Best Mirrorless Camera Under 1000

Best Mirrorless Camera Under 1000
Best Mirrorless Camera Under 1000

If you’re looking to buy the best mirrorless camera under 1000, you should get the Olympus OM-D E-M10. Most cameras in this price range take great-looking pictures, have a good lens selection, and combine small size with good looks, but the E-M10 sets itself apart by adding 3-axis optical image stabilization, a greater lens selection than most, and better dedicated manual control dials.

After dozens of hours of research, analysis, and hands-on time (and snapping more than 600 photographs) it stands as the best pick if you’re looking for an excellent intermediate camera for under $1,000.

Recommended read: Best Webcam for Streaming

Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III
The best choice

Olympus OM-D E-M10

The Olympus OM-D E-M10 sets itself apart by adding 3-axis optical image stabilization, more lenses than most, and better dedicated manual control dials.

The E-M10 sits in the middle of Olympus’ lineup. It’s a step above most of its PEN family but the lowest-end model of Olympus’ widely well-regarded OM-D line, which are instantly identifiable by their retro style. These pint-sized cameras punch well above their weight, producing images that are on-par with cameras that have much larger sensors (which by all rights should produce better images).

It also has fast autofocus, an excellent image stabilization system, and a lot of built-in features, customizable manual controls, and options. Combine that with a price point where people are most likely to be looking to expand into other lenses, and the huge selection of Micro Four Thirds lenses becomes a deciding factor in the E-M10 coming out ahead of the competition.

Sony A6000 Mirrorless Camera
The runner-up

Sonny Alpha a6000

The Sony a6000 is a good runner-up to the E-M10. The images are almost the same quality, but it’s a bit better at autofocusing and has more video options than the main pick. There are fewer lenses to choose from, though.

If you can’t get the E-M10, the Sony a6000 is a stellar runner-up. While on paper it has slightly less noisy images than the E-M10,  we didn’t see much difference. It does have more autofocus points; it can focus down to a smaller area over more of the frame, and it is arguably better at tracking objects moving in three dimensions.

It also has more video options, so if you’re going to be shooting a lot of video, it also may appeal to you. Finally, depending on the size and shape of your hand, you might like its bigger grip more than the E-M10.

Should you upgrade to a mirrorless camera?

If you already have a camera of around this same level, like our previously recommended Sony NEX-6, you don’t need to upgrade. The benefits aren’t huge, and there’s been no major advances in how your photos will come out that would justify buying a whole new camera. Rather, save your pennies for some new lenses.

Already have a big stack of lenses from a previous camera purchase? You’d probably be better off staying in the same camera family rather than starting over from scratch with a whole new format.

If you don’t have a mirrorless camera and are thinking of investing in one to start taking better photos, you’re probably up in the air between something like the E-M10 and a more affordable option like our recommendation for a low-end model.

A step-down camera will usually take photos that look just as sharp and clean as a more expensive one, and it’ll probably be a bit easier to learn to use, as low-end cameras are often designed for new users.

On the flip side, the higher-end cameras will often have other features that make a big difference to your shooting experience, like focus systems that let you focus down on smaller points, viewfinders so that you can shoot in bright light, faster burst modes, and longer battery life.

If you’re willing to brave the slightly steeper learning curve for a midrange camera like this, you’ll find that it has a higher build quality, more controls for when you get more into the manual settings, and will last you longer as you grow as a photographer. Plus, you can always still put it on Auto and let it decide how to shoot for you.

Lapsed DSLR users, who are looking for cameras that provide similarly good images in a package that’s smaller and lighter, will find a midrange mirrorless option will bring you the plentiful manual controls that you’re used to.

You’ll miss out on having an optical viewfinder, which is still the sharpest way to see what your camera sees, and focusing might be a little slower (especially at night), but in its place you save a huge amount on size and weight—both in the camera and the lenses.

It’s far easier to throw an E-M10 with a pancake lens into your bag and not worry about it than it is to lug a DSLR with you everywhere.

How we picked the best mirrorless camera under $1000

We surveyed the market of currently available mirrorless cameras that retail for less than $1,000 (including a lens). We discarded models that didn’t have viewfinders, since if you’re paying this much for a camera, you should be able to shoot with it against your face.

Viewfinders are more stable and provide much better shooting experiences in extremely bright light (where the playback screen will be impossible to see) and in low light (where the extra stability is a godsend).

We also skipped most models more than three years old, as there have been major improvements to focusing systems recently, and newer models are more reliably available. We also nixed the higher-end Nikon 1-series cameras, as they simply don’t produce images good enough for the price.

Of the handful of remaining cameras, we analyzed dozens of reviews to narrow it down to our top two picks, which we then spent hours testing, shooting hundreds of photos to reach a top pick, the Olympus OM-D E-M10.

Our pick

Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III
The best choice

Olympus OM-D E-M10

The Olympus OM-D E-M10 sets itself apart by adding 3-axis optical image stabilization, more lenses than most, and better dedicated manual control dials.

It takes excellent, sharp, and clear images. It features Olympus’ well regarded built-in image stabilization system that will work with any lens you put on the camera; it has access to the largest body of lenses for any mirrorless camera on the market; and it has a large and bright screen and viewfinder.

And you know what else? It looks pretty damn cool.

A camera, especially at this price, needs to be able to take stellar images. Otherwise, what’s the point when you could potentially spend half as much? A look through Flickr should give you some idea of what the E-M10 is capable of, broadly speaking.

More specifically, it’s a camera that’s capable of capturing images that manage a wide range of lights and darks in the same image without blowing out highlights or losing shadows to pitch black. It also keeps high ISO noise at a manageable level on par with other cameras at this price.

A wide dynamic range means that you can still make out details in the shadows, even in a high-contrast image like this.

Just as a note, all the images that we’ve put in this review come directly out of the camera, and were shot using the kit lens. No editing or tweaking involved. They show you what sort of images you can take even if you don’t know your way around Photoshop or Lightroom.

DxOMark directly tests the quality of sensors in cameras, and they praised the image quality that came out of the comparatively small sensor that the camera uses. They lauded its color depth (which is a measure of smoothness of color gradation), dynamic range (range of lights to darks in a single image), but were slightly less impressed by its low-light performance. They did comment that it was better than some current-generation Canon DSLRs.

DPReview’s take on the E-M10 is that the images stay good up until around ISO 3200, saying “around ISO 3200 noise reduction starts to muddy fine detail. In good light at low-to-moderate ISO the E-M10 produces pleasantly sharp and clean JPEGs that rival the performance of entry-level DSLRs.”

When got their hands on it, they said “The E-M10’s 16-megapixel CMOS sensor remains a strong choice, putting out some really pleasing photos. Olympus continues to emphasize its excellent JPEG engine.”

Imaging Resource’s review of the E-M10 praised it for its wide dynamic range, excellent image quality when using RAW, and good high ISO performance (though they found the noise reduction got a bit heavy handed at higher ISOs).

Its image quality should come as no surprise, as it’s the same sensor found in other Olympus cameras, such as the E-M5 and E-PL5, which are firm favorites with many. But beyond just the image quality, there’s an awful lot to like about the E-M10.

It’s the lowest price Olympus model that comes with a built-in electronic viewfinder, but at the same time, it’s the most expensive model to come with a built-in pop-up flash. The viewfinder’s a must at this price point. It adds a bit to the size of the camera, but there’s a reason it’s been the dominant way of shooting in higher-end cameras for decades.

By holding the camera close against your body, it’s actually more stable than having it at arms length, and you can pivot faster to get moving action. In bright sun, it provides a much better view than squinting at a washed-out LCD.

Electronic viewfinders still can’t quite match the sharpness and speed of an optical viewfinder, due to the very fact that it’s pulling data off a sensor rather than just light being redirected towards your eyeball. But the advantage to an electronic one is that since it’s a screen, it can boost the light levels when it’s dark out, showing more information than you’d be able to see in an optical version.

The E-M10 brings in the best of both worlds by also having a large, bright, 1,037,000-dot tilting touch screen. You can tilt the screen down for when you’re shooting over crowds, or tilt it up for when you’re trying to capture images from a low angle (like I did when making friends with this squirrel).

The tilting LCD let lets you easily shoot from low angles.
The tilting LCD let lets you easily shoot from low angles.

The E-M10 has an 81-point autofocus system that covers the entirety of the camera’s frame, which is above average. More autofocus points means that smaller areas can be focused down on for precise control in complex scenes.

It’s not quite on the level of what Sony’s doing with the a6000 (our runner-up) or the Samsung with the NX30, but it’s more than either Panasonic or Fujifilm’s offerings at this price. As for how well it works? I was able to get it to focus reliably on all manner of objects, moving and still, in all sorts of lighting. Yes, the focus speed does drop noticeably in low light, but it still worked well enough to capture moving cars on the street.

DPReview commented on the AF speed, saying it’s “speedy, slowing down slightly in the most challenging of situations, but overall it’s fast enough to satisfy the camera’s target audience,” and “In testing of continuous tracking in burst mode it held focus on a subject moving at a moderate pace toward the camera for around 5-7 frames.”

Imaging Resource’s review paints a similar picture, with writer William Brawley saying “It was such a refreshing experience to use a small, lightweight camera like the Olympus E-M10 with excellent, lightning-fast AF.

Shooting fast-moving subjects or just swinging the camera up to get the shot, the E-M10 was quick, accurate and fun to use. I’ve had no issues with AF whatsoever with the camera.

Although since it uses the same contrast-detect system as the E-M5, it can struggle to focus on dark, low-contrast subjects, especially if you turn off the shockingly bright orange AF assist light.”

Small AF points mean you can focus properly in complex scenes like the flowers.
Small AF points mean you can focus properly in complex scenes like the flowers.

The control system is based around two control dials: one by your forefinger, one by your thumb. There are also two dedicated customizable function buttons and the ability to control the behavior of a great number of other buttons too. You can combine the buttons and dials to do some neat tricks.

One of the notable interface tools that Olympus uses on some of its other cameras, but not this one, is called the 2×2 dial system, where the two dials can be flicked over to controlling an alternate pair of settings using a switch. While the E-M10 doesn’t have a switch, you can set the Fn2 button to mimic the same process.

The only complaints we have about the control scheme are minor. The on/off switch is in an awkward place that’s difficult to hit with one hand, and people with large hands may find the rather small grip uncomfortable to shoot with over long time periods.

The in-camera menu system is generally solid, and if you’re willing to dive in, there’s an almost infinite variety of customization that you can play with. Frustratingly, Olympus has opted to turn off some of its more useful features by default, like the Super Control Panel, but this guide from DPReview for the E-M5 still holds true on how to turn on stuff like that.

Olympus is also one of the few manufacturers for mirrorless cameras that puts the image stabilization system inside the camera itself, on the sensor, rather than on the lens.

It’s debatable as to which is actually more effective (no one seems to have mastered how to properly test them yet), but having it based on the camera means that it works with every lens you put on your camera.

You want to mount a third party lens from Rokinon that has no stabilization? The camera does it for you. Have an old Leica lens you found in a junk shop? Load it up with an adapter, and the camera will stabilize.

Unfortunately, this camera only uses Olympus’ three-axis stabilization system, which, while good, is not quite on the level of the company’s famously great five-axis system. It probably would have bumped the body size quite a bit to squeeze that in, but it’s a feature we wish Olympus could have included.

Get your filter on.
Get your filter on.

For those of you in love with shooting through heavily-edited filters, the E-M10 packs an even dozen, ranging from grainy film to soft focus to watercolor. More pragmatically for people who haven’t brought themselves to learn the intricacies of the slightly overwhelming body of controls, there’s iAuto mode as well as 24 scene modes, for settings like shooting beaches, portraits, or night scenes.

As with most cameras at this price point, the OM-D E-M10 has a Wi-Fi connection system that allows for remote control and shooting, so that you can control it from your phone rather than having to be standing behind the camera. What’s extra impressive is how Olympus has implemented the usually tedious process of connecting your camera and phone together.

The camera itself will generate a QR code for the Olympus app, which is then used to join the two, no selecting networks or filling out passwords. The one downside? It requires an ad hoc connection directly between the two devices, from camera to phone. There’s no option for the E-M10 to join an existing network, so you’ll have to disconnect from your home Wi-Fi to make it work.

Who else likes it?

The Phoblographer’s review said the E-M10 “is a much better camera than we initially gave it credit for. The JPEG image quality that comes from it is outstanding. But beyond that, this camera focuses like a true speed demon and there is very little that can match it.” Gizmodo called it “a classic camera made adorably small”, praising its aesthetics, the stabilization system, image quality, and the wide array of lenses, though they did think it was a little cramped due to the small size.

TrustedReviews said of the E-M10: “When you consider the impressive standard of images, along with the growing OM-D system to which the E-M10 belongs, it looks more and more like a wise investment in a competitive CSC market.”

Steve Huff recommended it as a good midrange Micro Four Thirds camera, saying “If you are leaning towards a Micro 4/3 system but do not want to break the bank with an E-M1, go for the E-M10. It is a WONDERFUL camera that can do just about anything anyone would need. If you want simplicity and versatility as well, buy the 12-40 f/2.8 Zoom and have an all in one kit. This would be a perfect street kit, portrait kit, family kit, vacation and walk around kit. Basically, a jack of all trades and master of most. “

PCMag gave the camera its Editor’s Choice rating, praising it for “Fast focus and burst shooting. Good image quality at high ISO. In-body image stabilization. Tilting touch-screen display. Built-in EVF and flash. Integrated Wi-Fi.” Cameras likewise gave it an Editor’s Choice seal, saying of the image quality, “The E-M10’s 16-megapixel CMOS sensor remains a strong choice, putting out some really pleasing photos. Olympus continues to emphasize its excellent JPEG engine. As with previous PEN and OM-D cameras, this shooter’s JPEGs deliver a unique look that, if you’re using the less radical Natural or Muted color profiles, can please even the most ardent RAW-only shooters.”

DPReview gave the camera its coveted Gold Award, saying it’s “truly an impressive little camera. It holds its own against entry-level DSLRs in terms of image quality and handling, and beats them all in terms of direct control. Beyond the core photographic tools, the E-M10 is brimming with extras.”

Imaging Resource reviewed the OM-D E-M10, saying that the “E-M10 manages to bring impressive class-leading image quality, dynamic range, excellent high ISO performance in a lightweight design down to an entry-level price point. With improved HD video quality, built-in Wi-Fi and a raft of customizable functions, dials and buttons, the E-M10 is a terrific option for entry-level shooters and enthusiasts alike.”

TechRadar called it “An excellent camera that affords lots of control over images, feels good in the hand and has a control layout that’s easy to get to grips with. It also has a healthy number of customization options and produces high quality images.”

On the Matter of Lenses

One of the big deciding factors for the E-M10 is the body of lenses. Of all the mirrorless cameras currently on the market, the Micro Four Thirds family has by far the most choice, clocking in at 62 different options. Some of these are edge case bizarro lenses, and there’s a fair amount of overlap between the Olympus and Panasonic lines, but to put it simply, you have the most lenses readily available at the widest array of prices.

In our opinion, cameras around the $800-$1,000 mark is where lens choice matters the most. For a low-cost, affordable camera, there’s a fairly good chance that people will not move far beyond the kit lens and maybe one or two basic alternatives, so it’s less crucial to have a huge array of choices.

For high-end, $1,000+ cameras, you’re deep enough into photography where you’re probably looking mostly at high-end, expensive, and quality options. But the middle? That’s where people experiment. That’s where you’re as likely to spend $50 for a toy lens as $800 for a really high-quality one. And Micro Four Thirds has the widest options of prices, choices, and levels of quality when it comes to mirrorless cameras.

Combine that with the fact that Olympus’ image stabilization system will work no matter what lens you put on the front of the camera and the ready availability of mount adapters for vintage lenses, and you can also open the whole world of old glass.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

The E-M10 is a great camera for still photography, but it has some notable shortcomings when it comes to video. called it “little more than a token feature,” saying “Performance in our lab testing was passable, but we weren’t impressed by the extras on offer. There’s no mic jack, there’s no headphone jack, and more egregiously, there’s still no native 24p shooting mode.”

If you don’t shoot a lot of video, you’ll probably be fine, but this is not the device for a budding cinematographer.

Some of the features in the E-M10 are good, but not absolutely top of the charts. Its burst speed is limited to 8 fps, which is faster than most other cameras, but not quite as speedy as the 11 fps of the Sony a6000. According to Imaging Resource’s testing, the Olympus was able to keep that up for 19 shots (just a bit over two seconds), at which point it slowed down to around 1fps; the Sony a6000 kept up its 11fps speed for 47 frames (around four seconds), then dropped to around 2fps.

But the a6000 did take much longer to clear its buffer from an extended bout of shooting, 22 seconds compared to just six on the Olympus. Likewise, it relies solely on contrast-based autofocus while the a6000 uses a combination of contrast and phase detection sensors, which means it can sometimes focus faster. Using both head to head, I wasn’t able to reliably have one focus faster than the other, but for fast moving objects tracking through three dimensions, the Sony might do better.

While creating the Wi-Fi link between the camera and your phone is fantastically easy thanks to Olympus making the only good use of QR codes I’ve ever seen (and since it’s not NFC reliant, it works just as well on iOS), it would still be even better if it could also join your home network. That would also allow it to potentially load up firmware locally or share directly to online services, rather than having to connect to your phone and then have your phone do the data sharing.

The battery life is in the middle of the road for these types of cameras. You’ll get 320 shots out of a charge. Some cameras go as high as 360 (the Samsung NX30), some as low as 220 (the diminutive Panasonic GM1), so 320 a go is pretty standard. And since it’s the same battery that is found in a number of other Olympus cameras, it’s not hard to pick up a spare.

There’s something of a learning curve to the E-M10’s menu system, with some settings being hidden in rather obtuse places. Once you learn your way around, it’s fine, but it’s on the complicated side to begin with.

The E-M10’s panorama mode is dreadfully bad. It’s honestly one of the worst I’ve ever used. The best implementations of a panorama tool let you simply take a burst of images, and it’ll stitch them together. Worse, but still doable, is a system that overlays the previous image over the current screen so you can line them up perfectly.

The E-M10 just tells you to photograph and then to pan. No in-camera stitching or overlays or anything. You have to edit it together yourself, and without something as basic as an overlay, it’s hard to line things up properly. It’s not a big feature, but what’s there has been poorly done.

It’s not really a flaw, but something that should be mentioned is that the E-M10 is different from its sibling models the E-M5 and E-M1 in that it’s not weather sealed. This isn’t a camera to take with you through a waterfall.

Long-term test notes

The E-M10 has been a workhorse for me, and I’ve really, really enjoyed it. It weathered a hurricane in Mexico, and has been my go-to camera for six months, and I haven’t had any issues with it at all. I do occasionally notice that the low-light performance lags a bit behind what I was used to with my SLR, but that’s inherent in the camera. In terms of day-to-day use, it’s been nothing but stellar.

The runner-up

Sony A6000 Mirrorless Camera
The runner-up

Sonny Alpha a6000

The Sony a6000 is a good runner-up to the E-M10. The images are almost the same quality, but it’s a bit better at autofocusing and has more video options than the main pick. There are fewer lenses to choose from, though.

The Sony a6000 is so very close to being as good as the E-M10 that it’s almost down to just a matter of personal taste which one you go with. The two are neck and neck, with only minor feature differences separating them; the a6000 represents a fantastic alternative to the E-M10 for people who want to dive deep into video, appreciate a really large grip, or need speed above all else. But you should know that it lacks built-in optical image stabilization of the Olympus. Ultimately, we preferred shooting with the E-M10 by a little bit, but the a6000 earns a close, solid second place.

When you compare the two, the first thing people will most likely trumpet in the Sony a6000’s favor is its larger sensor. The party line is that the larger the sensor, the better the photo. A large sensor should provide a wider dynamic range and less image noise at high ISOs.

But a lot of that also depends on the individual sensor itself, who makes it, and how the camera interprets the data. In DxOMark’s testing, the E-M10 held its own against the a6000 for everything except image noise.

DxO’s testing put the difference of both dynamic range and color depth as noticeable but not huge, and the ISO difference at approximately 2/3 of an EV. But here’s the funny part, when you actually turn off the noise reduction on both cameras, and crank the ISO way up? We actually prefer how it looks on the E-M10.

ISO 6400, Olympus OM-D E-M10 on the left, Sony a6000 on the right, noise reduction turned off.
ISO 6400, Olympus OM-D E-M10 on the left, Sony a6000 on the right, noise reduction turned off.

The example above was shot at ISO 6400, Olympus on the left, Sony on the right, shooting JPEG. While the Sony retained better detail, it did so with much more evident noise, and with weird color speckling (chroma noise). You might feel otherwise, but we’d pick the left version over the right. But keep in mind, one camera’s “noise reduction off” might be very different to another’s.

When it comes to handling, we overall preferred shooting with the E-M10, which again, is a very personal choice. Readers with larger hands might prefer the large grip of the Sony, though we liked the small size of the E-M10. Also, the control scheme of the a6000 is a bit peculiar; the location of the mode dial and the control dial are reversed from their positions on most other cameras, making it a frequent case of changing shooting mode rather than aperture (or what have you).

Like the Olympus, the Sony uses two dials to control most shooting situations, but they’re laid out differently, with one near your thumb, and one that doubles as a four-way pad on the rear of the body that’s also used for navigating menus. Both of those require using your thumb to navigate, where the Olympus can be controlled with thumb and forefinger for faster operation.

The bigger drawback to the Sony a6000 is the lens situation. Sony’s hardly a slouch when it comes to glass, and by our count there are currently 36 lenses available for E-mount, compared to 62 for Micro Four Thirds. That includes both first and third-party options across a huge range of prices. There’s simply more choice with the E-M10. Did you know that Olympus makes affordable bodycap lens? Or you could go all the way up to $1,600 for the Panasonic Leica 42.5 mm f/1.2 portrait lens.

The a6000 also lacks a built-in stabilization system, instead requiring you to rely on stabilization from the lenses. The Olympus has this system built in, so it doesn’t matter if you use an unstabilized lens from Olympus, a stabilized one from Panasonic, a third party option from Rokinon, or a vintage lens from another manufacturer—they’ll all be stabilized. You’re stuck with just Sony’s own stabilization system on the a6000 or else using the lenses unstabilized.

One of the features that bugs us about the a6000 is the way that Sony uses the PlayMemories apps. You can load apps onto the a6000 like you would a smartphone to get more functionality. Theoretically, it means that Sony can keep adding crazy new features after a camera’s already out, but what’s actually happened is that you end up paying for features that are free in other cameras.

The OM-D E-M10 has built in timelapse shooting, but you want that on the a6000? $10, please. Double exposures? Another $5. It’s symptomatic of an overall feeling of penny pinching with Sony cameras, like the fact that it doesn’t come with an external battery charger, instead requiring you to plug the entire camera in. Nor does it come with a body cap for the camera.

Which leads to another weird thing. The a6000 can join your home Wi-Fi network to download these apps. But to remotely control the camera? You need to instead connect directly to your phone. Shouldn’t you be able to do that if they’re both on the same network?

The a6000 has a lower-resolution screen, and it’s not touch capable. Being able to just tap on the screen to focus on that point is a really nice feature of the E-M10, one that we found ourselves using frequently.

Much has been made of the a6000’s claims to being the fastest AF on a mirrorless camera, but in terms of actual speed differences? We really weren’t that blown away. Gordon Laing’s experiences at CameraLabs pretty closely mirror our own, saying “The A6000 may have far superior continuous AF, but the EM10 is quicker for Single AF and it continues to work in much lower light levels, while also offering better face detection too.”

So if you’re tracking an object moving quickly through space towards or away from you, the a6000 will track its motion better. But for any other situation, the E-M10 does better.

There are some undeniable advantages to the a6000, though. It’s 11 fps burst rate is substantially beyond the 8 fps of the E-M10, it has a bigger viewfinder, and the movie mode is far better than the Olympus’. It can shoot in more formats and more bitrates.

The a6000 has a laundry list of shooting options, both AVCHD and MP4, and can shoot 1920×1080 at 60p, as well 60i and 24p at two different bitrates each. The E-M10 is limited to just 30p at 1920×1080. (Though neither has the standard audio jack that would mark them as being really great for video use.)

There are some other plusses and minuses to both. Battery life is about the same between the pair: the a6000 is officially rated for 310 using the viewfinder, 360 using the LCD; the E-M10 is 320 regardless. The Sony can connect to your phone using NFC, the Olympus can geotag your photos using smartphone info. Sony’s panorama mode is actually competent, and the Olympus can take longer exposures (up to 60s), and has a level gauge, which the a6000 oddly lacks.

Both are excellent cameras, and doubtless both will end up at the top of various “Best of 2014” lists come December. For us, the E-M10 worked better, but your experience might be different.

The step Up

If you’re looking to jump into even bigger and better things for a mirrorless camera, have a look at our recommendation for the best mirrorless camera over $1,000. At that price point, you’re likely to see substantial new features compared to the E-M10, such as weatherproofing, boosted burst speed, larger viewfinders, external microphone jack, potentially improved stabilization and image quality, and more.

But you’re also looking at a larger body, and, of course, a fair amount more money to invest right off the bat.

The step Down

If $800 is a bit much for you to start your journey into the world of mirrorless cameras, then have a look at our choice for a more affordable alternative. As with the step up, the step down probably won’t bring huge changes in image quality—rather, it’ll bring huge changes in manual controls and features.

It’ll probably have a slower focusing system, no viewfinder, be slower to shoot off a burst of images, be less able to take accessories like flashes, and have fewer customization options. On the upside, these tend to be a bit easier to learn to use, with more automatic modes and a less intimidating menu system.

Also greats

If you’re looking for something particularly pocket sized, the Panasonic Lumix G7 seems to be the way to go. It is extremely petite. In that minute size, you get a full Micro Four Thirds sensor, an electronic viewfinder, good autofocus, Wi-Fi, and a touchscreen.

The downside is that there are some pretty substantial costs that come with being so small: notably fiddly controls, poor battery life (320 shots on the E-M10 vs 220 on the GM5), a slower burst rate of 5.8fps, and a smaller viewfinder. But if you’re desperate for a very small body, and don’t mind paying the extra money, it’s just about the smallest thing around.

If you want to get a camera that has the best possible array of lenses, check out the Fujifilm X-E2. Fujifilm cameras have a rather limited set of lenses to choose from, and they tend to be pretty expensive, but they’re of fantastic quality and have led to the brand having legions of devoted fans.

It’s a smaller selection of excellent and pricy glass, if that’s what you’re looking for. The X-E2 is on the expensive side, hitting the very top of our $1,000 cutoff, but those lenses really are something else. It lags behind the E-M10 in some other features, though, like maximum ISO, screen (the E-M10’s is higher resolution, tough, and flips out), and pure number of lenses available.

The rest of the competition

The Panasonic GX9 is another popular midrange choice, depending on where you go shopping for it. While widely lauded when it debuted, we’re not convinced that it’s worth the extra money over the E-M10. It has a slower burst speed at full resolution (5 fps) and fewer autofocus points (23 to the E-M10’s 81). It does have Panasonic’s first attempt at a built-in stabilization system, but it’s not as good as the E-M10’s, and it doesn’t work during video. It does have a nifty tilting viewfinder, though, and far better video options than the E-M10. But if you’re going to want to shoot video, the aforementioned a6000 is probably a better bet.

The Samsung NX30 again doesn’t have nearly the body of lenses as the E-M10, costs substantially more (but it made it to best mirrorless camera under 1000 list). While it has a larger sensor and faster AF system, almost every review we came across rated it lower or on-par with the E-M10.

The QS-1 is Ricoh/Pentax’s most recent pint-sized mirrorless camera, but like the rest of this line, it suffers from poor image quality due to its itty-bitty sensor. Even though it comes in 40 colors, that’s not really enough to recommend it.

Sony announced the followup to the a5000, the suitably named a5100, in late August. This brought the focusing and sensor system from the step-up a6000 down into the mid-range. But it loses the a6000’s electronic viewfinder, ability to take a microphone, flash hot-shoe, and is slower in burst mode (6fps vs 11fps).

It’s a major improvement over the a5000 with the a6000’s high-speed hybrid focusing system, 24-megapixel sensor, new processor, and touchscreen. But, with a cheaper asking price, we really think you’d be better served by spending the extra money and getting a camera with an electronic viewfinder and a second external dial for better manual control. It’ll be a little bit bigger, but will provide you with a lot more options and controls as you grow as a photographer.

Olympus managed to squeeze the guts of the E-M10 into a smaller package with the E-PL7—but without a viewfinder, we think it’s worth the slight price difference to get the E-M10 instead. The E-PL7 has the same resolution, a 16MP sensor, the same 81 point autofocus system, 3-axis stabilization, and 8fps burst mode as the E-M10.

Where it differs is in its smaller body that loses the electronic viewfinder and some of the external manual controls. But it gains a touchscreen that can flip 180 degrees downward, with easier-to-use software for better selfie shooting. The E-PL7 goes for $600 with a lens included, and with the E-M10 going for $700 most places, we think the inclusion of the viewfinder makes a lot more sense.

The Panasonic Lumix GX85 is a particularly tiny Micro Four Thirds option, which will set you back under $1000. But if you’re going for a pocket-sized model, the GM5 offers the same size benefit, but with the ever useful inclusion of a viewfinder (though it’s a fair bit more expensive, too).

In addition to the models mentioned above, there are a number of other cameras available at this price point. The Sony NEX-6 has been replaced by the a6000, and the Olympus E-PL5, Fujifilm X-M1, and Samsung NX300 were all skipped for lacking electronic viewfinders. The Nikon 1 V2 is dramatically overpriced for the quality of images that it takes, and the Nikon 1 AW1 is an interesting underwater camera that doesn’t hold up so well when on solid ground.

Wrapping up

If you’re looking to make a significant investment in a mirrorless camera that not only takes sharp, low-noise images, that also has access to the best body of lenses out there, is light enough to take with you on a long day of hiking, and looks good enough that you won’t feel weird for being seen in public with it, then the Olympus OM-D E-M10 is the way to go.