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The cheapest full frame camera in 2020: how to get a big sensor on a budget!

Cheapest full frame camera
(Image credit: Nikon)

Some of the cheapest full frame cameras in our list are a couple of years old but so good, and so far ahead of their time, that they are absolute bargains today. Others are newer, and tap into a growing market amongst enthusiasts keen to upgrade to a full frame camera but without spending a fortune.

What is a full frame camera?

Digital cameras come with different sensor sizes, and the bigger the sensor, the better the image quality. For most amateurs and experts, the ultimate is a 'full frame camera'. These have a sensor the same size as classic 35mm film, measuring 36 x 24mm or thereabouts. This is twice the size of the APS-C sensors in most DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, and this means that full frame cameras can be typically twice the price – or more.

Full frame camera

This is the full frame sensor in the Panasonic Lumix S1R. It measures 36 x 24mm, the same size as an old 35mm film negative, and twice the size of the sensors in regular APS-C mirrorless cameras and DSLRs. This is why full frame cameras are preferred by professionals. (Image credit: Panasonic)

Why are full frame cameras affordable now?

There's an increasing trend for camera makers to keep old and superseded models on sale at reduced prices, alongside their newer replacements. Over time, as more and more units are sold and the cost of research and development is recouped, these older cameras become a lot cheaper to make... and a lot cheaper to buy! They are a way for camera makers to draw new users into their system and still make a bit of a profit too.

Sony in particular has made this a key part of its strategy, and you'll find plenty of Sony cameras on this list. The upshot is that it's never been easier for photographers to "level-up" their camera kit and make the jump to full-frame.

Full-frame DSLR cameras have traditionally been very expensive, popular with professionals, but out of reach for most amateurs and enthusiasts. However, the hyper-competitive market and consistent arrival of newer models has caused prices to fall to the point that puts full-frame DSLRs within the reach of enthusiasts. In fact, right now you're spoiled for choice if you're looking for the best cheap cameras

And what's more, some of the best full frame camera deals are on mirrorless cameras. As alluded to earlier, we've got Sony to thank for a lot of that, because of its strategy of keeping older models on the market for a long time. The best Sony cameras might be expensive, but older versions of the latest models can be had for exceptional value, and these are still fantastic cameras out there even if they don't have all the latest features.

We've ranked these cameras in approximate price order, with the least expensive first. While it's generally true that spending more results in a better camera, we'd urge you to take these cameras seriously. Very often, newer replacements can bring features and performance that you don't need for your own style of photography, and an older camera will do the job just as well.

The cheapest full frame cameras in 2020

Cheapest full frame cameras: Sony A7 II

(Image credit: Sony)

1. Sony A7 II

This 24MP full frame mirrorless camera even has in-body stabilisation

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 24.3MP | Lens mount: Sony E | Screen: 3in tiltable, 1,228,800 dots | Viewfinder: Electronic | Max burst speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Enthusiast/professional

5-axis in-body image stabilization
Great handling
Very similar to the lower-cost A7
Large lenses negate size advantage

For a long time, the original Sony A7 was the cheapest full frame camera you could get, but it's proving pretty hard to find these days and its replacement, the A7 Mark II is, to be fair, a much better camera. The big advantage that you you get with the Alpha A7 II is built-in optical stabilisation. This allows you to get steadier shots in a wide variety of lighting conditions, and works with any of the range of E-mount Sony lenses. Autofocus and start-up times are also faster than those on the A7, the former thanks to a 117-point phase-detect AF system that works in combination with 25-point contrast-detect AF, ensuring sharpness no matter where the subject lies in the frame. This 24-megapixel CSC is also pretty small for a full-frame camera. Prices for the A7 Mark II are falling just as they did for the original A7 before it, and right now this is the best bargain of all for full frame upgraders.

Read more: Sony A7 II review, updated for 2020

(Image credit: Canon)

2. Canon EOS RP

Canon's 'baby' EOS R is a very good camera at a very good price

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 26.2MP | Lens mount: Canon RF | Screen: 3-inch fully articulating touchscreen, 1.04m dots | Viewfinder: Electronic | Max burst speed: 5fps (One Shot), 4fps (Servo AF) | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Enthusiast

Compact size
Comes with DSLR lens converter
Few affordable RF lenses
Large lenses negate size advantage

The Canon EOS RP was the second camera in Canon's new RF full-frame mirrorless system, and designed to give you a low price of entry into this new family of cameras and its all-new lens mount. To make things easier for those upgrading, the EOS RP body is sold with a converter that allows you to use your existing Canon EOS D-SLR EF-mount lenses. Given that the existing RF lenses are rather esoteric and expensive for those shopping on the budget, this converter is a godsend. In terms of features, it is worth thinking of this as a mirrorless Canon EOS 6D Mark II – but with the advantage of an electronic viewfinder and 4K video shooting. The body is very small, but not too badly overbalanced by larger lenses, and while it doesn't have the heavyweight presence of more pro-orientated cameras, it's light, nice to use and has up-to-date tech. It's not the most advanced full frame camera on the market by any means, but with its compact, easy to use body and vari-angle screen, it's a brilliant buy at current prices.

Read more Canon EOS RP review

Cheapest full frame cameras: Sony A7R Mark II

(Image credit: Sony)

3. Sony A7R II

You won't find this resolution, for this little money, ANYWHERE

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 42.4MP | Lens mount: Sony E | Screen: 3in tilting touchscreen, 1,229k dots | Viewfinder: EVF, 2,359k dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Enthusiast/professional

42.4 million tack-sharp pixels
4K video
Amazing value with price drops
Only 5fps continuous shooting
Two versions behind the latest model

Sony has a strategy of keeping older versions of its mirrorless cameras on sale, long after new versions are released. This means you can still get the 42.4MP Sony A7R Mark II, even though the A7R Mark IV has been announced. Normally, it's difficult to get excited about older cameras when new ones have come out, but the Sony A7R Mark II is different. First, it gives you more megapixels than any other camera at this price – or anywhere near it. Second, it might be two versions old, but it uses very modern technology. The 5fps continuous shooting speed is half that of its successors, but not everybody needs that – and the A7R II still has in-body image stabilization and 4K video capture. It might not have the latest Sony autofocus tech or burst shooting speeds, but it still delivers more bangs for your buck than you'll find anywhere else. Right now, this is just exceptional value for money.

Read more: Sony A7R Mark II review

Cheapest full frame camera: Canon EOS 6D Mark II

4. Canon EOS 6D Mark II

Canon’s low-cost full-frame DSLR has a vari-angle touchscreen and more

Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 26.2MP | Lens mount: Canon EF | Screen: 3in vari-angle touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Viewfinder: Optical | Max burst speed: 6.5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Enthusiast/professional

Sophisticated, sensitive AF system
Vari-angle touchscreen
No 4K video
Unimpressive dynamic range

The Canon EOS 6D Mark II arrived five years after the original Canon EOS 6D, and brought some major updates that made it feel very current and fresh – and it still does. The original EOS 6D was a bit of an old plodder, but the EOS 6D Mark II is a very different proposition. As well as a step up in resolution – from 20.2MP to 26.2MP – it features Canon’s latest DIGIC 7 processing engine, a touch-sensitive, vari-angle display and 5-axis digital stabilisation for handheld video recording (which tops out at 1080p – no 4K option here, alas). The autofocus system gets a healthy boost in the shape of 45 cross-type points – although the AF point array is weighted towards the centre of the frame. The system is sensitive down to -3EV and benefits from Canon’s excellent Dual Pixel CMOS AF in Live View and movies too. It’s a great camera to shoot with, and the EOS 6D Mark II's combination of features, flexibility and value make it one of the best Canon cameras of all.

Read more: Canon EOS 6D Mark II review

Cheapest full frame cameras: Nikon Z5

(Image credit: Nikon)

Nikon Z5

Nikon's full frame newcomer is great value, right from the start

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 24.3 | Lens mount: Nikon Z | Screen: 3.2-inch tilting touchscreen | Viewfinder: EVF, 3,690k dots | Max burst speed: 4.5fps | Max video resolution: 4K UHD | User level: Enthusiast

Nikon's cheapest full frame Z
Dual SD UHS-II card slots
Nice build and handling
Limited kit lens zoom range
Cropped 4K video
Only 4.5fps continuous shooting

The Nikon Z5 is brand new and makes it on to our list on price alone – though whether you consider it a bargain or not will depend on which territory you're in. In the UK, for example, there is no body only option and it's sold only with a 24-50mm kit lens you will probably want to replace quite soon. In the US, you can buy it as a kit and body only, and in body only form it's significantly cheaper than the Nikon Z6. The 45fps burst shooting and cropped 4K video are a bit disappointing, but the Z5 handles really nicely, has a magnesium alloy body and weatherproofing, and we like the twin SD UHS-II card slots too.

Read more: Hands on: Nikon Z5 review

6. Nikon D750

Nikon's low-cost full frame DSLR still feels surprisingly fresh

Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 24.3MP | Lens mount: Nikon F | Screen: 3.2in tilting touchscreen, 1,228,000 dots | Viewfinder: Optical | Max burst speed: 6.5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Enthusiast/professional

Useful tilting rear-screen
Wide dynamic range
No 4K video
Live view AF slow and unreliable

The D750 was sandwiched between the cheaper D610 and the pro-spec D810/D850 in the full frame Nikon range when it first came out, but the D610 is now almost impossible to find new, so the D750 has become Nikon's entry-level full frame DSLR. The D750 takes its controls and handling cues from Nikon's enthusiast-level DSLRs rather than its pro models, but it does have Nikon's tried and trusted 51-point AF system which was, for a while, the best in the Nikon range. The D750 does not capture 4K video, but it can shoot 1080p full HD at up to 60fps. It also has a tilting rear screen, so although its live view autofocus isn't especially fast, it's still a step ahead of most fixed-screen DSLRs. The D750 is an easy camera to live with and, of course, it offers access to a huge range of Nikon-fit lenses. The recent arrival of its long-awaited successor, the Nikon D780, should see the D750's price driven down still further, so we're starting to see some good bargains here.

Read more: The 8 best portrait lenses for Nikon users

Cheapest full frame cameras: Nikon Z6

(Image credit: Nikon)

7. Nikon Z6

The Z6 is no cut-price has-been or novice camera – it's the real deal

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame CMOS | Megapixels: 24.5MP | Monitor: EVF, 3,690k dots, 100% coverage | Continuous shooting speed: 12fps | Viewfinder: EVF | Max video resolution: 4K UHD at 30p | User level: Enthusiast/Professional

Well-designed body and controls 
Superb high-ISO image quality
Full frame 4K video
Weak 310-shot battery life

Nikon now makes four Nikon Z models. The Nikon Z50 is a smaller APS-C camera, the Z5 (above) is a new, cheaper alternative, while the the Z 6 is more of a serious/pro model. The Z6 has 24 megapixels, while the more expensive Z 7 has 46 megapixels. Normally, we'd always say more is better, but the Z 6 has a lot going for it besides its lower price tag. For a start, it has a faster continuous shooting speed than the Z 7, better image quality at high ISO settings and the ability to capture oversampled uncropped 4K video, so you get the best detail rendition and no 'crop factor' with your lenses. Is the Z6 better than the Nikon D750, Nikon's good but ageing 24-megapixel full frame DSLR? Yes, and by some margin; it's just pricier. But although it's not the cheapest full frame camera on our list, the Z6 is the first modern, current camera designed for serious users and professionals.

Read more: Nikon Z6 review

Cheapest full frame cameras: Pentax K-1 Mark II

(Image credit: Pentax)

8. Pentax K-1 Mark II

Pentax makes only one full-frame DSLR, but it's a cracker!

Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 36MP | Lens mount: Pentax K | Screen: 3in three-way-tilt, 1,037k dots | Viewfinder: Pentaprism | Max burst speed: 4.4/6.4fps | Max video resolution: 1080p (Full HD) | User level: Enthusiast/professional

Robust construction
5-axis image stabilisation
Pedestrian continuous drive speed
Relatively low 670-shot battery life

Pentax seems to soldier along in its own little bubble, seemingly unaffected by outside events, so the Pentax K-1 Mark II is typically solid but unadventurous in is specifications. It does have a tough, weather-sealed construction, and a highly effective sensor-shift image stabilisation system that works with any attached lens, unlike competing Canon and Nikon DSLRs, which do not have in-body stabilisation. Better still, the 5-axis stabilizer can work in trick modes to deliver anti-aliasing correction, an increase in fine detail and texture based on Pixel Shift through multiple exposures, and even an Astrotracer mode to avoid stars appearing to streak through the sky. With a 36MP full-frame image sensor, the K-1 Mark II certainly gives you a lot of megapixels for the money, though the 33-point autofocus system does feel dated, and Live View autofocus is poor. For DSLR fans who want a big, solid, premium-quality and traditional camera, though, it still has strong appeal.

Read more: Pentax K-1 Mark II review

Best full frame camera: Sigma fp

(Image credit: Sigma)

9. Sigma fp

Sigma's oddball stills/video camera is rather appealing

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 24.6 | Lens mount: L-mount | Screen: 3.15-inch fixed, 2,100k dots | Viewfinder: No | Max burst speed: 18fps | Max video resolution: 4K UHD | User level: Professional

Industrial, functional design
Best at video but good at stills
Fixed LCD, no EVF
Unreliable continuous AF

It's easy to fall in love with the miniature size of the Sigma fp and its utilitarian, industrial design. Sigma has always dared to be different with its cameras, and given that there are now so many different full-frame mirrorless systems, this is great to see. This is a camera that is designed to be a start of a system, however, which is where opinions might divide. Stills photographers might find the Sigma fp a bit irritating to handle without its optional screw-on grip and ergonomically challenged even then. Videographers will see it differently. Here, the camera is simply a central component in a modular shooting 'rig', and the Sigma's small size and multiple attachment points are big advantages. In the end, it does feel as if the Sigma fp is no more than an interesting alternative in the stills market, but a much more serious and fascinating option for videographers. It's also rather good value.

Read more: Sigma fp review

Cheapest full frame camera: Sony A7 III

(Image credit: Sony)

10. Sony A7 III

It's not the cheapest A7 of all, but it's the cheapest current model

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Sony E | Screen: 3in tilting touchscreen, 922k dots | Viewfinder: EVF, 2,359k dots | Continuous shooting speed: 10fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Enthusiast

Image quality and speed
5-axis image stabilisation
Unbalanced by larger lenses
24MP no higher than APS-C models

It might not have the glamour of Sony’s top-flight A9 and ultra-high-resolution A7R IV bodies but the A7 III camera grabs most of the best bits from both pricier models and delivers them in a more affordable package. Headline features include highly a effective 696-point AF system and a 5-axis image stabilization system that promises 5EV of compensation.There’s a new 24.2MP back-illuminated image sensor, coupled with the latest generation of image processor, and the two deliver amazing tonal range and make super-high-ISO settings possible. Handling is excellent, with a design that combines easy access to important camera settings with a typically compact and lightweight Alpha build. For top performance and AF tech at a sensible price, it’s the best Sony camera out there.

Read more: Sony A7 III review

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