It's a fact: the best full-frame DSLRs remain some of the best cameras ever made. Yes, mirrorless is getting 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 a tough prospect 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 with up-to-the-minute features that complement their mirrorless ranges. We've seen some fantastic releases in 2020 that blend cutting-edge mirrorless tech with a reliable old DSLR body; some of the finest include the next-generation 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 2021 and beyond!
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, 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
It took Canon six years to update the original 6D, but the Mark II is well worth the wait. This camera has a raft of handling improvements, as well as boasting a higher megapixel count and late-generation 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. Speaking of which...
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 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 also going to continue selling the D750 for a while at least, so consider that too for another outstanding all-rounder of a DSLR.
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, with 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 heading up a long list of impressive specs. With great 4K video that makes this regarded as the best camera for filmmaking by some users, along with superb build quality and all the customization you need, and you can see just how much it's likely to appeal to a landscape photographer as it might a wedding or event shooter. Right now, perhaps the only mark against it is the fact that Nikon also has a number of excellent full-frame alternatives that cost a little less, such as the compact D750 and the D810 that it replaces. Still, if it the latest tech, versatility and quality of both stills and video you're after, right now there's nothing else like it.
Read more: Nikon D850 review
It is well and truly on. 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 incredible features it's hard to know where to start. Deep learning AF that gets better as you use it! An incredible Smart Controller that makes simply using the camera an infinitely better experience! 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. Will the Nikon D6 top it? We'll find out soon when we put it through our full test.
Read more: Canon EOS-1D X Mark III review
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
The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV sports 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. Weather-seals are also improved, while a new touchscreen speeds you through menu choices, and Wi-Fi, NFC and GPS have all been added. 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. Image quality is unquestionably great, with high-ISO images managing to be more detailed than those from the EOS 6D yet equally free from noise. 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
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
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.
Bigger and beefier than the A7R series of compact system cameras, the A99 II is, strictly speaking, not 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 camera lines, and this places the future of the system in doubt. Still, while it may not be the best Sony camera full-stop, for now we like the A99 II – a lot. So why is it so far down our list? We think it's the end of the line for the Sony SLT camera design, and while there's a good selection of A-mount lenses out there now, we're not expecting a whole lot more.
Read more: Sony A99 II review
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 D750 (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.