Photography Reviews

Best 5 Mirrorless Cameras Under $500

Best Mirrorless Camera Under 500 Banner
Written by Rajib

Mirrorless cameras have come as a breath of fresh air. They have generated a new level of interest in smaller compact cameras. These cameras have advanced features which hitherto only DSLRs had.

Woman sitting on a sofa in her house with camera.

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(Photo by Kiran Foster)

When mirrorless cameras first came on to the scene a lot of reservations were expressed. People did not feel these cameras could match the power and performance of modern DSLRs. Their reservations and apprehensions have been put to rest. Cameras like the EOS M3 not only has a large APS-C sensor but with an adapter you can take full advantage of the entire Canon line of lenses.

Mirrorless vs DSLR

As you can imagine the absence of the mirror makes mirrorless cameras what they are. However there are both pros and cons to a system and both DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are not without some. Here are a few:

Pros of DSLR

Pros Of DSLRCons of Mirrorless
DSLRs enjoy the convenience of an optical viewfinderOptical viewfinder not needed here. Some better models do have electronic viewfinders that can be laggy and pixelated.
DSLRs still rule the market when it comes to first choice pro-grade cameras.Mirrorless have still not conquered the market of pro-grade cameras yet, but it is gaining year-by-year.
DSLRs have better weather sealing compared to mirrorless systemsMore sensitive to moisture and cold. But gaining.
Their larger bulk and weight makes them more likely to withstand a knock than smaller more fragile mirrorless systemsDebatable on knocks, mirrorless gaining quickly on the shockproof front. Although not quite up to par with DSLR yet.
Greater range of lenses.Mirrorless systems don’t yet have the same type of extensive lens line-up that DSLRs enjoy

Pros of Mirrorless

Pros Of MirrorlessCons of DSLR
No flipping mirror inside making them quieter.Noise here. If you use a DSLR for street photography everyone is going to hear you pressing the shutter.
Camera manufacturers can produce lenses that sit deeper into the camera body. This helps producing smaller, more compact lensesBigger lenses further from the sensor
Even without an optical viewfinder, most people love the fact that the electronic viewfinder gives them an image of what is going to be captured, not just an inverted image of what the lens seesThere is still a lot to be said for optical viewfinders. No lag, great in low light.
It is the same thing with the rear LCD screen. You see exactly what the camera sees making it a true imageRear screen on a DSLR is impractical for taking photos.
They don’t suffer from mirror induced shake when making an imageNo mirror, no shake
Back illuminated full frame CMOS sensors have completely shaken the foundations of the digital SLR market.

 

Best 5 Mirrorless Cameras Under $500

Pentax Q-S1 Mirrorless Digital CameraBest_Mirrorless_Cameras_Pentax_Q-S1_resize

Let’s start with something that retails for just under $230. The Pentax Q-S1 is a 12.4 megapixel 1/1.7” backlit CMOS sensor based mirrorless camera. It is powered by the Q Engine Image Processor. The back of the camera is dominated by a large 3” 460-k dot LCD screen with AR coating. The Pentax Q-S1 shoots full HD videos at 30 fps. It also shoots stills at full resolution at a speed of 5 fps.

   

The Pentax Q-S1 has a sensor-shift type image stabilization system. This system automatically makes all compatible lenses image stabilized. This is a great little thing because it saves you from having to pay a premium for stabilized lenses. This is something that you would be expected to do if you are a Nikon or Canon user.

The native ISO support of the Pentax Q-S1 is up to ISO 12800. As it appears the biggest drawback of the camera is definitely the smaller sensor. Despite the backlit design, the camera loses out when compared with the more illustrated models on this list.

Having said that, the Pentax Q-S1 does have in-camera RAW processing and built-in HDR mode. It also has manual shooting options as well as a pop-up flash which works when you need to use it in fill-flash mode or trigger slave flashes.

Samsung NX3000 Mirrorless Digital CameraBest_Mirrorless_Cameras_Pentax_Samsung_NX300_resize

At just under $300 the Samsung NX3000 gives you the power of a large APS-C sensor under your disposal. This is the biggest USP of this small compact framed digital mirrorless camera. The resolution of the APS-C CMOS sensor is 20.3 megapixel. It has a large 3” 460.8-k dot tilting LCD monitor which you can use for composing as well as reviewing the images shot. The scene coverage is 100%.

It shoots full HD videos at 30 fps as well as stills at a continuous burst of 5 frames per second at full resolution. Use a lower resolution of 5 megapixel and you will be able to shoot at a fast 30 fps. There’s a built-in stereo mic which allows you to shoot videos with stereo sound. The native ISO range is 100-25600. Another excellent feature of the Samsung NX3000 is its built-in Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity. This allows you to latch on to any available network and upload your images to the internet.

For adding accessories the camera does have a hot-shoe mount. There are a bunch of compatible flash units that you can attach to your camera either directly or via a hot-shoe cable. External hot-shoe cable powered flash units are better than ones that are directly attached to the camera because the light comes down from an angle.

Sony Alpha A5100 Mirrorless cameraBest_Mirrorless_Cameras_Sony_A5100_resize

The Sony Alpha a5100 comes with a high pedigree. It is a 24.3 megapixel APS-C EXMOR HD CMOS sensor powered mirrorless camera. Image processing is powered by Sony’s highly acclaimed BIONZ X Image processor. Sony cameras are extremely good in low light situations and a majority of that is due to its excellent image processors. On top of it the Gapless On-chip lens design ensures that the camera has a larger and more efficient light gathering surface than traditional compact cameras. This is extremely handy in low light situations.

The back of the camera is dominated by the LCD screen. A 3” 921.6k-dot tilting touchscreen LCD monitor that gives a bright and clear view of the image being seen through the lens. The Sony Alpha a5100 is a wonderful camera for shooting both stills and videos. It shoots full HD videos at a maximum of 60 fps. Thus, you can shoot at a very high frame rate and then play it back at a much slower frame rate for that super slow-mo effect. When shooting stills the maximum burst rate is 6 fps at full resolution for up to 75 exposures.

The built-in flash of the Sony Alpha a5100 has a guide number of 13.12 feet at ISO 100. I am a not big fan of the built-in pop-up flash. However, in some situations being able to throw in some light such as when shooting under mid-day sun ensures a more balanced exposure.

The Sony Alpha A5100 is loaded with a number of pro features. These includes some which are excellent for video recording. Top end professional video cameras have focus peaking and zebra function. The first one assists in accurate focusing. The second one is about preserving details in highlights. Sony’s zebra assist feature lights up when a scene is overexposed based on the settings pre-dialed.

Samsung NX3300Best_Mirrorless_Cameras_Pentax_Samsung_NX3300_resize

Designed as an upgrade to the very popular NX3000 the Samsung NX3300 is a 20.3 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor powered mirrorless digital camera. APS-C CMOS sensors are larger than the smaller 1” sensors which means better light gathering. The rear side of the NX3300 is dominated by a 3” 460.8k-dot 180 ˚ tilting LCD screen. The screen gives 100% frame coverage. Tilting LCD screens allow easy composition of images where you need to shoot from an acute angle. Let’s say you need to shoot a selfie with your buddy group. Simply turn the rear LCD screen facing you and snap away. Shooting over the head of a crowd? Hold the camera high up above your head and point the LCD screen down towards you to compose accurately. With traditional cameras it is more about being lucky to get the right shot.

The NX3300 shoots full HD videos at 1080p and at 30 fps. When shooting stills the camera can shoot at 5 fps burst rate at full resolution for up to 13 frames in JPEG mode. When shooting in RAW the camera is capable of capturing up to 5 frames in 5 fps burst mode. The native ISO range of the NX3300 is 100-25600. At 25600 with a large APS-C sensor low light performance is reasonably well, though not in the same class as some of the Sony cameras. You also get full manual shooting, along with aperture priority, shutter priority, smart and Smart Auto.

The other features of the NX3300 include built-in Wi-Fi connectivity with NFC and an accessory hot-shoe for connecting flashes.

Canon EOS M3 mirrorless digital cameraBest_Mirrorless_Cameras_Canon_M3_resize

The Canon EOS M3, is yet another APS-C sensor powered mirrorless camera in this long list of mirrorless camera systems. Larger sensor systems have seen a recent spike in demand. Needless to say they have an advantage in terms of larger light gathering surface when compared to smaller sensor powered cameras. The EOS M3 is powered by a 24.2 megapixel APS-C sensor and a DIGIC 6 image processor. The back of the camera is dominated by a 3” 1040k-dot tilting touchscreen LCD. The screen gives 100% frame coverage. Canon’s mirrorless camera use the EOS-M mount. However, with an adapter, most of Canon’s EF and EF-S lenses become compatible. This makes the EOS M3 an incredibly great buy. You can use all your EF or EF-S lenses just by investing in an $80 mount adapter.

Apart from the Sony Alpha a5100 which is a 24.3 megapixel camera, the EOS M3 is the camera with the highest resolution on this list. The images produced are a large 6000 pixels by 4000 pixels. It shoots full HD videos at 30 fps and full resolution JPEGs at 4.2 fps for up to 1000 frames. It can record sound using the built-in mic. Further you have the option to plug in an external mic for stereo quality sound to record along with the video. A built-in flash with a guide number of 16.4’ at ISO 100 gives enough light for use as a fill flash or in really low light situations. There is a hot-shoe mount for adding additional accessories, mainly an external flash. In regards to connectivity, the EOS M3 is Wi-Fi capable. It means you can latch on to any available Wi-Fi network and transfer images and videos.

How does a DSLR work?

DSLR_Workings

DSLR is an acronym that stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex camera. Inside a DSLR the primary mirror sits in front of the sensor, just behind the lens mount at an angle of approximately 45˚ to the axis of the incoming light. When in its normal restive position, the mirror bounces off a majority of the light coming through the lens on to the pentaprism located at the top of the camera.

The light is then bounced up and redirected twice, internally, by the pentaprism and projected through the viewfinder. This is the image that you see when you look through the viewfinder.
When you press the shutter release button a number of things happen. Some of the light hitting the primary mirror goes through and hits the smaller relay mirror nestled behind it.

This mirror helps in the auto-focusing process. Tiny AF sensors located at the bottom of the camera receive the reflected light and autofocus the lens for a sharp image. Nowadays on-chip phase detection systems ensure that this process is done smoothly and efficiently even when the camera is in live-view mode and without the need for dedicated phase detection sensors located at the base of a camera.

The next thing that happens almost instantaneously, soon after focus is locked and you fully depress the shutter button, is that the shutter curtains open up. Modern DSLRs have not one but two shutter curtains. The first curtain opens up and travels across the length of the sensor in a vertical movement. Once the first curtain has stopped travelling the second curtain moves and closes the opening. The system then resets for the next shot.

Light travels through the lens, through the opening created by the shutter curtain and then reaches the sensor at the back of the camera. The sensor at the back of the camera is where all the magic happens. Each pixel on the surface of the sensor is actually a light sensitive photo-diode. This is where light is trapped and the tiny photons are collected by the light sensitive photo-diodes. When we speak of resolution and sometimes refer to it as ‘how many megapixels’ we are actually referring to the total number of pixels on the surface of the sensor.

One million pixels makes one megapixel. The higher the megapixel count of the sensor, the better the resolution of the image and the more detail it can capture. You would think that increasing pixels is actually a great idea. It is. At least for a while. After a while, however, increasing the number of pixels will no longer result in an increase in resolution. As a matter of fact your images will suffer from noise, dynamic range and detail if you keep jamming in more and more pixels.

How Does a Mirrorless Camera Work?

Mirrorless cameras don’t have a reflex mirror inside them. Light falls directly onto the sensor, and from that point forward the camera has the image in memory where the processor can start chomping on it, bit by bit. It can display a copy of the image received on the camera’s rear screen, or try to recognize faces to help the lens focus. Think of the blocks around people’s faces – you won’t se those on a DSLR.  The absence of a reflex mirror is both a good and a bad thing. We will discuss in some detail as to the pros and cons of both systems in the subsequent paragraphs.

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Rajib

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