The best full frame DSLR cameras of 2016
It's been a good year for full frame DSLR buyers, with a number of new models being launched. We've seen the eagerly-awaited next generation of the Canon 5D, along with new flagship models from all manufacturers. But which one is going to be right for you? Here we look at some of the best full frame DSLRs available in 2016.
This guide includes our pick of cameras which have impressed us, or continue to do so, in 2016. They include models aimed at enthusiasts, and those better suited to professionals who have more specialist needs. There are obviously other full frame DSLRs on the market, but chances are we've omitted them because they are getting long in the tooth (by new camera standards) and likely to be replaced soon. In particular we're thinking of the Canon 6D and the Nikon's D610 and Df, but that's not to say they aren't still good cameras which might be a good fit for you.
It's worth noting that unless otherwise stated we've provided camera weight as body-only, so that's without a battery, memory card or lens. Also, because manufacturers can refer to ISO settings differently – some give "native" and "extended" numbers, while others just bundle them together – we've given the wider range in each case so they can be better compared.
Released a couple of years ago, the 24-megapixel Nikon D750 was a formidable camera when it hit the market, and is still a good option now. It's also US$500 cheaper now than it was when it was released. In addition to the full frame sensor, it boasts built in Wi-Fi connectivity for sharing content, and a vari-angle LCD monitor. These features stood out back in 2014, and mean the D750 is a viable option for many photographers today.
The 51-point autofocus system is fast and accurate, and while it might not offer the same quality subject tracking as some newer cameras, it's still going to give you a good number of keepers. With Full HD 1080p video recording at 60 fps, you can capture high-quality footage, even if it doesn't have that 4K goodness. A battery life of 1,230 shots will keep you shooting longer than some rival cameras, and the Nikon F-mount means there are lots of lenses to pick from. The Nikon D750 currently costs around $1,800 body-only.
Product page: Nikon D750
Earlier this year the patience of Pentax fans was rewarded with a new flagship full frame DSLR to use their lenses on, the K-1. To go with its large 36-megapixel CMOS sensor, the K-1 boasts a build quality and weather resistance not normally seen on cameras in this price range. Its toughness even extends to the rear monitor which is connected by a moving mechanism, and can (but probably shouldn't) be used to swing the camera around.
While the Pentax K-1 arguably doesn't have the strongest autofocus system, it does have a few other nifty tricks up its sleeve. The 5-axis image stabilization impressed us when we got to play with the camera, and will help deliver blur-free images when other cameras struggle, such as when shooting at slow shutter speeds or long telephoto focal lengths. Surprisingly compact for a full frame DSLR, the K-1 also has built-in wireless connectivity, and a 760-shot battery life. It currently costs $2,000 body-only.
Product page: Pentax K-1
Sony A99 II
Sony gave us a rather nice surprise at Photokina when it announced the A99 II, and proved that it still cared about the A-mount. While its translucent mirror means it's technically not a true DSLR, it's still decidedly more DSLR-like than mirrorless cameras, and a direct rival to other cameras included here. It has a 42-megapixel full frame sensor and 79 Hybrid Cross AF points which make autofocus very snappy. A 12 fps continuous shooting is equally speedy and impressed us in our tests.
But the flagship-rivalling specs don't end there, as it also features 5-axis image stabilization and can shoot video footage in 4K resolution. There's also built-in wireless connectivity and a tilting and rotating rear monitor. Our only disappointments with the A99 II are that the rear monitor is not a touchscreen, and that the battery life of 390 or 490 shots (depending on using the electronic viewfinder or monitor) is going to mean carrying spare batteries. The Sony A99 II costs $3,200 body-only.
Product page: Sony A99 II
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
For many people, a 5D camera will have been their introduction to full frame DSLRs. As such it should come as no surprise that the latest iteration, the 5D Mark IV, is included here. The 30-megapixel full frame sensor is paired with a native ISO range of 100-32000 (which can be expanded to 102400) and a shooting speed of up to 7 fps. In our tests with the camera we were pleased with the dynamic range and intrigued by the Dual Pixel RAW feature which lets you make micro adjustments to areas of sharpness and shift bokeh in post production.
Videographers will be pleased with the 4K video shooting of the 5D Mark IV, where the Dual Pixel CMOS AF focusing is also a big bonus. While the rear monitor is fixed, it is a touchscreen, which again really helps out when shifting focus in video. Wi-Fi and NFC make connection with smart devices easy, and GPS can be used to tag and log location data. You should get around 900 shots from a fully charged battery. The Canon 5D Mark IV costs $3,500 body-only.
Product page: Canon 5D Mark IV
When the Nikon D810 replaced the D800 back in 2014, we called it a "megapixel-monster" and people were still questioning why anyone would ever need 36 megapixels. Fast-forward a couple of years and the resolution is less out there, and now sits in the middle of the range of the cameras here. This, along with the lack of a touchscreen, 4K video or built-in Wi-fi, probably mean we'll be seeing a replacement for the D810 sooner rather than later.
However, the Nikon D810 is still more than enough camera for many photographers. It has a 51-point autofocus system which was flagship level before the release of the D5, and shoots Full HD 1080p video at up to 60 fps. The Nikon D810 can also be purchased for significantly less than its price at launch, and now costs $2,300 body-only.
Product page: Nikon D810
Canon EOS 5Ds
With a 50-megapixel sensor, the Canon 5Ds is the current full frame DSLR champion when it comes to resolution. It has even been designed to have reduced mirror vibration, to make the most of the detail it can capture. However, as we concluded after spending some time with the camera, it's about much more than its megapixels. We were impressed by the dynamic range, and the performance of the 61-point autofocus system.
That said, the Canon 5Ds isn't perfect (no camera is). We'd like to have seen a faster continuous shooting speed, and now that the A99 II can do 42-megapixels at 12 fps, the 5 fps of the 5DS feels slower than it did just a couple of months ago. The camera also lacks built-in wireless connectivity, and the Full HD 1080p video at 30 fps is fast looking dated. Battery life is said to be good for around 700 shots, and the Canon 5Ds costs $3,500 body-only.
Product page: Canon EOS 5Ds
While the cameras we've looked at so far have been suited to both enthusiasts and professionals, from here on in all but the most well-heeled hobbyists might find themselves priced out. That's because the Nikon D5 (and the Canon we'll look at next) are designed and priced as tools for professionals. The 20-megapixel Nikon D5 is a hulking big camera which is made for speed and performing in any conditions. Using an EXPEED 5 image processor it can rattle off up to 12 fps, and has a native ISO range which reaches 102,400, and can be expanded to a crazy 3,280,000.
Unsurprisingly, given that the livelihood of professionals relies on their ability to capture a decisive shot, the autofocus on the D5 is one of the best we've ever used with 153 focus points (99 cross type) nailing focus and tracking subjects reliably. The camera also shoots 4K video and has a touchscreen rear monitor. Disappointingly, it lacks the built-in wireless capabilities of other models, and relies on expensive (albeit more powerful) optional transmitters. The Nikon D5 costs $6,500 body-only.
Product page: Nikon D5
Canon EOS 1D X Mark II
The Canon 1D X Mark II is another ridiculously fast camera designed to please photojournalists and sports or wildlife photographers (amongst others). Again, it opts for a restrained 20-megapixel sensor to allow fast and high-quality shooting in any lighting conditions. Indeed, with a top speed of 14 fps it offers the fastest continuous shooting of all the cameras included here. Autofocus performance is just as speedy as the D5, and offers the customization we've come to expect from Canon.
The 1D X Mark II also shoots 4K video at up to 60 fps and features a rear touchscreen monitor, which we felt made the camera easier to use. Once again the flagship lacks built-in wireless connectivity, instead offering compatibility with optional wireless transmitters. The battery is said to be good for 1,210 shots, and the Canon 1D X Mark II retails for $6,000 body-only.
Product page: Canon 1D X Mark II
After looking at these cameras, we think it's safe to say that full frame DSLRs still have a lot to offer enthusiast and professional photographers. The latest iterations prove that there's life in the format yet, and that it still has benefits over mirrorless cameras for some users, at least for now. While any of these cameras are perfectly capable of taking great images and video, it's worth noting that the Nikon D750 and D810 are getting on a bit now, and replacements for both are likely to arrive soon.
Of the bunch, there are a couple that stand out to us. The price-to-specification ratio of the Pentax K-1 make it feel like a relative bargain, while the resolution of the Canon 5Ds means it is going to be great for photographers who need that extra detail. Meanwhile, the D5 and 1D X II are a stunning pair of DSLRs, which will keep up with the demands of the most demanding professional photographers. But it's the Sony A99 II which is potentially the most exciting, thanks to its pairing of speed and resolution.