Many photographers see full-frame as the sensor of choice to aim for. Generally speaking, cameras with a full-frame sensor offer better image quality than those with smaller APS-C sensors, while still having the portability and ease-of-use that isn’t normally associated with medium and large format cameras.
In days gone by, full-frame cameras were very expensive. We’re lucky that at the moment there’s more choice than ever before, with a huge selection of cameras available to buy at more and more affordable prices. Where once full-frame was only the domain of the professional, cheaper prices mean that enthusiasts often plump for these models too.
Our round-up looks at the best of the full-frame models currently available on the market. We’ve got a selection of mainly DSLR cameras and mirrorless models, but there’s also a couple of compact cameras which surprisingly also pack a full-frame sensor.
We’ve looked at the cameras which offer a combination of high image quality and intuitive handling, while also considering their price point as well as their intended audience.
Read on to find out our pick of the bunch…
A fantastic all-rounder which is hard to beat
Sensor: FX (full-frame)CMOS | Megapixels: 45.7 | Lens Mount: Nikon F | AF System: Multi-CAM 20K autofocus sensor module, 153 focus points (including 99 cross type, of which 55 are available for selection) Viewfinder: Eye-level pentaprism (optical viewfinder), 100% coverage, 0.75x magnification | Screen: 3.2-inch touch-sensitive tilting LCD, 2359k-dots | Max video resolution: 4K Max frame rate: 7fps/9fps
Pros: High resolution sensor, outstanding battery life, superb AF
Cons: Expensive, AF points clustered around centre of frame, slow Live View shooting
Possibly the most popular camera of 2017, the Nikon D850 is a great all-rounder which offers both enthusiasts and professionals a fantastic performance. The AF system is inherited from the top-of-the-line D5, while the 45.7 million pixel sensor allows for some superb detail reproduction.
The optical viewfinder is the largest ever found on a Nikon DSLR, while the tilting touch-sensitive screen comes in useful for certain subjects. Silent shooting is enabled when you use Live View, which is great for discreet shots where you need to be quiet.
Although not primarily aimed at sports and action photographers, 7fps gives you something to work with – and you can boost that to an even more usable 9fps by adding an optional battery grip. While the Sony A9 may have the D850 beat in some key areas (such as frame rate), for professionals working in the field, the D850’s battery life is so much more workable.
Overall the D850 gets our pick of the best full-frame camera for its fantastic versatility and high image quality, while being more affordable than the professional-level D5.
Possibly the best camera in the world right now
Sensor: Stacked CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2 | Lens Mount: Sony E | AF System: Hybrid AF; 693-point wide-area phase-detection, 25 points contrast detect | Viewfinder: 0.5-inch electronic viewfinder, 3,6m-dot, 100% coverage | Screen: 3-inch, 1.4m-dot, tilting, touch-sensitive Max video resolution: 4K | Max frame rate: 20fps
Pros: 20fps silent shooting, Small and lightweight
Cons: Comparatively poor battery life, expensive
No camera has caused more of a stir this year than the Sony A9. It offers a huge array of features that is turning the heads of even the most dyed-in-the-wool Nikon and Canon shooters. The most exciting – and useful – feature is the ability to shoot 20fps in full resolution, silently, and without any kind of black out in the (electronic) viewfinder.
For sports, wildlife and action photographers, this is a very special feature that makes it almost impossible to miss the definitive moment. Autofocus is also excellent, with a huge amount of points which are spread across the entire frame – something which you don’t get with DSLRs.
Of course, there has to be a downside, and in this case it’s battery life – professionals are going to need at least one spare if you want to make it through the whole day. You also need to be prepared to pay a pretty penny for the A9, while the lens and accessories range remains far more limited than the Canon and Nikon equivalents.
Canon EOS 1DX Mark II
For sports and wildlife, this DSLR seriously packs a punch
Sensor: Full-frame CMOS | Megapixels: 20.2 | Lens Mount: Canon EF | AF System: 61 point / 41 cross-type / 5 dual cross type at f/2.8 (all individually selectable) Viewfinder: Pentaprism (optical viewfinder), 100% coverage, 0.76x magnification | Screen: 3.2-inch fixed LCD, touch-sensitive, 1620k-dots Max video resolution: 4K | Max frame rate: 14fps
Pros: Superb AF, touch-sensitive screen
Cons: Large and heavy, high price
The Canon 1DX Mark II is perhaps the best specced DSLR here if you’re a keen sports and/or wildlife photographer. With its precise autofocus system and a max frame rate of 14fps, you’ve got a lot to work with.
Like the Nikon D5, the 1DX Mark II is a big, heavy camera – but again, that extra size facilitates extended battery life and portrait grip controls.
The pixel count of the 1DX Mark II is modest, at 20.2, while image quality is very high. There’s not too much to choose between the 1DX Mark II and the Nikon D5, but it’s likely that you’ll already have your preferred brand if you’re in the market for a £5k camera and the 1DX Mark II is seriously impressive.
A beast of a camera for professional or serious enthuasiasts
Sensor: FX (full-frame) CMOS | Megapixels: 20.8 | Lens Mount: Nikon F | AF System: Multi-CAM 20K autofocus sensor module, 153 focus points (including 99 cross type, of which 55 are available for selection) Viewfinder: Eye-level pentaprism (optical viewfinder), 100% coverage, 0.72x magnification | Screen: 3.2-inch fixed TFT touch-sensitive screen, 2359k-dots | Max video resolution: 4K | Max frame rate: 12fps
Pros: Fast frame rate, excellent autofocus
Cons: Large and heavy, expensive
If sports and action photography is your thing, the Nikon D5 is the Nikon DSLR of choice for you. It has a fantastic AF system, while the max frame rate of 12fps is great for capturing those key moments. The resolution is less than half that of the Nikon D850, but for professionals who need to send shots remotely, that can be a blessing as it keeps file sizes down.
The D5 is a real beast of a camera with a large body to match – but the square build of the camera gives you both class-leading battery life and an additional set of controls to use when shooting in portrait orientation.
For most enthusiasts, the high asking price of the D5 probably puts it out of reach, but for the ultimate work horse of a camera, you can’t go far wrong.
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
A superb all-rounder well suited to a variety of subjects
Sensor: Full-frame CMOS | Megapixels: 30.4 | Lens Mount: Canon EF | AF System: 61 point / 41 cross-type / 5 dual cross type at f/2.8 (all individually selectable) | Viewfinder: Pentaprism (optical viewfinder), 100% coverage, 0.71x magnification | Screen: 3.2-inch fixed, touch-sensitive, 1620k-dots | Max video resolution: 4K Max frame rate: 7fps
Pros: 4K video, Dual Pixel AF
Cons: Screen is fixed, Slow frame rate
The 5D range has always proven popular with advanced enthusiasts and professionals looking for something which can cope well with a range of different subjects. The latest in the line, the Mark IV, brings with it a lot of interesting and useful specifications that make it well suited to somebody who doesn’t shoot any one thing in particular.
The autofocus system is inherited from the excellent 1D Mark IV, while the frame rate of 7fps may not be lightning fast, but is just about versatile enough to catch most subjects.
Videographers have long enjoyed using the 5D range, and to that end, the Mark IV is capable of recording 4K video and has a range of useful video functions. The 5D Mark IV’s party trick is Dual Pixel AF, which, when switched on, allows you to slightly adjust focus in post-production, something which could just save the odd shot or two.
Canon EOS 5DS / 5DSR
If you need the ultimate in resolution, this is the one for you
Sensor: Full-frame CMOS | Megapixels: 50.6 | Lens Mount: Canon EF | AF System: 61 point / 41 cross-type / 5 dual cross type at f/2.8 Viewfinder: Pentaprism (optical viewfinder), 100% coverage, 0.71x magnification | Screen: 3.2-inch, fixed, not-touch sensitive, 1040k-dots Max video resolution: Full HD | Max frame rate: 5fps
Pros: Super high resolution, great AF
Cons: Slow frame rate, no 4K video
For photographers who are looking for the ultimate high-resolution camera, the Canon EOS 5DS or 5DSR make for great choices. The cameras are identical, but the 5DSR has a secondary cancellation filter which makes it capable of resolving even more detail. With 50.6 million pixels to play with, this camera is ideal for studio and commercial work, as well as landscape and macro photography.
Although the autofocus is very good, it’s not really a camera designed for high-speed photography – the frame rate tops out at 5fps. It may not be the all-rounder that the 5D Mark IV, but that’s not the point of this camera – just be prepared for very large file sizes.
High shooting and high resolution – there’s a lot to like about this mirrorless marvel
Sensor: Full-frame Exmor R CMOS | Megapixels: 42.4 | Lens Mount: Sony E | AF System: Hybrid AF with 399-point focal plane phase-detection AF and 425-point contrast-detection AF | Viewfinder: 0.5-inch electronic viewfinder, 3.6m-dot, 100% coverage | Screen: 3-inch, 1.4m-dot, tilting, touch-sensitive | Max video resolution: 4K Max frame rate: 10fps
Pros: High resolution, Fast frame rate
Cons: (Probably) comparatively poor battery life
The Sony A7R III has only just been announced, but we feel so confident about the specs that we’re including it in this list (with the caveat that it could be removed, in the unlikely event that it fails to deliver). The A7R is Sony’s high-resolution range in the full-frame mirrorless line-up, which, until now has a trade-off of not being ideal for sports and action photography – the antithesis of the Sony A9 if you will.
With the introduction of the A7R III, Sony has added 10fps shooting and beefed up the autofocusing system. There’s also been some improvements made to the handling, plus the price is significantly lower than the A9’s – this looks set to be one of the most exciting cameras of the year.
For those not tied by brand loyalty, the K-1 offers good value for money
Sensor: Full-frame CMOS | Megapixels: 36.4 |Lens Mount: Pentax K Mount | AF System: TTL phase detection, SAFOX 12, 33-point system | Viewfinder: Pentaprism (optical viewfinder), 100% coverage, 0.7x magnification | Screen: 3.2-inch, 1037k-dots, Tilting TFT | Max video resolution: Full HD | Max frame rate: 4.4fps / 6.5fps
Pros: Affordable, good detail resolution
Cons: No 4K, slow frame rate
Although Pentax may not be as popular as Canon and Nikon when it comes to full-frame DSLRs, it has produced some good cameras of late that are often more affordable than the bigger brands. Such is the case with the K-1, which is the cheapest camera in this round-up.
For your money, you get a good spread of specifications, including a weather proof body which is likely to appeal to landscape photographers who spend a lot of time outdoors. The K-1 isn’t particularly well rounded, so sports and action photographers should probably look elsewhere, but for landscape, macro, portrait and still-life subjects, it performs well, producing detailed shots.
Superb Leica full-frame quality in a compact and portable body – ideal for street photography
Sensor: Full-frame CMOS Megapixels: 24.2 | Lens: 28mm f/1.7 ASPH lens | AF System: Contrast-based, 49-point AF | Viewfinder: 3.68-m dot LCOS electronic viewfinder | Screen: 3-inch fixed touch-sensitive LCD, 1.04-m dots | Max video resolution: Full HD | Max frame rate: 10fps
Pros: Small body, great EVF and screen
Cons: No 4K, Expensive
Leica is a brand which many photographers aspire to own, with stylish body designs married with fantastic image quality. The Leica Q is ideal for street photographers looking for a small and discreet body, while still boasting a full-frame sensor. You also benefit from tactile controls, and a high-resolution viewfinder which is great to work with.
The fixed 28mm f/1.7 lens is great for street work, but is also useful for other subjects, such as landscapes. Optical image stabilisation is built-in, allowing you to shoot at slow shutter speeds handheld. This is by no means a cheap camera – especially given it is relatively niche, but for somebody who wants a compact body with a high-performing sensor, it’s a great choice.
Sony RX1R II
Fantastic image quality in a teeny tiny body
Sensor: Back-illuminated full-frame CMOS | Megapixels: 42.4 | Lens: ZEISS Sonnar T* 35mm f/2.0 | AF System: Hybrid AF with 399 phase-detection AF points | Viewfinder: 0.39-inch electronic viewfinder, 2.35m-dots, 100% coverage | Screen: 3-inch, 1.28m-dots, tilting | Max video resolution: Full HD | Max frame rate: 5ps
Pros: Small compact, high resolution sensor
Cons: Fixed length, No 4K video, screen not touch-sensitive, short battery life
The RX1R II is a couple of years old now, but it remains an appealing camera for those looking for something small and compact while offering a wide array of high-tech specifications. Not least among those is a very high resolution, 42.4 million pixel, sensor – the detail it’s capable of producing is stunning.
The fixed lens offers a classic focal length of 35mm, with a wide aperture of f/2.0, making it ideal for street and documentary work – as well as other subjects including landscapes and potentially even portraits.
Sadly, there’s quite a few downsides to consider here too – battery life is pretty poor, while there’s no OIS to help keep your shots sharp. It’s also pretty expensive, but overall a joy to use.