Full-Frame Roundup

Pixel Count

Full-frame DSLRs are available in resolutions from 12.4 to 36.3 megapixels. More megapixels mean the ability to record finer detail and make larger prints—assuming camera shake, poor focus and lens problems don’t destroy sharpness. More megapixels also mean larger files, which, in turn, require higher-capacity memory cards and archiving drives, and more powerful computers. Smaller pixels are less efficient than larger ones, but you have a lot more of them, so that sort of balances out. The four 36-megapixel full-frame cameras (the highest pixel count currently available in full-frame) hold spots 1 through 4 in DxOMark.com’s overall sensor ratings, followed by seven 24-megapixel full-frame sensors and an 80-megapixel medium-format CCD. The current 12-megapixel full-frame sensor rated 19th overall, but 1st in low-light/high-ISO performance.

Bottom line: All of today’s full-frame DSLRs (and mirrorless cameras—see the sidebar) are excellent choices in terms of image quality, whatever and wherever you shoot. And, of course, DSLRs are extremely versatile cameras, able to handle everything from studio still lifes to high-speed action, small enough to work almost anywhere, with a wide range of lenses from fish-eye to supertelephoto and good video capabilities. DSLRs are also good choices when you want to do selective-focus shots, or video, with minimal depth of field. If you do a wide range of types of photography, any of the full-frame DSLRs will serve you well. If you specialize in low-light or fast action, one of the under-20-megapixel ones would be the best choice. If you make huge prints or crop a lot or specialize in subjects with fine detail, one of the 36-megapixel cameras would be best.

Note that the full-frame DSLRs also have bigger, brighter viewfinders than smaller-format DSLRs, making it easier to compose images, track moving subjects and focus manually.


All of today’s full-frame DSLRs can shoot full HD (1920×1080) video except Nikon’s retro Df model. There are even two medium-format digital cameras that can do video (the Leica S Typ 007 and Pentax 645Z). There’s a lot to be said about video and sensor sizes. The very short and oversimplified story is that the big full-frame sensor delivers a cinema-like shallow depth of field you can’t get with a small-sensor video camera.

Canon EOS-1D X

Canon produced two versions of its flagship EOS-1 series pro DSLRs until mid-2012, one with an APS-H (1.3X crop) sensor and a high frame rate, and a high-megapixel full-frame mo
del with even better image quality. The EOS-1D X marked the merging of the 1-series into a single model. The 18.1-megapixel, full-frame EOS-1D X can shoot full-res JPEGs at up to 14 fps (with the mirror locked up and no AF) and full-res RAW (and JPEG) images at 12 fps with phase-detection AF for each frame—faster than the 16-megapixel APS-H EOS-1D Mark IV action camera it replaced.

Although 18 megapixels was somewhat less than many had anticipated for an EOS-1DS Mark III (21.1 megapixels) successor, it allows for the fantastic frame rate, as well as excellent high-ISO performance (normal ISO range is 100-51,200, expandable to 204,800), and is two megapixels more than Nikon’s flagship D4S. Also helping make the EOS-1D X Canon’s speed champ are two new-generation DIGIC 5+ processors, each 17X more powerful than the DIGIC 4s used in the previous 1-series generation.

The AF system features 61 points covering more of the image frame than its predecessor. Forty-one of the points are cross-types with lenses of ƒ/4 and faster, 20 are cross-types with lenses of ƒ/5.6 or faster (none were cross-types at ƒ/5.6 with previous 1-series cameras). A firmware upgrade added ƒ/8 AF capability—handy when using a teleconverter. The new system is also faster and more accurate than its predecessor, with a new AI Servo II tracking algorithm. The metering system features a 100,000-pixel RGB sensor and its own dedicated DIGIC 4 processor. The rugged pro body has 76 gaskets and seals to keep out moisture and dust, and a shutter rated at 400,000 cycles. A new quad-action mirror design reduces vibration and speeds operation (mirror blackout is just 60 ms).

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