Comparison Breakdown: The Lightest, Most Affordable, Professional Full-Frame System

Comparison Breakdown: The Lightest, Most Affordable, Professional Full-Frame System

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.

The Kits

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.

Comparison

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

Total: $6,696, 7.91 pounds (alternate with f/2.8 wide-angle: $7,696, 8.3 pounds)

Nikon Zoom Setup w/ D750 Body

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

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

Affordable Primes

Canon Total: $1,003, 1.98 pounds

Nikon Total: $1,291, 1.91 pounds

Sony Total: $1,294, 1.67 pounds

Conclusion

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

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27 Comments

Spy Black's picture

Actually, Nikon Rumors beats you to this. :-)

Do you really think so?

Ryan Mense's picture

Third paragraph

Deacon Blues's picture

LOL, you want to talk about "affordable full frame" and ignore the K-1? F*cking ridiculous.

Josh Leavitt's picture

Hmm... That's some nice gear no doubt. But I like the price of my "used" option via Ebay:

Canon 5D $289,1.8lbs
Yongnuo 35mm F2 $70, 0.3lbs
Canon 50mm F1.8 STM $65, 0.36lbs
Yongnuo 85mm F1.8 $160, 1lb

Poor Man's Total: $584, 3.46lbs

John Dunkelberg's picture

FS folks, would you consider a similar article on a poor man's set such as Josh mentions here. Perhaps with a target of "one generation back", or target a particular price point (sub $2000 for instance). I think that'd be a great service to those of us who aren't likely to put out $6,800 for a set of gear. Perhaps use factory-refurbished as a condition to avoid possible price fluctuations on other secondary markets.

Adam Ottke's picture

I will consider this. It's a good idea, but because the market is so broad if this is the type of kit you're looking for, it will take a WHILE. But I'll get started (will accept help/suggestions from anyone). If I'm going to draw some kind of line (i.e. Lomography lenses ok? How about Lensbaby? Odd, one-off Kickstarter lenses?), let me know what you think. Where should that line be drawn?

John Dunkelberg's picture

Well, if you use something like factory refurb as the sourcing for the big brand bodies, then look at what kind of lenses FS tends to focus on in reviews (Sigma, Tamron) as a second tier to the big brands? Hmm... are sales volume numbers known such that you could look at clustering and say "80% of first-sale volume is in these 8 brands"?

Mr Hogwallop's picture

When did we start buying cameras by the pound? Does that matter once you are carrying anything more the body and a lens? I carry so mach stuff on a job the weight of a couple bodies makes zero difference...

Spy Black's picture

Depends on where your "job" is. If you're doing astro work and have to physically climb a massive mountainside, the thought of weight might come to mind. Same for any work deep in the wild, away from civilization. Also, how old are you? As you age, carrying shitloads of gear can start to become a health hazard. Just a few places where "buying cameras by the pound" is a consideration.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

For astro work you need a camera, a wide lens and a tripod? Ok, for the % of photographers climbing massive mountains for astro work or working deep in the wild with one camera and one or two lenses I guess it makes a difference. In the boonies, have run into landscape/wildlife shooters with huge backpacks weighing 25lbs? Is a marginally lighter or heavier camera is not a big deal is you need a 500mm lens to shoot mountain lions or mooseses and squirrels.
For the others, the 10 or 12 ounces that a Sony A7R2 saves over a 5DMkIV makes no real world difference once you bring along the equipment one needs to most photo shoots. Most photographers use tripods, speedlights, strobes, more than one lens, batteries etc to do a shoot.
I bought Sonys for many reasons, the weight and size were about 10% of the decision.

David Bengtsson's picture

Isn't the main reason for Sony's lenses to be expensive because they have all been annonced during the latest 2-3 years basically. New lenses with new technology is a lot more expensive. Just like Nikon's new versions. However it would have been nice if Sony had a larger base of older more affordable lenses but I guess that after 5 years or more that may be the case. At least if they annonce lenses at the same speed they do now.

Why are you guys afraid of Pentax? Why is the line drawn there? Just because it must be drawn, so you leave out one of the original Fab Five?

Pentax K-1 DSLR Camera (Body Only) → $1,896.95 2.0lbs
Pentax HD PENTAX-D FA 15-30mm f/2.8 ED SDM WR → $1,299.95 2.29lbs
Pentax HD Pentax-D FA 24-70mm f/2.8ED SDM WR → $1,096.95 1.73lbs
Pentax HD PENTAX D FA* 70-200mm f/2.8 ED DC AW → $1,596.95 3.86lbs
Total Price → $5890.80 9.88lbs (Less expensive than the others! Only ½lb heavier than the Nikon)

…And what do you get with that?
All lenses with Image Stabilized, on five axes, including roll. (Not Canon nor Nikon).
36Mpx (more than Canon, Nikon, and Sony, all at 24Mpx)
Two card Slots (Canon & Sony have only one)
GPS, Compass, & AstroTracer, (saves all data to EXIF including bearing, elevation, and inclination, along with lat/lon/alt).
All Holy Trinity lenses are fully weather sealed, as with Sony. (Canon's 16-35mm requires the optional Canon PROTECT filter, Only the Nikkor 70-200 fully sealed).
Polarizer useable with lens hood on.

Affordable Prime Time!
smc PENTAX-FA 31mm f/1.8 Limited → $996.95 0.7625lbs
smc PENTAX-FA 50mm F1.4 → $271.95 0.4875lbs (This is Trinity material.)
smc PENTAX-FA 77mm f/1.8 Limite → $796.95 0.59375lbs
Total → $2,065.85 1.8lbs

…And what do you get with that?
All lenses have image stabilisation (Not Canon nor Nikon)
One of the Prime Trinity (50mm) at Affordable price.
Weighs less than Canon & Nikon
Although costing $700-$1,000 more, it contains a 50mm prime which is $1,078-$1,326 times less expensive, and 0.36-1.22lbs lighter than the competition.

Pentax is the only one that gets into the sub-$6,000 range with a full-frame body and three fast zoom lenses. In fact, to buy the body, a weather-sealed battery/vertical grip, three extra batteries, the three primes & the Trinity zooms, plus a 100mm f/2.8 WR (Weather Resistant) Macro and a 150-450 f/4.5-5.6 AW (all-weather) wildlife zoom, a waterproof remote, and two 128GB Pro 1000× UHS-II SDXC Memory cards, one is still spending less than $11,000 at B&H. And let's face it, anything above 100mm ought to be both Weather Resistant and Stabilized, for catching those wildlife and nature shots regardless of weather, while few people would be getting their portraits done in the rain or during a dust storm, (also generally unsuitable for landscapes, but we still have the WR Trinity zoom).

Yes, I am a Pentaxian, but I am not fanboy-ing, here. There always was the Fabulous Five of 35mm format back in the days of film; Canon, Minolta, Nikon, Olympus, and Pentax (in alphabetical order). (Then there was the niche, Leica). If you want to compare 35mm format size DSLRs today, you have to compare those of the Fab Five who do make “Full Frame” cameras, and that would be, Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and Sony, (the heir of the Minolta legacy), since Olympus does not make a full-frame Digital, (and Leica is still a niche).

Ryan Mense's picture

I don't know what guys you are referring to, but the only Pentax experience I've had was pretty awesome. I would definitely go with Pentax over Canon and Nikon at this point in time.

I was referring to the line in the article where Adam said, “While there's value to covering many more brands such as Pentax, Olympus, Fujifilm, and more,… we have to draw the line somewhere. So here, we're comparing the most affordable full-frame bodies from Canon, Nikon, and Sony….”

There is good reason to omit Olympus and Fujifilm, since neither make a 36×24mm digital sensor camera, and Fujifilm is late to the game, but Pentax is a 35mm Film Era star, and has a ‘full frame’ digital offering, and ought to have been included, not drawn outside the line.

Nevertheless, aside from the omission, good article.

Adam Ottke's picture

I will consider an update with this information (with credit to you, even ;-)). You make a great point. Sold me on it ;-)

Shaun Whitson's picture

He has an excellent point that I was also going to make. Pentax is constantly being dismissed which does not make for a fair comparison. You could argue that Pentax has a smaller lens selection if you do not include legacy glass. However, perhaps we should consider that the constant dismissal of Pentax as an option has hurt third party interest in the brand as a whole. Considering just how little marketing and advertising is done, it is impressive how large of a market share Pentax actually has. I believe what has held Canon together all of these years is by having the cheapest entry-level DSLR's which has expanded their market share the most. I look forward to the update of this article and it is interesting to consider how the upcoming D850 will look in this comparison. Its level of features should negate the added cost.

it is a great system, but the af still lacks behind. while it makes probably the best landscape setting, for wedding or action there is nothing in the entire system(yet)

Yeah, that is like saying that the Canon flagship sensor resolution lags behind, so it should not be compared with the Nikon D810, the Sony α7R II, nor the Pentax. No one camera is good at everything.

If this was a comparison of sports cameras, your point would be valid. You cannot pull one short coming of the camera and say that it should not be included in an article about affordable full-frame DSLRs, when it shines in places that all the others fail in. Beats them in price, beats them in weather resistance, beats them in resolution, beats them in image stabilization, beats them with polarising filter usage (an ancient technology, they should have learned by now), et al.

To say, “Pentax has the slowest AF, therefore should not be included,” is a fallacy. Besides, have you compared low-light AF? When the sun is out, Pentax lags. When one is in a dark theatre, Pentax wins (except, perhaps, the Sony).

Again, not trying to fanboy this thing, (yes, I am a Pentaxian), just trying to be fair in having it included.

N.B., this article is not about any of those things just mentioned, (WR, IS, PF, AF, resolution, et al), but about affordability of a full-frame system, and on affordability, Pentax wins (albeit half a pound heavier than the next heaviest, Nikon). If the comparison was for Three WR IS lens systems, Pentax would win hands down on price, and come in second place on weight, (Sony would win that) as the weights/price listed is for fully weather sealed, stabilized system for Pentax & Sony, but not for Nikon & Canon.

Weather sealing is important for the outdoor photographer, stabilization is important for all except landscape and studio photographers. Okay, not important for astro-photographers either, but Pentax is the only one with built-in astro-photography features. Yet, location, altitude, elevation, inclination, and bearing information, saved in the EXIF data, is also important to some other photographers, also, and Pentax is the only one which does all that.

Not trying to sell Pentax to everyone, (yes, it certainly sounds like I am), just trying to say, it should have been included, AF performance notwithstanding.

Sorry if I caused any confusion, but I didn't mean it shouldn't have been included, I just said there was this thing to be considered.

Lane Shurtleff's picture

Ahhh Hemm... NIkon makes a 17-35 2.8 AF-S lens, yes it's a bit old but do some research before saying you have to compare the 12-24 to Canons 16.35.

Adam Ottke's picture

I even own the 17-35mm, but I decided not to include it precisely because it is too much of an outlier due to its age and still-high price. Also, I don't think the average pro Nikon shooter considers the 17-35mm to be the "main" wide-angle f/2.8 zoom. For Nikon shooters (and for Nikon as a brand), that IS the 14-24mm. Again, there are other options out there. I could go on all day long, but honestly, even the price and weight of that lens wouldn't change things THAT much. And again, lines have to be drawn somewhere.

the sony zooms are all newer and have better features. The bokeh and sharpness is the best and no focus breathing. nikon is pretty bad at that. Also the additional stabilization to the lenses (+sensor) is unbeatable. Also all of its top end lenses are fully weathersealed. Overall I am much more comfortable using better and more expensive lenses with a cheaper body with more features(even though they are definitely not perfect in many areas) than vise versa. Because even though bodies need to be upgraded every couple of years, a good sharp durable lens, you can use several decades when you have them. There are still many paid photographers using 20 year old lenses with new bodies, but practically no paid photographer using a 20 year old film camera(only hobbyists, fine art dudes, travel dudes etc nothing commercial)
that's why I switched to sony when upgrading to a full frame system

Andy Tu's picture

I have never used Nikon before, but I was using canon T2i, 5Dii and 5D3 and mostly the 50 1.2 and 24-70, then "downgraded" to A7(first model) and stopped using the Canons for awhile. I still kept all of them just incase, but I really like what the A7 offers me with the EVF and dynamic range. The most important to me is the dynamic range which gives me so much control of my image afterwards as I do a ton of post production for my images. The 2nd thing that is really important to me are the lens for Sony. Wide open they are extremely sharp compared to the Canon versions I have which are extremely soft in comparison.

I don't really consider myself a real photographer. I don't know every nooks and crannies of features offered, but I use what I need. I do mostly fitness and boudoir and these options let me fix my downfalls. Is it a crutch? I guess so! But I don't like having to learn how to use a camera so much and the Sony cameras don't even require a learning curve like the Canon T2i did when I first used it. Changing aperture required pressing and holding down 2 buttons etc. You had to read a manual to figure that out. I never once read a sony manual.

And the winner is...PENTAX K-1.

David Boyars's picture

I like the article but what part of f2.8 zooms are light or affordable? I would have liked to see a couple kits compared showing all differences. I would have liked to see f4 zooms compared because those lenses really are affordable and much lighter than whats mentioned here.