A mirrorless compact system camera is the perfect choice if you want to step up from a regular point-and-shoot compact camera but you're put off by the bulk and complexity of a DSLR.
In fact, a mirrorless camera is really just like a regular compact camera, but with interchangeable lenses and a bigger sensor. You compose shots on the rear screen, just as you would with a regular compact camera, and some models also have electronic viewfinders – though this is one thing you won't get at the cheaper end of the market. If you want a viewfinder and more advanced photographic features, read this instead: Best CSC/mirrorless camera.
Or, if you're not quite sure that a mirrorless camera is actually what you need, read our step-by-step guide to choosing a camera: What camera should I buy?
Compact system cameras deliver better quality than compact cameras because the sensor is much larger. You have added flexibility, too, because you can swap lenses. Even compact system cameras for beginners have extensive manual controls, so you can learn more about photography and camera settings at your own pace.
We've chosen our top five entry-level compact system cameras based on their performance, ease of use, features and value for money.
1. Panasonic GF7
Panasonic's cheapest CSC is small and neat and performs really well
Sensor: Micro Four Thirds, 16Mp | Lens: Micro Four Thirds | Monitor: 3-inch tilting, 1,040K dots | Viewfinder: No | Continuous shooting: 5.8fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Beginner
The GF7 is top of our list because it combines all the qualities that first time users will be looking for. IT offers newcomers to mirrorless cameras a lot of features in a small and affordable package. The swap from Panasonic's regular kit lens to a smaller, retracting lens makes the GF7 small enough to fit in a pocket, so it's not just competing with other mirrorless cameras but regular compact cameras too. This makes it a great travel camera, and the flipping screen on the back is ideal for selfies. The Nikon 1 range is also very compact but it's based around a much smaller 1-inch sensor, so for a camera as small as the GF7 to have such a large sensor is a great feat of camera engineering.
Read the full review: Panasonic GF7
2. Nikon 1 J5
Nikon's mirrorless camera range finally hits the spot
Sensor: 1-inch, 20.8Mp | Lens: Nikon 1 mount | Monitor: 3-inch tilting, 1,037K dots | Viewfinder: No | Continuous shooting: 60fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Beginner
The Nikon 1 series has taken a while to get into its stride, but Nikon's engineers have done a cracking job with the the J5. Its retro look and feel, coupled with well designed dials and controls, give it a more serious and classy look than previous models, as well as improving the usability and functionality of the camera. It also retains the other Nikon 1 hallmarks – a very fast and effective hybrid autofocus system and clever high-speed shooting modes. Lots of people criticise the Nikon 1 system for having a much smaller sensor than most of the other compact system cameras on the market, but this makes it a much smaller camera, so it's a trade-off many photographers will be willing to accept.
Read the full review: Nikon 1 J5
3. Fuji X-M1
Falling prices make the classy X-T1 a good buy for beginners
Sensor: APS-C, 16.3Mp | Lens: Fuji X-mount | Monitor: 3-inch tilting, 921K dots | Viewfinder: No | Continuous shooting: 5.6fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Beginner/Enthusiast
We've ranked the Fuji X-M1 third because although it's not a new camera, it's yet to be superseded and it's now much cheaper than when it was first launched. This makes it much more attractive to first-time mirrorless compact system camera users. It uses Fuji's novel 'X-trans' sensor with a different arrangement of red, green and blue photosites to other cameras, which allows Fuji to drop the anti-aliasing filter in front of the sensor and improve the sharpness of fine detail. Fuji also has a very effective dynamic range extension option which reduces the risk of highlight blow-out in high contrast scenes, and 'Provia' and 'Velvia' modes which reproduce the look of Fuji's highly-regarded transparency films. What's particularly appealing about the X-M1, though, is its pared-down design and attractive 'retro' look.
Read the full review: Fuji X-M1
4. Olympus E-PL7
Olympus is pitching its Pen series cameras at the fashion market
Sensor: Micro Four Thirds, 16.1Mp | Lens: Micro Four Thirds | Monitor: 3-inch tilting, 1,037K dots | Viewfinder: No | Continuous shooting: 8fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Beginner
The Pen series was how Olympus got started in the mirrorless camera sector. The E-P series was aimed at keen photographers while the E-PL range was an offshoot aimed at a slightly cheaper price point but seems to have taken over. The newest model, the E-PL7, is aimed at fashion-conscious novices who want a camera with an individual, classic look, though while it does have some surprisingly advanced features, keen photographers are more likely to move up to Olympus's OM-D series cameras. The E-PL7 is a good camera, but it doesn't have any stand-out features to take it to the top of our list.
Read the full review: Olympus E-PL7
5. Sony A5100
The A5100 has the most megapixels but it's not perfect
Sensor: APS-C, 24.3Mp | Lens: Sony E-mount | Monitor: 3-inch tilting, 921K dots | Viewfinder: No | Continuous shooting: 6fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Enthusiast
Having been in the CSC game for some time, Sony has once again produced another extremely capable camera. Images are bright and punchy directly from the camera, while the amount of detail resolved by its sensor is impressive. Pitched at first time interchangeable lens system buyers, it's a good camera to get you started, with the kit lens being a great all-round performer if you choose to only stick with one lens for the time being. Those further up the experience scale may be a little bit disappointed by the lack of a hot-shoe or built-in viewfinder, as well as the lack of direct control buttons such as a mode dial. It's a good camera, but quite advanced for a novice while lacking the viewfinder which most enthusiasts will be looking for.
Read the full review: Sony A5100