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The best full frame mirrorless camera in 2021: Sony vs Canon, Nikon & Panasonic

Best full frame mirrorless camera
(Image credit: Panasonic)

How do you choose the best full frame mirrorless camera today? Mirrorless cameras have stormed the market and dominated the headlines for the past couple of years, especially in the full frame camera market, where the speed of development has been breathtaking.

Sony started it all with the Sony A7 back in 2013, and for a while this company had the full frame mirrorless camera market all to itself. But then came Nikon, and Canon, and Panasonic, each with its own twist on the mirrorless format and its own plans for dominance.

2020 saw some of the biggest upheavals yet. The Canon EOS R5 redefined expectations about what mirrorless cameras can do, and Panasonic launched the Lumix S5 to rival the performance of its S1H cinema camera but at a fraction of the price. Nikon launched its entry level Nikon Z5 full frame mirrorless camera, and Sony came out with a downsized rangefinder style Sony A7C

And then came 2021, and the jaw-dropping new Sony Alpha A1. The only reason it doesn't have its own entry in the list below is because we've yet to test it ourselves – but don't worry – we're working on it!

And then there's Leica! Amidst all the noise surrounding the full frame mirrorless cameras of the big brands it's been easy to forget the Leica SL, launched in 2015. But we don't think anyone is going to forget its brand new replacement, the Leica SL2, which shares the high-end imaging and video tech of the Panasonic Lumix S1R but adds in Leica's own unique styling and design to make it one of the best Leica cameras you can get right now. What's especially interesting is that this is a comparably affordable Leica and it's backed by the momentum of the L-mount Alliance, with a growing lens range already and more to come. And then, late in the year, came the even more affordable 24MP Leica SL2-S.

Full frame mirrorless cameras everywhere now. Some of the best cameras for professionals are mirrorless, and the best 4K cameras for filmmaking are almost all full frame mirrorless models. They've also made full frame photography more affordable for hobbyists and enthusiasts (especially Sony) and feature heavily amongst the cheapest full frame cameras you can get right now.

As so often, though, the 'best' camera ultimately depends on what you want it for. Perhaps surprisingly, none of these cameras can really be called 'the best' all round. The best full frame mirrorless camera for resolution is not the best for action, or video, and it's certainly not the best value.

So we've split this guide into four sections: 'Best resolution', 'Best for sports', 'Best for video' and 'Best value'. All of these cameras have something to offer, but the 'best' one will depend on you, and what you are looking for.

Best resolution

The Sony A1 is a new name for this list but we won't add it until we've tested it properly.. In the meantime, we will stick to the cameras we've seen and tried.

Best full frame mirrorless camera: Sony A7R Mark IV

(Image credit: Sony)

1. Sony A7R Mark IV

It's the highest resolution full frame camera yet, but that's not all it does

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 61MP | Lens mount: Sony FE | Screen: 3-inch tilting touchscreen, 1,440,000 dots | Viewfinder: Electronic, 5.76m dots | Continuous shooting speed: 10fps | Video: 4K cropped(oversamped)/uncropped up to 30/25p | User level: Professional

61 megapixel resolution
10fps continuous shooting
Advanced Eye AF
Unbalanced with bigger lenses
Expensive, naturally!

With its new 61-megapixel sensor, the Sony A7R Mark IV inevitably comes top of this particular category. The 'R' models in Sony's A7 series cameras are designed first and foremost for resolution – and the Sony A7R Mark IV certainly delivers. The previous A7R Mark III set the standard for a time, but the A7R Mark IV brings a new record-breaking 61-megapixel that has the highest resolution of any Sony – or indeed any full frame camera. Its other specs include 10fps continuous shooting – an amazing achievement at this resolution, advanced Eye AF and 4K video. The 10fps frame rate doesn't make it a sports camera, though, as it lacks the outright speed, responsiveness and buffer capacity for that, and Sony's 4K video seems stuck in a bit of a timewarp right now compared to the advances being made by rival makers. The Eye AF and Real-time tracking are excellent, but having to switch to the Super 35mm crop format for the best quality video is a nuisance. But still, this is the only full frame mirrorless camera to beat the mighty new Sony A1 for resolution.

Read more: Sony A7R Mark IV review

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2. Canon EOS R5

As if 45MP wasn't enough, there's the astonishing 8K video...

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame CMOS | Megapixels: 45MP | Monitor: 3.15-inch fully articulating touchscreen, 2,100k dots | Continuous shooting speed: 12fps mechanical shutter, 20fps electronic shutter | Viewfinder: 0.5-inch OLED EVF, 5,690k dots, 100% coverage | Max video resolution: 8K DCI or UHD at 30p | User level: Professional

Incredible image quality
Exceptional 8K video
Recording limits
4K video is average

The EOS R5 is Canon's latest flagship mirrorless camera, and seems to be trying to corner every segment of the market at once. Its brand-new 45MP sensor produces images of incredible detail, and it has the class-leading autofocus system of the EOS-1D X Mark III (below), with a whopping 5,940 AF points for photography and 4,500 for video. As if that wasn't enough, it also offers 12fps continuous shooting. The EOS R5's video specs are nothing short of next-generation, includiing uncropped 8K Raw video internally at up to 29.97fps in 4:2:2 12-bit Canon Log or HDR PQ (both H.265) in both UHD and DCI – this is cinema-quality stuff – though the R5 is affected by heat buildup and recording limits. We've put the EOS R5 in our 'Best for resolution' section, but it could also go in 'Best for video', 'Best for sport' or 'Best of just about anything'! This also applies to the brand new Sony A1, which has another five million pixels, but also another $2,000+ on the price!

Read more: Canon EOS R5 review

Best full frame mirrorless camera: Panasonic Lumix S1R

(Image credit: Panasonic)

3. Panasonic Lumix S1R

The Lumix S1R is built for quality and performance, not size or cheapness!

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 47.3MP | Screen: 3.2-inch, 2,100k | Viewfinder: Electronic, 5,760k | Lens: L-mount | Continuous shooting speed: 9fps | Video resolution: Uncropped/cropped (oversampled) 4k UHD up to 60/50p | User level: Expert/professional

Huge resolution
Excellent build and controls
High-end 4K video
Heavy and expensive

If you need top-quality stills photography and 4K video features (including a full-frame first – 60/50p 4K capture), the Lumix S1R is a close rival to the Nikon Z7 II. It costs substantially more than the cheaper Lumix S1, but the extra resolution is likely to prove well worth it. Both are pretty big, hefty cameras, though, and the same goes for the L-mount lenses we’ve seen so far from Panasonic and Sigma (also part of the new L-mount alliance, along with Leica). If you thought mirrorless cameras were supposed to be small, you might be surprised by the size of this one – but with larger lenses or tripod use, the extra size, controls and overall balance are arguably better than a smaller camera's. We'd pick the Lumix S1R for stills, but the cheaper Lumix S5 is better for video, as it can capture full width oversampled video (the S1R has to swap to a smaller crop or use lower-quality line-skipping during full frame capture), and smaller too.

Read more: Panasonic Lumix S1R review

Best full frame mirrorless camera: Leica SL2

(Image credit: Leica)

4. Leica SL2

Leica's latest full-frame mirrorless camera is simply superb

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor size: Full frame | Megapixels: 47MP (effective) | Lens mount: L-mount | Continuous shooting: 10/20fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Professional

Superb resolution
High speed continuous shooting
Excellent 4K video features
Beautiful design and interface
Expensive, obviously
Fixed, non-tilting rear touchscreen

Leica doesn't just make retro rangefinders and luxury cameras for the rich. The SL line sets out to offer Leica's legendary design, build quality and lenses to discerning professionals. But while the original SL was good, the brand new SL2 is simply exceptional. First, it uses the L-mount that has now been adopted by Sigma and Panasonic for its full-frame mirrorless cameras, so there is an increasing range of optics available, thanks to the L- mount lens roadmap. Second, it's no secret that the internals, including the sensor, in-body stabilization and 4K capabilities come straight from the Panasonic Lumix S1R. But what's on the outside is pure Leica, including a beautiful minimalist design, simple but superbly thought out controls and a classy, elegant interface that works brilliantly. Yes, the Leica SL2 is expensive, but it's also very, very good!

Read more: Leica SL2 review

(Image credit: Nikon)

5. Nikon Z7 II

Huge resolution, high-speed shooting and 4K video but not perfect

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame CMOS | Megapixels: 45.7MP | Monitor: 3.2-inch tilting touchscreen, 2,100K dots | Continuous shooting speed: 10fps | Viewfinder: EVF, 3,690k dots, 100% coverage | Max video resolution: Uncropped 4K UHD up to 30p, cropped 4K UHD up to 60p | User level: Enthusiast/Professional

Excellent image quality
Lovely handling
5-axis IS system
Best-in-class build quality
EVF resolution lower than rivals
Tilt-angle display, not vari-angle

The Z7 II is Nikon's flagship full frame mirrorless camera and an update to the original Nikon Z7. All the changes that we’ve seen on the Z7 II compared to the Z7 are certainly welcome, but we can’t help feeling that Nikon’s played it a bit safe. We’d like to have seen even more of a jump to really make it a serious threat to the likes of the Canon EOS R5 and Alpha A7R IV. But still, the Nikon Z7 II has a lot going for it. It might not have a standout feature that sets it apart from its competitors, but the Nikon Z7 II delivers solidly across the board and is a great mirrorless camera. Nikon's changes – dual processors and dual memory card slots, for example – have made a great camera even better.

Read more: Nikon Z7 II review

Best for speed

Here's another category that could soon be dominated by the mighty Sony A1, though we want to put this camera through some proper real-world testing before we add it to our list. In the meantime, here are the rest.

Best full frame mirrorless camera: Sony A9 Mark II

(Image credit: Sony)

6. Sony A9 Mark II

We thought the original Sony A9 was fast, and then Sony makes this...

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Sony E | Screen: 3in tilting touchscreen, 1,440k dots | Viewfinder: EVF, 3,686k dots | Continuous shooting speed: 20fps | Video resolution: Uncropped 4K UHD up to 30/25p | User level: Professional

Blistering burst shooting
Best AF system we've used
Unrivaled connectivity
Menus remain obtuse
Isn't it time for CFexpress?
No Olympus style Pro Capture

To quote from our own hands on review verdict, the Sony A9 II is the fastest, most ferocious full-frame sports camera we've ever used. Its blistering speed and autofocus performance are matched only by its phenomenal connectivity, which promises to be a game changer for pro shooters. However, we would love to have seen Sony implement something akin to Olympus' Pro Capture feature, so that you never miss the critical moment. It's a bit of a disappointment to find Sony's not yet ready for the new super-fast CFexpress format (and if ever a camera needed high-end cards, it's this one) and Sony's not really made any attempt to move its 4K video tech any further forward – so no 10-bit capture or 60/50p frame rates just yet.

Read more: Sony A9 Mark II review

Best for video

This is ANOTHER category that could soon be dominated by the Sony A1 – but the Canon EOS R5 could stake its own claim, as both these cameras can capture 8K video. However, they do it at considerable expense and with some important limitations. So for videographers happy with 4K, here are some more cost-effective but equally practical candidates.

Best full frame mirrorless cameras: Sony A7S III

(Image credit: Sony)

7. Sony A7S III

The best mirrorless camera there is for 4K video, but stills are 12MP only

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 12.1 | Lens mount: Sony FE | Monitor: 3-inch vari-angle touchscreen, Fully articulating 3-inch touchscreen 1,440K dots | Viewfinder: OLED EVF, 9,437K dots | Max continuous shooting speed: 10fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Professional

Incredible low light performance
Stunning AF, even for video
No 6K or 8K video
Still images only 12MP

It’s taken Sony five years to upgrade the video-centric A7S II to a Mark III, but the wait has been worth it for keen enthusiast and professional moviemakers. It might not boast 6K or 8K video resolution of some of its rivals, and with only 12.1MP it’s not a powerhouse super-stills machine either. But apart from a big and expensive cinema camera, it’s the only camera that can shoot 4K at 60p full frame with no crop, recorded internally, in 10-bit 4:2:2 with no limitations on recording time and with all the advanced AF functions still working. The 12MP resolution means the A7S III is pretty poor as a stills camera, but an absolute natural at 4K, so it is tilted more towards video than stills. However, sports fans should note it can shoot stills at 10fps and has an incredible 1,000-shot raw buffer (using new CFexpress Type A cards).

Read more: Sony A7S III review

Best full frame mirrorless cameras: Panasonic Lumix S5

(Image credit: Panasonic)

8. Panasonic Lumix S5

Panasonic's new compact mirrorless camera is just stunning

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Screen: 3-inch vari-angle, 1,840k dots | Viewfinder: Electronic, 2,360k dots | Lens: L-mount | Continuous shooting speed: 7fps | Video: Uncropped 4K UHD up to 60/50p | User level: Intermediate/expert

Best in-class video performance
Magnesium frame and vari-angle screen
Dual SD card slots
HDMI port not full-size
Only contrast AF

Despite its compact size, the Lumix S5 shares the impressive 24MP CMOS sensor housed in the Lumix S1, but with improved AF. It also has a tough weather-resistant body and delivers up to 6.5-stops of image stabilisation with compatible lenses. Its standout features include class-leading dynamic range and 4K video recording, as well as 96MP high resolution RAW+JPEG capture. It’s tough to beat in this category. Panasonic has stuck to its contrast-based DFD autofocus system which still doesn't quite match the latest phase-detect systems from rivals, but a speed and algorithm upgrade has closed the gap. The Lumix S5 is smaller than the Lumix S1 and S1H before it, and cheaper too. It matches the Lumix S1 for stills and beats it for video, coming close to the capabilities of the far more expensive Lumix S1H. What a camera!

Read more: Panasonic Lumix S5 review

Best value

Best full frame mirrorless camera: Canon EOS RP

(Image credit: Canon)

9. Canon EOS RP

Canon's cheapest full frame mirrorless camera is very appealing

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame CMOS | Megapixels: 26.2MP | Monitor: 3-inch vari-angle touchscreen, 1,040k dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Viewfinder: EVF, 2.36 million dots | Video: Cropped 4K UHD up to 25/24p | User level: Enthusiast

Size, weight and low cost
Fully articulating screen
1.6x crop and no Dual Pixel AF in 4K
Weak battery life

The EOS RP is Canon's second full frame mirrorless camera, and it's smaller, lighter and a lot cheaper than the first, the EOS R. It's designed to be a compact, affordable and easy to use entry point into Canon's full frame mirrorless system, and it succeeds brilliantly. Its small dimensions mean it can sometimes feel overbalanced by larger lenses, though, and the 4K video mode comes with some caveats – the image frame is cropped by a factor of 1.6 and you can't use Canon's speedy Dual Pixel CMOS AF system unless you drop the resolution to full HD. On the upside, the pictures are clear and sharp, the vari-angle touchscreen display is a real advantage for both stills and video, and the inclusion of an EF lens adaptor means you can use existing Canon DSLR lenses alongside the new but growing RF lens system. This is a great little camera if you're ready to accept its limitations.

Read more: Canon EOS RP review

(Image credit: Sony)

10. Sony A7 II

This 24MP full frame mirrorless Sony even has in-body stabilisation

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 24.3MP | Lens mount: Sony E | Screen: 3in tiltable, 1,228,800 dots | Viewfinder: Electronic | Max burst speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Enthusiast/professional

5-axis in-body image stabilization
Great handling
No 4K video
Large lenses negate size advantage

For a long time, the original Sony A7 was the cheapest full frame camera you could get, but it's proving pretty hard to find these days and its replacement, the A7 Mark II is, to be fair, a much better camera. The big advantage that you you get with the Alpha A7 II is built-in optical stabilisation. This allows you to get steadier shots in a wide variety of lighting conditions, and works with any of the range of E-mount Sony lenses. Autofocus and start-up times are also faster than those on the A7, the former thanks to a 117-point phase-detect AF system that works in combination with 25-point contrast-detect AF, ensuring sharpness no matter where the subject lies in the frame. This 24-megapixel CSC is also pretty small for a full-frame camera. Prices for the A7 Mark II are falling just as they did for the original A7 before it, and right now this is one of the cheapest options for full frame upgraders.

Read more: Sony A7 II review, updated for 2020

Read more:

• These are the best cameras for professionals today
• We pick out the best 4K cameras for filmmaking
• These are the cheapest full frame cameras you can get right now