Full-frame DSLRs have long been the cameras of choice for photographers in pursuit of optimum image quality and performance, and a number of very different models can be bought at a reasonable price.
Compared with APS-C and smaller image sensors, full-frame sensors enable individual pixels to be physically larger, so they can gather more light. This gives the potential for relatively noise-free images, even at high ISO settings.
Alternatively, camera makers can pack full-frame sensors with more megapixels for brilliant rendition of fine detail and texture. Full-frame cameras also allow for a much tighter depth of field for portraiture and still-life photography.
So, there are many reasons for creative photographers to opt for these, but value for money varies widely across different models. Therefore, it's worth investigating the full range of what's out there to make sure you're getting the best model for your needs.
Here are the key contenders for your attention.
For truly wide-ranging photography, encompassing everything from fast-paced action, sports and wildlife, to weddings and low-light portraiture, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is currently the camera to beat.
It has exceptional autofocus and metering systems, and delivers fabulous image quality even in the trickiest conditions. It is, however, somewhat expensive; for a similarly broad skill-set at a budget price, the Nikon D750 is astonishingly great value.
These aren't the only choices, however. Your needs will not be the same as everyone else's, so we do recommend you take a close look at all of the following models before parting with your cash.
1. Canon EOS 6D
This old-timer still has some life in it
Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 20.2MP | Lens mount: Canon EF | Screen: 3in fixed, 1,040,000 dots | Viewfinder: Optical | Max burst speed: 4.5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Enthusiast/professional
The EOS 6D is a veteran of the full-frame DSLR market. On the plus side, it’s the least expensive camera body on test and gives full access to Canon’s enviable range of EF lenses, and it also boasts built-in Wi-Fi and GPS. However, the EOS 6D has a relatively low 20.2MP count, and its antiquated autofocus system only offers a paltry 11 AF points. The modest megapixel count and DIGIC 5+ processor deliver wonderfully low-noise images throughout an impressively large sensitivity range, and colour rendition is very natural, while auto white balance and metering are consistently reliable. Overall, Canon’s budget full-framer is capable of delivering very pleasing results, and it's now joined by a newer and more expensive EOS 6D Mark II. But, you know what? For the money, we still like the old one.
2. Canon EOS 5DS
More megapixels than any other full-frame DSLR
Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 50.6MP | Screen: 3.2in fixed, 1,040,000 dots | Viewfinder: Optical | Max burst speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Professional
The EOS 5DS is virtually identical to the older EOS 5D Mark III in external appearance and handling, which is no bad thing. Canon has, however, redesigned the newer body to be more rigid yet slightly lighter, and there’s a new shutter unit that reduces vibrations. For capturing detail and texture, the EOS 5DS is simply epic. Indeed, some of Canon’s own EF lenses didn’t make it onto the approved list for use with this camera because they’re not sharp enough to do it justice. The trade-off is that high-ISO images are relatively noisy, and it's presumably for this reason that Canon has limited the standard ISO range a maximum ISO 6,400 setting, so it's not necessarily the best option if low-light shooting is your thing.
3. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
Jack of all trades and master of most of them
Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 30.4MP | Screen: 3.0in fixed touchscreen, 1,620,000 dots | Viewfinder: Optical | Max burst speed: 7fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Professional
The EOS 5D Mark IV’s sports Canon's latest-generation sensor and builds on the bones of the EOS 5D Mark III in a number of key ways. The metering system and 61-point autofocus module are updated, for example, with all of the AF points supporting f/8 lens-teleconverter combinations. Live view autofocus is also excellent, thanks to Canon's Dual Pixel CMOS AF system. Weather-seals are also improved, while a new touchscreen speeds you through menu choices, and Wi-Fi, NFC and GPS have all been added. 4K video capture is also on hand, and this produces excellent results, although this does come with a heavy crop factor, and records using the somewhat inefficient and the Motion JPEG format. Image quality is great, though, with high-ISO images managing to be more detailed than those from the EOS 6D yet equally free from noise.
4. Nikon D610
Not the newest DSLR but superb value for money nonetheless
Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 24.3MP | Screen: 3.2in, 921k dots | Viewfinder: Optical | Continuous shooting speed: 6fps | Max video resolution: Full HD | User level: Enthusiast
The Nikon D610 is still Nikon's cheapest full-frame DSLR, and if you don't need the latest features it's well worth considering. Sure, it may not have all the fancy tricks of the D750 (below) such as a tilting screen or Wi-Fi, but you still get a 24.3MP full-frame sensor, two card slots, Full HD video and a (fixed) 3.2in LCD. Image quality is excellent and the autofocus system works very well, despite the fact that it's not quite the newest module Nikon offers. The D610 would be a great first-time, full-frame camera, or alternatively a capable backup body for a more advanced model.
5. Nikon D750
Versatility, value and very good image quality
Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 24.3MP | Screen: 3.2in tilting screen, 1,228,800 dots | Viewfinder: Optical | Max burst speed: 6.5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Enthusiast/professional
For all-round abilities, the D750 has established itself as our favourite Nikon DSLR. The 24MP sensor includes an optical low-pass filter to protect against moiré patterning and false colour, and this is coupled with an EXPEED 4 processor, while the body is finished with tilting rear screen and dual card slots. On the inside, Nikon has furnished the camera with a 51-point AF system, Wi-Fi and the option to shoot at up to a very respectable 6.5fps High-ISO image quality is about as noise-free as the Canon EOS 6D, but the D750’s 51-point autofocus system is streets ahead. Image quality is sumptuous in all respects, and overall performance is spectacular considering the camera’s relatively low price. This is arguably the best-value Nikon DSLR you can get right now.
6. Nikon D810
Now updated by the D850, but the D810 still holds many charms
Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 36.3MP | Screen: 3.2in fixed, 1,228,000k dots | Viewfinder: Optical | Max burst speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Professional
Classed as a professional body by Nikon, the D810 has the firm’s typical pro-grade control layout, with push-button access to various shooting parameters but no mode dial. Like its D750 sibling, it has EXPEED 4 image processing and a 51-point autofocus system, together with two memory card slots (although here with a CompactFlash and SDHC/SDXC setup). However, the maximum drive rate is slower at 5fps and, despite the fact that it's bigger and heavier than the D750, it lacks the latter’s tilting screen and Wi-Fi. The autofocus system is accurate and able to track moving subjects, and is backed up by a generous memory buffer, so it's a sound choice for action photography. We're currently putting the new Nikon D850 through its paces, and first impressions are that this will be a hugely popular DSLR for enthusiasts and professionals alike. Until we know exactly what that camera's made of, it's the D810 that makes the cut here.
7. Pentax K-1
Left-field competitor with some very strong features
Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 36.4MP | Screen: 3.2in pivoting screen, 1,037,000 dots | Viewfinder: Optical | Max burst speed: 4.4fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Enthusiast/professional
Despite a very reasonable asking price, the robust, weather-sealed body is packed with advanced features and shooting controls. The K-1 has a sizeable 36.4MP count; the articulated rear screen can tilt laterally as well as vertically; sensor-shift image stabilisation works with any lens and has a highly effective five-axis action; and both GPS and Wi-Fi are built into the body. Image quality is very good but, despite a huge sensitivity range, image noise is prevalent in high-ISO shots. Autofocus is accurate but doesn’t quite match Canon and Nikon cameras for tracking fast-moving subjects. Still, for this kind of price, the K-1 absolutely trounces its rivals where features are concerned – it's an absolute steal.
8. Sony Alpha 99 II
Huge resolution, huge speed, huge achievement
Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 42.4MP | Screen: 3in pivoting screen, 1,228,800 dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Max burst speed: 12fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Enthusiast/professional
Bigger and beefier than the A7R II compact system camera, the A99 II is not strictly speaking a DSLR, but close enough in design and intentions to be considered alongside them. It offers more assured handling and feels better balanced with most full-frame lenses. There’s a hybrid autofocus system but, unlike that of the A7R II, it includes phase-detection on both the image sensor (399 points) and a separate AF module (79 points). Five-axis sensor-shift image stabilisation features, as does a 2.36MP OLED electronic viewfinder, while the rear screen offers full articulation rather than just vertical tilt. The camera also boasts blisteringly fast 12fps continuous shooting, complete with autofocus tracking and live metering. In recent years, Sony's attention has shifted away from its SLT bodies to its A7 and A9 compact system cameras lines, and this places the future of the system in doubt. Still, for now, we like the A99 II – a lot.
Read more: Sony A99 II review