Even in the world of professional photography, which was once dominated by full-frame DSLRs and medium format cameras, it seems the future is, increasingly, mirrorless.
It is all about trying to cram a large sensor and as many features as possible into a body that's as portable as its manufacturer can make it. For traditionalists, the DSLR still has its place, and Canon and Nikon continue to rule the show here, but there's no question that the likes of Sony and Fujifilm are furiously snapping at their heels with some well-executed products of their own.
So, should you stick with tradition or take a brave step towards embracing a different, most likely smaller, system? Whichever way you jump, we’ve some solutions and suggestions to make your landing easier.
1. Nikon D850
The brand’s newest full-frame DSLR gets a sizeable hike in resolution for bigger prints
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
It's not quite the flagship model in Nikon's line-up – that honour goes to the more action-focused D5 – but if you want maximum detail or you need to print big, the D850 is the obvious option. This weather-sealed, magnesium alloy-bodied camera boasts a whopping 45.7MP sensor, with a new 0.75x optical viewfinder, the largest magnification factor ever found on a FX format (ie full frame) Nikon DSLR. Furthermore it can shoot 4K UHD video with no sensor cropping at up to 30fps, allowing users to take full advantage of their lens collection. Unsurprisingly, given all this heavyweight spec, there are two card slots provided, one for SDHC/SDXC cards and the other for the XQD format. Given that this is a bit of a beast, with a weight of 1005g, the deeper grip on this model is appreciated, as is the fact that we now have an impressive 153 AF points for locking on target. This D850 was a long-time coming, and it delivers exactly where the average pro needs it to. Want to know more? Read our full review of the Nikon D850.
2. Sony A7R III
A huge pixel count and performance tweaks make this a more-than-capable rival to the more traditional DSLR
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full-frame | Megapixels: 42.2 MP | Lens mount: Sony | LCD: 3in tilting touchscreen, 1.44 million dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 10fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Enthusiast/Professional
A relatively portable full-frame camera with a huge 42.2MP stills resolution; it’s easy to see the appeal of the weather-sealed third iteration of Sony’s popular A7R. Part of its allure is that it offers a number of features from the pricier A9, such as the same EVF and rear-panel tilting LCD screen, as well as the joystick-type control for adjusting the AF point. The AF system has also been improved from the mark II option, with a mix of 399 phase-detect AF points and 425 contrast-detect AF points, and the camera does a stunning job of tracking a subject around the frame, making it as well-suited to the sports field as it is a photographic studio. The menu system has also been overhauled, now colour coded and slightly easier to navigate (although it remains comprehensive in its options). Read our review to find out more.
3. Hasselblad X1D-50c
A mirrorless, medium format camera that not only changes the game; it redesigns the pitch
Type: Medium format mirrorless | Sensor: Medium format | Megapixels: 50MP | Lens mount: Hasselblad X | LCD: 3in touchscreen, 920K dots | Viewfinder: EVF, 2.36million dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 2.3fps | Max video resolution: 1920x1080 (Full HD) | User level: Professional
Being a medium format camera that offers a whopping 50MP of resolution, the X1D-50c requires a little more care and attention than the average camera if you want to be rewarded with spectacularly detail rich-images. Thanks to its mirrorless design, the X1D-50c is a fraction of the size of a traditional medium format camera and scarcely bulkier than a DSLR. Sure, it’s not cheap, but the price tag does place it within reach of both professionals and well-heeled enthusiasts. Controls are minimal, but everything you need is here, and if you don’t like composing shots on the rear screen, there's an electronic viewfinder you can use instead. True, it lacks the speed of a smaller format DSLR or mirrorless model, but then this is obviously a camera for a more considered approach.
4. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
If you can stomach the price, you’ll be blown away by this upgraded workhorse’s performance
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
Well suited to a wide range of subjects, if you favour full-frame DSLR use over mirrorless model, this dust- and weather-sealed EOS DSLR could conceivably be all the camera you’ll ever need. The 30.4MP sensor is a considerable jump over the 22.3MP one found inside the previous EOS 5D Mark III model, even if it isn't quite class-leading, while Dual Pixel Raw technology also gives photographers the opportunity to fine-tune the area of maximum sharpness post-capture. The EOS 5D Mark IV also inherits Canon’s Dual Pixel AF technology, meaning that there are phase-detect AF points on the imaging sensor itself, promising speedier AF acquisition than we saw on the EOS 5D Mark III in live view and when shooting video. Showing its pro mettle, we’re also given dual card slots – one for SD-type media and the other for CompactFlash – and despite cramming in more tech, Canon has managed to reduce the body weight while keeping handling excellent. 4K video does come with some limitations, such as MJPEG compression and a severe crop factor, but with superb image quality and many other plusses, it remains one of the most well-rounded DSLRs we’ve seen yet.
Read more: The 10 cheapest full-frame DSLRs right now
5. Fujifilm GFX 50S
Medium format mirrorless camera for those requiring massive amounts of detail
Type: Medium format mirrorless | Sensor: Medium format | Megapixels: 51.4MP | Lens: Fujifilm G mount | LCD: 3.2in touchscreen, 2.36million dots | Viewfinder: Hybrid (optical and electronic) | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 3fps | Max video resolution: 1920x1080 (Full HD) | User level: Professional
Fujifilm's impressive digital medium format debut, the GFX 50S boasts a magnesium alloy body, with a tilting 3.69million-dot EVF that can be removed when not required. Furthermore, we get a tilting 3.2in touchscreen at the back and a compact top-plate LCD window that displays key settings. Despite its large sensor and dazzling spec sheet, it doesn’t feel too cumbersome to hold; the grip is comfortable and the camera is nicely balanced, with the body being weather-sealed and dust-proofed to boot. AF performance is solid if not overly fast, but it is precise, meaning this is a camera for more considered shooting. Burst shooting is up to a modest 3fps, but this isn't a camera designed for sports or action, more for the same kind of imagery as the Hasselblad X1D-50c above. The GFX 50S handles its large 117MB files with ease, happily writing files to the card without any slowdown in performance, and, being a Fujifilm model, we also get the company's popular collection of Film Simulation modes. If ultimate image quality is your goal, this is the one to pick.
6. Panasonic Lumix GH5
Feature-filled mirrorless camera for photographers that need high-quality video options
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
Looking for one of the best 4K video-shooting cameras out there? The weather-sealed, dust-proof and even freeze-proof GH5 has got to be high on your wishlist. Feeling every inch the high-end piece of professional kit it's supposed to be, and with a staggeringly high-resolution 3.68million-dot resolution electronic viewfinder giving a life-like display, the camera provides an excellent user experience. You can also compose images and videos with the 3.2in LCD screen on the back, which not only responds to touch – great for quickly shifting the AF point – but also tilts and swivels. The camera also arrives with what Panasonic terms 6K PHOTO, which lets you extract 18MP stills from ultra-high-quality video footage at 30fps. There’s no LCD display on the top plate but we do get pleasingly chunky drive and mode dials, along with buttons to access white balance, ISO and exposure compensation on the fly. Dynamic range is very good and it’s possible to recover a good level of detail from JPEG files. For the best results, however, Raw delivers the widest latitude.
7. Sony A9
Ideal for sports and action but with a well-rounded spec sheet that makes it versatile enough for plenty more
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 | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Professional
We thought we had it good with the ever-growing A7 series of cameras, and then the A9 came along. The camera's AF system is not only incredibly quick, but its tracking performance is first-rate, so if speed is the priority, this is where to look. Partner that with 20fps burst shooting for 241 Raw files or 362 JPEG images, and a large and bright EVF that doesn't black-out when you’re shooting, and you’ve got a camera that can easily compete with the best that Canon and Nikon have to offer when it comes to shooting action. Its light-sensitivity range can be expanded to a setting equivalent to ISO 204,800, and on top of that excellent EVF we have a 3in, tilting touch-screen LCD that has a respectably high 1.44million-dot resolution. Unsurprisingly from Sony, we also get 4K video shooting plus the option of Full HD at up to 120fps too. Its battery life might not be at the same level as the likes of the Nikon D5 and Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, but what it does offer has no doubt forced many of those cameras' users to reconsider whether they are still using the kit that best fits their needs.
8. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II
Flagship mirrorless camera offering a classic design but also high-tech imaging performance
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Micro Four Thirds | Megapixels: 20.4MP | Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds mount | LCD: 3in articulating touchscreen, 1.037million dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 60fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Enthusiast/Professional
The best Micro Four Thirds camera yet? Decidedly one for those who favour classic design and traditional handling, this weather-proofed option is currently as good as it gets from Olympus. The manufacturer has overhauled the camera’s original iteration to deliver a 20MP Micro Four Thirds sensor, a greatly improved 121-point cross-type AF system and a significantly boosted sensor-based image stabilisation system, while also delivering 4K video and Olympus’s best shooting video features to date. The electronic viewfinder has been tweaked too, now offering a 2.36million-dot resolution, which makes it easy to forget what you're using is electronic rather than optical. The Mark II notably faster on the draw, too, while images are packed with detail, aided by that excellent stabilisation technology. Find our more in our full review of the OM-D E-M1 Mark II.
9. Pentax K-1
Competitively priced DSLR with a robust build and surprisingly flexible tilting LCD
Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 36.4MP | Lens mount: Pentax K mount | LCD: 3.2in tilting, 1.037million dots | Viewfinder: Optical | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 4.4fps | Max video resolution: 1920x1080 (Full HD) | User level: Enthusiast/Professional
In the K-1, we get the advantage of a high-resolution full-frame sensor, five-axis image stabilisation and plenty of useful features that are unique to Pentax, all inside a robust, magnesium alloy body. All joints and ports are sealed to prevent the ingress of dust and moisture, and the camera will happily continue to operate in temperatures as low as -10°C. The standard information display on the main screen is clear and changes promptly as settings are altered, while the presence of a PRIME IV processing engine makes it speedier than the previous engine found inside other K-series models (by 50%, according to Pentax). Being a DSLR, we get a traditional optical viewfinder, which is large and bright and offers 100% frame coverage, plus a 3.2in tilting LCD screen at the back, which likewise delivers a clear view. A built-in GPS unit and digital compass make it great for the more adventurous photographer, while LED lights on the camera make it easier to operate in the dark. The Mark II version of this model was also announced recently, but until we test it we're sticking with the original for this list.
10. Sony A7S II
If low-light shooting and video are your thing, the A7S II fits the bill
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full-frame | Megapixels: 12.2MP | Lens mount: Sony E-mount | Screen: 3in tilting, 1.228million dots | Viewfinder: EVF, 2.36million dots | Max burst speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Enthusiast/Professional
Sony's newest A7-series model may be the A7 III, but the older A7S II is decidedly more suited to low-light shooting and pro-grade video recording, so it just earns its place on the list ahead of that model. The fact that its full-frame sensor only contains 12MP means that it can offer a wide dynamic range and an ISO 100-102,400 sensitivity range that can be expanded to a staggeringly high ISO 409,600-equivalent option. 4K video recording with no pixel binning, together with the option to use frame rates of up to 120fps when shooting Full HD footage and S-Gamut3.Cine/S-Log3 options make it a fine choice for videographers, while the sensor-based five-axis image stabilisation system is a massive bonus – particularly in low light, where the camera is highly likely to be used
Read more: The 10 best full-frame cameras right now