Have you wondered why traditional digital SLRs with reflex mirrors and optical viewfinders (OVFs) are standing strong in the face of competition from SLR-like, interchangeable-lens, mirrorless cameras? Particularly pro DSLRs?
Peruse the impressive specs of the seven cameras we’ve detailed here and we guarantee you’ll come up with your own list of cogent reasons. Basically, it’s because all of them deliver a full complement of advanced, cutting-edge, often unique features along with awesome real-world performance. And their robust, ergonomically contoured, well-balanced, weather-resistant bodies look as well as feel like “real cameras,” with conveniently placed traditional controls.
Indeed, these cameras represent the logical evolution of the DSLR. They are classic examples of successful adaptation in a rapidly changing environment. The happy result is a superb group of cameras that are as good as any in the world. They should therefore be on every serious photographer’s short list.
Nikon’s top professional DSLR provides the speed, precision and image quality pros demand, along with high-end capabilities. It marries a 20.8 megapixel FX-format (35.9×23.9mm) CMOS sensor with Nikon’s top-end Expeed 5 image processor. The combination achieves a blazing full-resolution burst rate of 12 frames per sec for up to 200 shots, with full AE (autoexposure) and AF (autofocus). The camera shoots lossless, 14-bit NEF and 12-bit RAW files. Sensitivity settings range from ISO 100–102,400 and are expandable to an incredible ISO 3,280,000.
Pro video features include 4K UHD recording (3,840×2,160) at 30/25/24 fps, plus Full HD with various rate options. Photographers can also create 4K UHD time-lapse recordings, as well as benefit from zebra stripes and a built-in stereo mic with 20-step adjustments.
Able to work in near darkness, the D5’s Multi-CAM 20K AF system has 153 phase-detection points, including 99 cross-type sensors. And 55 are selectable for optimum shooting flexibility. The system also offers dynamic-area, group-area and auto-area AF, as well as 3D tracking. In addition, using the WR-R10 wireless remote controller, the D5 can control and fire six groups of speedlights up to 98 feet away.
Other key features include: a 3.2-inch, 2.36M-dot, touch-screen LCD monitor; an eye-level optical viewfinder; dual CF/XQD card slots; 1,000 Base-T Gigabit Wired LAN support; and a 108K RGB advanced scene recognition system using a 3D color matrix 180K-pixel RGB sensor. The D5 sports a robust, weather-resistant body with a magnesium alloy chassis and a textured ergonomic grip. $6,499.95*. nikonusa.com
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
This is the latest iteration of Canon’s hugely successful EOS 5D series DSLRs that are widely used by professionals and serious enthusiasts. It delivers exceptional image quality and fine detail thanks to its 30.4MP, full-frame CMOS image sensor integrated with Canon’s state-of-the-art Digic 6+ image processor. The pair provides DCI 4K (4,096×2,160) video capture at 30/24 fps plus 4K, 8.8MP full-frame still grabs.
A native ISO range of 50–32,000 is extendable to ISO 102,400. And it boasts a full-res burst rate of 7 fps, with images storable on both CF and SD cards. Also notable are a 61-point high-density reticular AF system with an AF-area select button; Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology with enhanced subject tracking; movie servo AF options; and Dual Pixel RAW technology that 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 to complement its bright pentaprism-type, eye-level optical viewfinder; and built-in Wi-Fi connectivity with NFC and GPS. Its resilient body has enhanced ergonomics that include a front-mounted N3 remote port, upgraded weather resistance and a new mirror vibration control system to maximize sharpness in handheld exposures at low shutter speeds. $3,299. usa.canon.com
Sony Alpha a99 II
The Alpha a99 II is not a traditional DSLR with an optical viewfinder but a hybrid camera that employs a stationary mirror to reflect part of the light passing through the lens to its advanced AF system sensors. The impressively upgraded, pro-caliber successor to the original fixed-translucent-mirror a99 (Sony calls it a DSLT) is now the flagship of Sony’s A-mount line. More compact, it incorporates a 42.4MP, full-frame, Exmor R BSI (backside-illuminated) CMOS sensor that delivers 14-bit uncompressed RAW output.
The sensor works in tandem with a Bionz X processor with a new front-end LSI. This innovation is said to dramatically improve the throughput speed of the imaging system, enabling continuous, 12-fps, full-res shooting with AF and AE, as well as sensitivity settings to ISO 102,400. Its Translucent Mirror technology enables full-time AF before, during and after the exposure, especially important when shooting HD movies or high-speed action.
The camera provides 4K UHD video capture at 30/24 fps in the XAVC S format with S-Log3 Gamma and custom settings. Other movie functions are Full HD recording and the S&Q (slow & quick) mode that records at 1–120 fps.
The DSLT also features a hybrid AF system that provides phase- and contrast-detection AF. It combines a 79-point cross-AF sensor with a 399-point focal-plane AF sensor located on the image sensor. It also incorporates 5-axis SteadyShot Inside image stabilization to provide a 4.5-stop advantage in handheld shooting.
Other features include: flicker-free shooting; a 0.5-inch, 2.36M-dot XGA OLED EVF; a 3-inch, 1.23M-dot, tilting LCD monitor; built-in Wi-Fi/NFC; and a multi-card slot. Sony’s weather-sealed a99 II uses robust, lightweight magnesium alloy for the top and rear covers and chassis. $3,199.99. sony.com
This much anticipated upgrade of the popular D810 was well worth the wait. It’s the first of the breed to combine a new 45.7MP BSI, FX-format sensor with no optical low-pass filter. Working with a cutting-edge Expeed 5 processor, it delivers a full-res burst rate of 7 fps that can capture up to 51 lossless, 14-bit RAW files with full AE and AF. The D850 also features sensitivity settings extendable from ISO 32 to ISO 102,400.
It addition, 4K UHD video recording is achievable at 30/25/24 fps in full-frame or DX crop-sensor framing. For multimedia creators, it also offers Full HD recording at 120 fps; 8K time-lapse mode; highlight display mode with zebra patterns; uncompressed, broadcast-quality 4K UHD recording simultaneously to a digital recorder via HDMI; a stereo mic; and an audio attenuator to adjust sound level.
The D850’s Multi-CAM 20K 153-point AF system with a choice of 9, 25, 72- and 153-point dynamic-area AF zones also has fine-focus-tuning capability. Other features include: a 3.2-inch, 2.36M-dot, tilting, touch-screen LCD; Nikon’s widest, brightest OVF; a 180K-pixel RGB sensor; a negative digitizer for optimized conversion of film negatives and slide images to high-res digital files; a silent electronic shutter option; and also a focus-shift mode that allows sophisticated focus stacking of up to 10 image layers.
The D850 also provides SnapBridge connectivity with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Furthermore, it’s all built into a durable, dustproof, weatherproof body with a magnesium alloy chassis. $3,299.95. nikonusa.com
Pentax’s top-of-the-line, full-frame K-mount DSLR incorporates an impressive, high-res 36.4MP CMOS sensor and a 14-bit Prime IV image processor. The two work together to capture detailed, low-noise images at sensitivity settings up to ISO 204,800. They also deliver a full-res, 4.5-fps burst rate. The K-1’s integrated AA filter simulator minimizes moiré patterns but omits the standard antialiasing filter to ensure the sharpest possible images.
In addition, an advanced, wide-pattern SAFOX 12 AF sensor covers nearly the entire full-frame area and has 33 AF points. Included are 25 cross-pattern points and three f/2.8-luminance points that can operate in light down to -3 EV. And the camera’s built-in 5-axis shake reduction system provides up to a 5-stop advantage in minimizing the effects of handheld shake.
Also notable is the K-1’s distinctive 3.2-inch, 1.04M-dot, cross-tilt LCD monitor that tilts upward 90º, down 44º and 35º laterally. The K-1 also provides Full HD 1080p video capability at 30 fps in full-frame or APS-C crop modes.
Other features include: dual SD card slots; wireless LAN support; built-in GPS with an AstroTracer function to minimize star trails during long exposures; and LED-illuminated body points on the lens mount, card slots, LCD and at the cable switch to facilitate low-light operation. The K-1 boasts a rugged body with a stainless steel chassis and magnesium alloy outer shell with 87 weather seals that’s built to operate in temperatures down to 14ºF. $1,949.95. ricohimaging.com
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II
The flagship of the Canon EOS line, this top-level, pro model 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+ image processors to deliver a sizzling 14-fps, full-res burst rate (16 fps in live view, 170 RAW files). It also captures DCI 4K (4,096×2,160) video at up to 60 fps and 800 Mbps, plus Full HD video at up to 120 fps for slow-motion playback.
Its 61-point high-density reticular AF II system and Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology provide 41 cross-type zones for enhanced focusing precision. A separate, dedicated Digic 6 processor maintains impressive AF speed when shooting 4K video and at high framing rates. And it provides movie servo AF for continuous autofocus during video recording.
Other key features include: a 3.2-inch, 1.62M-dot, touch-screen LCD monitor; an intelligent pentaprism viewfinder that provides sophisticated configurable readouts; 8.8MP still grabs when shooting video; native sensitivity settings of ISO 100–51,200, expandable to ISO 409,600; built-in GPS; dual CFast/CompactFlash card slots; and an advanced 360,000-pixel RGB+IR metering sensor integrated with the EOS intelligent tracking and recognition AF system to enhance metering as well as tracking accuracy.
It’s all featured in a robust, dust- and also weather-sealed magnesium alloy body with an integrated ergonomic grip. $5,999. usa.canon.com
Sigma SD1 Merrill
Sigma Photo’s pro/enthusiast flagship DSLR features a 46MP, full APS-C-format version of the company’s unique three-layer Foveon X3 sensor. Moreover, the sensor works like film to deliver full color information at each pixel location. The SD1 also provides: a Dual True II image-processing engine; an 11-point, twin-cross AF sensor; a 460K-dot, 3-inch LCD; and a pentaprism viewfinder.
Key performance features include a maximum 5-fps burst rate, ISO 6400 sensitivity and shutter speeds to 1/8,000 sec. While the SD1 doesn’t offer live view, video capture or a tethering capability, it does deliver professional features like micro AF adjustment, three custom mode settings on the exposure mode (PASM) and an easily removable IR filter for infrared shooting.
Where the Sigma SD1 really sparkles is in its imaging performance, especially at low ISOs, where it delivers film-like images with exquisite detail and superb color rendition. It also sports a magnesium body with O-ring-sealed buttons and enhanced weatherproofing. $2,299. sigmaphoto.com
*All prices are body only.