You can’t buy a cheap mirrorless camera because a perfect storm blew them away

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The past two years have been a boon for professional photographers. But for those of us who want an affordable mirrorless camera? Not really. Good new options, like the Sony ZV-E10 or Fujifilm X-S10, are often frustratingly hard to find in stock. And cheaper mid-range classics, like Canon and Nikon, haven’t been updated in years.

The obvious explanation – the global chip shortage – is only part of the problem. It’s been whipped into a super storm because manufacturers, especially Sony and Canon, have seemingly given up on affordable mirrorless cameras. While professional full-frame systems get all the love, those who want their smarts in a less financially deadly package have found themselves feeding on relative scraps.

A Sony camera with the screen tilted forward

(Photo credit: Sony)

Not that it’s impossible to buy a modern, cheap mirrorless camera – stock-outs vary by region, and newer options like the Nikon Zfc are widely available. But our temperature check of major manufacturers and retailers in the US and UK shows that the ‘enthusiast’ market is probably less excited about the options you can currently buy.

However, all is not gloomy. As this perfect cyclone of chip shortages and market shifts continues to rage, it’s not the end of entry-level mirrorless cameras, despite drastic improvements in smartphones. In fact, there’s reason to believe the clouds will lift later this year and the sun will once again shine on photographers who want modern, smart cameras for less than the cost of their car.

waiting games

How bad is the shortage of cheap mirrorless cameras? It depends on the brand and the country you are shopping in, but it ranges from “very bad” to quite frustrating. The hardest hit for cheap and mid-range options are Sony (in the US and UK) and Fujifilm (in the UK). Which is a shame, because both have made some of the best affordable mirrorless cameras in recent years.

In official Sony stores in the US and UK, the entire mid-range A6000 series (i.e. A6000, A6100, A6400 and A6600) are out of stock, as well as the new Sony ZV-E10. That’s not too surprising, as Sony Japan announced in December 2021 that it was temporarily suspending orders for the Sony A6600, ZV-E10, and A7C, and permanently shutting down the Sony A6100 and A7 II.

Obviously, the situation has not improved since then. But that means the cheapest mirrorless camera you can currently buy from the Sony store is the $1,999 / £1,750 Sony A7 III. Not exactly affordable for most non-professionals right now. This camera is also the perfect example of recent price trends – while it arrived in 2018 as an entry-level full-frame option, its Sony A7 IV successor has climbed to a different price stratosphere from $2,499 / £2,400 / AU$4,299 (body- only).

Some retail ads showing out-of-stock cameras

This will likely be a familiar sight to anyone who’s recently purchased an affordable mirrorless camera. (Image credit: future)

Sony’s situation is also mirrored by Fujifilm in the UK. Of the 15 sub-£1,500 camera options in the Fuji store, only six are in stock. Unfortunately, that means most of the kit options for the excellent Fujifilm X-S10 and Fujifilm X-T4 – two of the best mid-range mirrorless cameras – aren’t available. We asked Fujifilm for comment, but it’s likely the twin winds of global chip shortages and Brexit-related issues are causing the pain there.

It is possible to find some of these cameras at retailers, but online stores don’t fare much better collectively. Two of the biggest in the United States are B&H Photo Video and Adorama. Of B&H’s line of 130 mirrorless cameras in the sub-$1,500 price range, a massive 54 models (or 41%) are out of stock. At Adorama, 34% of its cameras under $1,500 (66 out of 192) are not available for purchase.

The situation is even worse for UK retailers. In the sub-£1500 mirrorless camera mount, Park Cameras has a whopping 72 per cent of its range marked as ‘sold out’ or ‘pending stock’. At Wex Photo Video, 62% of its range in this category has the dreaded red “pending stock” marker. In other words, the majority of cheap mirrorless cameras are still not available to buy from UK photography stores.

Old school

But it’s not just about a shortage of chips. While the stock of affordable mirrorless cameras from Canon and Nikon is generally better, you’ll probably have to blow the dust off the boxes, as neither has shown much willingness to release new models.

In the past couple of years, we’ve only seen two ‘cheap’ mirrorless cameras from these camera giants: the impressive Nikon Zfc and the disappointing Canon EOS M50 Mark II. Yes, smartphones are a big reason why, with the launch of the new full-frame Nikon Z and Canon RF systems. But with the stock of older models like the Canon EOS M100 dwindling, your options are increasingly limited unless you broaden your search to include DSLRs.

So is just the quicksand of market realities the new normal for cameras? To some extent, it’s no secret that camera sales have taken a frightening slump over the past decade, prompting manufacturers to migrate to the safer lands of professional cameras. Computational photography is good, but you won’t see rows of iPhone 13 Pros on the sporty side anytime soon.

A chart showing worldwide camera sales over the past 40 years

(Image credit: Statista)

But it’s also not true that there’s no longer a viable case for cheap or mid-range mirrorless cameras. According to BCN, which collects data from around 40% of the Japanese market, the top ten best-selling cameras in 2021 were all exclusively in that bracket, with no full-frame cameras or DSLRs in the list.

Okay, the Japanese market is different from the US and Europe and BCN’s data isn’t the most comprehensive, but clearly being a photographer also doesn’t have to be a binary choice between a smartphone and a camera professional full frame. And thankfully, the signs promise that the affordable mirrorless camera space will get a much-needed injection of new models later this year.

Signs of life

For photographers who appreciate smaller, more affordable mirrorless cameras than the Nikon Z9s of this world, this year has gotten off to a promising start. We saw the arrival of two Micro Four Thirds in the form of the Olympus OM-1 and the Panasonic Lumix GH6. Neither can be called “cheap”, but their systems have always been havens for amateur photographers and videographers – so the arrival of two new flagships is a promising sign.

But the really exciting things will probably happen later this year. It’s going to be a big year for Fujifilm, which has long occupied the sweet spot of those who appreciate both value and dynamic range. Its X-Summit conference in May should see the arrival of the flagship Fujifilm X-H2. It’s again unlikely to be a budget model, but we might also hear news about updates to its more beginner-friendly models (and hopefully an easing of those inventory issues).

Canon EOS R5 camera on blue background

(Photo credit: Canon)

Perhaps the biggest news, however, is that Canon will launch three affordable EOS R mirrorless cameras in 2022. These are expected to include a new APS-C model, the Canon EOS R7, and a long-awaited successor to the full- Canon EOS RP frame, which offered incredible value when it landed in early 2019.

All of this means that the deflated budget space in the world of mirrorless cameras, exacerbated by chip shortages, could well begin to swell again by the end of 2022. As much as we love the value offered by cheap cameras like the Canon EOS M50 and original Fujifilm X-T200, we’re very keen to see successors that incorporate some of the technology seen in their more expensive siblings.

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