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The best full frame DSLR in 2021: top cameras for enthusiasts and pros alike

Best full frame DSLR
(Image credit: Digital Camera World)

It's a fact: the best full frame DSLRs remain some of the best cameras ever made. Yes, mirrorless is gets a lot of attention, with cameras boasting cutting-edge technology, ever-higher video resolutions and shiny new features. But for a reliable, mechanically sound camera that just works, and keeps working, a DSLR is tough to beat.

There's a lot more to the differences between DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, of course. If you find it all a little confusing, we have a DSLR vs mirrorless camera article that spells out the key differences between the two types, and is useful if you're still figuring out which one is right for you.

DSLRs may be older, but they are very much still alive and kicking. Manufacturers are still bringing out new DSLRs, albeit now at a slower pace that their mirrorless offerings. Right now, some of the finest DSLRs include the Nikon D780, and the genuinely ground-breaking Canon EOS-1D X Mark III. Both of these models are full frame, and you can find out more about them further down this list. Without a doubt, the full frame DSLR is still very much a viable prospect for photographers and videographers.

In this particular guide, we're focusing entirely on DSLRs that house full frame sensors. These are the most sophisticated DSLRs available and also the most expensive, so if you are looking for a more mid-range model that's more affordable, we have a separate guide to the best DSLR, which provides a broader perspective and includes models across the spectrum. If, however, you're set on getting full frame but aren't necessarily sold on the idea of getting a DSLR versus a mirrorless camera, then we'd recommend checking out our guide to the cheapest full-frame cameras.

When putting together this list, we haven't just put the newest and most advanced cameras at the top. We've weighed up all the different factors that users are likely to consider when choosing a camera, including price. We'll never recommend a camera we don't think is worth the price that's being asked for it, so you can be confident you're getting the best deal for your money.

Read on as we count off the best full frame DSLRs you can buy right now...

Why use full frame?

  • Full frame sensors have a larger area, which means that for any given resolution, the individual photosites (light receptors) are larger. This means images with less noise and higher dynamic range.
  • Alternatively, the larger sensor in a full frame camera can have more photosites (megapixels) but keep them the same size as in a smaller sensor. This means more resolution without any extra noise.
  • Full frame cameras use longer focal length lenses to get the same angle of view, which means the depth of field is more shallow – this is great for background defocus effects.
  • Camera makers tend to put most of their lens design efforts into full frame cameras, so you get the best choice of lenses and often the best lens quality.

The best full frame DSLRs in 2021

Best full-frame DSLR: Canon EOS 6D Mark II

1. Canon EOS 6D Mark II

For top performance without spending over the odds, this is the best buy

Specifications
Type: DSLR
Sensor: Full frame
Megapixels: 26.2MP
Lens mount: Canon EF
Screen: 3.2in touch, pivot 1,040,000 dots
Viewfinder: Optical
Max burst speed: 6.5fps
Max video resolution: 1080p
User level: Enthusiast
Reasons to buy
+High-performance autofocus system+Fully articulated touchscreen
Reasons to avoid
-Viewfinder coverage less than 100%-No 4K movie capture

It took Canon six years to update the original 6D, but the Mark II was well worth the wait. This camera has a raft of handling improvements, as well as boasting a higher megapixel count and newer image processor. Key upgrades include two new autofocus systems, the main AF module having 45 phase-detection points which are all cross-type. For live view and video, autofocus is much faster thanks to the Mark II’s Dual Pixel AF image sensor, which enables hybrid phase/contrast detection. The new fully articulated touchscreen looks great from any angle and works a treat for selecting AF points on the fly, and for navigating the intuitive ‘Quick’ menu. You also get maximum burst rate of 6.5fps and the addition of NFC and Bluetooth to the existing Wi-Fi and GPS.The Canon EOS 6D Mark II is a great camera, and thanks to its price advantage, slips onto our list just above the new Nikon D780. 

Read more: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV vs EOS 6D Mark II

Best full frame DSLR: Nikon D780

(Image credit: Nikon)

2. Nikon D780

A great value full frame DSLR packing up-to-date tech

Specifications
Type: DSLR
Sensor: Full frame
Megapixels: 24.4MP
Screen: 3.2in tilting screen, 2,359,800 dots
Viewfinder: Optical
Max burst speed: 12fps
Max video resolution: 4K
User level: Enthusiast/professional
Reasons to buy
+Impressive live view AF+Dual UHS-II card slots
Reasons to avoid
-Some fiddly controls-Spec solid but not exceptional

The Nikon D750 was one of the best all-around DSLRs ever made, and the D780 is even better. Bringing the older camera up to date with uncropped 4K video, a touchscreen and a host of small but valuable improvements, the full-frame Nikon D780 either living proof that there's life in the DSLR yet, or the most fitting swansong imaginable. As you'd expect from a firm that has been in the business as long as Nikon, the D780 handles like a dream and is a pleasure to use, and thanks to sophisticated features like fast phase-detection live view AF, it's as capable in live view as it is when you're using the viewfinder (if anything, more so). If the price is a little too eye-watering for you, Nikon is still selling the D750 for a while at least, so also consider that for another outstanding all-rounder DSLR.

(Image credit: Nikon)

3. Nikon D850

Best full-frame Nikon overall with a 45.7MP sensor, fast burst shooting and 4K video

Specifications
Type: DSLR
Sensor: Full frame
Megapixels: 45.7MP
Screen: 3.2in tilting touchscreen, 2.6million dots
Viewfinder: Optical
Max burst speed: 7fps
Max video resolution: 4K
User level: Professional
Reasons to buy
+Superb image quality+Acclaimed AF system
Reasons to avoid
-Buffer drops when shooting 9fps-Pedestrian live-view AF

It's hard to think of a camera that's made as much of an impact as the D850 in recent years, and it certainly has some strong competition. Whereas most DSLRs have either high-resolution images or speed and sensitivity as their priority, the D850 manages both. Its 45.7MP sensor, 7fps burst shooting mode and the same 153-point AF system that won many fans when it first featured in the D5 head up a long list of impressive specs. Great quality 4K video also makes the D850 one of the best camera for filmmaking, then when you factor its build quality and all the customization you need, you can see just how much the D850 appeals to a landscape photographer, wedding or event shooter. If it's the latest tech, versatility and quality of both stills and video you're after, right now there's nothing else like the D850 in the DSLR world.

Read more: Nikon D850 review | Nikon D750 vs Nikon D850

Best full frame DSLR: Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

(Image credit: Canon)

4. Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

The best of DSLRs and mirrorless? It can be done, and now it has!

Specifications
Type: DSLR
Sensor: Full frame
Megapixels: 20.1MP
Screen: 3.2in fixed touchscreen, 2.1million dots
Viewfinder: Optical
Max burst speed: 16fps (mechanical shutter) / 20fps (Live View + mechanical or electronic shutter)
Max video resolution: 4K
User level: Professional
Reasons to buy
+Revamped control system+Deep Learning autofocus works!
Reasons to avoid
-Fixed LCD screen-Relatively low resolution

After Sony threw down a colossal gauntlet with the A9 II, many photographers wondered if there could really be any serious competition, particularly in the world of DSLRs. The answer turned out to be an absolutely stonking "Yes", as Canon took the wraps off the incredible EOS-1DX Mark III. With so many advanced features, it's hard to know where to start: deep learning AF that gets better as you use it, an awesome Smart Controller that makes simply using the camera an infinitely better experience, and uncropped 4K video (finally, Canon...)! These mirrorless-style trappings come in a body that also has the advantages of a DSLR, like an optical viewfinder. Best of both worlds? Undoubtedly. One of the best cameras around, full-stop? You'd be hard-pressed to argue otherwise.

Read more: Canon EOS-1D X Mark III review

Best full frame DSLR: Nikon D6

(Image credit: Nikon)

5. Nikon D6

The best full-frame Nikon for pros, but outclassed by rivals

Specifications
Type: DSLR
Sensor: Full frame
Megapixels: 20.8MP
Screen: 3.2in fixed touchscreen, 2.359million dots
Viewfinder: Optical
Max burst speed: 14fps (mechanical shutter)
Max video resolution: 4K
User level: Professional
Reasons to buy
+Faultless stills AF+Rugged tank of a body
Reasons to avoid
-Video focusing isn't great-Rivals are better overall

Let's get one thing out of the way — if you're a professional photographer, shooting mostly (or entirely) stills and you already own a lot of Nikon glass, getting the D6 is a no-brainer. This workhorse tank of a camera will do everything you need it to and more, with a powerful stills-shooting machine encased in a rugged, knockproof body. It'll shoot and shoot, accurately and reliably. However, with professional cameras like this it is worth viewing them in the context of their competition — and if you're looking to upgrade to a professional model for the first time, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III and the Sony A9 II both offer more exciting feature-sets, with better video spec and faster frame rates.

Read more: Nikon D6 review

(Image credit: Canon)

6. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Jack of all trades and master of most of them

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Great 61-point AF system+Fast live view autofocus
Reasons to avoid
-Big crop factor for 4K video-Inefficient Motion JPEG format

The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is now a relatively old camera, but it still sports impressive specs, like a 30 megapixel sensor, advanced metering system and 61-point autofocus module. Live view autofocus is also excellent, thanks to Canon's Dual Pixel CMOS AF system. You get a full weather sealed body, a touchscreen monitor to speed your through menu choices, plus Wi-Fi, NFC and GPS. It may not quite be the best 4K camera, thanks to a heavy crop factor and the somewhat inefficient Motion JPEG format, but the 5D Mark IV still produces excellent results when it comes to video and image quality is unquestionably great. While it lacks the second card slot, the Canon EOS R is otherwise a mirrorless version of the 5D Mark IV. The biggest problem for the EOS 5D Mark IV is the Nikon D850 (above)! The D850 is better in just about every respect (barring live view autofocus).

Read more: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV review

(Image credit: Ricoh)

7. Pentax K-1 II

A tough DSLR with real finesse under its thick skin

Specifications
Type: DSLR
Sensor: Full frame
Megapixels: 36.4MP
Screen: 3.2in pivoting screen, 1,037,000 dots
Viewfinder: Optical
Max burst speed: 4.4/6.4fps
Max video resolution: 1080p
User level: Enthusiast/professional
Reasons to buy
+5-axis sensor-shift stabilization+Tough weather-sealed build
Reasons to avoid
-Sluggish full-frame bust rate-No 4K movie capture

Pentax does not have the same brand awareness as Canon and Nikon, but it's still making DSLRs and they're still worth a long, hard look. The K-1 Mark II feels typically robust, solid and dependable, and features a full set of weather-seals. The megapixel count is impressive at 36.4MP, and the tilting rear LCD is similarly high-res, but it’s not a touchscreen. Going one better than some of the latest Canon DSLRs, the Pentax has a 5-axis sensor-shift image stabilization system that works for stills instead of just for movie capture. Not just for beating camera-shake with any attached lens, the stabilization system has advanced modes for anti-aliasing correction, and for enhancing the capture of fine detail. There’s also an ‘astrotracer’ mode, which employs the built-in GPS module, electronic compass and horizontal/vertical tilt sensors, along with the stabilization system, to stop heavenly bodies appearing to streak across the sky in long exposures. By contrast, the sensor-based autofocus for live view and movie capture is relatively poor, and movie resolution tops out at 1080p. For stills, the full-frame burst rate is a pedestrian 4.4fps. There's a reasonable range of full frame Pentax lenses to choose from, but there isn't the same depth as you get with Canon and Nikon.

Read more: Pentax K-1 II review

(Image credit: Canon)

8. Canon EOS 5DS R

More megapixels than any other full-frame DSLR

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+50.6MP image sensor+Awesome detail and texture capture
Reasons to avoid
-Noisy high-ISO images-Old tech - based on Canon 5D III

The EOS 5DS R 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 R 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. The model was launched alongside the more affordable EOS 5DS, which is largely the same model, save for the fact that the effects of its optical low-pass filter are not cancelled out (whereas here, they are, for better detail). The EOS 5DS R and its 50-megapixel sensor were ground-breaking in their time, but the camera is now quite dated by modern standards and 50 megapixels rarely makes headlines any more.

(Image credit: Nikon)

9. Nikon D610

Not the newest DSLR but superb value for money – if you can find it

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Lightweight body+Excellent image quality
Reasons to avoid
-Screen fixed in place-No Wi-Fi or NFC

The Nikon D610 is still the cheapest full-frame Nikon DSLR, but supplies are dwindling and you may have to hunt around a little to find one now. If you don't need the latest features, the D610 is well worth considering, even now. Sure, it may not have all the fancy tricks of the D780 (above) 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. 

Read more: 

Best mirrorless camera
Best professional cameras
Best DSLRs
Best cameras for students
Best enthusiast cameras
Mirrorless vs DSLR cameras

Rod Lawton

Rod is the Group Reviews editor for Digital Camera World and across Future's entire photography portfolio, with decades of experience with cameras of all kinds. Previously he has been technique editor on N-Photo, Head of Testing for the photography division and Camera Channel editor on TechRadar. He has been writing about photography technique, photo editing and digital cameras since they first appeared, and before that began his career writing about film photography. He has used and reviewed practically every interchangeable lens camera launched in the past 20 years, from entry-level DSLRs to medium format cameras, together with lenses, tripods, gimbals, light meters, camera bags and more.