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Equipment

The Battle of the Behemoths – Finding the Best Camera of 2021

Though time has felt like it has stopped over the last year, the last few months have given us some pretty exciting photography and videography products to look forward to. Though many of these cameras aren’t readily available, I felt it was something worth discussing regardless; in the effort to find the absolute best camera available for 2021.

I’ll pretense this article by saying this is an opinion-based article. As a Canon shooter for over 15 years now, I certainly have my own bias and preferences – and the work I shoot is by no way standard of what all photographers shoot. As such, I’m using this as a platform to find the best camera for me – though I plan on tackling a broad range of topics that should apply to many. Thus, this article will be focused on still cameras, all of which have a few video features built for useability – but in no way will these compete with an ARRI Alexa or RED Monstro.

After much deliberation, I decided it was time for me to retire my Canon 5d Mark IV, and finally, move to the mirrorless platform. And for the first time in my life, I’ve been looking at systems beyond Canon and using the lens mount switch-up as an opportunity to change my traditional form factor. I’ve anxiously looked through all of the latest camera announcements and releases. I have narrowed my choice down to three cameras: the best cameras of 2021 (so far) – The Canon EOS R5, Sony Alpha 1, and the Fuji GFX 100S. So let’s start with the surface level.

Basic Comparison

Each camera has its own advantages and disadvantages, and so let’s look at their basic spec sheets to see where they fall across a broad range.

Best Camera of 2021 Spec Comparison

  Canon EOS R5 Sony Alpha 1 Fuji GFX 100S
Lens Mount Canon RF Mount Sony E Mount Fuji G Mount
Sensor Size Full Frame (36mm x 24mm) Full Frame (36mm x 24mm) Medium Format (Crop) 43.8mm x 32.9mm)
Resolution 45 Megapixels 50.1 Megapixel 102 Megapixel
Bit Depth 14-Bit 14-Bit 16-Bit
Image Stabilization 5-Axis Stabilization 5-Axis Stabilization 5-Axis Stabilization
Shooting Speed 12 FPS on Mechanical shutter
20 FPS on Electronic shutter
10 FPS on Mechanical shutter
30 FPS on Electronic shutter
5 FPS on Mechanical shutter
2.9 FPS on Electronic shutter
Flash Sync Speed 1/250 shutter speed 1/400 shutter speed 1/125 shutter speed (focal plane)
Video Features Raw 12-Bit
DCI 8K (8192 x 4320) at 23.976p/24.00p/25p/29.97p [2600 Mb/s]
H.265 4:2:2 10-Bit
DCI 8K (8192 x 4320) at 23.976p/24.00p/25p/29.97p [680 to 1300 Mb/s]
UHD 8K (7680 x 4320) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p [680 to 1300 Mb/s]
DCI 4K (4096 x 2160) at 23.976p/24.00p/25p/29.97p/59.94p/100p/119.88p [170 to 1880 Mb/s]
UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p/100p/119.88p [170 to 1880 Mb/s]
Full HD (1920 x 1080) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p [28 to 230 Mb/s]
H.264 4:2:0 8-Bit
DCI 8K (8192 x 4320) at 23.976p/24.00p/25p/29.97p [470 to 1300 Mb/s]
UHD 8K (7680 x 4320) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p [470 to 1300 Mb/s]
DCI 4K (4096 x 2160) at 23.976p/24.00p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p/100p/119.88p [120 to 1880 Mb/s]
UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p/100p/119.88p [120 to 1880 Mb/s]
Full HD (1920 x 1080) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p [12 to 180 Mb/s]
H.265/XAVC HS 4:2:2 10-Bit
UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p/100p/119.88p [50 to 280 Mb/s]
H.265/XAVC HS 4:2:0 10-Bit
UHD 8K (7680 x 4320) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p [200 to 400 Mb/s]
UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p/100p/119.88p [30 to 200 Mb/s]
H.264/XAVC S-I 4:2:2 10-Bit
UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p [240 to 600 Mb/s]
Full HD (1920 x 1080) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p [89 to 222 Mb/s]
H.264/XAVC S 4:2:2 10-Bit
UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p/100p/119.88p [100 to 280 Mb/s]
Full HD (1920 x 1080) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p/100p/119.88p/200p/239.76p [50 Mb/s]
H.264/XAVC S 4:2:0 8-Bit
UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p/100p/119.88p [60 to 200 Mb/s]
Full HD (1920 x 1080) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p/100p/119.88p/200p/239.76p [16 to 100 Mb/s]
H.265/MOV 4:2:0 10-Bit
DCI 4K (4096 x 2160) at 23.976p/24.00p/25p/29.97p [100 to 400 Mb/s]
UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at 23.976p/24.00p/25p/29.97p [100 to 400 Mb/s]
DCI 2K (2048 x 1080) at 23.976p/24.00p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p [50 to 200 Mb/s]
Full HD (1920 x 1080) at 23.976p/24.00p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94i [50 to 200 Mb/s]
H.264/MOV 4:2:0 8-Bit
DCI 4K (4096 x 2160) at 23.976p/24.00p/25p/29.97p [100 to 400 Mb/s]
UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at 23.976p/24.00p/25p/29.97p [100 to 400 Mb/s]
DCI 2K (2048 x 1080) at 23.976p/24.00p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p [50 to 200 Mb/s]
Full HD (1920 x 1080) at 23.976p/24.00p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p [50 to 200 Mb/s]
Autofocus points 1052 Phase-Detection Points
-6 to +20 EV Sensitivity
759 Phase-Detection Points
425 Contrast Detection Points
-4 to +20 EV Sensitivity
425 Phase-Detection Points
# Manufacturer Lenses Available 17 Lenses 35 Lenses 11 Lenses
Price $3,899 $6,498 $5,999

Now that we have a baseline of each of their spec sheets, let's go through each camera one by one and list off their advantages and disadvantages.

Canon EOS R5

Canon R5 Review

Released at the end of July 2020, the Canon R5 is just starting to make its way onto stocked shelves, as a limited supply has plagued the camera for months after its release. Bad press has also plagued the camera at its release, with reports of the camera overheating quickly when shooting 8K. Still, the camera is a marvel and an incredible addition to the Canon mirrorless platform, with it being their flagship camera for the next year or two.

Advantages of the Canon EOS R5

The Canon R5 has several significant advantages and improvements over their previous EOS R launch. For one, the Canon R5 has added 5-axis image stabilization inbody - a highly requested feature that is commonplace in the Sony's and Fuji's for years now. Another huge advantage with the Canon R5 is that it is the cheapest camera of these three options and by a pretty significant margin. Priced at $3,899, the Canon R5 is $2000 cheaper than the next competitor on this list, with a set of features that holds up (and sometimes, outperforms) the other options listed here.

Additionally, the Canon R5 is the only camera on this list with the power of 8K in a 12-bit RAW format. Sure it has some caveats - for one, overheating has been a huge issue with the R5 when shooting 8K for more than 20 minutes of shoot time. And sure, creative solutions have been found, firmware upgrades have helped a bit, but it's unreasonable to expect a camera this size to be able to shoot 8K uninterrupted without some considerable modifications.

But perhaps the biggest advantage of the Canon EOS R5 is the brand Canon itself. Approximately 50% of all modern cameras that exist in the world today are Canon cameras, and that market share offers a lot of advantages. Along with having much of the attention of third-party manufacturers like Sigma, Tamron, and Tokina - Canon's marketing for the RF platform has been aggressive. No manufacturer has come out with more lenses for their mirrorless platform in the last year, suggesting that Canon is going all-in on the platform. Pairing that with Canon's best-in-class color and a form factor I'm familiar with, it seems like the Canon R5 is the obvious choice for a Canon shooter for 15+ years - after all, I already have a camera bag of L series lenses that adapt easily with a converter.

Disadvantages of the Canon R5

The biggest disappointment with the Canon R5 is that it isn't really groundbreaking by comparison. Sure, it might be considered best in class for video, but it doesn't solidly win on any other metric. It has the lowest resolution, it's fast, but not Sony Alpha 1 fast, and the max sync speed is still stuck at 1/250 a sec, despite having the option of an electronic shutter.

Sony Alpha 1

If these three cameras were mountain ranges, the Sony Alpha 1 is unquestionably Mt. Everest. And climbing Mt. Everest is certainly something to be excited about. The Sony Alpha 1 looks like Sony's direct attack on Canon and Nikon - who were late to the professional mirrorless camera world - putting all of the powerhouse specs into a single camera body. That said, announced in February 2021, the Alpha 1 still hasn't been in the hands of many people, so a lot of usability reports are still unknown.

Sony alpha 1 Review

Advantages of the Sony Alpha 1

Spec for spec, the Sony Alpha 1 beats all of these cameras in nearly every metric. It's the fastest camera in shooting speed, flash sync speed, and likely focusing speed. It also offers 8K 30p recording at 4:2:0 10-bit and offers 4.3K Raw 16-bit recording through the use of external recording. Sony also announced a series of upgrades with the Sony Alpha 1. Rolling shutter - solved. Flash Sync speed - a thing of the past. And the talk of bad battery life with mirrorless cameras seems to be a thing of the past with the Alpha 1, which gets you an estimated 430 shots on a single battery.

By all accounts, the Sony Alpha 1 has the speed needed for sports photography, the resolution needed for studio photography, and the autofocus speed that can capture any and all fleeting moments. It's no wonder that media businesses like The Associated Press announced that they're moving all their photographers to Sony systems - Sony just seems to be a few miles ahead of the competitors.

Disadvantages of the Sony Alpha 1

The biggest disadvantage of the Sony Alpha 1 is that it's priced at $6,500. And yes, all of the cameras on this list are pretty expensive; this one is considerably more expensive than the competitors. Pairing that with Sony's aggressive development cycles, one has to worry that the Sony Alpha 1 will have a replacement camera in a year or two. Is this a complete turnoff? Of course not; that's just the cost of doing business with Sony. 

Fuji GFX 100S

Fuji GFX 100S Review

Next in line is the Fuji GFX 100s. Fuji's fourth digital medium format (technically...on several levels) camera, the GFX 100S, has slimmed down its size considerably when compared to the GFX 100 but still shares a lot of the same spec sheet. For example, both the GFX 100 and GFX 100S share the 102MP, 43.8x32.9mm medium format CMOS sensor. Both share seemingly the same autofocus system (which is good, especially for a medium format camera). And both of them shoot the same 4K 30p video. But what is different about these two cameras is really what propels this system up among the tops.

Left : GFX 100s Right : GFX 100

Advantages of the Fuji GFX 100S

As mention above, the biggest advantage of the Fuji GFX 100S is its size. The Fuji GFX 100S is only slightly bigger than both the Canon EOS R5 and the Sony Alpha 1 while having a sensor that is roughly 75% larger in size. And while the harshest of critics would argue that Fuji's GFX 100S sensor isn't true 645 medium format, the sensor is still pretty substantial in size. Pairing that with the 16-bit color, you can expect the highest quality photos to come from the Fuji GFX 100s, with the theoretical best dynamic range (though dynamic range is measured using multiple variables - and sensor bit depth is just one).

Comparison thanks to CameraSize.com

In addition to the larger sensor size, which is very much the selling feature of the Fuji GFX 100S as a whole, the Fuji GFX 100s has 425 focus points, which may seem like a small number when compared to the competitors, it's the best focusing medium format camera available. For reference, Phase One systems generally only have a dozen or so points to choose from, and the Hasselblad X1D only has 35 focus areas to choose from. So in the world of medium format, 425 is insane.

Disadvantages of the Fuji GFX 100s

When it comes to the Fuji GFX 100s, its biggest disadvantage is that it's not Fuji's focus. The GFX series to date has 11 different lens options developed by Fuji, and their focus still remains on their moneymaker platforms - the X series of cameras and lenses. Along with it not being Fuji's focus, their other major problem lies in their platform - the GFX is slow by comparison. 

Sure, it has twice the resolution as the competitors and a significantly larger sensor, but the platform itself isn't entirely fast - nor is it (or any medium format for that matter) designed to be. Its flash sync speed is 1/125 a second, it maxes out at 5 frames a second, and with half the autofocus points as the other options, you can expect its autofocus to be a bit slower.

So Where Have I Landed?

Choosing my next camera and official introduction into the mirrorless world has not been an easy one. As a Canon shooter, the obvious choice would be continuing on their platform, moving to their EOS R platform, and slowly swap out my EF lenses over time. But as a photographer who works 95% of the time in my personal studio, shooting both beauty and product work, an alternative camera has caught my attention, and so I believe my next camera purchase will be the Fuji GFX 100s.

By no means is the Fuji GFX 100S the camera for everyone, though. If you need speed, the medium format system isn't your answer, and certainly, shooting medium format involves a bit more patience in your shooting style. But more than anything, I miss medium format, and I'm excited to go back into that world. Years ago, I would rent Phase One systems regularly for jobs and always enjoyed shooting with the system, despite being a clunky and slow experience. I often compared shooting those systems as driving a Ferarri. It's exciting, it's exhilarating, but the Ferarri is by no means the perfect car. You wouldn't want to take a Ferrari to the grocery store, as you have no trunk space. For me, I've decided I'll just get my groceries delivered, and rent faster and more practical cameras when my GFX 100s doesn't fit the bill.

 

What are your thoughts? What do you think is the best camera available for 2021 so far?

Author: Zach Sutton

I'm Zach and I'm the editor and a frequent writer here at Lensrentals.com. I'm also an editorial and portrait photographer in Los Angeles, CA, and offer educational workshops on photography and lighting all over North America.

Posted in Equipment
  • Franz Graphstill

    @ZSuttonPhoto2:disqus – you might want to fix the start of your second paragraph – you meant “preface” not “pretense”.

  • Mike Jackson

    So comparing my fastest lens to your fastest lens only matters down to your limit? Hmmm… Anyway, AF is NOT the feature a GFX user should be trying to compare to a 35mm equivalent camera.

  • This is a very timely article, thank you so much for offering your assessment and opinion Zach. I’m still using the Canon 5D Mark III, also w/ a number of L-series lenses. But I have always wanted to buy med format but my budget has not allowed such a luxury. The thing is I will need to upgrade soon as my shutter count is getting up there. Have only just started researching – mirrorless? Med-format? Of course sticking with Canon is the most efficient route with the lenses in mind but making the move to Sony or Fuji has a certain appeal to me too.
    I work as both a commercial & portrait photographer with the occasional wedding so, like you, I would love to go med-format for my studio camera and hold on to the Canon for events.
    Thanks so much again, really helpful!

  • D Scott Stoness

    The real debate is a7riv vs R5 – I am biased toward canon but my view is on a price per value R5 beats a7riv (better buffer, eye focus) and a1( not much difference but way cheaper). But the most important thing is lens between Nikon, Sony and Canon. Sony is ahead on native mount by far, but canon ef adapted plus native (absent light lens) and TS lens pull them at least even. If you a backpacker its Sony because of light lens. If you are landscape Canon (TS lens). If you are a birder r5 is better than a7iv, and r5 is pretty close to A1, for those that care about money. If you are just a landscape person, you might still prefer canon for the TS lens over the GFX and weight and the occasional non landscape. And if you are a do it all, the R5 is better (burst against a7riv and price against a1 and all but landscape for Fuji (but no TS lens).

  • Supreme Dalek

    I guess I missed the election where everyone got together and decided that 4.5×6 cm was the One True Medium Format, and anything smaller than that (but larger than 24x36mm) was a pathetic little weenie “crop sensor.” I go back far enough to remember when cameras like the Mamiya 645 and the Bronica ETRS were considered scaled-down junior-grade stopgaps for people who weren’t studly enough to rock a real 6×6 camera. So what gives?

  • Athanasius Kirchner

    That GFX 100S is a terrifying thing. It’s easily the most momentous camera ever built by Fujifilm. It feels like an instant crush that could make the most faithful person cheat on their spouse. I can’t blame you for wanting to go with it – I’d do the same in your place.

    If it’s ever on sale like the 50R is now, I might have to file for divorce ?

  • grubernd

    “Leaving features out is probably a lot easier to do than you or I think.”

    Well, I _know_ it is not easier. I build automated camera control systems. Every little “but we only need a minor adjustment” can create a whole new system. And it does not really matter if you add or remove something you always have to test all and any interactions.

    The amount of testing required to make something as complex as a digital camera into a 100% predictable tool is way beyond what I want to think about or you can imagine. But one thing I am very sure about:

    From a manufacturers point of view they are actually two different cameras.

  • No Nikon? (Seriously, I switched in 2019 from Nikon to Canon for the RF lenses).

    I weight the current and anticipated line of lenses as a major factor in selecting a body of a given format. For me, Canon won by a longshot. Sony had a big head start, but Canon is passing by and will continue to leave Sony behind. Nikon basically doesn’t exist any more for those looking for state-of-the-art optics.

  • Definitely looking at that 80mm. I missed it from my original look into the platform, because surprisingly, Fuji hasn’t updated it on their website yet.

  • Henry Winokur

    I disagree–but that’s OK. Leaving features out is probably a lot easier to do than you or I think. Most of it is probably a software issue, anyway. I see no reason that the camera would need to be 2x more expensive without the “switch” however. I would think–but I don’t design cameras so I don’t know–that they could leave the technology in place pretty easily, and just not enable it. But I’m sure you are right…video is here to stay no matter what format the recorder is in. But if they could turn off the fancy part and reduce the price of the camera, then in my old-fashioned view that would be a good thing. I’m not a fan of paying for features I’m not going to use.

  • -4EV with F2 lens, -6EV with F1.2 lens… Always need to post fine print otherwise some stupid Canon user might thing that there is really 2EV difference.

  • grubernd

    The “I don’t need the video stuff, so just leave it out” argument does not work .. you have just doubled the types of cameras to produce, ship, sell, market, maintain, service and so on.

    Video in cameras is here to stay.

    You ask them to double the effort for exactly the same outcome.
    Are you willing to pay double the price instead of ignoring a switch?

  • Foma Akvinat

    Sensor has a readout speed that limits how fast sync speed with electronic shutter could be, for most sensors it is under 1/60s. Sony A1 has a stacked sensor, others do not. So Canon and Fuji could only enable something like 1/30 to 1/60 flash sync with electronic shutter via firmware update.

  • grubernd

    I think the 120/4 Macro is a must for your work. But instead of the 110/2 you might want to go with the 80/1.7 for extra flexibility. – Personally I would either pick the 45/2.8 or the 50/3.5, but I also like portraits to be closer. The GFX100s sure would be a camera I’d like to consider. =)

  • Henry Winokur

    I think you should have titled the piece “Best cams of 2021 so far“.

    No one, but the manufacturer’s themselves know what’s coming or when (duh). While I wish they would tell us, so we can plan better, that would also take all of the excitement out of it, and god knows we need some these days, with all the other sobering news. Will an R1-type cam show up in time for the Olympics–which are still several months away? It’s a good question and a good time for something cool to happen. But then what will happen in the 2nd half of the year? Once again, it’s the big “who knows”? It will be interesting if nothing else.

    Personally I wish there was a Canon camera in the R line (like the R6) but w/ the sensor that’s in the R5, and aimed more towards stills shooters. I have no need for fancy video as it’s something I wouldn’t use and therefore don’t need.

  • So I’m looking at lenses for the GFX system, and I’m thinking that the 120mm f4 Macro and the GFX 110mm f/2 are the two lenses I want, despite them being very close in focal length….but nothing else really hits my fancy.

  • Yeah, by no means do I expect the GFX 100s to be as good at autofocusing as the Sony of Canon, but I also shoot nearly all my work in a studio environment, so I could easily shoot exclusively in manual focus and get away with it.

  • That’s really interesting to hear. Certainly the GFX is miles ahead of the medium format competition, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

  • I’ll probably keep my 5d MarkIV, and a couple lenses and sell the rest. I really don’t like to be without at least one backup camera.

  • DrJon

    I’d be inclined to look carefully at the reviews re the GFX100s AF performance, as it seems great for a baby-MF BODY, but a long way behind the other two, especially the Canon AI animal AF.

    Also re 16 bits it seems many existing (non-s) GFX users shoot in 14 bit (I assume that is available on the 100s) and lossless Raw to get the 200MB files down to about half that. So it may be considered 14 bit if you do shoot that way. Plus of course no really long lenses.

    Oh and I think the Sony 30fps is only with lossy Raw compression.

    That said I do fancy a 100s, but can’t justify it (err, probably, tempted). The other two don’t quite work for me, but the R5’s AI DPAF would be very nice to have. Also the 4k HQ video which no-one else has (R+G+B info for every pixel, for R and B for every 4th one).

  • FWIW, Fuji recently said that revenue is split pretty evenly between GFX and X-System. I was surprised.

  • Jalan Lee

    Thanks Zach for a great examination of the best options. I’m a Canon 5d iv shooter with a bunch of L lenses. Normally I would have jumped to the R by now but holding off. Leaning towards keeping the 5d’s for weddings and going to medium format for portraits and “creative” work. Just something about that big sensor that is appealing and different in a world where every thing is starting to look like an AI infused Instagram post.

    Are you going to keep your 5d’s or sell them to fund the GFX?

  • Yes, Flash Sync Speed is so so important especially for those who are using strobes, and those who are occasionally mixing strobes with natural & consistent light. While the spec sheet for the GFX 100S says it’s 1/125 sync speed, I’m hoping that it might be able to be upgraded with a firmware upgrade and the use of the electric shutter. Until then, the cinefoil on my studio window will stay up.

  • JP

    I’m so glad you focus on flash sync speed -it’s a point that very few reviewers seem to care or have knowledge about but it’s essential for studio/product/strobe users.

    What I’ve been reluctant about the GFX system and am wondering about is: How much harder does the larger sensor and slower flash sync speed (combined) make canceling ambient light? My personal studio’s window light bleed makes my 5DS’s sync speed of 1/200th barely enough and is one of the (many) reasons I prefer using my Fujifilm X-series cameras (1/250th combined with smaller sensor’s lower light sensitivity). Curious to see how (if) you need to adapt for the slower sync speed.

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