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With more advanced features, state-of-the-art new technologies, and more compact dimensions, mirrorless cameras are becoming the premier choice for travel photographers all over the world. And while it hasn’t happened fully yet, DSLRs are beginning to go the way of the dinosaurs.
While it’s true that mobile phones can take incredible photos these days, there is really no comparison to a dedicated camera. This is especially true after dark, when you have to resort to using that tiny little flash in order to get a clear picture.
But choosing the best mirrorless camera for travel is no easy task. There are so many things to consider, like the feature set, ease of use, lens options, and most importantly—price.
What is a Mirrorless Camera?
Let’s start with a brief introduction. Without getting too technical, a mirrorless camera is a camera that doesn’t use a mirror to record an image.
The humble DSLR uses a mirror to reflect the image up into the viewfinder (so you can see it), and moves the mirror out the way very quickly so that light can pass via the lens to the camera sensor.
In a mirrorless camera, there is no mirror (duh!), so a photo can be taken without any ‘obstruction’ between the viewer’s eye and the sensor.
Since the mirror takes up a large amount of space within DSLRs, without it, a camera can be much smaller in size.
That’s what makes a mirrorless camera so perfect for travel photography.
It seems that mirrorless cameras are the future, so let’s dive into which ones you should consider packing for your next trip.
The Best Mirrorless Cameras for Travel
Okay, I know. The ‘best’ is subjective, especially when it comes to reviews on the Internet.
I’ve written lots of posts on the Shotkit blog that revolve around “the best this” and “the best that,” and while they’re all very popular (check out the best cameras under $500 and the best camera bags for a couple that you should find useful) at the end of the day, it’s just an opinion.
There is no right answer. There is only a right answer for you.
When it comes time to make a purchase, since the primary buying factor is, more often than not, price, I’ve arranged this list of the best mirrorless cameras for travel based on what each one of these puppies will set you back.
Sony a5100: The Best Mirrorless Camera for Travel If You’re on a Budget
Even though it was introduced a few years ago, the Sony a5100 is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and it’s not going to break the bank. It’s a small, lightweight compact camera with advanced features and amazing image quality—especially for a camera at this price point.
Sony is a popular manufacturer of compact cameras, and their line of mirrorless cameras is becoming the new standard for professional photographers. The Sony a5100 has stood the test of time as one of the best mirrorless cameras for travel.
Key features of the Sony a5100:
- 24-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor
- Bionz X image processor
- Hybrid AF system with 25 contrast-detect and 179 phase-detect points
- 6 fps continuous shooting with subject-tracking
- 3-inch tilting LCD with 921,600 dots and touch functionality
- Built-in GN4 flash
- Full HD video recording at 1080/60p and 24p with XAVC S support
- Simultaneous recording of 1080p and 720p video
- Wi-Fi with NFC capability and downloadable apps
The Sony a5100 comes standard with a 16-50mm f/3.5-6.5 lens. If you’re interested in shooting landscapes, the wide angle of the 16mm is exactly what you need. And if you’re more interested in shooting portraits and people, 50mm is the perfect focal length, providing the least amount of distortion.
Sony lenses are known to be expensive, though, so keep that in mind if you plan to expand your set of lenses.
The two feature that makes the Sony a5100 a great mirrorless camera for travel are most notably the Autofocus (AF) system and the tilting LCD screen.
Being able to capture all the action, no matter how fast, is an important piece of functionality to have in a camera, especially if you’re shooting street photography. The a5100 has 179 phase detect AF points covering 92% of the frame—in layman’s terms, the autofocus is really good at tracking moving subjects across almost the entire frame
As for the tilting LCD screen, not only does this allow you to capture some unique and creative angles on your shots, it also means it’s much easier to compose and shoot selfies… and let’s face it, we all love shooting selfies!
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II: The Best Moderately-Priced Mirrorless Camera for Travel
This was a hard one to pick since there are so many fantastic mirrorless cameras out there in this price range. The other two cameras I might pick as the best for travel photography in this price range are the Fujifilm X-T20 ($1,200) and the Sony a6300 ($1,050).
Fujifilm tends to rule the roost for a lot of the best mirrorless cameras, but here I’ve decided to choose a camera that’s a little closer to my heart.
I took the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with me on my first family holiday in Europe to write a review for Shotkit, and it blew me away.
Here are some of the key features of this camera:
- 16-megapixel four-thirds CMOS sensor
- 40-megapixel multi-exposure mode
- 1080/60p shooting and 1080/30p at up to 77Mbps (All-I)
- Improved 5-axis image stabilization in both stills and movie modes
- 10fps continuous shooting, 5fps with AF
- 1/8000th sec maximum shutter speed (1/16000th with electronic shutter)
- Built-in Wi-Fi
- Rotating touchscreen LCD screen
- Clip-on rotating, (bounceable) flash
The thing that impressed me most about this Olympus was the speed—both in the autofocus and in the operation in general.
Mirrorless cameras are known to be a little slouchy when it comes to autofocus (especially in low light), but the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II proved to be lightning fast. Being able to use the touchscreen LCD to take photos just by tapping on the subject is a real game changer, and it makes taking incognito photos while traveling super easy.
The Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II doesn’t come standard with a lens (it’s $900 for just the body), but the seemingly obvious choice is the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 EZ lens, which runs for $500.
Since the Olympus is a Micro Four Thirds camera, the 12-50mm is actually equivalent to 24-100mm, which is great as an all-rounder lens. However, with an aperture range of f/3.5-6.3, you’ll be limited to using this lens during daylight, or at least with the flash at night.
For a more well-rounded lens, you’ll want the 12-40mm f/2.8, which has an equivalent focal length of 24-80mm. This lens is weather sealed and operates well in low-light, but the price might get you—the whole package costs $1,800. And if you’re spending that, you might as well look at the next option…
Fujifilm X-T2: The Best High(er)-Priced Mirrorless Camera for Travel
Depending on your budget, you may be able to stretch to the awesome Fujifilm X-T2 as your mirrorless camera of choice. It’s a hugely popular camera for both hobbyists and professional photographers, despite its somewhat expensive price tag (though in the world of cameras, the price tag still isn’t all that much!).
Let’s have a quick look at the key features of this camera:
- 24.3-megapixel X-Trans CMOS III sensor
- 325 AF points (169 of which offer phase detection)
- AF point selection joystick
- 36M-dot OLED EVF with 0.005 sec refresh time (60 fps or 100 fps in boost mode)
- 3″ 1.04M-dot articulating LCD
- 4K UHD video at up to 30 fps for up to 10 min (30 min with booster grip)
- F-Log flat profile and 4K out over HDMI
- 8 fps continuous shooting with AF (11 fps with booster grip)
- 5 fps continuous shooting with live view updates between capture
- 14 fps continuous shooting with electronic shutter
- Dual SD card slots (UHS-II compatible)
- USB 3.0 socket
That’s a long list of impressive stats, but the ones I’d like to draw the most attention to are the sensor and the autofocus.
Fujifilm’s 24-megapixel X-Trans CMOS III sensor delivers incredible image quality and combined with the X-T2’s powerful processor and speedy autofocus, this is one mirrorless camera that has really shaken up the DSLR market.
The Fujifilm X-T2 stands toe-to-toe with some of the much more expensive professional cameras, and due to its compact size, it delivers the best size-to-feature ratio in this class.
In fact, the features themselves are on par with some cameras that cost twice the price!
Fujifilm lenses are another selling point of this camera, since they cost about 2/3 the price of their main competitor: Sony. If you’re looking to expand your lens kit, the Fujifilm X-mount lenses will go easy (ahem…easier) on your wallet.
Fujifilm is also well known for their incredible color replication. So, if you want vibrant landscape shots straight out of the camera, Fujifilm is your man.
Final Words on Choosing the Best Mirrorless Camera for Travel
I’ve only scraped the surface on the topic of mirrorless cameras, and introducing just three of the best is really only the tip of the iceberg. These are my top choices, but if you decide to keep researching, take it from me—the rabbit hole is deep.
When it comes to mirrorless cameras for travel, size is the guiding factor. Anything in a higher class than the X-T2 is going to be either too expensive, too specialized, or too big.
I’ve used many different mirrorless cameras over the years, and personally, I settled with one that I didn’t even include in this post, the Fuji X100F (check out my Fuji X100F review to find out why).
This just goes to show that the “best” mirrorless camera is different for all of us.
When it comes to picking the best mirrorless camera for travel, though, heed this important advice: find a camera that’s lightweight and compact enough that can take it out with you every single day, much like your mobile phone.
There’s an old adage amongst photographers: the best camera is the one that you have with you. And as Wayne Gretzky once said, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take! So whichever mirrorless camera you choose, just get out there and start shooting.
If you’re interested in learning more about photography and camera gear, be sure to sign up for the free Shotkit newsletter, where you’ll receive over 30 free photography books as a special gift. Happy snapping!