The price of full-frame cameras has seriously reduced in recent years. No longer only available for professionals - or those with loads of spare cash - all kinds of photographers now have the large sensor within their grasp.
Before we get started it’s worth addressing what exactly is full-frame. The term simply means that the sensor is the same size as 35mm format film. As such, it’s one of the largest sensors on the market, with only medium and large format sensors being bigger. Full-frame is more accessible than either of those formats, however, with those typically being expensive, heavy and larger than most ordinary users want to carry.
You’ll find full-frame sensors in many of the best mirrorless cameras as well as the best DSLR cameras. Even some of the best compact cameras have full-frame sensors - but that’s pretty rare. Full-frame is larger than the other common camera sensor size (APS-C) and much larger than those you’ll find in a typical compact camera or smartphone.
But why is full-frame good? There are a couple of reasons. The sensor being larger means that the camera is more capable of gathering light - good news when there’s not much of it available. You also get better control over depth of field (the blurred background effect), while dynamic range and colours are often better too.
In the past, full-frame sensors were packaged by necessity in large cameras that wouldn’t generally be thought of as suitable for travel. However, advances in mirrorless technology have meant that you can now get (relatively) small cameras with a full-frame sensor, which opens up the market quite significantly.
How to buy the best cheap full-frame camera
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There are probably two types of customers for a full-frame camera. There will be those who are already enthusiasts and probably already have some kind of camera system. But, with prices being as low as they are, there’s also a chance that you're buying your very first “proper” camera and going all in.
Whether you fall into either camp, you might not have the biggest budget, or simply want to get the best deal possible. For that reason, all of the cameras here are ideal for those who want to up their photography game but don’t necessarily have a huge amount of cash to play with.
At the moment, it’s likely you’ll struggle to find a full-frame camera for less than £1500 / US$2000. But, compared to the prices of even just a few years ago it’s still much more affordable for hobbyists and enthusiasts.
If you’re already shooting with an APS-C model and feel the time is ready to upgrade, you’re likely to stick to a brand you’re already familiar with. That’s a good idea, but it’s worth remembering that any lenses you’ve already got might not necessarily be compatible between APS-C and full-frame models. With that in mind, you might find yourself having to buy a new set, making switching brands less of a problem.
There’s a huge amount of competition in the full-frame market. There are options available from Sony, Canon, Nikon, Panasonic and others.
As these have been designed with affordability in mind, many of the models here are what we’d call good “all-rounders”. That means they are well-suited to a variety of subjects, giving you solid results that may require compromise in some areas. For example, you might struggle to find something which particularly excels for action photography - but if you rarely shoot moving subjects that won’t be such an issue.
For those looking for a balance between all-around quality and affordability, there are some good options out there. The Nikon Z5 is a good affordable option, while the Nikon Z6 is also a fantastic choice, and being a generation old means that it’s extremely good value, without too many compromises. The same can be said for the Sony A7 III, which is also an excellent choice. The Canon EOS RP is a good entry into full-frame if you prefer that brand, while the Panasonic S5 is a newer model which specifically targets the low(er) budget customer.
If you're not bothered by mirrorless and are keen to stick with traditional DSLRS, there are also some cracking options still available. The Canon EOS 6D Mark II is a good workhorse camera, while the Nikon D780 is worth investigating, especially as it utilises some mirrorless technology.
Read on to find out how we rate each of those mentioned.
There’s plenty to like about the Nikon Z5. It’s impressively small for a full-frame camera, and, especially if you combine it with the new 24-50mm kit lens, then you’ve got a great travel or everyday camera in the making.
It has a good set of features, with a well-performing sensor, nicely functioning touch-sensitive tilt-screen and a fantastic viewfinder that you might not expect to find on an entry-level camera.
There are some compromises to be made though. It has a disappointing frame rate (4.5fps), while having a crop applied to 4K will also be off-putting to videographers and vloggers.
As it stands, you can get a Z6 with the 24-70mm for a little more than the Z5 with the 24-50mm. For that extra outlay, you get an overall better-performing camera and lens combination, which is more versatile for a range of situations.
Overall, however, the Nikon Z5 has a lot to offer and it’s a great little package for anyone looking to get their first full-frame camera. Nikon has managed to shrink it down even further without losing the great handling and some of the series’ top-end specifications.
- Full Nikon Z5 review
Canon didn’t exactly set the world alight when its entry into the full-frame mirrorless sector with the EOS R. However, it has managed to produce a very capable camera in the more budget-friendly EOS RP. Appealing to those already shooting Canon, you can use existing EF lenses via an optional adapter (which comes free at the moment), and you’ll be rewarded with a small and light full-frame camera that is a satisfying all-rounder that is pleasant to use in a number of situations.
Where it’s lacking may not trouble you depending on the kind of thing you do. 4K video shooting, for example, has a crop applied to it - but if you’re mainly concerned about stills, that won’t be a problem. Similarly, action shooting is not the RP’s forte, but if static subjects are your genre, happy days.
Nikon’s duo of full-frame mirrorless cameras have made a huge impact on the market as a whole. It felt like we’d been waiting for an age for the heritage company to get its act together when it finally unleashed the Z7 and the Z6.
Both share the same body size and form, but the Z6 has a lower resolution sensor than its more expensive brother. That gives it some bonuses though - it can shoot at 12fps, which actually makes it fairly decent for sports shooting, and with fewer pixels to cram onto the sensor, low light performance is damn good too.
The body of the Z6 handles extremely well, with highlights including the electronic viewfinder and the tilting touch-sensitive screen. In fact, there’s really not much to dislike about the Z6 - the biggest bugbear probably being the fact that the memory cards you need for it (XQD) are expensive and harder to find than the more ubiquitous SD card, for now at least.
The younger and smaller sibling of Panasonic’s S1 series of cameras, the S5 was specifically designed to be available at a more affordable price point. It also ticks boxes in terms of being good for those who like to create both stills and video all in one device.
Neat specs - for the price - include a high-resolution viewfinder, a range of 4K video controls, and fully articulating touch-sensitive screen. The bundled 20-60mm kit lens is a good performer and gives an excellent focal length range - especially for vloggers who might like to point the lens at themselves while out and about.
There are some compromises to be had, such as a fairly average frame rate, but we’d expect that at this price point - overall it’s a pretty appealing package.
Having been in the full-frame mirrorless biz the longest, Sony knows this market incredibly well. The A7 III is the third iteration of Sony’s “middle” model in the A7 line-up. That means that you get a cracking all-rounder with a superb heft of specs in an affordable body - what’s not to like?
There’s a great sensor which delivers top-notch images, a good battery life by mirrorless standards, great focusing and a frame rate of 10fps - which is actually not that bad for sports and action so long as it’s not your main priority.
Further good news is that if you need to stretch your budget a little further, you can still get older models in the A7 line up - take a look at the A7 II or even the original A7, particularly if you’re not bothered by shooting moving subjects.
If you’ve so far been shooting with a DSLR, there’s a lot to be said for sticking with what you know. The larger size of the 6D Mark II, compared to say the EOS RP, gives you arguably better handling, with a chunkier grip and more space for buttons and the space between them.
The 6D Mark II is capable of delivering very pleasing images, and the camera on the whole is nice enough to use. The viewfinder, which is optical and offers only 98% coverage is a bit of a let-down, while the lack of 4K video might be off-putting to some.
It can be easy to write off the 6D Mark II in the face of newer mirrorless marvels, but if you’re looking for your first step in full-frame photography and DSLRs are where your heart lies - the 6D Mark II makes a huge amount of sense.
This is one of the newest DSLRs on our list, which considering it’s now over two years old gives you an indication of how little action there is compared to mirrorless.
Still, if you like the ergonomics and tank-like build of a DSLR, or perhaps you’ve already got some Nikon F-mount lenses, then the D780 is still a very good buy.
It’s a seriously good all-rounder, bringing other DSLR benefits, such as top-notch battery life and an optical viewfinder, while utilising some of the autofocusing technology from the Z series of mirrorless lenses.
This is a great all-rounder for those who don’t have their feet firmly planted in either the Nikon or Canon camp. Perhaps you’ve even got some old Pentax legacy lenses hiding in an attic somewhere.
For a very reasonable price, you get a high resolution sensor - higher than any others here - and a set of very usable and traditional controls that are great to use.
Image quality is very good, with some interesting options - such as Dynamic Pixel Shift Resolution mode for getting even higher resolution images. The body is also weather-sealed - making it a good option for outdoor and landscape photographers.
Other interesting features include a tilting and semi-articulating screen, a nicely capable AF system and dual memory card slots.
The Sony A7 II might be the best compromise between price, image quality and features. The A7 Mark II is a great update to the original A7 (included below). The main advantage of the A7 Mark II is that you'll get built-in optical image stabilisation – which allows you to get steadier shots in a wide variety of lighting conditions. It also means you can use a wider range or lenses and still get the benefit of stabilisation. Autofocus and start-up times are also faster than the A7, although, understandably, slower than the Mark III higher up on this list. The 117-point phase-detect AF system works in combination with 25-point contrast-detect AF to ensure sharpness no matter where the subject lies in the frame. It's a great system. This 24 megapixel CSC is also pretty small for a full-frame camera.
This is probably the cheapest full-frame camera we'd recommend getting, especially if the bulk of a ‘full-size’ full-frame DSLR puts you off. The small and lightweight Sony A7 is the original full frame mirrorless camera, and is now an absolute bargain. It does lack some competitive features, such as stabilisation, touchscreen functionality and 4K video, but the quality of the Raw images produced by the 24.3MP Exmor CMOS sensor continues to impress after all of these years. It's worth noting that the battery life on the original Sony A7 is particularly poor, but the camera's relatively low price means that you can pick up a spare battery or two as well.
Aimed more squarely at videographers than stills shooters, the Sigma FP is never-the-less a low(ish) cost full-frame model that you might want to consider.
Its small size and weight arguably make it a good option for travel, though some would equally argue that it’s a little bit fiddly to handle. It uses the L Mount, which is shared across an alliance with Leica and Panasonic so there’s plenty of lenses available.
There’s a whole host of extensive cinematography-related specifications, so it’s seriously worth considering if that’s your cup of tea, but for most typical users, it’s probably not quite the best option from this list.