A cousin of mine, a newspaper editor and long term Canon user, was in the market for a new camera and asked me about mirrorless options in the sub-$1000 range. I ended up writing what may constitute a small book on the subject; the following is my reply.
You’ve mentioned a number of key features:
- low light
- battery life
And I’m guessing the following could be important as well:
- autofocus reliability and speed
- ready-to-post image quality
- electronic (silent) shutter
- weather sealing
No camera is perfect, so you’ll want to weigh which features might outrank others. Assuming price is non-negotiable, the rest are often shades of grey. For example, pretty much every camera on the market now shoots video…it’s just that a few of them prioritise video and do it well, while potentially sacrificing other options.
This can be a rather lengthy discussion, so I’ll break it up into sections!
- General comparison of tech and camera manufacturers
- Features you mentioned and factors to consider
- Resources for further research
- Summary and final thoughts
I’m not sure how much technical detail you want, but I’ll try to give some of the background along the way (in other words, strap in…).
Also please note, I will be speaking in generalities regarding companies. For example, Sony cameras used to eat through a battery every 30 minutes, and overheated when recording videos…but they’ve improved in the past year or two! However, I’m not sure how these generalities apply to their cheaper, smaller cameras – it may be that Sony is a great option now, but that heavily depends on the specific model being looked at. I really hope this doesn’t lead you down the wrong path, so take the following with plenty of…uh…salt! Plus, you know, that whole “I’m super biased” warning.
Mirrorless cameras were introduced about 10 years ago, and have been slowly gaining popularity ever since. The concept really seemed to gain momentum with video and hybrid shooters and the Panasonic GH line of cameras, as mirrorless cameras are far better designed for filming video. In the fast few years, however, mirrorless has really caught up to optical systems for pure photography, and the sports and wildlife groups (some of the most demanding professions in terms of speed and accuracy, alongside journalism) are beginning to be better served by mirrorless offerings (albeit still in the very expensive stage!).
Advantages of mirrorless include:
- reliable exposure (since you see what the sensor sees, there’s no guessing)
- smaller sizes (usually)
- better video (usually)
- better features (mirrorless cameras tend to come from more innovative companies!)
Disadvantages of mirrorless include:
- reduced battery life (though improved to the point it doesn’t worry me, given my casual shooting style and a couple backup batteries just in case)
- slower viewfinder response (depending on the camera model! the days of significant lag in the viewfinder are long gone)
- poor focusing (this is really manufacturer dependent, and the tech they use for focusing, the lenses, etcetera)
Now, mirrorless cameras come in all sizes and types. Here’s a quick overview of the four most common camera sensor sizes:
- Full frame, 36mm x 24mm sensor size. This is the classic film camera size, but well above the $1000 budget I’m afraid.
- APS-C. This is what you’re currently shooting with a Canon T3! It’s a reduced size sensor that balances between smaller camera bodies and moderate sensor size reduction. Canon defines this as a 1.6x crop* over full frame, whereas all other manufacturers define it as a 1.5x crop (Canon’s sensors are smaller, no idea why).
- MFT (Micro Four Thirds). This is what really kicked off the mirrorless revolution, with a partnership between Panasonic and Olympus to create an open lens standard anyone could use (Panasonic and Olympus lenses are interchangeable, though you only get native-exclusive features like improved focusing if you use like lenses with like bodies), combined with a 4:3 aspect ratio sensor. I’ll admit, I really hate that ratio (I always switch it to 3:2), and the 2x crop factor* is certainly limiting, but I’ve really liked everything else about the MFT system. They’re small, innovative, high quality, great video, and so comfortable to use.
- 1” or Bridge Camera systems (though maybe Bridge isn’t a term that refers to sensor size?). These are not offered with interchangeable lenses, but there are certainly some options available. The Sony RX line is, if I remember correctly, one of the more popular ones, with Panasonic offering the LX series. If you just want a more point-and-shoot style camera that’s better than most POS cameras…this would be the way to go. But if speed of operation matters, most of these use motorised zooms…so you’ll be waiting to use the camera. Not acceptable in a newsworthy environment, IMHO.
*Crop factor is the term used to define the size of a sensor relative to full frame. This is used to calculate lens focal length equivalencies, depth of field equivalencies, and more. Just know that you can use the crop factor to divide the size of the sensor (1.6x crop factor = 22.5mm x 15mm sensor size), or multiply the focal length (an 18mm lens on a 1.6x crop body is roughly equivalent to a 24mm lens on a full frame body). This becomes especially important when discussing lenses, as you’ll want to make sure you’re comparing like-for-like in terms of actual usage (for example, a 24mm-70mm full frame lens will give you the same field of view as a 12mm-35mm micro four thirds lens).
My assumption is that you’ll be looking at APS-C and MFT format cameras. Within these two groups you also have different types of camera form factors, including range finders and DSLR style prism-like viewfinders. That choice comes down to personal preference and shooting style. Same goes for screens on the back of the screen – fixed, tilting, and flip out (I vastly prefer flip out, some photographers claim they’re too slow and that single direction tilting screens are superior for street photography).
So, on to the camera manufacturer landscape…
Canon – it’s hard for me to discuss Canon objectively, as they have been dead to me (thanks to their abysmal video quality and complete lack of innovation) for many years. But they remain the most popular brand, and their cameras are dependable and produce good images. If you like the Canon ecosystem and if you want to keep your canon lenses, then you can stay with the Rebel line of DSLRs. I think their latest cameras include Wifi connections and swivel screens, so you’re not entirely missing out on some of the convenience you get with newer, more innovative camera systems. Canon does not have a good (definition debatable?) cheaper mirrorless system that I’m aware of, and their brand new “pro” mirrorless line (the Canon R) is inconceivably limited and insanely overpriced (an impressively awful combination, lol). That said, they’re legendary for autofocus (maybe just stills though, I’m not sure what they’re capable of in video mode! Last I checked, it was abysmal, but it’s been years).
Nikon – similar to Canon, really, but their latest pro-level mirrorless cameras look way better to me. Still far more expensive than $1000, and they don’t have a more affordable line of mirrorless cameras outside of their older DSLRs. Unless you really want to switch to Nikon, I’m simply not familiar enough with their line of cameras to know if there’s any reason to consider them. Mark really prefers their user interface, but from a feature standpoint, I don’t know if their cheaper cameras have anything over Canon…so if you want to stick with DSLR, I’d stick with Canon (you’re already used to it!). Their autofocus is basically on par with Canon (these two companies may trade places as “best” every few years, I’m not sure…neither of them have mature mirrorless systems).
It’s also important to note that Canon and Nikon are well known for having exceptional colour rendition. Canon is far from accurate (heck, they “see” a lot of blues and cyans as the same colour!) but they’re generally considered a very pleasing camera (and I can confirm: somehow Canon cameras can make great looking images even when the lighting colours are terrible).
Fuji – these are all APS-C style cameras, they’ve really stepping up their game in the past 5 years with classically styled cameras and beautiful film emulation built in. I shot Fuji film exclusively before switching to digital, and I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews about their JPEG output. It’s not going to match Canon’s colours, but Fuji shooters seem to really like the option of not needing to edit their photos…just post them. Haha. The Fuji video features used to be terrible, but they’ve improved greatly in the past year. Unfortunately their most popular brand-new model, the X-T3, is $1500 (and doesn’t include IBIS, but that discussion will come up below).
Sony – they’ve really cleaned up in the video realm, with multiple incredibly innovative full frame releases every year for multiple years in a row. They’re massively popular in spite of their abysmal user interfaces, terrible colours, unreliability, unusable battery life, and horrific ergonomics (I’m clearly overly opinionated on this!). At least this year they finally hit a good point: the A7 doesn’t overheat, has better ergonomics, and I think their colours may have even improved. One of my wedding photographer friends just switched from the Canon 5D Mark III to the Sony A7, and loves it…but that’s full frame, and $2000 for the body alone. The A6500 is their APS camera (last I heard), and is a year or two old now. I’m not sure how well that compares. They should be introducing a newer APS camera any time now, so it’ll be interesting to see what they do. They’ve had some of the best autofocusing out of any mirrorless camera. Ever. Hopefully they release something both good and affordable, we’ll see.
Side note: Sony cameras can, with an adapter, use auto-focus Canon lenses. It might not be as fast as native lenses, but it is supposed to work (I’m not sure I know anyone who has used this setup).
Olympus – known for optics, Olympus was one of the founding members of the Micro Four Thirds group. Their cameras have classic styling, much like Fuji, and are more focused on photography (though their video features have improved). The out-of-the-camera colours are fine, I think – not as frustrating to deal with as Sony, not as ready-to-post as Canon or Fuji. That said, I’ve never really shot with Olympus, nor do I know anyone who does. I tried an older model EM-5 a few years ago, and it just hurt to hold (classic style does not equal comfortable! I still disliked holding a Sony more, lol).
Panasonic – known for video, they’re the other half of the founding Micro Four Thirds group (well, maybe there were others, but Panasonic and Olympus are the two everyone knows!). This is where I get super biased. I got a GH4 back in 2014, when it was the first and only hybrid camera to shoot high quality 4k video…and I’ve shot Panasonic cameras exclusively ever since. I got a G7 in 2016 to take to Africa, then replaced it with the G85 last year, which added weather sealing, IBIS, and a new shutter system that is oh-so-beautiful. I also really love the ergonomics, with customisable buttons, common sense layouts, settings dials I wouldn’t want to live without, and sometimes I don’t even feel like I need a camera strap…the grip is comfortable and secure (in that respect, I’d say they have a decent amount in common with Canon and Nikon camera body design).
Neither Olympus nor Panasonic currently have APS-C offerings, just MFT…which is where we get into low light concerns. More below! (So much more)
2. Features (not including price)
there are several factors, and a couple ways they can impact your photography.
The two primary issues in low light:
- image noise (grain)
- focusing speed
- blurry images (by trying to reduce grain by shooting lower ISO + longer exposures, or auto focus not working)
To address image grain specifically, we refer first to the exposure triangle! These are the three things we adjust when exposing.
- ISO (sensor sensitivity)
- Shutter speed (how long the sensor is exposed)
- F-stop (how much light the lens allows to enter the camera body)
Noise comes from inconsistencies in photosite values. Boosting the digital signal from the sensor simultaneously boosts these inconsistencies. That’s why higher ISO values (boosting sensor sensitivity) result in higher grain; the sensor noise is exaggerated while trying to increase the values (brightness) recorded. The same was true for organic film too! 200 ISO = clean images, 3200 ISO = noisy images.
Now, noise quality is different for different sensors, and that’s probably why you heard that smaller mirrorless cameras were bad for low light (along with autofocus, but we’ll get to that). Larger sensors have more physical area that’s gathering light, so they typically have lower noise. Smaller sensors typically have smaller photo sites, and therefore physically cannot gather as many photons. Pure physics. But there are mitigating factors to consider…
- If a sensor is very high resolution, the pixel density is higher, and the photo sites must be smaller (you have to fit more of them into the same area). Smaller pixels means fewer photons, and higher noise. Of course, this is further complicated: once you edit a photo for the web, for example, it’ll be scaled down. Once scaled down, a higher resolution sensor with higher noise and a lower resolution sensor with lower noise (assuming both sensors are the same dimensions) will result in grain that’s practically identical! All that to say…smaller sensors are still plenty usable when you’re taking a 16mp image and scaling it down to 2mp or 4mp for online delivery. Granted, if you’re consistently shooting by candle light, you’ll want a full frame sensor…but that’s always going to break the bank (cheapest full frame mirrorless is ~$2000).
- Using a “faster” lens with a larger aperture allows more light to be gathered, reducing the need for high ISO, and thereby reducing noise. You’ve been shooting with Canon kit lenses, which are often limited to f3.5-5.6. This is, generally speaking, pretty “slow” meaning that you have to use slower shutter speeds (or higher ISOs) to get good exposures. While more expensive, faster lenses (lower f-stop numbers) can make a dramatic difference for low light shooting. The downside is that fast zoom lenses can be very expensive, and while fast prime lenses can be more affordable, they’re not nearly as flexible (especially for event/journalistic settings in my opinion, but shooting styles vary!).
- Sensor stabilisation is a slightly more unique approach to dealing with noise. By tracking camera movement and counter-shifting the sensor, cameras with IBIS (in body image stabilisation, though called different things by different manufacturers) allow the photographer to use much slower shutter speeds while still getting sharp images. This is also particularly helpful for shooting hand held photos and video! You hold down the shutter, and instantly things are more steady. It’s like magic. I can’t go back. Now it’s important to note that IBIS does not address blur from subject motion. Moving people will always be blurrier with slower shutter speeds. If you’re shooting in low light and trying to freeze motion with a fast shutter, nothing beats a bigger sensor with a faster lens.
I’ve been shooting Micro Four Thirds for many years now (Panasonic GH4, Panasonic G7, and now a Panasonic G85), and I use a combination of faster lenses, IBIS, never going over 1600 ISO, and selective shooting/editing to manage the noise. But I do not shoot by candle light. Ever. Except the 1812 dance…and that doesn’t exactly turn out great (I know people use flash in that situation, BUT NOT ME!).
Side note, Olympus is the company that first invented sensor based stabilisation. It works best for wider viewing angles (long telephoto lenses still need in-lens stabilisation), but when it works, it’s awesome. Unfortunately for Olympus, more camera manufacturers have implemented IBIS now, albeit some of them only in their more expensive cameras (for example, Fuji’s $1500 X-T3 doesn’t include it!).
Be extra careful as some manufacturers are trying to claim electronic image shift stabilisation is “in body image stabilisation.” This is simply not possible, and from what I understand GoPro and Canon (yes, Canon) are cropping in on the sensor and shifting which pixels are being saved to the files. This does not stabilise a longer exposure in the slightest, and if anything, just zooms in on what’s getting blurred by shake and movement. Not cool. It might help video a little, but it’s not going to help with reducing motion blur issues during longer exposures.
Regarding focus speed, I thought I was going to discuss it here…but there’s way more information in the AF section below (I’m writing this rather haphazardly, going from section to section, then iteratively refining…it’s been hours, and I’m not done yet, and it’s probably an incoherent mess! Second note from an hour and a half later: yeah, this is SO LONG). Low light focusing is always a problem for cameras of any type, even though some tech may be more sensitive to low light issues than others. The more noticeable differences between cameras seem to come more from C-AF (continuous auto focus), whereas even “less-reliable” cameras may perform acceptably in S-AF (single auto focus mode). Personally, I rely on S-AF, and just try to remember I can’t hold down the shutter as someone walks toward or away from me (notably, I made this mistake during Matthew and Bekah’s engagement shoot at 1812 a number of years ago…I was in S-AF mode, and would focus and shoot in high burst mode…as they moved during the burst without refocusing, they just moved out of focus…whoops!).
I’ll try to keep the rest of these a little more succinct.
This is where mirrorless cameras (especially the MFT systems) should easily beat out the competition…though this isn’t always the case. Panasonic camera bodies often error more on the side of ergonomics and reliability than they do size (the GH5S, for example, is larger than some APS-C cameras while housing only an MFT sensor!), but the Panasonic pro zoom lenses error on the side of size (they’re still excellent quality, it’s just that the Olympus pro zooms are…slightly, vaguely better quality…and twice the weight). Olympus is kinda the opposite, their camera bodies are less comfortable and smaller, while their pro zoom lenses are comparatively huge.
A lot of this depends on your preferences. Do you want a comfortable grip or a tiny body? Do you want a single zoom for all focal lengths, or a set of two or more you can switch between for better quality?
Generally, for travel, I think it’s hard to beat an affordable MFT camera. You have range finders that are particularly compact, or the slightly larger prism style cameras like the Panasonic G7 or G85 that are really lightweight and easy to carry.
This is an endless topic, ranging from bitrates to audio input options and preamps. For under $1000, most cameras won’t include things like microphone inputs, but should include 4K options and the like. A few cameras now use H265 for encoding, which is more efficient…but harder to edit on a desktop system! Generally speaking, Panasonic and Sony have had better results in the video market, while Olympus and Fuji have caught up with their more expensive cameras (but maybe not their cheaper ones).
I really don’t have any insight into how the other cameras operate, but with Panasonic you can either connect to a wifi network, or directly device-to-device. For the latter, I’ll turn on the camera’s wifi hotspot, then connect to it from my phone or tablet…browsing and transferring photos as needed. It’s not super awesome (it can be slow, and the preview thumbnails are pretty small!), but it works. I imagine other cameras are similar. Sorry I don’t have more details…further research might be required.
CIPA ratings are, in theory, a standard measurement you can use to compare cameras. I’m not sure how helpful they are in comparing DSLR versus mirrorless simply because camera usage patterns can change so much. Mirrorless have to run the sensor and viewfinder, so yes, they’ll typically have lower battery life ratings, but I haven’t had too much trouble with this. I do carry extra batteries, but with infrequent use, I often find myself on the same battery between three different locations. It really depends on how you shoot, if you’re doing a lot of video, etcetera. You can always use eye detection on the viewfinder to turn it off when you’re not looking through it, and I typically just shut my camera off in a lot of situations where I don’t have to be posed to shoot instantaneously (boot up time on the Panasonic cameras is pretty decent, so the only time I’ve missed things is when I’m riding in a car and we simply drive by before I can turn on the camera and frame a shot!).
Sony used to have terrible battery life, but they’re getting better. Part of the issue is making sure the battery is large enough to support the system. The Panasonic GH cameras use larger batteries than the G series, and therefore have even better battery life (practically an entire day of shooting while I was travelling in Paris with the GH4, not bad for a single battery!).
Obviously this is all dependent on your usage patterns and expectations. Personally, I find a good mirrorless camera (not to be confused with some of Sony’s earlier mirrorless cameras…) perfectly reliable.
This is where mirrorless cameras struggled to keep up for a while. Good news is that some of them are pretty close now, if not just as good as DSLR counterparts! Sony has very good autofocus (video mode on the A6500 was ground breaking at the time of its release!), Fuji has gotten pretty good too (I think? Maybe?).
Panasonic, on the other hand…well…they rely on contrast detect autofocus. Reliable autofocus systems often depend on tech like phase detection, where specialised pixels are used to measure focal properties (there are downsides to this, such as the potential for visible banding…on the Canon R specifically, cementing its place as my most-hated mirrorless camera ever! lol). Contrast detect autofocus relies on no specialised equipment or pixel modifications; it’s purely based the sharpness of the image being read off the sensor. Basically, the camera processor looks for areas of higher value differences between pixels. If there’s a big difference, that’s detected as in focus, if there’s not much difference between the pixels, it’s out of focus. You can see where this might fail: if there’s tons of noise in a low-light environment, how is the camera supposed to see subtle edges amidst all that grain?
It’s important to note that more “advanced” autofocus systems still rely on scene lighting, so it’s not like the contrast-detect systems are out of the game in low-light. Same goes for featureless areas like a flat white wall with no edges or details – no system will be able to focus on that reliably. And in some cases, contrast detect is more accurate because it’s paying attention exclusively to image sharpness…it’s just not as fast as methods like phase detection.
The cool thing with Panasonic is that they’ve developed what they call DfD (depth from defocus). They’ve analysed all of the lenses that they make, and try to predict the distance of an object based on nuances of how the lens “sees” it out of focus, which means they can better predict where to focus the lens, and do it more quickly. It should be vastly superior to Canon’s contrast detect (which is what they use in video mode or live preview mode!)
Something to consider beyond just focus reliability and speed is the type of focus modes available. Touch screen focusing can be really convenient, and facial tracking can make focusing on the closest eye completely automatic (no additional input needed).
Also known as the OOTC quality (out-of-the-camera JPEG files, not edited RAW files which can be dramatically improved on a computer). I’ve really only shot with Canon and Panasonic (the former being “pleasing” and the latter being “accurate”), so I can’t comment on the other manufacturers. I’d expect Canon, Nikon, and Fuji to come out on top, with Panasonic, Olympus, and Sony trailing behind a bit (accuracy is rarely appreciated in aesthetic pursuits, haha). I always edit my photos. That said, Matthew and Bekah are shooting with a Panasonic G85 now too (he got his camera first, and I couldn’t resist!), and I don’t think they do any significant editing, simply using the images as they come off the camera. To the best of my knowledge they’re both really happy with the quality. Generally, if you know the camera settings and tweak the contrast, saturation, and other variables to taste, or just choose the Portrait mode…you’ll probably be very happy with any camera you get. Just know that, if you switch systems, things will feel a little different than your current Canon (if I recall correctly, Bekah was really dubious about switching to Panasonic, but ended up liking it).
Side note: Panasonic, Olympus, and Sony all use sensors made by Sony. These sensors are typically ISO invariant, which means if you get into RAW photo processing, you can boost the ISO on the computer and it should closely match what the camera would have shot had you chosen a higher ISO when taking the photo. Canon uses their own sensor setup, and it is not ISO invariant. You can still push exposure in post, but the quality isn’t the same.
Side side note: Samsung made their own sensors which were astoundingly good at the time and had great OOTC images. Then they killed off their entire mid-to-high end camera devision a couple years ago. I think people may still buy the Samsung NX1 on eBay because it’s a well regarded system, even several years behind and without any future or support! Terrible shame. Samsung still makes camera sensors for cell phones all the time, just not big ones…though there have been rumours they might make a comeback (though who would trust them, I do not know, it’d be difficult for them to regain consumer confidence).
While I love the sound of the Panasonic G85 shutter (it’s subtle, elegant, a delicious little whisper while still satisfyingly clicky…), there will be cases where any noise at all would be intrusive. One of the great things about mirrorless cameras is that the concept is well designed for electronic shutters (no live view modes to deal with). The downside is rolling shutter. Because every CMOS chip scans from top to bottom, skipping the shutter means that any movement during the capturing of the frame (even at super fast e-shutter speeds which determine how long each pixel is exposed for, not the entire sensor) can look like distortion. You know those shots of fans, helicopter rotors, and airplane engines where the blades turn into psychedelic nonsense? That’s rolling shutter. Turning off the physical shutter and using the sensor readout directly can suffer from these artefacts. Until global shutter tech is common (and affordable), that’s just the nature of the beast. But at least you have the option! I have e-shutter mapped to a button on my G85 so I can quickly shift between the modes. I just can’t remember which button because I never end up using it.
I don’t think the Canon Rebel cameras are “weather sealed” but I also don’t think I’d ever had issues with the T2i in slightly inclement weather (they’re well built). Additionally, each manufacturer has different standards that they claim are “weather sealed” but your mileage may vary. I bring this up because, in the case of reportage, I assume you’ll be in situations where you can’t control the elements…rain, sleet, snow, and dust may all be dangers you have to face. It’s something to consider. And make sure you get lenses that match – if the body is “sealed” but the lens isn’t, you could be in more trouble than expected (or just be careful not to get it wet and everything will be fine ).
I did have a bit of trouble with my Panasonic G7 in Gabon two years ago, which doesn’t claim to have any weather sealing at all. There were several times where I thought I pressed the shutter button to start recording video (yes, Panasonic treats video just like photos…just turn the dial from a photo mode to a video mode, and keep using the camera as expected…I love it, haha), but it didn’t actually start recording. I couldn’t really replicate the problem, it only happened when I wasn’t paying attention, but I always wondered if it might have been all the dust. I haven’t had any issues with the G85, but I also haven’t been back to Africa since getting it!
https://camerasize.com/compare/ and https://cameradecision.com/compare-size/ can help show relative sizes for camera bodies and lenses. If you want to shop online and see how a camera setup compares in size and shape to your Canon T3, these are a nice place to start. It may help you predict ergonomic and weight preferences.
https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/image-comparison has a great comparison tool for nitpicking pixels between different cameras. It’s probably best not to pay too much attention to this, as the holistic image quality and camera performance is more important. But if you want to really dive deep into ISO comparisons, this would be the place to do it! They also have a comparison tool for loading up to 20 cameras with a specifications rubric – https://www.dpreview.com/products/compare/cameras.
Of note, Chris and Jordan, originally from The Camera Store TV, are now part of the DPReview team. They do video reviews on YouTube, and cover cameras from both a photo and video perspective. When they left TCSTV, Jordan’s wife Evy and another coworker from The Camera Store took over the original channel, and have carried on the torch. So there are now two different channels to check out!
While their goal (especially TCSTV) is to sell cameras, they seem to be reasonably honest in their reviews. If a camera is actually bad, they’ll usually let you know, even when trying to figure out who might actually still want it (difficult for some cameras, haha).
If you want to check out user reviews, B&H Photo Video is maybe better than Amazon (more serious users, in theory), and the DPReview forums might be helpful too. People have posted plenty of questions and answers over the years, and you could always post your own questions…just be careful, the forums are pretty tribal (don’t post Sony questions in a Fuji forum, and don’t expect balanced opinions ).
Best Buy, especially the ones with an extended photography section, carry a ton of these cameras. Make sure you try them out in person, because actually holding one is completely different than reading specs online. That’ll let you compare a Canon DSLR directly against a mirrorless competitor as well. Very important (albeit limited to the in-store experience, and there’s nothing quite like being stuck with a camera for a weekend away to figure out what you really think of it).
…speaking of which, if you’re REALLY serious about testing a camera, you can always rent one, either locally (if you’re near a production hub) or online. Plenty of options to choose from, but none that I have experience with. I can’t make a specific recommendation.
Personally, I shoot with the Panasonic G85 with three Olympus pro zoom lenses and several Panasonic primes. The pro zoom lenses were not cheap, but the camera was quite affordable! I got it during a sale, and paid less than $800 for the camera and kit lens (which I keep forgetting…I need to sell that, I’ve never used it).
You have a lot of features above to weigh and consider, but maybe this is a start…remembering of course that I’m heavily biased…and keeping in mind these are not recommendations, just potential starting points for research!
Canon T7i: if you want to keep the same ergonomics, reliability, the Canon “look,” and lenses, with an incrementally improved body and higher resolution sensor (no major advancements that I’m aware of beside Wifi and a flip out screen? Keeping in mind the flip out screen may not work with anything but the slowest contrast detect autofocus, assuming it’s similar to the Canon I used to work with). You could also look for deals on a Canon 6D or 80D as well…I’m not sure what those would get you in terms of features (like I said, Canon has been dead to me for years and I think their cameras are woefully underspeced for the price ), but they’d be $1000 options and you wouldn’t have to change lenses. And for that reason (you already have Canon lenses), I don’t think I’d consider a Nikon at all (no advantage to a side grade when you’d have to buy new lenses).
Sony A6500: if you want a small camera with (purportedly) great autofocus even in video, stabilisation, and modern features. Unfortunately this model is getting old (for Sony, where models are often updated every 12 months), and I’m not sure when they’ll be announcing its replacement. On the upside, there’s a chance there will be some good sales this fall, and you could get it for under $1000. The A6500 might have some overheating issues as well, but they may have fixed that by now with a firmware update (I haven’t followed all of the news).
Fuji: I’m not sure what model I’d start with, since the super popular one right now (which includes things like improved video quality, albeit without IBIS) is edging close to $2000 with a lens. Which isn’t helpful. But you might browse some of their options on B&H if the Fuji platform is interesting to you.
Olympus E-M10 Mark III or the older E-M5 Mark II: if you want a more affordable Olympus camera with classic styling (oh, they’re so pretty), and if the Olympus menu system makes sense to you (it doesn’t for many people). While Panasonic still leads Olympus in terms of video features, part of the decision does come down to style. I vastly prefer Panasonic’s ergonomics and design. If you’re interested in this style, you’ll want to research it and try it out. I wasn’t a fan myself (I had a used E-M10 mark II for a short while), but it could be cool for you. Their top of the line E-M1 Mark II is very good, but at that price point I’d just get a Panasonic GH5 ($2000+ yikes!).
Panasonic G85: if you want a lightweight camera with good handling, good video, good lens options for upgrades, stabilisation, weather sealing (to some extent, I haven’t tested this!). It’s already on sale with a kit lens for under $800, and you might find better deals in the next few weeks. And while the kit lens is slow (f3.5-5.6), Panasonic synchronises the lens stabilisation with the body stabilisation FOR THE MOST MAGIC EVER (or so I hear I shoot with non-synced lenses most of the time! haha).
I’d look into upgrading the kit zoom lens to the Panasonic f2.8 12-35mm pro zoom lens. It’s a fantastic lens, remains very small for the quality, and you can sometimes find good deals on it for around $600 (I think). The best deal would be to find the G85 body with the upgraded pro zoom lens for around $1000. Probably not possible, but if anything, you have a clear upgrade path for the lens a couple years later. Keep in mind that with Panasonic’s DfD focusing system, using Panasonic native lenses, should result in better autofocus performance (though I’ve survived using Olympus lenses just fine).
You can find the older Panasonic G7 model for cheaper, but I’d stick with the G85. The IBIS, weather sealing, and newer shutter system are all worth it.
Panasonic GX85: if you want something smaller, cheaper, lighter, but still Panasonic (with the same Panasonic and Olympus lens options). I’m not familiar with this model, but it might be something to investigate if you like the rangefinder style? Personally…I don’t. But this still has IBIS, which for the price (and assuming it’s just as effective, since performance can vary from model to model) is pretty cool.
If you’re going to be using the kit lens for a while, you might research the lens bundle before taking the leap…different bundles could make a big difference in quality, as kit lenses are, typically, not the greatest, regardless of company!
Whew, anyway…I hope that helps! If anything, I’ve provided enough reading to fill an evening. Haha.