What is the best professional camera – 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.
2020 will be remembered as the year of lockdown, so sport has taken a bit of a back seat for now, but the big three contenders for best professional sports DSLR still went ahead with their launches to provide a titanic three-way tussle between the amazing Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, the updated and upgraded Sony A9 Mark II and the new Nikon D6.
Our full Nikon D6 review is imminent, but we've already published our Nikon D6 vs Canon EOS-1D X Mark III vs Sony A9 II shoot-out to see which would have won Olympic gold.
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 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 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? 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.
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 professional camera 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 the new Canon EOS-1Dx Mark III is here.
See also: Best Canon cameras
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
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
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
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 firs pro sports DSLR, the Canon has the edge, but if you're a long-time Nikon user with a bag full of lenses, the D6 is the obvious candidate for your next upgrade.
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
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. If you don't need the Z 7's mighty resolution but you do need professional videos, take a look at the cheaper but equally robust Nikon Z 6 instead – it's actually a little more accomplished for video than the Z 7.
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
To quote from our own review, the Sony A9 II is the fastest, most ferocious full-frame sports camera we've ever used – but this was before we tested the EOS-1D X Mark III. Nevertheless, the Sony A9 Mark II's blistering speed and autofocus performance are impressive, and 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!
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.
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.
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 have a production sample of the X-T4 and we are carrying out lab tests even as we speak, so expect a full review shortly.
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
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
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.
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 practice photography. When shooting sport, its autofocus and frame rate are a good match for more expensive full frame rivals. 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.
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.
Read more: Olympus OM-D E-M1X review
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