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The best mirrorless cameras for 2020

The best mirrorless cameras give you the power of a DSLR without the bulk

It doesn’t have 60 megapixels or a full-frame sensor, but thanks to its versatility, the Fujifilm X-T4 is our new pick for best mirrorless camera.

Where the Sony A7R IV previously held the top spot for its record-breaking resolution and pro-level performance, the X-T4 gets the win for entirely different reasons. For most of us, it is all the camera we could ever need, offering an excellent combination of features and performance in an overall compact size. Few other cameras nail the photographic experience so expertly, and the X-T4 feels like an aspirational dream camera without the exorbitant price that usually accompanies such a product.

But whether you just want to save a buck or really do need a full-frame sensor, there are plenty of great mirrorless cameras to consider.

At a glance:

The best mirrorless camera overall: Fujifilm X-T4

Why should you buy this: Excellent performance and great design in a compact system

Who’s it for: Enthusiast photographers, or anyone looking for a one-size-fits-all camera

Why we picked the Fujifilm X-T4:

It doesn’t have the biggest sensor, nor the most megapixels, but when it comes to the photographic experience, no other camera delivers quite like the Fujifilm X-T4. Its classic design with analog-inspired control dials is married to modern features like 5-axis sensor-shift stabilization and a fully articulating monitor. It covers the gamut from street photography to video production and everything in between, and it does all of these things to a very high degree of competence.

Fujifilm X-series cameras are known for providing a great experience, but previous models always had the same annoying quirks. The X-T4 is the first in the series to address virtually very complaint we’ve made about past X-T cameras, even solving one problem (the lack of stabilization) that was previously thought to be impossible. Battery life has nearly doubled, the fully articulating screen is great for video, and autofocus performance is encroaching on Sony territory (that is to say, it’s really good).

The X-T4 also took what the X-T3 did well and made it even better. The newly designed shutter is whisper-quiet and can fire away at 15 frames per second — which is more speed than any Fujifilm fan was even asking for.

The X-T4 does carry over much of the same tech as the Fujifilm X-T3, including the 26-megapixel X-Trans sensor, X Processor 4 image processor, and 3.69-million dot electronic viewfinder. The video mode is also largely the same, offering 4K at up to 60 fps, but Full HD recording can now hit 240 fps compared to the X-T3’s 120 fps.

That means the X-T3, which is now heavily discounted, may be the better choice for you if you don’t need stabilization, super-speed continuous shooting, or extreme slow-motion video.

But after shooting the X-T4 and experiencing how all its features work in concert, it’s hard to shoot with anything less.

Read our Fujifilm X-T4 hands-on review

The Best Full-Frame Mirrorless Camera: Sony A7R IV

Sony a7r IV
Sony

Why should you buy this: 61 megapixels of full-frame glory

Who’s it for: Professional and enthusiast photographers who want the most detail you can get

Why we picked the Sony A7R IV:

Remember when 45 megapixels was a big deal? The Sony A7R IV packs in 61, offering more resolution than an 8K TV. That’s enough to make very detailed 30-inch prints, or crop a photo significantly and still get a sharp result. But while many high-resolution cameras will slow you down, the A7R IV can fire away at a 10 frames per second. That won’t win a race with the sports-oriented A9, but it’s plenty of speed for most users.

If somehow 61 megapixels isn’t enough, a pixel shift mode can be used to create a 240-megapixel image, although you’ll to stitch it together later using Sony’s proprietary software. Equally impressive are the 15 stops of dynamic range that will help keep more details intact in high contrast scenes.

The Sony A7R IV also packs in the same old features that have kept the A7 series on best camera lists for years. 5-axis stabilization is built into the body, the autofocus system is the best in the business thanks Real-Time Tracking and Real-Time Eye AF, and it can shoot decent, albeit not class-leading, 4K video.

Those features are wrapped up in a body that’s familiar to anyone who’s handled a Sony mirrorless camera before, but Sony has made some small enhancements. The grip is a bit deeper on the A7R IV and the weather sealing has been improved. The body houses a 670-shot battery.

You’ll need perfect focus and technique to actually take advantage of all those megapixels, but the A7R IV makes this as easy as possible. No, it’s not cheap, but for the most demanding photographers, the Sony A7R IV is worth it.

Read our Sony A7R IV Hands On

The best cheap mirrorless camera: Fujifilm X-T30

Fujifilm X-T30 review
Daven Mathies/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: Excellent images and solid performance for less money than a flagship phone

Who’s it for: Photographers who want great pictures in a portable form factor at a good price

Why we picked the Fujifilm X-T30:

Full-frame cameras may be all the rage these days, but Fujifilm continues to prove there’s plenty of value in the smaller APS-C format. The Fujifilm X-T30 isn’t the cheapest camera you can buy, but it may just be the most valuable. It takes the best features from the impressive X-T3 and whittles away a few of the less essential options to make an affordable, but still very capable, camera. What you get is a camera with a less robust body and a few high-end features, but one that produces image quality that’s just as impressive as the camera that costs almost twice as much.

The X-T30 uses a 26-megapixel X-Trans sensor that’s capable of capturing some excellent images as well as 10-bit 4K video. A 425-point phase-detection autofocus system is fast, accurate, and fills the entire frame. The X-T30 can’t keep up with the X-T3’s burst rate and larger image buffer, but its 8 frames per second are still plenty for most photographers.

The camera can also handle 4K video quite well, offering both Fujifilm’s F-Log profile and 10-bit 4:2:2 output making it suitable for even some professional video applications. It’s one of the best video modes we’ve seen in a camera that doesn’t breach the four-figure price barrier.

Fujifilm wraps all of that tech into a body that’s a mix of retro and modern, with both physical dials and a touchscreen. Compared to the X-T3, the biggest things missing are the second SD card slot and weather-sealing, but the X-T30 is a stellar shooter for the price.

Runner up: Sony A6100

We love the Fuji for its styling and lens collection, but there’s no doubt that the new Sony A6100 has some performance advantages. The big one is autofocus, as the A6100 inherits the same Real-Time AF features as more-expensive Sonys, making it easy to track subjects and ensure every shot is tack-sharp.

Read our Fujifilm X-T30 review

The best mirrorless camera for video: Panasonic Lumix GH5

best digital cameras Panasonic G5 lifestyle
Hillary Grigonis/Digital Trends
Hillary Grigonis/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: The GH5 is a hybrid camera that’s can shoot both stills and video without cutting corners.

Who’s it for: Creatives who put as much emphasis on motion content as they do on still photos.

Why we picked the Panasonic Lumix GH5:

All the cameras on this list shoot video and most even shoot 4K, and the X-T4 could have easily found itself in this spot were it not already at the top of the list.

Unlike most cameras, however, video is not a secondary focus in the Lumix GH5. Where many DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have short recording limits, the GH5 will happily continue shooting until the card fills up or the battery dies. It also was the first camera to boast smooth-as-butter 60-fps 4K, although the Fujifilm X-T4 now matches that.

Beyond 4K, it offers a number of video features targeting professional users, including 10-bit 4:2:2 recording, clean HDMI output, and an optional log gamma profile via a paid firmware upgrade. (The recently released Lumix GH5S takes video quality to a new level, but the standard model remains the better choice for most users thanks to its 5-axis image stabilization.)

While video is a big selling point for the GH5, the camera can hold its own among other Micro Four Thirds shooters for still photos. The 5-axis image stabilization plays a role for both videos and photos, the Depth from Defocus autofocus is very fast, and it shoots up to 9 fps with continuous autofocus or 12 fps with focus locked on the first frame. The GH5 also has several Panasonic-exclusive features, including 4K and 6K photo modes where you can choose the focus point after the shot, merge several images for a deeper depth of field, or shoot reduced-resolution still photos at 60 or 30 fps, respectively.

Like the hybrid photo-video capabilities, the GH5’s body feels more like a DSLR/mirrorless hybrid. It’s smaller than most DSLRs, but there are plenty of physical controls, a great electronic viewfinder, and dual SD card slots. While you can buy cameras with larger sensors for the same price, the GH5 has the best mix of photo and video options we’ve seen yet and outclasses many cameras costing much more when it comes to pro video features.

Read our Panasonic Lumix GH5 review

The best digital camera for beginners: Sony A6100

Sony A6100 Camera Review

Why should you buy this: A beginner-friendly camera with a beginner-friendly price tag that doesn’t skimp on features.

Who’s it for: First-time buyers jumping into mirrorless cameras

Why we picked the Sony A6100:

Sony’s full-frame mirrorless cameras are excellent, but expensive. The Sony A6100 brings some of the best features from the A7 series into a camera that’s less than $900 (including a lens). It still uses the same Sony E mount as the A7, too, so you can use all of the same lenses if you want to be able to upgrade to a full-frame model down the road.

The A6100 sports a 24-megapixel APS-C sensor that’s smaller than full-frame, helping the camera keep its low profile. While that does mean low light performance won’t match the full-frame Sonys, it still delivers excellent results for most situations.

You also get Sony’s incredible 425-point hybrid autofocus system. Like the latest A7 models, the A6100 includes Sony’s artificial-intelligence-based Real Time Tracking and Real-Time Eye autofocus technologies for recognizing and following subjects. Its especially useful when shooting photos at 11 fps, the A6100’s maximum burst speed. From keeping up with your pets to capturing all the action of your kid’s little league game, the A6100 has it covered.

Beyond still photography, the A6100 is a strong performer for movies, too. It shoots 4K video and gives you a microphone jack if you want to get serious about upping the audio quality.

While the A6100 is missing out on extras like the image stabilization — a feature included in the pricier Sony A6600 — the camera wraps several big features into an affordable, compact camera. I’m not the biggest fan of Sony’s menu system, but the A6100’s touchscreen makes it easier to use and lends the camera a smartphone-esque feel, making it approachable to first-time camera buyers.

Read our Sony A6100 review

What is a mirrorless camera?

A mirrorless camera is a type of camera that uses interchangeable lenses. It’s related to the digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera, but do not confuse the two as the same. A DSLR uses a mirror to reflect light from the lens to an optical viewfinder (OVF). When the shutter button is pressed, a mirror flips up to allow light to hit the sensor.

Mirrorless cameras do away with the mirror system (hence the name) and instead use electronic viewfinders, or simply no viewfinder at all (as is the case with the E-PL9). This allows for lighter and smaller designs, but professional models can still be somewhat bulky and heavy. Like DSLRs, mirrorless cameras let you attach a variety of lenses and typically use larger sensors than point-and-shoot, which leads to superior image quality.

Are mirrorless cameras better for video?

While there’s no technical reason why a DSLR couldn’t be built with the same video specifications as a mirrorless camera, the latter tends to have some inherent advantages. A mirrorless camera’s electronic viewfinder, for example, can be very useful when shooting video in bright light, whereas the optical viewfinder of a DSLR simply cannot be used in video mode. Due to their nature as live-view-only cameras, mirrorless cameras also often feature better autofocus systems than a DSLR in live-view mode. Canon offers one exception to this, with its fast Dual Pixel Autofocus that is found on both its mirrorless and DSLR models. Some of the best video cameras on the market, like the Panasonic GH5, are mirrorless cameras — but this has as much to do with the brand’s experience making video cameras as it does with the format itself.

Can a DSLR lens be used with a mirrorless camera?

Oftentimes, yes, but it always requires an adapter. Canon EF-mount DSLR lenses can be adapted to Canon RF and EF-M mount mirrorless cameras via a first-party adapter that offers near-identical performance. Likewise, Nikon F-mount DSLR lenses can be attached to Z-mount mirrorless bodies via Nikon’s FTZ adapter. It is also possible to attach Canon and Nikon lenses to the likes of Sony and Micro Four Thirds mirrorless cameras, but this must be done through a third-party adapter and the lenses may not perform as fast as they do on their native systems.

Should I buy a DSLR or a mirrorless camera?

Mirrorless cameras have grown increasingly popular and are our go-to recommendation for most photographers today. The biggest advantage a DSLR still offers is the battery life, which often rates well over 1,000 shots per charge. We’ve found DSLRs also tend to offer more reliable autofocus performance in low light, but mirrorless cameras are getting better here with each new generation. Like it or not, mirrorless is the future, and that’s probably where your investment should be made.

Who makes the best mirrorless camera?

While we put a Panasonic at the top of this list, the truth is that many brands make great mirrorless cameras today. If you’re looking to buy your first camera, consider which features are most important to you and look for the brand that does the best job with them. That could be autofocus performance or it could be video quality; you may want more speed or more resolution. Sony has the most experience with full-frame mirrorless, but we’ve been very impressed with how quickly Nikon and Panasonic have caught up to, and even surpassed, Sony in some ways. Olympus has the best image stabilization in the OM-D E-M1 X, a camera that didn’t find a place on this list, but is still very good.

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