How do you choose the best full frame mirrorless camera today? These cameras have stormed the market and dominated the headlines for the past couple of years in a constant battle of specifications and one-upmanship and it isn't slowing down yet!
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 has seen some of the biggest upheavals yet. The Canon EOS R5 has redefined our expectations about what mirrorless cameras can do, and Panasonic has launched the Lumix S5 to rival the performance of its S1H cinema camera but at a fraction of the price. Nikon has launched its entry level Nikon Z5 full frame mirrorless camera, and Sony has come out with a downsized rangefinder style Sony A7C.
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.
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.
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.
Read more: Sony A7R Mark IV review
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'!
Read more: Canon EOS R5 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 Z 7. 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
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: Hands on: Leica SL2 review
The Z 7 was Nikon's first full-frame mirrorless camera, and an instant classic. Nikon managed to produce a near-perfect camera at it's first attempt. The Z 7 combines an ultra-high-resolution 45.7-megapixel sensor with a 493-point hybrid autofocus system and the ability to capture images at up to 9 frames per second (without needing a battery grip), though its use of just a single XQD card slot has proved controversial. Like the Sony A7R Mark IV, the Nikon Z 7 is an accomplished all-rounder that can also handle action photography and video. It doesn't have as many megapixels, but it's a lot cheaper. It doesn't quite reach the A7R Mark IV's 10fps frame rate, but our experience with both cameras suggests the Nikon's in-body stabilization is just that little bit more effective. It scores another point over the A7R Mark IV by offering 10-bit internal 4K video capture, for higher potential quality after grading than regular 8-bit.
Read more: Nikon Z 7 review
Best for speed
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
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
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 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
Nikon makes two Nikon Z models. The Z 6 has 24 megapixels, while the more expensive Z 7 has 46 megapixels. Normally, we'd always say more is better, but the Z 6 has a lot going for it besides its lower price tag. For a start, it has a faster continuous shooting speed than the Z 7, better image quality at high ISO settings and the ability to capture uncropped, oversampled 4K video – so your angle of view doesn't become narrower when you switch to video capture and you get the best quality. On paper, the 24.5-megapixel sensor of the Z 6 appears to offer no advantage over smaller and cheaper APS-C cameras like the new Z 50, but the sensor's extra size means its images are much crisper and cleaner, especially at higher ISO settings. Nikon is steadily releasing native Z-mount lenses, but if you get this camera with Nikon's FTZ mount adaptor, you can use any current Nikon DSLR lens without restriction.
Read more: Nikon Z 6 review