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Best beginner mirrorless camera 2021: 10 budget options for new photographers

Panasonic GX9
(Image credit: Future)

Are you after the best beginner mirrorless camera on the market right now? It doesn’t matter if you’re brand new to photography entirely, or you’re a smartphone snapper looking to up your game, an entry-level mirrorless camera could be the one for you. But, knowing where to start can be a tricky task. Luckily for you, we’ve done the hard work for you - reviewing, rating and ranking the best of the mirrorless cameras for beginners and putting them all together in one handy list for you.

While smartphones and compact cameras are great to get you started with, mirrorless cameras allow you to really move to the next level. They offer larger sensors, the opportunity to switch lenses and greater manual controls. Even the most basic of entry-level mirrorless cameras are therefore quite a jump from your smartphone. But don’t worry, they majority are simple to use for beginners, but give you the opportunity to learn and develop your photography skills as you progress. Happily, these days, lots of mirrorless models are light and portable, too.

Entry-level mirrorless cameras tend to have either an APS-C or slightly smaller Four Thirds sensor. Regardless of which you choose, you should spot a big jump in image quality and performance when compared to your existing smartphone or compact camera set up. Most beginner mirrorless models are also more than capable of recording fantastic high-resolution video footage too. The icing on the cake is good connectivity options, perfect for quickly sharing your photos to social media. 

The bulk of beginner friendly mirrorless cameras come packaged with a ‘kit’ lens to get you started with. Generally, these give you around 3x zoom and are flexible enough to get you started with until such time you might want to add to your lens collection. Once you’re a bit more advanced, there’s a huge range of different lenses which you’ll be able to buy to match whatever it is you like to shoot - including macros for close-ups and telephoto options. Before you buy any camera, it’s worth having a quick peek at your favoured brand’s lens range to get an idea of what’s in store. 

Our favourite model for best beginner mirrorless camera is the Fujifilm X-T200. It’s designed to look like an old-school DSLR, but comes with a host of modern features, such as a large touchscreen, fantastic autofocus system and a pretty powerful processor. However, it might not be the best entry-level mirrorless model for you, depending on your budget and specific needs. Whatever it is that you’re looking for, you’re sure to find it in this list below - take a look to find out more.

Best beginner mirrorless cameras 2021 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 2021:

(Image credit: TechRadar)

1. Fujifilm X-T200

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

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Excellent color and dynamic range+Sharp 3.5-inch rear touchscreen+Sleek and lightweight retro design
Reasons to avoid
-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

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Built-in viewfinder+5-axis dual IS
Reasons to avoid
-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

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Great range of specs+Value for money
Reasons to avoid
-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

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Compact design+Relatively affordable
Reasons to avoid
-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

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Great viewfinder+Easy to use
Reasons to avoid
-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

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Premium finish+Great in-body stabilization
Reasons to avoid
-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

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Excellent autofocus+Big, hi-res screen
Reasons to avoid
-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

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Great size for travel+High-resolution sensor
Reasons to avoid
-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

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Sophisticated autofocus+Flip-up selfie screen
Reasons to avoid
-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

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Beginner-friendly creative modes+In-body image stabilization+Lovely JPEG colour rendition
Reasons to avoid
-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.