The Best Full-Frame Camera and Lens Combo Under $1,000 for Professional Photography

The Best Full-Frame Camera and Lens Combo Under $1,000 for Professional Photography

If someone gave you $1,000 and told you to buy a camera and lens combo, what would you do? Yes, it is hard to get a good kit for relatively little money. Yet, there are some hidden gems that are great to kickstart your career and offer an improvement over existing gear. When I started out taking pictures, at about 15-years-old, I couldn’t really afford to buy a digital camera or anything of that sort. I had to make do with what I had: a film camera and lens I took from my dad. Being quite young, I didn’t start photography in the good old days. I started shooting film and had to learn fast what to do and how to do it. Eventually, I managed to save up and I bought a digital camera: Canon 1D Mark II. Then, I saved up even more and sold my 1D Mark II for more than buying it, I bought a 5D Mark II. Paired with a good zoom lens, it was an amazing camera I shot plenty of jobs on. That was in 2019, after the release of the EOS R. A decade after the 5D Mark II was released, it was still an able camera that delivered.

Now, I recommend this combo to every single beginner photographer, almost regardless of what their genre is. Camera technology, in general, has improved a lot in the past decade, but to be honest, it is a marginal improvement every year. Long story short, there hasn’t been a bad camera since 2010. Lenses have also improved a lot; new glass is sharper, flange distance is shorter, and elements are better. Does that make a difference? If you’re a pixel-peeper yes. I shoot a 24-70 from 2007 on a Canon 5Ds body, and nobody has complained. So much so, that nobody notices me switch from a 5D Mark IV to a 5Ds and vice-versa. 

So, let’s see why I think the 5D Mark II and a 24-105 f/4 IS is the best camera and lens combo under $1,000

Canon 5D Mark II ($300-400)

Released in 2009, this camera is a true legend. The specs are nothing special in 2022, but they were the latest and greatest in 2009 when the camera first came out. In a nutshell, here is the rundown of the specs of the famed Canon 5D Mark II.

Sensor-wise, you have 21MP to work with. It is very similar to the Canon 1Ds Mark III, which was a camera made specifically for studio work. Personally, unless you’re shooting big campaigns, you don’t need a higher-resolution sensor. From personal experience, my clients also didn’t really notice me switch from a 20 to a 30 and to a 50-megapixel sensor. The ISO goes from 100 to 6,400, which can be expanded to 50-25,600. This isn’t anything impressive, but if you’re shooting at ISO 6,400 all the time, you may want to consider a different camera. For simple folks who work in the range of 100-3,200, this will be perfect. The camera starts acting up past 1,000 ISO, so you want to be careful with that. Still, the grain is rather pleasant and nothing horrible.

Some notable features include live view, which does seem standard now, but was a massive change for me coming from a film and 1D Mark II background. On the bad side, the autofocus is horrible, and you can only rely on a single center point. This isn’t so bad if you're working with a mostly still subject, but as soon as it starts moving fast, you may want to look in the direction of the Canon 1D Mark IV, or the 1Dx. If you’re into video, you won't be too pleased, as the 5D Mark II is primarily a stills camera. I have shot very very small video projects on the 5D Mark II, and it performed okay, but there is no way I am bringing it to anything serious. It makes much more sense to rent a Blackmagic for video projects.

24-105 f/4 ($300-400)

This is not a special lens, you might say. It's a very special lens, I reply. The 24-105 f/4 IS is a low-cost professional option that can suit your needs for most shooting. Especially at the start of your career, when you are not sure about the focal lengths that you prefer, the 24-105 will provide ample variety in shots. From mid-telephoto to mid-wide-angle, this lens is very much “mid”. It won’t give you a crazy zoom, or crazy bokeh, it will however give you a stable and reliable lens that takes sharp images. It’s sort of a kit lens on steroids. And a very good one indeed. Featuring image stabilization, it will be perfect for those who want to take their shutter speeds a little down. Compared to version II, the original one is lighter and smaller. The only improvement the newer, more expensive lens has is the corner brightness, which can be fixed in post. Go figure out which one you will need.

What About the 24-70 f/2.8?

An attentive reader will ask why I shoot on the heavier 24-70 f/2.8? And the answer is rather simple, just because that is the lens I bought, and got stuck with using. At the same time, having shot work on a 24-105 as well, I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who wants a decent zoom but doesn’t want to spend ridiculous amounts of money. If you find a good deal, and feel that you don’t need anything beyond 70mm go for the 24-70, but be prepared to lose sharpness at wider apertures, as well as use a bigger and heavier piece of glass. Coming from someone whose hands hurt after a shooting sometimes, this is a very real concern.

Closing Thoughts

So, there you have it, the Canon 5D Mark II, paired with a 24-105 f/4, or a 24-70 f/2.8 is a great starting combo for almost any professional photographer. Costing under $1,000 used, this gear can be purchased off Facebook Marketplace, various groups, as well as websites. I would strongly suggest buying the gear in person as sometimes remote purchases can lead to frustration and poor choices.

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15 Comments
Tom Reichner's picture

Illya Ovchar asked,

"If someone gave you $1,000 and told you to buy a camera and lens combo, what would you do?"

I would buy whatever crop-sensor DSLR had a fully flippy screen, and whatever compatible mid-range slow zoom lens had MFD close enough to yield 0.5 magnification.

Many of the new Canon FR mount zoom lenses have 0.5 magnification, and some are less than $500. But the problem there is that to use the RF lenses requires that one has a body with an RF mount, as there are no reverse adaptors that I am aware of. And the new R bodies with the RF mounts are way beyond the budget given. So I am left to hoping that some of the old EF zoom lenses have 0.5 magnification. Do NOT want a macro prime lens as that does not fit my shooting style at all.

I should note that I would use this for professional herp photography - the photography of small reptiles and amphibians. But it would also be suitable for shooting small products in a studio - things such as card readers, shampoo bottles, knives, bolts & screws, etc.

Gary Pardy's picture

Seems more like an ideal beginner kit than a professional kit. I don't consider myself to be "bokeh-obsessed", but f4 from 24-70 is a maybe a little too pedestrian for "professional" wedding/engagement photography. In the studio when you're shooting >f8, sure.

Michael Holst's picture

I think you meant 24-105. Either way, there are tons of professional photography opportunities (outside of the studio) where F4 would be more than enough - Speaking from experience.

Gary Pardy's picture

I didn't actually - I think >70mm yields reasonable subject isolation even at f4. I agree, you can get the job done with an f4 zoom, but most would be better served by two or three primes.

Michael Holst's picture

The 24-70 lens in the article is f2.8. much wider than the 24-105 f4 so I'm not really sure what you're getting at.

Also, plenty of portrait, wedding, documentary, and commercial photographers use the 24-70 2.8 with great results. Sure, having a collection of primes will give you even more speed but the article is talking about putting together a kit on a budget.

Gary Pardy's picture

When did I mention an f2.8? I prefer moderately fast primes, you prefer slow zooms, that's fine. All I'm really saying is that if the hypothetical person who insists upon "upgrading" to a 13 year old full frame camera might be disappointed when an f4 zoom gives you less striking images with more noise than their APS-C camera and f1.8 primes. Get an EF 85 f1.8 for $275 used, and an a 35 f2 for $250 used. You could probably grab a nifty fifty with the change you have before hitting the $1000 ceiling.

Michael Holst's picture

"I don't consider myself to be "bokeh-obsessed", but f4 from 24-70 is a maybe a little too pedestrian..."

The 24-70 being talked about in the article is not limited to f4. It's maximum aperture is f2.8 through the entire 34-70 zoom range. That's why I assumed you were talking about the 24-105. When you said you were not, then I assumed you didn't know what you were talking about.

I never said I prefer any particular type of lense. I bring a kit that fits the needs of shooting situation I'm in. Running the gamut from medium format for maximum resolving power, to point and shoots for portability and convenience. Not afraid of being "too pedestrian".

Matt Rennells's picture

It actually might even better in this situation to go with Nikon, due to the massive drop in prices in the D screw-drive lenses. Yes, your gear won't be able to be reused if you upgrade camera, but you can do anything a pro can (other than super-telephoto) for $1000. And the depreciation has already happened on most of these, so you can probably sell them in a year or two for what you paid for them.

1) Nikon D800 - $400
2) Nikon 50 f/1.8D - $100
3) Nikon 35 f/2D - $100
4) Nikon 105 f/2.8 - $150

We're at $750 there, and you have 36MP, usable ISO up to 3200 (6400 in a pinch), low light, macro, portrait, and a normal lens. For the other $250, buy a Tamron/Sigma zoom, either 28-75 or 70-200 depending on which area you need more. Or skip the primes and get both the zooms in f/2.8

Grey Noji's picture

Oh this is just the one example? I thought there was going to be a bit more to it.

Gerard P's picture

I think you ought to include Canon in the headline.
There are a couple of other brands that you may or not be aware of.

Cheers,
G:

Roger Cozine's picture

If someone gave me a $1000 dollars for a camera/lens combo, I wouldn't even consider full-frame as a viable option. I wouldn't even consider a DSLR either. My money would be better spent in either the APS-C or Micro 4/3 market. Not only could I afford a better camera with more features, I could also afford better glass. Besides, there's no rule stating that professionals only use full frame cameras. 1k could get you a Fujifilm X-T3 or X-S10, Olympus OM-D E‑M10 Mark IV, Nikon Z fc, Sony A6300 & A6400... ect. All significantly newer and perfectly suitable for professional photo and video work.

Michael Holst's picture

Agreed! I recently put together a light weight setup of a used Fuji X-T2 and a 16-80 F4 for less than $1K and it did amazing as my main camera for a project I did with a publication.

Pavlos Honderich's picture

I shot Canon for 20 years up until 2016. I own and still have the 5diii, 7d, and 20d. That said, the 5D2/3/4 all paled in comparison to what is possible on a D750 interms of of shadow recovery and ISO invariant performance not to mention resolution and iso performance compared to the 5d ii and iii. The overall AF was also better on the D750 thanks to the amazing 3D tracking.

It's not been until the R5 that Canon has seemingly caught up interms of shadow recovery. In any case, I'd pair that D750 with a 24-120 f4 which I've seen on eBay for roughly $1000 for a better kit.

While I still enjoy my 5Diii, I now use all my EF/EF-S glass on my Z6 via an adapter with amazing results. I've barely taken the 5diii out since getting the EF to Z adapter. A similar kit can be had at a good deal with the Z5/Z6, albeit for a tad over 1000 used. Point being though that you get eye AF and mirrorless for not that much more and could adapt Sony, Canon, and F Mount Nikon to save $$$ at first. Even more with older manual glass.

In any case, I find it quite odd that you'd not include Sony, Nikon, or Fuji in your comparison considering your title photo as it conveyed some sort of comparison...

Eric Johnson's picture

Agree 100%
D750 has higher ISO, MP, fps and better autofocus(3D tracking)

George Schuler's picture

I never shot with the 5DII, but the 6D 24-105 combo I still own and still love. I simply love the low light focus and high ISO performance. I believe one could get this FULL FRAME/L glass combo in "good" shape for under $1,000.00.