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I'm looking to buy a new camera. I've looked at What do I need to consider to choose between dSLR, mirrorless, or a compact as my first "serious" camera? and decided that mirrorless is right for me. But what next?

What should I be looking for when shopping for a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (and what should I not be concerned with)?

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A mirrorless is a system camera and you must therefore carefully consider the system. There 2 major differenciators between systems:

  • Sensor-size: This affects image quality and particularly low-light performance. Four-Thirds and APS-C are popular sizes but there are full-frame options and smaller 1" or 1/1.7" ones too which have noticeably lower image-quality than larger ones.
  • Lens Mount: The family of native lens available for most mirrorless mounts is relatively limited when you compare them to DSLR lenses. Micro Four-Thirds which is the first mirrorless system has quite a few lenses and so does the Sony E-mount system (For APS-C mostly) but lenses in Fuji, Canon EF-M and Nikon 1 mount exist in much fewer numbers. Third party manufacturers do fill some gap but follow market popularity. So you will see much fewer third-party lenses for XF-mount and EF-M than for E-mount or Micro Four-Thirds.

While mirrorless cameras enjoy a wide number of adapters to use lenses for other mounts, most of them come with some serious limitations. Sony, Canon and Olympus/Panasonic have preferential compatibility with their own DSLR lenses, meaing that you can use an A-mount lens on an E-mount camera or an EF-S one on a EF-M camera with better integration.

Weight is a huge motivation factor for getting a mirrorless system. Of course, the larger sensor and correspondingly larger lenses needed for better quality have to be balanced out with the desire for a lighter system. Still, if you look at the specifics, the relation is not entirely proportional. There is less difference between equivalent MFT or E lenses than one would expect.

Then you should consider camera specific features. Most mirrorless cameras do offer full manual controls, custom WB, bracketing, metering, etc but coverage of advanced features differs:

  • Image stabiliation can be provided in-camera or in-lens but not all lenses are stabilized. Legacy lenses or those used via an adapter benefit more from being paired with in-body stabilization,
  • Weather-sealing is only available in some models. This is extremely useful for shooting in rain or snow. It must be combined with a weather-proof lense which are in very limited in some lineups. So if you are interested in photography in adverse weather, make sure your chosen system has the body and lenses you need with weather-sealing. Only one mirrirless camera exists which is submersible without a special casing, that is the Nikon 1 AW1 which I reviewed here. This unique option takes a lot of compromises, so read about it, if that interests you.
  • An EVF is essential. Some cameras support an optional external one which usually blocks the hot-shoe. Built-in EVFs are very good now with resolutions up to 2.8 MP and fast refresh rates. In all cases, they give much better visibility than the rear LCD. Plus, they add stability when shooting hand-held.

Look for particular features which interest you and pay attention to details. Long exposures of 30s are supported by pretty much all but if you want to do longer ones, then you have to read the specification carefully. Some have Bulb modes which stop after 2m while others last an hour which gives you nice star trails. You can approximate this by exposure stacking but it requires more work. A special nod is deserved here to Olympus which implements Live-Bulb so that one can see an exposure form during BULB. No one else has this and is extremely useful for things like fireworks where it is difficult to predict the time needed.

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    If you're going to tout the advantage of in-body stabilization applying to all lenses you should probably mention the counterpoint - that in-body stabilization provides the least amount of stabilization where it is needed the most: at longer focal lengths. – Michael C May 28 '16 at 2:30
  • Worth noting that some mirrorless cameras can be powered off of USB batteries or related, which is less likely for DSLRs due to the battery voltage. Similarly, compared to DSLRs strictly, mirrorless have better video support, e.g. 4k for cheaper or better codecs than the DSLR counterparts, with some exceptions of course. Video cameras will always fin in that regard. – unsignedzero May 31 '16 at 22:32
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    @TheBitByte - There is no generic recommendation. If low light is more important, that going APS-C is quite advantageous. If compactness is more, then MFT is most beneficial. There is little point to mirrorless with small sensors since they are not that proportionally smaller. – Itai Feb 1 '17 at 14:38
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    @TheBitByte - It's a scale, there is no good enough or too good. APS-C provides better results in low-light than MFT while Full-Frame provides better than APS-C. For the absolute best low-light performance, you should go Full-Frame as far as the sensor goes. You can do even better by making sure you have a bright lens (assuming shallow depth-of-field is suitable for your intended use) and stabilization (assuming motion-blur is also suitable for you). – Itai Feb 1 '17 at 19:09
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    @TheBitByte - Good enough, sure, but that is subjective. For low-light and relatively still subjects, I find APS-C very good. For low-light action, I would seriously consider Full-Frame. However, I'm a travel photographer, bulk and weight are serious concerns for me. A Full-Frame is heavier but also requires heavier lenses, and yes, it is more expensive as is each lens. Figure almost double when you consider a whole kit which would be as a minimum a camera and wide, normal and telephoto lens. – Itai Feb 1 '17 at 19:23
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Usual Basics

Just as with dSLRs, you will want to consider the following "main" features of a camera system in addition to any gee-whiz features you find sexy:

  • Sensor size and resolution (affects noise performance, and lens size/speed--the larger the sensor, the bigger/slower the lenses are liable to be to keep the system compact).
  • Overall system breadth (lenses, flashes, etc.) filling your needs.

See also: How do lens lineups vary across Mirrorless camera systems?

No "Missing" Features

If you come from a dSLR system, particularly if you're a prosumer user, you will also want to make sure that features you're used to having and consider vital to your usage patterns, exist in the mirrorless platform you're looking at. A few possible gotchas, depending on the model/system, can include:

  • Back-button autofocus
  • Dual-wheel controls
  • Viewfinder
  • High-speed sync and wireless flash systems
  • Tracking AF capability

Some of these features you may be willing to trade off for the smaller system or for a lower cost model. Some you may not. Make a list.

See also: Mirrorless camera vs. mid-range DSLR — how to decide?

Body Type

Another criteria that you don't have in the dSLR world is the body type of the camera. There are a few different types in the mirrorless world, that roughly boil down to:

  • Compact-camera like (no viewfinder, but tilting or flip-out LED composition)
  • SLR/bridge-camera like with a deep grip
  • Rangefinder-like with a corner viewfinder, rather than a central viewfinder "hump"

The handling of each of these types of cameras is distinctly different from the others, and this is where your personal preferences are most likely to come into play. Do you prefer not smashing your nose into the back of your camera? Are you a left-eyed shooter? How much does a deep grip make a difference to you? Are you using long lenses? How small a camera system do you want? Did you want to pocket your camera?

Viewfinder

The viewfinder (if there is one) is another consideration. Does the eye relief work with glasses? Is it an electronic viewfinder or an optical/hybrid one? How accurate is the framing? How good is the refresh rate? How accurate the colors? Does it tilt?

TL;DR My general overglib and oversimplified advice is go micro four-thirds, if your main concern is smaller gear and a larger array of glass. Go Fuji X if your main concerns are color and haptics, and you like the styling. Go Sony if your main concern is sensor performance or you have to have full frame.

Given the breadth of what's on offer, and how different these cameras can be, you may want to consider renting prior to buying to get a better idea of how these cameras handle for you.

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  • Check battery life. Sometimes, in order to keep the camera size small, manufacturers use batteries that do not last very long
  • Check if your selected camera can reuse your existing equipment like good quality lenses from your previous DSLR, flashes, chargers etc. This can not only save some money when getting a new system, but also saves space when traveling with multiple cameras
  • Read reviews. Reviewers are usually good about listing the pros and cons of a particular model and reading through multiple reviews will help you sort out your own preferences and priorities
  • If you wear glasses, check how easy or expensive it is to make dioptric correction in the viewfinder
  • Try before you buy. Check how the camera feels in your hand, how you like the viewfinder, how do you feel about the camera in general
  • I own a Fujifilm and it seems to me that the largest diffs between models are about the quality and features of the viewfinder and the burst speed (shots per second). – Octopus May 27 '16 at 18:00
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You'd really have to give us a general idea about what sort of photography you wanna do.

I agree about the EVF, but if you were shooting in a studio tethered that might not be a big deal. OTOH if you are outside in the snow on a sunny day you are gonna need it.

Are you interested in video? that's a factor. Wifi? GPS? Many of the same considerations for features apply to mirrorless. Also lens selection, cost, etc.

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What should I be looking for when shopping for a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (and what should I not be concerned with)?

This is really too broad and should be closed but since the community wants to leave it open, its the same as all the stuff to look for in a DSLR.

Some examples:

  • How many Megapixels do you really need?
  • Is video needed? 1080? 4k?
  • Do you want to shoot Raw or Jpeg? Will any Raw format do?
  • Do you need to tether it? What about flashes?
  • Do you need a camera that will hold up in harsh weather?
  • Do you need a camera that can sustain its battery life for 6 hours or 14 hours?
  • How high of a usable ISO do you really need?
  • Does it have that "It-Factor" that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside?
  • Do you care about Full Frame or would you be just as happy with a cropped sensor?
  • Are the focal lengths available for it? Particular mention of Tilt Shift / Perspective Control which are currently not available in a good native format for any mirrorless system.
  • Do you want stabilization in the body?
  • How about burst shooting?
  • Does it fit my post-processing workflow?

What should you not be concerned with?

Any inability to achieve great photos is not the fault of the camera. People have taken great photos with smart phones and toy cameras. Its only if you need something specific that you need to be concerned with that specific thing.

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I'll start with a few comments and perhaps extend them.
I'm a lonnnnng term SLR/DSLR user but had a mirrorless with EVF when they weren't called that (Minolta 7Hi) and of late a Sony NEX5N.

You REALLY want an inbuilt viewfinder. I consider this a major requirement for serious photography. The rear LCD is not a good viewfinder replacement - it will be poor in very bright light and you need to hold the camera at your eye's focusing distance to view it. Ideally you do not want a clip on external viewfinder which is easily dislodged or broken.

Ideally you want an internal flash.

WiFi file transfer is a very good idea. NFC also useful but less so. Ability to be remote controlled over wifi is a useful bonus.

GPS is nice to have Not essential but can be useful.

A control system that suits you. Preferences vary but some are much easier to achieve standard operations with.

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