Most professional photographers swear by full-frame DSLRs. They’re larger and heavier than APS-C-format models, but are built to survive daily abuse.
What’s more, with the same megapixel count, a full-frame sensor will have much larger photosites (pixels) than an APS-C chip because it has roughly twice the sensor area. Result? Better image quality at higher ISO sensitivities.
Full-frame DSLRs aren’t just for pros though, as lower-cost versions are out there if you want great image quality on a tighter budget. But it’s worth remembering that you’ll still need full-frame-compatible lenses, and these rarely come cheap.
1. Canon EOS 5DS
Proof that more can mean better: the 5DS sets a new standard for DSLR photography
Sensor: 36 x 24mm CMOS | Megapixels: 50.6 | Autofocus: 61-point AF, 41 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch, 1,040,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Maximum video resolution: 1080p | User level: Expert
With 50.6 million effective pixels, the 5DS is by far the highest resolution full-frame DSLR on the market. The same goes for the 5DS R, which is identical to the 5DS, but features an anti-aliasing cancelation filter over the sensor to help resolve a little more detail. Pixel-packed sensors can be compromised, but not here. Image quality is superb, with fantastic detail, well controlled noise and good dynamic range. The 5DS is now the benchmark for full-frame image quality, but it’s not quite perfect. There’s no Wi-Fi or Ultra HD video recording, and huge image file sizes necessitate decent memory cards and a fast computer.
Read the full review: Canon EOS 5DS
2. Nikon D810
It may have recently been ousted from the top spot, but this is still a terrific choice
Sensor: 35.9 x 24.0mm CMOS | Megapixels: 36.3 | Autofocus: 51-point AF, 15 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch, 1,228,800 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Maximum video resolution: 1080p | User level: Expert
Ok, so the 5DS has stolen some of the D810’s thunder, but not much. Images from Nikon’s megapixel monster are bursting with detail, whilst its 1200-shot battery life puts the 5DS in the shade. We’re also fans of the D810’s clarity micro-contrast adjustment with its video-friendly Flat mode for maximum dynamic range. The 51-point AF system copes well with tricky focussing situations, mainly because both the AF and metering systems are taken from the range-topping Nikon D4S. Relatively compact dimensions and the unusual (at this level) inclusion of a pop-up flash further ensure that the D810 doesn’t disappoint.
Read the full review: Nikon D810
3. Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Canon’s full-frame jack of all trades continues to impress in 2015
Sensor: 36 x 24mm CMOS | Megapixels: 22.3 | Autofocus: 61-point AF, 41 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch, 1,040,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 6fps | Maximum video resolution: 1080p | User level: Expert
Aimed squarely to compete with the Nikon D810, the 5D Mark III is a perfect example of a pro-spec SLR that also appeals to serious amateurs. While this is a very powerful camera, it weighs nearly 400g less than Canon’s range-topping EOS 1DX. Next to the 5DS, the 22.3MP sensor is starting to look slightly average, but it still delivers good detail levels. The 61-point AF system is terrific though, with 41 cross-type sensors and five which are dual cross-type. It’s a pity there’s no built-in flash like you get with the D810, and the fixed rear screen is another minor niggle.
Read the full review: Canon EOS 5D Mark III
4. Nikon D750
A full frame DSLR packed with features for a reasonable price? Yes please
Sensor: 35.9 x 24.0mm CMOS | Megapixels: 24.3 | Autofocus: 51-point AF, 15 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch tilting, 1,228,800 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 6.5fps | Maximum video resolution: 1080p | User level:Enthusiast/expert
Can’t quite stretch to one of our top three options? The D750 still packs a cracking 24.3MP sensor and is as weatherproof as the D810, yet it’s roughly 25% cheaper. Compared to its baby brother, the D610, the D750 has superior AF, metering and video systems, as well as a wider sensitivity range. Its continuous shooting speed isn’t quite as fast as some may have hoped for, whilst the HDR and other special effect modes have limited use. But on the plus side, you do get a useful tilting screen and Wi-Fi connectivity. The D750 is a well-rounded, well-priced choice for enthusiasts.
Read the full review: Nikon D750
5. Nikon D4S
Nikon’s professional workhorse keeps shooting where lesser cameras struggle
Sensor: 35.9 x 24.0mm CMOS | Megapixels: 16.2 | Autofocus: 51-point AF, 15 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch, 921,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 11fps | Maximum video resolution: 1080p | User level: Expert
Where the Canon 5DS and Nikon D810 push detail boundaries, the D4S is built for speed. 16.2 megapixels doesn’t sound great, but it enables rapid 11fps continuous shooting and exceptional low light performance. This is one of the few aspects where the D4S improves on the preceding D4, as its ISO range now stretches to 409,600 in expanded sensitivity, making this a real ‘see in the dark’ camera. Also helping to justify the intimidating price tag is the outstanding 51-point autofocus system that excels when shooting fast moving and dimly lit subjects, whilst top-notch engineering and weatherproofing help compensate for the sheer bulk.
Read the full review: Nikon D4S
6. Canon EOS 1D X
Uncompromising build, ergonomics and shooting speed make this top pro pick
Sensor: 36 x 24mm CMOS | Megapixels: 18.1 | Autofocus: 61-point AF, 41 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch, 1,040,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 12fps | Maximum video resolution: 1080p | User level: Expert
Choosing between the 1D X and Nikon D4S will most likely depend on which manufacturer you’re already tied to with your lens system, but the two cameras are otherwise closely matched. The 1D X is an amalgamation of the older 1D and 1Ds models, blending their two specialities of speed and resolution. But speed is the real selling point here, thanks to a 12fps burst mode which can be expanded to 14fps in the Super High Speed Shooting Mode. The 18.1MP full-frame sensor sounds a step backwards from the 21.1MP chip inside the old 1Ds Mark III, but Canon has opted to sacrifice resolution to improve high ISO image quality.
Read the full review: Canon EOS 1D X
7. Nikon D610
Looking to step up to a full-frame DSLR? Nikon has the camera for you
Sensor: 35.9 x 24.0mm CMOS | Megapixels: 24.3 | Autofocus: 39-point AF, 9 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch, 921,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 6fps | Maximum video resolution: 1080p | User level:Enthusiast/expert
The D750 is good value, but the D610 gets you full-frame for even less. It’s only an incremental upgrade over the preceding D600, but it addresses that camera’s issues and boasts top-notch image and build quality. Although its pixel count is the same as the cheaper D7100, the increased sensor size results in greater dynamic range and less image noise. Full-frame is the name of the game, so extra features like Wi-Fi or a tilting screen are absent, but the 39-point AF system is reliable and the 6fps continuous shooting speed respectable. The D610 is slightly overshadowed by the newer D750, but it’s still an excellent camera.
Read the full review: Nikon D610
8. Canon EOS 6D
Canon’s most affordable full-frame DSLR punches above its weight
Sensor: 36 x 24mm CMOS | Megapixels: 20.2 | Autofocus: 11-point AF, 1 cross-type | Screen type: 3-inch, 1,040,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 4.5fps | Maximum video resolution: 1080p | User level:Enthusiast/expert
The 6D is Canon’s answer to the D610 and is the least expensive model in the company’s full-frame DSLR range. Its 20.2-megapixel sensor may sound outclassed, but there are hidden depths. Image quality is superb and photos impress with a three-dimensional feel that’s the result of the larger sensor’s ability to create shallow depth of field effects. However, the 6D’s real trump card is price. It’s one of the cheapest routes to a new full-frame DSLR, and though its autofocus system and continuous shooting speed are nothing special, you do get integrated Wi-Fi and GPS. If you can do without a built-in flash, the 6D is decent value.
Read the full review: Canon EOS 6D
9. Nikon Df
Nikon goes back to the future with this beautifully retro style statement
Sensor: 35.9 x 24.0mm CMOS | Megapixels: 16.2 | Autofocus: 39-point AF, 9 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch, 921,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 5.5fps | Maximum video resolution: N/A | User level:Enthusiast/expert
Given the Df is arguably the most stylish new full-frame DSLR available, you might be surprised it’s this far down our list. Well, that’s not due to its looks, which are designed to emulate Nikon’s classic FM-series 35mm film SLRs. The retro styling also extends to an extensive array of traditional controls, whilst the surprisingly compact weatherproof body adds further appeal. But despite great low light performance, the sensor’s 16.2-megapixel resolution is now hard to justify next to more pixel-packed rivals, and the Df wont record video. Don’t expect these drawbacks to keep the price down, either, as style doesn’t come cheap.
Read the full review: Nikon Df
10. Sony Alpha a99
An intriguing alternative to a traditional DSLR, but also a risky investment
Sensor: 35.8 x 23.8mm CMOS | Megapixels: 24.3 | Autofocus: 19-point AF, 11 cross-type | Screen type: 3-inch articulating, 1,229,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 10fps | Maximum video resolution: 1080p | User level: Expert
Canon and Nikon don’t quite dominate our selection, as Sony’s Alpha a99 has some compelling features like 10fps continuous shooting and an articulating screen. SLT technology means you get live image preview in the camera’s electronic viewfinder and it also enhances video autofocus performance. Image quality is very good, however the autofocusing system struggles to keep up with the competition and the selectable AF points are clustered around the centre of the frame. But more concerning is the future of the A-mount system in general, as Sony is now focussing on compact system cameras based around the E-mount standard.