In a world where less than a handful of brands are considered well-established in the professional full-frame camera market and where more than a handful of other brands have done a very healthy share of innovating to wedge their way into the market, where do we stand? If you're going to buy a new system to start fresh or are just starting out and getting serious, this is for you. Here's a thorough comparison of the major bodies and lens kits you'll likely be considering. As long as you're considering full frame, regardless of budget, here's a comparison for it.
The DSLR establishment is extremely interested in the possibility of mirrorless cameras, and rightly so. They're faster, cheaper, lighter, and more compact... or are they? If you're thinking of Fujifilm's X-Series cameras, you'd be right. And those might work for you. But for professionals coming from the top DSLR brands, they'll be lacking in speed, versatility, and sensor size (not to mention ISO performance), as they're all APS-C-based. But what about the full-frame mirrorless cameras? Of course, we're now talking about Sony's a7-series cameras.
YouTuber Duncan Dimanche recently published a video that compared the price and weight of an entry-level full-frame kit from four different brands, including Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and Sony. NikonRumors has a great summary of that video, but there were a few issues in there. First and foremost, none of the combinations of lens kits were anything that any reasonable person would purchase together. It was a good first effort, but with a number of the zoom ranges of the cheap lens kits overlapping and with the results slightly skewed toward Nikon with a few interesting and cheaper not-quite-equivalent options included (and I'm a Nikon fan, even), the video didn't quite do it for me. Still, it more than piqued my curiosity. Let's dive into a comparison based on what we'd actually get. Scroll down to the conclusion for the final advice, or read on to get all the details.
If you're starting to get serious about photography, you're probably looking at your full-frame options. Sure, APS-C cameras have come a long way, and there are plenty of professional options and reasons to start, or even stay, there. But we're concentrated on (let's face it) people like me. And I like my big sensors.
While there's value to covering many more brands such as Pentax, Olympus, Fujifilm, and more, which have each introduced their own cameras worth considering, we have to draw the line somewhere. So here, we're comparing the most affordable full-frame bodies from Canon, Nikon, and Sony along with three types of lens kits.
The first lens kit will be the holy trinity of zoom lenses. These are the bread-and-butter f/2.8 zooms with which many wedding and event shooters make their livings. As such, these are a likely consideration for anyone investing in a full-frame system.
Second, we have the holy trinity of primes: the wide-angle, normal, and portrait f/1.4 primes that everyone lusts after for bokehlicious (should I be embarrassed for using that word?) backgrounds and fast, wide-open apertures good for night time camera slingers.
Finally, we'll consider the standard, affordable prime lens sets that are usually about a half-stop slower, but also both lighter and less than a third the cost, of the holy trinity primes. These are the f/1.8 little sister primes of the f/1.4 (OK, Canon lovers, f/1.2 in your case) kings.
The bodies we're considering are the newly released Canon 6D Mark II, the Nikon D750, and the Sony a7 II. The kits below compare price and weight of the full systems and individual items, but they're also an excellent place to start for side-by-side comparisons of these factors that might weigh heavily in your purchase decision for a new kit.
Because of the various lens selection available (or lack thereof) for each brand, there are a few alternate options. For example, Nikon does not have a fast, f/2.8 version of its 16-35mm lens. Instead, it relies on its 14-24mm f/2.8 to fulfill that role which is something that neither Canon or Sony have. There are better side-by-side comparisons with both Canon and Sony, however, if you consider just the 16-35mm f/4 lens for each system or, alternatively, if you simply take the f/2.8 versions of all three brands' respective wide-angle zooms. The options have been laid out below.
Canon Zoom Setup w/ 6D Mark II Body
- Canon 6D Mk II, $1,999, 1.51 pounds
- 16-35mm f/4, $999, 1.35 pounds (alternate: 16-35mm f/2.8, $1,999, 1.74 pounds)
- 24-70mm f/2.8, $1,749, 1.77 pounds
- 70-200mm f/2.8, $1,949, 3.28 pounds
Total: $6,696, 7.91 pounds (alternate with f/2.8 wide-angle: $7,696, 8.3 pounds)
Nikon Zoom Setup w/ D750 Body
- Nikon D750, $1,797, 1.65 pounds
- 16-35mm f/4, $1,097, 1.5 pounds (alternate: 14-24mm f/2.8, $1,697, 2.2 pounds)
- *24-70mm f/2.8, $2,397, 2.35 pounds (previous generation 24-70mm f/2.8, $700 cheaper and over a third pound lighter)
- *70-200mm f/2.8, $2,597, 3.15 pounds (previous generation 70-200mm f/2.8 $500 cheaper, but heavier)
Total: $6,688 OR $7,888, 8.65 pounds* (alternate with f/2.8 wide-angle: $8,488, 9.35 pounds)
* $6,688 should be the actual price used in side-by-side comparison. Here's why: Nikon gets a special note here because they're the only ones that recently released new and advanced 24-70mm and 70-200mm lenses, both for which they increased the prices dramatically. To truly be on-par with the other offerings, the comparison should use the previous-generation versions of each lens instead.
Using the previous-generation lenses saves $1,200, bringing the total price down to a much more reasonable $6,688. This is the more accurate number to use, but it wasn't used since Nikon does technically have newer, more advanced versions of its lenses out, and who knows when they'll stop offering or producing the replaced models? As a side note, the weight gain of one new lens and loss of the other compared to the previous generation's options nearly cancel each other out. So there is little change, there.
Sony Zoom Setup w/ a7 II Body
- Sony a7 II, $1,548, 1.22 pounds
- 16-35mm f/4, $1,348, 1.14 pounds (alternate: 16-35mm f/2.8, $2,198, 1.5 pounds)
- 24-70mm f/2.8, $2,198, 1.95 pounds
- 70-200mm f/2.8, $2,598, 3.26 pounds
Total: $7,692, 7.57 pounds (alternate with f/2.8 wide-angle: $8,542, 7.93 pounds)
Bonus: Alternate Lens Groupings for Prime Shooters
Holy Trinity Primes
Canon Total: $4,947, 5.23 pounds
Nikon Total: $4,891, 3.49 pounds
Sony Total: $4,894, 4.9 pounds
Canon Total: $1,003, 1.98 pounds
Nikon Total: $1,291, 1.91 pounds
Sony Total: $1,294, 1.67 pounds
First things first, because this will be fast. As far as the prime lens kits go, it's obvious that the market is rigidly aligned in both price-point and feature set. It's going to cost you about the same either way. The only major difference is that, surprisingly, the Nikon high-end prime lenses weigh in quite a bit below the Canon and Sony equivalents. Still, nothing here is worth hanging your decision on. So that's the end of that.
After doing this comparison, it becomes clear that the leading full-frame mirrorless camera system simply doesn't save much weight compared to its DSLR relatives. Also, it costs more money. A lot more money. The body itself is actually cheaper, but it's because of the high cost of the 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses that make this system so expensive.
Still, the well-earned hype of the new a9 body speaks volumes about the potential of this system and may well make investing in these lenses worth it, even if not necessarily on the level of those looking to dip their toes (i.e., wallets) gently into the full-frame market.
When considering the Nikon system, it's really quite affordable compared to the Sony system if you use the just-replaced versions of Nikon's mid and high-power zooms in your comparison. As soon as you upgrade to the newest versions of everything, you're paying even a hair more than you would for the Sony equivalent. These systems are both on the upper end price-wise.
But here is where it gets interesting. Everyone is talking about four new Canon lenses: an 85mm and a "high-end series" of three other lenses. The thing is, there isn't exactly an entire three-lens "series" that is due for an update. And recent rumors have called this series into question, suggesting we may simply looking at three new, high-end lenses alongside the new 85mm.
While many commenters are suggesting these three lenses might be high-end primes, consider this: it's been seven years since the release of the current 70-200mm f/2.8L II and over five years since the release of the 24-70mm f/2.8L II. Those lenses are well into retirement age. Some may argue they could last longer, but technology has advanced quite a bit. Fluorine this and fluorite that and newer, four and five-stop image stabilization systems — the world is moving on, and Canon likely won't be left behind.
Canon (after just six years, for the record) recently updated its 16-35mm f/2.8L to its third version last year, but by joining Nikon with a wider zoom that fits in more nicely below a 24-70mm lens such as something in the 14-24mm range, Canon could release an amazing "high-end series" — of zooms — that doesn't . The idea of a 14-24mm f/2.8 for Canon is admittedly quite a stretch, however. After all, they may consider themselves covered with the 16-35mm and the slightly slower 11-24mm f/4, and that third lens could easily be a 50mm f/1.2L replacement, as that lens is the oldest of those mentioned yet. The 24mm f/1.4L II and 14mm f/2.8L II aren't young, either. But the oldest high-end prime that makes sense to update is the 135mm f/2L, which became old enough to order alcohol this April.
Needless to say, there are more than a handful of lenses Canon could update that could change this price matrix quite a bit, as it would allow the company to fill the more-than-enough room in the market to raise the prices on all of the new glass to match — or exceed — those of the competition. As it stands, Canon is the only one that gets into the sub-$7,000 range with a full-frame body and three fast zoom lenses. That's not a bad thing, but they're missing out on a chunk of money (and if any of this is correct, they'll need that chunk to recoup on the R&D they've been investing in the last few years on these lenses).
Here's another thing to keep in mind: while mid-$2,000 prices for high-end zooms might seem expensive, we're simply used to years of price drops. For reference, the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L II actually launched with a price of $2,500 back in 2010. Adjusted for inflation, that's a hair over $2,800 for a lens for which we're now paying just $1,950. The 24-70mm story isn't much different. Regardless, whenever Canon does release an update (if not next month, then in the next year or two), all of these systems will be within the same price range and within about one pound of the competition when considering a full, three-lens zoom kit. One pound is definitely a chunk if you're just looking at the numbers from a percentage standpoint. But to feel that, you'd have to be able to feel a one-pound difference in your bag with that entire kit inside. I don't know anyone that could tell the difference. And if so, I need to get started on a bag weight comparison article.
There's nothing magical about mirrorless cameras that enables a body that's half the size or weight of the next best thing with the same sensor size. It's the sensor that seems to be dictating what is or isn't possible when it comes to size. Heat dissipation concerns (especially with 4K video needs for every new full-frame body — talking to you, 6D Mark II) and the lack of the miraculous discovery of new, abundant, and lighter-and-cheaper-than-magnesium metals will keep both the size and weights of these cameras relatively within the same boundaries for the foreseeable future. And everyone is pricing themselves according to what the neighbors are doing.
This leaves weight, size, and price out of the reasonable realm of consideration when looking into a new system; They're all the same! The less-than-five-percent difference in price between any system is hardly a reason to choose one over the other. The only differences to consider are those between the other aspects of these brands' systems and the explicit feature sets of each camera.
Without the a9 out, I couldn't vouch for a Sony a7 system today. But if upgrading to something as amazing as everyone finds the a9 to be is in your cards down the road, it may be worthwhile to stick your neck out for Sony's lenses that you'll be able to use on that system when you are ready to upgrade your body. After all, it's the amazing feature set in the a9 that is advocating so well for the future of mirrorless technology. If the kinks can get worked out (with autofocus being one of the main culprits of poor perception of mirrorless systems that the a9 may have just solved), mirrorless cameras have a lot to offer, theoretically, but size and price likely won't be a part of that.
If you need fast autofocus now, you may want to consider the Canon or Nikon options. Deciding between those two continues to be best done with the flip of a coin or the push of a friend.
But no matter how you cut it, hopefully, this will let you and your friends put the size, weight, and even price considerations out of mind. If you need to save money, buy fewer lenses. Or buy the more affordable prime lenses — only you will notice the difference anyway! Otherwise, do what's right for your business. It's that simple.