by Dave Etchells

posted Monday, November 24, 2014 at 7:00 PM EDT




Is this "the year of mirrorless"? It might well be, with a literally unprecedented array of capable, affordable models available. While DSLRs still command the bulk of sales, mirrorless cameras' svelte size and excellent image quality are drawing more and more fans as time goes on. As we wrote in an article earlier this year, all of us at IR actually own and shoot with at least one of each type, and feel both have their place, but there's no denying that there are some really superb mirrorless cameras on the market, to be had at some incredible prices this holiday season!

On the first page of this little "best-of" trilogy, we unveiled our picks for the best DSLR systems at this price point. Now, we'll take a turn around the mirrorless world, and look at five phenomenal packages for the same $1,000 price point. Note that there are some important differences in not only the cameras, but the packages we've assembled around them, so read on to see which one best suits your own taste and shooting style!

Options by Dave Pardue and William Brawley

Best mirrorless camera and lens combination

Sony A6000 with 16-50mm PZ kit lens + 50mm f/1.8 prime lens

No camera in recent years has been remotely close to as popular with our readers as the Sony A6000, and for good reason. To quote our review: "The Sony A6000 is a very versatile mid-level to advanced camera, able to handle everything from high-resolution landscape shooting to family vacations and fast-moving sports. It's easy to carry, a strong performer, a pleasure to use, and, best of all, at around US$700 with a lens, it's a pretty fantastic value."

And to quote Eamon Hickey, one of our most experienced camera reviewers: "All in all, I think Sony has a real hit with the Alpha 6000. It offers a good, advanced user interface, with previous flaws (from the NEX-6) now fixed, excellent versatility, very good overall performance, highly competitive autofocus for both stationary and moving subjects, excellent video capabilities and great images. What's more, it's all wrapped up in a very compact package at a terrific price, and that's a pretty compelling recipe."

What's even better is that with the street price of the camera and 16-50mm PZ kit lens, you'll have about $300 left over from your G-note, allowing you to add the Sony 50mm f/1.8 prime lens to your arsenal. With a 75mm eq. focal range and a relatively fast aperture you'll be "primed" for great portrait shooting at a fantastic price. Head to our lens testing site for more on the 50mm f/1.8, and for (much) more on the Sony A6000 head to our full review and our shooter's reports from Eamon! If the literally hundreds of thousands of readers who’ve flocked to our review are any indication, you’ll have a lot of company when you’re out shooting with your Sony A6000!


Sony A6000 + 16-50mm PZ kit lens - sample gallery image
Sony A6000 + 50mm f/1.8 - sample gallery image

[Click here for our full Sony A6000 sample gallery!]


Olympus E-PL7 w/ 14-42mm II kit lens + 40-150mm telephoto or 45mm f/1.8 prime

The Olympus E-PL7 takes the mid-range PEN line to a whole new level. While we loved its predecessor the E-PL5, the E-PL7 looks and feels more like the higher-end E-P5. There's now a top-deck control dial, and both it and the mode dial have the precision feel we loved on the E-P5. Throw in an attractive look and the image quality we've come to expect from the PENs, and this is simply a terrific camera for the money.

The camera with its basic kit lens is available for ~$700, or for ~$900 there's a fantastic kit available through our affiliate partner Adorama, which pairs the E-PL7 with both the 14-42mm II kit lens as well as the 40-150mm M.Zuiko Digital ED lens, one that we here at IR are quite fond of. That’s a kit that will give you an impressive 28-300mm eq. zoom range, plus some extra goodies, in the form of a lens bag, mini-messenger bag, 16GB class 10 card and a Tiffen digital filter software package. And you're still left with $100 for gas money to get you to a scenic location for your shoot!

If you don’t need that telephoto zoom range but like to shoot portraits, another intriguing option would be to get the kit with the 14-42mm II lens, and then add the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 portrait lens (90mm eq.) This is a fabulous little lens that not only tested quite well on our lens testing site, but one that we here at IR use on a regular basis for portrait work. The 45/1.8 lens currently ranges from ~$250 to $350, so depending on the deal you're able to find, you should be able to acquire it and the basic kit for somewhere right around the $1000 mark.

Want to hear more about the E-PL7? Just head over to our overview, and read our shooter's report section, to see what fun we had shooting with it. Thanks to strong contributions from both Olympus and Panasonic, the Micro Four Thirds platform has a huge range of really great optics available - And the E-PL7 is an ideal and affordable way to buy into this great system!


Olympus E-PL7 + 14-42mm II kit lens - sample gallery image
Olympus E-PL7 + 45mm f/1.8 - sample gallery image

[Click here for our full Olympus E-PL7 sample gallery!]


Fuji X-M1 (body-only) with Fujinon XF 27mm f/2.8 pancake prime

Here's an intriguing way to spend $1000: Grab a Fuji rangefinder-styled X-M1 body and pair it with a fast, high quality 27mm (41mm eq.) f/2.8 Fujinon lens. Your street-shooting career has begun! The X-M1 is light on its feet thanks to tough polycarbonate in place of the metal found in its higher-priced siblings like the X-Pro 1, and the 27mm f/2.8 prime lets you catch fleeting movement on the street even in partial light. And being a pancake lens on a lightweight body, your coat or vest pockets have seldom been more useful!

The X-M1 offers a quality build with user-interface amenities like twin command dials, a feature we're quite fond of here at IR, and know that many of our readers appreciate as well. And Fujifilm’s unique X-trans sensor lets them ditch the resolution-robbing lowpass filter without risking introducing moiré  into your shots. Plus, you get Fuji's terrific palette of film simulation modes, another unique feature that delivers a range of gorgeous “looks” for your photography; changing color rendering in subtle and complex ways that would be difficult to achieve in Photoshop. We’ve been wanting to do an article on Fujifilm’s film simulation modes for quite a while now, but the constant press of new cameras to test has kept us from getting around to it. They’re really pretty unique, though, and do a really great job of bringing back the look of favorite emulsions from the film era. (Seriously, check them out!)

It’s true that with this recommendation, you’re limited to just a single single focal length, something that only a true street shooter might settle for, but the X-M1 offers plenty of resolution for cropping as needed, so the wider angle will be a friend here. And if that's not enough, for just $100 more you can grab the 16-50mm kit lens, and it's one of the finer kit lenses we've tested at our lens test site Or for $200 more you can get the 18-55mm kit lens, also an excellent optic for the price.

To read more on the Fujifilm X-M1 please visit our overview page, and for more on the Fujinon 27mm f/2.8 pancake prime please click here.. If you’re an aspiring street shooter, and appreciate the discipline enforced by prime shooting, this Fuji X-M1 package should be on your (very) short list!


Fuji X-M1 + 16-50mm kit lens - sample gallery image

[Click here for our full Fujifilm X-M1 sample gallery!]


Samsung NX300 kit w/ 18-55mm lens + 50-200mm f/4-5.6 + 45mm f/1.8 prime

Wow - here's yet another unbelievable deal! The Samsung NX300 hails from 2013 but it remains Samsung’s top-level APS-C model in a small form factor. Our reviewer Dan Havlik loved shooting with it, the images from our lab looked quite good and we gave it a Dave's Pick without hesitation. Quoting our review of the camera: "The Samsung NX300 is among the better compact system cameras on the market, especially when its price tag and image quality are factored into the equation. The NX300 is a great looking camera, with a portable design that combines classic rangefinder style with a modern digital camera."

In fact, we were so impressed with the Samsung NX300 that we named it a Camera of Distinction in the Enthusiast Mirrorless category, in our 2013 annual COTY (Camera of the Year) awards!

We obviously enjoyed our own time with the NX300, and from the very start have heartily recommended it to any of our readers looking for high quality in a small form factor. But just look at the price it’s selling for these days! With the price including the 18-55mm kit lens hovering at just $485, your coffers are free to add not one but two additional, choice lenses to the package. First, the 50-200mm f/4-5.6 ED OIS II, which provides a generous 77-308 eq. range, means you're covered for most general shooting needs. And second, you still have enough to add the 45mm f/1.8 portrait lens (~70mm eq) for all of your portrait shooting needs!

You're now at $1006, and we didn't think anyone would care that we splurged an extra $6 for such an incredible package. There's a lot to love about a high quality camera and three good lenses all for ~$1000! For much more on the Samsung NX300, please visit our full review. Or, if you’re already convinced, click and buy one with the affiliate links below. (Buying your cameras through our affiliates directly benefits IR, and helps keep our reviews coming!)


Samsung NX300 + 45mm f/1.8 - sample gallery image

[Click here for our full Samsung NX300 sample gallery!]


Best compact ILC

Panasonic GM5 with 12-32mm Kit

If you're interested in the smallest, lightest camera possible, yet still want the flexibility of interchangeable lenses and the image quality that comes from a large sensor, then there's no better option than the Panasonic GM5 "mini" Micro Four Thirds camera. It’s an update to, but not technically a replacement for the GM1 -- a camera that inspired us to create a "Best Pocket ILC" category for the first time in our Camera of the Year awards last year -- the GM5 has a number of tweaks and improvements that address some of the minor quirks and gripes that we found with the GM1.

Sporting a built-in EVF, hot-shoe (and bundled mini detachable flash), more customizable function buttons and a raised thumb rest for a better grip, the new GM5 is more comfortable to use, to hold, and provides more customizability than the GM1, should you want that extra flexibility.

The internals, while nearly identical to the GM1, are still impressive, and result in excellent image quality at both low and higher ISOs for this class of camera. While the GM1’s AF speed was already pretty speedy to begin with, it’s been further improved in the GM5. The included 12-32mm lens is very sharp and very compact, making the entire kit easily small enough to fit in your jacket pocket. And the best part is that it all fits well within our budget with a current price of just $897.99 for the kit, leaving you some room left over for accessories. If you want a really compact camera, but don’t want to sacrifice image quality or flexibility in the bargain, the Panasonic GM5 should be an easy choice! (Just buy it, you’ll be happy! :-)


Panasonic GM5 + 12-32mm kit lens - sample gallery image

[Click here for our full Panasonic GM5 sample gallery!]


Your shopping clicks make a difference!

If this article or any of our other efforts here on this site have helped you decide which camera you're going to spend your hard-earned cash on, we'd appreciate it so much if you'd use one of the links we've provided above to make your actual purchase. Doing so doesn't cost you a dime, but makes a huge difference to us, helping to keep our informed, unbiased tests and opinions coming! Thank you!

(Also, don't hesitate on these deals; some of them are tied to Black Friday/Cyber Monday holiday promotions, so may not last!)


This page is one of three detailing our picks for the best camera packages under $1,000 in the 2014 holiday season. Click below, for our choices in the other two categories!

The best camera setups under $1,000; Holiday 2014 edition
Best DSLR cameras for Holiday 2014
Best Mirrorless cameras for Holiday 2014 (this page)
Best Compact cameras for Holiday 2014
Shopping for a Superzoom?
The best Superzoom camera: Our 2014 Superzoom shootout
Shopping for Black Friday & Holiday Deals?
Imaging Resource Black Friday Photo Deals