Professional photographers and the most serious of amateur photographers will find professional level digital SLR cameras to be their cameras of choice. We think that cheaper entry level DSLR cameras are great — they’ve really opened up the once rarified world of digital photography to countless people at reasonable prices. Taking amazing photos no longer requires an ultra expensive DSLR camera, but there is still a very good reason why most pros continue to buy professional DSLR cameras.
Pro level DSLR cameras usually offer more ruggedly constructed bodies, often have full frame sensors that offer better low light performance, more durable shutters intended to be used hard for several years, a faster continuous shooting rate for capturing quick action as it happens, total external manual control, excellent high ISO performance, weather sealing, faster and more accurate autofocus, and many additional features. Camera manufacturers usually debut their latest and greatest innovations on the professional level DSLR cameras, and these professional DSLR cameras are often constructed to a much higher standard — many are made from lightweight metal alloys like magnesium rather than plastic, making them more durable and better suited to bringing into environments where the conditions can be challenging. While an entry level DSLR can take a great photo in normal conditions, a professional DSLR can survive the abuse that comes with constant use in tough environments.
While most modern dslr cameras in 2014 can survive a few light drops of rain without immediately breaking, professional DSLR cameras are often weather resistant, with several additional seals and rubber gaskets that help to keep out moisture and dust — enemies of the sensitive internal circuitry found in digital cameras. Reliability is one of the most crucial reasons why most professional photographers are willing to spend the extra money on a Pro level DSLR — when your livelihood depends on your work, there isn’t any time to worry about a malfunctioning camera that can’t stand some vigorous use or perform up to your expectations. When digital photography is enjoyed as a hobby, it’s unfortunate when a shot isn’t in focus or your shooting rate slows to a crawl after taking a dozen shots in a row, even with a great memory card. When you’re a professional photographer though, unfortunate becomes unacceptable — you need your camera to do exactly what it should, 100% of the time and with great accuracy.
Pro DSLR cameras can help a great photographer take great photos, but an expensive camera will not result in better photos if you don’t know how to make use of all the features it offers. In many cases, beginning photographers will even be able to take better photos with an entry level DSLR which makes it simple to use many preset modes that will ensure you get good photos without having to worry about using full manual controls. More expensive professional digital SLR cameras do not make for better photographers — they simply help better photographers take even better photos in more situations that casual digital camera users are unlikely to find themselves in.
If you’re reading this page, there’s a good chance that your photography work demands the quality that only a proessional DSLR camera can deliver. With new digital cameras being released constantly it can be difficult to keep up with the latest models, so we’ve put together this updated guide to the best DSLR cameras of 2014 for professional photographers (and advanced amateurs!) You’ll find the list below organized alphabetically by manufacturer.
Canon EOS-1D X
The latest in Canon’s lineup of professional DSLRs, the 18 megapixel, full frame Canon EOS- 1D X replaces both the Canon 1D series, geared toward sports photographers, and the Canon 1Ds series, which was geared toward professional photographers whose work required a high resolution, but a lower frame rate. The 1D X bridges the gap between both cameras, adding a new carbon fiber shutter rated for 400,000 cycles and an improved mirror mechanism that allows a blazing 12 frame per second rate of continuous shooting. The full frame sensor of the 1D X produces beautiful still images, even at high ISO, and it also excels at video, capturing outstanding full HD recordings. Dual DIGIC 5 image processors allow for lower noise levels and improved processing speeds and the standard ISO range can be expanded to 204,800. The magnesium alloy body is weather and dust resistant, allowing you to take the Canon EOS-1D X into nature without worrying about nature getting inside the camera easily. The camera’s 61 point autofocus system provides very fast AF and highly accurate results. For the professional Canon shooter, the 1D X is the ultimate camera.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
The 22 megapixel Canon EOS 5D Mark III is an outstanding full-frame DSLR that improves greatly upon the extremely successful 21 megapixel 5D Mark II. It’s well built and captures sharp photos with low noise and fantastic full HD video. While the addition of 1 megapixel of resolution might seem trivial, the improvements on the previous model are substantial. A 61 point AF system with 41 cross-type points offers quick and accurate autofocusing and the continuous shooting speed is raised from 3.9 fps to 6 fps, making the 5D Mark III more appealing to action photographers. Less shutter lag, a longer battery life, a larger LCD screen, and lower noise at high ISO make the Canon EOS 5D Mark III a great choice for the Canon shooter.
Canon EOS 6D
The 20 megapixel Canon EOS 6D is intended to appeal to photographers upgrading from Canon’s mid-range DSLRs to a full frame body, or professionals who want a more affordable backup to their existing camera. The 6D is similar in size to the Canon 60D and only marginally heavier. With the same movie modes as the 5D Mark III, the 6D also offers an 11 point AF system which can focus in very low light situations. The 4.5 fps continuous shooting rate isn’t as fast as the Canon 1D X, but it’s fast enough to suit the needs of most photographers who aren’t covering action sports. The 6D is also Canon’s first camera with built in GPS and WiFi, allowing for location tagging and wireless control through smartphones and direct uploading of images to the web. The Canon 6D is well suited for landscape and travel photographers, offering full frame performance in an affordable and more compact body.
Canon EOS 7D
While the 18 megapixel Canon EOS 7D is a crop frame DSLR, its outstanding image quality, rugged and durable body, and impressive features earn it a well-deserved spot on this list. It boasts a fast 19 point autofocus system, 8 fps burst shooting rate, and a new metering system that uses both focus and color information to better meter difficult lighting situations. The well built magnesium alloy body is dust and weather resistant. Because of its crop frame sensor, the 7D is compatible with Canon’s full EF lens range as well as the EF-S lenses. This dslr takes stunning photos, and truly excels at video capture, recording full HD video. Priced well below many of Canon’s other professional grade DSLR models, the 7D is a great camera to consider for professionals looking for serious quality at an affordable price.
An update to Nikon’s D3, D3s, and D3x, the 16.2 megapixel Nikon D4 features a new full frame sensor, full HD video capture, and an 11 fps shooting rate. The Nikon D4 offers improved low light performance over the D3s with lower noise at high ISO settings and an increased dynamic range. A new 51 point AF system improves subject detection and tracking, even in low light. The D4 will appeal to filmmakers with an expandable ISO range of up to 204,800, a headphone out port with 30 level adjustments and visual sound level monitoring. An electronic level makes getting properly aligned photos easy and the D4 even enables photographers to create time-lapse videos in the camera, a feature that can save a lot of time later. A rugged, weather sealed body means you can take this camera just about anywhere, obtaining excellent results.
Nikon’s highest resolution DSLR on the market, the 36 megapixel Nikon D800 offers photographers a cutting edge full frame camera body that is packed with features. Full HD video is supported and a 51 point AF system makes focusing quick and easy. Unlike the Canon 5D Mark III, the Nikon D800 has a popup flash which can make life easy when you need to illuminate something, but don’t have an external flash with you. The D800 is not geared toward sports photographers, offering 4 fps continuous shooting, but for everyone else who doesn’t need a rapid-fire shooting rate beyond this, the D800 excels as a great professional level DSLR that offers unrivaled resolution.
The full frame 24.3 megapixel Nikon D610 is an outstanding professional DSLR with a high resolution, great image quality, excellent noise performance and a weather sealed body that can handle tough shooting environments. Full HD video recording is possible with microphone and headphone inputs and a 6 fps shooting rate makes it appealing to photographers who occasionally shoot action. The D610 is a versatile, well rounded DSLR that performs well in all areas. Built in features like time-lapse creation and an electronic level help to save time that would otherwise be spent on your computer later. A 39 point AF system makes focusing quick and easy and the shutter and startup lag times are very good. For the majority of professional photographers who don’t need the resolution of the D800 or the continuous shooting speed of the D4, the Nikon D610 is a great DSLR that offers impressive all-around performance.
The 24.1 megapixel Nikon D7100 has an APS-C sized crop frame sensor. 51 focus points, a continuous shooting speed of 6 fps, and full HD video recording make the D7100 a serious camera for the professional at a very affordable price. A durable body with magnesium alloy covers, the D7100 is weather sealed and dust resistant and built to survive being dropped and taken into difficult environments. For photographers who need excellent image quality, high resolution, a durable camera body, a quick continuous shooting rate, and great video performance but who don’t need a full frame DSLR, the Nikon D7100 is the perfect camera.
Pentax K-5 II
The 16.3 megapixel Pentax K-5 II is an APS-C DSLR that uses Pentax’s K mount, allowing photographers to use nearly every Pentax lens made since the K mount was created in 1975. In-camera shake reduction offers a 3 stop advantage, making for great results with long lenses and in low light conditions. Pentax builds DSLR cameras to withstand tough conditions and despite its affordable price the Pentax K-5 II is built with a magnesium alloy body that is weather and cold resistant and rugged, making it a great DSLR for the serious outdoor adventure photographer. A 7 fps shooting rate adds to this camera’s appeal as a serious professional tool. An ISO range of 80-51,200 and a very impressive low-light AF system means that you’ll be able to capture important shots even in the dimmest of light when accurate manual focusing becomes nearly impossible. While the 16.3 megapixel resolution isn’t the highest among the cameras on this page, the rugged and reliable Pentax K-5 II is a very worthwhile DSLR to consider, especially if you find yourself frequently shooting in the outdoors where rain, snow, and dust can pose a problem for other cameras.
Sony Alpha SLT-A99V
The 24.3 megapixel Sony Alpha A99 is one of Sony’s top of the line professional DSLR cameras and the eagerly awaited update to the Sony Alpha A900 & A850. The A-99 introduces Sony’s translucent mirror technology into full frame, allowing photographers to make use of continuous AF while shooting – a powerful feature for action photographers. This impressive DSLR offers full HD video recording with continuous autofocus, 6 fps continuous shooting, and an electronic viewfinder. Internal magnesium alloy panels and weather sealing make this camera durable, but also light — it’s one of the lightest full frame cameras on the market. Full HD recording at 60p will appeal to serious filmmakers. Additional useful features include built in GPS for location tagging your images and a tilting LCD screen that allows you to maneuver the camera into creative angles.
Sony Alpha 7R
The 36 megapixel Sony Alpha 7R is a lightweight, weather sealed, full-frame mirrorless E-mount camera. Along with the Sony A7 listed below, these two models are the smallest and lightest full-frame cameras currently available, and while these are technically not DSLR cameras since they lack a mirror, they deserve to be listed and compared with the best professional DSLRs. The A7R is quite similar to the A7 in terms of features, but features a 36MP CMOS sensor with no optical low-pass (aka. anti-aliasing) filter. The downside of not having an anti-aliasing filter is that there can be an increase in moire patterning, but the upside is that this allows the greatest amount of detail to be resolved, enabling the A7R to be a 36MP camera instead of the 24.3MP of the A7. The A7R features a tilting 3 inch LCD screen and a high resolution electronic viewfinder. The A7R and A7 have an E-mount, but to make the most of the full-frame sensors, photographers will want to use Sony’s new FE series of lenses, many of which are still in development. Existing E mount lenses can technically be used, but since they’re designed for APS-C size sensors, the image circle won’t cover the full-frame sensor all the way. Lacking an anti-aliasing filter, A7R uses a 25 point contrast detect autofocus system, while the A7 uses a 117 point phase detection system as well as a 25 point contrast detect system which enables 5fps burst shooting with continuous autofocus. Still, early testing reports indicate that the A7R has a more accurate autofocus system than the A7. An Eye-AF mode allows the camera to focus on the eye’s of detected subjects, a very convenient feature. Offering an ISO range of 100-25,600 low light performance is impressive on both cameras. Full HD video can be recorded at 60p, 60i, and 24p.
Sony Alpha 7
The 24.3 megapixel Sony Alpha 7 is a lightweight, weather sealed, full-frame mirrorless E-mount camera. Along with the Sony A7R shown above, these two models are the smallest and lightest full-frame cameras currently available. The A7 is very similar to the A7R in terms of features, but features a 24.3MP CMOS sensor instead of the 36MP sensor on the A7R. The A7 also features a tilting 3 inch LCD screen and a high resolution electronic viewfinder. The A7 and A7R have an E-mount, but to make the most of the full-frame sensors, photographers will want to use Sony’s new FE series of lenses, many of which are still in development. Existing E mount lenses can technically be used, but since they’re designed for APS-C size sensors, the image circle won’t cover the full-frame sensor all the way. The A7 uses a 117 point phase detection system as well as a 25 point contrast detect system which enables 5fps burst shooting with continuous autofocus. An Eye-AF mode allows the camera to focus on the eye’s of detected subjects, a very convenient feature. Offering an ISO range of 100-25,600 low light performance is impressive on both cameras. Full HD video can be recorded at 60p, 60i, and 24p. Priced considerably lower than the A7R, the Sony A7 is an impressive full frame professional camera that is perfect for photographers who want high end performance but don’t need 36 megapixel images.
Sony Alpha 77
The crop sensor 24.3 megapixel Sony Alpha A77 offers many of the features of the full frame A99 like Sony’s Translucent Mirror Technology which allows photographers to use the camera’s continuous autofocus capabilities while shooting. The body is constructed to last with magnesium alloy construction and weather sealing. Full time live view is possible with the camera’s LCD screen and electronic viewfinder. DSLR filmmakers will appreciate the possibilities that full HD 60p recording offers and action photographers will love the impressive 12 fps shooting rate. A built in GPS makes it easy to remember where you took every shot and an internal stabilization system reduces the effects of camera shake, making it easy to get sharp images at lower shutter speeds. For photographers who don’t need the benefits a full frame camera offers, the Sony A77 is a very affordable Pro level camera that provides impressive results.