The best cameras for professionals – that's a question with at least three different answers! If you're a commercial, travel, landscape or fashion photographer you'll probably favor high resolution over high continuous shooting speeds. If you're a sports photographer, it's shooting speed and autofocus above all else. And if you're a photographer/videographer, some of the best professional cameras are in the emerging mirrorless market.
Either way, 2020 is shaping up to be a busy year for pro photographers, with the Olympics on the horizon and much more besides. Whether you're looking for the fastest frame rates, the highest resolution, or the most rugged weatherproofing, investing in the best professional system will pay dividends.
The main news right now is the arrival of the amazing Canon EOS-1D X Mark III. We have given this camera a full review and we are seriously impressed. We've also seen the full specifications and had some hands on time with its rival, the equally new Nikon D6, but this camera is too new for a full test just yet, so we'll have to wait and see which of these two flagship DSLRs comes out on top.
Sony has also been busy updating and upgrading its mirrorless Sony A9 Mark II, aimed at exactly the same market, and the first professional mirrorless sports camera to seriously challenge Canon and Nikon.
It's not all about frame rates and AF systems, though. Sports photographers require speed, durability and responsiveness, but regular commercial photographers also need a balance of resolution and versatility, and high-resolution full frame cameras have become affordable mainstream options. Sony has claimed the crown for the highest resolution yet in a full-frame camera with the Sony A7R Mark IV, but the Nikon D850 and Nikon Z 7 aren't far behind, or the Panasonic Lumix S1R.
Of course, picking the best professional camera is not just about picking the best camera. You have to look at the system as a whole, its lenses, its other models, and what is set to be released in its future. Indeed, before making a choice, it's worth asking yourself a series of questions:
1) Are you switching from a different systems? If this is the case, it's well worth looking into whether there's any potential for compatibility between your existing and new system (i.e. using lens mount adapters). ‘Migrating’ an existing system is much simpler and cheaper than starting again with a whole new setup.
2) What lenses will you need? Cameras come and go and are updated regularly, however, a good lens can be your best friend for life. Think about the kind of work you need and the lenses you need for it, and check whether the system you're considering can meet those needs. Lens guides can be useful here, such as our guides to the best Canon lenses or best Nikon lenses.
3) DSLR or mirrorless? While it does sometimes feel like mirrorless is taking over the world, the best DSLR cameras do still have their advantages and some, like the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, are breaking new ground. Read our guide to DSLR vs mirrorless cameras if you're still not sure.
4) Video vs stills? Are you shooting video as well as stills? While both DSLRs and mirrorless cameras can and do produce excellent video, mirrorless currently has the edge here, so if video is part of your portfolio then it's worth factoring this into consideration.
5) Large sensor or small? Bigger sensors are better, giving you more dynamic range and freedom to play in low light, but how big a sensor do you need? A medium format camera will produce images of gorgeous quality thanks to its huge sensor, but this also massively bumps up its price tag and reduces the number of lenses that are compatible. You might be better off with a full-frame sensor, and don't rule out Micro Four Thirds. Micro Four Thirds setups based around cameras like the OM-D E-M1 X or even the Panasonic Lumix G9 tend to be small, fast and affordable, and the crop factor massively extends your telephoto reach.
With all this in mind, we’ve divided our professional camera guide into six brands and listed our top picks for each one. With professional cameras, it’s much more important to think about the system than about individual camera models, so we hope this helps you get a clear idea of the kind of setup you want.
We've stopped short of ultra-high-end Phase One and Hasselblad cameras, but otherwise we cover the whole price range from just over £1,000 to nearly £10,000. So whatever your budget, there should be something here for you.
The best cameras for professionals in 2020
Canon offers a large range of professional lenses and produces some of the most highly-regarded pro cameras. With the EOS R and EOS RP, it’s now entered the full frame mirrorless market too, and while there's still a relatively restricted range of ‘native’ RF lenses yet, you can use regular EF DSLR lenses on these cameras with an adaptor, so Canon users who want to try mirrorless can now do so with a relatively low-cost, low-risk ‘migration’. For pros, however, DSLRs are still the main draw, especially now that a new Canon EOS-1Dx Mark III is coming.
See also: Best Canon cameras
Canon EOS-1D X Mark III
Canon's latest autofocus system is on an entirely new level
Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 20.1MP | Lens mount: Canon EF | Screen: 3.2in fixed LCD, 2.1 million dots | Viewfinder: Optical | Max burst speed: 16fps viewfinder, 20fps live view | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Professional
With the Canon EOS1-D X Mark III, Canon has released a camera packed with leading-edge tech, including deep learning AF, an optical Smart Controller, HEIF and HDR PQ support, CFexpress, 12-bit internal 4K RAW, head tracking and so much more. Canon has combined the advantages of DSLR and mirrorless to produce a hybrid body that can shoot according to what the situation demands. While it lacks some of the luxuries of mirrorless models, this camera does so much that no other system can – it's a genuine glimpse into the future. Offering the best of both worlds, with the sheer speed of an optical DSLR with the advanced accuracy of mirrorless, it’s a true hybrid system that moulds to the needs of individual professionals and individual shooting scenarios. Moreover, it marks a genuine turning point for Canon in terms of video, at long last delivering the uncropped 4K video that has for so long eluded the manufacturer.
Read more: Canon EOS-1D X Mark III review
An all-round workhorse DSLR that’s versatile and popular but ageing
Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full-frame | Megapixels: 30.4MP | Lens mount: Canon EF | LCD: 3.2in touchscreen, 1.62million dots | Viewfinder: Optical | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 7fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Professional
On paper, the EOS 5D Mark IV looks a distinct second best to rival cameras with higher resolutions, faster frame rates and better 4K video features – the EOS 5D Mark IV applies a heavy 4K video crop that makes ‘wide’ shots more difficult. Nevertheless, the 5D Mark IV has proved itself a very effective, durable and versatile camera for countless professional photographers, and its Dual Pixel AF technology gives it a peppy autofocus performance in live view and video modes. This camera was launched way back in 2016, though, and with no replacement announced or even rumored, it's getting harder to recommend this solid but ageing workhorse.
Read more: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV review
It hasn’t had the best reception, but the EOS R is a decent camera
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame CMOS, 36x24mm | Megapixels: 30.3MP | Lens Mount: Canon RF | Autofocus: 5,655 Dual Pixel AF positions | Screen type: 3.15-inch fully articulating touch screen, 2.1M dots | Max burst speed: 8fps | Movies: 4K UHD at 29.97P | User level: Enthusiast
The EOS R is Canon’s first full frame mirrorless camera, and while it received a lukewarm reception in some sections of the camera community, it’s still a powerful and effective tool for professionals who want to migrate to mirrorless, or even step up to full frame from Canon’s smaller APS-C models. It has the same resolution and 4K crop factor of the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and only one memory card slot, but it does have a more powerful Dual Pixel CMOS AF system and promises the same kind of all-round capability as the 5D Mark IV. The bad news is that we've still had no confirmation of a proper 'pro' EOS R model with either more resolution or a faster frame rate (or better video). The good news is that EOS R prices are steadily eroding and it's becoming an ever more attractive buy. Canon's RF lenses, however, are proving big, expensive, or both.
Like Canon, Nikon also offers a huge range of professional lenses, and a choice of pro camera bodies. Nikon has also taken its first steps in the full frame mirrorless market with the Nikon Z 6 and Z 7 and, as with the Canon EOS R, these cameras can use existing current Nikon DSLR lenses, without restriction, via an adaptor, so Nikon users can try a ‘sidegrade’ to mirrorless a step at a time rather than having to swap out a whole system.
See also: Best Nikon cameras
Nikon’s answer to the EOS-1D X Mark III looks more conventional
Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full-frame | Megapixels: 20.8MP | Autofocus: 105-point AF, all cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch, 2,360,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 14fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Professional
So far we’ve only been able to look at a pre-production sample of the Nikon D6, and we were not allowed to take any sample images away with us. Our first impressions, though, are of a camera that’s so similar to the existing D5 that Nikon pros will be able to make a seamless switch. If its 14fps machine-gun clatter is too loud, its 10.5fps silent mode is almost as fast, and we look forward to trying out the brand new 105-point AF system in real-world shooting. Does the D6 have the firepower to meet the radically new Canon EOS-1D X Mark III head-on? On paper, maybe not, but in the real world it could be another story.
Read more: Nikon D6 hands on review
The ultimate DSLR? The D850 has power, resolution and speed
Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full-frame | Megapixels: 45.7MP | Lens mount: Nikon F | LCD: 3.2in tilting touchscreen, 2.3million dots | Viewfinder: Optical | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 7fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Professional
Where the Nikon D5 is built for sheer speed, durability and responsiveness, the D850 is built for resolution – though it can still capture images at 7fps, or 9fps with the optional battery grip. Some may say the D850 is the high-point of DSLR resolution and perhaps that last great DSLR release, but it does not feel like a dinosaur. Its big, chunky body feels good in the hand and great with bigger lenses, and while its live view AF may be sluggish, it’s a very powerful, modern-feeling camera – a superb all-rounder that actually feels as fresh and exciting now as when it was launched back in 2017.
Read more: Nikon D850 review
Nikon's first full frame mirrorless camera hits the ground running
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame CMOS, 35.9x23.9mm | Megapixels: 45.7MP | Lens Mount: Nikon Z | Autofocus: 93-point phase detection AF | Screen type: 3.2-inch LCD, tilting, 2,100K-dot resolution | Max burst speed: 9fps | Movies: 4K UHD | User level: Enthusiast
Nikon took its time launching its first full frame mirrorless cameras, but its unhurried, careful development process has paid off – both the 45.7 megapixel Z 7 and the 24-megapixel Z 6 already feel like fully mature, finished products. The Z7 is the model we’d recommend for pros, offering huge resolution, good 4K video, a great autofocus system and a compact but wieldy design. Nikon's steadily beefing up its Z-series lens range and, in the meantime, you can use current Nikon DSLR lenses via the Nikon FTZ adaptor.
Read more: Nikon Z7 review
Sony launched its full frame mirrorless camera system from scratch, and although you can use older Alpha lenses designed for its SLR cameras on the new A7 and A9 bodies, in practice you’re much better off investing in native FE mount lenses. There are now 31 native FE lenses with more to come, so although swapping to Sony might be expensive initially, these cameras have a lot more native lens support than other mirrorless camera brands.
See also: Best Sony cameras
Sony’s flagship is a very strong rival in the pro sports photography arena
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full Frame | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens: Sony E mount | LCD: 3in tilting touchscreen, 1.44million dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 20fps electronic shutter, 10fps mechanical | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Professional
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. We would love to have seen Sony implement something akin to Olympus' Pro Capture feature, so that you never miss the critical moment. However, if our most damning criticism is that the A9 II is too fast for us to keep up with, surely that's nothing but mission accomplished for Sony! We tested it before the EOS-1D X Mark III came out and we haven't had time yet to test them side by side – but that should be interesting!
Read more: Sony A9 Mark II review
A stunning blend of resolution, speed, 4K video and value
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full-frame | Megapixels: 61MP | Lens mount: Sony | LCD: 3in tilting touchscreen, 1.44 million dots | Viewfinder: EVF, 5.76m dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 10fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Professional
The A7R IV is Sony’s new highest-resolution full frame mirrorless camera, 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. While the Sony A9 is designed for out-and-out speed and responsiveness, the A7R Mark IV is much more suitable for all-round photography at the highest quality levels. It continues the 'R' line by offering the highest resolution of any full frame camera, but while its 10fps burst shooting looks good on paper for sports photography, it doesn't have the buffer capacity and responsiveness of the A9, so it's useful to have, but the A7R Mark IV would not be your first choice for sports.
Read more: Sony A7R IV review
Fujifilm has moved into the professional arena very successfully with two separate camera ranges. The APS-C X-series flagship is the X-T3, which is not particularly expensive in this company but offers exceptional performance for the money and video features most of its rivals can only dream about. And then two sensor sizes larger, there's Fujifilm's GFX range, which has redefined what medium format cameras can do – and how many of us can now afford them.
Fujifilm X-T3... or X-T4
The most powerful APS-C mirrorless camera yet, but the X-T4 is coming...
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 26.1MP | Lens mount: Fujifilm X | Screen: 3in tilting touchscreen, 1,040k dots | Viewfinder: EVF, 3.69 million dots | Max continuous shooting speed: 30/11fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Expert/professional
When the Fujifilm X-T3 was launched it was the APS-C mirrorless camera with everything. Well, practically everything. It doesn't have in-body image stabilisation , but it does have a powerful autofocus system that covers the entire image area, the ability to capture 4K video at up to 60/50fps and 4:2:0 10-bit quality internally for pro-level videographers, a super-sharp new 26.1 back-illuminated APS-C X-Trans sensor, and all wrapped up in a neat, compact and really well-made body. It's perfect for sports and video, but supremely well adapted to general purpose photography too. Can the X-T3 really be considered a 'professional camera'? Given its design, build, performance and especially its video capabilities, we think it can, but the just-announced X-T4 puts that beyond any doubt. Scheduled for arrival in April/May 2020, the X-T4 takes the X-T3's sensor and AF system and adds in-body-stabilization, a new faster, quieter shutter and longer battery life. We've tried it out but will need to see a production sample before we can produce a full review.
Fujifilm GFX 100
It's expensive, but not for medium format. It's also quite exceptional
Sensor: Medium format | Megapixels: 102MP | Lens mount: Fujifilm G | LCD: 3.2-inch touchscreen, 2.36 million dots | Viewfinder: EVF, 5.76 million dots | Max continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 4K at 30fps | User level: Professional
The GFX 100 is big and expensive compared to regular cameras, but in the world of medium format photography (sensors larger than 35mm full frame), it's a positive bargain. It's also a groundbreaking camera that changes our expectations about what medium format cameras can do. Its 100-megapixel resolution challenged our own testing procedures, its in-body stabilisation is a medium format first, and its hybrid AF (thanks to a recent firmware update) is a huge step forward. On the downside, the in-body stabilisation is valuable extra insurance, but you'd be unwise to rely on it, and while the body is relatively compact, when it's matched up with Fujifilm's medium format glass, the combination gets quite tiring for prolonged handheld use. But this camera's image quality is simply spectacular, and once you've seen what it can do, any handling quibbles are instantly forgotten.
Read more: Fujifilm GFX 100 review
Panasonic’s range is now split between its existing Micro Four Thirds cameras with smaller sensors but legendary 4K video capabilities, and its new full frame mirrorless Lumix S models – and with no upgrade path at all between these systems. There are only a handful of native Lumix S lenses right now, but the L-Mount Alliance (Panasonic, Leica and Sigma) is promising 42 lenses by the end of 2020. The Lumix S system is developing fast but will require heavy investment in an all-new system.
See also: Best Panasonic cameras
Too new for long-term evaluation yet, the S1R looks impressive
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 47.3MP | Lens mount: L-Mount | LCD: 3.2in tri-axial touchscreen, 2.1million dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 9fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Professional
The new Lumix S range is a very interesting proposition for professional photographers. The downside is that a full range of lenses is still up to two years away, and there are signs that Panasonic is positioning this as a premium product, so don’t expect it to be a cheap alternative to the rest. The Lumix S1R looks the most enticing proposition for pros, combining excellent 4K video capture with a high-speed 6K photo mode and huge 47.3MP resolution. The 5.76-million dot electronic viewfinder is amazing, and the S1R handles very well too.
Read more: Panasonic Lumix S1R review
Panasonic Lumix GH5
A great choice for video-first shooters, and certainly the cheapest
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Micro Four Thirds | Megapixels: 20.3MP | Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds mount | LCD: 3.2in touchscreen, 1.62million dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 12fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Enthusiast/Professional
If 4K video is at the top of your wish-list ahead of high-resolution stills, the weather-sealed, dust-proof and even freeze-proof GH5 is a very strong contender (there’s also the even more video-centric GH5S, but that’s limited to 10MP stills). You get fast continuous shooting and also Panasonic’s 6K Photo mode for extracting 18MP stills from 30fps capture. The GH5 can’t compete with the rest for still images, but for video-first users, it’s a much cheaper alternative to full frame. It's also benefiting from some heavy discounting these days, so it's an opportunity to get into professional level video, without paying the usual prices.
Compared to the spectacular developments from other camera makers, Olympus has had a pretty quiet time of it. It's soldiered on with its relatively modest Micro Four Thirds format in a maelstrom of medium format bombshells and armies of full frame mirrorless cameras. In this environment, a 20MP Micro Four Thirds sensor seems hopelessly outgunned. And yet it isn't. And its size brings substantial cost and weight advantages that its fans will be only too pleased to tell you about.
Olympus OM-D E‑M1 Mark II... or E-M1 Mark III
A powerful sports/action camera, but the E-M1 Mark III will be better still
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Micro Four Thirds | Megapixels: 20.4MP | Screen: 3.0-inch 1,037k vari-angle touchscreen | Viewfinder: Electronic 2,360k | Lens: Micro Four Thirds | Continuous shooting speed: 15fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Professional/Enthusiast
The Olympus OM-D EM1 Mark II is still one of the few Olympus mirrorless models to swap to the latest 20.4MP MFT sensor. It's designed for speed, with 15fps continuous shooting and an amazing 60fps mode with the focus locked on the first frame. More than that, it has a stupendous buffer capacity of 300 raw images. The image sensor comes complete with greatly enhanced phase-detection autofocus and stabilisation systems – especially using when dual IS with Olympus's excellent 12-100mm f/4 Pro lens – as well as enabling reduced image noise at high ISO settings. There’s 4K video capture too, while the electronic viewfinder and fully articulated screen are both excellent. The E-M1 Mark II has been overshadowed by the E-M1X (below), but the tables are about to be turned with the arrival of the new Olympus E-M1 Mark III. We're still carrying out a full test, but we have published a preliminary hands on review.
4. Olympus OM-D E-M1X
Olympus aims for the pro sports market with its new flagship camera
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Micro Four Thirds | Megapixels: 20.4MP | Screen: 3.0-inch 1,037k vari-angle touchscreen | Viewfinder: Electronic 2,360k | Lens: Micro Four Thirds | Continuous shooting speed: 15fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Professional
Olympus raised a few eyebrows when it launched the OM-D E-M1X, a big new professional camera aimed squarely at the sports market, but with what looked like very similar specs to the existing E-M1 Mark II. But dig deeper and you find the E-M1X is a very different beast, with an integrated grip for bigger battery capacity and duplicated horizontal/vertical shooting controls and a dual processing system that dramatically ups the game for autofocus tracking, with a new AI system for recognising and tracking subjects. What many won't realise, too, is that Olympus has an extremely compelling pro lens line-up, especially for telephoto lenses, and while the Olympus MFT sensor is smaller than the full frame sensors used by Canon, Nikon and Sony pro cameras, it will cost a lot less to build a full professional system – and it will be a lot lighter to carry around. If 20MP is enough (it is for EOS-1D X Mark II and Nikon D5 devotees!), then the E-M1X is a very powerful professional proposition indeed.
Read more: Olympus OM-D E-M1X review
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