Best DSLR Cameras for Professional Photography
For even the most seasoned professional photographers, choosing the perfect camera that ticks all the boxes can be intimidating and requires quite a bit of research. While some have made the switch to mirrorless, many are still sticking with tried-and-true DSLR camera systems. These often have an edge over mirrorless when it comes to offering a wider range of compatible lenses, rugged and durable builds, and sometimes even better battery life.
In this article, we will dive into the best DSLR’s for pros based on their niche, needs, and shooting habits. We will explore our overall top picks as well as the best options for shooting landscape, sports, weddings, astrophotography and more.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Professional Camera
As a professional photographer, you want to make sure you understand and research the full range of features for each camera before purchasing your model. While many people have loyalty to a certain brand like Canon, Nikon, or Pentax, others are looking to get the most out of their gear regardless of brand. Here are some features to consider when choosing your digital camera.
Sensor size and resolution
Depending on the type of photography you specialize in, you may want a camera with a larger sensor and higher resolution (more megapixels). For instance, if you’re a portrait, wildlife, or landscape photographer, you’ll want one with higher resolution so you can crop your images closer without losing any of the sharpness. Resolution is also a key feature for those looking to print their images at larger sizes without losing image quality.
Autofocus and continuous shooting
For photographers interested in shooting moving subjects like sports, wildlife, or weddings, the autofocus system is extremely important. Many of today’s digital cameras offer tracking autofocus to keep your subjects in focus even while they move.
Another feature to look for is continuous or burst mode shutter speed, which is a shooting mode that allows for several photos to be captured at one time by holding down the shutter, ensuring that you can select the best images from the batch.
Size, build quality and durability
Other specifications that may affect your choice are size, camera build quality, and overall durability. If you carry gear around for long periods of time, you may want to choose a lighter, more compact camera.
While DSLR’s are generally larger than mirrorless, they often feel more durable and sturdier. Some are even considered “indestructible” by photojournalists, wildlife photographers, and others who routinely shoot in adverse conditions and need a reliably built camera.
Pro photographers can expect to pay a premium price for a top DSLR camera with all the features needed to maintain and grow your photography business. While more expensive doesn’t always equate to better, you may need to increase your budget to get the camera features and technology you need for your business. Buying pre-owned cameras and lenses from KEH costs up to 40% less than new, allowing you to get more features and newer technology than otherwise may have been afforded when buying new and puts more money back in your pockets to put into your business..
Our Top Professional DSLR Cameras
Unlike beginners or casual enthusiasts, professionals need to be able to find a camera that can support their business and hold up to the test of time. Keeping that in mind, let’s dive into our favorite DSLR’s including our overall picks as well as the best options for specific types of photography.
Our Overall Picks
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV DSLR - $1,800 for body only
Even though it was released back in 2016, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is one of the most popular digital cameras for pros available today. It boasts a robust design, a 30.4MP full-frame sensor, and access to a wide catalog of native Canon lenses. The EOS 5D Mark IV also has extremely fast autofocus and even face detection. Because of its wide array of notable features like ultra-high resolution, accurate and fast autofocus, impressive continuous shooting speeds, and tilting touchscreen display, this camera is a solid all-around choice.
Pros: impressive features like fast autofocus and high resolution
Cons: the 30.4MP sensor means files will be larger than some of the other options; continuous shooting rate of 7fps is slower than some of the other options
Nikon D6 - $4,400 for body only
For many professionals, the D6 is considered the best DSLR that Nikon has developed in the past decade. The D6 is primarily a stills camera, but offers video capability for those who may want to dabble, yet don’t want to dive deeply into videography. The autofocus system is fast and extremely reliable, the ISO range (over 100,000 max ISO) outshines pretty much all of its competitors, and the unparalleled technology makes this Nikon DSLR a photography powerhouse.
This camera is truly designed for pros, and the price tag reflects the enormous breadth of features available in the D6.
Pros: incredible ISO range, impressive autofocus, over 100 focus points
Cons: no articulating viewfinder screen; price tag may not be feasible for some
Nikon D850 - $1,800 for body only
Another top option is the Nikon D850. The D850 offers an outstanding 45.7MP full-frame sensor, 150-point AF system, and 7fps (frames per second) continuous shooting. The D850 is also one of the fastest cameras Nikon offers, perfect for shooting sports and action. Also, along with its incredibly high resolution, the D850 featured the lowest base ISO (ISO 64) of any DSLR at the time of release.
Pros: great price for a very versatile camera with impressive battery life
Cons: Wifi and Bluetooth connectivity isn’t as reliable as some photographers may need
Pentax K-1 - $1,100 for body only
While Canon and Nikon seemingly have the DSLR market cornered, there is still room for other heavy hitters like Pentax to release notable DSLR systems. And Pentax did just that with the K-1 Mark II. The K-1 Mark II claims a 36.4MP full-frame sensor and a well-constructed, sealed magnesium alloy build. And despite the improved technology and weather sealing, the K-1 is still lighter and more compact than some of its competitors, making it an excellent option for travel and wedding photographers who don’t want to lug a large camera body around all day.
At release, the K-1 Mark II was also the only DSLR to offer a full-frame sensor coupled with image stabilization. Another big draw is the K-1's Cross-Tilt LCD system, making it easier to grab those high-angle shots while seeing the image in live view on the screen.
Pros: rugged design, high resolution, and affordable price for professionals
Cons: Pentax may often be overlooked in favor of more name recognition like Nikon or Canon
Best for Landscape Photographers
Canon EOS 5DSR - $1,200 for body only
While landscape photographers don’t have to worry as much about autofocus or continuous shooting due to the nature of unmoving landscapes, they will need to find a DSLR with high enough resolution to account for depicting clear detail in their landscape images. The camera should have a large sensor, high-resolution, and wide range of lenses available.
The Canon EOS 5DSR boasts an impressive 50MP, making it a great choice for those who want to be able to crop and print their landscape shots in larger formats to sell. It would also make a great choice for portrait photographers who want to ensure that cropping their images doesn’t produce unwanted graininess or blur.
Pros: dense megapixel sensor great for detailed images
Cons: a bit more dated than some other options, but you can find it at a great price
Best for Action and Sports Photographers
Nikon D780 DSLR - $1,800 for body only
Sports and action photographers want to look for specific features like AF and eye tracking to keep subjects in focus, continuous shooting or burst shutter mode for capturing multiple images in quick succession, and fast buffer time. The Nikon D780 offers a full-frame 24.5MP sensor for super clear photos, AF tracking for keeping your fast-moving subjects in focus, and a 3.2-inch tilting sensor to be able to get those hard-to-reach shots while tracking your subjects.
Not only does this Nikon camera feature impressive live-view autofocus of mirrorless competition, but it also offers 4K UHD video, dual UHS-II compatible memory card slots, and continuous shooting speeds up to 12fps (frames per second).
Pros: super-fast continuous shooting, dual memory card slots, and a full-frame sensor
Cons: focus points don’t cover a large spread of the viewfinder area
Best for Wedding Photographers
Canon EOS 90D DSLR - $1,029 for body only
Wedding photographers have a tall order when it comes to accurately and beautifully capturing one of the biggest days in someone’s life! That’s why they need a camera they can rely on with up-to-date technology and features.
The Canon EOS 90D DSLR features a 32.5MP APS-C CMOS sensor, a continuous shooting rate up to 10 fps (frames per second), and 45-point all cross-type phase-detection AF system, which is great for tracking and focusing your couple as they move down the aisle and getting those dance-floor shots at the reception!
Pros: affordable for most professional photographers, high resolution
Cons: single SD card slot may be a drawback for some
Best for Astrophotography
Canon EOS 6D Mark II - $1,000 for body only
The practice of photographing the night sky–better known as astrophotography–is one of the most difficult, yet rewarding forms of photography. It might sound daunting, but with the right equipment, you’ll be capturing your favorite constellations in no time!
For this type of photography, you’ll want a “Full Frame” DSLR camera as their relatively larger sensor pixels are more sensitive to light and produce cleaner images with less visual noise. . Keep in mind, more megapixels doesn’t always equate to the best camera when shooting at night; there are other factors like analog to digital signal processing power for more low-light capability so you can get a crisp night sky shot.
With a 26.2MP full-frame sensor and ISO range of 100-40000 (expandable up to 102400), the Canon EOS 6D Mark II is a great choice for capturing the night sky in all its glory with less noise. It also offers a variable tilting touchscreen display, making it easier for photographers to set up their perfect shot while the camera is pointing directly up at the sky. It is also relatively affordable for pros who want to dip their toes into astrophotography, but also want to be able to use their camera for other forms of photography.
Pros: 26.2 MP sensor and 100,000+ expandable ISO make for a detailed, low-noise shot every time; affordable option
Cons: Only one SD card slot might be a downside for those who tend to shoot longer sessions
Shop High-quality Used Professional Digital Cameras
As a pro photographer, shopping for a camera isn’t a one-size-fits-all experience. Many factors come into play when searching for your perfect camera including what you’ll primarily be using it for, price, features, and durability. But when it comes to finding the best choice for your business, you can find an extensive selection of high-quality used DSLR cameras at affordable prices at KEH.
If you’re in the market for mirrorless instead, you’ll want to check out the best mirrorless cameras under $1,000 or our full selection of mirrorless cameras.