The lines between top-tier and mid-level camera models are blurring. We look at the features and capabilities that are most important for your work so you can make a thoughtful decision before leaping into an über-pro hot-rod unit.
Sony's full-frame lenses range from a 16-35mm zoom and 16mm fisheye to a 500mm supertelephoto; the widest DT (APS-C) lens is an 11-18mm zoom. Sigma's SD1 is an APS-C camera, so it can use all Sigma lenses with a Sigma mount; these range from an 8-16mm superwide-angle zoom and a 4.5mm fisheye to an 800mm supertelephoto, including the world's fastest 500mm DSLR zoom, the 200-500mm ƒ/2.8. Pentax DSLRs are also APS-C; lenses range from a 12-24mm superwide-angle zoom and 10-17mm fisheye zoom to a 560mm supertelephoto, but virtually any K-mount lens (and even medium-format Pentax lenses, with adapter) can be used with Pentax DSLRs.
Accessory power grips hold an extra battery and provide more shots between chargings (handy in the field) and more heft (especially handy when using long lenses with smaller DSLRs like the Pentax K-5). Most also provide a second set of primary controls for more comfortable vertical-format shooting.
Canon and Nikon have the most extensive flash systems, but all of the cameras in our chart feature wireless off-camera flash capability with dedicated flash units. All of the APS-C models listed have built-in flash units, as do the Nikon D600 and Sony SLT-A99.
What About RED?
The introduction of HD video capability into DSLRs late in 2008 popularized the "one camera does pro-quality stills and video" trend, and today almost all DSLRs include full HD capability. But on the other side of the aisle, there's RED, the company that produces manual-focus modular pro DSMCs (Digital Still & Motion Cameras) that can deliver both 4K and 5K video, and pro-quality stills. The RED EPIC can shoot 5K (13.8-megapixel) stills at up to 120 fps and 4K (8.8-megapixel) stills at up to 150 fps. The lower-priced RED SCARLET-X shares the same sensor and much of the same technology, shooting 5K at up to 12 fps and 4K at up to 30 fps. Both cameras also can do smaller video formats (3K, 2K, 1080p, etc.) at a variety of speeds, including the "standard" 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 47.96, 50 and 59.94 fps.
A RED consists of the "Brain" (the body, with a 27.7x14.6mm Super-35-format Mysterium-X CMOS sensor and electronics), to which you add a lens mount (Canon, Nikon, Leica M or PL), viewfinder, memory unit and power supply to suit your needs. 5K is full-frame (about a 1.3X crop compared to a full-frame DSLR), 4K is 1.6X, 3K is 2.0X, and 2K is 3.25X—at 5K, a 100mm lens frames like a 130mm lens on a 35mm SLR or full-frame DSLR; at 2K, a 100mm lens frames like a 325mm lens on a 35mm SLR.
The Mysterium-X sensor in the EPIC and SCARLET-X has a normal dynamic range of 13.5 stops, which can be expanded to 18 stops using the HDRx feature. This records both a normally exposed track and a second track exposed 2 to 6 stops darker (your choice), which can be combined in post to increase highlight detail. RED cameras use the proprietary REDCODE RAW codec, which employs "visually lossless" compression and allows for nondestructive image adjustments (white balance, gamma, ISO and more) in post.