Finding the cheapest full-frame camera can be challenging. Some camera brands tend to cut back a lot in the specs of their products just to give you that affordable full-frame sensor. However, the overall quality of the camera doesn’t need to be compromised.
In this review, we tested and compared the cheapest full-frame cameras offering the best value. Sony A7 III is possibly one of the best choices we can offer to you. It costs a bit higher than others on the list but given the fact that it ticks all the boxes good, we think it is just right to pay a little more. It offers all the essential capabilities other cheap full-frame cams can’t provide. This includes the 5-axis image stabilization capability, uncropped 4K, 10fps burst, and excellent AF system.
The Panasonic Lumix S5 is also a notable choice due to its powerful video proficiency. As a matter of fact, we would highly recommend it as an affordable camera for video. If you do not mind using its contrast-detect AF, it can also be an enjoyable camera for stills. Nonetheless, you also have the option for the unbeatable Dual Pixel CMOS AF of Canon EOS 6D Mark II.
To get more information about them, we included their most important specifications below together with their strengths and flaws. And for a better idea about the value they offer and their performance, we enlisted the help of SolidSmack Photography Editor Evangeline in rounding them up. Let’s see them one by one...
1. Sony A7 III
It is said that the power and overall worth of a camera can’t just be determined by the resolutions of stills and videos alone. Most of the time, it is all about having the right blend of features and price. A7 III is a testament to it.
“We chose Sony A7 III because of has just the right amount of features that will benefit the majority of the users,” started Summers, “It might not be that intimidating when it comes to the features and not that extremely powered, but it has the right amount of features and functions that make it very functional and highly beneficial to photographers of any kind. Imagine this model obtaining most of the prominent details of the best Sony cameras. That’s what you’ll get.”
Sony A7 III features the 24 MP sensor same as its predecessors, the A7 II and the A7. However, Sony has decided to give it a boost by giving it a back-illuminated design to allow a better light-gathering process. It is also supported by a BIONZ X processor and front-end LSI which makes its performance even more powerful than other models like A7 II.
According to Summers, the things mentioned make Sony A7 III an affordable full-frame camera that excels both in stills and videos. It offers great images through the aid of a 5-axis image stabilization system, 10fps continuous shooting speed, super-high ISO, 693 phase-detection AF points, and 425 contrast-detect AF points.
It can even shoot uncropped 4K UHD at 30fps which can satisfy videographers. Its Full HD, on the other hand, offers a 120fps frame rate. Shooting video with Sony A7 III is also made easier, thanks to the 3-inch tilting touchscreen.
With all of these things said, this is the best jack-of-all-trades perfect for photographers and videographers. Most of all, no one can deny that with Sony A7 III, Sony has created the perfect recipe for the cheapest full-frame camera we are all looking for!
2. Canon EOS 6D Mark II
In one of our reviews about the best Canon DSLR cameras, we included Canon EOS 6D Mark II. We have to admit that we were a bit disappointed with the fact that it failed to tick some important boxes such as the 4K capability (which is our biggest gripe). With its price difference from its predecessor, the original EOS 6D, we were really expecting a lot. Yet, for the cheapest full-frame camera category, it has a lot to offer.
According to Summers, there are a lot of visible improvements in Mark II if you would compare it to its EOS 6D. It includes the exciting upgrade in the frame resolution from 20 MP to 26 MP. It is backed with Canon’s new DIGIC 7 processor which affects the majority of Mark II’s capabilities and performance.
“If you would compare the two, there would be a lot of reasons to choose Mark II over its predecessor,” said Summers. “Some of them are the availability of the fully articulating touchscreen, Timelapse recording, digital video stabilization, NFC and Bluetooth connection, webcam function, UHS card support, and anti-flicker ability.”
As for the other sections, it is undeniable that Mark II offers an impressive boost. It starts with the 45 cross-type AF points which is a big difference from the 11 AF points of EOS 6D. The AF system is also graced with Canon’s glorious Dual Pixel CMOS AF which makes the Live View experience for movies and stills more extraordinary.
The improvement in the ISO levels is also great which is now at 100 - 40000 (6D offers ISO 100 - 25600). The continuous shooting, on the other hand, is now offered at 6.5fps which is 2fps higher than the former model. Even better, the camera has a better battery life and can now have 110 more shots.
3. Panasonic Lumix S5
If you want a full-frame camera that is very capable of shooting videos with the best set of features, Lumix S5 can be a good choice.
“Since full-frame isn’t that common for cameras with good video features, Lumix S5 can be a good deal for videographers looking for a full-frame unit,” said Summers. “It is more capable of gathering more light which can affect the overall detail and quality of images. This makes it pretty effective even in low-light conditions with at least 14 stops dynamic range. While it can basically capture 4K/60p 10-Bit 4:2:0 videos, you also have the option for 4K/30p 10-Bit 4:2:2 for better color resolution.”
Lumix S5 also has in-body image stabilization offering up to 5-stops of stabilization. It can even be bumped up to 6.5 stops depending on the stabilized lens used. But what makes its video capability a true gem? The colors and details. According to Summers, it’s as if you are filming with a “high-end camera.” S5 is probably one of the best cameras that can produce skin tones closest to real life, whether you are shooting stills or videos.
As for the stills, the S5 also can give you a good performance. It can even shoot 96MP stills under its high-resolution mode. On the other hand, it has a decent 7fps max burst. For continuous autofocus availability while shooting in burst, you get 5fps.
The autofocus system of S5 receives an obvious improvement compared to the earlier Fujifilm S cameras.
“Despite using the old contrast-detect system, it is faster and doesn’t show any problem for stills as the detection is quite good and sticks with the subjects,” said Summers. “However, the flaw of the autofocus can be very obvious under low frame rates so if you are relying greatly on this system for the videos, we suggest sticking with the 60fps frame rate.”
4. Nikon Z5
Nikon Z5 and Z6 are generally identical in a lot of ways. Even in the body dimensions and weight, it is almost exactly the same. Yet, there are some notable benefits in having Z5 over its sibling.
“Perhaps, the best thing about choosing Z5 over Z6 is the fact that it has better battery life,” said Summers. “Compared to Z6 with max 330 shooting ability, Z5 can last up to 470 shots. Z5 is also now to support UHS-II and has two card slots. Most importantly, it is at least $300 to $400 cheaper.”
Nonetheless, according to Summers, all of these things come with a few cutbacks in some areas.
“There is a dramatic decrease in the burst shooting capability of the Z5 which is now at a bit unappealing 4.5fps,” she added. “The sensor resolution is also reduced from 25MP to 24 MP and thankfully, it isn’t that drastic. However, the LCD top-plate display you get from Z6 is removed. But Nikon has a good reason for this and that is to give way to the mode dial of the cam which is intended for beginners.”
On a positive note, Z5 still offers almost the good and essential features every enthusiast and pro is looking for. Some of them are sensor-shift image stabilization, a 3.2” tilting touchscreen, RAW support, Face AF, Eye Tracking Focus, headphone and microphone ports, focus bracketing, focus stacking, 3690k-dot EVF, weather-sealed body, and lots of wireless connectivity.
5. Sony A7 II
Sony A7 II still doesn’t have a 4K shooting ability but there are a lot of reasons why it has a continuous stream of supporters in the market.
“The first thing to love about it is the integration of sensor-shift image stabilization which the original A7 misses,” said Summers. “With this, shooting sharp images is possible even when you’re holding the unit. The attractive fact here is that it was one of the cameras that first introduced the technology with a full-frame sensor. This explains the crowd it attracted in the past and still attracts up to this day.”
Further, it also gets some other additions such as the UHS-I card support and webcam function. It also comes with a higher color depth and better high ISO performance compared to the original model. Unfortunately, just like the older A7, it still doesn’t have the touchscreen functions which means there is no AF-touch function. Nonetheless, the over AF system is quite good.
“With 117 phase-detection and 25 contrast-detection points, the AF can follow the movement of subjects impressively well under sufficient lighting,” added Summers. “This is where you will also see the strength of the newly added Lock-on AF function.”
As for the performance, you get the bang for your buck. It offers one of the best dynamic range among cameras at this price. The shadows and highlights contain abundant details you can recover in case you want to enhance the stills. The colors are also vibrant and under Standard Creative Style mode, this is very evident.
Cheapest Full-frame Cameras - Buyer's Guide
If you are very particular about the quality of the stills, this is one of the few things you need to check. However, the megapixels aren’t the only factor that can affect the quality of your shots. The type of the image processor and the IBIS (especially if you are always shooting while holding the cam) can also contribute to this. As for the video, check for the 4K resolution but it is better to have an uncropped type. The frame rate of videos is also important to get smooth footage at all times.
While the contrast-detect AF does a good job when it comes to efficiency, having the phase-detect system will allow a faster AF. Better yet, get the camera offering a hybrid AF.
The LCD screen plays a huge role, especially if you want to experience the full benefit of the AF using the touch-focus function. With this, it is best to have the one that is touch-sensitive and with good brightness and resolution.
As said, full-frame cameras can be in the form of mirrorless and DSLR types. There are lots of things to fancy about mirrorless types but in terms of the selection of compatible lenses, DSLR is your choice. So if you want to really invest in a camera, grow your potential, and explore more lenses in the future, it is important the compatibility of the full-frame camera to other lenses. Look for the one with a vast lens ecosystem.
Cheapest Full-frame Cameras - FAQs
No, full-frame sensor cameras can only accept full-frame lenses. Using crop frame sensor lenses for such a camera can cause black edges around the shots.
Besides checking the description of the camera, there are noticeable marks in the lenses of various brands that will tell you of their type. For instance, Nikon full-frame lenses are tagged as FX lenses while Canon calls them EF lenses.
It can’t be denied that medium-format cameras have bigger sensors. With this, they can collect more detail and tonal range and this can affect not just the color rendition, but also the overall quality of the image.