Full Frame vs Crop Sensor Camera: All You Need To Know

crop factor

Recently, someone asked me a question that he is planning to pursue photography as a profession and whether he should invest in a full frame DSLR camera or a crop sensor DSLR camera. My answer was simple, it depends on what kind of photography you are planning to buy a camera for. Then the next question followed, How does the kind of photography i am pursuing define whether i should go for a full-frame or a crop sensor DSLR camera?

I believe many of you must also be looking for a reasonable answer to the question above. Never blindly believe the fact that the full frame DSLR camera is the best and superior to the crop sensor DSLR camera in all situations. In some situations the full frame camera would be ideal and in some, the crop sensor camera  could work as a savior. But first, let’s get to know both the camera sensors in details.

Full Frame vs Crop Sensor Camera: Introduction

Talking about the camera sensors, two of the most commonly used terms are ‘full frame’ and ‘crop sensor’.

full frame vs crop sensor
Image courtesy: sowrongbutfunny

Technically, a full frame camera sensor produces an image equivalent to the size of the 35mm film, which is approximately 36mm x 24mm in size. The size of a full frame sensor is bigger than the crop sensor, but smaller than the medium format sensor. Why is it termed as ‘full frame’? Since 1920s, the 35mm film format has been the standard film size in the world of photography because of its cost efficiency and the quality of image it produces. As the manufacturers wanted to establish the 35mm format equivalent DSLR camera in the market, they intelligently named it as ‘full frame’ to make the customers using the crop sensor DSLR cameras feel that they are using a sensor which has a sensor size smaller than the then newly launched full frame DSLR cameras. Marketing tactics you know.

Back in the early days of digital cameras, it was not possible to produce and install a sensor equivalent to the 35mm film in a DSLR camera as it was so expensive that no one would even think of buying it. So to give a boost to the digital camera market, the manufacturers took a decision to go ahead with the so-called ‘crop sensor’ format which produced images approximately 22.3 x 14.9mm (Canon) and 23.5 x 15.6mm (Nikon) in size. It was just in the year 2002 that the first sensor equivalent to the 35mm film format was introduced in a DSLR camera.

Full Frame vs Crop Sensor Camera: Angle of view

The crop sensor as mentioned about is smaller in size when compared to the full frame, thus resulting in a narrower angle of view at the same focal length. This is exactly the reason why all the DSLR camera manufacturers have a different line-up of lenses for crop sensor format DSLR cameras.


full frame vs crop sensor
Image courtesy: bobatkins

One of the differences between the full frame and the crop sensor cameras is that the former provides a wider angle of view (as shown in Red) as compared to the latter (as shown in Blue). But how exactly is the angle view defined? Well, the angle view is determined on two factors: the focal length of the lens being used and the size of the sensor. This means that when using the same lens, both the formats will result in different angle view.

Let’s consider another scenario, while clicking photos on two different cameras installed with both the sensors using the 50mm lens, the full frame camera will give you the exact angle of view for which the lens has been designed. to get the same angle of view on the crop sensor camera, you will have to use a lens with the focal length of 50mm/1.6 = 31.25mm.

On the other hand, if you want to get the same angle view of what you are getting on the crop sensor camera, you will have to mount a 50mm x 1.6 = 80mm lens on your full frame camera.

NOTE: The crop factor of a Canon sensor is x1.6 and that of a Nikon sensor is x1.5.

To get the same angle view on either of the sensors, use these simple rules:

Focal length of the lens on a full frame camera MULTIPLIED by the crop factor = Focal length of the lens on a crop sensor camera

Focal length of the lens on a crop sensor camera DIVIDED by the crop factor = Focal length of the lens on a full frame camera

Advantages of Full Frame Camera

Better low-light performance: As the sensor size of a full frame camera is almost 1.5 (Nikon) or 1.6 (Canon) times bigger, it has the space to accommodate bigger pixels. The bigger the pixel size the more light they can store, which results in better low-light performance. Which means the full frame camera tend to produce less noise at high ISO sensitivity value.

Shallower depth of field: When you place both the full frame camera and the crop sensor camera at the same position, pointing towards the same subject, you will get shallower depth-of-field on the full frame camera. As to match the frame, you will have to use a focal length 1.5 or 1.6 times that of the crop sensor camera. The more the focal length, the shallower will be the depth-of-field.

Wider angle of view: As explained above, due to the larger sensor size, the full frame camera gets a wider angle of view. If you love clicking landscapes and nature, this is the ideal camera for you.

Use of film camera lenses: If you possess or are obsessed with the lenses made for 35mm format film cameras, then you will be amazed to know that those lenses can be mounted on the full frame cameras too. You can enjoy clicking photos using those vintage lenses, and see the result instantly on the LCD screen of your DSLR camera, unlike the film cameras.

If you are more into wedding, fashion or commercial photography, then the full frame camera body is the ideal choice for you.

Advantages of Crop Sensor Camera

Compatible with wide range of lenses: The crop sensor camera is compatible with both the range of lenses, i.e. the lenses designed for crop sensor cameras as well as the full frame cameras (win win situation).

Shallower angle of view: Are you a big fan of zoom lenses? Then you will surely love this advantage of the crop sensor camera over the full frame. As the crop sensor provides a shallower angle of view, your camera gets to view the subject/frame at 1.5 or 1.6 times. This means that if you are using a 100mm lens of a crop sensor camera, you will get a focal length of 150mm or 160mm.

Ideal for sports and wildlife photography: A crop sensor camera is best suited for sports and wildlife photography for two main reasons. Firstly, it provides more focal length (as mentioned above) so it becomes easy to catch the sight of animal and birds hiding far away. Secondly, a crop sensor camera features high frames per second (FPS) at a reasonable price (Canon 7D Mark II comes with 10 FPS), so you can click multiple frames at a faster rate.

Light to carry and pocket-friendly: If you are a frequent traveller you might want to pack light, a crop sensor camera body is usually light on weight when compared to the full frame camera body. A light camera body is always easy to handle. As we all are well aware of the fact that a crop sensor camera body costs a lot less when compared to the full frame camera body, and the reason is quite evident.

So, if you are a big fan of wildlife and sports photography, crop sensor camera is the perfect choice for you as you get the desired focal length and the fast FPS at a reasonable cost.

Which of the two DSLR cameras do you think is worth investing your money on?

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