Skip to main content

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

Cheapest full frame camera
(Image credit: Nikon)

If you're looking for the best value full frame cameras, you might be surprised to find that some of them are as affordable as APS-C models! What's the story behind this, and why are full frame cameras so great?

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?

The reason is that many camera-makers keep their full-frame models out and available for a long time after they first went on sale – in some cases to the tune of several years longer, even when they've been supplanted by newer, more advanced models. It makes business sense, giving them a way to attract newer users into the system without having to produce a dedicated entry-level full-frame model. 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 any kind of camera deal

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 rate value for money pretty highly here on Digital Camera World. This means that even our list of the best full frame mirrorless cameras includes several on this list. So don't worry that you're getting a sub-par camera by shopping on a budget: these are great cameras in their own right.

If you're less concerned about budget than you are about getting the best camera possible, by all means head over to our best DSLR list. For the bargain-hunters, however, this list of the 10 affordable full-frame cameras on the market should have something to tempt you. Whether you're looking for a low-light specialist, a high-resolution shooter, a mirrorless marvel or an all-rounder, we're confident we'll have something to tempt you.

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 check the specs carefully, as there are some real bargains to be had on this list.

So let's get to the cameras!

The cheapest full frame cameras in 2020

(Image credit: Sony)

1. Sony A7

Sony's first full frame mirrorless camera now sells at ultra low prices

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 24.3MP | Lens mount: Sony E | Screen: 3in tiltable, 921,600 dots | Viewfinder: Electronic | Max burst speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Enthusiast

Small form factor
Impressive image quality
Amazing price
Poor battery life
No in-body image stabilization
No 4K video

The Sony A7 was launched way back in 2013, and it was way more expensive at the time. Five years later, though, it's still on sale, and it's the lowest-priced full-frame camera you can buy. Is it out of date? No, not really. In fact, Sony tells us that it's still making it. Compared to a DSLR, the A7 is small and lightweight, though, once you add a decent kit lens or a telephoto, that advantage quickly disappears. The A7 was the first full-frame mirrorless camera on the market, and although it lacks some newer features like a touchscreen display and 4K video, the quality of the Raw images produced by the 24.3MP Exmor CMOS sensor continues to impress. The only real letdown is the somewhat poor battery life, and these first-generation A7 models do not have the in-body stabilization now standard across the range. 

Read more: Sony A7 review, updated for 2020

(Image credit: Sony)

2. Sony A7 II

If you like the look of the Sony A7 but want in-body stabilization, get this!

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

The original Sony A7 is the cheapest full frame camera you can get at the top of the list, but its replacement, the A7 Mark II, isn't far behind. It's an impressive update, and 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. For an outright bargain, the original A7 is best, but if you're juggling price against features, we think the Sony A7 II is the one to go for.

Read more: Sony A7 II review, updated for 2020

Cheapest full frame camera: Canon EOS 6D Mark II

3. 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 makes it feel very current and fresh. 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

(Image credit: Canon)

4. 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 is the second camera in Canon's new RF full-frame mirrorless system, and it is 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.

Read more Canon EOS RP review

(Image credit: Sony)

5. Sony A7S

Sony's original video specialist is showing its age, so be careful

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 12.2MP | Lens mount: Sony E | Screen: 3in tiltable, 921,600 dots | Viewfinder: Electronic | Max burst speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Expert

Incredible low-light performance
Uncompressed 4K (via recorder)
Low megapixel count
4K not internally recordable

If you thought things moved quickly in the world of photography, that's nothing compared to video. When it was launched in 2014, the 12.2MP resolution of the A7S seemed a smart compromise for a camera made mainly for video. This would allow it to shoot the highest quality images possible in the lowest light levels. In fact, the ’S’ stands for ‘sensitivity mastered’ – and for good reason. The A7S has a native sensitivity range of ISO 100-102,400, but keeping the resolution low means the light-gathering pixels are larger and picture noise is well controlled. Video performance was high-end too – at the time. The A7S offers full pixel readout on 4K video, S-Log2 gamma and clean HDMI output – but the killer today is that 4K recording is only possible via an external recorder. You’ll need to splash out on the A7S II for internal 4K, and prices for that model put just outside our top ten cheapest full frame cameras). The Sony A7S is very affordable, then, but comes with a warning: it is full frame, and it is good in low light, but its 4K video capabilities now look very dated – many cameras half the price of this one can record internal 4K video as a matter of course.

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, and there's a real chance for a bargain here.

Read more: The 8 best portrait lenses for Nikon users

(Image credit: Nikon)

7. Nikon Z 6

The Z 6 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 makes two Nikon Z models. The Z 6 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. On paper, the 24.5-megapixel sensor of the Z 6 appears to offer no advantage over smaller and cheaper APS-C cameras, but the sensor's extra size means its images are much crisper and cleaner, especially at higher ISO settings. Is it better than the Nikon D750, Nikon's good but ageing 24-megapixel full frame DSLR? Yes, and by some margin; it's just pricier. Indeed, it's not the cheapest full frame camera on our list, but the Z 6 is the first one that's a properly modern camera designed for serious users and professionals.

Read more: Nikon Z6 review

(Image credit: Sony)

8. Sony A7R II

Two versions behind the A7R IV, but massive megapixels for the money

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 4.4MP | 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.

(Image credit: Sony)

9. 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

(Image credit: Pentax)

10. Pentax K-1 II

The K-1 II is a properly old-school DSLR, and we love it for that

Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 36.4MP | Screen: 3.2in pivoting screen, 1,037,000 dots | Viewfinder: Optical | Max burst speed: 4.4fps (6.4fps in APS-C crop mode) | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Enthusiast/professional

Mega 36MP resolution
Full frame sensor
Sturdy construction  
Ergonomic controls
Video features could be improved 
Only 4.4fps continuous shooting

Pentax might not be the biggest name in photography these days, but don't write it off just yet. If you like your cameras big, tough and chunky, you'll love the K-1 Mark II. This being a Pentax, you get built-in SR shake reduction (Pentax was using this tech to great effect long before the latest mirrorless cameras) but the real selling point here is the full frame sensor with its 36.4 million pixel resolution. Equally impressive is the ‘scissor action’ articulating rear screen for composing shots at all sorts of angles, and extended exposure mode choices, along with two SD card slots. It’s not all great news; the camera offers only a modest 4.4 fps maximum burst speed when shooting in full frame. There’s also no hybrid phase detection AF system for its live view mode and only 1080p full HD video capability rather than 4K – this is really a stills camera that shoots video, not a video specialist. Nevertheless, this is a big, tough workhorse with a lot of very clever features you won't find anywhere else.

Read more: Pentax K-1 Mark II review

Read more: