For pro photographers, as well as for serious amateurs who demand the very best performance and robust build quality, the main choice is between the Canon 5D Mk III and Canon 1D X. There are no APS-C format bodies in Canon's professional-level line-up.
An important consideration when upgrading from APS-C to full-frame bodies is that the latter are incompatible with EF-S lenses, which are designed exclusively for use with APS-C format cameras.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Sensor: Full frame CMOS | Megapixels: 22.3Mp | Autofocus: 61 AF points, 41 cross-type, 1 dual cross-type | Continuous shooting: 6fps | Monitor: 3.2-inch, 1,040,000 dot | Video: 1080p
It's nearly a decade since the original 5D brought full-frame digital photography to the masses, and the Mk III edition brings a wealth of upgrades, fully justifying its position as a professional camera. Notable enhancements over the Mark II include a step up from 9-point autofocus to a 61-point AF system with 41 cross-type points and five dual-cross points, just like in the 1D X.
There's also a DIGIC 5+ image processor and a more generous sensitivity range that stretches to ISO 25600 – you can extend this to ISO 102400 in expanded mode. The maximum drive rate beats that of the 6D's 4.5fps and, compared with the 5D Mk II, speed is boosted from 3.9fps to 6fps.
Direct access controls are more wide-ranging than in the 6D and the 5D Mark III has dual card slots, one for SD/HC/XC cards and the other for Compact Flash.
The 5D Mk III is well built, with a rugged magnesium alloy body, though the size and weight are very manageable given that it's a pro spec camera.
• Read our full Canon 5D Mark III review.
Canon EOS-1D X
Sensor: Full frame CMOS | Megapixels: 18.1Mp | Autofocus: 61 AF points, 41 cross-type, 5 dual cross-type | Continuous shooting: 12fps | Monitor: 3.2-inch, 1,040,000 dot | Video: 1080p
Increased image resolution is not necessarily a priority in a pro camera, and Canon's range-topping 1D X professional body is limited to 18.1Mp. This helps to ensure fast continuous drive rates and immaculate image quality, even at very high ISO settings.
Performance also gets a boost from the fitment of two DIGIC 5+ image processors, and the end result is an ultra-fast 12fps burst rate, which you can boost further still to 14fps if you can live without autofocus and metering after the first shot in a rapid-fire sequence. The 1D X also offers a whopping ISO 51200 in its standard range, and goes up to ISO 204800 in expanded mode.
The 1D X has a magnesium alloy shell with weather seals and really feels like it's built to take the knocks of a hard-working professional life.
It's a relatively big and heavy camera, but the handling is superb, helped by an integrated vertical grip with duplicated shooting controls, dual multi-controllers and a centralised quick control dial. Image quality is stunning, even in very low lighting conditions when using extremely high sensitivity settings.
• Read our full Canon 1D X review.
So which is the best Canon camera for you?
As we said at the start, Canon has cameras for everyone to point-and-shoot snappers to busy working professional photographers, so here's a quick summary of the key models.
- Canon Ixus cameras are perfect for casual use by people who want to take pictures but don't want to be bothered by technicalities. They're straightforward to use and slip easily into a pocket or a bag.
- Canon PowerShot bridge cameras have much longer zoom ranges and fall into two main camps: pocket-sized cameras that are only a little larger than the Ixus models but much more versatile – so-called 'travel cameras', and full-blown 'bridge' cameras that look and feel a little like a DSLR. These won't fit in your pocket, but they do have very long zoom range.
- Canon PowerShot high-end compacts are designed for real enthusiasts who want good picture quality and advanced controls in a camera that's smaller and more portable than a DSLR. The S120, S200 and G16 are 'old-school', using a sensor slightly larger than a regular compact's for better quality, but the big-sensor G7 X and G1 X Mark II are the most exciting.
- The next step up from here is a DSLR. We should also mention the Canon EOS-M, but this is Canon's only mirrorless compact system camera to date, with no firm indication there will be another.
- If you're just starting out, the EOS 1200D is a great budget choice, the 100D is tiny (for a DSLR) and the 700D is a terrific all-rounder.
- Enthusiasts will want more hands-on control and more features, and the 70D offers both. The new 7D Mark II is more expensive but a semi-professional powerhouse that's right at the cutting edge. Or, if you can afford it, the 6D sacrifices some technological sophistication but offers full-frame image quality.
- For pros, there are really just two choices. The EOS 5D Mark III is a great all-rounder for both stills and video, but if you need to capture fast-moving action, the stunning 12fps EOS-1D X is the one to go for.