The best mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras under $500 are most commonly referred to as “the best beginner’s cameras”. That’s a bit condescending, don’t you think? Please rest assured that we would never say something like that. On the contrary, our term for the best mirrorless cameras under $500 is “the best normal people’s cameras”.
Normal people don’t buy big clunky DSLR cameras because half the time they would leave the unwieldy camera at home and fall back on the camera phone (as needed). Normal people also don’t spend more than the federal biweekly minimum wage on a camera – which is $580 and therefore this article is for cameras that cost less than $500 for the body (without kit lenses).
Please don’t think that we think there’s anything wrong with people who choose to spend megabucks on a camera that can only be held with both hands. There’s nothing wrong with them at all, they’re a bit extraordinary in their choices and passion is all.
For the rest of us normal people, we want a camera that’s very easy to use while capable of taking much better pictures and videos than our cell phones. It should be slightly sophisticated so we wouldn’t easily outgrow or become bored with it. Most of all, it has to be affordable so we don’t have to starve to afford it.
Here are our best mirrorless cameras under $500.
The Sony a5000 (the “a” stands for alpha so we won’t repeat it) is somewhat overshadowed by the newer a5100 but we prefer the a5000 for it’s the budget. As of this writing, the MSRP is $450 body only.
The Sony a5000 is the most compact APS-C sized mirrorless camera on the market. The APS-C sensor is as close to full frame as we’re going to get in consumer cameras. It’s the same sensor size as most sub-frame DSLR cameras that can cost way over $1000 – in other words, the kind of cameras that can titillate our extraordinary friends. But let’s get back to the best normal people’s camera.
This camera’s APS-C CMOS sensor packs 20.1MP. There are a handful of camera phones with more than 20.1MP but the sensors are so small that it’d make you wonder why even bother. The fact is you can take much better pictures with the Sony a5000. We won’t get into the technicality of image quality (lest we sound abnormal). Just trust us on this, especially in video capture and low light conditions.
You’ll find all the features that normal people want in the Sony a5000. It has built-in Wi-Fi and NFC for easy transfer. The video mode is 1080P full HD but can be readily compressed to MP4. It has pop-up flash and flip-up LCD screen since all normal people have a need to take selfies and night pictures.
The Nikon 1 J5 is billed as a speed merchant. It has 105 phase-detection AF points for super-fast autofocus and can shoot continuously at a mind-boggling 60 fps!
If you think normal people don’t need this fast continuous shooting mode, think again. Normal people watch sports and you’ll be able to capture the precise moment the ball leaves the quarterback’s hand with this camera. If you prefer ping pong, you’ll be able to capture the precise moment the ball pings off the table and pongs off the bat. Normal people might also own dogs and you’ll be able to capture the precise moment the dog catches its own tail (if that’s possible). The possibilities are endless.
This camera has the Nikon CX CMOS sensor with 20.8MP. The Nikon CX is a 1-inch type sensor at 2.7x crop, which is nearly half as small as the 1.5x crop APS-C. This sensor is still way bigger than the ones found on camera phones and the compatible lenses are also smaller and more affordable. The Nikon 1 J5 uses Nikon’s latest back-side illuminated (BSI) sensor technology for enhanced low light capability and shutter speed.
The Nikon 1 J5 is very easy to use. The touchscreen tilts 180 degrees and the menu system is intuitive enough that you wouldn’t ever have to read the owner’s manual if you know what you’re doing. It has a built-in flash, Wi-Fi, and NFC.
OM-D E-M10 Mark II
(EDIT: The price for this camera will vary depending on availability, but it was under $500 at the time of this writing.)
There’s a chance that OM-D is a play on word on OMG. The user-friendliness and picture quality of the Olympus OM-D cameras will make people say OMG but since this could be offensive to some, OM-D is the more politically correct name.
Anyway, we are a big fan of the OM-D E-M10 Mark II, the best normal people’s camera in the Olympus OM-D series. The sensor size is Micro Four Thirds, the same as higher end OM-D cameras and only about 30% smaller than APS-C. Olympus packs in 16MP and 81 selectable AF points in the E-M10 Mark II’s Live MOS sensor.
The premier features of this camera are the 5-axis image stabilization and 2.3 million dot OLED viewfinder with 0.62x magnification. The awesome 5-axis image stabilization allows you to take sharp pictures nearly every time you point and shoot. This image stabilization works in video mode for capturing good quality video on the move. Unlike other mirrorless cameras, the Olympus E-M10 Mark II’s large and bright viewfinder is a great alternative to the LCD screen.
The burst shooting mode is as fast as 8.5 fps and the Touch AF allows you to tap on the area on the LCD screen you want to focus on with near instant response. Last but not least, there’s a silent shutter mode which is extremely useful for when you need to take pictures without anyone knowing.
The Nikon 1 J5 is the best mirrorless camera under $500 for those who require the fastest burst mode and AF speed. Although it’s getting a bit old, the Sony a5000 remains the best mirrorless camera under $500 in terms of picture quality. The a5000 is a Sony E-mount camera with a wide array of compatible lenses. On the other hand, there’s a much more limited selection of lenses for the Nikon 1 J5 but at the same time, the lenses are a lot more affordable.
As for the best of the best mirrorless camera under $500, our pick is the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II. This compact camera is fast, loaded with features, and takes an excellent picture every time. The availability of compatible lenses is a given since it is part of the Olympus OM-D series.