The landscape of DSLR cameras has changed dramatically in the last few months. Full frame digital cameras are now smaller and less expensive than ever before. Both Canon and Nikon offer many great options from $650 to $2000.
1) Canon 5D (Appx $650 in Excellent but used condition).
Recently dubbed the 5Dc for "classic", this camera took the photography world by storm upon its release in 2005. With a big bright viewfinder, and a full frame sensor capable of capturing tremendous detail, this camera is still capable of producing unbelievable results in the right hands. If you are looking to get into the full frame market for less, this is still a great option. The shortcomings of the camera include a poor LCD screen, no Live View feature, and a lack of video capability. If these are not particularly important to you, check at keh.com for the best deal. While I normally would not buy used gear, KEH offers a 6 month, non-transferable warranty on all used equipment
Canon users should note that lenses with an EFS mount are not compatible, as the EF mount is necessary.
2) Canon 5D Mark II (Around $1799 new)
For the last several years, this was the flagship full frame model for a wide variety of photographers and filmmakers. With beautiful HD video capability, it blew the doors open for a whole generation of aspiring videographers. For still images, the camera certainly did not disappoint, capable of unbelievable detail and low noise levels at high ISOs. It was the first digital camera ever used to take the official Presidential portrait, captured by Pete Souza. There really were no weaknesses in the camera, minus the ability to shoot multiple exposures. It's new lower price makes it a very attractive option.
3) Canon 6D (Around $1899 new)
The recently announced Canon 6D has received mostly glowing reviews, with a handful of noted concerns. The one thing everyone agrees on is the unsurpassed image quality. There are even tests that show it outperformed the Canon 5D MarkIII which sells for an additional $1300. This body has all the expected features of the 5D Mark II, but adds a few nice touches including, multiple exposure mode, built in HDR, and perhaps most impressively, built in Wifi with an accompanying app to control the camera remotely with an iOS device. Watch Chuck Westfall of Canon demonstrate how this amazing technology works:
This camera also represents a departure from the old CF (Compact Flash) cards, opting for the smaller SD memory. Some users expressed disappointment that there is only one card slot when many mid-level Nikon bodies such as the Nikon D7000 have dual slots. While dual slots certainly would be nice, especially considering the HD video, it's not a deal breaker.
The focus has 11 points which is plenty in my opinion. Sure the Canon 7D has 19 focus points but in reality, it makes the Auto focus system unnecessarily complicated, lending itself to a wide variety confirmed focus problems and/or user error. With 11 points, you can easily choose your focus point, and compose sharp photos without struggling through annoying menus of options.
The one downside I see is the lack of a dedicated White Balance button. To access it, you have to go into the "Q" menu, and scroll over to the WB box. Hopefully, a firmware update will include the ability to customize the "SET" button to act as a WB shortcut.
4) Nikon D700 (Appx $1600 used
The D700 features a 12.1 Megapixel Resolution full frame (FX) sensor, is made of magnesium alloy to withstand heavy use, and supports continuous shooting up to 5 frames per second (up to 8 frames per second with the optional MB-D10 Multi-power Battery Pack). It has the terrific Live View feature, but does not have video capability. See why DP Review highly recommended this camera after a detailed study.
5) Nikon D600 (Just under $2000)
The Nikon D600 is compatible with F-mount NIKKOR interchangeable lenses (both FX and DX-format). It has Live View, shoots HD Video, and has a wide ISO range of 100-6400, which is also expandable to 50-25600. The camera also has 39 focus points for wide-area AF coverage for both stills and HD video capture. It is also capable of shooting up to 5.5 frames-per-second (fps). For a detailed review of the D600, check this report from Gizmodo.
As you can see, it is such an interesting time to be a photographer. I'll never forget the initial disappointment of the "crop factor" when first switching from film to digital. Now, it's possible to have the best of both worlds. For landscapes and other situations when ultra-wide is necessary, the full frame camera is the way to go. For sports, wildlife, and bird photography, the extra reach created by the crop factor is actually a good thing. My 400mm lens becomes a 640mm. Depending on the type of work you do, you may find it helpful to have a full frame, and a smaller sensor body in your bag.