Welcome to the Full Frame vs Crop Sensor debate! It’s important to remember how many different ways we can shoot nowadays and that one format is not better than the other, just simply better suited for certain styles!
Lets first start with some background.
So, what is a full frame camera? We need to know what this camera is if we are to understand what crop sensor camera is. The term full frame camera has its origin in the olden days when they used to shoot films. The 35mm film was typically used and so Canon was the first manufacturer to come up with a digital sensor that was the size of 35mm film. That was kind of considered to be a full frame camera those days. So, when you think of a full frame camera, you just kind of think of a 35mm equivalent of film. That’s what the term full frame stands for.
On the other hand, a crop sensor camera is basically a different variation of crop size inside a camera. What this does is that it makes the sensor smaller so it can fit in a smaller body so you can have a smaller, more compact version of a full frame. There are advantages and disadvantages of this but we will look into that as we progress.
Normally, if you are Canon user, the crop factor ranges between 1.3 and 1.6 depending on the make and the model. If you are a Nikon user, it is easy to figure out because it is usually around 1.5. Looking at our visual demo, you will see a photo that was taken with a full frame sensor. This is what we see using a 17mm of distance through the lens. When this is shot with a crop sensor as shown in the second visual demo in our video, a lot of information will be lost shooting at the same focal length. This gives you a basic demo of how small the sensor is if you think on the inside of the camera. The full frame sensor or camera has the size of the big box while the crop sensor has the size of the smaller box, so to say.
However, “full frame” is not really full. It is just the equivalent of the previous sensor standard so hypothetically a bigger sensor could be implemented. This would call for a new name for sensors.
If we’re being technical, a full frame sensor should really be called 35mm equivalent sensor and the crop frame should be referred to as an APS-C sized sensor.
So what are the advantages of using this kind of sensor?
Full frame cameras perform better in low-light situations; the reason behind this logical statement relies on the fact that they actually have more photosites, which allows them to capture more light and perform with less noise at high ISO values than common compact camera’s sensors. To think of working at ISO values nearing 12000 on nonfull-frame cameras may seem as insanity, whereas for full frame models it’s actually a not so common adjustment for night photography. Hence the reason why full frame bodies are known for their ISO performance.
If you are doing a lot of landscape stuff and want to have a lot of wide-angle shots, you can get a full frame camera and a regular 24mm and you will likely have the same 18mm or a little bit less of what crop sensor would shoot. So, you kind of get a wider angle used. It is therefore really useful obviously and real estate photography where you need to get the whole huge room and you don’t have a 10mm lens or something like that, you can shoot with a 16mm or 17mm lens and get the whole room.
In general, full frame cameras are way more expensive than cropped frame ones, along with their accessories. For putting this into a countable example, Nikon FX cameras are valued around 1.8x the value of DX cameras; the same comparison can be applied to Canon ones – also lenses and other accessories are that much expensive as they are considered cameras for professionals and not for amateur users. On the other hand, you can expect the viewfinder of these cameras to be brighter.
Another good reason to pick a full frame vs a crop sensor is the opportunity to experience (and fall in love) the 35mm film out of a 35mm lens. One of the most commented aspects that digital photography lost is the possibility of creating blurry backgrounds with ease. Well, putting aside DOF technique discussions, 35mm lenses on full frame body can give you that feeling and much more if you come to terms with working digitally. The shooting experience of film meets no rival, but for photography these days, working with a quality 35mm lens paired with a full frame DSLR body is a blessing (especially if we compare it with the APS-C counterpart).
This brings us to the drawbacks of Full Frame sensors.
Their higher cost effects lens availability. Most cropped sensor cameras will take a full frame lens but it doesn’t work like that vice versa. This means that inventory for full frame lenses isn’t as large as you can expect it to be. Therefore, you should take this into consideration, mostly if you aim to take a huge jump between an entry level DSLR to a Full Frame camera model.
Because the full frame sensor is bigger than the cropped frame, it affects the field of view. For photographers that need more zoom, the smaller sensor is the more compatible option.
The depth of the field is kind of a negative though when it comes to full frame sensors. Usually, depending on the make and model, the full frame cameras are capable of giving you as much depth of field as you want. So, even if you shoot at f/22 on full frame, the whole image may not be as sharp as you like and you may have to do some focus stacking and stuff like that. But on a crop sensor camera, you will be able to get a lot of depth of field since the size of the sensor is so small. Everything from front to back on f/22 and sometimes even at f/32 will be extremely sharp. All in all, this helps for image quality.
Crop sensors open up a much larger variety of lenses that are often times smaller too making them more portable and ideal for certain types of shooting. If you’re a videographer, crop sensor sizes are the way to go as they are much more conducive to moving images and rich videos.
Moving back to the previous point on lenses, imagine that you are a travel photographer – how much pricey is it going to be to be using a full frame DSLR or mirrorless camera + telephoto lens combo instead of working with a crop-based camera and a good, professional telephoto lens?. If you are on the budget for your photography work, the answer is pretty obvious.
A lot of people would want to shoot sports using crop sensor DSLR cameras (APS-C sensor) because they offer more crop factor so you get a more zoomed-in look for your image. Let’s take for instance where you want to shoot a football game and I am all the way across the field with a full frame camera and I don’t have an 800mm, 6000 dollar lens, it will be a lot harder to get that reach. However, on a crop sensor camera, you get more reach even with half that sensor even with less desirable or less telephoto lens for your photos. Keep in mind you will sacrifice ISO performance in the process.
For the average consumer with a kit lens and a consumer grade body, stick to the crop sensor. For simple family photos and a light camera to have around for photography events, a crop sensor will get the job done just fine. Camera companies have been really hard for many years to provide consumer level cameras that produce beautiful images which they absolutely do.
For working photographers and folks entering the professional arena, I encourage you to invest in a full frame DSLR camera. The image quality and wide angle options are necessary to make good photos deemed professional. If you like shooting with natural light and low light settings, again, a full frame camera is better because it has more photosites and noise reduction capabilities. It’s all on how you come to terms with the setups in general, but certainly, it makes an impact on low-light and night photography work.
Once you’ve chosen your camera, though, move on! Focus on mastering lighting, composition, white balance, OCF which will leader to better photos regardless of your sensor size! Remember, gear is supposed to help us, not to condition the way we perform our job.
If you feel ready to take the leap towards a full frame body, then congrats as you are taking the first step into becoming a professional photographer. If not, it’s okay as well, as no gear can perform as good as a talented photographer that knows the tricks and techniques behind scenes. Yes, full frame lenses may seem like a hefty investment to make, but there are some other options like used lenses or even open box lenses that considerably reduce the price tag by a big margin.
We hope this guide has given you an insight into what’s best for your current working conditions and the eternal full frame vs crop frame debate. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact us.