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Professional Cameras

For at least the past year or two, the professional camera market has seemed hyper-focused on the full-frame camera segment. Last year, in particular, seemed like the year of the full-frame mirrorless camera, with expanded offerings from Sony, another option from Canon’s burgeoning EOS R series and Panasonic’s big debut into this market with the S1 and S1R.

This year, the full-frame mirrorless trend showed no signs of slowing down. We now have multiple offerings in this space from most major camera manufacturers, including Canon, Nikon and Panasonic, which now all have multiple full-frame mirrorless models at varying price points and addressing different customer segments. And Sony unveiled its video-centric a7S III this year after a seemingly long delay to this popular high-end model line.

As mirrorless technology has matured, the features and capabilities gap between these lighter and more portable professional cameras compared to trusted DSLR stalwarts has shrunk considerably. With more powerful hardware and new, innovative software-based features like eye-tracking autofocus (including AF for animals’ eyes), A.I.-powered subject- and object-detection and higher-resolution video capabilities making their way into even mid-range models, cameras are more capable and more versatile than ever.

Mind you, not every professional camera released this year was a full-frame camera, mirrorless or otherwise, but this category of digital camera certainly took the lion’s share of the headlines and the conversation.

Much like last year’s pro digital camera offerings, the crop this year feels like it’s trying to serve a very broad audience, whether it’s aiming for a larger customer base using a lower price point or trying to be a “Swiss Army Knife” of sorts with tons of features for both still photographers and video creators. On that last point, video features and capabilities certainly feel front-and-center on many cameras this year, particularly the 8K-shooting Canon R5 and the 4K-powerhouse Sony A7S III.

So, whether you primarily shoot stills or video—and especially if you do both—there’s something for everyone this year looking to pick up a new camera body.

Full-Frame Cameras

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

Canon’s powerful flagship DSLR got a refresh this year, though, as expected, the appearance and handling characteristics of the new EOS-1D X Mark III haven’t changed all that much from its tried-and-true design. It’s still a big, burly, gripped DSLR with a thoroughly weather-sealed construction that should be very familiar to those who used earlier 1D-series cameras. Meanwhile, the imaging pipeline and internals underwent an all-out revamp, with the 1D X III sporting a new 20MP full-frame sensor, a faster DIGIC X image processor and an upgraded 191-point viewfinder AF system that now includes head- and face-tracking (a rare feature for a DSLR autofocus system). The ISO range is even more expansive now, and the burst shooting speeds top out at an even faster 16 fps with the optical viewfinder or up to 20 fps if you opt for Live View. Live View focusing, too, received a pleasing upgrade with even better Dual Pixel CMOS AF that now covers nearly the entire sensor area.

While most users are likely interested in this camera for its photo capabilities, the EOS-1D X Mark III provides a rather healthy set of video specs. Thanks to the new image processor and updated hardware, the EOS-1D X Mark III can now internally record Cinema 4K video at up to 60 fps in Canon Log format as well as 5.5K 12-bit RAW video at 60 fps. The camera also supports 10-bit 4:2:2 4K 60p video output through its HDMI port for even higher-quality footage. However, despite its rather eye-catching video specs, the EOS-1D X Mark III still has that pesky 29-minute, 59-second continuous recording limit.

It probably goes without saying, but this is the premier Canon DSLR for sports, wildlife and press photographers who need a reliable camera that can handle nearly any conditions. But, like prior models, this durability, reliability and premium feature set don’t come cheap. With a retail price of around $6,499, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III is quite the investment.

professional cameras
Canon EOS R5

Canon EOS R5 & EOS R6

After Canon launched the EOS R series with the arguably mid-range EOS R followed by the entry-level EOS RP, the rumor mill began to swirl about a future, higher-end EOS R camera. Canon fans had their wish granted with not one but two new EOS R cameras this year, the EOS R5 and EOS R6.

Sporting nearly identical body designs, the EOS R5 and EOS R6 both feature robust, weather-sealed construction and lots of customizable controls. Perhaps most notably, both models now include in-body image stabilization. The EOS R5 and EOS R6 are the first two Canon cameras to offer IBIS, an increasingly popular feature that, up until now, was oddly lacking from Canon’s lineup. What’s more, both models offer some incredible IBIS performance, with up to 8 stops of stabilization (depending on the lens), which allows for excellent low-light shooting and handheld video recording.

Under the hood, the primary difference in these two models is the sensor. The EOS R5 features an all-new 45MP full-frame sensor, while the EOS R6 opts for a more manageable 20MP. Both cameras are powered by Canon’s latest DIGIC X processor, giving them both very impressive performance specs, including burst shooting up to 20 fps, deep buffer depths, and eye/head/face tracking AF for both people and animals.

Other than sheer image resolution, one of the other main benefits of the EOS R5’s 45MP sensor over its EOS R6 sibling is its ability to shoot ultra-high-res video, including 8K video at 30 fps. Thanks to the fast processor, the EOS R5 can also record 8K RAW and full-width 4K up to 120 fps—all in-camera. That said, the EOS R6 is no slouch, either, in the video department, though its sensor only allows for 4K up to 60p and doesn’t use the full width of the sensor. The R5 and R6 are easily the two most advanced still-oriented EOS cameras when it comes to video—though, like the EOS-1D X III, neither model offers unlimited continuous video recording.

The EOS R5 is undoubtedly the more professional-oriented model, while the EOS R6 feels more enthusiast-grade, and they are priced accordingly. That said, both would fit nicely into a professional workflow, depending on the types of images or videos one needs to create and what one’s budget allows. The EOS R5 has a list price of $3,899; the EOS R6 is $2,499.

professional cameras
Nikon D780

Nikon D780

This is an interesting camera. For one thing, it looks and feels like a classic Nikon DSLR. The ergonomics and handling aren’t that dissimilar from its predecessor model. It also features weather sealing, a bright optical viewfinder, uses the same 51-point AF system as the D750 and offers an ever-so-slightly faster 7 fps continuous burst rate when using the optical viewfinder.

It’s when you switch into Live View that things become more interesting. Essentially, the D780 transforms into a Z 6. The D780 borrows the same 24.5MP BSI sensor as in the Z 6, and while that’s not an image resolution upgrade over the previous model, the D780 is now capable of significantly better Live View focusing. The D780, for the first time in a Nikon DSLR, offers on-sensor phase-detection AF. In fact, it uses the same 273-point system with Face/Eye Tracking as in the Z 6. What’s more, the D780 is also capable of 4K video up to 30 fps, 1080p at up to 120 fps, 10-bit N-Log support and faster 12 fps burst shooting in Live View. The D780 arguably has the best Live View shooting experience of any Nikon DSLR.

It’s quite the hybrid camera, providing a classic Nikon DSLR experience for most photo-oriented tasks, but in Live View, it transforms into a rather well-stocked multimedia camera. If you’re a Nikon shooter and not ready to fully commit to a mirrorless system, but you want better Live View features—particularly when it comes to video recording—the D780 is an enticing option at $2,299.

Nikon Z 5

Nikon Z 5

With a body-only price of just $1,399, the new Nikon Z 5 is an excellent option for those looking for a full-frame mirrorless camera that doesn’t completely break the budget. While the Z 5 is being marketed more as an “entry-level” model, it doesn’t feel as spartan or as under-featured as the competing entry-level models from other brands. Despite the lower price point, the Z 5 includes the same 24MP FX sensor as in the Z 6 along with its 273-point phase-detection autofocus system that supports Eye AF tracking, 5-axis in-body stabilization, dual UHS-II SD card slots, weather-sealed construction and 4K video up to 30p. The dual card slots in and of themselves are a pleasing upgrade over the single slot of the Z 6 and Z 7 camera.

As a more budget-friendly option, there are some compromises in terms of features and performance. Continuous burst shooting is only up to 4.5 frames per second, which is pretty sluggish by today’s standards. On the video side of things, it’s obvious that the Z 5 isn’t as well-stocked or as capable as the higher-end Z 6. The 4K video on the Z 5 has about a 1.7x crop factor, though 1080p uses the full sensor width. The camera also doesn’t include high-end specs like 10-bit recording, 12-bit ProRes RAW video or N-Log support.

Overall, the Z 5 is not the most feature-packed camera with the latest bits and bobs nor capable of super-fast performance. But if you’re looking to move into full-frame or wanting to add a second full-frame camera to your Nikon kit, the Z 5 provides a good balance of features and price.

Panasonic LUMIX S5

Panasonic LUMIX S5

Micro Four Thirds co-developer Panasonic is now also squarely in the world of full-frame with its fourth S-series mirrorless camera. Sitting underneath last year’s S1 models, the new LUMIX S5 aims to lower the price barrier a bit as well as offer a full-frame camera that’s both lighter and more compact. On that last point, the LUMIX S5 is, surprisingly, just ever-so-slightly lighter than the LUMIX GH5 Micro Four Thirds camera.

While the LUMIX S5 is indeed a lower-end model, it’s by no means “entry-level.” Panasonic has packed it full of features and capabilities, including the same 24MP sensor as in the S1, Dual Native ISO, 5-axis IBIS, 96MP High-Res mode, unlimited 8-bit 4K 30p video and 4K 60p for up to 30 minutes. Other high-end features include 4:2:2 10-bit 4K 60p video out through HDMI, V-Log profile pre-installed, dual UHS-II SD card slots and a durable mag-alloy construction with weather sealing.

The LUMIX S5 is a very capable, well-stocked camera designed with versatility in mind, whether you’re shooting photos or video. That said, it’s not as robustly built as the higher-end models (no freeze proof claim), and with just 5 fps burst shooting with continuous AF, it’s not a speed demon for any fast action or sports subjects. (Panasonic has improved the camera’s subject tracking algorithms, so it is better in that regard.)

If you’re looking for a versatile full-frame mirrorless camera but were put off by the bulk of the S1 models, the Panasonic S5 aims to be the answer for $1,999.

Sony a7S III

Sony a7S III

For more photo-oriented users, Sony’s a7R IV from last year still reigns supreme as Sony’s high-res model, offering a surprisingly capable and high-performance camera. This year, Sony finally unveiled the long-awaited successor to its video-focused a7S series, the a7S III. As with prior models, the a7S III keeps the modest resolution (but newly designed) 12MP full-frame sensor that puts a focus on larger pixels and thus impressive ISO sensitivity performance and dynamic range. Expanded ISO can climb to 409,600, and Sony claims 15 stops of dynamic range with S-Log3 video.

While other full-frame video-centric mirrorless cameras such as the Canon EOS R5 or Panasonic LUMIX S1H take video resolutions to new levels, the Sony a7S III sticks with 4K. Sony stated that their goal with the a7S III was to create the best, most versatile 4K camera. To that end, the a7S III offers internal 4K recording up to 120 fps with full pixel readout, bitrates up to 600 Mbps, 4:2:2 10-bit recording in all modes, 4K 60p 16-bit RAW out via HDMI and more. Full HD video is also available up to 240 fps.

In other areas, the a7S III is just as impressive. There’s a new AF system with 759 phase-detection AF points and Real-time Eye AF, 10 fps burst shooting with a 1,000-plus frame buffer, dual card slots that accept both CFexpress Type A and UHS-II SD cards, a new super-high-res EVF, a vari-angle LCD and completely redesigned menus. The a7S III has a list price of $3,499.

Sony a7C

Sony a7C

While Sony kicked off the modern trend of compact full-frame mirrorless cameras, these are still fairly large compared to cameras with smaller sensors. For those who want the versatility of an interchangeable lens camera and a full-frame sensor but in a highly portable form factor, the new Sony a7C has a lot to offer.

Essentially a Sony a7 III packed into an a6600-sized body, the Sony a7C aims to bring full-frame image quality and performance to a new customer segment—or serve as an excellent companion camera to an existing full-frame camera kit. Despite its svelte exterior, the a7C is still very full-featured and not really hindered when it comes to performance. It features a 24MP BSI sensor, 693 phase-detect AF points and 425 contrast-detect points and includes real-time Eye-AF tracking for people and animals. There’s also speedy 10 fps burst shooting, 4K video up to 30p, unlimited video recording time and a five-axis IBIS system with up to 5 stops of stabilization correction, all for just $1,799.

Crop-Sensor Cameras

As mentioned, 2020 certainly feels like yet another year of the “full-frame mirrorless camera,” but there were still some exciting and powerful offerings unveiled this year in the “crop-sensor” arena, both for APS-C and Micro Four Thirds. If you’re interested in power and portability, here are the top new models this year.

Fujifilm X-T4

Fujifilm X-T4

If at first glance you think to yourself, “The Fujifilm X-T4 looks an awful lot like the X-T3,” you’d be correct. Fujifilm did not change much to the exterior design of the camera and, to be fair, there’s not a major upgrade on the inside to the imaging pipeline, either. That being said, the X-T4 does address one of the major lacking features of its predecessor: in-body image stabilization. Up until now, the only Fujifilm X-Series camera that offered IBIS was the larger, heavier X-H1—which nowadays is somewhat outdated, using Fujifilm’s older 24MP sensor and last-generation processor.

With the new X-T4, you get a similar ergonomic experience to the X-T3, plus the benefits of IBIS: better low-light shooting versatility and better handheld video. The X-T4 does tweak a few exterior items, namely switching to a variable-angle LCD screen, increasing the size of the handgrip slightly and adding a photo/video mode toggle switch. The Fujifilm X-T4 uses the latest 26MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS 4 BSI image sensor and X Processor 4 chip. The ISO remains the same as in the X-T3, as does the overall AF system, though low-light AF is improved. Continuous shooting performance also gets a slight boost thanks in part to an updated shutter mechanism—burst shooting is now possible up to 15 fps with the mechanical shutter.

Video features are also impressive, just like on the predecessor, with the X-T4 offering 4K video at up to 60 fps, Full HD bumped up to 240 fps, and there are also high-quality bit rate options and advanced cinematography features, such as F-Log and 4:2:2 10-bit in-camera recording.

Though a minor update to the previous model, the $2,199 Fujifilm X-T4 remains compact, lightweight and rugged, capable of excellent-quality images and video in a variety of scenarios. With the addition of IBIS now, one of Fujifilm’s best mirrorless cameras is now even better.

professional cameras
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III

Much like with the Fujifilm X-T4, the new Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III isn’t a major departure from its predecessor. It’s undoubtedly an incremental update with several refinements and improvements, but the entire package is incredibly pleasing if you value rugged build quality and a highly portable camera system. In 2019, Olympus debuted its big, gripped OM-D E-M1X, a high-end sports- and wildlife-focused OM-D with a built-in grip. It was quite the departure from Olympus’ characteristically small bodies and was also quite pricey compared to other OM-D models. Now Olympus has managed to fit many of the E-M1X’s performance and shooting features into the smaller E-M1 form factor.

The OM-D E-M1 III sticks with the same 20MP sensor as in the E-M1 II and E-M1X but pairs it with an all-new TruePic IX image processor. The camera also improves upon its already-fantastic image stabilization by using the higher-precision gyro sensor of the E-M1X to offer IBIS performance up to 7.5 stops. Further, the E-M1 III can shoot a 50MP High-Res Shot image without a tripod and debuts a new Starry Sky AF mode for easier, faster astrophotography shooting.

For video, the E-M1 III includes the same versatile array of video features as the E-M1X, including 4K video at up to 30p and Full HD or HD at up to 120 fps, as well as Cinema 4K 4:2:2 uncompressed video output through the HDMI.

Design-wise, not much has changed. The camera now includes the joystick control from the E-M1X, but the rear touchscreen and EVF remain unchanged, which nowadays both feel somewhat low-res and outdated. However, the overall user experience of the E-M1 III and the Olympus OM-D Micro Four Thirds system as a whole is enjoyable and capable for most subjects and situations. For super-telephoto shooting like sports and wildlife, this system has some serious size and weight advantages thanks to its 2x focal length magnification factor. If you value portability and versatility first and foremost, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III is worth considering at just $1,699. You don’t always need a full-frame sensor.

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DigitalPhotoPro

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