, size, ease of use, features or all of those things. You can also take a look at our other buying guides below if you’re still undecided. Otherwise, read on to see the 10 best entry-level mirrorless cameras you can buy right now. 

October 21, 2020
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