Before we go through our suggestions of the best mirrorless cameras for travel photography, we wanted to do a quick “mirrorless camera 101”, so you understand what a mirrorless camera is, how it differs from other types of cameras, and why you might want to consider this sort of camera for your travel photography needs.
A mirrorless camera is similar in many ways to larger SLR or DSLR cameras, but as the name suggests, it doesn’t have a mirror inside.
To explain what difference this makes, it’s worth understanding what an SLR is. An SLR, or single lens reflex camera, is a common camera design that has been around for decades. When digital sensors replaced film, the design of cameras remained largely the same. The main difference being that the film inside the camera was replaced by a digital sensor, and the letter “D” for digital was attached to SLR, to make it a DSLR.
Both SLRs and DSLRs have a mirror inside them. This reflects the light coming in through the lens and up to the cameras optical viewfinder, which is the part of the camera you look through to compose the image. When you press the shutter button to take the image, the mirror flips up and the light passes through the shutter curtain and onto the sensor.
A mirrorless camera, as the name suggests, removes this reflex mirror. This means that the camera can be smaller, as the mirror mechanism takes up a fair bit of space and adds a bit of weight. It also means that you can’t have an optical viewfinder in a mirrorless camera, as there’s no device to direct the light.
In a mirrorless camera, the imaging sensor is exposed to light directly when the shutter is open. This allows you to have a digital preview of your image through an electronic viewfinder and/or a rear liquid crystal display (LCD) screen. This allows you to see on the screen exactly what the image you capture will look like.
Otherwise, a mirrorless camera is quite similar to a DSLR in terms of features, from interchangeable lenses through to having larger sensors and capable performance.
It’s worth pointing out that smartphone cameras, compact cameras (aka “point and shoot cameras), and action cameras like GoPros also do not have flipping mirrors inside of them. However, the term “mirrorless” is used specifically for a type of camera that is similar to DSLR, but without the mirror or optical viewfinder feature, but is otherwise similar in terms of features and performance.
A Micro Four Thirds camera is a type of mirrorless camera. The term Micro Four Thirds refers to the size of the sensor inside the camera. So whilst all micro four thirds cameras that we know of on the market today are mirrorless cameras, not all mirrorless cameras are micro four thirds.
Mirrorless cameras come with a variety of sensor sizes, which include micro four thirds, APS-C, full frame, and even medium format.
The size of the sensor inside the camera affects both performance and image quality. As a general rule of thumb, the larger the sensor, the larger the camera, and the better the camera will perform in lower light. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, and different cameras featuring different sensor technology manufacturing techniques will perform differently.
Mirrorless cameras came about in response to consumer demand for a camera that offered great image quality and the ability to change lenses, but in a smaller and lighter package than a DSLR.
As a result, this means that for many travelers they are the perfect travel camera, as they take up less space, while still offering many, if not all, of the benefits of a DSLR.
However, they are still more bulky than a smartphone or compact camera, and are still relatively expensive. In many cases mirrorless cameras are as expensive, or more expensive, than a DSLR.
A mirrorless camera offers far greater image quality than a smartphone, with features including interchangeable lenses, a larger sensor, full manual controls and RAW file support.
However, the advantages come at the cost of increased size and weight, a steeper learning curve in becoming proficient in using them, and generally at a higher cost. You also need to purchase a standalone camera to use in addition to your cell phone.
Compact cameras, or point-and-shoot cameras, are for the most part designed to be a trade-off between portability and image quality. They are smaller, lighter, less expensive, and easier to use than most mirrorless cameras. You can slip most point and shoot cameras into a pocket quite easily, as the lenses collapse away.
A mirrorless camera will offer larger sensors than the majority of point and shoot camera, as well as increased manual controls, improved image quality, RAW file support, and the option to change lenses.
However, there are some high-end compact cameras available with more advanced features including manual controls and RAW file support. Take a look at our recommendations for the best compact cameras for travel if you think this might be better for you.
Mirrorless cameras are rapidly starting to replace DSLR cameras as the go-to camera for travel photographers. This is because they generally offer the same feature set and image quality, but in a smaller package.
The key difference between a mirrorless camera and a DSLR is that a mirrorless camera does not have an optical viewfinder, instead it has a screen or electronic viewfinder. The advantage is that the electronic viewfinder will accurately represent the image you can take. The disadvantage is that powering a screen all the time takes up a lot of power, so you will generally need more spare batteries for a mirrorless camera than a DSLR.
Mirrorless cameras are also in many cases more expensive than DSLR cameras, especially at the entry level. They also generally have a smaller selection of lenses than most DSLRs.
If DSLR cameras sound appealing, you can see our guide to the best DSLR cameras for travel.
Here are the general advantages of a mirrorless camera:
Here are the main disadvantages of a mirrorless camera: