Professional DSLR Roundup

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Regardless of make and model, each of the following DSLRs is the best offering from the camera manufacturers represented in our Professional DSLR Roundup. Although many of these cameras seem similar in many respects to their mid- and entry-level counterparts—

at least on paper—the narrative changes dramatically once you pick one up and start using it.

Rugged Construction: Each of these cameras features a stainless steel or aluminum-alloy chassis surrounded by magnesium-alloy body panels, which are thoroughly sealed against the elements by o-rings and silicon seals. A few are classified as being splash- and weatherproof, including the contact points between the camera and accessory speedlights.

Optimized Image Viewing: Each of these cameras contains bright, optical-glass pentaprisms that, with the exception of Nikon’s D700, allow you to view 100% of the total image area (the D700 displays about 95% of the total image area). Most feature bright, high-resolution LCDs with resolving powers ranging from 920,000 dots to just shy of optical quality 1,040,000 dots.

High-Performance Shutter Mechanisms: The shutter mechanisms on these flagship cameras are also built to tougher standards and are designed to go through hundreds of thousands of exposure cycles with the highest degree of accuracy. The mirror chambers and hinge assemblies are specially dampened, to reduce mirror bounce and camera vibration, for sharper stills and video capture.

Each of these cameras has a shutter speed range of 30 seconds through 1/8000-second and top flash sync speeds of 1/250-second for studio flash. The exception is the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, which has a top flash sync speed of 1/200-second. When used with select dedicated Nikon Speedlights, Nikon’s D700 and D300s can be set to shutter speeds of up to 1/320-second. For studio and fill-flash applications, these fraction-of-a-second shutter speed advantages can make the difference between a good shot and a really good shot.

Each of these cameras also features PC inputs for syncing with studio-flash systems.

When used in custom mode, many speedlights can be synced at speeds of up to 1/800-second and higher. Your owner’s manual will tell you how high a shutter speed you can set for your particular camera/flash combination.

Battery Grips: Nikon’s D3 series and Canon’s EOS 1D series cameras incorporate battery grips into their unibody designs. Battery grips are available for each of the cameras in this roundup. Battery grips, regardless of whether they are built in or added on, contain more battery power for longer shooting sessions. They also add a greater degree of balance to most cameras, and allow for a secondary shutter release and exposure control dial, designed for shooting in vertical orientation.

Connectivity: Professional DSLRs feature the full spectrum of input and output connections that, depending on the make and model, include variations of USB, FireWire, HDMI, PC flash sync, 3.5mm Stereo and other camera-specific ports. The caps, covers and flaps for each of these connection points are also beefier and often hinged to the camera body, compared to the more casual port covers found on most mid- and entry-level DSLRs.

Most of these cameras can also be controlled remotely from your computer using dedicated OEM software applications, and can be configured for wireless operation using OEM or third-party Wi-Fi transceivers.

Horsepower: To better ensure extended sequences of rapid and uninterrupted stills and video capture, several of these pro cameras also feature dual memory card slots and dual image processors designed to handle the rapid capture of large volumes of image data. Metering and autofocus systems in pro cameras also tend to be the best the manufacturers have to offer, with expanded ISO ratings that climb well into six-digit sensitivity levels.

Optimized Image Files: As one would expect, each of these cameras can capture JPEG, RAW and JPEG+RAW image files. The pro cameras from Canon and Nikon also record 14-bit image files, which contain far greater dynamic range than the narrower tonal range 12-bit files captured by the majority of consumer cameras. Nikon’s D3S and D3X can also capture 16-bit TIFF files.

Nikon Professional DSLR Cameras

Nikon D3X

The Nikon D3X is designed to one thing and do it well—namely, take pictures, quickly, accurately and reliably under the most challenging work conditions. Designed around a 24.5MP FX-format (full frame) CMOS sensor, the D3X can capture high-resolution, 14-bit JPEG, RAW, or TIFF image files at speeds of up to 5 frames per second.

Nikon’s D3X is constructed from rugged magnesium alloy and is sealed against the weather via a network of o-rings and other specialized weatherproofing seals. There’s also an integrated dust reduction system to control any dust particles that do make their way into the camera’s mirror and shutter housings. The camera’s all-glass pentaprism delivers 100% of the image area, as does the camera’s 3.0-inch 921,000-dot LCD.

Other features found on Nikon’s D3X include Live View with a Virtual Horizon Indicator; one of the beefiest shutters in the business; a highly accurate 51-point AF system with 3D Focus Tracking; a 1005-pixel 3D Color Matrix Metering II system; dual CompactFlash (CF) card slots; and up to 4,400 exposures per battery charge.  Nikon’s D3X is compatible with the full range of Nikon optics, including Nikon DX-format lenses, which automatically frame the live area in the camera’s viewfinder when coupled to the camera body.

Nikon D3S

Nikon’s D3S was born from Nikon’s D3X, and it is built as robustly as its top-shelf D3 series stablemate. In a reversal of sorts to the 24.5MP high-res imaging sensor in the D3X, the D3S contains a 12.1 MP FX-format CMOS sensor, filling the sensor’s 24-36mm surface area with larger pixels, which in turn capture image files containing a wider dynamic range than smaller-sized pixels.

Performance features found on Nikon’s D3S include a continuous capture rate of up to nine frames per second; HD720p video; dual CF memory card slots; a 51-point AF system; a 1005-pixel 3D Matrix II metering II system; up to 4,200 exposures per battery charge; and ISO sensitivity levels expandable up to ISO 102400.

Nikon D300s

For Nikon enthusiasts who prefer a rugged, smaller format pro quality DSLR, we suggest the Nikon D300s, which in addition to a 12.3MP APS-C format CMOS sensor, contains the same EXPEED image processor, weatherproof construction, 51-point 3D focus Tracking AF system and 1005 Pixel 3D Matrix II Metering system used in Nikon’s full-frame D3 series cameras. Like D3 series Nikons, the D300s also features an all-glass optical pentaprism that displays 100% of the total image area, which is complemented by a 3.0-inch 921,000-dot, rear-mounted LCD.

The D300s can capture JPEG, TIFF, RAW or JPEG+RAW at continuous capture rates of up to seven frames per second, as well as 720p HD video clips. Like Nikon’s D3 series cameras, the D300s also features dual memory card slots, in this case one for CF cards and the other for SD/SDHC memory cards.

The Nikon D300s can capture up to 950 exposures per battery charge and is compatible with all Nikon FX and DX-format lenses.

Nikon D700

The Nikon D700 is Nikon’s lower priced, full frame DSLR, and while not built to the tank-like standards of Nikon’s D3 series DSLRs, the imaging abilities of the D700 are up there with the best of them. The D700 shares the D3S’s 3.0-inch 921,000-dot LCD; 51point-AF system; 3D color Matrix metering system; EXPEED imaging processor; and tonally enriched 14-bit image capture.

Other features include an all-glass pentaprism (95% image coverage), up to five-frame-per-second image capture; dust- and weather-resistant construction, a single CompactFlash card slot; and ISO levels expandable up to 25600. The Nikon D700 is compatible with all FX and DX-series Nikkor optics.

  Nikon D3X Nikon D3S Nikon D300s Nikon D700
Sensor 24.5MP Full Frame  12.1MP Full Frame  12.3MP APS-C format 12.1MP Full Frame format
LCD 3" 921,000-dot 3" 921,000-dot 3" 921,000-dot 3" 921,000-dot
Video None 720p 720p None
ISO Range 50 - 6400 (expanded) 200 - 102,400 (expanded) 100-6400 (expanded) 100-25,600 (expanded)
AF Focus Points 51 area / 15 cross-type 51 area / 15 cross-type 51 area / 15 cross-type 51 area / 15 cross-type
Maximum Burst Rate up to 5 fps up to 9 fps up to 7 fps up to 5 fps
Image Processor EXPEED EXPEED EXPEED EXPEED
Top Flash Sync 1/250-second 1/250-second 1/250 - 1/320-second 1/250 - 1/320-second
Bit Depth 14-bit A/D conversion 14-bit A/D conversion 14-bit A/D conversion 14-bit A/D conversion
Exposures per Charge up to 4400 up to 4200 up to 1000 up to 1000
Memory  CF (Dual Slots) CF (Dual Slots) CF & SD/SDHC (Dual Slots) CF
Dimensions 6.3 x 6.2 x 3.5" 6.3 x 6.2 x 3.5" 5.8 x 4.5 x 2.9" 4.8 x 5.8 x 3"
Weight 2 lb 11 oz 2 lb 12 oz 1 lb 14oz 2 lb 3 oz

Canon Professional DSLR Cameras

Canon EOS 1DX

Let’s start by saying the Canon EOS 1DX will not be available until sometime in March 2012, but for those who aren’t in any particular rush to buy the latest in Canon imaging technologies, here are the highlights of Canon’s next top gun. The EOS 1DX sports a full-frame 18.1MP CMOS sensor, which is powered by two of Canon’s latest DIGIC 5+ image processors. Built to take a bashing, the EOS 1DX features the toughest DSLR-construction materials, complemented by waterproof seals from stem to stern and all around.

As you’d expect, the all-glass pentaprism viewfinder displays 100% of the total image area, and on the rear of the camera is a 3.2-inch 1,040,000-dot LCD, which is both the largest and highest resolution LCD used on a Canon DSLR to date. Performance-related features found on the Canon EOS 1DX include up to 14-frame-per-second still capture; an all-new 100,000-pixel RGB metering system; 1080p video capture; a dual-axis electronic level; in-camera chromatic aberration correction; ISO levels expandable up to 204800; a 61-area / 41 cross-type AF system; 14-bit A/D conversion for richer image files; and dual CF memory card slots.

According to Canon, the new flagship EOS also features an intelligent viewfinder that displays even less color aberration and color distortion than earlier pentaprism designs, as well as the ability to de-activate exposure data in the viewfinder when desired. The Canon EOS 1DX is GPS and wireless enabled straight out of the box, and it’s compatible with all Canon EF optics.

Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III

If you need to purchase a top-shelf Canon DSLR way before the swallows return to Capistrano, you should certainly look into the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, which is the current premium Canon DSLR offering. Sporting a high resolution, 21.1MP full-frame CMOS imaging sensor backed by dual DIGIC III image processors, the 1Ds Mk III can capture JPEG, RAW or JPEG+RAW stills at continuous burst rates of up to 5 frames per second. (The EOS 1Ds Mk III captures stills only—no video.)

Featuring beefy construction, a magnesium-alloy body and waterproof seals around all body and control seams, the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III is designed to withstand the nastiest shooting environments. Other features include a 3.0-inch 230,000-dot LCD; a 45-area and 19 cross-type AF system; dual memory card slots (CF and SD/SDHC); a top ISO of 3200; and 14-bit A/D still capture.

Post-capture features include Dust Delete Data and DPP software, which electronically eliminates any dust particles that get past the camera’s dust suppression system. The Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III is compatible with the full range of Canon EF lenses.

Canon EOS 1D Mark IV

If rapid still capture is a priority attribute to you, you should consider a Canon EOS 1D Mark IV. Built to the same rigid standards as all Canon pro-level 1D series DSLRs, the 1D Mark IV features an APS-C / APS-H format 16.1MP CMOS sensor (1.3x) with dual DIGIC 4 image processors that enable you to bang out up to ten, 14-bit frames per second or long 1080p video sequences at an expanded ISO range of 50 to 102400.

Other performance-related highlights of the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV include a 3.0-inch 921,000-dot LCD; 100% image display in the camera’s all-glass pentaprism viewfinder; 14-bit image capture; a 45 area AF system with 19 cross-type sensors; 1080p video capture with stereo sound; and an expanded ISO range of 50 to 102400. The Canon EOS 1D Mark IV is compatible with all Canon EF lenses.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II

Some cameras come and go, while others seem to hold their own, despite the sheen of newer models. Canon’s EOS 5D Mark II is as competitive as it was the day it was released. Available as a body only or with a 24-105mm f/4L IS USM zoom lens, the Canon 5D Mark II made its name by being the first Canon DSLR to offer the option to shoot video.

With solid construction and being well sealed against the elements (though not up to the bullet-proof standards of Canon’s 1D series DSLRs), the 5D Mark II features a 21.1MP full-frame CMOS sensor; 1080p video capture with stereo sound; an expanded ISO range of 50 to 25600; up to 3.9-frame-per-second image capture (JPEG, RAW or JPEG+RAW); a 3.0-inch 920,000-dot LCD; Live View; and wireless capability when used with Canon’s WFT-E4A.

  Canon 5D EOS Mk II Canon 1D EOS Mk IV Canon 1DS EOS  Mk III  Canon EOS 1DX
Sensor 21.1MP Full Frame  16.1MP APC-H format 21.1MP Full Frame 18.1MP Full Frame
LCD 3" 920,000-dot 3" 920,000-dot 3" 230,000-dot 3.2" 1,040,000-dots
Video 1080p 1080p None 1080p
ISO Range 50-25,600 (expanded) 50-102,400 (expanded) 50-3200 (expanded) 50 - 204,800 (expanded)
AF Focus Points 9 45 area / 39 cross-type 45 area / 19 cross-type 61 area / 41 cross-type
Maximum Burst Rate up to 3.9 fps up to 10 fps up to 5 fps up to 14 fps
Image Processor DIGIC 4 Dual DIGIC 4 Dual DIGIC III Dual DIGIC 5+
Top Flash Sync 1/200-second 1/300-second 1/250-second 1/250-second
Bit Depth 14-bit A/D conversion 14-bit A/D conversion 14-bit A/D conversion 14-bit A/D conversion
Exposures per Charge NA NA NA NA
Memory  CF CF & SD/SDHC (Dual Slots) CF & SD/SDHC (Dual Slots) Dual CF
Dimensions 6 x 4.5 x 3" 6.1 x 6.2 x 3.1" 6.1 x 6.3 x 3.1" 6.2 x 6.4 x 3.3"
Weight 28.6 oz 41.6 oz 42.7 oz NA

Sony Professional DSLR Camera

Sony Alpha A900

Sony currently offers a single professional-grade DSLR, the Sony Alpha A900. Starting with a high resolution, full-frame 24.6MP CMOS sensor, the Alpha A900 features continuous burst rates of up to five frames per second; dual BIONZ image processors; sturdy dust and weather-resistant construction with weather seals all around; in-camera image stabilization with all Sony/Minolta AF-mount optics; and an ISO range of 100 to 6400.

The Sony Alpha A900 features an all-glass pentaprism that displays 100% of the image area, which is complemented by a 3.0-inch 921,000-dot LCD with Live View. For previewing the final effects of any color or exposure corrections you might make along the way, there’s an Intelligent Preview Function that applies all of your chosen adjustments and allows you to preview them on the camera’s LCD.

The AF system on the Alpha A900 features 19 points with 9 horizontal/vertical points and 10 outer assist points, and it’s compatible with all Sony A-mount optics including Carl Zeiss specialty optics, Sony G-series optics and all Minolta AF optics.

Sony Alpha A900
Sensor 24.6MP Full Frame
LCD 3" 921,000-dot
Video None
ISO Range 100 - 6400
AF Focus Points 19 area / 9 cross-type
Maximum Burst Rate up to 5 fps
Image Processor Dual BIONZ
Top Flash Sync 1/250-second
Bit Depth 12-bit
Exposures per Charge 880
Memory  CF & Memory Stick Duo/Pro DUO
Dimensions 6.1 x 4.6 x 3.2"
Weight 1.98 lb

Looking for more cameras? For more information on other DSLRs, please see the articles, Mid-Level DSLR Roundup and Entry-Level DSLR Roundup.

If you have any questions or comments about these professional DSLR cameras, please feel free to post them in the Comments section below. We look forward to hearing from you.

Add new comment

Why would you put the Olympus E-5 with the pro level stuff and not in the mid-level?  Especially over the Pentax K-5?  Just wondering what about the camera is better suited to this level than the K-5? Not sure the K-5 fits here either but I certainly don't see the E-5 at this level.

Thanks, Chris

Your comments are well taken and have been discussed in-house at B&H as well. As such, we’ve gone as far as migrating the Olympus E-5 to the Mid-Level DSLR Roundup. As for the Pentax K-5, this very-capable camera fits well into both categories and as such we’ve decided to keep it where we left it.

And thanks for taking the time to offer us feedback.

Your DSLR (Pro) round-up is most useful. You have provided all required info in a nutshell. It would help me to select (or wait for) suitable model.

We would welcome if you adapt metric system of measurements as we find it difficult in Inch and pound/oz measures.

How do these cameras compare under low light with the new Sony A65/77? I have gotten impresive images under low light conditions, with long focal lenghts(500mm), moderately high F ratio(6.3) and slow shutter speed(1/13 second) handheld or braced. The older A55 was not capable of these images nor a Nikon D5100. I start to see grain at ISO1600 at 100% and grain at ISO 12800 at about 25-33%.  Does anyone have experince to give comparison and advice?

If you were able to make an exposure as you described with the A65/A77 and a 500mm lens I'd say that's impressive for any camera in that situation.

The cameras in our Pro DSLR Roundup in general all have a very liberal ISO range, and they fare well in low light/high ISO situations.  The average ISO for these models is 6400 with the Canon 1Dx topping out at ISO 204,8000.  The 5D Mk II can go up to 25,600 (expanded) and the 1D Mk IV up to 102,400 (expanded).  Nikon models also have similar top ranges.

Those high ISO capabilities combined with the optimal lenses from each company would definitely allow one to take effective pictures in similar conditions. Unfortunately we have not conducted any in-house tests to see what the threshold for the ISO ranges would be.

The one variable I would point out is that the fixed 500mm lens options for Canon and Nikon are larger/heavier than any of the 500mm lenses from Sony are (as are the camera bodies) so handholding it with that type of shutter speed wouldn't likely render a good image.  The Sony with most of the common options that go up to 500mm are smaller and lighter and you have a better chance at getting away with that. 

I can't wait for D4 next year.  I got my D3 last year and I've been waiting for D4!  I should've gotten D3S but once I get my D4, I will be happy! 

I agree with the great comments regarding B&H and the great information they provide.  In fact when I am looking for product specs I now go to B&H first.  B&H gives us easier access to more data then most of the manufacturers. 

My one queston.  What is up with Nikon.  Based on rumors and the number of months old Pro models have been unavailable, I figured Nikon would have new products out in time for the holidays.  But when I clicked on the D3X it still shows unavailable.  Is Nikon moving to pure consumer products and exiting their professional business.   Nikons pro products are getting very long in the tooth.  This also hurts B&H, having only old products with no availbility means they cannot sell their customers new gear.

I agree. Nikon seems to have abandoned the professional photographer. They had better come with it, and soon!

HUGE impact from the earthquake on availability of pro level Nikon DSLR's.  Also...for the D4, even if (and I mean IF) it's announced as rumored in August 2012, don't look for any availability until mid-2013. 

Roger is so right about B&H and Nikon.

The Nikon company needs to decide  if it is still in the serious gear business or would sooner compete with the large number of more agile companies at the bottom of the market, gifting the pro and prosumer segments to Canon.  "No stock"  on the D300S and up:  laughable if it were not tragic.

Oho!    Could it be that I was wrong? 

I wanna D4 (actually  the D400  -when?- would be better 'cos I'm getting too old to lug the weight.)

Want. Want.  Want.

Well done Nikon - if you get the stock on the shelves that is.

Actualy I've been wrong before - 1976 it was - but Nikon has been right so many times.

I am a very happy owner of the Nikon D700, but am always looking to move up to a more advanced camera. As a nature photographer one of the things that I am always conscious of is weight. Did B&H mean to list the other Nikons as pounds and onces but the D700 as 2.19 lbs (but I guess that means 2 lbs 3 oz.)?   Now, I know that the D700 is one-half pound less than the D3X! 

I just hope that Nikon's next cameras, which I am sure have been delayed by the natural disasters in Japan and the Phillipines, are a quantum leap.

Thank you.

When the new Nikon D800 will be launch?

Hello,

B&H is not aware of Nikon officially announcing a new camera. We of course are as anxious as everyone else to see what the next full frame Nikon camera will be.  Any information we learn will be posted ASAP.

Why would the Sony A850 be neglected as a pro-level model?

Hi Anonymous,

Sony's Alpha a850 is a fine camera, but it's also discontinued, which is why it was not included in this product round-up.

And thanks for the feedback.

people who know their way around a DSLR will find very liltte here of use and the book is definitely written for the middle ground. It does a reasonably solid job, in good conversational english, of taking the reader through the various parts of digital photography covering what affects a photograph, the hardware and add-ons (such as lenses) and what you can do in photoshop. If you want a good place to start your new digital hobby then I would recommend you at least taking a look. But for me it falls for a few reasons. First off, it is a big book that really could be covered in half the time; it's a bit too padded out without getting to the core stuff that budding photographers are really after. Once read through you'll find yourself having to go back and search a bit to find the useful stuff. Secondly whilst you have tips like this photo would have benefitted from a larger aperture' it is all too generic. Thanks David, but what I really need is more useful detail like what aperture should I use with what shutter speed and white noise and exposure adjustments etc. With a mass of things to think about in a modern DSLR I would have liked something a bit more concrete. So if I want to do landscapes or potraits or close ups or night shots or whatever how about giving me the settings I need and then suggestions of how to tweak this for various different results so that I can see what effect this will have and pick up some good tips along the way. Unfortunately there is liltte to none of this so it ends up being a good read but in terms of understanding, well, there is liltte in this book which is not in the manual, albeit more words and pretty colour pictures, though, of course, the camera's own manual doesn't have sections on Adobe Photshop. Here's an example. With a slow shutter speed and two kids walking quickly into the picture, pausing then walking quickly out I managed to get a photograph of two ghostly images which was quite fun and the kids loved trying this out. That was off the top of my head but this is the sort of thing you brought a digital SLR for its versatility and really, ideas like this should have been suggested by the author to kick start your photography career. The book lacks these suggestions. In short, this book doesn't take the enthusiastic amateur and get them started with real examples that they can shoot themselves with tasks they can follow and improve upon. At the other extreme those who do know a bit about camera settings and the effects these have on pictures will find liltte to excite them in this book. An average book with promise that just falls short.

Thank you so much for creating this review!  I have a Nikon D80 and want to upgrade at some point but I had no idea what some of the major differences were between the professional SLRs (except for the price.)  Thanks for making an easy way for me to compare them.

Have you heard any talk from Sony regarding a pro-level camera to come out to replace the A900, perhaps using translucent mirror technology as in their A77?