Affordable Full-Frame Mirrorless Comparison | Sony A7C VS Nikon Z5 VS Panasonic S5
A lot of new cameras came out in the last year! Do you have your eye on one or two of them, maybe? Now, there are more affordable full-frame cameras on the market; a few are hitting the ~$1,999 price point, and some are even cheaper! (You’ll still need to buy a lens, of course.)
Three new full-frame mirrorless cameras in particular caught our eye this past year; all of them are very new, cutting-edge technology, and all of them make very attractive offers: The Sony A7C, the Nikon Z5, and the Panasonic S5. These are the newest and/or the most affordable options in each companies’ lineup.
If you’re shopping for your very first full-frame camera, which one is right for you? There is no clear answer; each one has strengths and weaknesses, and the decision will come down to the type of photography (and definitely video!) you shoot.
In this article, we are going to compare these three cameras, and give you a clear winner depending on your style and needs! One of these cameras is probably perfect for you.
New Full-Frame Mirrorless Cameras In 2020 & 2021
First and foremost, let’s get some additional details out of the way. There are a LOT of great cameras on the market today, in fact, despite the struggles that all camera companies have faced in recent years, it has never been a better time for digital photography, especially full-frame mirrorless options! Depending on your budget, there are numerous incredible cameras to choose from.
For example, the Canon EOS R6 is a high-end action sports camera for just $2,500. That’s right, $2,500, for a camera with the same autofocus system as a $6,500 Canon 1D-series flagship. If you need a high-speed, fast-action camera for wildlife or sports, consider saving up a little more!
Of course, if you do have that much money to spend on a mirrorless camera, the Sony A1 was just announced, and it will set you back $6,498, indeed. That’s a huge investment, but it’s worth it if you really need 8K video, 30 FPS shooting, and the best autofocus system around.
There are also some great mid-range cameras, too, especially if you’re a serious landscape or another type of photographer who is making huge prints: The Nikon Z7II, Canon EOS R5 ($3,899) were both released this past summer, but of course, the Panasonic S1H and Sony A7R IV, released in 2019, are still incredible high-megapixel cameras, too!
What if you’re looking for crazy-good video specs, on a relative budget? The Sony A7S III finally arrived, after years of waiting, and its 4K video specs do not disappoint, as long as you have ~$3,500 to spend.
Affordable Full-Frame Mirrorless Cameras In 2020 & 2021
All in all, whatever your need, there’s probably at least one or two cameras that could perfectly suit you. But, what if you’re on a very tight budget? Do you still have to spend at least $3,000 to get a “decent”, professionally-capable camera these days? The simple answer is, absolutely NOT!
In this article we are going to answer the question, what if we want one of the absolute latest and greatest cameras, but also, what if we’re on a sub-$2K budget? Read on, and find out.
You can always count on Nikon to break the mold when it comes to creating an impressive value for an affordable price. The Nikon Z5 is, plain and simple, the only current-gen camera that offers both dual card slots and in-body stabilization for a mere $1,396. If you’re just getting serious about photography, but you also think you might do a paid photoshoot here or there someday in the near future, then the Nikon Z5 is the best choice out there in terms of its rugged build quality and impressive feature set, for an unprecedented price tag well under the $1.5K mark.
Having said that, the video specs aren’t as impressive as the latest competition at the $2K mark; if you’re truly serious about video then you’ll probably want to consider either of the other two cameras on this 3-camera list. Also, the Nikon Z5 is a little slow in general, in terms of its framerate and blackout time; therefore, if you photograph high-speed action such as sports or wildlife, the Z5 might not be for you.
Of course, if you do pick up a Nikon Z5 and love the overall system, the ergonomics and the lenses, but you’re hoping to get better speed and video out of your camera, …then before you consider jumping to another system, keep in mind that the Nikon Z6II is also “just” $1,996, and has impressive speed and video specs!
Either way, the bottom line is that in terms of image quality, and overall features, no camera on the market offers what the Nikon Z5 does, and the Nikon Z-mount system overall gets our first nod of approval for being so well-rounded, considering the value in the feature sets of the Z5 and Z6 II combined, as well as the amazingly high-quality Z-mount lenses.
At the higher end of the sub-$2K price range, the Panasonic Lumix DC-S5 is a $1,997 video beast. Indeed, it has some of the best video specs for a full-frame camera under $2K, with 4K 60p 4:2:0 10-bit, (APS-C cropped) and 4K30p 4:2:2 10-bit, as well as many other more advanced specs for those who want to dive deeper.
There’s also sensor-based stabilization and dual card slots, of course, as is now the standard for ~$2K cameras.
Panasonic joined the full-frame mirrorless “race” a little later than everyone else, but with their expertise in Micro Four Thirds video-oriented cameras, and their partnership with Leica for optics, their full-frame system has been impressive from the start.
The Panasonic S5 in particular is very well-built, with full professional controls and ergonomics, but in a slightly smaller, lighter package compared to the more expensive Panasonic S1, S1R, and S1H.
In our experience, despite being similar to the Nikon Z5 in physical robustness, we do have to give the nod to Nikon for overall ergonomic ease-of-use. The Nikon is a bit more intuitive overall, and the AF point control joystick is definitely a lot more effortless to use compared to the Panasonic. All in all, you can just tell that Nikon really knows how to make photography cameras, while Panasonic is really good at making video cameras.
On the plus side, the lens selection for Panasonic is truly impressive, if you have the money for “flagship glass”, that is. Their best options are all pretty large, heavy, and expensive. Basically, this is a very serious video platform, and Panasonic is not cutting many corners, not with their camera bodies, nor their lenses.
Then again, Panasonic is sharing this Leica L-mount with Sigma, and this means that virtually all of Sigma’s latest lenses, many of them shockingly affordable, are available to Panasonic full-frame mirrorless users!
Sony has the most full-frame mirrorless camera bodies on the market, especially if you count the older and discontinued models. The Sony A7C has the most affordable MSRP of them all, at $1,798.
If you want a compact full-frame camera that is beginner-oriented, the Sony A7C might seem very attractive at first. However, there are a few things to keep in mind, and some of them might be a deal-breaker. First, while the A7C does have in-body stabilization, it only has a single SD card slot, potentially putting it at a professional disadvantage versus both the Nikon Z5 and the Panasonic S5.
Also, the body itself has more in common with the Sony APS-C (crop sensor) beginner class of cameras, not their A7-series semi-professional and flagship pro bodies. Thus, you will probably find yourself missing important controls like the front command dial, the rear AF point control button/joystick, and the C1/C2 top custom buttons.
Basically, it’s an entry-level camera body with a really good sensor in it. So, the image quality is stellar, and the video specs are decently respectable, but overall, is it worth nearly $1,800? That’s hard to say when you can pick up the Panasonic S5 for just $200 more, or of course, get a Nikon Z5 for under $1,400.
Where the Sony A7C really excels, of course, is its lightweight portability, and video purposes such as travel and vlogging. You really can’t beat the compact, portable package that includes a fully articulating LCD, in-body stabilization, and Sony’s truly incredible face/eye-tracking autofocus. Simply put, if you are a vlogger, this camera gets our top recommendation. Pair the A7C with a similarly lightweight, portable lens like the Sony FE 20mm f/1.8 G, and you have a near-perfect vlogging kit. (Maybe in the coming year or two we’ll start to really miss 4K60p video, of course, but for now, 4K30p (and 1K/FHD 120p) is enough for most folks.
If you’re more of a stills+video photographer, though, let’s not forget the fact that Sony’s slightly older A7 III (due to be replaced this year?) has a lot of the things you might be missing in the A7C, if you’re willing to sacrifice the fully-articulated LCD screen. The A7 III might be a little bit older, but it has dual card slots, a semi-professional control layout with a nice-sized grip. Also, because of its age, you can sometimes even pick one up for $1,698, instead of ~$2K, whenever it is on sale!
In short, the main reason to buy an A7C is not just the price or the feature set. It’s the compact portability, the updated AF system that is really uncanny at grabbing faces; especially if you’re a vlogger, this could be the best camera of the three, indeed!)
VERDICT: Nikon Z5 For Photographers, Panasonic S5 For Videographers, Sony A7C For Vloggers?
There you have it, folks. If you’re a photographer who wants a serious full-frame camera that feels great to handle and doesn’t skimp on professional-grade photo features, the Nikon Z5 is really hard to beat, at just under $1,400!
Alternately, if you’re more interested in video and specifically vlogging, the Sony A7C could be your dream camera, but only if you’d rather have the fully-articulated LCD screen as opposed to all of the useful-for-photography ergonomics and controls.
Last, the Panasonic S5 might be the lesser-known camera in the bunch, but it’s a truly impressive all-around camera, whether you’re doing still photography or video, and certainly, if you’re doing both!
What About All The Other Cameras?
We kept this comparison simple, in order to avoid it being an utterly enormous article, but yes, there are a lot of other full-frame mirrorless cameras out there which you might consider! We’ll talk about a few of the ones you might also be considering. Some of them might be attractive if your budget is this $1-2K range, while others, we might flat-out not recommend.
Canon EOS RP & EOS R
At a mere $999, the Canon EOS RP (released in 2019) is definitely one of the cheapest full-frame digital cameras out there. It’s also one of the oldest of the affordable full-frame camera bodies on the market, too, and we can’t recommend it too highly, due to the fact that it’s missing both dual card slots and IBIS. It’s also got a pretty tiny entry-level battery and ergonomics, and lastly, the sensor itself isn’t up to par.
The Canon EOS R, the original RF-mount camera body, is also becoming a little more affordable, but once again, as the oldest camera in Canon’s full-frame mirrorless lineup, it is missing the two most popular features on most of its ~$2K competitors: dual card slots and IBIS.
Honestly? Canon’s best offering right now is just a little bit above $2K; the $2,500 EOS R6. Until we see a “Canon EOS R/RP mkII”, the sub-$2K realm will be entirely dominated by other brands.
Nikon Z6 & Nikon Z6 II
Nikon’s 6-series camera bodies both hit the market at $2K, about the same price as the Panasonic S5. Are they worth considering? Yes, absolutely, if you have that budget to spend, then the Nikon Z6 II ($1,996) is a great, modern choice, with a balance of photography-oriented design and functionality compared to the competition.
Nikon is also the best brand out there at filling both a middle-tier lens selection and a flagship one, by the way. Their lineup of f/1.8 S-line primes, paired with their full range of f/4 zooms and f/2.8 zooms, makes for one of the best well-rounded name-brand lens arsenals available on mirrorless full-frame. (And, once Sigma, Tamron, and Rokinon/Samyang all arrive to the Z-mount, it might just be the best full-frame mirrorless platform for almost everybody!)
Although it’s getting old too, as we mentioned, the Sony A7 III (currently $1,698, normally $1,998) probably has the most going for it among the older generation of ~$2K cameras. Stabilization, dual card slots, great battery life, a solid autofocus system, and decent 4K video specs.
However, does it stack up well against its brand-new competitors? The Panasonic S5 definitely beats the A7 III in terms of video features, and both the S5 and the Nikon Z5 beat the A7 III in terms of rugged build quality. Indeed, as we mentioned, if you’re just a casual photographer then the Nikon Z5 is an incredible value for the money, but you could also consider buying a refurbished or “mint” used A7 III, and thus gain access to a lot of the affordable E-mount lenses from Tamron, Sigma, and Rokinon/Samyang. If there was an argument to not invest in one of the latest-and-greatest full-frame mirrorless cameras, it is definitely the A7 III and a set of third-party E-mount lenses.
Last but not least, the Sigma FP, a full-frame “cinema rig” style body, was announced in the summer of 2019. With a price tag of just $1,899, (or on sale for $1799, at times) …you should definitely take note of the ace up this camera’s sleeve: 4K RAW (DNG) video! The FP definitely deserves consideration by anyone who is serious about video or movie-making, and who is more interested in the edit-ability of raw video than, say, the latest-and-greatest framerate specs. (The Canon EOS R5 and R6 can shoot 4K 60p video, and the Sony A7S III can shoot 4K 120p video, however, all of those cameras cost much more than the Sigma FP.)
The Sigma FP does not have many physical/ergonomic bells and whistles, but what it does have is truly gorgeous image quality, for both stills and video, thanks to the DNG raw video file format that allows you to process your stills and color-grade your video clips in Lightroom, should you choose, as if they were the same thing! If you’re an amateur filmmaker and 30p is enough of a framerate for what you do, then the overall video image quality from the FP is truly hard to beat.
Just remember, the Sigma FP has no EVF, and no articulated LCD screen, so it is meant to be a part of a “rig” video setup, indeed!
With an impressive total of four full-frame mirrorless camera mounts on the market now, (wait, make that FIVE; Leica actually has two FF “mirrorless” mounts, technically!) and six brands of bodies for those mounts, now is indeed a great time to get a new, cutting-edge, full-frame mirrorless camera, even without breaking the bank.
Despite the extreme challenges and difficulties 2020 presented, there are about a dozen (yes, a dozen) new full-frame mirrorless cameras on the market! Whatever your budget, whatever your preferred genre of photography, a nearly perfect dream camera was probably announced within the last year or so.
Whether you’re a casual photographer who might get very serious someday, or you want to make eye-catching Youtube videos, or you’re eager to make cinematic movie masterpieces, one of these three cameras, or one of their close relatives, ought to be perfectly suited to your needs.
Have any comments or further questions? Please feel free to leave a comment below!