Mirrorless cameras are in vogue right now, and there’s a sensible reason for that. These types of cameras offer most of the advantages that come from more traditional DSLR cameras while being significantly cheaper and more lightweight in design (at least in most instances). That’s not to say that you can’t get taken advantage of. There are a ton of different mirrorless camera models on the market today, and some are quite definitively better than others.
Other mirrorless camera models are more situational and may offer significant value (or lack of) depending on your needs. We’re going to break down the 10 best mirrorless cameras under $500 and give you advice you can use if you want to sensibly evaluate camera models that aren’t presented on our list.
- 10 Best Mirrorless Cameras under $500
- 1. Sony a5100 16-50mm Interchangeable Lens Camera
- 2. Olympus Pen E-PL9 Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera
- 3. Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II Compact Digital Camera
- 4. Panasonic DMC-G7KS Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera
- 5. Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II Mirrorless Camera
- 6. Samsung NX3300 Mirrorless Digital Camera
- 7. Fujifilm X-A5 Mirrorless Digital Camera
- 8. Ricoh GR II Mirrorless Digital Camera
- 9. Canon EOS M100 Mirrorless Camera
- 10. Pentax K-01 Mirrorless Digital Camera
- Mirrorless Camera Under $500 Buyer’s Guide
- Advantages of a Mirrorless Camera
- What to Expect From a Mirrorless Camera Under $500
- Image Resolution
- Video Resolution
- Color Quality
- Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the Best Camera for 500 Dollars?
- What is the best entry level Mirrorless Camera?
- What is the Best Budget Mirrorless Camera?
- Is it Worth Buying a Mirrorless Camera?
10 Best Mirrorless Cameras under $500
1. Sony a5100 16-50mm Interchangeable Lens Camera
The Sony Alpha a5100 normally retails for over $500, but you can currently find it on Amazon for a fraction of that. Fortunately, this interchangeable lens camera is one of the best deals around even at its standard price. Despite bearing the petite frame of a mirrorless camera, the Sony Alpha a5100 comes with the large sensor that's more expected from a DSLR, allowing it to provide you with a higher level of image quality than a budget model normally offers.
But what makes this an especially great model is how well it works for beginners. The fact that it works exceedingly well in low light conditions and promises a high speed autofocus means that you can spend less time figuring out the intricacies of how to capture the perfect shot. And the inclusion of a bunch of different tutorials built in means that you can slowly expand your knowledge at your own pace.
2. Olympus Pen E-PL9 Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera
Mirrorless cameras are known for their compact and lightweight designs, but the Pen E-PL9 from Olympus ramps things up to a whole new level. With a weight and dimensions that more closely resemble a smartphone than a traditional camera and an expressive and articulating touchscreen, this is one of the best mirrorless cameras around if you want to make the transition from using your phone's built in camera to using something more traditional and professional.
Further making this an incredibly beginner friendly camera is the built-in stabilization. You won't have to worry about low lighting conditions or unstable situations turning your photos into a blurry or pixelated mess, and the camera autofocuses quickly, so you can capture those spontaneous moments without having to stage them. And the cool vintage design of this camera means it's a great fashion accessory in addition to a reliable camera.
3. Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II Compact Digital Camera
The Canon PowerShot G9 is another camera model that will appeal to users who have grown up using camera phones. It's small enough to fit comfortably in your pocket, but it also manages to pack in a full one inch sensor, so it will deliver stunning image quality even when you're working in lower light environments. It also includes a zoom lens that can achieve a magnification of 3x along with a nice image stabilization system to keep everything looking great, and the wide aperture range allows this camera to achieve very good results in low light.
What's great about this camera is how well you can grow into it. All the fundamentals are easily available and easy to learn, but there are also a ton of manual modes you can ease yourself into once you get used to the functions and are comfortable expanding your camera proficiency.
4. Panasonic DMC-G7KS Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera
The Panasonic Lumix G7KS is currently available for one incredible deal. It's been slashed in half - putting it comfortably in the under $500 price range and ensuring that you can have the features of an enthusiast camera without having to pay the normal price for that privilege. A 16 megapixels image sensor and the capacity to shoot 4K footage means that this camera will deliver clear and crisp results whether your specialization is film or stills.
And all the tools are available to help beginners get a head start working with the Panasonic Lumix. The controls are accessible, clearly labeled, and easy to use, while the electronic viewfinder gives you a high definition perspective on your subjects even when you're out in direct sunlight. The Panasonic Lumix employs high speed autofocus that's accompanied by Depth From Defocus technology that calculates the distance of subjects when focusing on them.
5. Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II Mirrorless Camera
This camera from Olympus provides one of the best values we've found in this price range, even before you take into account the current $100 discount available through Amazon. The electronic viewfinder on the Olympus E-M10 Mark II is the real standout feature here. It's big, spacious, and extremely high resolution, allowing it to shore up some of the issues that photographers have with an electronic viewfinder as opposed to a more traditional optical alternative.
The burst shooting here is also pretty impressive. You can get over 8 frames per second, and the five axis image stabilization system will ensure that continuous shooting doesn't suffer from blur or poor lighting. And while this camera doesn't come with weatherproof sealing, it's a very sturdy model. The magnesium alloy build results in a very lightweight and manageable frame that can still take a hit without risk of serious long term damage.
6. Samsung NX3300 Mirrorless Digital Camera
Samsung may not be the first name you think of when you want to buy a mirrorless camera, but they've put out a pretty impressive model here with one of the best ranges of features around. As part of the NX-series, Samsung's camera doesn't come with the widest variety of lenses, but there are a few dozen, so it should cover most of the needs of amateurs and even enthusiast photographers.
More impressive is the variety of exposure modes available. With tons of different categories to choose from, you can slowly ease yourself into the specifics of how to shoot photography manually or even disregard it completely if you want to keep things simple.There's even an autoexposure lock function that works when you find the perfect lighting. The electronic viewfinder flips upward 180 degrees, giving you a nice field of view while also facilitating selfies and other more creative shots.
7. Fujifilm X-A5 Mirrorless Digital Camera
The Fujifilm X-A5 may not come with an electronic viewfinder. For most mirrorless cameras, even those under $500, that would be a pretty big red flag, but the Fujifilm still manages to be a very capable mirrorless camera with a lot of great qualities. The best feature here (and one that's the bread and butter when looking for a new mirrorless camera) is the excellent image quality. The imaging is clear and crisp, and there's a pristine level of color reproduction on display with each photo you take. That's thanks to the 24.2 megapixels APS-C sensor Fujifilm has packed in.
This is also a great camera for beginners thanks to the very shallow learning curve to deal with. The user controls here have been stripped down, and while they don't offer the versatile features of some more serious mirrorless camera models, you'll get a lot of options packed into this Fujifilm camera without having to learn that much.
8. Ricoh GR II Mirrorless Digital Camera
The Ricoh GR II fearues a pretty impressive sensor in a surprisingly compact frame. If you want a camera that you can take with you just about anywhere, the Ricoh GR II might be the best camera for your needs. If there's any disadvantage, it's the fact that it uses a fixed rather than an interchangeable lens. But the lens included does offer a decently wide range of focal length, so you don't need to worry too much about it.
The LCD screen is spacious and can rotate up to 180 degrees so you can use it as a selfie camera as well. This camera also includes wireless Bluetooth capacity, so transferring photos to your phone or even the cloud is never an overly dramatic process. And the camera also has a great sense of balance thanks to both the low weight and the minimal profile of the lens.
9. Canon EOS M100 Mirrorless Camera
The EOS is one of Canon's best praised lines, and the M100 does a stellar job of making some high end features accessible and less intimidating to newer users. The tilting touchscreen here makes use of controls designed to resemble a smartphone, so it's a lot easier to get acclimated to the features available. And it features a great range of wireless options that include Bluetooth, NFC, and Wi-Fi so you can easily share your photos on social media.
The inclusion of a high-quality APS-C sensor allows you to get a crisp resolution of 24 megapixels, and it also features a brisk and peppy autofocus that allows you to capture results without having to be a photography pro. But some deeper photography options are buried in the menu where they won't crowd out the interface but will allow you to grow into the features available to you over time.
10. Pentax K-01 Mirrorless Digital Camera
If you plan to spend a lot of time shooting in low light conditions, the best option in this price range is probably the Pentax K-01. The APS-C CMOS sensor delivers an ISO range of 100 - 256,000, easily some of the best performance we've seen in varied lighting. You'll rarely have to worry about excessive noise even if you're looking to cover a dark show at a dingy venue. It's also designed to accommodate Pentax's older mount kit, so you have a wider variety of options available when trying to expand your lens collection.
But the photo quality here is great regardless of how well it works in low light conditions. And with its support for the Adobe DNG raw photos, professionals will find plenty to love here as well. It's also maybe the coolest looking camera we've seen for under $500 thanks to its bold design and bright yellow body.
Mirrorless Camera Under $500 Buyer’s Guide
Let’s start with a quick and obvious question. What makes a mirrorless camera in the under $500 price range different from mirrorless cameras at any other price point? And while a very specific price point doesn’t necessarily signify completely different categories of cameras (the lines are somewhat blurred), there are quite a few distinct properties and features you can expect to find in these mirrorless cameras.
While we’ll try to cover as much as we can about mirrorless models under $500, we also recommend you read our ultimate guide to mirrorless cameras. We cover all the specs in comprehensive detail and also help you understand how this type of camera works and what advantages it brings over a DSLR camera.
Advantages of a Mirrorless Camera
Before we start talking about how to best compare specs between mirrorless cameras, let’s talk about what makes the mirrorless camers one of the best choices for both new and experienced photographers. When mirrorless cameras first came to market, they offered two distinct advantages over their DSLR contemporaries: a lower weight and a lower price tag. In return, they offer essentially comparable quality in all the important specs like resolution and low lighting quality but a disadvantage in the range of lenses and features eavailable.
But as mirrorless cameras have become more ubiquitous, that gap has begun to narrow. Most mirrorless cameras offer the same range of features as DSLR alternatives, excellent image quality, and general all-purpose functionality. While you still won’t find as many comparable lenses as you would with a DSLR camera, that’s becoming less of an issue, because most mirrorless camera models come with converted mounts that let you use the lenses from DSLR cameras produced by the same manufacturer.
What to Expect From a Mirrorless Camera Under $500
If you’re looking to buy a mirrorless camera just slightly under or over $500, what you’ll find is going to fall squarely into the entry level market. These aren’t the camera models we’d suggest for professional photography, but they should be quite enough for the needs of hobbyist and beginner users. They tend to be small and lightweight, but that lower size means they also don’t come with the most powerful sensor technology you can expect. Most use an APS-C CMOS sensor less than an inch in size, but some are as large as an inch.
A camera body under $500 also often comes with an LCD screen or touchscreen for shooting rather than a more traditional electronic viewfinder. Typically, this will be a tilting touchscreen, but it’s still highly functional and more than enough to meet the needs of more casual photography. The advantage is that these types of mirrorless camera are targeted towards newer photographers, so the features are usually very beginner friendly and come with tutorials that can help you learn about the more complicated features present in a mirrorless camera.
There isn’t a mirrorless camera worth your money that doesn’t include the option for shooting video, but the balance between video and still photography can vary from camera to camera. The type of photography you want to practice should be the most determinant factor when looking at mirrorless cameras under $500. At this price range, manufacturers typically need to make sacrifices one way or another.
If you’re primarily looking to practice still photography, what really matters is going to be the image sensor, and the video resolution is more important if you’re looking to do video photography. In either case, figuring out which models are best are fairly easy, though it may require you to carefully read the specs if you really want the best model around.
When looking for an image sensor, you’re most likely going to find an APS-CMOS sensor. Less common are the four thirds sensor and one inch sensor. The size of the image sensor essentially tells you how big the photo will be, with an APS-CMOS sensor being the smallest and a one inch sensor being the largest (and the one most closely resembling the traditional photograph you’d find in an older DSLR camera).
An APS-C tends to be the cheapest sensor available, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. They can hypothetically have a higher resolution than a larger sensor. That said, larger sensors tend to be better both in terms of overall resolution and in how well they can tolerate low light settings without letting in noise. The resolution of a sensor tells you how many millions of pixels the picture constitutes. That means that two sensors of the same size with higher megapixel counts are going to perform better.
Any modern camera is going to offer a maximum video resolution of either 1080p or 4K. 1080p used to be the standard version of high definition for most programming, but more and more videographers are gravitating towards cameras that offer shooting in 4K. 4K offers four times the quality of 1080p (measured in the amount of pixels that constitute the surface of the screen), but that might not make a big difference to you if you just plan on shooting family videos around the house. But 6K technology is around the corner. It’s not really affordable to the enthusiast yet, but it will be eventually, in both mirrorless and DSLR cameras.
The other issue to consider is the frame rate your camera features. Video is essentially an enormous amount of still images, but they’re strung together at a rate of multiple frames in a single second. The higher the frame rate, the smoother the movement in your video is going to appear, and a higher frames per rate is especially useful if you’re looking to capture action effectively on video. Fortunately, if your 4K camera doesn’t shoot at the frame rate you want, you can usually downgrade to 1080p to receive a better refresh rate.
Resolution is only one factor when trying to find out the best image quality. The other thing to keep in mind is how well your camera can convey color. While there’s no unified measurement for determining how well a camera delivers color quality, you can generally find examples of the color quality from professional photographers. Richer palettes are often associated with cameras that offer a larger sensor, because they draw in more light and can deliver better color in more dim situations, but adjusting the exposure too high can cause photos to be washed out.
If you want the highest color quality, you’ll want to look for a camera that offers you greater control of your exposure settings. These can include a manual mode, but you’ll also find a lot of beginner and hobbyist camera models that will automatically adjust the color and brightness according to different scenes or even according to the environment in which you’re shooting. Also look for cameras that promise a higher black level. A high black level indicates that a camera can offer a blacker black and a whiter white, and it can be a strong indicator of a more vibrant palette.
Most mirrorless and DSLR cameras you’ll find offer interchangeable lenses, but that doesn’t mean that’s the only option on the market. Some models out there come without a detachable lens, and you should scrutinize these models carefully. The ability to swap out a zoom lens, wide angle lens, or whatever you may need in a given situation can have a huge impact on the sort of shooting you can do. That said, the lens on a fixed lens camera tends to be of higher quality than the shooting quality on an interchangeable kit lens. They also tend to be a zoom lens so you have a little more flexibility to work with.
If you do use an interchangeable camera, it’s probably going to come with a kit lens (although there are some interchangeable models that are just the body and don’t come with a designated kit lens). These are typically middle of the road in terms of the type of photos they can shoot, which makes them great for general use but less great when you need more specialized lenses. A kit lens is a great place to start, but you probably won’t want to keep it around once you become more serious. If you want to learn more about how focal length will affect your kit lens, you can check out our ultimate guide to mirrorless cameras.
If you’re a serious enthusiast or a professional, chances are that you’re going to put your camera through no small levels of hell. When looking at the build of your camera, we suggest two things to keep under consideration: build quality and portability.
Build quality is going to be very important if you find yourself traveling regularly. If you’re an urban photographer or a nature photographer, chances are that your camera’s going to acquire some dings over time, but they don’t have to have an impact on the quality of your camera. If you’re going to prioritize build quality, we suggest looking for models that are weatherproof or waterproof, but be careful finding a sense of balance. A camera that weighs too much may be durable, but you’ll probably find yourself tired from lugging it all over the place.
A compact body is one of the major advantage of mirrorless cameras, so you don’t want to sacrifice that if at all possible. Many models can fit comfortably in your pocket, but you also have to take into consideration that there’s going to be a lens strapped to the camera. A model without an interchangeable lens is going to generally offer a more compact body all around than one that lets you swap out the lenses.
The autofocus system helps your camera track a subject and provide you with an in focus image. This makes it an important spec to pay attention to when shooting high videos with a lot of action, but it can also be useful for still photography. A higher amount of autofocus points makes it easier for you to capture multiple subjects and zoom in appropriately on the one you want, and a high speed autofocus system should be one of your top considerations when shopping.
That speed comes in especially useful when looking at continuous shooting. Continuous shooting (also known as burst mode) will capture a huge number of pictures in a small amount of time. That’s measured in frames per second, and it’s a great choice when you’re looking to capture special moments, because you’ll have more options to choose from when trying to pick out the perfect shot (and it doesn’t require you to be as precise).
It used to be that a DSLR camera used phase detection autofocus (which uses a mirror to split up the image and then triangulate them), while mirrorless cameras used contrast detection autofocus (which uses color contrast to focus on subjects). In general terms, phase detection is one of the features that made DSLR cameras so valued, but more and more systems are using a combination of phase detection and contrast autofocus, and the line between mirrorless and DSLR has become significantly blurred.
Unlike a DSLR, which uses a mirror to reflect an actual image back into a (usually CMOS) sensor, the only way to see a preview of what you’re going to be shooting with a camera is electronically. That’s why a good viewfinder or touchscreen panel is important whether you’re shooting stills or videos. Ideally, you should be looking for a tilting touchscreen. That gives you a lot more flexibility to capture the perfect angle for your shot and provides you the maximum creativity possible.
But the touchscreen is also your main way to reach the interface for a mirrorless model, so you should carefully consider how easy it is to interact with and how clear and bright the screen itself is (so you can read more easily). A good viewfinder or touchscreen should by simple to read but provide you with quick and ready access to all of the important features you’ll be using with your camera on a regular basis.
Some manufacturers have become household names. If you take a look at the Sony Alpha Mark III, the Panasonic Lumix, or the Fujifilm X-A5 (all featured on our list), you probably have an association with that name. And while we generally recommend that you read reviews and read spec lists more than just making a decision based on brand appeal, there is one thing to consider carefully: which lenses a given model will support.
Camera manufacturers are fiercely proprietary, and that means that you can only use cameras created specifically for their cameras. While that can sometimes be circumvented through the use of a special mount, photographers who want to get creative with their shooting should track down a model that offers the sort of lenses they’ll find themselves using regularly.
Mirrorless cameras tend to be significantly more expensive than their DSLR counterparts, but it can still be hard to find a model under $500. In some places, we’ve chosen to opt for models that hover right around the $500 price point we established. That’s because we thought it was more important to highlight quality camera models rather than make sure that the going retail price is always under $500.
For that reason, you may want to exercise a little patience if you want to get some of these cameras under $500. Mirrorless cameras like the Olympus Pen E-PL9 actually retail for a bit over $500, but if you keep a close eye on sales and set alerts for Amazon, you should be able to get a camera that goes well beyond what you should expect from an entry level camera for under $500. Mirrorless cameras hovering around the $500 price range are almost always going to be entry level models, but that’s not a bad thing. They tend to be user friendly but scalable to the needs of more serious photographers, but the best part is the interchangeable lenses that allow you to get more versatile.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Best Camera for 500 Dollars?
The micro four thirds sensor on the Panasonic DMC-G7KS is a significant step up from a more traditional CMOS sensor, but that’s not the only area where this Panasonic Lumix camera excels. A variety of different 4K shooting modes and a high speed autofocus result in a peppy camera that exceeds expectations.
What is the best entry level Mirrorless Camera?
If you’re just getting started with photography, Canon has created a very accessible model with the EOS M100. This entry-level compact camera sports a great battery life and an adjustable shutter life, and it has a relatively robust amount of features given how easy to grasp the interface is. It also offers WiFi, NFC, and Bluetooth for more effectively sharing your photos and video with your friends.
What is the Best Budget Mirrorless Camera?
The Sony Alpha a5100 is a trusty and reliable black camera that’s currently available for an incredible deal. The autofocus on the Sony Alpha a5100 is very fast, and it’s designed in a way that new users can easily read the menus and understand what they’re doing.
Is it Worth Buying a Mirrorless Camera?
Mirrorless models are more used by hobbyists, but there’s a lot of reasons to invest. A mirrorless camera represents the pinnacle of standard photography in 2020. It features some of the best features of DSLRs with comparably effective performance, and you get access to a lot more functionality (like shutter speed and exposure adjustment) than is typically offered in a point and click, but the average budget mirrorless camera is designed to be accessible to new users thanks to easy to read menus and more slimmed down feature sets.
We hope this guide helped you get up to speed on what makes a great entry level mirrorless camera and what sort of settings and features you should pay attention to. Whether you’re looking to shoot video or capture a wedding in photos, there’s something here that should tickle your fancy. And if you want something to carry your new camera, we recommend you read our guide to the best camera bags of 2020.