The best full frame cameras have a reputation for image quality. They're the cameras that enthusiasts aspire to and professionals rely on. Full frame cameras have large sensors for excellent image quality, and they also have some of the widest and best lenses. But they are not as expensive as you might think! Entry-level full frame cameras can be perfectly affordable for enthusiasts and even keen novices.
When you're shopping for the best full frame camera, there are three key things to think about:
What system do you want to buy into?
What is your photographic specialty is
How much do you want to spend?
Choosing the right system is important because this is a long-term decision. You'll also be buying lenses to go with your camera, and you're likely to have these for a long time. Camera bodies come and go, but your lenses could be with you for years.
This boils down to camera types and brands. Canon and Nikon make both DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, but while DSLRs are popular and capable cameras, it's mirrorless cameras that have taken the lead – and while you can use DSLR lenses on mirrorless cameras with adaptors, it's not an ideal long-term solution. Pentax ONLY makes DSLRs right now, so that's one less decision for Pentax fans.
So then it's all about brands. Canon, Nikon, Sony, and Panasonic all make full frame mirrorless cameras. Each one has its own lens mount and its own lenses, though third-party makers like Sigma, Tamron, Samyang, and Laowa make lenses in many different mounts.
The other decision is what you want your camera for. There are some great all-rounders that can do a bit of everything, but if you have a particular specialty you need a camera designed for the job. See our guides to the best cameras for sports and the highest resolution cameras, for example.
So this brings us to the third factor: how much you want to spend. With this in mind, we start out with more affordable options for enthusiasts and work up to the more advanced and more expensive dream cameras that we secretly all want. If price is your biggest decider, you might also want to check out our guide to the cheapest full frame cameras right now.
Best full frame cameras in 2023
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The Sony A7 IV signals a step up in ambition for Sony's ‘vanilla’ A7 model. Traditionally, the Sony A7 has been the range’s entry-level camera, with the ‘R’ models adding resolution and the ’S’ models adding speed/sensitivity. But there’s nothing ordinary about the Sony A7 IV, and while it does technically supersede the A7 III, it’s an altogether more advanced camera that, we think, targets a higher-level audience.
Compared to the A7 III, the A7 IV is a major step up – but in price as well as features. The A7 III will keep going for now, so it makes for a tricky buying decision! After using it, however, we think it's well worth the extra outlay, both for stills photographers and for videographers.
Read our full Sony A7 IV review for more details
Mirrorless camera fans will often complain about the size and weight of DSLRs, and they have a point. The Nikon D850 is a big bruiser of a camera compared to the new Nikon Z models, but this is one of our favorite DSLRs of all time, and this size works in your favor if you're shooting with big, heavy lenses – and most pro lenses are big and heavy! This is a handling factor that many mirrorless users don't always take into account.
Being a DSLR, the D850 has a bright, clear optical viewfinder that many photographers still prefer over a digital display, no matter how good. The D850's 45.7-megapixel sensor produces quite a superb image quality, yet it can still maintain a shooting speed of 7 frames per second or 9 frames per second with the optional battery grip. Even without the grip, the D850 has an amazing battery life of 1840 shots – far more than any mirrorless rivals – and it comes with two memory card slots; one for CFexpress and one for regular SD/SDHC/SDXC. Over time, this has for us become a DSLR classic.
Read our full Nikon D850 review for more details
Despite its compact size, the Lumix S5 shares the impressive 24MP CMOS sensor housed in the more expensive Lumix S1, but with improved autofocus. It also has a tough weather-resistant body and delivers up to 6.5 stops of image stabilization 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 really is tough to beat at this price. As we note in our Panasonic Lumix S5 review, its contrast AF system isn't ideal for fast-moving video capture, but that's a small flaw in a camera that's as impressive for its value as it is for its performance.
Read our full Panasonic Lumix S5 review for more details
Leica M rangefinders take some learning. First-timers will struggle with the viewfinder and focusing and the stripped-down features, but the longer you use these cameras the more they grow on you – and carry on growing.
The M11 isn’t quite perfect, but it’s a real class act that can capture very sharp images in the right hands, and subtly changes the way you see, compose and capture images. The Leica M11 is perhaps the ultimate dream camera, with killer looks, beautiful engineering, and superb lenses with their own special Leica 'look'.
We were amazed at the precision and accuracy of the rangefinder focusing system, and Leica M lenses, while very expensive, have a unique 'look', especially wide open.
Read our full Leica M11 review for more details
The A7R IV was Sony’s highest-resolution full frame mirrorless camera when we first reviewed it, and that hasn't changed! With a record-breaking 61 million pixels and yet still capable of shooting continuously at 10fps. It also has Sony's usual very good 4K video capabilities, though still capped at 30p.
The latest iteration of Sony's eye AF, however, is stunningly effective at tracking portrait subjects, even in continuous AF. Its limited buffer capacity means it's not as good as the Sony A9 II and Sony A1 for action, and its video capabilities don't match those of the Sony A7S III (or A1), but even if the highest possible still image quality is this camera's priority, it can still handle those other jobs pretty well too.
Read our full Sony A7R IV review for more details
The Nikon Z6 II is the much-needed update of the original Z6 now with a second memory card slot, a faster processor which can shoot up 14fps, 4K 60p record and excellent quality stills, The camera build quality, design, and handling are all excellent as we've come to expect from Nikon and its in-body stabilization is great, especially when shooting low light.
It's not much of an improvement on Nikon's 20.9MP APS-C sensor but there is a big leap in quality both for video and photos. If you're a passionate photographer and videographer, this is a brilliant camera that will suit either.
Read our full Nikon Z6 II review for more details
The Canon EOS R5 was Canon's latest flagship mirrorless camera when we reviewed it, and seemed 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, 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, including 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.
Recent competition from the Sony A1 and Nikon Z9 and Canon's own EOS R3 means that the R5 is now only one elite camera amongst many, but its pricing is very competitive.
Read our full Canon EOS R5 review for more details
Plenty of Leica cameras form an unusual hybrid where their insides are essentially the same as cameras from other manufacturers, while their outers are all Leica. Some of these are simple rebadging, but the Leica SL2 is something a little different.
On the inside, it's extremely similar to Panasonic's Lumix S1R, a superb mirrorless full-frame camera, but the outside is completely different, a sleek and minimalist design with few controls, designed to completely immerse you in the shooting experience.
The interface is a revelation, classy and elegant and so intuitive it put a grin on our face straight away. With the future looking bright for L-mount lenses (see the L- mount lens roadmap), this 4K-capable camera is a fantastic buy for any prospective Leica owner.
Read our full Leica SL2 review for more details
The Pentax K-1 II has been around for a while now, but its 36MP sensor is still a step up from an entry-level full frame camera and it packs in a lot of features while handling in a familiar manner for DSLR fans. Again, with this being a Pentax, we get built-in shake reduction but are in awe of the cleverness and sheer robustness of its ‘scissor action’ articulating rear screen and extended exposure modes, along with twin SD card slots.
It’s not all great news; the camera offers only a modest 4.4 fps maximum burst speed when shooting in full frame, which, while adequate, won’t impress sports or action photographers.
There’s also no hybrid phase-detection AF system for its live view mode and only full HD video rather than 4K. But if you're primarily a stills shooter and a Pentax fan especially, then we think you'll like this camera as much as we do.
Read our full Pentax K-1 Mark II review for more details
The Z5 is Nikon's entry-level full-frame mirrorless camera and even though the specs are quite modest, we think it's a terrific camera for the money. 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, but we don't mind this as it suits the user this camera is aimed at.
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.
We found the 4K video is a little restrictive with a 1.7x crop, while the burst shooting speed is a modest 4.5fps, but the Z5 is better than budget rivals like the Canon EOS RP and Sony Alpha A7 II, and steady price drops have made it a really attractive buy, even up against cheaper APS-C models like the Z50 and Z fc.
Read our full Nikon Z5 review for more details
What about the rest?
There are some cameras we have not included because they are rather specialized, high-end models. They are also amongst the best mirrorless cameras you can buy, but definitely aimed at pro users who know exactly what they need and are prepared to budget for the cost.
They included the remarkable Sony A-1, which can shoot 8K video, 30fps bursts, and 50MP still images. There's the equally remarkable (but in a different way) Canon EOS R3, which has changed perceptions about what mirrorless sports cameras and autofocus systems can do. And then there's the jaw-dropping Nikon Z9 with its 8K video and fully electronic shutter. We live in exciting times!
If it's a specific video you're interested in, check out the Panasonic Lumix S1H and Sony A7S III. Alternatively, check out our guides to the best filmmaking cameras, best cameras for vlogging, and best cinema cameras.
How we test cameras
We test DSLR and mirrorless cameras both in real-world shooting scenarios and in carefully controlled lab conditions. Our lab tests measure resolution, dynamic range and signal to noise ratio. Resolution is measured using ISO resolution charts, dynamic range is measured using DxO Analyzer test equipment and DxO Analyzer is also used for noise analysis across the camera's ISO range. We use both real-world testing and lab results to inform our comments in buying guides.
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