Which Mirrorless?

We've got several dozen "current" mirrorless cameras on the market, and an almost as large set of previous generation cameras still available. So how do you sort through that and pick rationally?

I'll start with two provocative proclamations: 

  1. Skip the previous generation still on the market. The only real reason you buy previous generations is because of price. Frankly, mirrorless is still moving fast enough that buying even one generation behind means that you're not getting the best mirrorless has to offer. Yes, focus is better on the latest generation. Even current generation cameras, such as the Sony A7 Mark III, can feel old now (dpreview just put that camera in last place behind the Canon R6, Panasonic S5, and Nikon Z6 II, and I agree). If you're buying a camera to keep you satisfied for a few years of use, buying behind the state-of-the-art is going to cause you a photographic depression very quickly ;~)
  2. Stick with your brand. Take it from someone who spends significant time with multiple brands: picking up a different product from what you've been using is going to cause you a great deal of extra learning, and you might never quite get totally comfortable. Initially, you'll miss shots as you try to figure out how to get the camera to do what you want it to. But even long term you'll like have a cognitive dissonance or two that causes you grief. Canon mirrorless works like previous Canons. Nikon mirrorless works like previous Nikons. And so on. You'll have enough to learn with a new camera without having to retrain yourself in basics.

Next, since many of you might be moving to mirrorless for the first time (from DSLRs or compacts), let me remind you of the big things that should attract you:

  • WYSIWYG viewfinder. You see what your image is likely to look like (there are some limits to this, and they vary by brand). This makes it easier to evaluate setting changes.
  • Focus anywhere. You're no longer restricted to the central area of the frame for focus. This is both liberating and a challenge at the same time. However, it allows for faster, more responsive shooting if you embrace it.
  • Smaller/lighter. Yes, even for full frame (though perhaps not as much benefit as you'd hope for). When I shoot mirrorless, I pack smaller and lighter, pretty no matter which brand or camera I was using as a DSLR. 
  • Better lenses. The last five years or so have entailed a pretty strong revolution in lens design. How many of the lenses that you have today were designed in that period? Yes, this means you might be buying (replacing) new lenses, but it also means that what you're getting is pretty darned good. I find myself having to look deeper and closer to distinguish between the latest mirrorless lenses. Compared to the old DSLR lenses, there is often a night and day difference in some same stat lenses.

Okay, we're ready to begin with recommendations. I'm sure I'm going to hit a lot of nerves and provoke a lot of hostile email, but I now wear a full body hazard suit due to the pandemic, so I'm ready.

In APS-C—and yes, it's the only crop sensor mirrorless I can truly recommend at the moment until we see what happens next with m4/3—we have four players to consider: Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, and Sony. Are you ready? My suit is fully zipped up...here are my recommendations (links are to B&H, this site's exclusive advertiser):

  • Canon M6 Mark II — A great sensor with the most pixels of any of my choices, on an okay body. There's no built-in EVF, so some of you will be buying the awkward add-on viewfinder. Still, this is a compact, very capable camera. 
  • Fujifilm X-T30 or X-T4 — (I might have the X-S10 replace the getting older X-T30, but haven't tested the new camera yet.) The X-T4 shows what Fujifilm can do, and that's a lot. It's a lot of camera, and may be all that most people need. The only tripping point for some might be the X-Trans sensor, which is a bit tougher to demosaic raw files from than a Bayer sensor, but not nearly as bad as it has been.
  • Nikon Z50 — Probably the most underestimated camera of this bunch. Looking at the specifications doesn't excite. Using it might. This camera is small enough with the kit lens that it's even replaced my Sony RX100 for most uses. And it does a far better job creating images. It's a nice second (or third) shooter for a sophisticated Nikon user, and it's arguably the most approachable consumer camera of this bunch.
  • Sony A6100 — Surprised? So was I until I went through all the A6### choices carefully. This camera nets you 90% of what the A6's can do at the lowest cost. I'm not convinced that the higher A6's provide anything useful to most people.

If you want an "everything" camera, buy the X-T4. If you just want a small, capable, travel-worthy camera, get the Z50 two-lens kit. 

Told you I'd be a bit controversial. 

Now, onto full frame. Here we have four choices again, this time Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, and Sony. (Yes, I know there's also Leica, but if you're considering a Leica, you don't need my help; your accountant will be more useful than me.)

Once again my choices are going to raise eyebrows, if not angry mobs:

  • Canon R6 — Nicely done Canon. I hereby forgive you for the R. While 20mp doesn't sound like a lot, it's probably all most people need (as with Z50, above). And the R6 does very nice things with those 20mp. Moreover, it feels and operates like a Canon. 1D and 5D users of all types will be right at home. A bit on the pricey side, but still, I like this camera a lot, and so will you.
  • Any Nikon Z6 or Z7I'm not seeing a huge differential between the originals and the II's. Yes, if you're shooting action, the autofocus difference might make it worth opting for a II. The II's also fix the mostly faux problems of card slots, power management, and vertical grip. But these are really solid cameras in any form, and generally, the lower cost option to the other brands, something Nikon hasn't been known for before.
  • Panasonic S5 — I think that Panasonic finally filed off the rough edges with this camera, which is really an update of the S1. Like the Z's, the S5 is well rounded and has a UX that doesn't seem to be created by someone 60 years younger than you.
  • Sony A7R Mark IV, maybe — Oh dear. Only one Sony? Yes, and it's conditional. First, the plain A7 is now the oldest 20-24mp full frame camera and it shows. Wait for the update if you're interested in that model. The A7s Mark III and A9 Mark II are specialty cameras. You already know whether they're what you want and need. That only leaves the A7R Mark IV. The reason I say "maybe" is that the 60mp sensor really pushes this camera away from being a general purpose camera to one mostly suited to landscape, travel, and architectural photography. 

An additional thought: study the APS-C/full frame choice really carefully. A lot of the generalized advice that's being spewed continuously by the Internet sometimes runs afoul of reality. You can easily build out an APS-C kit that costs almost as much as a full frame kit, and which doesn't save you much weight, if any. The only thing that saves this from being obvious is that there is no exact equivalents between the APS-C and full frame choices (and I'm pretty sure that's because the camera makers want it that way).

Finally, if you want my singular package choice for a move to full frame mirrorless that's minimal in size and weight, here's the best combo set as far as I'm concerned: Nikon Z6 II, Nikkor 14-30mm f/4 S, Nikkor 24-200mm f/4-6.3. Yes, that's US$4200 at today's prices. It's also only 62.2 ounces (less than four pounds, or 1763g). That's a really excellent travel package.

Looking for gear-specific information? Check out our other Web sites:
DSLRS: dslrbodies.com | general: bythom.com| Z System: zsystemuser.com | film SLR: filmbodies.com

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