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.
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.
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’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.
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.
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|
|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|
|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|
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.
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.
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.
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|
|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 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|
|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|
|Exposures per Charge||880|
|Memory||CF & Memory Stick Duo/Pro DUO|
|Dimensions||6.1 x 4.6 x 3.2"|
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.