Full-frame cameras are the best of the best—they have the largest sensors, the most megapixels, and lenses that are unmatched by any other class of camera. Despite the large size, they are the choice of almost all top professional photographers. In addition to DSLRs, which have long dominated the full-frame market, Sony offers the Alpha a7 series of full-frame mirrorless cameras that are considerably lighter and more compact, and Leica recently followed suit with its new SL. Below are our picks for the best full-frame cameras of 2017, from top sellers to specialty models that offer ultra-fast frame rates and 4K video functionality. For more background information, see our full-frame camera comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
Weight: 32.3 oz.
What we like: The whole package in a full-frame camera.
What we don’t: Brand new and often on backorder.
Lenses: 10 Great Nikon FX (Full Frame) Lenses
There has been a lot of back and forth between Nikon and Canon at the top of this list, and for years Canon led in innovation while Nikon laid in wait. But it’s hard to argue against the new Nikon D850, which beats out the 5D Mark IV below in most significant categories. To name a handful, the D850 has a whopping 45.7 megapixels of resolution vs. 30.4 on the 5D Mark IV, superior autofocus, faster buffering speeds, a higher resolution LCD screen, and significantly longer battery life. The 5D Mark IV does weigh less and has built-in GPS, but given that both cameras currently cost the same, we favor the D850 in a big way.
Here’s the catch: As mentioned above, this is an arms race between the two heavy hitting camera brands, and we can only expect that Canon will come back with an improved model of its own. If you’re starting from scratch and don’t own lenses, now is a great time to go with Nikon and the D850—it’s the superior camera as 2017 winds down. But if you already own a bag of Canon L series lenses, we wouldn’t jump ship just yet, not to mention the 5D Mark IV still offers ample resolution and features for most people. The good news for everyone is that the full-frame market is stronger than ever and both are impressive cameras overall.
See the Nikon D850
Weight: 28.2 oz.
What we like: A healthy jump in resolution from the 5D Mark III along with 4K video.
What we don’t: Fewer megapixels and features than the Nikon D850 above.
Lenses: 10 Great Canon EF (Full Frame) Lenses
For non-action shooters, the 5D Mark IV is Canon’s leading full-frame DSLR and comes loaded with features and functionality. Released in 2017, the latest version boasts big improvements over the older Mark III including a jump in resolution to 30.4 megapixels, 4K video, a faster burst rate at 7 fps, and built-in Wi-Fi. For everyone from professional photographers to serious enthusiasts, the 5D continues to be one of the top cameras on the market, period.
Canon, however, may have gotten a little more than it bargained for with the release of the Nikon D850. As described above, the D850 wins out in most metrics that matter: it has more megapixels, better autofocus, more features, and both cameras currently are priced the same. Given that most professionals choose one brand and stick with it (it’s not easy or cheap to switch out an entire collection of lenses), the 5D Mark IV is more than enough camera for most people and uses. But it’s worth noting that both Nikon with the D850 and Sony with the a7R II have surpassed the 5D Mark IV in megapixels by a healthy number.
See the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
Weight: 22.1 oz.
What we like: Our favorite full-frame camera for outdoor photography.
What we don’t: 4K videographers may want to look elsewhere as the camera has a tendency to overheat.
Lenses: 10 Great Sony FE (Full Frame) Lenses
When new camera technology is released, it’s usually a good idea to wait for the second generation when the kinks have been worked out. The original Sony a7 and a7R were impressive, hitting the market as the first full-frame mirrorless cameras. However, they had issues with autofocus, lack of image stabilization, and a mount too weak for some heavy lenses. All of these problems have been solved with the second generation.
The a7R II features a 42.4-megapixel back-illuminated image sensor, 4K video, improved low light performance, and built-in image stabilization. In addition, the weather sealing and ergonomics of the camera have been beefed up over previous versions for a better user experience. All in all, this is a superb full-frame camera for those who value mobility, and we’ve seen a significant number of professionals in the outdoor industry making the switch. For more speed, see the new Alpha a9 below. And Sony just announced the new a7R III, which will hit stores in November with features like faster shooting, improved autofocus, touchscreen functionality, and more.
See the Sony Alpha A7R II
Weight: 29.7 oz.
What we like: The highest resolution camera on the full-frame market.
What we don’t: High price tag and lack of video options.
Lenses: 10 Great Canon EF (Full Frame) Lenses
In the full-frame DSLR arms race, Canon took a huge step forward last year with the release of the 5DS R. Most impressive is the incredible 50.6 megapixels of resolution, which surpasses the 5D Mark IV by 20.2 megapixels and tops the Nikon D810 by 14.5 megapixels. This camera bucks the hybrid trend and is designed primarily for still photography without video-centric features like headphone sockets or an HDMI output.
Canon released two versions of this camera: the aforementioned 5DS R and the 5DS—the latter has an optical low pass filter and is about $200 cheaper. Both are phenomenal cameras for professional landscape and portrait photographers who don’t need the speed or video capability of some of the other full-frame cameras on this list. The resolution simply is unsurpassed.
See the Canon EOS 5DS R
Weight: 24.2 oz.
What we like: One of the best values on this list.
What we don’t: Video shooters may want to spend up for the 5D series.
We’ve always loved Canon’s 6D series, which offers an affordable entry point into the full-frame camera market. In 2017 Canon released the 6D Mark II, which offers notable improvements over its predecessor while still staying below the $2,000 threshold. Compared to the older model, you get a bump in resolution to 26.2 megapixels, a more advanced autofocus system, faster shooting, and touchscreen functionality on the rear LCD. All are solid improvements and the 6D Mark II is a really nice value, particularly for still photography (the 5D series is much better for video).
The Canon 6D Mark II currently is our favorite “budget” full-frame camera, beating out the older Nikon D750 below. Both are viable options with similar resolutions (the 6D Mark II is slightly better with 2 more megapixels) and frame rates (6.5 fps), but the Canon feels more modern with its touchscreen, Bluetooth and NFC connectivity, and newer processor. And we still have a soft spot for the original Canon 6D below, which is selling for a low $1,300 with the release of the newer model.
See the Canon EOS 6D Mark II
Weight: 32.6 oz.
What we like: A great value for a full-frame DSLR.
What we don’t: Limited lens options.
The most interesting full-frame release from last year does not belong to Canon or Nikon. Instead, Ricoh-owned Pentax turned some serious heads with a long awaited full-frame DSLR: the K-1. Pentax has long been known for its weather-sealed APS-C cameras, which are strong on paper and competitively priced, and the trend continues with the K-1. This DSLR has 36.2 megapixels of resolution (just a hair shy of the Nikon D810), built-in image stabilization, and a super sturdy aluminum alloy body that is sealed as well as any model on this list.
The biggest concern when choosing the K-1 over the bigger brands is lenses. Pentax K mount (or FA) lenses are flat out limited. The classic 24-70mm f/2.8 is available in a K mount, although that lens and a couple others are essentially rebranded Tamron lenses (that can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you look at it). And video quality on the K-1 isn’t up to the standards of other new full-frame cameras with 1080 60i and without 4K. But for still photographers looking for a great value, we love the K-1.
See the Pentax K-1
Weight: 23.7 oz.
What we like: The fastest full-frame on the market at 20 fps.
What we don’t: Switching systems will be pricey.
Lenses: 10 Great Sony FE (Full Frame) Lenses
Over the past few years, mirrorless cameras have made serious inroads in areas like resolution and video quality, but pro-level speed has remained the sole domain of DSLRs. That all changed in April of 2017 when Sony announced the new Alpha a9. At a blazing fast 20 fps and with an ultra-advanced 693-point phase-detection autofocus, the Sony a9 outperforms leading options from other top brands like the Canon 1DX Mark II (14 fps) and Nikon D5 (12 fps). For sports and action photography, it’s the new clubhouse leader.
There are a couple of important reasons why the Sony a9 isn’t ranked higher on this list. The first is practicality—few people outside the world of action photography need anything close to 20 fps, and therefore a higher resolution and less expensive camera like the a7R II is a better all-around fit. Second, the full-frame lens options for Sony are growing but still lag behind Canon and Nikon. And many sports and action photographers are deeply entrenched with their lens collections, so it would be a very costly maneuver to make the switch. These considerations aside, the Sony a9 now has emerged at the top camera for sports of any type.
See the Sony Alpha a9
Weight: 26.5 oz.
What we like: A great value for a full-frame camera from Nikon.
What we don't: Has an optical low pass filter unlike many new Nikon models.
Lenses: Best Lenses for Nikon D750
Nikon has taken some lumps over the past few years with its entry-level full-frame DSLR lineup, but the third time is the charm. With the D750 Nikon has moved past the sensor issues of the D610 and D600 to create a fantastic full-frame camera at a reasonable price point. For those who want professional quality photos without spending almost $3,000 for the D810, the D750 is your ticket.
In many ways, the D750 mirrors the image quality and functionality of the D810 only with fewer megapixels. You get the same EXPEED 4 image processor, image sensor dimensions, and 1080p video speeds. The D750 has an optical low pass filter (the D810 does not), but it also boasts a faster frame rate at 6 fps. Of course, the resolution is lower at 24.3 megapixels, but this is more than enough for many photographers and uses. For those looking to save, the older Nikon D610 is selling for less than some new crop-frame DSLRs like the Canon 7D Mark II.
See the Nikon D750
Weight: 30 oz.
What we like: Vastly improved over the original a99.
What we don’t: A-mount lens options.
Just when many people thought Sony’s A-mount line of full-frame DSLRs was on the way out, the impressive a99 II hit the market. Released at the end of 2016 and four years after the original a99, the technological jumps are large. The a99 II has a whopping 42.4 megapixels of resolution vs. 24.3 on the old version, the camera shoots a speedy 12 fps instead of 6 fps, and you get 4K video, among a number of other features. This is an entirely different DSLR and gives heavy hitters like the Canon 5D Mark IV and Nikon D810 a run for their money.
Despite all the positives, it still feels like Sony’s a7 line of mirrorless cameras overshadows the a99 II. Much of Sony’s resources have gone toward developing and marketing mirrorless, and a good number of people have already settled on a7 systems (ourselves included). More, available A-Mount lenses fall way short of the quantity and quality for Canon and Nikon DSLRs. The Sony a99 II is a terrific full-frame camera in its own right, but it may be a little too late.
See the Sony Alpha a99 II
Weight: 31.1 oz.
What we like: The best Nikon DSLR on the market.
What we don’t: Two years old and counting.
Lenses: Best Lenses for Nikon D810
The D810 is Nikon’s leading full-frame camera and the whole package in terms of image quality and features. Compared to the popular D800, you get the same powerful 36.3-megapixel full-frame image sensor, but new to the camera is a lack of an antialiasing filter for better sharpness, a faster EXPEED 4 image processor, faster shooting at 5 frames-per-second, a longer battery life, and an improved grip. The D800 was excellent in its own right, but the D810 is a worthy upgrade that quickly became a favorite among professionals and enthusiasts.
This camera was released in 2014 and it will be very interesting to see how Nikon responds to the increasingly crowded competition at the upper end of the full-frame market. Canon stepped to the plate in a big way with the release of the 50.6-megapixel 5DS R above, and Sony’s a7 series of mirrorless cameras have been exerting pressure on full-frame DSLRs for years. Rumors are that Nikon is working on a full-frame mirrorless camera of its own, possibly using Samsung’s technology from the NX1. Regardless, we do expect a new or updated full-frame camera from Nikon in 2017.
See the Nikon D810
Weight: 53.4 oz.
What we like: The premier full-frame DSLR for action.
What we don’t: Hefty size, short battery life, and high price.
Lenses: 10 Great Canon EF (Full Frame) Lenses
Both the Canon 1D X Mark II and Nikon D5 below are new for last year, and along with the Sony a99 II, offer the fastest shooting speeds on this list. In choosing between the two, few people will change manufacturers based on specs alone (instead, it’s usually a new purchase or upgrade from an older model of the same brand). The Canon 1D X Mark II shoots faster at 14 fps instead of 12 fps, not to mention the roughly $500 in savings. The Nikon D5 has significantly better battery life and superior ISO sensitivity. Action shooters can’t go wrong and both cameras represent notable upgrades from their predecessors, but we like the extra speed and lower price of the 1D X Mark II.
Why isn’t either of the Canon 1DX Mark II or Nikon D5 ranked higher? They are specialty models for professional action photographers but the features sets don’t appeal to most people. More, a camera like the Sony a99 II actually is catching up in the speed and resolution departments in a smaller and lighter package.
See the Canon EOS 1D X Mark II
Weight: 49.9 oz.
What we like: Fast burst and autofocus.
What we don’t: Too heavy and expensive for most people.
Lenses: 10 Great Nikon FX (Full Frame) Lenses
The Nikon D5 is a monster of a full-frame DSLR. With blazing speed, it’s one of the cameras you’ll see behind the basket at the NBA Finals and on the sideline of the Super Bowl. However, the D5 weighs in at over 3 pounds—all other cameras on this list aside from the Canon 1D X II above are at least a full pound less. Redeeming features are the fast burst rate of up to 12 fps and impressive ISO range that goes from 100-102,400. If you shoot action or sports, this is the premier Nikon DSLR on the market and worth the investment (especially if your employer is paying). For most other photographers, the weight and cost make full-frame cameras like the D810 or D750 more viable options.
See the Nikon D5
Weight: 26.8 oz.
What we like: Bargain basement price.
What we don’t: Fewer megapixels than the Mark II or D750 and less advanced autofocus.
Lenses: Best Lenses for Canon 6D
If you’re looking for a full-frame camera on a tight budget, we heartily recommend the Canon 6D. Yes, this camera recently was replaced by the Mark II above, but it still offers impressive image quality for the price, good low light performance, and features like built-in Wi-Fi and GPS. Notably, you currently can get the 6D with a 24-105mm L series lens for the same price ($2,000) as the 6D Mark II body. That’s a very intriguing and relatively affordable setup for people making the jump to full frame.
What do you sacrifice by going with the inexpensive Canon 6D? It has fewer megapixels at 20.2 than competing full-frame cameras like the 6D Mark II and D750, the autofocus isn’t as sophisticated, and it shoots slower at 4.5 fps. More, the 6D originally was released in 2013, meaning that it is getting a little long in the tooth. Nevertheless, it’s hard to argue with 20 megapixels of full-frame resolution from one of the best camera brands in the business. Grab one while supplies last.
See the Canon EOS 6D
Weight: 29.9 oz.
What we like: Fast burst rate at 11 fps.
What we don’t: Heavier and more than double the price of the Sony a7R II.
Just in time for the holiday season is the very interesting release of the new Leica SL, which represents the camera manufacturer’s first foray into mirrorless. Sony’s a7 series is overdue for a challenge, but we didn’t expect it to first come from rangefinder specialist Leica. On paper, the Leica SL is impressive: a 24-megapixel full-frame image sensor, 4K video, an ultra-high resolution electronic viewfinder, and blazing fast 11 fps burst rate (the a7R II shoots 5 fps). You also get a nifty top-mounted LCD display.
The real question is whether the Leica SL merits the huge jump in price over the Sony a7R II. You get some added features and increased speed but the price is more than double the a7R II. Leica cameras always have been much more expensive than the rest of the pack and it’s nearly impossible to top their image quality, but there is a lot to like about the a7R II at “only” $3,200 for the camera body (not to mention the Leica 24-90mm kit lens will cost thousands more). Leica enthusiasts will jump on board, but the masses? We are not so sure.
See the Leica SL
Weight: 25 oz.
What we like: Classic styling and durable metal build.
What we don't: Not a great value based on specs.
Lenses: 10 Great Nikon FX (Full Frame) Lenses
The Nikon Df is a very cool concept: a metal full-frame DSLR with a focus on manual controls. Impressively, the Df is Nikon’s lightest full-frame camera at around 25 ounces, has the same image sensor as the high-end D4, and is fully compatible with Nikon’s wide selection of FX lenses. And we love the classic design, which is reminiscent of Fujifilm.
The Df is a specialty camera for a number of reasons. First, it has lower resolution than the Nikon D750 or D810 at 16.2 megapixels. Second, despite the small form factor, the metal components make it heavier than mirrorless cameras like the Sony A7 II, and almost as heavy as the D750. Third, it’s more expensive than the D750, which clearly wins in the specs department. Although this may not be a workhorse camera for professional photographers with an eye on the bottom line, it makes a great collector’s item for those who love photography.
See the Nikon Df
Weight: 24 oz.
What we like: Superb contrast, color rendition, and overall image quality.
What we don't: The M-P is the most expensive camera on this list, and Leica lenses aren’t exactly cheap either.
The Leica M-P is well beyond the price range of most consumers, but it’s one of the finest full-frame cameras on the planet. This rangefinder is smaller, lighter, and takes photographs superior to almost all other full-frame cameras. Leica also makes some of the best lenses, a big reason why ultra-discerning photographers love the brand.
Who owns the M-P? You’ll see it at New York photo shoots and sets of Hollywood commercials and movies. Some fortunate professionals and enthusiasts own one as well—for $10,000 and up with lenses you can put together your own Leica setup. Although this camera may appear to be a total throwback to an earlier time, the M-P actually is a 2014 update to Leica’s lineup and features a 24-megapixel image sensor, increased buffering capability, and a tough rear screen.
See the Leica M-P
Weight: 16.7 oz.
What we like: Cheap and light for a full-frame camera.
What we don’t: Subsequent Alpha cameras have better tech.
Lenses: 10 Great Sony FE (Full Frame) Lenses
Sony’s mirrorless a7 series gets a lot of praise for being the lightest and most compact full-frame cameras on the market. But as you can see from the a7R II above, the price puts them out of reach for many consumers who would otherwise be interested. For this reason, we’ve included the oft-forgotten original Sony a7 on this list, which is selling for a bargain price of less than the $1,000 for the body and $1,100 with a 28-70mm kit lens. That’s cheaper than any other camera on this list by far.
What do you sacrifice by going with the older generation a7? The newer Sony a7 II has built-in image stabilization, which is a really nice feature, along with an improved magnesium alloy body that should stand up to wear and tear better than the composite materials used here. And compared to the a7R II above, the a7 offers significantly fewer megapixels at 24 compared to 42.4. But for the price, this camera gets your foot in the door of the Sony Alpha series and is a tremendous value.
See the Sony Alpha a7
|Nikon D850||$3,297||45.7||32.3 oz.||7 fps||32-102400||120, 60, 50, 30, 25, 24 fps||Yes|
|Canon 5D Mark IV||$3,299||30.4||28.2 oz.||7 fps||50-102400||60, 30, 24 fps||Yes|
|Sony Alpha a7R II||$2,398||42.4||22.1 oz.||5 fps||50-102400||60, 50, 30, 25, 24 fps||Yes|
|Canon EOS 5DS R||$3,699||50.6||29.7 oz.||5 fps||50-102400||30, 25, 24 fps||No|
|Canon 6D Mark II||$1,999||26.2||24.2 oz.||6.5 fps||100-25600||60, 30, 24 fps||No|
|Pentax K-1||$1,897||36.4||32.6 oz.||4.5 fps||100-204800||30, 25, 24 fps||No|
|Sony Alpha a9||$4,498||24.2||23.7 oz.||20 fps||50-204800||120, 100, 60, 50, 30, 25, 24 fps||Yes|
|Nikon D750||$1,797||24.3||26.5 oz.||6.5 fps||50-51200||30, 25, 24 fps||No|
|Sony Alpha a99 II||$3,198||42||30 oz.||12 fps||50-102400||120, 100, 60, 50, 30, 25, 24 fps||Yes|
|Nikon D810||$2,797||36.3||31.1 oz.||5 fps||32-51200||60, 50, 30, 25, 24 fps||No|
|Canon 1D X Mark II||$5,699||20.2||53.4 oz.||14 fps||50-409600||120, 100, 60, 50, 30, 25, 24 fps||Yes|
|Nikon D5||$6,497||20.8||49.9 oz.||12 fps||50-3280000||60, 50, 30, 25, 24 fps||Yes|
|Canon EOS 6D||$1,399||20.2||26.8 oz.||4.5 fps||50-102400||30, 25, 24 fps||No|
|Leica SL||$5,995||24||29.9 oz.||11 fps||50-50000||120, 100, 60, 50, 30, 25, 24 fps||Yes|
|Nikon Df||$2,747||16.2||25 oz.||5.5 fps||50-204800||N/A (no video)||No|
|Leica M-P||$6,995||24||24 oz.||3 fps||100-6400||25, 24 fps||No|
|Sony Alpha a7||$998||24||16.7 oz.||5 fps||100-25600||60, 24 fps||No|
Buying a full-frame camera is a much more expensive proposition than a crop-frame model, so below we’ve detailed some important considerations in the process.
- Weight and Size
- Shooting Speed
- Lens Cost
- Choosing a Brand
- Learning Curve
- Full Frame vs. Medium Format
Every camera on this list has a full-frame sensor that measures approximately 36 x 24 millimeters (some are slightly less by tenths of a millimeter), but megapixels are another factor in determining overall image quality. If you plan on enlarging photographs to massive proportions, you should consider a full-frame camera with a high megapixel count like the Nikon D850, Canon EOS 5DS R, or Sony Alpha a7R II. It’s true that the differences will not be discernable at most print sizes and all of the cameras above capture professional-grade images that can be enlarged and hung on your wall with pride. But landscape photographers and others making large prints will appreciate the highest resolutions.
For people seeking the most resolution for their buck, a nice recent addition is the Pentax K-1. This full-frame DSLR is lacking in the video department but offers a very healthy 36.4 megapixels for less than $2,000. It’s true that the K-mount lens options are limited compared to Canon or Nikon, but the K-1 is an intriguing option for still photographers.
Weight and size didn’t used to be major factors in choosing a full-frame camera. Most digital SLR cameras are in the ballpark of 30 ounces and action-centric models like the Nikon D5 are even heavier. Professional photographers had a bulky camera bag and setup and there weren’t ways around it. However, Sony’s a7 Series of full-frame mirrorless cameras changed the landscape, bringing the weight of the camera body down to around 22 ounces and with a much more compact form factor.
It wasn’t until the second generation and the Sony's a7R II that we noticed a critical mass of professionals making the switch to lighter mirrorless cameras. A number of people picked up an early a7 or a7R, but those cameras had enough shortcomings, and combined with a lack of lens choices, were less viable as a go-to camera for daily work. But when Sony beefed up the megapixel count on the a7R II to 42.4, added 4K video, and reinforced the lens mount, the camera quickly became a powerhouse. At least in the world of outdoor photography, we’ve noticed a significant percentage of people making the switch to the a7 series and using it as their primary full-frame camera
Keep in mind that with lenses includes, you might not actually save all that much weight by going mirrorless. To use the standard 24-70mm f/2.8 pro zoom as an example, Sony’s version of that lens weighs in at a hefty 31.3 ounces, whereas Canon’s is only 28.4 ounces. So the Sony a7R II with a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens is 53.4 ounces total, while the Canon 5D Mark IV with a 24-70mm f/2.8 is 56.6 ounces. It’s true that the Sony a7R II has a smaller form factor but the weight difference between those two set-ups is an insignificant 3.2 ounces. Mirrorless cameras are lighter, but perhaps not as much as people think.
Leica’s new SL (Typ 601) mirrorless camera has a smaller form factor than full-frame DSLRs like the Canon 5D Mark IV and Nikon D850, but at a weight of 29.9 ounces, isn’t substantially lighter. A number of rumors are circulating that both Nikon and Canon are in the process of developing full-frame mirrorless cameras to compete with the likes of Sony and Leica, but concrete prototypes, specs, or release dates are currently unavailable.
Full-frame cameras are at the top of the camera heap for both still photography and video. Cameras like the Canon 5D Mark IV and Nikon D850 shoot superb video: they have excellent low light performance, highly advanced autofocus, a wide variety of frame rates, a ton of manual controls, excellent audio, and the full range of outputs. Canon traditionally has been known for superior video, but Nikon has caught up over the years and the D850 and other offerings can compete with any camera on the market.
The recent emergence of 4K video resolution in full-frame cameras is again changing the status quo. Sony first offered 4K with the mirrorless a7S, a very video-centric camera with only 12.2 megapixels for stills, but later added the technology to the a7R II and a99 II. Leica’s new SL also offers 4K. From Canon, only the 5D Mark IV and 1DX Mark II shoot 4K video, and for Nikon it's only the D850 and D5. But more options likely will emerge in the months and years to come.
Interestingly, the market is seeing a divergence in still photography and video, which we think is healthy. The Canon 5DS R, released last year, clearly is geared toward still photography without 4K video or video-centric features like headphone sockets or an HDMI output. The truth is that many dedicated videographers have preferred cameras specifically for that purpose, from the high-end Arri Alexa to more budget-friendly options like the Panasonic GH5 or Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. The Canon 5D Mark IV and III are the DSLRs we see most among professional video shooters, but we think it’s a good idea to have separate models with higher resolution sensors like the 5DS R that aren’t as good for video. Then consumers have the choice of how important video is to their buying decision.
Most photographers don’t need blazing fast shooting speeds, which are measured in frames per second (fps). But for action and sports, speed is a must. Interestingly, a new player has emerged on the action scene: the Sony Alpha a9. With the same general design as Sony’s popular a7 series of mirrorless cameras, the a9 pushes the envelope in a big way at an impressive 20 fps. Second place in the full-frame category goes to the Canon 1DX Mark II at 14 fps, and both the Nikon D5 and Sony a99 II shoot at 12 fps. All other full-frame cameras on the list have frame rates in the range of 3 fps to 11 fps.
The release of the a9 has opened up a lot of discussion about switching over to Sony’s full-frame system. Many professional action photographers are set with a whole bag of specialty Canon or Nikon lenses, and the prospect of selling all of those lenses and starting from scratch would be financially daunting. However, at least on paper the a9 is indeed the top action camera (for now) and Sony’s collection of lenses is expanding quickly. We’ve really enjoyed shooting with the G Master series, and Sony recently added a 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM to the mix.
There are some sacrifices of choosing an ultra-fast camera. The first is resolution, which tends to drop as frame rates increase. For example, the Sony Alpha a9 is 24.2 megapixels while the a7R II is 42.4 megapixels. The Canon 1DX Mark II is 20.2 megapixels while the Canon 5D Mark IV is 30.4 megapixels. Second is cost—the action cameras above are the most expensive models on the market, often close to double their slower counterparts. It’s a no-brainer if you’re a professional photographer who needs the fast shooting speeds, but most people don’t and that’s why they aren’t ranked at the top of this list.
Don’t overlook the cost of lenses when buying your camera. A full-frame sensor will expose the weaknesses of low quality lenses, and the lens offerings are more expensive than their crop-frame siblings. For entry-level full-frame cameras like the Nikon D750 and Canon 6D Mark II, the kit lenses will allow you to start shooting photos without breaking the bank. Another strategy for saving money is to start with one high quality lens for the type of photography you shoot most. Landscape photographers will want a good wide-angle lens that likely will cost from around $1,000 to $2,000. Portrait shooters can spend less as lenses like the 50mm and 85mm primes are some the best values on the market and run less than $500. And the zoom options are better than ever before, which offer a nice compromise between cost and image quality. Whatever your lens strategy is, it’s a good idea to at least do a rough calculation of the total cost of your camera with lenses to avoid sticker shock.
You can switch brands once you buy a full-frame camera, but it's more costly than with a crop-frame model. Many Nikon shooters have a collection of Nikon full-frame lenses and update camera bodies as they choose, and the same goes for Canon shooters with Canon EF lenses. You can try to sell your old gear and switch brands, but there are transaction costs in that process. When you make a full-frame purchase, keep in mind that you may end up continuing on with that brand well beyond the lifespan of one camera. Both Nikon and Canon are terrific brands and offer the widest selection of lenses. Sony is an up-and-comer with its full-frame mirrorless offerings, and its collection of FE (full-frame) lenses is improving still lags behind.
Compared to an entry-level or mid-range camera, a full-frame camera offers the most creativity and customization. The good news is that almost all of the models on this list have automatic shooting modes that will help you capture great photos while letting the camera do much of the work. However, these high-end cameras are built for manual adjustments to things like focus, exposure, ISO sensitivity, and white balance. You don’t have to tackle them all at once, but it’s a good idea to get comfortable with your full-frame camera before you depend on it for the perfect shot. Out of the box, read the manual, charge the battery, and head out for some test shoots. Particularly if you haven’t used that brand before, it takes some time to become fluent with the camera and menu.
Medium format once was the exclusive territory of the most serious fine art and landscape photographers. These extremely expensive cameras have image sensors that dwarf even full frame, ranging from 53.4 x 40.0mm for a Hassalbad down to 43.8 x 32.8mm for a Pentax or Fujifilm. Given that full-frame image sensors are approximately 36 x 24mm (864 sq. mm), a Hassalbad medium format image sensor (2,136 sq. mm) is well over double the size. Combined with a whopping 100 megapixels of resolution and a $33,000 price tag, that’s one heckuva digital camera.
The reason we’ve included this section on medium format is that the technology finally has trickled down to a broader range of photographers. A couple of years ago Pentax released the 645Z medium format camera for around $7,000, and for 2017 Fujifilm has released the mirrorless GFX 50S at $6,499. What’s perhaps most interesting, however, is that Fujifilm skipped competing with Sony’s popular a7 series of full-frame mirrorless cameras altogether and went straight to medium format. This should raise at least some eyebrows that medium format may take further aim at the consumer market in the coming years.
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