How do you choose the best full frame mirrorless camera? The only way to answer that question is to be quite clear about what you're looking for. Of course, you could pay an ABSOLUTE FORTUNE for a camera that's brilliant at everything, like the Sony A1 or the Canon EOS R5, but we're guessing you'd like to see some more affordable alternatives too.
So we've divided this guide up into sections to make it easier to navigate depending on what you're looking for?
• Want as many pixels as you can get for super-detailed images? Then you'll want to look at the Best resolution cameras.
• Need fast burst rates for capturing action? We've selected the full-frame mirrorless cameras that are best for speed.
• For filmmakers, we've included the cameras that are best for video.
• If you're on a budget (who isn't?), take a look at the full-frame mirrorless cameras that are best value.
The fact is, these days we're spoilt for choice. Sony kicked off the full frame mirrorless camera market way back in 2013 when it debuted the full-frame mirrorless Sony A7, along with its two cousins, the high-resolution A7R and the low-light wonder, the A7S.
But since then, Canon, Panasonic, Nikon, Leica and Sigma have all joined in with their own very diverse and very interesting take on the ideal mirrorless camera.
Recent success stories include the Canon EOS R5 , which stole headlines and redefined the expectations of mirrorless cameras, despite some issues with overheating. Panasonic launched the Lumix S5, a camera that rivalled the performance of the firm's own Lumix S1H cinema camera, coming at a fraction of the cost Nikon, meanwhile, has carved out its own professional niche with the speedy, silent Z series. Of course, there are always more surprises in store. 2021 has seen the arrival of the astonishing (and astonishingly expensive) Sony Alpha A1.
So if you're looking for the best full-frame mirrorless camera, you've got a lot of options. 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.
So let's get started!
We've ranked these cameras in order of resolution, but see our comments on each before deciding which is best for you. We do have to explain the absence of the 50MP Sony A1, however. The fact is, it's so good at everything that it could have gone in three of our categories – resolution, speed AND video (not value, obvs) – but we had to choose somewhere so we've put it in the 'best for speed' category below. You can take it as read that it also qualifies for the 'best for resolution' and 'best for video' sections too.
* Note that the A7R Mark IV has been swapped for a newer A7R IVA version, with the same basic specs but a higher resolution rear screen and improved battery life. Make sure you now which you are getting when you order.
With its 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.
The Sigma fp gets its number two spot in this section purely by virtue of its resolution. In terms of features and responsiveness, it's not really the equal of its rivals here, though it is an intriguing hybrid stills/video camera that could yet prove to be the start of something new.
Given how many things the Sigma fp L is at once, it's amazing what a small body the camera has. Sigma is keen to market this full-frame mirrorless model as a hybrid stills and video camera – so it shoots both 61MP stills and is a full-on cine shooter, able to capture 8-bit CinemaDNG format internally, or up to 12-bit CinemaDNG when hooked up to an external SSD via USB.
Switching between stills and cine mode is nice and easy, and the whole camera is pleasingly easy to control (though its small size makes it quite unbalanced when it's paired with big lenses). The compromises have to come somewhere, you might be thinking, and you are right; there are some drawbacks. While the video quality is brilliant, the video autofocus is pretty slow and unreliable. What's more, the camera only has an electronic shutter, not a mechanical one, and its sensor has quite a slow readout speed. So while it can shoot at fast shutter speeds, and at an impressive-sounding burst speed of 10fps, fast-moving subjects run the risk of getting blurred or distorted.
This is a quirky and interesting camera though, and if you can forgive a few niggles, you may find yourself charmed by it. If you invest some time in getting used to it, the Sigma fp L has serious potential in both stills and video.
Read more: Sigma fp L review
In terms of resolution, the Z7 II is not so very different to the Panasonic Lumix S1R, below, except in two respects. First, the Z7 II has phase detect AF and the Lumix does not; second, the Nikon is a lot cheaper!
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
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
The EOS R5 is such a powerful and effective all-rounder, so why is it languishing at the number 5 slot? It's purely because its resolution is a whisker below that of its rivals', and that's our criterion here. The fact is, though, that a couple of megapixels here and there makes no difference, and the EOS R5 is a quite superb camera. It is flagship mirrorless camera – for now – 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 for speed
We've decided to put the mighty Sony A1 in this category for now, because impressive as its 50MP sensor is for resolution, its 30fps continuous shooting is quite extraordinary. But what's this? We've STILL put it below the 20fps Sony A9 II? That's because the A9 II is built for this one job and is $2,000 cheaper – and pro photographers buy with their heads, not with their hearts.
To quote from our own review, 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
The Sony A1 is everything that Sony says it is. It’s a technological triumph, a camera that really can do everything. Previously, cameras might offer speed, resolution or video capability, but the A1 offers all three, and even beats dedicated sports and video cameras at their own game. So is this the perfect camera? Not quite. The price is, and will remain, a major obstacle, and its appeal is limited to photographers who need everything it does, not just one or two of those things. This, together with its huge price, prevent it from being right at the top of this list. If you want resolution, the Sony A1 is second only to Sony's own A7R IV/IVA and the quirky Sigma fp L, but if you also want super-fast burst speeds and 8K video, then the A1 is the absolute king of the hill. In typical Sony style, though, it's a camera that does everything you want and some other things you might not that still bump up the price.
Read more: Sony A1 review
Best for video
This is ANOTHER category that should be dominated, technically, by the 8K Canon EOS R5 and the Sony A1. However, they do it at considerable expense and with some important limitations. So for videographers happy with 4K, here are two more cost-effective but equally practical candidates.
This is actually a very close run thing, but the A7S III has a much more advanced AF system than the Lumix S5, below, and that might be the clincher for most filmmakers and vloggers. 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
The Lumix S5 is decent enough as an entry-level full frame stills camera, but it goes absolutely above and beyond for video features at this price. 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
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
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
Do you know what? We feel a bit sorry for the Nikon Z5. It's often overlooked, but at today's prices it's a very modern, very well featured camera that's the perfect introduction to full frame mirrorless photography. Rather than starting with a clean sheet of paper, Nikon's pretty much used the same design for the Z5 as it did for the original Z6 (and Z7 for that matter). The most noticeable thing on the body that differs from the Z6 is the arrival of a more beginner-orientated mode dial in place of the LCD top-plate display. The Z5 also borrows much of the tech inside the Z6, with the most noticeable difference being the sensor. The resolution might be the same, but the Z6 benefits from a back-illuminated chip and images from the two are very similar, with the Z6 having the edge at higher ISOs. The 4K video is a little restrictive with a 1.7x crop, while the burst shooting speed is a modest 4.5fps. The Z5 is better than its budget rivals the Canon EOS RP and Sony Alpha A7 II, and it does shoot 4K video where they don't.
Read more: Nikon Z 5 review