Mirrorless cameras have taken over the photography world in recent years. Their slim, lightweight bodies and cutting-edge features have made them the top choice over traditional DSLRs for many shooters. One segment of the mirrorless camera market that gets a lot of attention is full frame models. Their large 35mm sized sensors can provide enhanced image quality over smaller formats like APS-C.
If you’re looking to upgrade to full frame or buy your first serious mirrorless camera, there are a number of great options to consider. In this post, we’ll break down the top 5 full frame mirrorless cameras available today. We’ll discuss who each one might be good for, their benefits and limitations, and help you figure out which is best for your needs. We’ll also provide tips on how to choose between them, along with answers to some frequently asked questions about full frame mirrorless technology.
Top 5 Full Frame Mirrorless Cameras
Full frame sensors offer a number of potential advantages over cropped APS-C or Micro Four Thirds. Their larger surface area provides superior light gathering capabilities for better low light performance, shallower depth of field, and wider dynamic range for highlight and shadow recovery. The latest generation contain resolutions upward of 60 megapixels, allowing huge printing sizes.
Of course, full frame cameras come at a cost. Not only are the camera bodies more expensive, but full frame lenses can also be significantly pricier as they need to project a larger image circle. Still, for certain types of photography where you need ultimate image quality, full frame delivers.
Here are the top 5 contenders in the full frame mirrorless camera market:
1. Sony a7R IV
Sony pioneered the full frame mirrorless camera market and remains an industry leader with their a7 series. The a7R IV currently sits at the top as Sony’s highest resolution model at an incredible 61 megapixels. It can capture an amazing amount of detail while still having relatively compact dimensions.
Beyond resolution, the a7R IV features a sensitivity range up to ISO 32,000 and delivers 15 stops of dynamic range for excellent highlight and shadow recovery. Its advanced 567 point phase detect AF system provides fast, accurate focus across 74% of the image frame. Shooting speed is no slouch either, with continuous burst rates up to 10 fps even at full resolution.
For such a high resolution camera, the a7R IV can keep up with action surprisingly well. The 10 fps drive lets you shoot sequences of fast moving subjects. Eye tracking AF helps maintain focus on portraiture subjects even as they move around the frame. All combined with 5-axis in-body image stabilization to steady your shots when shooting handheld.
On the video front, the a7R IV records oversampled 4K video up to 30fps and 1080p video up to 120fps for smooth slow motion. It offers 10-bit internal recording with S-Log2 and S-Log3 profiles for maximum dynamic range and flexibility during post-production.
For landscape, architecture, studio and macro work where extreme resolution matters, the a7R IV is hard to beat. It’s also competent at action and video work in a pinch. The main downside is that 61 megapixel files require beefy computing power to edit and store.
2. Nikon Z7 II
After being slow to enter the full frame mirrorless market, Nikon has made up a lot of ground with their Z series cameras. The Z7 II iterates on the original ground-breaking Z7 by offering a number of performance boosts.
At the heart of the Z7 II lies a 45.7 megapixel BSI CMOS sensor capable of capturing incredible levels of detail. It has a native ISO range topping out at 25,600 and provides around 14 stops of dynamic range with good latitude for grading. The sensor also allows burst shooting at 10 fps to freeze action.
Autofocus is handled by a 493 point hybrid PDAF system offering quick, accurate focus across 90% of the image area. It adds useful AF features like face/eye detection and animal eye AF for wildlife. The Z7 II gets a much needed buffer capacity boost over the Z7, allowing over triple the RAW shots in a burst.
Nikon packed in 5-axis in-body stabilization providing 5 stops of shake reduction with compatible lenses. This combines with the high resolution sensor to produce ultra-sharp handheld images. On the video side, the Z7 II can shoot silky smooth 4K 60p footage and output 10-bit N-Log video to an external recorder. It has dual card slots, a high resolution EVF, and strong weather sealing.
For both stills and video creators, the Z7 II is a compelling full frame mirrorless solution. Some handling quirks remain from its DSLR lineage, but image quality is superb.
3. Canon EOS R5
After initially lagging behind in mirrorless tech, Canon roared back with the impressive EOS R5 – currently the top camera in their new RF mount system. It’s a no-compromise workhorse designed for professionals and demanding enthusiasts.
The R5 is built around a 45 megapixel CMOS sensor capable of capturing stunning levels of detail. It offers an incredible 15 stops of dynamic range for maximum flexibility when editing. Low light performance is equally impressive with usable sensitivity up to 51,200 ISO.
Canon also managed to give the R5 class-leading burst shooting speeds. It can rip off bursts at up to 12 fps with the mechanical shutter or a blistering 20 fps when using the electronic shutter with AF fixed on the first frame. Few cameras match it for capturing fast action.
Autofocus is another major highlight provided by Canon’s amazing Dual Pixel AF system. It offers lightning fast focus using 100% coverage across the entire image frame. Subject tracking is excellent thanks to deep learning algorithms. Eye and face detection are best in class for both people and animals.
Video shooters will love what the R5 brings to the table. It offers 8K RAW video recording up to 30fps, oversampled 4K HQ up to 120fps, and 1080p shooting up to 180fps for buttery slow motion. Footage looks fantastic with the latest image processing. Just be prepared for some overheating limitations during long 8K clips.
Whether you shoot weddings, portraits, sports, or wildlife, the R5 delivers excellence across the board. If you can afford the premium price, it stands at the pinnacle of what’s possible in a mirrorless camera today.
4. Panasonic Lumix S5
While other manufacturers duke it out in the premium full frame segment, Panasonic targets more budget-conscious hybrid shooters with the Lumix S5. Don’t let its smaller size and lower megapixel count fool you – the S5 is a formidable performer.
Inside the miniature body lies a 24 megapixel sensor without an AA filter for maximum sharpness. It provides roughly 14 stops of dynamic range for malleable RAW processing. While not best in class, low light performance is competitive with usable quality up to ISO 25,600.
Autofocus is centered around a 225 area DFD system. It lacks the sophistication of phase detect but gets the job done for most subjects. Face, eye, and body detection help lock focus in portraits. The S5 can shoot reasonably fast at 7 fps with continuous AF to capture moving subjects.
Where the S5 truly shines is in its video capabilities. It can shoot beautiful 4K 60p footage with 10-bit 4:2:2 color both in full frame or APS-C crop mode. V-Log and V-Gamut support capture the widest dynamic range and color for post production. Sensor stabilization smooths out handheld shots.
For under $2000, you’d be hard pressed to find another full frame camera that shoots such gorgeous video. The S5 is compact enough to be a great B-cam or vlogging option. Still photo quality does not disappoint either, making this an ideal hybrid camera at an affordable price.
5. Sony a7 III
Sony broke new ground with the original a7 III by bringing extremely well-rounded full frame performance down to just under $2000. Even today, it holds its own against newer rivals. For many, it remains the ideal entry point into full frame mirrorless technology.
The foundation of the a7 III is a 24 megapixel backside illuminated sensor. It delivers excellent dynamic range of around 15 stops for flexible RAW processing. Low light capability is equally impressive with noise free quality up to ISO 51,200. The sensor can shoot bursts at up to 10 fps with continuous autofocus.
Sony’s 693 point hybrid AF system includes advanced subject tracking. Combined with 10fps shooting, it’s competent for capturing moving subjects. The a7 III packs 5-axis stabilization good for 5 stops with compatible lenses. It has dual SD card slots and a generous 600 shot battery life.
Video is the a7 III’s only weak point. It lacks 4K 60p shooting and only offers 8-bit internal recording. You do get S-Log2 and S-Log3 profiles for maximum dynamic range and post production tweaking. For most, the still photography capabilities far outweigh dated video specs.
Three years after launch, the a7 III remains a remarkably capable performer. Unless you need bleeding edge resolution or video features, for most photographic genres it’s still all the full frame camera you need.
How to Choose the Right Full Frame Mirrorless Camera
With so many great options on the market today, choosing the right full frame mirrorless camera can feel overwhelming. Let’s break down the key factors to consider when deciding which model fits your needs and budget best:
Prioritize Features Based on Your Photography Style
The type of photography you shoot has a major impact on what features you should prioritize.
Landscape photographers need maximum resolution and dynamic range. The Sony a7R IV, Nikon Z7 II, and Canon R5 excel here. High resolution helps capture details in sprawling vistas. Wide dynamic range allows lifting shadows and controlling highlights in high contrast scenes.
Portrait and wedding photographers demand high resolution sensors to capture skin details. Fast burst rates let you snap fleeting expressions and moments. Top-tier autofocus with reliable eye/face detection is critical for focus on faces. The Canon R5, Sony a7R IV, and Nikon Z7 II fit the bill.
Sports and action photographers rely on autofocus above all else. Subject tracking and high burst rates allow capturing the decisive moment. The Canon R5 and Sony a1 lead this pack with superb Dual Pixel AF and 30fps electronic shutter bursts.
Videographers prioritize video capabilities like 4K 60p, 10-bit recording, flat profiles, and microphone inputs. IBIS and articulating screens are a bonus. The Panasonic S5 and Canon R5 are top choices for videocentric shooters.
Evaluate which lenses from each brand fit your budget. No matter which body you choose, quality glass is essential.
Take Ergonomics and Handling Into Account
A camera’s design, controls, and convenience features play a big role in how enjoyable it is to shoot with.
Smaller, lighter cameras like the Sony a7C are easier to carry around. Those with big hands may prefer larger grips like on the Canon R5. Control layout should allow access to key settings while looking through the viewfinder.
Tilting/articulating rear screens, high resolution EVFs, and top-tier weather sealing also improve the shooting experience. Try cameras in person if possible to test these aspects.
Assess Image Quality Factors
While any of these cameras deliver excellent results, sensor resolution, dynamic range, and high ISO performance vary between models.
Higher resolution sensors like 61MP in the Sony a7R IV allow huge printing sizes. 15+ stops of dynamic range provide flexibility when shooting high contrast scenes. Expandable ISO ranges up to 2-400,000 allow cleaner images in extremely low light.
In-body image stabilization allows sharp handheld shooting at slower shutter speeds and with unstabilized lenses. Some cameras produce more pleasing JPEG colors or RAW files that grade better. Test files from each camera with your processing workflow.
Evaluate Autofocus and Burst Shooting
For photographing moving subjects, the sophistication of a camera’s AF system and its burst rate are key.
Hybrid phase/contrast detect AF offers lightning fast focusing and advanced subject tracking. Coverage across more of the image frame allows more composition flexibility. AI features like eye/face/body detection improve focus in portraits or sports.
Faster burst rates and deeper buffers increase your chances of capturing peak action. If you shoot active kids or sports, benchmark these capabilities when choosing a body.
Compare Video Specifications
The right video features for your work depend on whether you shoot casual clips or professional productions.
Higher 4K resolutions, faster frame rates, 10-bit color depth, and high bitrates allow capturing pristine footage. Flat profiles like Log V provide creative grading flexibility in post. Mic jacks, headphones, and articulating screens aid shooting videos.
Compare specs like 4K 60p, 120p slow motion, and codecs between models to fit your needs. IBIS improves handheld footage and unstabilized lenses.
Frequently Asked Questions About Full Frame Mirrorless Cameras
Full frame mirrorless technology brings new capabilities but also new questions for photographers looking to upgrade from a smartphone, point and shoot, or crop sensor camera. Here are answers to some common questions about going full frame:
What Are the Advantages of a Full Frame Sensor?
The main benefits stem from the larger surface area which gathers more total light. This translates to:
- Better low light performance and shallower depth of field
- Wider dynamic range for highlight and shadow recovery
- Higher resolution sensors possible compared to smaller formats
- Full frame lenses offer superior quality over smaller image circles
Combined, these factors contribute to full frame sensors producing cleaner, more professional looking images under challenging conditions.
What Are the Disadvantages or Limitations of Full Frame Cameras?
While full frame excels in many areas, there are some potential downsides:
- More expensive camera bodies and lenses over APS-C and MFT
- Larger, heavier overall gear weight compared to smaller formats
- Overkill for casual users who don’t require ultimate image quality
You also lose some telephoto reach compared to APS-C. To frame subjects equally, full frame requires longer focal length lenses.
How Much Better is Image Quality Compared to APS-C?
It’s easy to get caught up in the full frame hype, but APS-C cameras remain extremely capable. While not night and day, full frame does provide about:
- 1 stop cleaner high ISO performance
- 1 stop wider dynamic range
- 20-30% higher resolution capability at any given generation
Proper technique, lighting, lenses, and processing still play a huge role in image quality. For most photographic genres, APS-C delivers professional results at a lower cost and weight.
Should I Upgrade from APS-C to Full Frame?
Only if you’ve clearly outgrown what your current APS-C camera and lenses can deliver. Upgrading bodies alone won’t help if you’re limited by inferior lenses, lighting skills, or processing.
Before switching, calculate the total cost to upgrade all your lenses to cover a full frame sensor. For many genres like travel photography, you may find full frame provides minimal benefit over APS-C.
What Full Frame Camera is Best For Landscapes?
Two main things matter for landscapes – resolution and dynamic range.
The Sony a7R IV leads with its 61MP resolution to capture fine details. The Nikon Z7 II at 46MP is close behind.
For wide dynamic range, the Canon EOS R5 sticks out with 15 stops to retain highlights and lift shadows.
Any of the three deliver superb image quality for sweeping landscape vistas.
What Full Frame Camera is Best For Portraits?
Ideal portrait cameras need resolution for fine skin texture, quick burst rates for expressions, and excellent AF systems.
The Canon EOS R5 stands out with its 45MP sensor, lightning fast 20fps bursts, and unmatched Dual Pixel AF for face/eye tracking.
The Sony a7 IV combines high 33MP resolution with 10fps drive speed and real-time AF tracking. Similarly, the Nikon Z7 II has great resolution, speed, and subject tracking capabilities.
What Full Frame Camera is Best For Wildlife?
Photographing wildlife demands fast burst shooting, long reach/cropping potential, and great AF subject tracking:
The Sony a1 leads the pack with its 50MP resolution for cropping, 30fps bursts, and stellar AF/tracking abilities.
The Canon EOS R3 is close behind with 24MP resolution, 30fps bursts, and intelligent animal tracking AF.
The Sony a7 IV or Nikon Z9 offer compelling alternatives at lower costs.
Full frame mirrorless cameras offer outstanding image quality and performance for photographers needing the best. We looked at the top models on the market from Sony, Nikon, Canon, and Panasonic. Each brings compelling benefits for different types of shooting.
Landscape and studio photographers can benefit from ultra high resolution options like the Sony a7R IV and Nikon Z7 II. For portraits, weddings, and events, the Canon EOS R5 provides incredible resolution, speed, and AF. Sports and wildlife shooters will appreciate the performance of the Sony a1, Canon R3 or Nikon Z9. And the Panasonic Lumix S5 offers tremendous value for budget-conscious hybrid shooters.
While full frame holds advantages over smaller formats, great photography is still more about skill, lighting, lenses, and processing. Before upgrading, carefully weigh if you truly need full frame or if APS-C or MFT still meet your needs at a lower cost and weight.
If your photography has outgrown smaller sensor cameras, full frame models deliver outstanding quality, low light performance and professional controls. Any of the cameras covered here are capable tools to take your images to the next level.