A Sensor as Big as Film
There’s never been a better time to make the jump to a full-frame digital camera. Over the past few years, models with 24-by-36mm image sensors—the same dimensions as a frame of 35mm film—have become more and more affordable. And while the smaller APS-C sensor format is still the de facto standard for entry-level SLRs and mirrorless cameras, you don’t have to move too far north of $1,000 to go full-frame.
There are real advantages to the format, which features a sensor with roughly twice the surface area of APS-C models. It gives photographers more control over depth of field, generally better images in difficult light, and access to higher-resolution capture than you’ll find in cameras with smaller sensors.
Mirrorless, SLR, or Something Else?
Choosing the right full-frame model for you isn’t the easiest prospect. You’ll need to decide if you want to go with an SLR or mirrorless model—or to buck expectations and opt for a rangefinder or fixed-lens camera instead.
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Mirrorless systems have overtaken SLRs in performance. You’ll enjoy wider autofocus coverage, faster burst rates, and much better video than with a traditional optical viewfinder model. If you’re not ready to move on, you can still get an excellent SLR from Canon, Nikon, or Pentax.
If you’re thinking about moving to mirrorless, you can look to an adapter to take your existing lenses. Canon and Nikon both offer adapters for their respective systems, and other accessories, like flashes, can be used without the need for adapters.
Leica M10 rangefinder series, which is a purely manual focus camera with an optical viewfinder and absolutely no video support.
Fixed-lens outliers aside, most photographers buying into full-frame will go with an interchangeable lens camera. And before you settle in on a particular camera, you should make sure it’s part of a system that will meet all of the challenges you face as a photographer.
In addition to its iconic M rangefinder series, Leica launched its own mirrorless system, with autofocus, in 2015 with the SL camera. It lived in its niche for a few years, but that changed at the 2018 Photokina conference. Leica announced that Panasonic and Sigma were joining it to form the L-Mount Alliance. Panasonic has released four models so far, and Sigma is shipping its compact fp, one of the smallest full-frame cameras.
K-1 and K-1 Mark II—and the Mark II’s upgrades are minimal.
Sony technically has two systems, but its A-mount SLR series is all but dead. We don’t recommend it to new users, although the a99 II offers plenty of appeal for photographers with a heavy investment in glass.
Get the Right Camera
It’s easy to buy a full-frame camera—you just need a credit card. It’s getting the right one that can be tricky. Once you’ve settled in on the right system, make sure the model you choose meets your needs. Photographers interested in action should look for one with great autofocus and a fast burst rate, while fine art and landscape specialists will seek out high resolution and extreme dynamic range.
You can take a look at our latest reviews to see what’s just come to market. We also have some tips for enthusiasts who want to get more out of their camera, and guides with instructions on getting great shots of fireworks and lightning.