5 Great Entry-Level Full-Frame Cameras for 2018

We all know that Sony has broken the mold for entry-level full-frame cameras with the release of the new A7III. But even at a great price (just two dollars short of $2,000), it still might be out of reach for the savvy photography business owner on a tight budget. Fortunately, there are several other options on the market that can get you up into full-frame territory for much less than the cost of a brand new Sony A7III.

I’ve compiled a list of several entry-level full-frame cameras available. My criteria are simple; 35mm sensor and a ‘body-only’ list price below $1,500 USD. I didn’t include lenses in the price, because my thought is if you’re considering spending your hard-earned money on a full-frame camera, you already have great glass to use with it. If you don’t, I suggest your limited funds would be better spent on better lenses for your current body.

There are several models currently listed on the B&H website that meet this criterion. I picked five and ordered them by price from lowest to highest. All pricing is in USD and pulled directly from the B&H website. Prices will vary, so shop around for the best deals.

READ MORE: How Would Your Business Spend a $3,700 Gear Budget

Sony Alpha A7

The Sony Alpha A7 was a game changer when it first came to market. As the first full-frame mirrorless camera, it foreshadowed interesting things to come with it’s compact, lightweight design. Today, it’s an absolute steal at only $798 and the cheapest way to enter the world of full-frame photography.

Equipped with a 24.3-megapixel sensor, the A7 still produces excellent images. It lacks a touchscreen and there’s no 4k video, but 1080p60 is available. Battery life is the biggest knock against the A7, but given its low price, you can pick up a couple of spares for all-day shoots. It’s the smallest, lightest, cheapest path to full-frame photography…at least until you start adding lenses.

Canon 6D

Canon’s 6D is the cheapest DSLR on our list at just $999. This camera might be getting a bit long in the tooth, but it’s a lightweight option with a 20.3-megapixel sensor that produces great images. It lags behind other option for resolution and autofocus (11-point with one cross-type). Video capabilities are also weak on the Canon 6D, but it will do 1080p at 30fps, which should be fine for those of us who are primarily still photographers. Besides, if you’re shooting a lot of videos, you’re not going to buy a full-frame DSLR anyway.

I had hoped to include the upgraded Canon 6D Mark II on this list, but the body-only price came in just over my $1,500 price target by $99. It’s an option worth considering if you don’t need the rock-bottom price of the 6D. It’s video capabilities are upgraded and the auto-focus system is much better. The 6D Mark II includes Canon’s Dual-Pixel AF system. Combined with the fully-articulating touchscreen delay, the 6D Mark II is a capable video shooter, but it’s doubtful if these features make the 6D Mark II a better entry-level option than the older 6D.

READ MORE: When Does Your Photography Become a Legal Business?

Sony A7II

The mirrorless Sony A7II is perhaps the most intriguing model on this short list of entry-level full-frame cameras at $1098. The internal components and specs are similar to the original A7, but the Mark II versions come with some compelling upgrades that are worth the extra $300.

The handling characteristics are much improved, with a deeper grip and tweaked control layout. The A7II also sports 5-axis in-body image stabilization, meaning you no longer have to rely on image-stabilized lenses for steady handheld shooting. It’s got solid FullHD video capability with 1080p60 at 50Mb/s. No 4K, but it is still the most capable video shooter on this list.

At only a few hundred more than an A7 and half the price of a new A7III, the Sony A7II might be the best choice for an entry-level full-frame camera.

Nikon D610

Stepping up in price brings us to the entry-level offering in the Nikon catalog, the D610 at $1,496. It offers a 24.3-megapixel sensor and a respectable autofocus system with 39 focus points, 9 of which are cross-type. All the internal are wrapped in a weather-sealed housing making the D610 ideal for outdoor work.

The D610 is also outfitted with dual card slots, an important feature for professional photographers who benefit from the redundancy of recording to both cards simultaneously. It’s capable of basic video recording at 1080p/30fps. This would be a solid buy for an entry-level full-frame camera, but check out the next camera on the list first.

Nikon D750

I was surprised to see the Nikon D750 come up in my B&H search at exactly the same price ($1,496) as the D610. Perhaps it’s in the midst of a price adjustment (I have seen the D750 on sale recently), but a D750 for the same price as a D610 (or even a couple hundred dollars higher), is a no-brainer.

The D750 gives you an upgraded autofocus system right out of its D810 big brother. It also features a tilting rear LCD screen, built-in WiFi, and full 1080p60 video capability. It also promises a faster burst rate (6.5fps) and better battery life (1230 shots) than the D610 or the D810 for that matter. If you intend to shoot Nikon and can manage the higher price, the D750 is a superb entry-level full-frame camera.

What About a Used Camera?

I don’t want to rule out used equipment. I buy most of my gear previously-enjoyed from a local brick-and-mortar. If you don’t mind a camera with a few miles on it, there are some great deals to be had on most of the entry-level full-frame cameras on this list, which will save your business even more money.

You may also be able to find a higher-end body that falls within your budget on the used market.

For example, I recently picked up a mint Nikon D5100 with an 18-55mm kit lens for $300CDN from a local wedding photographer who moved to full-frame and was cashing in her unneeded gear. It’s not full frame, but it was a heck of a deal.

Which of These Entry-Level Full-Frame Cameras is Right for You?

Any of these models would make an ideal point to step up to full-frame for a professional photographer on a budget, assuming that’s the right move for your business.

I mentioned the lenses above, but it bears repeating, you should only be considering a full-frame body if you’ve already got the glass you need for your projects.

As an example, if you’re an event photographer and you’re using a crop-sensor body and you don’t own a 24-70mm F2.8 and/or 70-200mm F2.8, your photography business may benefit more from an investment in better glass than a larger body.

How Would Your Business Spend a $3,700 Gear Budget

An opportunity recently presented itself to expand my photography business into another market, At the moment, my photography serves as a value-add to my freelance writing projects, and while it does a great job of increasing the value of my deliverables, I’ve always had a desire to expand my photography services beyond their current situation.

The new opportunity involves one of my other business ventures and would require event photography. Mostly business networking events, conferences, training and other related professional functions. We had briefly considered hiring a photographer to work with us on this project, but I can’t pass up an opportunity. Two birds with one stone, if you catch my meaning.

This type of photography would be a considerable departure from my current projects as far as shooting environment is concerned. Right now, my work is almost entirely outdoors in natural light, but corporate event photography will move me inside, to poorly lit meeting rooms, dim networking venues and various forms of artificial light. For this project to be a success, a gear upgrade will be required.

I currently shoot with a Canon 7D (yes, the first one) and have a small selection of lenses I use for different purposes. A Sigma 10-20mm F/3.5 for interior shots of boats and RVs. A Canon 70-300mm F/4-5.6 for long shots of running boats and a 50mm F/1.8 for the occasional grip and smile shot. While this gear suits me well for my current projects, none of these lenses, except the 50mm, is well-suited to the indoor shooting I’ll be doing.

The upgrade will need to consist of a minimum of a 24-70mm and a 70-200mm lens. Both are standard fare for any event shooter. F/2.8 would be ideal, but I’m a business owner first, and a photographer second, so F/4 may be a more suitable investment. The Canon F/4 lenses are about 40-45% cheaper than their F/2.8 counterparts. Deciding which to choose, like many business decisions, comes down to a math equation.

Assuming my business has a $3,700 budget for the needed upgrades, let’s grab some prices from the B&H website:

  • Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens: $1,600
  • Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM Lens: $900
  • Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens: $2,100
  • Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens: $1,300

As you can see, on the 24-70mm, opting for the F/4 version saves $700. On the 70-200mm, I hang on to $800 by foregoing the F/2.8. Choosing the F/4 over the F/2.8 will save $1,500. Seems like a no-brainer for a cash-strapped small business owner, but there’s another problem…

Both lenses are designed for a full-frame sensor. They will fit on my Canon 7D, but because it has an APS-C sensor, the focal lengths of these lenses will be increased by a factor 1.6. The 24-70mm would become a 38-112mm and the larger lens would work out at 112-320mm. Not ideal focal lengths for event photography, but passable, except for a second issue…

By losing the one stop of maximum aperture, I need to make that up at another point in the exposure triangle. I could adjust the shutter speed, but given the poor lighting conditions I may encounter, I’ll be keeping the shutter speed at the absolute slowest setting possible to avoid motion blur. Stopping it down won’t be an option very often.

The other adjustment I can get to retrieve my lost stop of aperture is to bump the ISO by an equivalent stop. For example, if I can get a proper exposure at ISO1600 with the F/2.8, I’ll need to stop up to ISO3200 to get the same exposure with the F/4 glass. I know this will produce more noise in my images, but this will likely be the only viable solution in most situations if I opt for the F/4 lenses.

So, to summarize the problem, is it worth an extra $1,500 to reduce noise in my images by one full stop?

Absolutely not! $1,500 for a single small benefit is an unwise investment for a business owner. I’m here to make a profit on my corporate event photography, not tie up valuable cash flow inexpensive assets I don’t need. I’m not shooting weddings or other intimate events that involve a lifetime of happy memories.

However, perhaps there’s a more elegant solution here. If there was a way to invest the extra $1,500 so I regain my stop of light along with some other benefits, then it would be worth considering.

What if I invested the $1,500 into a full-frame camera body to replace the aging 7D?

Stepping up to a full-frame sensor would mean cleaner images at the necessarily higher ISO setting. A newer body would also bring many other benefits that would offset the $1,500 premium.

Let’s stick with Canon for a moment for an apple to apple comparison. What if I pulled together another $100 and dropped $1,600 on a brand-new Canon 6D Mark II, or even a slightly used model if I can’t find extra $100?

What extra benefits would that net me?

I love my 7D. It has fast autofocus and takes great photos, but it does have a few shortcomings.

The biggest one I ran into was with video. I don’t shoot video often, but even with my limited need, I found the 7D inadequate for the task. It’ will do 1080p at 30fps, but it lacks any ability to autofocus during recording. If the subject is moving, like a boat (or a person at an event), I’m not going to have much luck getting usable video.

The 6D Mark II fixes this extremely well. Not only will it do 1080p at 60fps, but it’s also equipped with Canon’s Dual-Pixel AF and a Vari-Angle touchscreen. That’s a massive upgrade over the 7D.

The other disadvantage of the 7D is CompactFlash memory. That stuff is expensive and obsolete. My laptop has an SD card reader, not a CF slot. I don’t want to mess around with a card reader, or even worse, a USB cable to the 7D. The 6D Mark II would solve this issue as well.

The new body would also give us goodies like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC and an upgraded 26.2-megapixel sensor adding even more value to my investment. But the biggest benefit to the new body is I would then have a capable backup in the 7D should the 6D fail during an event.

Here’s the $3,700 bottom line:

Option 1: A pair of F/2.8 lenses with a capable, but ten-year-old APS-C body?

Option 2: A pair of F/4 lenses and a brand-new full-frame body for an extra $100?

Your money and your business may lead you to a different decision, but for my business and my money, it’s F/4 lenses and a new full-frame body.

I am sure that more than one of you are disagreeing with my entire thought process and screaming that F/2.8 is the only option for a pro event shooter. You may be right. That’s why there’s a comment section down below. Agree or disagree? Sound off and let me know what choice you would make and why?

Perhaps you can change my mind!