Nothing kills creativity faster than an aching back. For all the benefits of full-frame cameras, telephoto lenses, and dedicated flashes, there’s something to be said for the freedom that comes with a lightweight setup. If you’ve been hunting for a simple camera to stick in your bag on your way out the door, a traveling companion, or something discreet when photographing on the streets, then you’ve come to the right place.
Test Photographs © Rachael Leathe
The heavy-hitting cameras on this list tend to box above their weight class. They are rugged enough to withstand the battering of daily use, yet small enough to fit in a pocket or bag. They are also outfitted with APS-C or Micro Four Thirds sensors, enabling them to be smaller and lighter than their full-frame brethren. These cameras were picked with still photography in mind, although many of them can double as lightweight video or vlogging devices.
Furthermore, if you’ve been thinking about making a move to mirrorless, this might be a good place to start. These cameras run on the lower end of the mirrorless camera price range. Not cheap by any means (you’d be hard pressed to find a cheap mirrorless camera), but comfortably entry level.
Regardless of what you intend to do with your images, these cameras were designed with creativity in mind. Many of them sport retro designs and interesting color modes that make photography more fun.
This list is by no means extensive, but it might get you thinking about what you could do with a more convenient camera.
COE (Compactness Over Everything): Ricoh GR IIIx
The beauty of your smartphone camera is that it’s always on you, always dependable, and usually charged. This kind of accessibility is crucial when capturing a scene that’s unfolding quickly in front of you. Yet the picture quality of your cell phone is not always reliable, especially if you’re hoping to blow up your images into large prints. Therein lies the main selling point of the Ricoh GR IIIx.
Measuring just over four inches long and two-and-a-half inches tall, this is by far the smallest camera on our list. It’s ideal for those who want a high-quality device you can literally slip into your pocket.
This camera is nearly identical to its predecessor, the GR III, but the two cameras diverge on one important point: the lens.
The GR IIIx replaces the GR III’s 28mm, f/2.8 fixed prime lens, with a 40mm, f/2.8 fixed prime lens. The GR IIIx’s new lens cuts down on distortion and gives the camera a more classic focal length. While the GR III’s wide lens is a better option for someone trying to capture architecture or a sweeping vista in a cramped space, the GR IIIx lends itself more to portraiture, documentary, and street photography.
Both cameras share a 24.2MP APS-C CMOS sensor and GR Engine 6 processor. The combination of such a large sensor in such a small package means that, unlike cellphone photographers, Ricoh shooters never have to choose between capturing high-quality images and a compact size.
The GR IIIx’s slimness isn’t without some cost, however. Some photographers may be dismayed to find a 3.0" 1,037,000-dot touchscreen LCD monitor in lieu of a built-in viewfinder, and no built-in flash. Furthermore, the screen doesn’t tilt or articulate at all. An unfortunate and limiting feature, especially given the GR IIIx’s lofty price.
Some other options for the GR IIIx are decorative interchangeable ring caps (available in multiple colors), the GT-2 tele conversion lens, and GA-2 lens adapter. The tele-conversion lens and adapter work in unison to extend the GR IIIx’s focal length from 40mm to 75mm―great for anyone craving a little more telephoto range.
It should be noted that the tele-conversion lens can only be used on the GR IIIx and the wide conversion lens can only be used on the GR III. These lenses are not interchangeable. If you wanted both the wide and telephoto options, you would have to purchase the GR III and IIIx and their associated adapter kits.
Before you invest in either Ricoh, though, you should be aware of their video capabilities. Both cameras can shoot 1080p at 24, 30 or 60 fps, but shooting video quickly saps their tiny, 200-shot battery. The sensor-shift 3-axis image stabilization also doesn’t work very well and the autofocus tends to lag. Honestly, you might be better off recording video on your cellphone.
Some may balk at paying more than a thousand dollars for a camera with a lens you can’t even change, and rightfully so. These cameras are undeniably pricey. However, when you consider the lens is factored into the price, it becomes slightly more palatable. You can also rest assured knowing you will never be tempted to buy another lens (you couldn’t, even if you wanted to).
Furthermore, there are some who welcome the limitations of an immutable lens. A limited number of creative options can be a relief, especially in a world where we are constantly bombarded with decisions. These little cameras leave you free to focus on what really matters: taking photos.
In the long run, if you are interested in shooting video or crave a higher degree of control over lens choice, you may be better off looking at some of the other cameras on our list. But, if you are willing to embrace the limitations of the GR IIIx, then this might be the camera for you.
A Step Above: FUJIFILM X-T30 II
FUJIFILM’s presence is so ubiquitous in the mirrorless APS-C market that we could have easily populated this list with their cameras alone. The company has also amassed a stunning arsenal of APS-C lenses to match, making them an irresistible choice for many photographers looking for a fun, compact camera.
For the purposes of this article, we chose to focus on the X-T30 II, which came out three years after its predecessor, the X-T30. For the X-T30 II, FUJIFILM chose to keep the same nostalgic, 1970s feel of the X-T30, with its faux-leather exterior and multiple dedicated dials for exposure compensation, shutter speed, and drive.
When compared to the Ricoh GR IIIx, the X-T30 II is slightly larger and significantly more expensive, especially when you add the cost of the lens. However, the increase in size and weight is more than compensated for with added features. Unlike the Ricoh GRIIIx, the X-T30 II gives users the option to change lenses, making use of the more than forty FUJIFILM APS-C lenses.
The X-T30 II also has a tilting screen (compared to the Ricoh GR III’s fixed screen), a built-in flash, and an electronic viewfinder. Although not fully articulating, the tilting screen is crucial when it comes to getting low or high-angle shots. This is useful when trying to be discreet while shooting on the streets or when framing an awkward, high-angle crowd shot.
The X-T30 II bests ever other camera on this list in terms of sensor and screen with a whopping X-Processor 4 and 3" 1,620,000-dot LCD screen. The increased sensor and quad-core processor allow users to choose from 18 refined film simulations, all based on classic FUJIFILM analog films. These simulations can also be applied to video.
Despite being marketed as a “photographer’s camera,” the X-T30 is also surprisingly capable in the video department. The X-T30 II can capture 4K video at 30 fps for up to 30 minutes. It can also slow things down to 240 frames per second while shooting in 1080p.
Thanks to updated firmware, the X-T30 II now also has the same autofocus tracking as the FUJIFILM XT-4. This is crucial for video but also can be used when trying to capture stills or fast-moving subjects. It should also be noted that the X-T30 II comes with a NP-W126S battery that can only be charged with a USB cable. There’s no external battery charger. Once charged, the battery is good for 380 shots.
If, after reading this, you’ve decided the X-T30 II is not for you, but you’d like to stick with the FUJIFILM brand, there are myriad other cameras to consider.
The FUJIFILM X100V and the X-E4 have exploded in popularity since their release in 2020 and 2021, respectively. However, these two cameras have become so hard to find, it felt like a disservice to feature them too prominently. (One important thing to note about the X100V is that it has a fixed, unchangeable 23mm lens, while the X-T30 and X-E4 have the option to swap out lenses.)
Another superb FUJIFILM option, with interchangeable lenses, is the X-S10. The X-S10 is a slightly larger, DSLR-styled camera that comes with a fully articulating screen and built-in 5-axis sensor-shift image stabilization. It can shoot up to 4K video at 30 fps and is weather sealed, making it an attractive option for vloggers and videographers. The X-S10 is slightly wider than the X-T30 II with fewer dial controls and a more modern-looking design. The retro-looking X-T30 II comes in straight black or black and silver.
FUJIFILM has been leading this category for a while and with good reason. The brand’s cameras are fast, ergonomic, and it’s fun to shoot with them. They are the types of cameras that elicit unprompted compliments from strangers on the street. But they are not the only option. There are still plenty of other cameras on this list that might catch your eye. Read on.
Capable of Anything: Olympus E-M10 Mark IV
Olympus might not get as much attention as some of the other brands, but this little camera deserves some kudos.
The Olympus E-M10 Mark IV is super light, compact, and hardy. It would make a great addition to any kit, whether you’re a beginner on a budget or a pro looking for something different. Part of the reason the E-M10 Mark IV is so affordable is its Micro Four Thirds 20.3MP Live MOS sensor.
Micro Four Thirds sensors are 1.6x smaller than APS-C sensors. This means they have a 2x crop, compared to the 1.5x crop found on an APS-C camera. For example, if you took a 35mm lens and put it on a Micro Four Thirds camera, that 35mm lens would render the same field of view as a 70mm lens. If you were to take that same 35mm lens and put it on an APS-C camera, it would render the same field of view as a 52.5mm lens.
One bonus of a Micro Four Thirds camera is that its lenses are universal, meaning they can be used on any Micro Four Thirds camera, regardless of brand.
Compared to the FUJIFILM X-T30 II, the Olympus E-M10 Mark IV has a slightly more flexible, 3" 1,040,000-dot tilting LCD touchscreen. While the X-T30 II’s screen only tilts up and down, the E-M10 Mark IV’s screen can flip down and around, useful for taking selfies and handheld vlogging. The E-10 Mark IV is also the kind of camera you could pick up and start using immediately. The buttons are incredibly intuitive and the slight grip in the front makes it easy to hold.
Another unexpected boon of the E-M10 Mark IV is its sensor-shift 5-Axis image stabilization. This feature is helpful for anyone with shaky hands, those interested in shooting in low-light scenarios, or anyone wanting to take handheld video. For reference, the only other cameras on this list with IBIS (in body image stabilization) are the Ricoh GR IIIx (with 3-axis stabilization), and the Sony a6600 (also with 5-axis stabilization). Indeed, if you’re looking for an inexpensive camera that can also shoot stable, high-quality video, this might be the best option for you. Five-axis IBIS and the ability to shoot UHD 4K video up to 30 fps at 102 Mb/s makes it one of the best hybrid stills/video options on this list. We were blown away by how stable the handheld video is coming straight out of the camera. It holds its own against some fierce competition.
But wait! Before you rush out to buy an E-M10 Mark IV, however, there are a couple of things you should know. Unfortunately, it is missing a dedicated microphone jack, forcing videographers to rely on the questionable in-camera microphone or a separate audio recorder, whose audio would need to be synced up later in post-production. Additionally, there’s no headphone input so you won’t be able to monitor the audio levels being recorded. The E-M10 Mark IV does offer a staggering 16 varieties and 31 types of “art filter options,” including Vintage, Grainy Film, Vivid, Monochrome, and Pop Art. These effects can also be applied to video, although the effects do feel somewhat garish, especially when compared to FUJIFILM’s film simulations.
The body is also not weather sealed and doesn’t have an external battery charger, forcing users to rely on USB-AC charging. Once charged though, the battery can last for about 360 shots (making it one of the top-performing batteries on the list).
The E-M10 Mark IV relies on contrast autofocusing, which is less ideal for fast-moving subjects. So, if you plan to use your camera to capture things like wildlife or sports, you may be better off looking at something like the Sony a6600. While significantly more expensive, Sony is renowned for its AF tracking, which easily sticks to subjects in a variety of different circumstances. You could also look at the next option on our list, the Nikon Zfc, which has sophisticated eye and face detection tracking for people and animals, with its 209-point autofocus system.
If you’re more interested in taking portraits, landscapes, or still life photos, however, the E-M10 Mark IV’s 121-point contrast-detect autofocus system will be more than adequate. During our test of the E-M10 Mark IV, we found that it was adept at capturing subjects while walking down the busy streets of New York, although it struggled slightly with the fast-moving seagulls at Brighton Beach.
Overall, the E-M10 Mark IV is astonishingly versatile. It can be small and light when outfitted with a compact pancake lens or it can be beefed up with a telephoto lens. It’s attractive to professionals and beginners alike. It even helps new shooters understand the different settings by providing little descriptions that pop up as you scroll through the menu. This is useful for anyone looking for an entry-level mirrorless camera that will help you learn as you go.
This delightful little camera goes toe-to-toe against many of its competitors―a stunning accomplishment, given its low price. So, if you’re looking for a simple, versatile, and inexpensive camera with lots of interchangeable lenses, then this might be the right choice for you.
Old Reliable: Nikon Zfc
Nikon shooters looking to add a lightweight option to their camera bag will be overjoyed with the Nikon Zfc. The Zfc is a beautiful, rugged camera that easily stands up to the demands of daily use. It boasts a 300-shot battery life, a retro look, and can effortlessly capture sharp photos and video.
The Zfc has the same 20.9MP CMOS sensor and EXPEED 6 image processor as its predecessor, the Z50. However, the two cameras differ greatly in look and feel. The Z50 is distinctly modern, with a pronounced grip and smaller buttons, while the Zfc is a near replica of Nikon’s famous analog SLR camera, the FM2, which was released in the early 1980s. Like the original Nikon FM2, the Zfc lacks any sort of grip on its magnesium-alloy body, although SmallRig makes a third-party L-Shape Grip that you can add for $39.90.
The most glaring downside of the Zfc is its confounding lack of lenses. To date, there are only three native lenses to choose from for Nikon’s DX line (the Zfc and Z50) and few third-party options to fill in the gaps. It’s possible to use adapters for Nikon’s older F-mount lenses, or use Nikon’s full-frame, Z-mount lenses. However, if you’re looking for something lightweight and versatile, carrying around extra adapters and full-frame lenses might negate some of the benefits of an APS-C camera. Typically, APS-C lenses are also cheaper than their full-frame brethren. These savings are completely erased (and then some) when you factor in the cost of full-frame lenses.
Long story short: If you’re looking for an APS-C camera with a vast array of APS-C lenses to choose from, you might be better off checking out the Olympus, FUJIFILM, or Sony options on this list.
Lens woes aside, the Zfc has a reliable 209-point autofocus system with subject tracking and eye-detection. The eye-detection, when paired with the full-articulating screen, makes the Zfc well-suited for vlogging. However, a lack of in-body stabilization may give serious vloggers reason to pause. Furthermore, the fully articulating screen is a little clunky for street photographers.
If you want to shoot with the 3" 1,040,000-dot LCD touchscreen at waist level, it must be fully extended to the side in order to tilt up toward you, effectively doubling the size of the camera. For that reason, still photographers might be happier sticking with a tilting screen.
If you’re looking to dip your toe into video, though, the Zfc is an exceptional option. It can shoot UHD 4K video up to 30 fps and slow-motion in Full HD at 120 fps. The Zfc can also create 4K time-lapse videos and has twenty Creative Picture Controls to choose from, such as: Dream, Pop, or Graphite, all of which can also be applied to video.
It also has a microphone jack, but unfortunately lacks a headphone input, meaning you could attach a high-quality microphone to the Zfc but have no way of monitoring the audio levels coming out. As we mentioned earlier, there’s also no in-body stabilization, making it difficult to capture high-quality handheld shots.
When using your Zfc for the first time, be aware that the factory settings are not intuitive. You’ll want to give yourself ample time to customize the camera to your specifications and experiment with the autofocus.
Overall, the Nikon Zfc is a reliable, fast, and cool-looking camera. It was carefully designed with a classic touch and appeals to many Nikon lovers. However, at this price point, unless you’re a die-hard Nikon fan, you might be better off going with FUJIFILM, which offers a wider range of lenses, better in-body stabilization, and increased video capabilities.
Top dollar: The Sony a6600
Last, but not least, we present the Sony a6600. With this camera, we begin to move from entry level to professional territory. Along with this step-up in ability also comes a significant step-up in price. Still, the a6600 might appeal to some professional photographers, videographers, and serious hobbyists who want a lighter camera that doesn’t compromise on quality.
Despite being four years old, the a6600 is still Sony’s premiere APS-C camera. It comes with the company’s outstanding real-time tracking technology, which uses an AI recognition algorithm to combine color, distance, pattern, face, and eye data to detect subjects accurately. This technology can be used when shooting stills or high-quality video and is especially handy when trying to capture fast-moving subjects.
Sony kept the same reliable 24.2MP Exmor CMOS sensor and BIONZ X processor in the a6600 that are found in its predecessors, the a6100 and a6400. Sony changed the battery though, adding a colossal Z-series rechargeable battery. This monster is good for an astounding 810 shots while using the LCD screen or 720 shots when shooting with the viewfinder.
The a6600 features a tilting touch screen, although it can only face forward when fully tilted up, above the camera. Some vloggers might find this burdensome if they are trying to use a hot-shoe mic. The a6600 also comes with dedicated microphone and headphone jacks, making it possible to use and monitor external microphones. Finally, it can record 4K video up to 30p and full HD 1080p in frame rates up to 120 fps. There’s also no recording limit―great news for anyone trying to capture an entire live event or long interview in a single take.
Another irresistible quality of the a6600 is its in-body stabilization. It has 5-stop image stabilization, a rarity for most APS-C cameras, and can compensate for five different kinds of camera shake. This, combined with excellent autofocus, makes it an ideal street camera. The a6600 is also comfortable to hold, with its large grip. When paired with a small lens, like the Sony E 20mm f/2.8, it becomes extremely small and easy to transport. Perfect for a purse or backpack.
The brightness of the tilting LCD screen, however, leaves something to be desired. The three-inch screen taps out at only 921,600 dots, making it the lowest-resolution screen of any of the cameras on this list. The low-resolution makes it harder to see the screen in bright sunlight, albeit not impossible.
What the a6600 lacks in screen brightness, however, it more than makes up for in lenses. Sony offers a buffet of APS-C lenses with tons of third-party support. This is ideal for those who get tired of shooting with the same lenses. Owners of the a6600 enjoy the luxury of owning a camera that can grow along with them, changing in stride with their tastes and interests. It’s comforting to know you can buy a camera that will be enjoyed for years to come, whether you’re photographing strangers on the streets of Paris or your child’s soccer game. Great battery life, sharp autofocus, and five-stop IBIS all make the a6600 one of the most attractive cameras on this list.
When you add in the ability to shoot stabilized, 4K video, you have an exceptionally capable camera on your hands. The question is: do you need all these features? If you’re someone who doesn’t care about IBIS, 4K video, or being able to change lenses, then perhaps you would be better off choosing a less expensive option. But if you’re interested in diving deeper into photography and don’t want to waste your time, energy, and money on a camera that you might quickly outgrow, then the a6600 might be the right choice for you. There’s a reason Sony is one of the most respected names in mirrorless camera market. This top-of-the line APS-C camera gives you exactly what you would hope for the money.
What do you think of the options on this list? Are there any other cameras you'd suggest? Let us know in the Comments section, below. For more information on the cameras listed here, be sure to check out their respective product pages.