The best system camera for less than 1,000 dollars for us is the Sony Alpha 6300. The successor of our previous top recommendation Alpha 6000 convinced with a handy housing, well-thought-out features, posh image quality and a brisk auto focus.
Handy as a compact camera, while flexible and with the image quality of a digital SLR (DSLR) – these are the advantages of mirrorless system cameras, also called DSLM.
As with a DSLR, you can also change the lens with a mirrorless system camera: For example, use a wide-angle lens to capture a wide landscape, and use a telephoto lens to get in touch with the church tower on the horizon or a deer at the edge of the forest.
In terms of price, system cameras, as well as SLR cameras, can really shoot up. But there are already models for less than 1,000 dollars, which are completely sufficient for amateurs. We took a closer look at 15 cameras. The most important difference lies with the respective operating concept.
Short overview: Our recommendations
Whether fast action photos, unplanned snapshots or shots at dusk and at night are required: The Sony Alpha 6300 copes with any task with flying colors. Their very high continuous shooting rate definitely starts the decisive moment in sports and the autofocus reacts to every situation with lightning speed. Although other cameras can do that too, none is as easy to use for less experienced photographers as the Alpha 6300.
The autofocus of the Fujifilm X-T20 is also very fast sharp, continuous shooting takes them even with a slightly higher speed. Their image quality is practically no worse than that of the Alpha 6300. However, the operating concept of the X-T20 clearly targets experienced photographers. It takes time until you can deal with such a camera blindly.
If you ‘re looking for a compact camera, keep an eye out for the brand new Panasonic Lumix DC-GX9 . Although it has a slightly smaller image sensor than most of the cameras in our test field, you hardly notice that in everyday shots. Only in low light conditions, the GX9 falls behind compared to cameras with a larger sensor.
There are unique in the GX9 a folding viewfinder, connectivity to the smartphone via Bluetooth and a number of clever automatic functions. Not to forget: A very effective image stabilizer is also on board.
If the image quality is the most important thing for you, then there is currently no way around the Sony Alpha 7 over. It is still the only system camera for well below $ 1,000 that has a large full-frame sensor. This is easy to see when shooting – especially when high ISO values are required in low light. However, the Alpha 7 is more suitable for the quiet, deliberate photography: Your autofocus is not the fastest, with continuous shooting is rather slow and there is not an integrated image stabilizer.
Very much for the money you get with the Alpha 6000, the Sony has in the program. Although our former favorite is not that fast in comparison, she still plays a leading role in image quality. In addition, it is well equipped and offers a slightly more handy housing than the Alpha 6300. And all that for not even 500 dollars.
What makes a good camera?
A good system camera does not have to cost more than 580 dollars, while top models scratch the 2,200 dollar mark – and professionals can even spend more than 5,700 dollars on a mirror-less model. Each without lens, mind you!
In our test we limited ourselves to models up to around 1,000 dollars (without lens). Particularly cheap mirrorless system cameras are even available for less than 450 dollars. Is the price difference noticeable?
A camera twice as expensive as another does not automatically make twice as good pictures. But in detail, it simply offers more than the cheap models, such as a higher burst rate: Our top recommendation, the Sony Alpha 6300 , takes up to 11 frames per second, the Fujifilm X-T20 even pulls up to 15 frames per second by. Both cameras can also adjust the focus for each image. This is important in sports recordings, if you want to photograph your youngest in football at the crucial moment. But even if you like taking snapshots, you benefit from a fast autofocus.
If you are traveling with your camera or traveling a lot, it should also be particularly sturdy. Well protected against wind and weather is for example the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 .
Also handy for traveling is a GPS receiver in the camera. He saves the location of each shot, so you always know later, where you have taken which photo. Although hardly any manufacturer builds GPS into the camera today, the newest models instead use Bluetooth to contact a smartphone and obtain the location data from it. For example, the Panasonic DC-GX9 and the Canon EOS M50.
Not only the resolution is important
With cheaper cameras, the functionality is often slimmed down somewhat – for example, with restrictions on bracketing or video recordings. For this they are sometimes provided with particularly practical features for beginners – such as the Olympus OM-D E-M10 III . Or the manufacturer has put a lot of effort into the design of the camera – an example of this is the Olympus Pen E-PL8.
You will not have to compromise on the functionality of Canon’s brand-new EOS M50 . It films on request in high 4K resolution and offers a fast burst rate of 10 frames per second. Unfortunately, her battery only holds for 235 photos.
Incidentally, the number of megapixels alone says little about the image quality, especially since all cameras in our test field with at least 16 megapixels provide a sufficiently high resolution, even for large format prints. The same applies to the video resolution: 4K resolution sounds impressive at first, but it’s only of use to you if you also have a 4K TV and places high demands on your laptop or PC during video editing and post-processing.
An interesting option for 4K video is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 and the Lumix DC-GX9. This allows you to extract still images from the video directly in the camera – with at least a good 8 megapixel resolution. With such cameras you can shoot at the same time and make beautiful photos.
Test winner: Sony Alpha 6300
The Sony Alpha 6300 is a camera for amateurs and professionals alike. It is very well equipped, but thanks to its clear automatic mode, it can also be easily operated by amateur and occasional photographers.
The image quality of the Alpha 6300 is impressive. Recordings of the camera can be printed in posh quality in poster size. Even in low light conditions, we were able to achieve high-contrast and detailed images with the Alpha 6300.
A good camera should adapt to you – and not the other way around. That makes both the Alpha 6300 and the predecessor Alpha 6000 quite outstanding. There are really many buttons and buttons, which you can prove with a function according to your taste. It’s a bit of a hassle at the beginning, but it’s rewarded because it gives you instant access to your favorite settings.
However, buttons that you do not immediately consider, for which they are good, are not for everyone. If you do not want to configure your camera big, you should take a look at the two models from Fujifilm. With the X-T20 and the X-E3, there are dedicated controls for the basic functions.
An operating concept for beginners and professionals alike
The smaller the camera, the more fiddly the buttons and switches are. Especially annoying are too small controls in winter, if you wear gloves. Then the particularly compact cameras like the two Olympus models can no longer be operated well. For the small system cameras scores, if the photo bag is to remain particularly small.
With some cameras you can take pictures like with a smartphone. A double tipper on the display is enough and the recording is triggered. Unfortunately, our top recommendation, the Sony Alpha 6300, can not. If you value it, the Fujifilm cameras but also the Olympus OM-D E-M10 III or the Canon EOS M5 and the Canon EOS M50 are the better choice for you.
You also want to photograph from an unusual perspective? With the camera upside down or with a frog’s eye? Then the display should move as freely as possible. That goes for example with the Canon EOS M50. It even lets you swivel the monitor forward and see you when you look at the camera, which is important if you take more pictures or film yourself. Incidentally, the Panasonic Lumix DC-GX9 is the only camera that allows the viewfinder to flip up. This makes them ideal for taking pictures of children at eye level.
Sensor size and resolution
The Sony Alpha 6300 has 24 megapixel resolution. There is no more camera in the test field – but most of them are no less. Only the models from Olympus have to be content with about 16 megapixels and also the Panasonic devices do not come to 24 megapixels.
That just the Olympus cameras do not have so many pixels, is no coincidence: your image sensor is namely much smaller than the rest of the cameras. Although this allows for small, compact cameras and correspondingly handy and lightweight lenses, the image quality suffers somewhat from the smaller sensor area. But as long as you do not take pictures in dark rooms most of the time at night or without a flash, that’s no problem.
Compact with small sensor – but the picture quality suffers
16 megapixels are just enough to print A2-size posters with pin-sharp clarity. However, many reserves for image crops are no longer there. And one more thing to keep in mind: The Olympus and Panasonic cameras follow the Micro Four Third standard. By default, they shoot photos in 4: 3 aspect ratio. Although they also dominate other recording formats like the usual 3: 2 – but then resolution is lost.
The best ratio of sensor size and resolution is offered by Sony’s Alpha 7 . Your small image sensor is twice as large as the sensors in the APS-C format of most cameras in the test field. You can see that too – but only if really high ISO values are required. In return, the lenses for the Alpha 7 are comparatively large and heavy, for holiday and travel photographers a significant disadvantage.
Once again, Olympus and Panasonic cameras offer a clear advantage. Your Micro Four Thirds sensor is smaller than the rest of the cameras, so the lenses are also handy and compact. This is particularly evident in the Panasonic Lumix DC-GX9, but also the Olympus OM-D E-M10II is a very handy camera.
Continuous frame rate and autofocus
Have you ever caught the moment when the dog catches the ball? This is a challenge even for professional photographers. Who is not practiced, just lets the camera down fast series of pictures down – then there will be the decisive moment.
Fast series of series can almost all cameras in the test field. But every single picture should also be sharp – because it comes in addition to a particularly brisk autofocus. And just with such a combination of high burst rate and fast-paced autofocus, the Alpha 6300 scores particularly well. The two cameras from Fujifilm still make a few more pictures per second. In practice, however, such a slow increase in speed hardly makes itself felt.
On some cameras, the burst rate goes down if you want to focus your autofocus continuously. These include the Panasonic Lumix DC-GX9 and the Canon EOS M50 . But that does not have to be a disadvantage in general: with low continuous shooting speed, more pictures fit into the buffer memory. The camera lasts longer before stuttering.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 even gets 25 frames per second, but only with a trick: It simply films instead of taking photos. With a smart feature, you then extract the best image from the movie. Disadvantage: the picture quality is by far not as high as in a photograph.
With the system cameras from the test field, you can also record videos in impressive quality. All cameras are capable of at least Full HD resolution (except the Olympus Pen E-PL8), the better movies even in 4K. However, the high 4K resolution only gives you something if you also have a corresponding TV set. In addition, the post-processing of 4K material is significantly more complex than in full HD recordings.
If 4K is important to you, watch out for a high frame rate. Our favorite, the Sony Alpha 6300 , creates a frame rate of 30 frames per second – even fast movements are smoothly reproduced. The Fujifilm X-A5, however, comes in 4K recordings only at 15 frames per second, as the film already jerky visible. The X-A5 in our test field is the smallest camera with an APS-C sensor.
4K is not always useful
If you want good video, you should not just look at the resolution. It is also important here a fast autofocus, so that the camera pulls the sharpness swiftly when you pan. Also, the point goes back to the Alpha 6300 from Sony , but also the X-t20 and the X-E3 from Fujifilm are good here – and also film in 4K.
And something else is important when recording video: The picture should be as calm as possible. If you do not want to mount your camera on a tripod, you need an effective image stabilizer, either in the lens or in the camera. Also a combination of both is possible – that is only available in our test field from Panasonic and Olympus.
An image stabilizer in the lens can be found in almost all manufacturers. In the case of the Sony Alpha 6300 lenses, for example, recognizable by the suffix “OSS”.
The big advantage of a mirrorless system camera: You can change the lens. How to quickly adapt the device to your subject. For example with a macro lens for the close-up of a butterfly, a wide-angle lens to capture the widest possible landscape with an image, or a telephoto lens that picks up on the distant as if it were within reach. Of course, all system cameras in our test field also have so-called “continuous zoom”, covering the widest possible focal length range from wide-angle to telephoto.
The lens offer varies significantly depending on the manufacturer
Especially large is the range of suitable lenses for the cameras from Olympus and Panasonic. Because they both follow the Micro Four Third standard, so lenses and camera from both manufacturers always match.
But also for the cameras from Sony, our test winner Alpha 6300and the Alpha 6000 , there is a large selection of suitable lenses. Even more lavish is the range for the X-T20 and X-E3 from Fujifilm – their lenses are usually very high quality.
For the mirrorless Canon, however, there are very few matching lenses. This restricts the possible uses of the cameras.
Incidentally, they are not set to the camera manufacturer’s lenses on most systems. Other manufacturers also offer suitable systems for many cameras. Sigma for Micro-Four-Thirds or Zeiss for Sony and Fujifilm.
Sony Alpha 6300 in the test mirror
Although the Alpha 6300 is not free of criticisms, in the sum of its properties, however, it is the best mirrorless system camera, which is available for less than 1,000 dollars. Not only the picture quality inspires me in my review for Photoscala (05/2016), but also the autofocus:
“There is no doubt, however, that the alpha 6300’s autofocus is the best one can get with a mirrorless system camera. Can see the range of functions of the Alpha 6300, I would like to at least rudimentary image editing options in the playback menu. On the credit side, the Alpha 6300 also records a very good electronic viewfinder, which even thanks to its live image display with fast continuous shooting one of the last advantages of a classic DSLR viewfinder equalized. And then there’s the camera’s excellent video capabilities, which a photographer who does not need them pays dearly. “
The Stiftung Warentest (05/2016) rated the Sony also with “good”. Especially the handling and the picture quality convinced.
“Good small system camera with very good electronic viewfinder, large image converter and network function. Good monitor to flip, fast camera, basic handles work easy. Disadvantage: relatively expensive.”
The testers of AVF image (01/2017), the Sony is also very good:
“The Sony Alpha 6300 shows that fast cameras do not have to be big and bulky. Speed and stamina are high in photo series. The autofocus with more fields works even more crisp on photos and videos than on the cheaper alphas. Videos are also available from the 6300 in ultra-high 4K resolution.”
Also tester Sven Schulz of Computerbild (06/2016) praises the fast autofocus and the picture quality of the Sony and comes to an overall grade of 2.12. In a recent February 2017 test, the rating did not change.
“The Sony Alpha 6300 shows that fast cameras do not have to be big and bulky. When powering up, the system camera takes a little bit of time, after which it reacts at lightning speed. In series, tempo and endurance are high, the autofocus but the sharpness is not quite as accurate as an expensive professional DSLR. But the autofocus works jerkily synonymous with videos. And they look really good with 4K resolution and high data rate. Good: The large sensor not only delivers great images in daylight, but also ensures high image quality in the case of dim light.”
Moritz Wanke of CHIP (03/2016) is also thrilled with the Alpha 6300 . His conclusion is simply:
“Conclusion: The Sony Alpha 6300 (a6300) convinces in the test across the board. The image quality of the 24 megapixels like it even at high ISO. The extensive equipment including Ultra HD leaves little to be missed. And the speed is at its highest level. Only an integrated image stabilizer as well as a touchscreen would have been desired by some to perfection.”
The Foto Magazin (12/2016) also has only words of praise left. Overall, the Alpha 6300 scored very well at 88 percent. The testers especially liked the speed of the camera and the equipment. But also the good handling earned points.
The Alpha 6300 has also convinced the international trade press. For example, the American online magazine DrPreview (04/2016) gave her a rare “Gold Award”. The testers justify the high distinction:
“The Alpha 6300 is an incredibly powerful camera, whether you’re shooting photos or videos.Their image quality raises the bar in their class, their autofocus is very impressive and their 4K videos are second to none.”
The online magazine Imaging Resource finds one or the other point of criticism, but is also very pleased with the bottom line of the Alpha 6300. The testers highlight in their conclusion the image and video quality, as well as the autofocus performance. Also emphasized is the very good price-performance ratio, which incidentally has become even better.
The Sony Alpha 6300 is for us the best system camera for under 1,000 dollars for most. But who sets his priorities differently or perhaps puts emphasis on a touch operation, which will be more familiar with our alternatives.
The X-T20 from Fujifilm can be operated with fingertips and wipers on the display. This even works in the very clear quick menu with its large setting fields – great!
The X-T20 looks a bit like a good old SLR from the previous century. The retro design is a trademark of Fujifilm. You can feel that as “classical” or as “old school”, that’s a matter of taste. At any rate, state-of-the-art technology is under the hood.
Thus, the viewfinder bucket accommodates a board lightning, which can be unfolded and activated with its own lever. In fact, the X-T20 has its own control for almost every function. For example, a dial with which you can set the exposure time – just like back then.
What the X-T20 lacks is a mode dial that quickly changes the basic operating states of the camera. This makes it especially easy for beginners and less experienced photographers to get along straight away with the X-T20. However, if you have already photographed decades ago, the Fujifilm X-T20 with its analogue operating concept is ideal for you.
Technically she is on par with our favorite. Especially their very high continuous shooting rate of 14 frames / second paired with a brisk autofocus surprised us positively in the test. This makes the X-T20 absolutely snapshot-ready and cuts a fine figure even in sports and action photos. And like the Alpha 6300, it has a folding display that facilitates overhead and ground-level photos.
The image quality reaches a very high level – especially if you adjust the image processing by the camera something. Then the pictures are very detailed and crisp, even if slightly higher ISO values are needed in dwindling light. The Fujifilm X-T20 also gives the photographer plenty of space for creative games. For example, the image looks of various analogue films can be simulated – of course only those of Fujifilm.
With the brand new Lumix DC-GX9 Panasonic delivers a very compact system camera, which has much to offer. About an integrated image stabilizer, which allows up to four times longer exposure times. Or 4K video recordings at 30 frames per second.
The DC-GX9 scores with features that are especially interesting when traveling. It connects not only via WiFi but also via Bluetooth with a smartphone; On request, it then automatically transfers each recording to the mobile phone. From there you can easily distribute the photos via email or Facebook & Co. From the smartphone, the GX9 also gets the GPS data.
Panasonic has managed to accommodate even a small on-board flash. He just jumps out when needed and should not be enough his power once, can also connect a system flash to the GX9. But even without a flash, she still takes good pictures in low light. Thanks to its powerful image stabilizer, you can shoot up to four times longer exposure times without blurring the shots. This helps to keep the ISO sensitivity and thus image noise low.
Although the case of the Lumix is quite small, Panasonic has provided the camera with sufficient controls. So you switch important modes, such as the autofocus, quickly switch and do not need to take a long trip to the camera menu. The image sensor dissolves very high at around 20 megapixels. However, the Ensor in Micro Four Thirds format is smaller than about our test winner. This is especially noticeable when you take pictures in low light. Nocturnal city scenes or photos in dark churches are not quite as successful with the GX9 .
The small deficiency but makes up for it with the huge lens offer again. Incidentally, all lenses from Olympus and, vice versa, the Panasonic lenses also fit on the Olympus cameras.
Sony Alpha 7
If you like picture quality, Sony’s Alpha 7 is unrivaled in the test field. Thanks to its large full-size sensor, it dissolves fine details even more meticulously than its half-format sister Alpha 6300. The quality advantage is particularly noticeable in low light conditions when higher ISO numbers are required – for example at dusk or in dimly lit rooms.
Although the case of the Alpha 7 is slightly larger than that of most other cameras in the test field, it fits perfectly in the hand. But that is necessary because the lenses are sometimes quite heavy and heavy.
The Alpha 7 is currently the cheapest full-frame camera ever. She is now available for well below 1,000 dollars. In our test field, there may be cameras that focus faster and take more pictures per second – in terms of image quality but no other Alpha 7 can reach the water.
The operation Sony has solved similarly clever as our test winner. Because the case of the full-frame camera is slightly larger, there are even a few more freely configurable buttons more. The camera really adapts to the user – not the other way around.
When it comes to video recording, the Alpha 7 is no longer up to date. After all: Full HD resolution with 60 frames per second, she also creates. Just a pity that you lack an image stabilizer.
The Alpha 6000 from Sony has long been our leaderboard, now it is our price-performance recommendation. Still top is the picture quality, which is hardly worse than our test winner. It also scores with a compact, lightweight housing.
However, the Alpha 6000 does not look as good as most of the other cameras we’ve tested. Not that it would look choppy, but the Fujifilm machines, for example, look more noble. The Alpha 6000 is not particularly protected against dust or splash water. And in comparison to her successor model she lacks an important feature: the electronic spirit level. It helps you to photograph, to align the camera exactly horizontally.
That the Alpha 6000 films only in Full HD, you can get over in view of their low price. Likewise, the lack of image stabilizer – there is Sony in the lens.