Full-frame cameras have a lot to offer the creative photographer, and they come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. To help you figure out which is the right model for you, we've rounded up our pick of the best full-frame cameras in a range of different categories. If you're not sure it's a full-frame camera you want, we also have a guide to the best camera for creatives.
So what exactly is a full-frame camera, and why would you want one? Full-frame cameras can deliver a tighter depth of field than models with a crop sensor, which can be a major bonus in portraiture and still life photography.
The fact that the image sensor has a physically larger surface area can be a key advantage in other ways as well. Manufacturers can cram extra megapixels onto the sensor, increasing the potential for capturing ultra-fine detail and texture. Alternatively, they can stick to a more modest megapixel count and increase the size of the actual photosites, which equate to pixels in the resulting image. Bigger photosites enable the camera to capture more light, which can result in less image noise when shooting at high ISO (sensitivity) settings.
Many photographers still prefer conventional DLSRs, with their reflex mirrors and optical viewfinders. However, there's a growing range of mirrorless 'compact system cameras' on the market, with Sony offering a number of full-frame bodies and companion lenses in its lineup.
Let's check out the best full-frame cameras on the market to suit your budget and specific requirements.
With the notable exceptions of the 5DS and 5DS R, Canon's highly regarded EOS 5D series of cameras have never set the world alight in terms of megapixel count. True to form, the latest Mk IV weighs in with a 30.4MP image sensor, which turns out to be a very good compromise. It enables the camera to capture fine detail extremely well, while also maintaining very clean image quality at high ISO settings, along with a fairly fast 7fps maximum drive rate. The autofocus systems are excellent, with a 61-point phase-detection module for shooting stills through the viewfinder, and Dual Pixel AF for live view and movie capture, the latter of which is available at 4K UHD.
Sony's latest flagship mirrorless camera packs a full-frame sensor and dual memory card slots into a typically small and lightweight package. The sensor itself might look unimpressive, with a 24.2 megapixel count, but it's a stacked CMOS device with onboard processing and memory.
Advantages include low-noise image quality at very high ISO settings, and blistering continuous drive speeds of up to 20fps, complete with autofocus tracking. An electronic shutter is also on hand, to enable shutter speeds of up to 1/32000th of a second, so you can freeze even the fastest action. The electronic viewfinder is absolutely outstanding and the rear touchscreen is nice and clear, although it only has a tilt facility and lacks full articulation.
For outright resolving power, the 45.4MP Nikon D850 clearly wins out against the 30.4MP Canon 5D Mk IV. And despite having 50 per cent more megapixels, it matches the Canon for maximum drive rate, at 7fps. The rear screen is also ultra-high-res, and very easy on the eye. As a pro-grade Nikon, it has a substantially different control layout to consumer-grade cameras like the D750. It's more like a scaled-down Nikon D5, without the built-in vertical grip. As such, it's reasonably small and lightweight for a pro-grade DSLR.
The only real downside is that, for shooting under low lighting conditions at high ISO settings, image noise can be rather noticeable, especially compared with the likes of the Canon 5D Mk IV and the super-smooth Nikon D750.
This is our pick for the best full-frame budget camera on the market. It took six years for the Mark II edition of Canon's 'enthusiast' level full-frame DSLR to topple the original 6D from its throne. It's been well worth the wait, as the main autofocus system gets a mighty upgrade from 11 AF points with only a single cross-type point, to 45 AF points, all of which are cross-type for greater accuracy.
The sensor-based autofocus system for live view and movie capture gets an even bigger upgrade, with a dual pixel AF sensor that makes focusing massively faster. The maximum drive rate is 2fps faster at 6.5fps, and the new model features 5-axis stabilisation for movie capture. However, this isn't available for shooting stills, and movies themselves are limited to 1080p rather than 4K. Even so, the excellent fully articulated touchscreen will benefit those shooting movies as well as live view stills.
What you see is what you get with this camera. The immensely detailed and super-sharp electronic viewfinder has crystal clarity, reflected in the ultra-high definition stills that are captured by the 42.4MP image sensor. 4K UHD movie capture is just as much of a treat, as the A9 delivers wonderfully sharp and detailed results, helped along by its 5-axis image stabiliser. Overall 4K movie quality beats that of any regular DSLR currently on the market, and you can boost resolution to 5K in 'Super 35mm' mode. Advanced functions to suit serious videographers include a clean HDMI output, zebra display, time code and slow/quick motion, to name but a few.
Costing two-thirds of the price of the A7R III and little more than half the price of the A9, the A7 III is the most 'sensible' option for those hunting for the best full-frame camera for travel. There's no shortage of advanced features, including a back-illuminated image sensor that enables very clean high-ISO images (more so than in the A7R III), a fabulously fast and reliable hybrid autofocus system, speedy 10fps continuous stills shooting, and 4K video capture.
With its small, lightweight build, it's eminently suitable for travel photography and, while the A9 and A7R III are also very travel-friendly, the A7 III edges ahead in terms of battery life, with up to 610 or 710 shots per charge, using the viewfinder or rear screen respectively. If you're going to be hitting the beach or engaging in adventurous activities on your travels, it's also nice not to be packing quite such an expensive camera.
If you're after the best full-frame camera for sports or wildlife photography, look no further than the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II. Many pros love this DSLR simply for its handling characteristics. With a built-in vertical grip that fully duplicates all the important shooting controls, it feels equally natural to use in portrait or landscape orientation.
The camera really comes into its own for action sports and wildlife photography where, for a DSLR at least, it delivers a super-fast continuous drive rate of 14fps, and as much as 16fps in live view mode. The 61-point autofocus system makes a spectacularly good job of keeping tabs on fast or erratically moving objects, with plentiful tracking options to choose from. The shooting speed is helped by the modest megapixel count of 20.2MP, but this also ensures relatively noise-free image quality when you need to shoot at very high ISO speeds, for example when freezing the wildlife action at twilight, or for indoor sports.
Inspired by classic yesteryear Nikon 35mm stills cameras, the Df will appeal to photographers of a certain age or inclination. It has a plethora of hands-on, dedicated dials up on top, for adjusting shooting parameters like ISO, shutter speed and exposure compensation, as well as the usual shooting buttons and dials on the front and back. Based on the same image sensor and processor as the flagship D4 (which has now been superseded by the D5), the Df is also starting to look a bit retro in terms of its 16.2 megapixel count. An upside is that high-ISO images are fairly noise-free. A major downside for many modern photographers is that Nikon has taken the 'retro' theme to the extreme by stripping out any video capture facility from the camera.
With a similar price tag to the Canon 6D Mark II, the older Nikon D750 almost matches it for megapixel count, with a 24.3MP sensor. The D750 is equally able to capture fine detail and texture but draws slightly ahead in minimising image noise at very high ISO settings. It's far better than the Nikon D850 in this respect, making the D750 a better proposition for shooting indoors or under very low lighting without resorting to flash. This can be a particular plus point for wedding photographers and others needing to shoot indoor events. Another upside for capturing important, unrepeatable events is that, unlike the Canon 6D Mark II, the D750 has dual memory card slots, so you can create instant backups of every shot you take, on separate cards.
With a keen eye for detail, the K-1 Mark II has a 36MP image sensor with no anti-alias filter, and can deploy its 5-axis sensor-shift image stabiliser in a variety of ways. For starters, it can reduce camera-shake in handheld shooting with up to 5-stop efficiency. There are also tripod and handheld modes for shifting pixels between successive shots, to enhance the capture of ultra-fine detail.
For shooting the night sky, there's a more intriguing 'Astrotracer' mode. This employs the camera's internal GPS module and electronic compass for astrophotography. The latitudinal position on the globe, plus its direction and horizontal/vertical tilt are all measured automatically. Calculations are performed and the image stabiliser shifts the sensor throughout the exposure. This effectively tracks the movement of the moon, stars and other celestial bodies, so that they don't blur or appear to streak through the night sky.