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The best cameras for professionals in 2019: which pro camera system is best?

Canon EOS 1D DSLR

2020 is the year of the Olympics, and it's no surprise to see Canon and Nikon using this event as a springboard for their new and updated flagship sports cameras. But there's more to professional cameras than frame rates and autofocus. Commercial photographers need resolution and reliability, lens choice and system support. There's more to professional cameras than headlines.

Choosing a the best professional camera means looking at the whole system, not just the camera itself. The upcoming Nikon D6 will appeal to existing Nikon pro users and the Canon EOS-1Dx Mark III will be a hot favorite amongst Canon pros. Sony has got in ahead of both with its upgraded Sony A9 Mark II, but outside the world of sports photography, the Sony A7 Mark IV has set a new benchmark for full frame camera resolution.

Exciting as these new cameras may be, cameras come and go al the time, and it's the lens system you should look at first, especially with some of the newer mirrorless cameras. You need to ask yourself a whole series of questions:

1) Are you migrating from an existing camera system? If you are, you may want to choose new equipment that’s compatible with lenses, accessories and camera bodies you already have. ‘Migrating’ an existing system is much simpler and cheaper than starting again with a whole new setup.

2) What lenses will you need? Camera bodies come and go, but lenses have a much longer life and are arguably just as important for specialized professional needs. Research the lenses available before making a final decision, like the best Canon lenses or best Nikon lenses.

3) DSLR or mirrorless? Canon and Nikon now offer a choice, and despite what mirrorless zealots might say, the best DSLR cameras do still have advantages and you should choose the camera type you’re most comfortable handling and using to decided on DSLR vs mirrorless cameras.

4) Video vs stills? DSLRs are pretty good at shooting video, but mirrorless cameras are better – so if you're a videographer rather than a stills shooter, you'll almost certainly have different priorities.

5) Sensor size: Of course, bigger sensors are better, but you have to make sure they're appropriate to your needs. A medium format camera will produce beautiful image quality but it will cost more, the lens choice will be narrower, and it's the wrong choice for action. At the other end of the sensor size scale, don't rule out Micro Four Thirds. An MFT setup will be massively cheaper than a full frame system covering the same effective focal lengths, and a lot cheaper too.

So rather than just giving you a mixed-up list of pro brands and cameras to consider, we’ve split them up into six brands and listed our top professional picks for each one. With professional cameras, it’s much more important to think about the system than about individual camera models.

We've also 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.

Canon

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

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Canon EOS-1D X Mark II

Still the top choice for many pros, but the Mark III is coming...

Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 20.2MP | Lens mount: Canon EF | Screen: 3.2in fixed LCD, 1,62million dots | Viewfinder: Optical | Max burst speed: 14fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Professional

Empty List4K video to 50/60p
Excellent, fast AF system
14fps shooting
Inefficient MJPEG video format

Full frame mirrorless cameras may be making all the headlines, but it’s easy to forget that DSLRs are still extremely popular with professionals and still have many advantages, notably their optical viewfinders, big, grippable bodies, AF performance and battery life. The EOS-1D X is expensive, but still a very powerful professional sports/press camera, and it has high-end 4K video capabilities too. What's making it difficult to recommend this model right now, though, is that Canon is officially working on its replacement, the EOS-1D X Mark III, which will have even higher frame rates and a more advanced autofocus system.

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Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

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

Responsive touchscreen
Impressive live-view AF
4K video crop
Middle of the road resolution

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 a solid but ageing workhorse.

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Canon EOS R

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

Highly customisable
Fully articulated LCD
No in-body stabilisation
Unambitious specifications

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.

Nikon

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

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Nikon D5

Nikon’s answer to the EOS-1D X Mark II is fast, tough and powerful

Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full-frame | Megapixels: 20.8MP | Autofocus: 153-point AF, 99 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch, 2,360,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 14fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Professional

Sturdy build
Excellent AF system
14fps shooting and 4K video
Its speed doesn’t come cheap

Nikon’s Z-series mirrorless cameras have impressing AF systems and continuous shooting speeds, but they can’t match the D5’s 14fps, huge buffer depth, super-responsive autofocus and lag-free viewfinder. It’s been around a little while now, but the D5 is still Nikon’s top sports/press camera and its only real competition is the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II – though Nikon photographers may also be taking a close look at the Sony A9 Mark II. The dilemma for anyone considering the D5, or course, is that Nikon has announced the development of its replacement, the Nikon D6. We expect it in time for the 2020 Olympics, but that's all we know about a camera shrouded in mystery.

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Nikon D850

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

Large, bright viewfinder
Sophisticated, proven AF system
Superb resolution
Slow live view focusing

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

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Nikon Z 7

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

Excellent EVF
In-body stabilisation works well
45.7MP resolution
Single XQD card slot

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

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

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Sony A9/A9 Mark II

Sony’s flagship is a mirrorless alternative to the D5 and EOS-1D X II

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

Blisteringly fast AF
Blackout-free burst shooting
Silent shooting mode
Battery life can’t match pro DSLRs

The A9 and A9 II are more expensive than Sony’s A7 cameras and have no more resolution than the A7 III base model, but they are built for speed and responsiveness, not resolution. We've reviewed the Sony A9 fully but we've only been able to try out the A9 Mark II in a hands on session so far. The A9’s AF system is not only incredibly quick, but its tracking performance is first-rate – and the A9 Mark II is faster still. 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 Canon EOS-1D Mark II and Nikon D5. The Sony A9 Mark II also brings a host of high-speed connectivity updates which could transform the way professionals capture and share images at high-profile sporting events. We'll review the A9 II fully as soon as we get a sample; in the meantime it is available for pre-order and the existing A9 remains on sale at discounted prices.

Read more: Sony A9 review

(Image credit: Sony)

Sony A7R IV

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

Compact for full frame
Highest full frame resolution yet
Still capable of 10fps
Poor balance with larger lenses

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

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.

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Fujifilm X-T3

The most powerful APS-C mirrorless camera you can get

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

Advanced autofocus
4K video at up to 60/50p
High-speed shooting
No in-body stabilisation

The Fujifilm X-T3 is the APS-C mirrorless camera with everything. Well, practically everything. It doesn't have in-body image stabilisation (only the Fujifilm X-H1 has that), 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.

 Read more: Fujifilm X-T3 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

Incredible resolving power
Full frame 4K video
Controls may divide opinion
In-body stabilisation isn't foolproof

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

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

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Panasonic Lumix S1R

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

47.3MP resolution
Superb EVF
Waiting for new lenses
Only 6fps with continuous AF

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

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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

Excellent video specs
Superb viewfinder
Works wells as a stills camera too
Smaller MFT sensor

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.

Olympus

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.

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Olympus OM-D E‑M1 Mark II

A powerful sports/action camera that's a great all-rounder too

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

15fps burst, with 60fps option
Impressive image stabilisation
Complex menu system
Is 20MP enough?

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. In a way, the E-M1 Mark II has been overshadowed by the E-M1X (below), but in another way the differences between them aren't great and it makes the E-M1 Mark II look better value than ever.

Read more: Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II review

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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

Pro build quality
Next-generation AF
Smaller MFT sensor
Pricey next to E-M1 II

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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