It's 2020 and full-frame imaging is now part of the norm. It seems as though up until not too long ago, full frame was a rare and exotic bird, but now is among the most common and expected technologies for a high-end, even middle-of-the-road, camera to have. With full-frame sensors now being a mature feature of sorts, I thought it would be a good time to take stock and see exactly how wide-ranging this sensor size really is—what are the current full-frame cameras available and what are some of the unique features each brings to the table?
Beginning with one of the few more popular buzzwords than full frame itself, mirrorless cameras are likely the most popular technological innovation of the last few years and are the current forerunners in terms of where full-frame technology is debuting. Sony pioneered this subgenre with the original a7 but, in the last 6-7 years, most camera manufacturers have joined the party and made this quite a popular place to be.
By virtue of the alphabet, Canon is first up, and the first camera is the hotly anticipated EOS R5. With a development announcement at the beginning of 2020, and a few more details trickling in over the past few months, the EOS R5 promises to be a seriously good camera. Its video specs rival those of professional cine cameras and its photo specs are also top of the line. Even if you're not a Canon shooter (yet), this is the type of camera everyone will be paying attention to, once it's formally released.
The EOS R5 will certainly be the flagship of the system once its released, but the elder statesman of the system is the EOS R—Canon's first full-frame camera body. This all-rounder has a very useful feature-set; it's not a niche camera in that it has no spectacular features nor any real shortcomings. Mainly, though, it's been the best way to make use of the excellent Canon RF lenses released in the last couple of years. Closing out Canon's full-frame mirrorless offerings are the svelte, perfect-for-travel EOS RP and the astrophotography-optimized EOS Ra.
Not afraid to be unique, Leica has some of the most distinctive cameras available today, regardless of the format. The Leica cameras everyone knows and loves are the rangefinders, which we'll get to in a bit, but it's worth highlighting the SL2, because it's quite a technological marvel, especially in spite of the deliberately minimal aesthetics of the M cameras. The SL2 is a highly capable video camera and action photography camera and is characterized by one of the most impressive electronic viewfinders made. Essentially, the SL2 is everything an M camera is not.
With that in mind, an M camera is everything the SL2 is not... sort of. Both systems have their impressive assets and refined physical design, but the M cameras are often compared to works of art, with their classic lines and traditional form factor. The M10-P is the current flagship of the system, which is an update to the original M10, and is also available without a rear LCD as the M10-D. Black-and-white shooters can also rejoice for the optimized M10 Monochrom, and its "Leitz Wetzlar" variant, as well as the previous-generation M Monochrom (Typ 246).
Making a strong initial impression, Nikon entered the full-frame mirrorless scene with a pair of well-equipped models that make use of tested technology from its DSLRs, but bring along a range of innovations, too. The Z 6 is the all-rounder of the group, featuring modest resolution but very strong video capabilities and high sensitivity. The Z 7 is the high-resolution option that is more aimed at stills shooters, whereas the Z 6 appeals to multimedia image-makers. Outside of imaging, though, the Z 6 and Z 7 share a physical design with brilliant ergonomics, an excellent EVF, and sensor-shift Vibration Reduction.
Employing a similar strategy to other full-frame mirrorless makers, Panasonic's initial push into this format was two-pronged, and has grown to include three separate series. The S1 is the all-around model of the bunch, but is skewed slightly more toward the multimedia/video end of the spectrum. Its moderate resolution and impressive video capabilities make it a perfect fit for a contemporary image-making process. Built more for the photography end of the spectrum is the S1R; the current high-resolution option in Panasonic's stable. This model trades in some video capabilities and some sensitivity for greater resolution and dynamic range.
The third and newest member of Panasonic's S series is the video-optimized S1H. Capable of 10-bit 6K recording and 5.9K recording in 16:9, along with integrated Dual Native ISO, V-Log, high-frame-rate recording with sound, and internal 4:2:2 10-bit recording at 4K, this camera is a serious option for serious video productions.
Always one to be different, especially with its cameras, the Sigma fp is one of the more unique full-frame options available, full-frame or otherwise. This petite camera is Sigma's first foray into full-frame, and its first non-Foveon camera, and is a decidedly specialized entrant. Designed to function within a modular ethos, with external viewfinders, storage, grips, and even an external hot shoe, this deliberately barebones model has gained initial acclaim in the video crowd for its impressive feature set and size. It's a bit more polarizing on the photography front: personally, I liked it, but will acknowledge its shortcomings when it comes to some basic features most would expect in a camera nowadays.
The pioneer of full-frame mirrorless as we know it, Sony is showing no signs of letting up, with its expansive approach to camera development. From early on, Sony has had a three-part approach to camera development: all-rounder, high resolution, and videocentric. The a7 III is the current all-around model, and one of the most popular cameras available today. Its combination of video and photo features and sleek size make it an immensely appealing option. On the resolution end, there is the a7R IV, which was one of the most hotly anticipated cameras of last year, and sat at the top of many top gear lists at the end of the year. It's one of the highest-resolution options available and matches this performance with apt video, sensitivity, and handling capabilities, too. And, for the video crowd, there is also the a7S II that is heavily biased for video performance and low-light sensitivity. Also, unique among manufacturers, Sony chooses to keep its previous-generation models—including the a7 II, a7R II, a7R III, and a7S—around for a while longer as lower-priced options for getting into the system.
Aside from the prolific a7-series of cameras, Sony also makes the sports and speed-intended a9-series of cameras, which is currently led by the a9 II, launched with the original, but still available, a9. These cameras are meant to be the flagship models of Sony's full-frame mirrorless system and offer truly impressive speed in terms of shooting and focusing, along with enhanced subject tracking and a viewing experience that suits working with moving subjects. Also, they incorporate a wealth of workflow technology to help in getting files off the camera efficiently and quickly to suit commercial applications.
The former frontrunners in camera development, DSLRs are now a more niche tool of sorts, with the key difference being their optical means for viewing, opposed to the electronic viewfinder or rear LCD of a mirrorless camera. Many still prefer this viewing method and, by all signs, DSLRs aren't going away anytime soon, but it's safe to expect that the majority of the new cameras will be mirrorless; safely making a DSLR a more specialized tool.
One of the two prominent DSLR makers, Canon is still best known for its DSLRs, and no other DSLR has household name recognition like the 5D-series, of which the EOS 5D Mark IV is the current iteration. Despite being released in 2016, it's still a hugely popular camera today and used widely in commercial and art photography spheres, as well as for multimedia projects. Taking the 5D name to even higher resolution, despite being released before the 5D Mark IV, are the EOS 5DS and EOS 5DS R, which utilize the quintessential 5D feature set but have a higher 50.6MP resolution for critical shooting applications. The difference between these two cameras? The 5DS R features a low-pass filter-cancellation effect to gain greater sharpness at the expense of potentially greater risk of moiré. Also, Canon has the EOS 6D Mark II—which is the most compact and entry-level model of its full-frame DSLR lineup, akin to the EOS RP in the mirrorless lineup.
At the peak of Canon's DSLR mountain is the inimitable EOS-1D X Mark III. Succeeding the still-available EOS-1D X Mark II, the newer Mark III brings speed, impressive sensitivity, and a highly capable autofocus and subject tracking system. This camera is clearly designed for the sports, action, and wildlife photographers in the world, and takes a no-holds-barred approach to its design, which caters to high-end photo and video applications.
The other major player in the DSLR world, Nikon retains a well-rounded, multi-tiered series of full-frame, or FX-format, models. At the top is the D6, which succeeded the D5, and is the current flagship of Nikon's DSLRs. This sports and action-intended model is a modest upgrade from its predecessor but does bring an improved focusing system to make this one of the most capable cameras around for photographing fast-moving subjects.
At the other end of its high-end lineup, Nikon also has its immensely popular D850, which succeeded the equally popular, and still available, D810. The D850, and D800-series in general, is Nikon's high-resolution offering, which has also crossed over to be one of the go-to choices for multimedia applications. With a similarly contemporary aim, the D780 is another multimedia model, which is the recent upgrade to the D750—one of the most popular cameras for wedding and event shooters of the last several years. These cameras are known for their versatility and value and are some of the most well-rounded DSLRs on the scene. At the FX entry-level position is the D610, which is versatile and compact, and then there is also the unique Df, which sports a retro-themed body design along with the high-sensitivity sensor.
A latecomer to the full-frame table, but present nonetheless, Pentax pairs its legendary robust construction and solid design with a full-frame sensor with the K-1 Mark II. As its name would suggest, this is the second-generation of the K-1, and has a versatile range of features that caters more toward the still photographer. A high-resolution sensor, apt focusing performance, and high sensitivity pair with sensor-shift Shake Reduction and a truly impressive weather-sealed design.
Not particularly well known for its DSLRs, due to the popularity of its mirrorless offerings, Sony still has the Alpha a99 II, which remains one of the most well-rounded DSLRs available. Borrowing much from its a7R cameras, the a99 II features a high-resolution design with sensor-shift image stabilization, quick focusing, and high sensitivity. Additionally, the truly unique aspect of Sony DSLRs is its inclusion of an electronic viewfinder, opposed to an optical finder, which is made possible through Translucent Mirror Technology.
The term point-and-shoot is a bit of a misnomer sometimes, as is compact camera, but regardless of how you label these cameras with fixed lenses, there are a couple of standouts from this sector that feature a full-frame sensor. Still a new and unique style of camera, the full-frame point-and-shoot blends the casual approach of shooting with a self-contained camera with the serious nature of having a larger sensor that's typically reserved for higher-end cameras.
One of the major proponents of this school of thought is Leica, specifically with its Q-series of cameras, and the newest Q2. These cameras feel like what might happen if you took an M camera and the SL2 and combined them, plus added on a prized Leica Summilux 28mm lens. This camera brings resolution, speed, and a versatile physical design and seriously challenges the notion of a point-and-shoot being relegated solely to casual snap shooting.
In similar fashion, Sony also offers its Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R II, which is something like an a7R II with a fixed and perfectly matched ZEISS 35mm f/2 prime lens, but in a much more compact and svelte package. This camera is another high-res option that has a handful of useful touches, including a pop-up electronic viewfinder, that help it remain portable and serve as an ultimate travel companion.
The full-frame landscape is quite vast, and really has evolved in the past few years to be more about what additional features are there in a camera besides the desirable full-frame sensor. With this buzzword format now taking up the three major camera styles, there's no looking back. Full frame is here to stay—it's growing more popular every year, and maybe, someday, it'll be the norm.
What are your thoughts on the general topic of full-frame sensors? Are they still as coveted as they used to be a few years ago? Are they as enticing, or is sensor format not as big of a deal anymore? Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section, below.