Until recently, full-frame cameras were considered the classic professional cameras: Very good, but also very clunky and very expensive. That was once. In the meantime Canon, Nikon, Sony and other manufacturers bring out more compact and cheaper models and try to reach the target group of ambitious photographers.
Cheap Professional Cameras
Here we present particularly recommendable and inexpensive full-frame cameras under 2,200 euros: four system cameras without mirrors and a classic single-lens reflex camera that you should know as a passionate photographer.
There is a strong fascination with full-frame cameras: Inside there are luxuriously large sensors that stand for excellent sharpness and low image noise.
But so far, the high prices could and have been wanted almost exclusively by professionals. That is currently changing: The new full-format generation has slimmed down significantly, both in terms of price and case size and only the excellent image quality has remained the same.
Here in the table we present five particularly recommendable full-frame cameras, all of which are available for less than 2,200 euros, some of which are even significantly less. In addition to four system cameras without mirrors, you will also find a classic SLR camera here.
1. Nikon Z6 II: Professional DSLM at an attractive price
The full format sensor of the Nikon Z6 II delivers an extremely clean image even at a higher ISO, the autofocus reacts quickly and reliably and also focuses on human and animal eyes. In video mode, 4k at 30 fps are possible, Nikon is planning a firmware update to 4k with 60 fps.
Nikon Z6 II Pros:
- Excellent image quality
- Very good autofocus
- Rapid series pictures
Nikon Z6 II Cons:
- Display not suitable for selfies
Among the top 10 full-frame cameras that were tested in the CHIP test center, the Nikon Z6 II stands out as being particularly inexpensive: While the top cameras from other manufacturers cost several thousand euros, the second generation of the mirrorless full-frame Nikon cameras are available for around 2,100 euros.
In the test it still delivers a top performance, whether in terms of image quality, equipment / handling, speed or video quality.
Typically full format, the 24-megapixel camera shows its strengths in low light: the images are clear and color-fast and have little noise up to high ISO regions. As usual in this price range, the body is image stabilized. The autofocus reacts quickly and accurately and focuses on faces, eyes and even animal eyes.
In serial picture mode, a maximum of 16 JPEGs or 10 RAWs per second are possible; for fast storage, the two memory card slots support both CFexpress and the SDXC (UHS-II) standard.
With a weight of 705 grams, the Nikon Z6 II is one of the more compact professional cameras, but the dust- and splash-proof housing made of magnesium alloy is very easy to grip.
The viewfinder and touch display are bright and high-resolution. The screen can be swiveled flexibly, but not so far that a selfie is possible. A shoulder display for setting control is available.
The Nikon Z6 II is also very suitable for filming high-resolution clips. The maximum resolution is 4k (UHD) with 30 frames per second; a future firmware update will increase this frame rate to 60 frames per second.
Headphones and an external microphone can be connected. It’s a shame that the Z6 II crops the image section 1.5x around the crop in video mode. If you shoot more indoors or want to film wide landscapes, you should get an additional, wide-angled lens.
2. Nikon Z5: Premium DSLM for the price-conscious
The Nikon Z5 is a mirrorless system camera that is well equipped for the vast majority of photo situations. Only when filming and photographing fast action scenes do you have to accept slight compromises.
Nikon Z5 Pros:
- Inexpensive kit including lens
- Good picture quality
- Fast and accurate autofocus
Nikon Z5 Cons:
- Burst speed rather slow
- Strong crop when filming
- No shoulder display
Nikon released another full frame camera in 2020 aimed at ambitious amateur photographers. The Nikon Z5 is the smallest sister of the family of mirrorless Z models from Nikon and is characterized by an extremely affordable price.
Since it is only available as a kit, there is the matching lens Nikkor Z 24-50mm f/4.0-6.3. In our test center, however, we measured the Z5, like other mirrorless full-frame cameras from Nikon, with the higher-quality Nikon Z 1.8/35 in order to create a comparable basis.
The image quality of the 24-megapixel camera is impressive: the Nikon Z6 delivers a sharp, detailed image up to ISO 3,200 with pleasantly little noise.
The autofocus is also pleasing, it focuses quickly and accurately on faces and (animal) eyes, and subject tracking also works very well in high-contrast situations. The camera is less suitable for fast movements and action, the series image speed is limited to 4.6 images per second.
The dust- and splash-proof magnesium body of the Z5 is similar to the other DSLMs from the same company, it lies comfortably in the hand and is easy to use.
We really like the camera’s clearly arranged menu, which makes the many functions of this professional DSLM quickly accessible even to ambitious beginners.
3. Sony Alpha 7C Black
The Sony Alpha 7C is a high-performance full-format DSLM in an unusually small housing. The image quality is excellent, even at higher ISO values. Only the auto focus weakens in low light. A good choice for anyone who wants to carry little weight around with them.
Sony Alpha 7C Pros:
- Compact housing
- Very good picture quality
- Large selection of lenses
Sony Alpha 7C Cons:
- Carrier autofocus in low light
- No touch menus
- Only one card slot
If you don’t want to compromise in terms of image quality, but still don’t want to lug around too much weight, the Sony Alpha 7c is well advised. The Alpha 7c is currently the smallest and lightest full-format DSLM with an integrated image stabilizer.
The housing of the premium camera, including the battery, only weighs around a pound, and it also looks quite slim: Sony has made the viewfinder smaller and moved it to the left, eliminating the bulge in the middle of the body.
This makes the full-frame camera similar to the Sony’s 6000 series, which, however, are only equipped with a smaller APS-C sensor.
The 24 MP sensor comes from the Alpha 7 III and does a great job. The image quality hardly differs from the photo quality of the big sister, which is definitely a positive thing. Up to and including ISO 1,600, the values of the Alpha 7C are just under 1,900 of 2,400 theoretically possible line pairs per image height; very impressive.
Filmmakers and vloggers are happy about the 3-inch touch display that can be folded out to the side and swiveled 180 degrees. Also great: The 30-minute limit for filming, which is typical for digital cameras, does not exist with the Alpha 7C.
However, we miss a touch menu with a modern, clear structure. Another shame: the second card slot, which is common in this camera category, has fallen victim to the red pen.
4. Panasonic Lumix DC S5: full-frame camera with powerful video features
The Panasonic Lumix S5 shines with consistently high photo resolution across all ISO levels and lavish features. The usability and feel are also pleasing. Their high-resolution video function with many professional features stands out particularly positively.
Panasonic Lumix DC S5 Pros:
- Excellent sharpness
- Professional features for filmmakers
- Ergonomic housing
Panasonic Lumix DC S5 Cons:
- Average burst rate
- Limited range of lenses
Panasonic has another full-frame camera that is very interesting for amateur photographers. In terms of price, the Lumix S5 also remains in the comparatively low range, but like the other recommendations in this article, it offers excellent image quality and lavish features.
Typically Panasonic, it is very strong in the video sector, UHD clips (4k) with up to 60 fps, 4: 2: 2 color subsampling and 10-bit color depth raise the camera to a professional level. In Full HD, even high-speed recordings with 180 fps are possible.
The flexible 3-inch touch display, which can even be used to check images during selfies, is also very popular. On the other hand, it is less suitable for photographing fast action scenes, here the camera only takes seven pictures per second.
All in all, the Panasonic is a very recommendable camera for filmmakers and photographers. However, the limited range of lenses should be considered: Panasonic only ventured into the field of full-frame cameras in 2018, which is why there is not yet a large selection of lenses with L-bayonet.
Before buying, you should definitely check whether there is a suitable attachment for your own requirements or an adapter for existing lenses from other camera brands.
5. Canon EOS 6D Mark II: professional SLR at an affordable price
The Canon EOS 6D Mark II scores with good image quality, solid features and all the most important professional functions for photography. It is less suitable for high-resolution UHD videos.
Canon EOS 6D Mark II Pros:
- Proven ergonomics
- Huge selection of lenses
Canon EOS 6D Mark II Cons:
- No UHD video
- Average burst speed
On the other hand, there is an almost infinite selection of compatible lenses for our last tip: the Canon EOS 6D Mark II. Canon was the undefeated top dog in full-frame cameras for many years, so it is hardly surprising that there is a rich selection over time Canon’s own and third-party lenses.
These include both expensive premium lenses and inexpensive bargains. The EOS 6D Mark II delivered a solid performance in the test center.
It received the grade good in three of the four test disciplines, only in the category video quality it was only sufficient for a satisfactory, since the camera does not support longer clips in UHD resolution (4k). As a SLR camera, the Canon offers an optical viewfinder in contrast to the four DSLMs presented here.
The body of the now three-year-old DSLR is available for around 1,500 euros. If you want to save a few hundred euros, you can also use the predecessor EOS 6D, which is still available, but there are some practical functions such as the touch screen. The resolution of the sensor is also lower.
Full format: Larger pixels for better image quality
In photography, full format stands for relatively large image sensors with the dimensions 36 mm x 24 mm. These sensors are mainly installed in system cameras for professional photographers who do not compromise on image quality.
For comparison: In the class of upscale amateur system cameras, APS-C sensors are mostly used, which measure approx. 24 mm x 16 mm and thus offer less than half the surface. The Micro Four Thirds image chip (MFT), which is also widespread, only offers around a quarter of the surface with 17 x 13 mm.
With the same resolution, the size of the sensor has an important influence on the image quality, as more space is available for the individual pixels and these are therefore less susceptible to image noise. The dynamic range and the color display are also better with full-frame cameras than with cameras with a smaller sensor.
Fun fact on the side: full format is also often referred to as a small image, as the size of the image chip corresponds exactly to the size of an exposure on a small image negative film.
When developing the first digital single-lens reflex cameras, the manufacturers simply followed the standards of the sophisticated analog system cameras.
A full-frame sensor offers more than twice the area of an APS-C sensor. With the same resolution, the individual pixels have more space and deliver a better signal.
Professional class: advantages and disadvantages of the full format
Professional photographers use full-frame cameras primarily because of the better image quality, but also because of the generally higher quality housing that exactly meets the needs of professional photographers. There are also good reasons for full format in the leisure sector. But also some against it.
The biggest asset is the excellent image quality. Full-frame cameras particularly show their strengths in low-light situations, when the photographer has to increase the ISO setting to 6,400 or more.
Since the pixels have a relatively large amount of space on the sensor, they receive enough light for a clean signal, the annoying image noise remains correspondingly low, and colors and contrasts are more appealing.
Incidentally, the size of the sensor has nothing to do with the resolution; many full-frame cameras offer 24 megapixels and therefore nothing more than a high-quality system camera with an APS-C sensor.
The second advantage lies in the high-quality housing: For the high price, you can expect a dust- and splash-proof housing made of magnesium alloy that is ergonomically mature and fits comfortably in the hand.
Typically professional cameras are the housings with direct buttons as well as two or more setting wheels, which with a little practice enable “blind” operation of the camera. Image stabilization and a swiveling touch menu are also standard in the professional class.
To check the settings, there is usually a second, smaller display on the shoulder of the camera, but this useful feature is often omitted with cheaper full-frame cameras.
But full format also has disadvantages: the most obvious is the relatively high price for the body, but also for compatible lenses. And the photographer has to be ready to carry around a third more weight with him.
In addition, there is another important difference that becomes noticeable when taking photos: With full format, the depth of field is smaller, depending on the focal length, the sharp area can only be a few centimeters with an open aperture.
The result looks very aesthetic and professional, especially with portraits, product and macro subjects, but focusing requires a lot of experience, especially with fast-moving subjects. A high rate of blurred images can quickly lead to frustration.
Anyone interested in wildlife photography with telephoto lenses may also be in better hands with APS-C. Here, too, precise focusing is easier with a smaller sensor, and you can also look forward to a free focal length extension: Since the sensor area is smaller, the image circle of the lens is more strongly cropped than with the full format and this crop factor of approx. 1,5x makes motifs appear larger.
An example: On an APS-C camera, a 200 mm telephoto lens is transformed into a 300 mm telephoto (converted to a small picture).
Even more affordable full-frame cameras
Here at this point we have introduced you to inexpensive full-frame cameras that are state-of-the-art. All four mirrorless system cameras (DSLMs) were brought onto the market by the manufacturer in 2020, have sensors with excellent lowlight qualities, practical functions such as touch focus and make high-resolution videos in Ultra HD (4k). The only exception is our SLR recommendation, which has been on the market for three years.
In addition, there are a number of older full-format models online and at photo dealers, some at spectacularly low prices. If you can live with slight sacrifices in image quality and functionality, this is your opportunity for real bargains.
The list of the best below shows you our full-format best list, which has been newly sorted according to the price-performance rating.