Camera of the Year 2016: Best Professional and High-End Cameras
posted Monday, December 12, 2016 at 2:00 PM EST
Ready for more? It's time to take a closer look at the high end of the spectrum! After all, this year saw a somewhat extraordinary conjunction, as both Canon and Nikon unveiled new entries in their flagship camera lines with the Canon 1D X Mark II and the Nikon D5. Which one took the brass ring from us, and did both merit being honored here? Read on!
And what if you don't need a tip-top "über-camera?" How about mainline professional-level workhorse cameras for portraiture, weddings, "street" photography, nature and architectural fields? We'll take a closer look at these pro-grade cameras and let you know our votes for the best of the best and additional models to keep your eye on.
And stay tuned, as we have much more to come in the enthusiast fields over the upcoming week!
Camera of the Year, Best Professional DSLR:
Canon 5D Mark IV
For everything from photojournalism and landscapes to weddings and portraiture, and even videography, Canon's 5D-series of full-frame DSLRs has been one of the most versatile and popular camera lines around. The 5D Mark II was one of the major sparks of the HD-DSLR revolution, and the Mark III built further upon that foundation. Now, with the new 5D Mark IV, Canon's top, non-gripped professional-grade DSLR offers a host of upgrades to suit the pro photographer and videographer alike.
Inside its familiar body design -- which we think is a great thing -- the Canon 5D Mark IV offers an all-new, higher-resolution, full-frame sensor with significantly improved dynamic range and Dual Pixel CMOS AF. Not only does the camera now offer photographers excellent image quality with better dynamic range and a nice (but not extreme) increase in image resolution, but it also provides fantastic live view autofocus that's great for video. And that's not all, as Canon has used the Mark IV's Dual Pixel AF tech to implement a clever new Dual Pixel RAW feature which lets you make minor adjustments to focus, bokeh and ghosting in post. The image processor is also faster now for a slight bump in burst capabilities, but it's still not a sports camera. However, with the new sensor and processor comes 4K video recording capabilities. Plus the camera now has as a responsive, fully functional touchscreen and built-in Wi-Fi and GPS -- finally!
In short, while it looks like a 5D Mark III, the design is refined, well thought-out, and most of all familiar, which to a professional is exactly what he or she wants and needs. They need a tool, and the 5D Mark IV is an exceptional one, for photography as well as for video. The Canon 5D Mark IV doesn't throw any surprises, other than perhaps being surprisingly satisfying. It's a reliable, durable and capable workhorse camera -- exactly what a professional needs.
Camera of Distinction, Professional DSLR: Pentax K-1
It may have been a long time coming, but now it's here there's no question about it: Hands-down, the Pentax K-1 is the most exciting digital camera that Ricoh has ever made! Slotting in neatly between the APS-C and medium-format sensors of its earlier DSLRs, the K-1's high-res 36-megapixel sensor unlocks the full potential of decades of K-mount Pentax lenses. And it sits inside a body that is at once solid, tightly sealed against the elements and extremely comfortable in the hand.
Shooting through the Pentax K-1's bright, roomy viewfinder is a joy, but that's true of most any full-frame DSLR. There are plenty of ways in which the K-1 sets itself apart from the full-frame competition, though. For one thing, its on-demand body lighting is pure genius, saving you fumbling with a flashlight while changing lenses or tweaking controls. And its clever Pixel Shift Resolution function boosts per-pixel sharpness for even more detailed imagery with relatively static scenes. And then there's the Pentax K-1's attention-grabbing, lunar lander-like LCD articulation mechanism. This can be tilted in any direction and even rotated somewhat, making it useful regardless of whether you're shooting in portrait or landscape orientation, yet at the same time, it's exceptionally rugged.
In fact, there are so many great features we simply haven't room to mention them all. A few more highlights include in-camera Wi-Fi and geolocation, five-axis image stabilization, on-demand anti-aliasing, automatic horizon correction, and plenty else besides! And all of these great features are accompanied by top-notch image quality and generous performance. The Pentax K-1 bests similarly-priced rivals for resolution and burst capture speed, has a very generous sensitivity range, and simply astounded us with its low-light autofocus capabilities. But perhaps most exciting of all is the price tag: All of this can be had for just a little under US$2,000 list. It's a great time to be a Pentaxian!
Camera of the Year, Best Professional Mirrorless:
Olympus E-M1 Mark II
Are you a professional photographer or videographer who's constantly on the move, going from plane to train to everything in between? Does your work have you trekking up mountains, diving in the surf or braving some other harsh environment? If that's the case, you need a camera that's not only extremely durable but also compact and lightweight, yet can deliver high-quality images and video. Say hello to the Olympus E-M1 Mark II, which as you may know, also earned the top spot as our Best Overall Camera of 2016.
The high-end mirrorless camera market is blazing hot, with lots of offerings from a number of manufacturers. However, from what we've seen this year, the Olympus E-M1 II checks all the right boxes. With a higher-res image sensor and just tons of horsepower from its new double quad-core processor, the E-M1 II is fantastically nimble with amazing AF speed, excellent continuous AF performance and, frankly, mind-blowing burst shooting speeds -- up to 60fps with RAW for S-AF and up to 18fps for C-AF.
Not only is the E-M1 II an excellent choice for travel and adventure photography, but it's also definitely capable of reliably shooting sports and wildlife -- something that was a real sticking point for its predecessor and other mirrorless cameras from a few years ago. The E-M1 Mark II is also rock-solid, like its predecessor, with full weather-sealing, making it splashproof, dust-proof and freezeproof. Combined with Olympus' ever-growing family of weather-sealed, pro-grade Zuiko Pro lenses, the Olympus E-M1 Mark II is just a fantastic camera with a fantastic ecosystem around it.
We will say that the sticker price for the E-M1 II was a bit surprising, but when you think about all the features and improvements this camera offers as well as the fact that it's still less expensive than its major DSLR competitors, the Olympus E-M1 II gets a big thumbs-up from us.
Camera of Distinction, Professional Mirrorless: Fuji X-T2
Also honored in our Camera of the Year awards as a Camera of Distinction in the Best Overall category for good reason, the Fuji X-T2 is a professional powerhouse with ample capabilities across the board. It's a DSLR-styled mirrorless camera that surpasses the performance limitations of earlier models, such as the X-T1. It offers a host of external controls and unique styling to please any retro-fanatic, and yet, if you're a professional photographer needing the best in weather sealing, the X-T2 has you more than covered there as well.
Heading under the hood, the Fujifilm X-T2 sports the latest-generation 24.3MP X-Trans sensor, and we found the resulting image quality both in the lab and out in the field to rival or top most any APS-C camera out there. The autofocus engine has also been hugely amped from the original X-T1, bringing its C-AF chops more in line with its modern DSLR rivals, and we've seen solid evidence of this performance in controlled tests and out in the field. Add in the awesome Fujinon lens line, and the Fuji X-T2 becomes an obvious choice as a terrific all-around professional-grade system.
Camera of Distinction, Professional Mirrorless: Fuji X-Pro2
Four years ago, Fujifilm earned a Camera of Distinction award with its X-Pro1, an enthusiast-grade mirrorless camera with great image quality and a clever hybrid optical viewfinder. Now, the Fuji X-Pro2 follows in the X-Pro1's footsteps, and it too merits recognition as a Camera of Distinction. Although the duo both look quite similar at first glance, a closer look reveals a redesigned body that now offers intuitive twin-dial operation and comprehensive weather sealing. And the changes are more than just skin deep: The Fuji X-Pro2 is a brand-new camera on the inside too.
For one thing, resolution has taken a big leap forward to 24 megapixels, while the sensor still retains Fuji's clever X-Trans color filter array that helps the X-Pro2 avoid the moiré issues that can be a bugbear of rivals. The updated sensor also adds 273 on-chip phase-detection autofocus pixels for swift and accurate focusing. And the Fuji X-Pro2 can shoot at an impressively swift 8.2 frames per second. Add in its new, higher-resolution electronic viewfinder -- part of that clever hybrid viewfinder setup -- and it's clear that the Fuji X-Pro2 is an even more capable street shooter than was its much-loved predecessor.
Camera of the Year, Best High End: Nikon D5
Every few years, Nikon releases a brand-new flagship camera. This year, we were treated to the excellent Nikon D5. This professional DSLR delivers the high-end performance demanding photographers have come to expect from Nikon's top-of-the-line DSLRs and brings with it a variety of improvements over its predecessor that helped it earn our Camera of the Year, Best High-End award.
While the megapixel count increased by only four, the D5 crushes its predecessor in every other critical category. Autofocus points are up to 153 from 51. The D5's metering sensor has nearly double the pixels. Continuous shooting speeds are improved by a frame per second and the RAW buffer depth has been doubled. Nikon even managed to improve high ISO performance despite packing more megapixels onto the full-frame sensor. Not to mention the D5 has 4K UHD video recording!
When your predecessor is the excellent Nikon D4S, it's difficult to stand out, but the D5 managed to do just that. It isn't just its older sibling that the D5 must contend with, however, it also has stiff competition from other manufacturers. Nonetheless, the Nikon D5 delivered on all its promises and offers professional photographers the best-performing, fastest pro DSLR Nikon has ever made.
Camera of Distinction, High End: Canon 1D X Mark II
If you want the absolute cream-of-the-crop Canon DSLR around with the best performance, the best build quality and the best precision, look no further than the 1D X Mark II. Sure, it's big, it's heavy, and it's expensive, but as the adage goes, "you get what you pay for." And with the Canon 1DX Mark II, you're paying for the best Canon DSLR for sports, action, wildlife, or photojournalism.
The 20MP resolution might not suit certain pro photographers who need tons of resolving power, but for everything else, the 1DX Mark II's images are right on the money with excellent quality and great dynamic range. High ISO performance is also top-notch, and its versatile autofocus and incredible burst shooting performance will not disappoint or slow you down. The Canon 1DX Mark II is currently the best of the best when it comes to combining speed, performance and high ISO image quality for the Canon system.