Despite the intensifying buzz created by the latest high-end mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras (ILCs) with electronic viewfinders, the majority of professional photographers still rely on traditional professional DSLRs with reflex mirrors and optical viewfinders.
Peruse the impressive specs of the eight cameras we’ve detailed here and you’ll see why. However, it comes down to one simple fact; they’re robust, battle tested, proven performers. Also, many have seen price reductions over the last year, making them a higher-value proposition than before.
All of the cameras covered here deliver a full complement of advanced, cutting-edge, often unique features, along with awesome real-world imaging performance. Moreover, all of them accept the complete range of legacy lenses found in the typical pro shooter’s arsenal.
In addition, their robust, ergonomically contoured, well-balanced, weather-resistant bodies look and feel like “real” cameras, with conveniently placed traditional controls. Indeed, today’s top DSLRs are the most adept descendants in the long evolution of the single-lens reflex camera; they’re classic examples of successful adaptation to a rapidly changing environment. The happy result is a superb group of cameras that belong on every serious photographer’s—and dealer’s—short list.
Top Professional DSLRs
This best-selling Nikon model is a top choice among pros of all stripes. It packs a lot of performance into a beautifully balanced, supremely ergonomic package. In addition, it’s the first Nikon in its class to combine a new 45.7-megapixel, backside-illuminated (BSI) sensor with no optical low-pass filter and an advanced Expeed 5 processor. Together they deliver a full-resolution burst rate of 7 frames per sec that captures up to 51 compressed, lossless 14-bit RAW files with full AE and AF. The camera also provides sensitivity settings extendable to ISO 102,400. It also records 4K UHD (3,840×2,160) video at 30, 25 and 24 fps in full-frame or DX crop-sensor framing.
Furthermore, the D850 employs a Multi-CAM 20K 153-point autofocus (AF) system with a choice of 24-, 72- and 153-point dynamic-area AF zones and fine-focus-tuning capability. Other features include: 8K time-lapse mode; a 3.2-inch, 2.36M-dot tilting touch-screen LCD; a 180K-pixel RGB sensor; a negative digitizer for optimized conversion of film negatives and slide images to high-res digital files; and focus-shift mode that allows sophisticated focus stacking of 10 image layers. Also provided is SnapBridge connectivity using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. For faster wireless transfer, Nikon offers the optional WT-7a wireless transmitter. The D850 has a robust, dustproof, weatherproof body with a magnesium alloy chassis. $2,999.95*.
Sigma SD1 Merrill
Sigma’s one-of-a-kind professional/enthusiast flagship digital SLR boasts a large, higher-resolution (full APS-C-format) version of the company’s unique three-layer Foveon X3 sensor. Moreover, the Foveon sensor works like film, delivering full color information at each pixel location to achieve stunning image quality and unsurpassed color accuracy and differentiation. Other upgrades include a Dual True II image-processing engine and an 11-point twin-cross AF sensor.
The camera’s 3-inch, 460K-dot LCD complements a pentaprism viewfinder. The SD1 Merrill also sports an upgraded magnesium body with O-ring-sealed buttons and enhanced weatherproofing. Key performance features include: a maximum burst rate of 5 fps; an 11-point twin cross sensor AF system; ISO settings up to 6,400; and shutter speeds to 1/8,000 sec. The SD1 doesn’t offer live view, video capture or tethered shooting capability; however, it does deliver pro features like micro AF adjustment, custom modes in the exposure mode (PASM) settings and an easily removable IR filter for infrared shooting. Where this Sigma DSLR really excels is in its imaging performance, especially at lower ISOs, where it delivers film-like images with exquisite detail and superb color rendition. $1,799.
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
This is the most advanced iteration of Canon’s hugely successful EOS 5D series of DSLRs widely used by professionals and serious enthusiasts. It delivers exceptional image quality and fine detail thanks to its 30.4MP full-frame CMOS sensor that’s integrated with Canon’s state-of-the-art Digic 6+ processor. This combination provides DCI 4K (4,096×2,160) video capture at 30 fps plus full-frame 8.8MP still grabs. Also notable are a native ISO of 32,000, which extends to ISO 102,400, and full-res bursts at up to 7 fps with images stored on both CF and SD cards.
Moreover, it has a 61-point High Density Reticular AF system with an AF area select button, Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology and movie servo AF options. In addition, Dual Pixel RAW allows users to fine-tune image parameters, including bokeh shift and micro focus adjustment after the picture is taken. Other features include: a 3.2-inch, 1.62M-dot touch-screen LCD monitor; a bright pentaprism-type eye-level optical viewfinder; and Wi-Fi connectivity with NFC and GPS. Its durable body has enhanced ergonomics that include a front-mounted N3 remote port, weather resistance and a mirror vibration control system to maximize sharpness in handheld exposures at low shutter speeds. $3,099.
Nikon’s flagship professional DSLR provides the speed and precision pros demand, along with a host of high-end capabilities. It combines a 20.8MP FX-format CMOS sensor with Nikon’s Expeed 5 processor. As a result, the D5 achieves a blazing full-res burst rate of 12 fps for 200 shots with full AE and AF while shooting lossless 14-bit NEF and 12-bit RAW S format files. Its sensitivity settings range from ISO 100 to 102,400 and are extendable to ISO 3,280,000! Moreover, the D5 records 4K UHD video at 30, 25 and 24 fps, plus it offers Full HD recording options.
In addition, its Multi-CAM 20K AF system provides 153 phase-detection points, including 99 cross-type sensors; there are also 55 selectable points for optimum shooting flexibility. The AF system includes dynamic-area, group-area, auto-area AF, as well as 3D tracking. Other key features are: a 3.2-inch, 2.36M-dot touch LCD monitor; dual XQD or CF memory card slots; an AF fine-tune function; a 400,000-cycle shutter; 1,000 Base-T gigabit wired LAN support; an intelligent scene recognition system using a 3D color matrix 180,000-pixel RGB sensor; and an integral textured, ergonomic grip. The D5 has a robust, weather-resistant body with a magnesium alloy chassis. In dual XQD or dual CF slot configuration, $6,499.95.
Pentax K-1 Mark II
Pentax’s brilliant top-of-the-line, full-frame K-mount DSLR offers enhanced image processing and imaging capabilities compared to its illustrious predecessor. It incorporates a high-res 36.4MP CMOS sensor and a Prime IV processor to capture detailed low-noise images at sensitivity up to ISO 819,200. It also delivers a 4.4-fps full-res burst rate and incorporates an AA filter simulator that minimizes moiré patterns but omits the standard antialiasing filter to ensure the sharpest images.
In addition, a wide-pattern SAFOX 12 AF sensor covers nearly the entire full-frame area and has 33 AF points; they include 25 cross pattern and three f/2.8-luminance points that operate in light down to -3 EV. Also, a built-in 5-axis shake reduction system provides a 5-stop advantage in minimizing the effects of handheld camera shake. It also enables Pixel Shift II, which merges sequential frames to achieve greater resolution and color detail. The K-1 Mark II records Full HD 1080p video at 30 fps in full-frame or APS-C crop modes.
Further, a distinctive 3.2-inch LCD tilts up 90º, down 44º and laterally 35º. Also featured are dual SD slots, and the DSLR retains built-in Wi-Fi and GPS functionality with an astrotracer feature that minimizes star trails during long exposures. Notable are LED-illuminated body points on the lens mount, card slots, the back of the LCD and at the cable switch. This is all built into a robust body with a stainless steel chassis and magnesium alloy outer shell that’s weather sealed in 87 places and operates in temperatures down to 14ºF. $1,799.95.
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II
Perched at the pinnacle of the Canon EOS line, this remarkable DSLR combines state-of-the-art image processing with robust multimedia capabilities. Its 20.2MP full-frame CMOS sensor is integrated with advanced dual Digic 6+ processors. As a result, it delivers a sizzling 14-fps full-res burst rate (16 fps in live view) plus DCI 4K video capture at up to 60 fps and 800 Mbps. It also records Full HD video at up to 120 fps for slow-motion playback. Moreover, 61-point High-Density Reticular AF II and Dual Pixel CMOS AF technologies provide 41 cross-type zones for enhanced focusing precision. Additionally, a separate dedicated Digic 6 processor maintains impressive AF speed when shooting 4K video and at high framing rates.
Other notable features are: a 3.2-inch, 1.62M-dot Clear View II touch LCD monitor; 8.8MP still grabs when shooting video; native sensitivity settings to ISO 51,200, expandable to ISO 409,600; GPS functions; and dual CFast and CompactFlash card slots. Moreover, an advanced 360,000-pixel RGB+IR metering sensor integrates with the EOS intelligent tracking and recognition AF system to enhance metering and tracking accuracy. The EOS-1D X Mark II also boasts a dust- and weather-sealed magnesium alloy body with an intelligent viewfinder pentaprism finder that provides sophisticated configurable readouts, and an integrated ergonomic grip. $5,999.
Sony Alpha 99 II
This unique high-performance camera is the pro-caliber successor to the original fixed translucent mirror Alpha 99 (Sony calls it a DSLT). It incorporates a 42MP full-frame Exmor R BSI CMOS sensor that delivers 14-bit RAW output. The sensor couples to a Bionz X processor with a front-end LSI. The high-tech system dramatically improves the throughput speed of the entire imaging system. It also enables continuous full res shooting at 12 fps with AF/AE; sensitivity settings up to ISO 102,400; and internal 4K UHD video capture at 30 fps and 24 fps in XAVC S format with S-Log3 Gamma and custom settings. The ILC also offers an S&Q motion function in Full HD video recording at 1–120 fps.
The a99 II also features a hybrid phase-detection AF system that combines 79 hybrid cross AF points with both phase- and contrast-detect AF, and a 399-point focal-plane AF system located on the image sensor. In addition, it incorporates 5-axis SteadyShot Inside image stabilization, providing a 4.5-stop advantage in handheld shooting. Also featured are: a 0.5-inch, 2.36M-dot XGA OLED Tru-Finder electronic viewfinder (EVF); a 3-inch, 1.23M-dot tilting LCD monitor; and built-in Wi-Fi with NFC. Sony uses robust, lightweight magnesium alloy for the top and rear covers and chassis, and the camera has full weather sealing. Notably, its Translucent Mirror technology enables provides full-time AF before, during and after the exposure, which is pivotal when shooting HD movies or high-speed action. $3,199.99.
Canon EOS 6D Mark II
This thoughtfully upgraded Canon full-frame digital SLR is a favorite among emerging pros because it delivers the “EOS 5D experience” at a very enticing price point. It sports a 26.2MP full-frame CMOS sensor coupled to a state-of-the-art Digic 7 image processor. Also featured are a 3-inch, 1.04M-dot vari-angle touch LCD monitor and a 97% view all-glass pentaprism viewfinder with a revised 45-point all-cross-type AF sensor. The EOS 6D Mark II achieves an impressive 6.5-frames-per-sec maximum burst rate.
It also offers built-in Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth connectivity with NFC. In addition, it employs Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology and movie servo AF. Video capabilities include Full HD 1080p capture at 60 fps. Other features include built-in time-lapse and HDR modes; 14-bit A/D conversion; in-camera RAW processing and JPEG conversion; and sensitivity settings expandable from ISO 50 to ISO 102,400. All this high tech is housed in a tough, dust- and weather-resistant body. This compact model is sure to delight pro and serious enthusiast Canon shooters looking for a great deal on an advanced full-frame DSLR. $1,599.
*All suggested retail prices are body only.