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The cheapest full frame camera in 2021: how to get a big sensor on a small budget!

Included in this guide:

Cheapest full frame camera: Canon EOS R
(Image credit: Canon)

The cheapest full frame camera doesn't necessarily mean you have to skimp on features. Some of the cameras in this list were the best you could buy when they were released but now they're a couple of years old, prices have been discounted. If you're looking to upgrade your kit but don't want to invest in one of the best mirrorless cameras, you'll be impressed by how much you can get for your money.

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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?

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

This applies right across the board, so that although most of the full frame bargains are for mirrorless cameras, you can still get a cheap full frame DSLR too. We think the best full frame Canon DSLR right now is the EOS 6D Mark II, and for Nikon full frame camera fans, the D750 and Nikon Z5 are great cost-conscious choices.

And what's more, some of the best full frame camera deals are on mirrorless cameras. 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. 

Prices can change overnight and they will vary from one territory to another. If you want to bag the cheapest full frame cameras you need to keep your eyes peeled and be ready to grab a bargain. Our price boxes below are updated daily.

The cheapest full frame cameras in 2021

(Image credit: Canon)

The cheapest full frame Canon camera so far, and it's pretty good too!

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Compact size+Comes with DSLR lens converter
Reasons to avoid
-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. It was designed to be cheap and prices have fallen still further, so this is the cheapest of all Canon full frame cameras! 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 | Best Canon cameras

(Image credit: Sony)

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

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+5-axis in-body image stabilization+Great handling
Reasons to avoid
-No 4K video-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 almost impossible to buy new now 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 one of the cheapest options for full frame upgraders.

Read more: Sony A7 II review, updated for 20211 | Best Sony cameras

(Image credit: Canon)

The best budget full frame DSLR there is right now

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Sophisticated, sensitive AF system+Vari-angle touchscreen
Reasons to avoid
-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 | Best Canon cameras

Nikon's budget full frame DSLR still feels surprisingly fresh

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Useful tilting rear-screen+Wide dynamic range
Reasons to avoid
-No 4K video-Live view AF slow

Even though the D750 has now been discontinued and replaced by the Nikon D780 it still deserves a place on the list. For many years, the Nikon D570 was the undisputed king of low-light photography. It takes its design and handling from Nikon's enthusiast-level DSLRs rather than the pro models and it sits comfortably in the hand thanks to its chunky grip. While a 51-point AF system might seem outdated now, at the time it was the best in the Nikon range. While the Nikon D750 can't capture 4K video, you can record pretty decent video in 1080p at up to 60fps. There is a huge range of lenses to choose from either brand new or in the second-hand market. It's one of the cheapest Nikon full-frame cameras you can get right now and there's a reason people still want to buy them – they're great cameras that offer fantastic image quality. 

Read more: Nikon D750 review | Best Nikon cameras | Nikon D750 vs Nikon D850

(Image credit: Nikon)

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

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Dual SD UHS-II card slots+Nice build and handling
Reasons to avoid
-Cropped 4K video-Only 4.5fps continuous shooting

The Z5 is Nikon's cheapest full-frame mirrorless camera, making it perfect for this list, 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. What's really caught our eye, though, is the price drops we're seeing right now. This is a chance to get a brand new camera design at 'old camera' prices.

Read more: Nikon Z5 review | Best Nikon cameras

(Image credit: Canon)

Canon's first R series camera still has a lot to offer photographers

Specifications
Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: Full frame
Megapixels: 30.3MP
Lens mount: Canon RF
Screen: 3.15-inch fully articulating touchscreen, 2.1m dots
Viewfinder: Electronic
Max burst speed: 8ps
Max video resolution: 4K (cropped)
User level: Enthusiast/professional
Reasons to buy
+Great control customization+5,655(!) focus positions
Reasons to avoid
-No in-body stabilization-Cropped 4K video

The EOS R was launched back in 2018 and was Canon's first full-frame mirrorless camera. While both the EOS R5 and R6 have the edge, thanks to some welcome firmware improvements and a significant price drop since its launch, it's now a more compelling camera than it was when it initially arrived. The 30.3MP sensor is a match for the excellent EOS 5D Mark IV, while Canon's also managed to squeeze a staggering 5,655 focus positions onto the sensor, which cover 88% of the frame horizontally and 100% vertically. The 3.69 million-dot electronic viewfinder is very good, while the 3.15-inch articulating touchscreen is still one of the largest around. That's not forgetting Canon's polished touchscreen interface, though the less said about the M-Fn multi-function touch bar the better. There's no in-body image stabilisation either, but pair it with some IS lenses and you'll still be able to get up to 5 stops of image shake compensation. It's not without its limitations then, but the EOS R shouldn't be dismissed at this price. 

Read more Canon EOS R review | Best Canon cameras

(Image credit: Sigma)

Sigma's oddball stills/video camera is rather appealing

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Industrial, functional design+Best at video but good at stills
Reasons to avoid
-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 | Best 4K cameras for video

(Image credit: Panasonic)

Panasonic's most recent Lumix S is both affordable and brilliant for video

Specifications
Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: Full frame
Megapixels: 24.2MP
Screen: 3-inch vari-angle, 1,840k dots
Viewfinder: Electronic, 2,360k dots
Lens: L-mount
Continuous shooting speed: 7fps
Video: Uncropped 4K UHD up to 60/50p
User level: Intermediate/expert
Reasons to buy
+Best in-class video performance+Magnesium frame and vari-angle screen+Dual SD card slots
Reasons to avoid
-HDMI port not full-size-Only contrast AF

Despite its compact size, the Lumix S5 shares the impressive 24MP CMOS sensor housed in the Lumix S1, but with improved AF. It also has a tough weather-resistant body and delivers up to 6.5-stops of image stabilisation with compatible lenses. Its standout features include class-leading dynamic range and 4K video recording, as well as 96MP high resolution RAW+JPEG capture. It’s tough to beat in this category. The Lumix S5 is smaller than the Lumix S1 and S1R before it, and cheaper too. It matches the Lumix S1 for stills and beats it for video, coming close to the capabilities of the far more expensive Lumix S1H. What a camera!

Read more: Panasonic Lumix S5 review

(Image credit: Pentax)

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

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Robust construction+5-axis image stabilisation
Reasons to avoid
-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 Pentax cameras

(Image credit: Sony)

It's Sony's cheapest 'current' model and a terrific all-rounder

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Image quality and speed+5-axis image stabilisation
Reasons to avoid
-Unbalanced by larger lenses-24MP no higher than APS-C models

The Sony A7 III may not have the speed of the A9 II or the resolution of the A7R IV but it does include a lot of features from each in a smaller, more affordable package. Its 696-point contrast-detect AF system is something worth shouting about. It's fast, responsive and includes eye and face AF which makes it the perfect choice for portrait photographers. With 14 stops of dynamic range, 5-axis of image stabilization, 24.4MP back-illuminated sensor and the latest generation image processor, the A7 III works exceptionally well in low light. Even when shooting at super-high-ISO settings, it's able to deliver amazing tonal range and sharp images. The only feature letting the A7 III down is the viewfinder which isn't very high resolution however, considering all the other features it includes it's not too much of a worry. For top performance and AF tech at a sensible price, it’s the best Sony camera out there.

Read more: Sony A7 III review | Best Sony cameras

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Rod Lawton

Rod is the Group Reviews editor for Digital Camera World and across Future's entire photography portfolio, with decades of experience with cameras of all kinds. Previously he has been technique editor on N-Photo, Head of Testing for the photography division and Camera Channel editor on TechRadar. He has been writing about photography technique, photo editing and digital cameras since they first appeared, and before that began his career writing about film photography. He has used and reviewed practically every interchangeable lens camera launched in the past 20 years, from entry-level DSLRs to medium format cameras, together with lenses, tripods, gimbals, light meters, camera bags and more.