A Sensor as Big as Film
For a long time full frame DSLRs—cameras with image sensors as large as a 35mm film frame—were only for pros and well-heeled shutterbugs. Most folks buy an SLR with an APS-C image sensor, a little less than half the size of full frame in terms of surface area. But there are advantages to a bigger sensor, including a larger, brighter viewfinder and the ability to create an extremely shallow depth of field with wide-aperture lenses. You’ll still have to part with a good chunk of change to get an entry-level full frame model like the Nikon D610 or the Canon EOS 6D Mark II, but there’s no doubt that costs are dropping, making these cameras available to more and more photographers.
Entry-Level and Pro Choices
The least expensive bodies start at around $ 1,500, but can be had for less if you catch a sale. They don’t pack all of the features you’ll find in pricier models geared at pros. SLR bodies that sell for a few thousand dollars feature more advanced autofocus systems, better weather sealing, and more durable designs so they can withstand the rigors of frequent use by working professionals.
Pentax has a lone full frame SLR model. The K-1 falls outside our top ten, but is a solid option for users in want of a high-resolution, full frame model, and it comes in under $ 2,000.
If you’re a sports shooter or a photojournalist, instant and accurate focus, fast burst shooting, and tank-like durability are required. Canon and Nikon offer pro bodies that are up to the task. Both companies have relatively new models—the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and the Nikon D5. These pro bodies have superb autofocus systems that allow them to rattle off shots in rapid succession and lock onto focus nearly instantly. The top-end autofocus systems require larger camera bodies, and both models squeeze huge batteries into integrated vertical shooting grips.
Other Full Frame Options
A big SLR isn’t the only way to get a full frame sensor. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R II is a small compact with a fixed 35mm f/2 Zeiss lens, but you pay for its size and top-notch glass. The Leica Q features a similar design, but its full frame sensor is married to a wider 28mm f/1.7 lens and its price crosses the $ 4,000 mark.
Sony has a full line of mirrorless cameras with full frame sensors in its Alpha 7 II series. And Leica’s line of rangefinder cameras has been full frame for some time.
We’ve yet to review a full frame DSLR that’s been a disappointment in terms of image quality, but all have their own strengths and weaknesses, especially in regard to autofocus and burst shooting capability. Check out the Best DSLR Lenses we’ve tested to help you make a decision. And when you’re ready to start shooting, read our 10 Beyond-Basic Photography Tips.