Fashion photography undertakes the deceptively difficult task of capturing the nature and spirit of a garment while conveying the designer's underlying vision. Doing so successfully already requires immense skill and artistry, so it helps to have the right camera for the job. We’ll be looking at a few cameras suitable for fashion photography, as well as some camera fundamentals to help inform your future purchase. Let’s begin with essential features.
Your camera’s sensor should be your first consideration, because it is instrumental in how your final images will look. There are many parameters to consider regarding the sensor: resolution, crop size, light sensitivity, and more that we will detail, below.
While resolution is important in most sub-genres of photography, it is especially important in fashion photography. Companies have varying needs that include anything from massive billboards to designers who need to see the minute details of their creations. Because of this, higher-resolution sensors are the way to go.
A sensor’s resolution is determined by the number of pixels that occupy the sensor’s space. A good example of a high-resolution camera sensor is the one in the Hasselblad X2D, which boasts a resolution of 11,656 x 8,742 for a whopping (currently) 101,896,752 pixels. However, the X2D is a uniquely high-resolution camera because of its effective megapixel count of 100.
It is important to note that megapixel count should not solely define which camera you choose. There are many cameras with a lower MP (megapixel) count that are perfectly viable in fashion photography. While most professional photographers in the field use cameras that hover between the 40-60MP range, something that falls in the 20s may be more than sufficient for your purposes.
This choice ultimately boils down to how your images will be used. If you are shooting for social media, for example, resolution may be less important because you will lose many of the fine details and visual data in your image to compression. Conversely, a large sensor with a high MP count will be much more valuable for advertising or print work, where an image can be enlarged significantly before there is any visual degradation.
Crop size refers to the physical dimensions of a camera's sensor. In fashion photography, the most prevalent sensor sizes are APS-C, Full Frame, and Medium Format.
APS-C sensors feature sizes that produce field diameters like that of the Super 35 film format. This format also goes by the term “crop sensor” because it produces imagery with a greater crop factor than the traditional full-frame format. In other words, an image that was taken on a full-frame camera would appear to be zoomed in by 1.4 to 1.6 times if it were to be captured on an APS-C sensor.
APS-C sensors and compatible lenses are more compact and lightweight than full-frame options. On top of that, the greater crop provides a longer effective focal length on all lenses. These qualities are ideal for light, compact setups with powerful zooming capabilities.
Full-frame sensors are the preferred choice among working professionals, offering the same size as a frame of 35mm film. This provides greater light sensitivity and larger resolutions than a crop sensor like the APS-C. Most of the cameras on today's list will feature full-frame sensors.
Medium format cameras provide a significantly larger sensor than full-frame cameras, producing a “reverse” crop factor that is essential for large prints. For instance, an 80mm lens on the Hasselblad X2D will produce an image that has a focal length equivalent to 63mm. The result is a high-resolution image that can be cropped and stretched with little quality downgrading. Additionally, medium format users will benefit from unparalleled bokeh qualities, due to the large depth of field, which cannot be replicated with smaller sensors.
Other Points of Interest
In addition to the sensor, you will want to consider things like ergonomics, internal stabilization, continuous shooting capabilities, focusing, and other factors. These characteristics are best demonstrated with examples, so we will get into them with our recommended cameras for fashion photography, below.
Starting the list is Nikon’s very own flagship, the Z9. This powerhouse is a strong contender in just about any form of fashion photography, boasting a 45.7MP sensor that provides the right resolution and sharpness for sizeable prints, even when cropped. The Z9’s stacked sensor is really the star of the show here.
Stacked sensors feature separate layers of sophisticated circuitry, allowing them to exceed the readout speeds of traditional complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) sensors. When equipped with a stacked sensor, cameras like the Z9 can shoot continuously while simultaneously processing the previous shots. This creates a blackout-free shooting experience where the electronic viewfinder (EVF) doesn’t lag or delay while processing, the way a CMOS system does.
This is immensely useful in fast-paced environments like the runway, where even the slightest delay can mean missing a critical moment. Devoid of any sort of rolling shutter, the Z9 is undoubtedly an excellent choice for runway photography, with a speedy 20 frames per second (fps) of Raw photos, 493-point autofocus (AF) AI-based subject detection system, and the ability to buffer upwards of 1,000 raw images in a single burst. When paired with select Z lenses, you can achieve up to six full stops of camera shake stabilization to make it hard not to snag some beautifully sharp runway images.
In addition to speed and power, the Z9 features great ergonomics, with generous grips on both the side and bottom for comfort when switching between landscape and portrait orientations. The four-axis tilting 3.2" LCD screen is additionally useful when composing shots at awkward angles. These features do make the Z9 one of the bulkier full-frame options on our list, weighing around 2.6 lb without recording media or a battery.
Literally and figuratively, the Z9 is quite a heavy hitter, offering incredible versatility and power for runway shoots and static studio environments. If you can stomach the weight and price tag, this camera promises to be a worthwhile addition to your fashion photography workflow.
Possible Alternative: the Nikon Z8
If you’re fond of the Z9 but not its price or size, you might consider the Z8! The Z8 is incredibly similar to the Z9 in terms of performance because it has the same sensor, processing, and even focus capabilities―all in a camera that is 30% smaller and more affordable.
The Canon R5 is a full-frame mirrorless with a 45 effective MP CMOS sensor. This adaptable, versatile option offers speed and power for those fast runway shots, with 20 fps for up to 83 frames in Raw or 170 frames in JPEG while utilizing the electronic shutter. If light flicker or rolling shutter is an issue, the mechanical shutter can be deployed to capture 12 fps for up to 180 frames in Raw or 350 frames in JPEG.
The R5’s real bread and butter is its resolution capabilities. While its effective MP count is 45, Canon has endowed the R5 with the ability to capture high-resolution images at 400MP. That’s right, as long as the R5 has been updated to firmware 1.8.1 or later, users can produce 400MP images, making the R5 a serious option to consider for work that might end up on a Times Square billboard.
This technological feat is a result of the camera’s in-body 5-axis image stabilization―an EOS first that compensates for a seriously impressive 8 stops of camera shake. When shooting 400MP files, the sensor shift is activated to place the sensor in various positions, capturing several images in quick succession. The camera then compiles internally (no external program needed) to produce this hefty file. While this mode won’t be ideal for moving subjects on the runway, it will be immensely helpful for static subjects in the studio.
The R5 is no slouch when it comes to autofocusing either, offering a souped-up Dual Pixel CMOS AF II system with a whopping 1,053 selectable focus points. Covering 100% of the sensor, you can be sure that your subject will always be in focus.
A 3.2" Vari-angle LCD can be flipped out for tackling those low- and high-angle shots. Ergonomically, the camera has a standard grip to hold onto, and it weighs about 1.62 lb (with battery and recording media).
Overall, the R5 is another excellent camera to consider for fashion photography. While it doesn’t feature the speed of a stacked sensor, its advanced autofocus, high-resolution features, and beautiful imaging capabilities make it a great option for high-profile editorials.
Possible Alternative: EOS R6 Mark II
The R6 MK II is a solid budget alternative to the R5. Offering an effective MP count of 24.2, this camera will produce great fashion photos for online media, as well as medium-sized prints. It can shoot an incredibly quick 40 fps for up to 75 frames Raw or 190 frames in JPEG―perfect for runway work.
It also features the same impressive autofocus found in the R5, so you can shoot those 40 fps without losing focus of your moving subjects. The R6 also features an IBIS system that will compensate for up to seven stops of camera shake, which can be bolstered up to eight stops with compatible Canon lenses. While the R6 isn’t as megapixel dominant as the others on this list, it is a worthy solution for most fashion photography needs at a competitive price.
Let’s shift over to the Sony a7R V, a resolution beast that even exceeds some medium format cameras with 61 effective megapixels on a full-frame sensor. Despite this dense megapixel count, the a7R V maintains exceptional low-light performance because of its back-illuminated design and expanded ISO range of 50-102400.
Naturally, the a7R V compromises with its continuous shooting speeds, offering up to 10 fps for up to 583 frames Raw or 1,000 JPEG and is considerably slower than the other cameras on our list. Despite this, the a7RN is a perfectly viable runway camera.
The impressive autofocus system is outfitted with its own AI processing unit, effortlessly tracking body and head positions without requiring you to see your subject’s eyes. This ability is enormously useful on runways, where the a7R V can discern your subject when a frame is packed with audience members and bystanders. Even if the subject is momentarily blocked by another, focus will remain on your talent.
The a7R V also features its very own high-resolution mode, allowing users to utilize the camera’s IBIS to capture up to 240.8 MP images. It is worth noting that the final product can only be achieved in post using the Sony imaging software suite to merge the image files.
From a usability standpoint, the a7R V offers the most adaptable LCD of all current Sony Alphas. With 4-axis multi-angle operation, users can tilt, flip out, or side open this monitor to get just about any angle they need. Ergonomically, the a7R V features a very familiar sleek and minimalistic body that Sony users are familiar with, making it one of the most compact full-frame cameras to offer such a large MP count. If you want medium format-level resolution without the bulk, the a7R V is for you.
Possible Alternative: Sony a7 IV
Alternatively, the a7 IV is another option to consider at a friendly price. It has 15 stops of dynamic range, AI-based autofocus in conjunction with 759 phase detection points, as well as 5.5-stop 5-axis IBIS. Its resolution packs a respectable punch, as well as 33MP photos that will work for medium prints and a few large formats.
Our sole APS-C camera is the X-H2, which features a 40MP back side illuminated sensor in a lightweight package (1.3 lb without battery and recording media). At 40 megapixels, the camera achieves a solid 20 fps for up to 1,000 frames in Raw and JPEG.
The camera also features a snappy autofocus system, which utilizes an adaptive AI algorithm alongside 425 phase-detection points. While this may not seem like much compared to the full-frame options on our list, it is quite a lot considering the real-estate constraints in an APS-C camera.
Pixel shift multi-shot is also available in the X-H2, allowing users to take full advantage of the camera’s five-axis IBIS and seven stops of shake compensation to produce images with up to 160-megapixel count. Like the Sony a7RV, users will need proprietary software to merge the files that were shot during pixel shift; in this case it can be done through the Pixel Shift Combiner software.
Although the camera itself is smaller than its full-frame counterparts, it manages a comfortable 3" Vari-angle LCD, which can be easily maneuvered and articulated. Ergonomically, this camera is the most compact on the list and will be optimal for those looking to minimize their footprint, but an accessory like the FUJIFILM VG-XH Vertical Battery Grip can be attached to further improve handling, as well as extend your battery life.
Finally, we have the Hasselblad X2D 100C. This medium format camera is an exceptional option for fashion photographers seeking the highest possible quality. While this camera may not be the optimal choice for runway shooting, due to its maximum continuous shooting speed of 3.3 fps, the X2D 100C is a solid option for studio work and outdoor shoots.
The extremely large depth of field is nothing short of an engineering marvel―offering the most unique and flattering bokeh on our list due to the sensor size. This camera is also outfitted with the Hasselblad Natural Color Solution system, which yields incredibly smooth tonal transitions and vivid detail.
The X2D 100C has five-axis seven-stop IBIS, allowing you to utilize slower shutter speeds when working handheld, worry-free. An extremely convenient 1 terabyte of built-in SSD memory is also available, which can store up to about 4,600 raw images or 13,800 JPEGs.
The 3.6" LCD screen is not the most maneuverable on the list because it only supports 40- and 70-degree increments of tilting, but this isn’t a total dealbreaker. Because it is intended for controlled studio or outdoor environments, most photographers won’t need a ton of screen articulation for dramatic, precarious shooting angles.
As you might have guessed, the X2D 100C isn’t the most compact or portable option on the market, especially with the additional medium format glass. Truly, if you’re in the market for front cover or billboard-worthy imagery, the X2D 100C is a solid bet.
There are a lot of great camera options available for fashion photographers of all skill levels. We hope that our recommendations have provided a good starting point, as well as some features to consider as you look for your first (or next) camera.
What do you think of the features of these cameras? Which would you use and why? Let us know in the Comments section.