Imaging Resource Camera of the Year 2021: Best Enthusiast Full-Frame Camera, Best Medium-Format Camera & Best Macro Lens

by IR Staff

posted Wednesday, November 17, 2021 at 10:00 AM EST


For today's selection of Camera of the Year Awards, we're moving up the food chain, so to speak, into the world of enthusiast-level full-frame cameras and then into the realm of medium-format cameras! For lenses, we have a single category -- and a single winner -- this time around -- Best Macro Lens. A specialized lens category, no doubt, but these unique lenses let you capture the finer details of the world and make for a handy tool in a photographer's kit.

For enthusiast full-frame cameras, this is a very crowded space these days, with several manufacturers offering multiple models at various price points -- and a few makers offering cameras in both DSLR and mirrorless flavors. Historically, full-frame cameras were usually reserved for the professional segment, with professional-level prices to match. But these days, much of the technology has come down in price, making these cameras with large sensors, high-megapixels counts and all-around impressive specs much more attainable to the dedicated, but non-pro image creator. Further, we see a similar trend in the medium-format space. These big-sensor cameras usually came with astronomical prices as well as limited versatility and performance compared to more common smaller-sensor cameras. Our picks for this year's awards in this category offer impressively affordable price points as well as versatility not usually found in the medium-format camera segment.

Without further ado, we present our winners for Best Enthusiast Full-frame Camera and Best Medium-Format Camera, as well as Best Macro Lens of 2021.


Best Enthusiast Full-Frame Camera 2021: Sony A7 IV

At the beginning of the year, Sony debuted their Alpha 1 flagship camera, and with it came some downright impressive new features, capabilities and performance specs. Being a flagship camera, it's no surprise that the A1 basically has all the top-end bells and whistles in Sony's arsenal. And it has the price tag to match. What *is* surprising is that when Sony debuted their new A7 Mark IV camera, just how much this enthusiast-grade full-frame camera shares with its flagship counterpart.

The Sony A7 IV is revised both inside and out, with updated controls and ergonomics from the A1 and A7S III cameras. The A7 IV has a larger grip for better comfort and updated controls, as well as a vari-angle touchscreen LCD. Inside, the camera's all-new 33MP full-frame sensor makes it stand out amongst the crowd of enthusiast mirrorless cameras at this price point as one of the highest-resolution offerings. The image quality performance from the A7 IV is thoroughly impressive at a wide range of ISOs, making the camera a solid choice for all sorts of subjects and photographic styles.

FE 100-400mm GM: 100mm, F4.5, 1/100s, ISO 400, +0.3EV

On the performance side, the A7 IV uses the same processor as the A1 and the same 759-point AF system with Real-time Eye AF Tracking for people, animals and birds. The AF system isn't *as* fast as the A1's, but it is swift enough for most fast-action subjects and offers essentially the same features. The camera's buffer depth is immense, as well. The camera is also packed with high-end video features, such as 4K 60p, 10-bit S-Log and more. Overall, the Sony A7 IV might take the crown from the A7R IV as Sony's most versatile mirrorless camera yet, and it easily takes the top spot for our pick as the Best Enthusiast Full-frame Camera of the year.

More Info: Sony A7 IV Review
Buy Now: Amazon, Adorama, B&H
Try it before you buy it: Lensrentals


Enthusiast Full-Frame Camera of Distinction: Nikon Z6 II


After being announced in mid-October 2020, the Nikon Z6 II barely missed out on being included in last year's Camera of the Year Awards. While not as fresh and new as the Sony A7 IV that won this year's Best Enthusiast Full Frame Camera award, the Nikon Z6 II is no slouch. It's Nikon's most well-rounded camera for its price and is an outstanding value in the full-frame camera segment.

Priced at just under $2,000, the Nikon Z6 II offers pro-level performance at a more approachable price than the Nikon Z7 II ($3,000). With its 24.5-megapixel full-frame backside-illuminated CMOS image sensor, the Z6 II offers enough resolution for most photographers while delivering excellent high ISO performance, colors and dynamic range.

Nikon Z 70-200mm F2.8 VR S+ 2x TC: 400mm, F5.6, 1/500s, ISO 1100

The Nikon Z6 II also makes some critical improvements over its predecessor, 2018's Nikon Z6. The Z6 won 'Camera of Distinction, Best Overall' alongside its high-resolution sibling, the Nikon Z7, thanks in part to its excellent overall performance and design. The Z6 II doubles down on the Z6's strengths – image quality, usability and performance – and addresses some of its shortcomings by adding a second card slot, improving autofocus performance and adding a second EXPEED 6 image processor.

In our hands-on review of the Nikon Z6 II, we summed up the camera by saying, 'Overall, the Nikon Z6 II is a very good camera. Its performance and features set for both still photography and video are very good. It is a worthwhile improvement over the Z6 as well and offers strong value for the money.' For these reasons, plus the Z6 II's intelligent design and impressive image quality, the Nikon Z6 II is our runner-up for 2021's Enthusiast Full Frame Camera of the Year.

More Info: Nikon Z6 II Review
Buy Now: Amazon, Adorama, B&H
Try it before you buy it: Lensrentals

• • •

Best Medium-Format Camera 2021: Fujifilm GFX 100S


This year has been a fantastic year for the medium-format Fujifilm GFX system, with both the 102-megapixel GFX 100S and the 50-megapixel GFX 50S II hitting stores. It's been such a great year for the GFX that we've made a new category for this year's Camera of the Year Awards, Best Medium-Format Camera.

The Fujifilm GFX 100S takes the fantastic 102-megapixel BSI large-format image sensor from 2019's GFX 100 camera ($10,000) and puts it inside a smaller, more affordable camera body. At $6,000, the GFX 100S is competitive in terms of price with flagship full-frame cameras, yet the 102-megapixel image sensor delivers top-of-the-line image quality.

The GFX 100S also has the same hybrid autofocus system as the GFX 100, which delivers significantly improved performance compared to the GFX 50S/R cameras, which rely exclusively upon contrast-detect AF. Plus, the GFX 100S has in-body image stabilization. When combined, vastly improved AF, IBIS and a more compact and sleeker camera design, the GFX 100S is the most usable and versatile medium-format camera we've used.

Fujinon GF 32-64mm F4 R LM WR: 32mm, F11, 0.6s, ISO 100

The Fujifilm GFX 100S is not a cheap camera. However, it represents an excellent value in its category. For photographers demanding the best image quality, the GFX 100S can't be beaten by anything near its price. And unlike with the GFX 50S, and to a lesser extent the GFX 50S II, the fantastic medium-format image quality doesn't come at the cost of autofocus, performance and usability. The GFX 100S isn't as agile as the best full-frame mirrorless cameras, but it's not far behind, either.

The GFX 100S is the best medium-format camera of 2021. 'Ultimately, image quality is the star of the show. But it's important not to disregard usability and versatility,' we wrote in our GFX 100S review. 'The GFX 100S delivers medium-format image quality in an easy-to-use, relatively lightweight package. The GFX 100S has no business being this impressive for its price.' Bravo, Fujifilm. This year, the GFX 100S broke the mold and made incredible medium-format image quality within reach of many more photographers.

More Info: Fujifilm GFX 100S Review
Buy Now: Amazon, Adorama, B&H
Try it before you buy it: Lensrentals


Medium-Format Camera of Distinction: Fujifilm GFX 50S II


While the GFX 100S is an excellent value in the medium-format camera segment, Fujifilm's GFX 50S II is an even more accessible entryway into the GFX system. At $4,000 for the body and 'only' $4,500 for the GFX system's first-ever kit, the GFX 50S II is positioned against high-resolution full-frame cameras like the Canon EOS R5, Nikon Z7 II, Panasonic S1R and Sony A7R IV. However, the GFX 50S II's larger image sensor – 70% larger, in fact – results in superior image quality.

The GFX 50S II uses the same image sensor as 2017's GFX 50S, the camera that started the GFX system, but despite being somewhat old by today's standards, the image sensor hasn't missed a step. No, the sensor is not as good as the one in the GFX 100S, but the GFX 50S II performs very well and delivers sharp photos with excellent color and tonality.

Fujinon GF 32-64mm F4 R LM WR: 49mm, F8, 1/4s, ISO 100

Alongside the same image sensor, the GFX 50S II also has the same autofocus system as its predecessor. Despite additional processing power delivering improved focusing speed, the GFX 50S II can't keep pace with the GFX 100S. However, the GFX 50S II borrows some features from the GFX 100S, like the sleeker design and excellent in-body image stabilization system. While the GFX 50S II isn't better in every way than the original GFX 50S, it is better in most important ways and is more versatile. It's also $2,500 less expensive than the GFX 50S's launch price.

'The Fujifilm GFX 50S II is an excellent camera for capturing detailed, high-quality photographs of mostly stationary subjects,' we wrote in our Fujifilm GFX 50S II review. If not for the GFX 100S's incredible image quality, the GFX 50S II would have taken home the title as best Medium-Format Camera this year. However, even still, the GFX 50S II is a great camera and an even better bang for your buck.

More Info: Fujifilm GFX 50S II Review
Buy Now: Amazon, Adorama, B&H
Try it before you buy it: Lensrentals

• • •

Best Macro Lens 2021: Nikon Z MC 105mm F2.8 VR S


Nikon released not one but two new macro lenses for its Nikon Z system this year. While the Z MC 50mm F2.8 lens is a nice compact and affordable option, the Z MC 105mm F2.8 VR S stands out as the best macro lens Nikon has ever made.

The Z MC 105mm F2.8 VR S lens is an S-line lens, meaning that it incorporates Nikon's best optical technology and features professional-grade build quality. The lens is quite large and heavy, but its built-in vibration reduction helps keep your shots steady. The autofocus performance, even when working at near 1:1 macro distance, is swift and accurate. The built-in OLED information panel also shows you the current magnification ratio, which is helpful.

Nikon Z7 II: F3.2, 1/320s, ISO 100

The lens is very sharp when shooting wide open, although stopping down just a stop brings out incredible macro detail. If you want to see what a Nikon Z7 or Z7 II camera can do, there's no better lens to attach than the Z MC 105mm F2.8 VR S.

In our review, we wrote, 'The Nikkor Z MC 105mm F2.8 VR S is an outstanding lens, both as a macro lens and as a mid-telephoto optic. The lens features good build quality, outstanding image quality and is enjoyable to use. If you're into macro photography and want an excellent native lens for your Z camera, this is the one to get.' The Z MC 105mm F2.8 VR S easily earns our award for the best macro lens in 2021 and deserves a place in the kit of any Z photographer looking to get up close and personal with their subject.

More Info: Nikon Z 105mm f/2.8 MC Review
Buy Now: Amazon, Adorama, B&H
Try it before you buy it: Lensrentals

• • •

Check out our other 2021 Camera of the Year Awards

Best Intermediate-Level Camera, Best Premium Compact Camera & Best Wide-Angle Lens

Best Enthusiast Crop-Sensor Camera, Best Ultra-Wide-Angle Lens, Best Super-Telephoto Lens

Best Enthusiast Full-Frame Camera, Best Medium-Format Camera & Best Macro Lens

Best Professional Full-frame Camera, Best Standard Lens & Best Telephoto Lens

Reader's Choice Award

Best Overall Camera of the Year