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Pro DSLR 2017

Nikon D850

Digital Photo Magazine’s 2017 Editors’ Choice Awards

Every year we see and review a lot of photographic products. In an average year we’ll get at least a visit a day from UPS or FedEx with a new product to review and participate in at least a dozen media events held by the manufacturers, where we spend a few days with some new camera and/or lens and try it out in a variety of situations.

This year there were a lot of new products, thanks in part to an uptick in a few sectors of the camera market (most notably, the advanced amateur and pro arenas) and the industry’s recovery from the 2016 Kumamoto earthquake, which knocked out Sony’s main imaging plant, and, since Sony makes sensors for so many companies, took a lot of the industry down in a domino effect.

As we test and evaluate these products we spend a lot of time discussing the pros and cons of the gear, weighing the new crop of tools against previous models and against the competition. During the year we make notes and then check them to see what made each of our lists. The result is our Editors’ Choice Awards, our annual recognition of some of the year’s outstanding products.


Nikon D850

Nikon’s new high-resolution DSLR shows that the company is still focused on innovations. With a 45.7-megapixel sensor, it has enough detail to be used on the most stringent commercial shoot, but the 9 fps capture rate (with the optional grip, 7 fps without) kept on ticking when we used it for motocross, kayaking and other sports shoots. It’s the best Nikon camera in years, and the best DSLR in recent memory.

Nikon D850

Digital Photo Magazine’s 2016 Editors’ Choice Awards

What a year it has been in the Pro DSLR category, a category that often will go years without any new contenders in the highest-end flagship category and instead include a few stalwart upgrades to the higher-end-but-not-upper-echelon of Nikon and Canon’s market.

We personally love the Nikon versus Canon battle, as it’s great for the consumer. Anytime two dominant players are duking it out for supremacy, the whole industry wins. Sure, it means that sometimes new systems will come to market that aren’t quite ready for prime time, but generally, it means that innovation and upgrades are always around the corner.

This year really panned out, with both the Nikon D5 and the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II vying for top dog in photography’s top gear segment. The improvements to autofocus performance, metering, capture rate and processing speeds in both systems are remarkable, and for the first time in a long time, the race for gold between the two is a photo finish. More on that in a moment.

This year also saw some surprising new developments in the pro space, chief among them the resurrection of a full-frame Pentax camera with the Pentax K-1. The K-1 isn’t designed for the same user as the Nikon D5 or the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II; it’s more in the same ballpark as the Nikon D750 or the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV—for professionals, but not those who need a $6,000 camera capable of shooting upwards of a dozen frames a second.

The K-1 took our nod as one of the best of the new pro cameras of the year (beating the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV in the class) because of the excellent integration of different technologies found in the body, as well as the way that Pentax included features no one else is even thinking about.

Even when you look at the impressive list of new features in the K-1, you could argue that these features are pretty limited in scope, but we think it’s a great sign of things to come.

In the end, we decided to crown both cameras as our Editors’ Choice in the Pro DSLR category, though if we were giving a grade school numerical mark to their performance, the Nikon D5 would come in just slightly ahead of the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, with the Nikon D5 scoring 95 and the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II scoring a 90.

There were a few factors in this decision, but it comes down to three key areas. First, while the 1D X Mark II has more points in the 3D exposure system, the Nikon system is more robust with its fewer points, and the 3D data is used to determine focus, which (in combination with the additional focus points on the D5) the Nikon does slightly better than the 1D X Mark II. The D5 can also focus down to -4 EV vs. -3 EV for the Canon.

Second, the extended ISO range of the D5 is amazing—the Canon tops out at ISO 409,600, but the D5 goes to a metaphorical “11”, with top ISO at 3,280,000. You can argue that there’s not a lot of need to shoot at 3 million ISO, but the important factor here is that the D5 has better performance at each ISO range than the Canon 1D X II because of the higher overall ISO performance.

Third, the Canon 1D X II outperforms the D5 in terms of capture rate—12 fps for the D5 with AE/AF and 14 for the 1D X II with AE/AF, but the D5 can buffer more images (200 vs. 170) and shoot longer before the buffer fills (16.7 seconds vs. 12.1 seconds).

Finally, we found some odd design choices with the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, namely the decision to put both a CompactFlash and a non-compatible, but nearly identically shaped CFast card slot into the system, which we think will lead to confusion in the heat of a shoot. Second, the 1D X Mark II doesn’t do full 4K video output on the HDMI port, which seems like a decision based not on engineering limitations, but the desire to maintain sales of the company’s dedicated video systems like the Canon EOS C500.

That being said, we want to make it very clear that these slight differences are really splitting hairs—though hair-splitting is the point of an Editors’ Choice award. We think these are the best cameras on the market today, and possibly the best cameras that have ever been on the market. Neither the Nikon nor the Canon user should feel like they’ve been limited with these new cameras, nor should they consider switching platforms for some improved performance, as they might have done years ago when the two companies took turns besting the other.

Again, there are no bad cameras in the professional DSLR arena; they’ve been weeded out in the decades since digital photography began. There is, at this point, only a matter of degrees separating any of the competitors.

Blue Angels F-18/A
US Navy Blue Angels captured at an airshow by the Canon EOS-1DX Mark II. The new autofocus system was more than capable enough to track high-speed aircraft.


Nikon D5

Nikon D5 DSLR

The Nikon D5 is the pinnacle of the company’s camera development, and is one of our two choices for Best Pro DSLR, just slightly edging out the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II. It can capture images at 12 fps, with an incredible ISO range of 100-3,280,000 and the ability to focus down to -4 EV. It can capture 200 images at a clip before the buffer fills and uses a 153-point AF system to track subjects no matter how fast or erratically they move. With two models to choose from—either dual XQD or dual CF, the D5 can fit the performance needs of both video and still shooters.


Canon EOS-1D X Mark II

Canon EOS-1DX Mark II DSLR

The Canon EOS-1D X Mark II is the fastest DSLR on the planet and is the other of our two picks for Best Pro DSLR. Capturing images at a blazing 14 fps with full AE/AF and 16 fps with AE and AF locked, it also shoots incredible 4K video at up to 60p, and it uses Canon’s Dual Pixel technology to provide autofocus during video capture. The 1D X Mark II has a newly updated RGB metering system with twice the number of points as the Nikon system, plus built-in GPS, something we think all cameras should have at this point.


Pentax K-1

The Pentax K-1 DSLR

For the category of pros who aren’t shooting sports or news, it’s hard to beat the Pentax K-1. There have been rumors of a full-frame digital camera to come from one of photography’s most storied brands for some time, and this year the company dropped this feature-rich system. It has built-in GPS, an image-stabilizing sensor (that can be used for sharp astrophotography and sports shots when panning), external LED lighting to help nighttime use; a built-in electronic compass (know where you were shooting and what direction you were shooting) and much more.

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