Why I Chose a Mirrorless Camera (Some Anecdotal Advice for Selecting Your First Camera)

Camera shopping is intimidating.

If you’re new to the game and don’t know what image sensor size or ISO have to do with anything, and you don’t know what you want out of a camera other than really good pictures (that was me, three months ago), it can be downright overwhelming.

And before you even get to comparing specifications—24.1 MB. 16 MB. APC-S Sensor. Micro Four-Thirds. Hybrid AF system with 25 contrast-detect and 179 phase-detect points—you have to figure out what kind of camera you want. A cost-effective point-and-shoot, a compact but powerful mirrorless camera, a big bad DSLR…

In this post, I’ll share some of the thought processes and research I went through in choosing my Sony a6000 mirrorless camera. Everyone shopping for a new camera has to figure out what is best for them, of course—and I’d recommend doing a lot more research on the topic before you decide—but I hope that my experience will help new or inexperienced camera-buyers identify some of the factors that go into finding the right camera for you.

I’ll start with the first big step in my process—

Why I Chose to Go Mirrorless

When I started entertaining the idea of buying a camera, I arbitrarily set my budget around $200-300—but that number quickly rose. You can get such good pictures on your phone nowadays, and I decided that if I was going to spend money anyway, I might as well spend a bit more and get something really worthwhile. Otherwise, I’d probably default back to using my phone 90% of the time anyway.

My Initial Camera Wish List
  • Good image quality. Not necessarily pro quality, but better than what a phone or <$100 camera could get me.
  • Transportable. Something that wouldn’t weigh me down when hiking, traveling, chasing kiddos, etc.
  • Easy to use manual controls

I was mostly looking at point-and-shoot cameras, and vaguely entertaining the idea of getting a DSLR. There’s some intersection of budgets there—you can find some entry-level DSLR cameras for less than high-quality point-and-shoots.

But I had used DSLR cameras before at work and knew that they’re quite large and very inconvenient to carry around. I wanted a camera to take traveling, hiking, sightseeing, plus I figured I’d get some mileage out of it at family gatherings (as you can see in Episode 1.2, my nieces and nephews are utterly adorable and photo-worthy). I did not want a giant albatross around my neck for any of these things.

And then, somewhere in my research process, I came across a reference to mirrorless cameras.

Okay, Google: What in the world are mirrorless cameras?

At last, I found my middle ground. Mirrorless cameras offered comparable image quality and creative control as DSLRs, for similar (slightly lower) prices, and in a much smaller package.

I don’t want to get too technical here (I’ll leave that to the experts), but basically DSLRs are like the digital versions of classic film cameras. They have a series of mirrors inside to record images and allow the photographer to see exactly what their camera is seeing in real time.

Mirrorless cameras, as you might guess, do not have mirrors, which dramatically cuts back on the size of the camera. You rely on an electronic view to see what you’re shooting, which diehards might scoff at. Coming from phones and—before that—cheap, pocketable cameras with only an LCD screen on the back, this made no difference to me whatsoever.

Mirrorless cameras satisfied my initial camera wish list for good image quality, transportability, and creative control. As soon as I started looking into mirrorless options, I was pretty much sold.

Of course, I then had a whole plethora of mirrorless cameras to choose from—but I’ll save that for another post.

If my little anecdote has peaked your interest and you would like to keep learning about your more advanced camera options, I recommend this article from TomsGuide.com, which offers a very easy-to-understand explanation of the different camera types, and this one for a more detailed head-to-head comparison of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.

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