Choosing between a full frame and crop sensor camera is one of the more difficult decisions you’ll have to make as a photographer, but it’s also one of the most important.
Because of this, we wanted to take the time to explain the key differences between these two types of sensors.
In this guide, we’ll be going over all of the key differences between these two systems in order to help you better understand which camera type will best suit your needs as a photographer.
Which is right for you?
When it comes down to it, there really isn’t a right or wrong answer as far as which camera system is better than another.
You simply have to choose what works for you based on your budget and your photographic needs.
Let’s take a look.
full frame vs crop sensor
What Is Full Frame vs Crop Sensor?
One of the bigger decisions you’ll have to make when picking a camera is whether you want a full frame or crop sensor camera.
While this decision used to be much easier, modern cameras have blurred the line between full frame and crop sensor cameras.
Full frame sensors are more expensive to produce and until recently only appeared in higher-end DSLR cameras.
However, there’s now a growing number of mirrorless full frame cameras from Sony, Nikon, Canon and others.
Crop sensor cameras are still cheaper to manufacture and the most popular choice for budget-conscious photographers.
What Is A Full Frame Sensor?
Out of all the different sensor options, full frame is the most coveted and most expensive. Full frame sensors are typically found in professional DSLR cameras.
The sensor size itself is approximately 36mm x 24mm which is the same physical sensor size as 35mm film.
The downside to this larger size is that it creates much larger file sizes (which can be a problem when shooting with large groups of photos), and there’s a cost difference between crop sensor cameras and full-frame cameras.
But if you’re serious about your photography, you will want to know more about full frame sensors because they are the best type of camera for photographers who are looking for superior image quality and performance.
One of the most popular reasons why so many photographers decide to go with a full-frame camera (like my Nikon D750) over a crop sensor camera is because of its wide dynamic range.
Dynamic range refers to the amount of tonal range captured in an image between pure black and pure white areas.
Because full frame sensors are larger than crop sensors, they capture a much wider dynamic range, which means less blown out highlights and detail in the shadows.
In terms of low light photography, full-frame cameras have an advantage over crop sensors as well because they allow more light to hit the sensor.
The term “full frame” comes from the days when 35mm film was the standard size for photography. A single 35mm film frame measures 36 x 24 mm.
When digital photography became popular, manufacturers designed their digital sensors to be as close to this size as possible so they could use existing lenses designed for 35mm film.
The resulting sensors were referred to as “full frame” because they were designed to match the dimensions of a single 35mm film frame. Anything smaller was referred to as a “crop sensor.”
What Is A Crop Sensor?
When people refer to sensors inside cameras, they usually mean the image sensor. This is the “film” that captures the light from the subject of your photo.
Tiny pixels on the sensor convert the light into an electrical signal, which is then processed by other parts of the camera to produce a final image.
This is why it’s called a crop sensor: It crops out some of the pixels.
The type of sensor used in cameras can vary, depending on what function you want it to serve. For most photographers, this is just something they need to know in order to purchase lenses that will work effectively with their camera bodies.
In the days before digital imaging, it was absolutely necessary for photographers to understand how these sensors work. If a photographer needed a long telephoto lens but only had a camera body with a small sensor, then they would have had to use a teleconverter — an accessory lens that sits between the main lens and camera body — in order to extend its reach.
Nowadays, most cameras have sensors that are big enough for any lens or accessory combination you might need, so no one worries about this anymore.
The Difference Between Full Frame vs Crop Sensors
Namely, full frame cameras have a larger sensor than the one you will find in most other cameras. The size of the sensor affects several different aspects of a camera’s performance.
The most important aspect is depth of field. Depth of field refers to how much of your image appears in focus.
Full frame cameras will typically have more depth of field than crop sensor cameras, making it easier to get everything in your scene sharply focused without relying on software to do it for you.
Another big advantage of a full frame camera is that it has a larger pixel pitch, meaning that each pixel on the sensor is physically larger than those in a crop sensor camera, which makes for better low light performance and less noise in your images when shooting at higher ISOs. This allows you to shoot handheld at slower shutter speeds and still get sharp images.
Full Frame Sensor Advantages
Full Frame sensors are standard for most DSLR cameras and provide many benefits over the smaller APS-C sensors. Here are some of the benefits to choosing a Full Frame camera:
Better Image Quality — The larger sensor on a Full Frame camera will capture more light than an APS-C sensor. This allows you to use faster shutter speeds, lower ISOs, and wider apertures without sacrificing image quality.
When comparing two cameras with similar features and lenses, the Full Frame camera will produce sharper images with lower noise than an APS-C equipped model.
Full Frame Cameras are More Versatile — Because they have larger sensors, Full Frame cameras are better suited to shooting in low light conditions or capturing moving subjects without motion blur. Because they require shorter focal length lenses to achieve the same field-of-view as an APS-C model, they provide better subject isolation and compression, which is great for landscape photography.
Full Frame Cameras are More Durable — Larger bodies allow for more robust weather sealing on Full Frame models versus their APS-C counterparts.
Full Frame Cameras Support Better Lenses — A larger sensor requires longer focal length lenses to achieve the same field-of-view as an APS-C camera.
Crop Sensor Advantages
The crop sensor cameras do not have stabilization, which means that the lenses you use must have optical stabilization. Lenses with OIS are much more expensive than those without, even if they are just as good optically.
One way to work around this problem is to use a tripod. But the problem with using a tripod is that it doesn’t help when you’re shooting fast moving subjects like wildlife or sports.
When you shoot at higher shutter speeds, you can also get away with handholding the camera, but as soon as you try to shoot at slower shutter speeds, it becomes more difficult to avoid camera shake.
The crop sensor cameras do not have full frame sensors, and so the lenses can be smaller, which in turn makes them cheaper to manufacture. The downside of small lenses is that they generally don’t offer as much quality as their larger counterparts.
They usually have lower resolution and maximum aperture and are not as resistant to flare and aberrations.
But there are pros to using small lenses too. They are much lighter than large lenses and that’s an advantage for anyone who likes hiking or backpacking.
Getting A Sense For Camera Sensors
The truth is that there is no clear guideline for choosing the best camera sensor and neither is there a magic way to choose the best one. There are, however, a few critical factors you need to take into consideration before buying your next digital camera or even your first one.
What Is a Camera Sensor?
A camera sensor is basically an electronic device that converts light into electronic signals. It also regulates the exposure of the images captured through the lens of the camera and prevents over exposure or under-exposure.
The most common camera sensors are made of silicon, which makes them cheap to produce and this has changed their role in photography over the years.
The History Of Camera Sensors
The design of the first camera sensors can be credited to NASA scientist Richard C. Lee who designed them in 1975 for use in space craft. The first commercial use of these sensors was launched by Kodak in 1987 with its DCS 100 Digital Camera System which incorporated two Sony CCD (charge coupled device) sensors.
Due to its exceptional image quality, it was as popular among users as it was among critics who awarded it an “Imaging” Magazine’s Best Product Award for 1989. This prompted other manufacturers to come up with their own versions of digital cameras using camera sensors.
Advantages Of Full-Frame Cameras
Whether you’re a professional or an amateur, it is always necessary to find out the best camera for a photographer. The first thing that you need to know is what a full-frame camera is. It is actually a digital camera that has a sensor that is the same size as 35mm format.
The sensor, which has the same dimensions as film, should be the same size as 24 x 36 mm.
Till today, the full-frame cameras were made for professional photographers because of the high price and other features. However, now you can buy an affordable full-frame camera for use by enthusiasts and amateurs.
The Advantages Of Full-Frame Cameras
First of all, you can shoot images with low light without any problems because of the large sensor. This is possible because it captures more light than other sensors that are available in other cameras.
In addition to this, it also enables a photographer to work with different lenses and achieve better results.
In fact, it is not difficult to recognize the advantages of full-frame cameras over other digital cameras. If you decide to buy one then you will definitely get your money’s worth because they are high quality cameras designed especially for professional photographers and enthusiasts who are just starting out in photography.
Disadvantages Of Shooting Full Frame Cameras
If you’re a photographer shooting landscapes, weddings or other types of photography, you might be considering buying a full frame camera. But before you make that purchase, it’s important to know that there are some disadvantages to shooting full frame cameras.
Thing is, full frame cameras are considerably more expensive than their APS-C counterparts. If you’re planning on shooting a lot of photos and don’t have a budget for the higher cost of the camera and lenses, then it may not be the right choice for you.
There’s also the issue of size. A full frame camera is larger than an APS-C camera, which can make taking it with you more difficult.
If you want to carry your camera around with you a lot but don’t have much room in your bag, then it probably isn’t the best choice for you.
If you’re looking for versatility in your camera and want to be able to shoot different types of photography with the same equipment, then an APS-C camera is probably a better choice. On the other hand if money is no object and you would prefer great quality photos over portability and convenience, then a full frame camera is an excellent choice.
Advantages Of Crop Sensor Cameras
Crop sensors are smaller, more affordable and provide more detailed images which can be cropped to create a larger image.
The two main types of sensor formats are full frame sensors and crop sensors. Full frame sensors can be found in some high-end cameras while crop sensors are more commonly used in lower-end cameras.
There is nothing wrong with using a crop sensor camera, but there are some key differences to be aware of that you may not know about.
Crop Sensor Advantages
Sensor Size – A full frame sensor measures 36 x 24mm and is much bigger than a crop sensor which measures 24 x 16mm (1.5x crop). This allows for a larger magnification for images with a crop sensor camera.
Full Frame Sensor vs Crop Sensor Camera
Full Frame Sensors – Full frame sensors have the advantage of being able to use almost every lens designed for 35mm film cameras, where as a crop sensor camera cannot use these lenses. They also provide better low light results as they have larger pixels to capture more light.
However, this type of camera is usually more expensive and professional photographers prefer these type of cameras as they produce more detailed images.
Smaller Lenses – Crop sensors allow the photographer to use smaller lenses which can result in less weight.
Disadvantages Of Crop Sensor Cameras
Crop-sensor cameras are cameras that have lenses designed to give a field of view wider than 35mm film. This means that the lens is unable to take in the whole 35mm image or that the image will be cropped.
The advantage of crop sensors is that they are smaller than full frame cameras and thus, a bit more portable. However, there are some disadvantages to this system as well.
While crop sensor cameras do have their benefits, they also have some disadvantages. Here are some of them:
They can be hard to use for people who prefer full-frame shooting. Many photographers who enjoy using a full frame camera find it difficult to make the switch to a crop sensor camera since the focal lengths are completely different.
Crop sensors also lack depth of field, making focusing an issue for photographers who shoot with these types of cameras.
They have less sharpness than full-frame cameras when shooting at high ISO settings due to the pixel size being larger on crop sensors. For example, if you enlarge the images from a Nikon DX DSLR you will see that they are less sharp than images shot with a DX camera at low ISO settings (100 or below).
Which Sensor Size Is Right For You?
There are three main sensor sizes for DSLR cameras. They’re all APS-C, which means they’re roughly 1.5x the area of your typical point-and-shoot sensor.
The chart below shows how each size compares to full-frame options (which are roughly 35mm equivalents).
Tiny sensors like those in cellphones produce images that are too noisy and soft for most professional uses. While there are a few pros who have found success with this format, most have switched over to the micro four thirds system with its much larger sensors.
However, there’s increasing debate about where the “sweet spot” of DSLR sensor size lies.
The APS-C format is very popular in the mirrorless world but it’s also the standard for most DSLRs. A lot of people end up buying a new camera when they want better image quality than their existing APS-C setup offers.
That’s because “full frame” cameras capture significantly more light per pixel than APS-C sensors. The gains aren’t as dramatic as they used to be since APS-C sensors are so much bigger, but you can still expect to gain quite a bit by stepping up to full frame.
Full Frame vs. Crop Video
I have always been a huge proponent of full frame video, but recently I have seen people saying that there are a lot of drawbacks to it. These people say that crop is the better way to go.
I disagree with these claims, and I wanted to share my thoughts on the matter.
Full frame is better for low-light situations. In low light situations, the ISO setting on your camera will be jacked up high in order to capture enough light for a proper exposure. When this happens, your camera has to amplify the signal coming in through the sensor.
The more amplification you apply to the signal, the more information gets lost in the process.
This is why many cameras will provided with a “low light” or “no light” setting that allows you to increase the ISO even higher than normal in order to capture enough light for a shot.
Doing this causes tremendous amount of information loss, and when this lossy image is cropped into a smaller frame, you get all sorts of ugly artifacts and noise to deal with later when editing your video footage. This is not a problem with full-frame video because there is no crop applied during shooting so no information is lost when shooting at high ISOs.
Full Frame vs. Crop Sensor Field Of View And Focal Length
When you first get into photography, you’ll notice the different terminology used to describe the focal length and depth of field . Full frame cameras are used to take pictures that are at a 1:1 magnification, or full frame.
Crop sensors are much more popular than full frames due to their lower cost and lighter weight. In fact, most of today’s DSLR cameras and many mirrorless cameras have crop sensors.
Full frame cameras offer an advantage in low light situations because they have larger sensors and can collect more light, but for most other situations, the difference between a crop sensor and a full frame is just something to consider when comparing two cameras side by side.
So what does this mean for your photography? Do you have to change your lens when going from Full frame to Crop sensor? Yes and no.
You can still use the same lens on both types of cameras, but you will get different results depending on whether you use it in full frame or crop mode.
Full Frame Sensor Characteristics
Many photographers are not aware of the differences between full frame sensor cameras and smaller format cameras. To get to the bottom of this myth, we will look at the four main aspects: size, weight, price and performance.
The first argument is that full frame cameras have a larger sensor than crop frame cameras which results in better image quality. This is true.
A full frame camera has a sensor which is the same size as a 35mm film which was used in professional photography for many years.
The crop frame sensors on the other hand, are smaller than 35mm film but larger than the sensors used in professional photography prior to digital photography. This difference also results in different focal length of lenses used with each type of camera body.
When using a crop frame camera you need to multiply the focal length by 1.5 to get the equivalent focal length on a full frame camera.
So for example, a 50 mm lens on a crop frame camera produces an image similar to that of a 75mm lens on a full frame camera (50 x 1.5 = 75). As you can see, this is quite significant because it means that you can use longer lenses on crop body cameras and still get similar results when compared with full-frame camera bodies (which have large sensors).
Crop Frame Sensor Characteristics
Sensor characteristics are very different in crop frame versus full frame cameras. Crop frame sensors are typically smaller, less sensitive and less expensive than full frame sensors.
The smaller pixels on a crop sensor do not gather as much light and the crops lenses are generally slower. This means that it is necessary to use a large aperture or longer exposure to get an image with enough light and depth of field to be useable.
A crop sensor camera will be able to take photos at 1/60s shutter speed at f/2.8 while a full frame sensor camera will require 1/250s shutter speed at f/2.8 to get the same result. The crop sensor will have a much shallower depth of field than the same lens on a full frame camera that is used at the same aperture.
This is due to the difference in sensor size between the two types of cameras and the relative focal length of the lens being used on each camera type. A 50mm lens on a crop frame camera will have more depth of field (shallow DOF) than a 50mm lens set at f/2.8 on a full frame camera.
We have Gear Buyer’s Guides on every type of Filmmaking Equipment!