Choosing the best professional camera for you will depend on the type of photography you do. If you're a sports or news photographer you'll need a camera with accurate autofocus and a fast continuous burst mode so that you can capture all the action. Fashion and commercial photographers will want to steer more towards cameras with lots of megapixels so that images can be cropped and printed large scale.
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This means that finding the right camera for you will depend entirely on what you need out of your kit. Meanwhile, if you're a videographer (or you regularly shoot video for your work), then you'll be looking for a whole other set of features, with uncropped capture, codecs and frame rates becoming far more important than autofocus modes and sensor size. If you're primarily a videographer, then you may want to check out our dedicated Best 4K cameras for video guide, or check out the best cameras for vlogging. Serious filmmakers may be best off looking at our guide to best cinema cameras.
However, it's worth noting that, with video becoming a major focus among camera manufacturers, there are some fantastic professional cameras that offer a great selection of both photo and video features at the moment. The Sony A1 features 30fps continuous shooting, a 50.1MP sensor and 8K video. Meanwhile, the upcoming Canon EOS R3 is set to have a 30fps burst mode and the ability to control the autofocus with your eyes (yes, really!).
Plus, the medium format camera market is only becoming more competitive. The release of the compact and relatively affordable Fujifilm GFX 100s definitely turned a few heads, making medium format a little more accessible. While you could never call medium format cameras 'cheap', the Hasselblad 907X 50C joins the GFX 100s in featuring a more affordable price tag. Don't worry though, there are still plenty of eye–wateringly expensive models, including the brilliant Phase One XT.
To help you find the best professional camera for your purposes, we've divided this guide into six different brands. After all, when you purchase a camera, you're also buying into the entire lens ecosystem – so, you want to make sure that the camera has the glass you'll need.
No matter whether you've got a budget of $1,000 or $10,000, we've gathered the best professional cameras right here.
Best professional camera in 2021
Canon offers a large range of professional lenses and produces some of the most highly-regarded pro cameras. The best Canon cameras have traditionally been known its DSLRs, especially in professional circles, but it's shifting its attention wholesale to its new mirrorless EOS R system, and the original EOS R and beginner-orientated EOS RP were just the opening salvo – the EOS R5 is the camera that's caught our attention, and that of every other pro photographer out there, we suspect.
As a stills camera, the Canon EOS R5 is simply Canon's finest product ever. It’s the perfect amalgamation of the EOS R’s form, the EOS 5D’s function, and the professional-grade autofocus of the EOS-1D X. If you're a stills or hybrid shooter who flits between photography and videography, it's one of the best cameras you will ever have the pleasure of using. It has attracted some attention for the wrong reasons, notably overheating (or the threat of it) when recording 8K video, but this shouldn't detract from this camera's extraordinary capabilities. It's not perfect at everything, but given its resolution, its frame rate and its video capabilities combined, this is genuinely a landmark camera. What's more – and this might sound a little strange – it's taken the arrival of the much more expensive Sony A1 to realize just how good the Canon EOS R5 actually is.
Read more: Canon EOS R5 review
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. The DSLR is not dead. The tank-like EOS-1D X Mark III has absorbed the technical advances of mirrorless cameras and added a few of its own to product an awesome professional sports and action photography tool. Although it is only available on preorder, the Canon EOS R3 is meant to be Canon's answer to a mirrorless 1DX Mark III only it's slightly higher resolution and will be smaller and lighter.
Read more: Canon EOS-1D X Mark III review
Released in 2016, the Canon EOS 5D IV is still a popular camera among professional photographers. It's one of Canon's all-time, best DSLRs if you want a reasonably high megapixel count without sacrificing too much in the way of continuous burst speed and high-quality images. Even at very high ISO settings, you can achieve clean, noise-free images. Compared to the Nikon D850 it might seem pretty average but for lots of photographers 30-megapixels is more than enough resolution and you can shoot 4K video (although the file sizes it outputs are massive). It features Canon's Dual Pixel CMOS AF which means users benefit from fast autofocus performance in live view and video modes. It's robust, reliable and weather resistant which is a major plus for pro photographers. Sadly, Canon has shifted almost all its attention to its new EOS R range of mirrorless cameras so we don't know when - or even if - we will ever see a successor to the EOS 5D IV.
Read more: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV review
The EOS R6 is the serious enthusiast's model of the EOS R series, taking the place of the slightly muddled EOS R, and for those who don't need the leading-edge tech and resolution of the EOS R5 (more on which below). Its combination of speed, video and low light capabilities give it professional appeal too. What you get on the EOS R6 is a top shooting speed of 20fps, and autofocus that borrows the deep-learning tech from the EOS-1D X Mark III, meaning it gets better as you use it. The resolution is just 20.1MP, but this means the pixels are larger, for better low-light performance. Indeed, the R6 edges out the R5 in this department, with a standard ISO range of 100-102,400 that's expandable to 50-204,800. When you combine this with the introduction of Canon's 5-axis in-body image stabilization system that provides up to eight stops of effective compensation, this is a seriously capable low-light camera. You have to decide, though, if you want speed, cost and low light capability more than outright resolution.
Read more: Canon EOS R6 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
This could be the ultimate mirrorless camera. There is literally nothing it can't shoot. Sports? Check, thanks to its unreal 30fps continuous shooting. Fine detail? Check, thanks to its 50.1MP resolution. Video? Check, thanks to its 8K recording capability (even though it's hampered by not having a fully articulating screen). The Sony A1 is far and away the most advanced and most powerful camera on the market… yet this comes at a cost, literally. It's about twice the cost of the Sony A9 II, and it's even more expensive than the 100MP medium format Fujifilm GFX 100S. There are also caveats on the 30fps burst, which isn't always achievable (sometimes topping out at 15-20fps, which is still impressive but less impressive than the spec sheet). Overall, though, if you want a camera that can take on any possible assignment, this is it.
The Sony A9 II was the fastest, most ferocious full-frame sports camera we'd ever used (until we got our hands on the Canon EOS 1DX Mark III). Even so, the Sony A9 II is a lot smaller than the 1DX Mark III. It still has a lightning-fast processor and it's autofocus system is extremely impressive. The transfer speed of images has been improved which is great news for pro shooters who often need to send images off quickly to a news agency and it has a Transfer & Tagging feature that enables you to convert up to 50 seconds of speech into an image caption. Unfortunately, it lacks some of the pro features you'll find in Olympus cameras such as Pro Capture which means you'll never miss a critical moment but it has so many other features, not to mention its full-frame, we can let that slide.
Read more: Sony A9 Mark II review
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 its high frame rate is useful to have, but the A7R Mark IV would not be your first choice for sports. HOWEVER, for outright resolution, the A7R Mark IV reigns supreme, and not just in the Sony camp but amongst full-frame cameras in general. You have to switch up to medium format to beat this, with all the costs and limitations that go with it. Not even the new Sony A1, at twice the price, can match this resolution.
Read more: Sony A7R IV review
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 might've been late to the game in launching its professional, top-spec mirrorless but the Nikon Z9 was definitely worth the wait. It's an absolute beast of a camera when it comes to video, knocking the Canon EOS R3 out of the park. It's capable of 8K 60p video recording or 8K 30p with an enormous 2-hour record limit. Nikon decided to remove the mechanical shutter completely which means the Z9 is capable of 120fps continuous shooting and has a max shutter speed of 1/32,000 which makes it perfect for sport and bird photography. The Z9 is powered by Deep Learning AF which makes the camera capable of nine kinds of recognition: human eyes, faces, heads and upper bodied; animal eyes, heads and bodies; and cars, planes, trains and motorbike. It has the same 493 AF points as the Nikon Z7 II which seems impressive until you find out that the Canon EOS R3 has a whopping 4,779 AF points. The Z9 comes in quite a bit cheaper than both the Sony A1 and the Canon EOS R3 and it has a lot of advanced features.
Canon made some big technological leaps with the EOS-1D X Mark III, but the Nikon D6 is more conventional. Nikon will no doubt have wanted to make sure that owners of the D5 will be able to make a seamless switch to the new camera, which has a band new 105-point AF system, 14fps continuous shooting and a 10.5fps silent mode. Nikon has also concentrated on professional workflow and connectivity options, not just headline-grabbing technologies. If you're buying your first pro sports DSLR, the Canon has the edge, however, the new Nikon Z9 is an absolute powerhouse of a camera, combining fast continuous burst mode of the D6 with the high-resolution sensor of the D850.
Read more: Nikon D6 hands on review
Where the Nikon D6 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 tough, rugged, fresh and exciting now as when it was launched back in 2017.
Read more: Nikon D850 review
The Z7 II is Nikon's flagship full-frame mirrorless camera and an updated version of the original Z7. All the changes that we’ve seen on the Z7 II compared to the original Z7 are certainly welcome, especially the additional card slot and dual processors. That being said, we can't help feeling Nikon have played it a bit safe. It doesn't really rival the impressive Canon EOS R5 or the Sony A7R IV, it just builds on the original Z7. It's still a brilliant camera and although it doesn't have as many standout features, it is capable of shooting in 12-bit 4K Apple ProRes raw when using an external monitor such as the Atmos Ninja V (although you do have to pay for the upgrade).
Read more: Nikon Z7 II review
Fujifilm has two separate lines of professional cameras - its APS-C X series and its medium format GFX series. The flagship X-T4 is the latest offering in the X range and one of the cheapest cameras on our pro list but its an incredible camera for both video and stills. With the GFX range, Fujifilm has done something not many other camera brands have managed - its made medium format photography affordable. The launch of the GFX 100s was an exciting moment for Fujifilm and Fujifilm fans who wanted the high resolution of the GFX 100 but in a smaller body and at almost half the price. We were so blown away by it in fact, we had to give it five stars in our review.
• Read more: Fujifilm GFX 100s vs GFX 100
Some might argue the Fujifilm X-T4 isn't a pro camera but in our eyes, it certainly is. It combines fast autofocus, impressive video capabilities and a high-quality electronic viewfinder - plus its super user-friendly with all of its external dials. When the X-T3 was launched in 2018 it was incredibly well-received but lacked certain features such as in-body stabilization and a fully articulated screen. The X-T4 includes these features making it one of the best APS-C mirrorless cameras around. It still has the same sophisticated 26.1MP X-Trans sensor and the ability to shoot 4K but with an improved shutter and a new battery that lasts longer, Fujifilm has truly refined an already excellent product.
Read more: Fujifilm X-T4 review
Want the ultimate resolution in a body so small and steady that you can use it for street photography? Meet the Fujifilm GFX 100S, a marvel of photographic achievement that packs a 100MP medium format sensor into a body about the size of a bulky DSLR that even possesses in-body image stabilization – which, despite having to stabilize a gigantic medium format sensor, is actually on par with the IBIS systems on Sony's smaller full-frame sensors. While it lacks the vertical grip of the $10,000 Fujifilm GFX 100, it's otherwise the same tech and same capabilities squeezed into a much smaller and much cheaper body – though Fujifilm's medium format lenses mean that this is still far from a compact system. The image quality is simply spectacular; for ultimate stills shooting, this is almost unbeatable. It even shoots an incredibly respectable 4K 30p video, too!
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 an increasing number of native Lumix S lenses right now, thanks to the L-Mount Alliance and the work of other lens makers like Sigma and Leica. The Lumix S system is developing fast but will require heavy investment in an all-new system.
See also: Best Panasonic cameras
The new Lumix S range is a very interesting proposition for professional photographers, especially now that the range of L-mount lenses available is now quite good, and growing fast. The Lumix S1R is the most enticing proposition for pros, combining 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. The 24MP Lumix S1 is cheaper and a little better at video, but that's a cost decision – if you're really serious about video, the pricier Lumix S1H is the one to go for.
Read more: Panasonic Lumix S1R review
The Panasonic Lumix S5 might just be the best camera on the market for its price. It was brought out to tackle two of the biggest problems faced by the Lumix S1 and the Lumix S1R - size and autofocus. It's more compact than both S1 and S1R series yet shares the same impressive 24MP sensor as the S1. It still uses contrast detect autofocus rather than the preferred phase detect AF but it has been vastly improved. The Lumix S5 is the first Panasonic full-frame camera to have a fully articulated screen which is great for anyone looking to buy it for video. It also has incredible video capabilities such as 4K 60P with an internal record limit of 30 minutes. The Lumix S5 might not have the same resolution as the Lumix S1R but the rest of its features are very similar and the fact it's a fair bit smaller is a big plus in our eyes.
Read more: Panasonic Lumix S5 review
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. It feels like it's been around forever, but if you compare the GH5's video specs with the best of its rivals, it's clearly still right up there with the best.
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. The MFT format's size brings substantial cost and weight advantages that its fans will be only too pleased to tell you about.
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. 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 III and Nikon D6 devotees!), then the E-M1X is a very powerful professional proposition indeed. It's undermined slightly by the E-M1 Mark III, which borrows some of its tech, but the E-MX's big, chunky body gives it a serious handling advantage, especially with bigger lenses.
Read more: Olympus OM-D E-M1X review
It's unlikely Olympus will ever fully overcome resistance to its smaller Micro Four Thirds sensor format, which is one quarter the size of those in its full frame rivals, but that's a pity because this system has a lot to offer. The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III is actually a very effective all-round professional camera for general photography. When shooting sport, its autofocus and frame rate are a good match for more expensive full frame rivals and its Pro Capture mode (up to 60fps) is just jaw-dropping. When high resolution is essential, its 50MP and 80MP options can square up against many medium format cameras, admittedly with static subjects not moving ones. And when shooting absolutely anything, its 7.5 stops of image stabilization outperform every camera on the market.
How to choose a pro system
Picking the best professional camera is not just about picking the one with the best or most enticing specifications. 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. Before making a choice, it's worth asking yourself a series of questions:
1) Are you switching from a different system? 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? 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.
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