Full Frame Sensor vs Crop Sensor - Which is Right For You? - Digital Photography School

Full Frame Sensor vs Crop Sensor – Which is Right For You?

DX, full-frame, APS-C, FX, crop factor, 24×36, image circle. Confused yet? Good.

With the new Nikon D700 hitting store shelves and the Canon 5D MkII imminent, now is a good time to clear the air on the whole sensor size thing.

Back in the film days, the rectangle that captured the image on a standard SLR (the film) was one size: 24mm x 36mm. That was all there was to it, and nobody really gave it a second thought.

Every camera manufacturer is slightly different; models from the same manufacturer are even different. People usually refer to a sensor’s size by its “crop factor.” That’s the number you use to find the 35mm equivalent of a given lens. It’s just like taking the middle of an image and throwing away the outside edges. If a sensor is 24mm x 36mm, then there is no crop factor, since it covers the same area as 35mm film.

Nikon has two different sensor sizes: full frame (FX) and 1.5x (DX).

Canon has three sensor sizes: full frame, 1.3x and 1.6x. Other manufacturers are in the same range, with Olympus being the notable exception, at 2x.

full-frame-crop-factor.jpg

Some people don’t like the term “full frame” because it isn’t specific. Full compared to what? For the sake of simplicity, when I say “full frame” I mean a sensor that’s roughly 24mm x 36mm.

That’s all well and good, but why should you care? Sensor size is important when you’re trying to pick a camera because full frame sensors have distinct advantages and disadvantages in different situations.

In general, full frame sensors have better image quality across the board, but they really shine when it comes to high ISO performance.

Take a look at the Nikon D300 and it’s full frame sibling the D700. The D300 is widely considered to be pretty good in low light, but the D700 is much better. In the real world, my D700 gives me 2 full stops of useable ISO over the D300; I can shoot at ISO6400 on the D700 where I wouldn’t shoot above ISO1600 on the D300. This has a lot to do with the size of the sensor. Both cameras have 12 megapixels, but the individual imaging sites on the D700 are farther apart, giving you a cleaner image.

Full frame sensors also give photographers more options when it comes to wide-angle work. I can use my $300 24mm f/2.8 instead of the $900 Nikkor 12-24 f/4, and the 24 is faster.

The downside is that full frame sensors and lenses are bigger than their cropped counterparts. Full frame bodies are also more expensive.

There are also some situations where the crop factor helps you. Many people have gotten used to having a little big of extra reach with their long lenses and may not want to give that up.

Crop Sensor vs Full Frame Sensor: Choosing Which is Right For You

After you figure out the difference between a crop sensor and a full frame sensor, you’ll need to decide which one suits your needs.

For the average consumer, a smaller 1.5x or 1.6x sensor will be fine. If you’re the kind of person who has the 18-55 kit lens and maybe one other lens, it just doesn’t make sense to spend the extra money on full-frame.

If you have lots of glass from the film days, it might be worth looking into a full frame body. Modern Nikon bodies are compatible with nearly every lens Nikon ever made, and Canon bodies all work with EF glass.

Photographers who enjoy shooting landscapes and architecture will definitely want to check out a full frame body (if they don’t already have one). Full frame image quality and wide-angle options are far better than their cropped siblings.

If you shoot in natural and available light, you’ll definitely want to check out a full frame body too. The high ISO performance on my D700 is simply unmatched by any body with a smaller sensor. I can shoot at ISO6400 without worrying about excessive image noise, and I have more options when it comes to using (or not using) strobes and artificial light.

For nature, wildlife and sports enthusiasts, it might make more sense to stick with a smaller sensor. You can take advantage of the crop factor to get maximum detail at long distances.

Jamie De Pould is a DPS critique moderator and freelance photographer. He is currently pursuing a M.S. in Photography at Syracuse University in Syracuse, NY. See some of his work at pbase.com/jdepould.

Read more on this topic in our previous article – Crop Factor Explained where we specifically look at the topic of Crop Factor and how it impacts the different lenses that you might use on your DSLR.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • Kushagra

    so If i wanna use a 18-50 with a large sensor camera like the Canon 6D so i wont get that large sensor quality then ?

  • Luís

    I’m afraid your 18-50 won’t work with a full frame camera like the Canon 6D

  • Denny Beall

    The term “crop sensor” to me is a poor choice of words. It leads to thoughts like “the edges are cut off”. If you use a crop sensor lens on a crop sensor camera it fills the smaller sensor and if you use a full frame lens on a full frame camera it fills the sensor. If you use a crop sensor lens on a 35mm film camera you’ll get a circular picture in the middle of the frame.
    The problem is that lens definition came from 35mm film. If we redefined lens definition then a 100mm lens built for a crop sensor camera would be 150mm and if built for a full frame camera would be 100mm.
    Think about the fact that a bigger diameter lens takes in more light so takes better low light photos the same as a full frame sensor is bigger so takes in more light to make better low light pictures.

  • http://batman-news.com Carl Valle

    No – a lens is the same focal length no matter what sensor size is used. The light is the same. It is exactly like the edges are cut off on half frame hence the term crop. if you put a 100mm lens on full frame and cut off the edges of the print, it will look exactly the same as a full print on half frame camera, same light, same perspective, same depth of field.

  • http://batman-news.com Carl Valle

    It doesn’t become a 320 it’s still a 200 with exactly the same perspective. It is as you say, cutting off the edges. There is no advantage. It is just about price.

  • Terri

    I am undecided in purchasing a camera. I now have a canon 40 D with a canon 2.8 70-200 lens. unfortunately not an IS lens. Not a professional but an enthusiast! I need a camera and lens that will shoot football games in low lights and basketball in low light. What would you suggest that would work for me!

  • dean

    You should be fine with what you have. I have the 30D and shoot indoor volleyball with that lens. Unless you’re right on the floor, the extra zoom created by the cropping will help you get tighter shots.

  • Peter Vintner

    Recently bought a Sony A7, mirrorless full-frame camera ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sony_%CE%B1_ILCE-7 ). With an adaptor I can use my old Carl Zeiss T* lenses (manual focus) which was one of the attractions. But, to be honest, even with the 28/70 kit lens it’s a magnificent piece of equipment, and there’s no way I’d go back to using a smaller format except for places where only a pocketable camera (like my Lumix FX7) would do. Images from full frame are superior by orders of magnitude in every respect.

    Incidentally I believe Sony make full frame sensors for practically everyone else.

  • Peter Vintner

    Much better always to get the right lenses for the job at hand. So, for macro photography use a lens designed for that purpose, etc.

  • Peter Vintner

    Reading back through the comments somebody wrote that the Pentax K5 is a full-frame dSLR. It most certainly is not full-frame, although it has a very decent Sony sensor. Pentax don’t (and never did) make full-frame cameras.

  • sam

    Shut up

  • sam

    Your dumb

  • Guest

    You’re**

  • AL li

    I’m just confused, i use cameras in general ways like taking , Landscapes, portrait, wild life, etc… but my only problem is that i don’t know which Camera should i use for Modeling Full frame or cropped
    ?

  • Remi Zagari

    Why don’t we just go back to film :/

  • Remi Zagari

    Get a cropped one!:)

Some older comments

  • Quazi Ahmed Hussain

    February 11, 2013 09:09 pm

    I think both Canon and Nikon are deliberately killing the crop bodies by packing more and more amateurish features. The writer is unwilling to use ISO level higher than 1600 and very rightly so on Nikon D300.

    Ironically, both the makers are squeezing more and more gimmicky features that are likely to attract pure amateurs who are fascinated by high pixel counts. Obviously these bodies are likely to sell well as those customers have very little or no idea what these megapixels are all about ! But pro photogs cannot be fooled with this, neither the enthusiasts. That's why pro bodies pack much lesser resolution. Do the amateurs notice that? Obviously not, otherwise they would certainly pause and think "wait a minute, how come a flagship body like 1Dx sports a sensor of same resolution as 7D and still cost almost 4 times more"!?

    The hardest hit segment is the enthusiasts. They can neither upgrade to full pro systems nor live with the junky crop bodies being made these days.

    The current crop DSLRs from Nikon are packing 24 megapixels on the same sensor, Canon is also likely to follow suit. What would you suggest about those?

  • Jerry Gammon

    December 19, 2012 01:22 pm

    Brevity requires clear thought...this brief article makes a complex topic very understandable. Thank you.

  • cd00113

    December 16, 2012 09:04 pm

    Nice article. However, the I've found another article in http://xchamitha.blogspot.com/2012/12/full-frame-vs-crop-whats-difference.html which explains the technical terms in simple english. That together with this article gives a good knowledge about the technical details and practical observations.

  • Butch

    September 12, 2012 09:45 am

    I know this article is a little old, but I've seen some test footage from a Sony NEX 7 at high ISO that's superior with shadow detail to a 5D MIII. This was HD video and not stills and I know that certainly there are other concerns depending on the situation and the photographer, but I'm starting to wonder whether "Bigger Sensor"/"Better ISO" is starting to collapse.

  • james deakon

    August 12, 2012 01:04 am

    Read this link it will explain it in easy terms to you http://www.tutorial9.net/tutorials/photography-tutorials/crop-factor/

  • james deakon

    August 11, 2012 02:37 am

    You dont gain any extra reach on a crop body, the focal length stays the same. As you already said, you only loose the edge of the image, but then you say you gain extra reach! You do not gain extra reach, only loose edges ;-)

  • FG Photo

    May 31, 2012 12:55 am

    After reading this, and if I understood everything correctly, then I can presume that for the case of shooting concerts and other kind of artistical performances, a Full-frame body would be better due to the (sometimes) weak lightning conditions, right?

  • Tom

    May 23, 2012 01:01 pm

    Several comments state that full frame is equally useful for longer focal length shoots, but this is only true if the FF has a significantly higher pixel count, than the crop camera alternative. For instance, Song's last FF was 24mp, and the upcoming ff is also rumored to be the same. The top Sony crop cameras are 24 mp as well. In this case crop is better. In events where ff has higher rez, note that iso advantage starts going away.

  • erika

    May 2, 2012 10:19 am

    i started with a xsi as a starter camera as a hobby, i upgraded to the 550D i and now my hobby is turning into a more serious hobby/job then i thought, im doing events now and weddings and portraits.so now i dont know if i should upgrade to a full sensor lens. even though i love my 550D Idk if i made the right choice? or is it a good choice since i am a semi pro its a good camera to start RIGHT?? LOL ugh

  • Dan Richter

    April 25, 2012 07:08 am

    If you enjoy the extra reach of a crop sensor camera, remember that it is still a crop. The sensor crops the full frame resulting in loss of quality. A FF camera user can simply crop their image 1.6x to obtain a crop sensor view and it will be nearly identical and it is completely their choice to do that or keep their much wider angle view! Therefore, a crop sensor has no advantage over a full frame because a FF comes with the higher MP count, wider field of view (Which can be cropped to achieve an similar photo as a crop sensor), higher ISO speed, and frames per second.

  • timberswiss3

    March 5, 2012 11:33 pm

    I don't know how event photography nomad does but a full frame sensor destroys cropped in a wedding due to the fact that churches, temples, ballrooms, etc all have very poor lighting conditions and some places of worship don't even allow flash photography. In these situations, full frame is the best option

  • Gerton

    February 1, 2012 11:24 pm

    Great & clear article. Nikon & Cannon do have full frame (of FX) camera's. As far as I know they are the only ones at the moment. Is it possible to fit Olympus Zuiko lenses on either Canon or Nikon (D700) full frame bodies. Of course the camera would not have automatic exposures, but that is not too interesting (e.g. working with a 8mm).

  • Steven

    January 22, 2012 12:34 am

    Interesting article. I'm still not understanding why some are suggesting that if you predominately shoot wildlife or sports go with a crop sensor for the reach. Really, if you want the reach simply crop the image in post processing (isn't that what the camera is doing anyway - nothing magical).

    I have a Canon 7D and it has umpteen fps which is more than what the 5D has. This aspect alone might be reason why you would choose a crop sensor but not for the reach.

    As an aside, I now know I don't really need the 8 fps for my sports photography so when I come to upgrade 3 or 4 fps will be sufficient.

  • Fotograaf Nijmegen

    December 26, 2011 09:10 am

    Great post...im waiting on the 5d MK III for the full frame portret DOF benefits... and im hoping for many cross type AF points!

  • Ronald McDonald

    August 17, 2011 01:06 am

    Doesn't seem conclusive or practical to go full frame for portraits which wasn't mentioned much in the post. Full body shots that require background might benefit from the higher ISO and the neatly spaced pixels but upclose and personal renders those fancy attributes on a 35mm almost useless. Comes down to glass when you're that close and I personally recommend medium fixed telephotos. 85mm etc.

  • Reza

    August 6, 2011 11:56 pm

    If you can’t afford FF camera, then you should highly consider Pentax K5.. with it’s sony sensor, it delivers astonishing photos even at 3200 ISO on crop sensor camera.. even photos at 6400 ISO are great..

  • Reza

    August 6, 2011 11:55 pm

    If you can't afford FF camera, then you should highly consider Pentax K5.. with it's sony sensor, it delivers astonishing photos even at 3200 ISO on crop sensor camera.. even photos at 6400 ISO are great..

  • Nomad

    August 4, 2011 07:53 pm

    To help some of you out.... If your doing wild life or weddings generally crop sensor is the way to go.You don't really need full frame unless your doing wide angle shots where you need to take advantage of the "full frame"

  • Elliott

    July 8, 2011 05:01 pm

    For wedding photography, would a new Canon 60D crop camera or an old Canon 1Ds full be the better choice?

  • Santhosh

    July 2, 2011 01:55 pm

    Thanks for the detailed article! Any idea how much would be max ISO on a canon full frame camera for something like micro stock photography? (Since micro stock agencies are so picky on noise..)

  • liquidgroup

    June 13, 2011 04:09 pm

    Interesting stuff you've got here. Thanks

  • SIP

    June 9, 2011 04:00 pm

    Awesome Work..Thanks for sharing it with us!

  • Abhijeet

    April 27, 2011 03:55 pm

    Very nicely explained. But I am still confused as what should I choose? I do wildlife and macro both. Which is better at both these? Can anyone explain?

    Further as I am suffering with cervical spondylitis I can always be happy with smaller camera for their weight.

  • James

    March 27, 2011 02:16 am

    Very straight to the point explanation which can be easily understood by people new to DSLR photography.

  • Heather

    February 26, 2011 10:20 am

    And BTW, I have a Canon 50D. Will it hurt going from cropped sensor to full frame lens....to switch them out when I am shooting?

  • Heather

    February 26, 2011 10:06 am

    My husband just ordered a Canon Zoom Wide Angle-Telephoto EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM Autofocus Lens.

    My best friend photographer said that is what I would do really well with because I really like the bokeh. I know it will not be suitable for everything so will my Sigma 24-70 1:2.8 be good for the other lens I do use?

    Yes, I am a little confused about going into a full frame lens but I am learning a ton as I go along. I haven't been doing this for too too long. I am sure long enough where I should know this stuff but I am learning it and I have tutorials with a photographer soon.

    Any thoughts PLEASE????

  • Ike

    January 31, 2011 02:56 am

    This whole thing is a scam.
    It is easier to place 10mp on FF sensor than on crop sensor.

    FF cameras should be cheaper than 1.6x cameras.
    But no, they give better images because they can receive more photons, and 35mm lens costs more than 50mm lens.

  • James

    November 17, 2010 06:55 am

    Really glad I found this site. Only question is - why do crop sensors give extra reach?

  • Jesse Blyth Photography

    June 9, 2010 01:07 pm

    Hi guys. After reading through all of these messages.

    I found this Canon PDF from Canon USA themselves explaining what a full frame sensor and a cropped sensor is.

    http://www.usa.canon.com/uploadedimages/FCK/Image/White%20Papers/Canon_CMOS_WP.pdf

    If you still don't understand, then maybe a Digital Photography class may come in some help from the professionals :)

  • S Balfour

    June 8, 2010 05:25 pm

    THANK YOU! This is the best explanation I have come across ... Now I get it! Everyone else just confused me!

  • Mark Pashia

    May 16, 2010 12:22 pm

    Mark Isusm

    Now you have a mess. Your sensor is still the same physical size, but the firmware does not know it. Now the firmware will try to do things that will most likely BURN UP your sensor!!!! It will try to run the higher ISO thinking that there is space between the pixels spaces on the sensor, but the sensor pickups are still jammed together and will severely overheat. Try it and the noise will be incredible such that the image will be all but useless due to the extra heat and the color bleed that comes with that heat!!! Good luck dude, I think you smoked your investment!!!! Firmware is just a set of instructions to the processor in your camera. Your crop sensor is a physical part that is limited to its size and the number of pixel points on that sensor. You cannot change that yourself!!!!

  • Mark Isusm

    May 16, 2010 07:42 am

    Hi, I have a cropped sensor canon, yesterday i download an full-frame firmware and now i have an full frame camera. Sensor is now bigger, is almost 300dpi and 3200 iso.

    Thank you so much, just download.

  • Jack & the beanstalk

    May 13, 2010 11:52 pm

    ''...my D700 gives me 2 full stops of useable ISO over the D300; I can shoot at ISO6400 on the D700 where I wouldn’t shoot above ISO1600 on the D300...''

    isn't this article just you jacking off over you D700 ahahaha

    Full Frame pomp

  • Mark Pashia

    April 11, 2010 03:38 am

    To continue from my last post, printing copies of my pictures at four by six inches really does not have a problem at either 12.2mp or 6.48mp after cropping.

    Where it does matter is if I take the same images and have them blown up to 20inch by 30 inch poster size prints! The lower pixel density really shows up at that point because you are now down to 128 dots per inch on the cropped image and most printers for pictures need at least 150 dpi and higher is better. I try to never print at lower than 250 dpi. Most magazines that I have worked with will not take an image any lower than 300 dpi.

  • Mark Pashia

    April 11, 2010 03:28 am

    On my Canon XSi, I have a 12.2 mp crop sensor at 1.6 crop factor, so if I take the image from the camera into gimp and set the image>print size to four inches tall it has a width of six inches at 1424 dpi.

    If I then crop it to three inches tall by four and a half inches wide and then resize the "print size" so that I have not added any pixels, the dpi drops to 801 dpi. I have essentially crop away the information of 46% of the pixels resulting in an image that is equivalent to a 6.48 mp area instead of the 12.2 mp of the whole area.

    Now that is changing the print size only. If I crop away the same area and then image>scale in gimp, the software will increase the number of pixels by a extrapolation algorithm and try to fill in the missing information to bring it back up the the same number of pixel before I cropped. Essentially bringing it back to a four by six inch image at 1424 dpi or to say it another way is back to the original size at 12.2 mp but it does so by guessing at 46% of the pixels in your new "scaled" image. Gimp has four different choices of algorithms to use for this and they all do it differently with different results.

    By the way this is how "optical zoom" works in your point and shoot cameras but they don't give you a choice of algorithms. Either way it is a compromise that rarely works.

  • Mark Pashia

    April 11, 2010 03:08 am

    If I am understanding the physics of this correctly, you would be cropping away a lot of information and your image would be the same as one with lower megapixels since the D700 has the same megapixels only spread out over a larger sensor.

    The bottom line is that the D300 would have an advantage here, but the D700 would have an advantage in low light at much higher ISO because the pixels are spread out more and pixels that are packed close get noise from heating at higher ISO.

    a 12 mp full frame sensor has that many pixels spread out over the large sensor and the 12 mp crop sensor has that many pixels on a much smaller area, so advantage to crop sensor at telephoto with low ISO, and advantage full frame at wide angle, high ISO. That is if I am understanding the technology.

    Anyone here a camera engineer????

  • rex

    April 10, 2010 02:00 pm

    Would there be any difference in image quality between photographing an animal at the zoo with a 300 mm lens on a D300 versus a 300 mm lens on the D700 but then cropping the image to get the subject to fill out an 8 x 10 print? The D300 crops in the camera. The D700 forces you to crop after the photo is taken. It would seem that the D300 would have the advantage here, but is that true?

  • Mark Pashia

    April 6, 2010 12:20 am

    I am wondering why they don't just move the sensor further back from the lens so that the full image is focused on the smaller sensor and you would not get any cropping at all with a full frame compared to a 1.6 cf since they are the same ratio.

    But then you would not be able to sell all of the specialty lenses!

    If I understand things correctly, the increased noise is from packing the same number of pixels into a smaller area thus causing heat issues that in turn cause color bleed at high ISO. Am I missing something here??? Because that makes me wonder how a 21mp full frame would compare to a 12mp XSi for noise at high ISO since they are similar in pixel density??? Of course the added pixels at 21mp give you much more information to work with when cleaning up in PP, but this race for more MPs just seems to increase problems in some ways.

  • Mark Pashia

    April 6, 2010 12:05 am

    OK, so all of these articles explain the "crop factor" but I am confused in that I went with the Canon XSi that has a 1.6 crop factor and I have not had any vignetting and what I see through the viewfinder is pretty much what I get in the shot.

    Did they adjust the viewfinder to the crop factor???

    I have the EFS 18-55mm kit lense, a Sigma 70-300mm APO DG Macro, and a Tamron AF 200-400mm lens that is from the older days of film. So why isn't the Tamron giving me vignetting? It does autofocus so it must be from the later days of film when they started the EOS system in order to do that.

    I also recently met another enthusiast who had a Canon 7D which is a crop factor camera that was shooting at ISO 6400 inside under club lighting with a band and he had really good results while my XSi had trouble at ISO 1600. They are both crop factor cameras, so it has to be in the software somehow.

    So what am I not understanding here?

  • Quazi Ahmed Hussain

    March 3, 2010 01:53 am

    I have the same problem like Sunny. However, Canon's craze with high pixel counts on crop sensors makes it rather easy for me to seriously think about full frame. Simply, I cannot rely on densely crowded crop sensor.

    What do you say Darren?

  • sunny

    February 16, 2010 06:45 pm

    Want you help in deciding between Canon 7D and 5D mark II. I use it for all purpose, sports, landscape, portraite and generalk photography but not a professional. Have been reading through all the article around full frame and crop. Finally stuck between 7D and 5D mark II. Does it make any difference when using 70-200MM lens on both?

    thanks for your help

  • Sulaiti

    February 7, 2010 07:40 pm

    Hello!

    Thanks for the excellent article.

    "Photographers who enjoy shooting landscapes and architecture will definitely want to check out a full frame body (if they don’t already have one). Full frame image quality and wide-angle options are far better than their cropped siblings. "

    Just what i needed to know.

  • Prince Vasquez

    December 7, 2009 07:54 am

    Hi,

    Thanks for the great article. At last now i know when someone says 35mm film. Or a full frame on why it is more expensive than a dslr that's not a full-frame sensor.

    Just a question (maybe out of topic though), when it comes to Macro lens, is it better to get a 100mm than a 50mm? is the focal length higher the better?

    -Prince

  • Rob

    December 3, 2009 07:49 am

    I think the key consideration is the type of photography you are doing. For portraiture in good light or studio conditions, either will work just fine and give outstanding results with good glass. For outdoor sports, I actually prefer the crop sensor. I get more distance from the same lenses and they tend to be faster (although the new canon's with the dual processors should be able to keep up). For weddings and other low light conditions, I think it is important to go with the full frame for the reduced noise. My 50D gets banding at ISO 1600 and has visible noise above 800. The 5D Mark II is acceptable to 3200 which gives several stops of headroom.

  • foodbymark

    November 2, 2009 09:40 am

    I am upgrading from 20D to 5Dmk2 next month... I want the low light performance which is far superior. I've played with one, it's incredible the difference but then my 5D is long in the tooth.

  • Tyler - Building Camelot

    October 2, 2009 01:17 pm

    The article and comments here have been very helpful. I also found a great write up bu Ken Rockwell about the advantages of full frame cameras. Granted it's from 2007 but I think the principles still hold true today. Now if I could just convince my wife that I need to drop some $$$ on a D700

  • Mr DP

    September 17, 2009 02:32 am

    I have a hard time understanding the argument that a smaller than full frame sensor is better because you get more reach. This just doesn't make any sense to me. It's really a function of pixel density. If I have a full frame and a 1.3x crop sensor with the same pixel density then I should be able to zoom in on the full frame image to get the same 1.3x picture. Am I missing something here?

    I could see that if I have two 12 megapixel cameras, one at a 1.3x and one full frame that I would have more reach with the 1.3x. However, this is at a loss of image quality. This would mean the pixels on the 1.3x camera were smaller and therefore would contain more noise.

    What's so great about having a smaller than full frame sensor?

  • stacey

    August 9, 2009 11:40 pm

    Hi

    I am seeking advice on what sort of camera to get and i am torn between the canon 50d vs the full frame of canon 5d mark 2, sony a900 and the nikon d700. i have 2 different sales man tell me i need 2 different cameras, one said i need the canon 50 d and the other one told me only go nikon. i want to get a good camera that is going to last me for many years and one that does not become outdated within a year. i like taking pictures of kids and family and of landscapes and i do not plan on it being my profession. i like the faster frames per second that sony, nikon and the 50d offer. i have been reading on numerous websites about cropped vs full frame and on the ISO. i am confused on what would be the best for me.

  • Andrew Brown

    June 22, 2009 06:51 pm

    I've just got a 5D MkII after owning a 30D and a 40D. The 40D is a great camera and i'm more than happy to use it except...

    I do a lot of low light shooting and i have to say that the 30D and 40D doesn't even come close to the abilities of the 5D MkII under low light conditions. Next, i am looking at making a living from photography and am starting off by using image libraries. Outputting a picture at 21mp allows me to have far greater control of IQ for an image library than having to scale up via interpolation which is necessary with the 30D and 40D.

    Did full frame over crop come into my equation when choosing to buy this camera? Only as a curiosity factor to see what the difference was. For my type of photography the 5D MkII is ideal - i don't need the 5 & 6 fps provided by the 30D and 40D bodies - but i will say this. For any one looking to get into DSLR photography using Canon kit i would most definitely recommend the 40D - you won't go far wrong.

  • Dennison Uy

    November 27, 2008 03:52 pm

    Very informative write-up. It has definitely helped me understand and appreciate my gear even more.

  • Javid Jamae

    October 24, 2008 11:26 pm

    I'm just getting into photography, so correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think a crop sensor gives you any extra "reach" as you claim in the article and as some of the comments claim. The focal length on a lens doesn't change when you put it on a crop body vs. a full body. Its only the field of view that changes. This means that you can get the same shot standing in the same position at the same focal length with the same lens using a full frame body vs. a crop body and the only difference would be that the image with the full frame body would contain more "picture" so to speak. You could then crop that picture (taken with the full frame camera) down to the same exact size as you would get with a crop lens. I guess if you don't want to post process your pictures, or you want to frame them perfectly right when you take them, this might be important to you, but otherwise, I don't really see any technical advantage to using a crop lens, and I don't think it gives you any extra "reach".

    See: http://www.bobatkins.com/photography/tutorials/crop_sensor_cameras_and_lenses.html

    Again, I could be wrong, since I'm new to this, so if I am, please correct me.

  • David

    September 21, 2008 08:13 pm

    @Thomas,

    I guess no one answered your question yet about equivalent cameras and different size sensors asking what will the exposure value be. Thomas, for a given film speed, aperture and lightvalue, the shutter speed will be the same regardless of whether the sensor has a 1.0 crop factor or any other crop factor. This is also true about digital vs film and different film sizes. I.e., the shutter speed you get for the DSLR is the same for a 35mm negative and a 4x5 negative. The relationship between the light value and aperture is the same by definition. This is also why you can use a handheld light meter and get the correct exposure regardless of the camera. Hope this helps!

  • Jamie

    August 23, 2008 01:17 am

    @David: it's a crop, not magnification. It's just like pulling the middle of the image out.

    @Stan: the Olympus crop is 2x. The 4/3 system uses a smaller sensor, so it crops more.

    @Gregg: you can get a little bit more shallow on the DoF, but it isn't a huge difference. On the other end, diffraction isn't nearly as bad as it is with the smaller sensors. You can stop down to f/16 without taking a hit on the quality.

    Just a point of clarification: the 1D is a crop body (1.3x), the 1Ds is FF.

  • Richard

    August 22, 2008 04:38 pm

    The APS-C size crop is 1.5 of 35mm

  • David

    August 22, 2008 03:52 pm

    In terms of the so-called 'crop-factor', what I don't understand is, is the magnifiaction factor in a (say) 1.5x sensor a real magnified image, or is it just the cropped part of the full sized image printed out on a photo of equivalent size. In other words, everyone says you are getting 1.5x your normal focal length from a lens using the 1.5x crop factor sensor. I want to know if that enlarged image is actually being enlarged by the lens, or isn't it just a piece of the full-sized sensor image (24mm x 36mm)which is being enlarged after it has already passed through the lens, so it is being enlarged on the sensor, or post sensor, by software, etc., and not by the lens itself? In other words the camera is producing a 1.5x image, not the lens? If this makes sense, one is not really getting a true 1.5x image from the lens. So all this hype about your lens suddenly becoming 1.5x more powerful is hogwash. It only appears so. The image quality itself is probably downgraded from the original 24 x 35mm image quality by the 1.5 times magnification factor??????

  • GVC

    August 22, 2008 10:19 am

    Where does the APS-C format referred to in the title fit in?

  • Ron

    August 22, 2008 09:16 am

    João Almeida Says:
    What will happen if I mount the current “digital lenses” (Nikkor DX and such) in a full frame body?

    On Canon, if you mount the EFS lens on a 35mm or full size sensor camera the mirror in the camera body will hit the back of the lens when you snap the shutter. Thats why the EFS lens had a rubber bumper on the back of the lens. So you don't break the mirror if you don't follow directions. My understanding is that by moving the rear element of the lens closer to the focal plain of the camera, you get a sharper image, in theory anyway.

  • lilia

    August 22, 2008 08:19 am

    I have a cropped sensor canon, some of the reasons for me not upgrading is the size of the full sensor cameras are ginormous if you like walking around and being nimble. And the price of the bodies are pretty high. At least with the 24-105 lens I get extra close!

  • stephen

    August 22, 2008 08:02 am

    "João Almeida Says:
    What will happen if I mount the current “digital lenses” (Nikkor DX and such) in a full frame body?"

    Nikon cameras will crop down to a 5mp image. The DX lenses don't fill up the entire FX image sensor, so to keep a "normal" image (instead of one with horrid vignetting) the cameras crop down to 5MP.

    Canon won't even let you put digital lenses on full frame bodies.

  • Gregg

    August 22, 2008 04:25 am

    Isn't there a depth of field advantage to the full-frame sensor as well...as in you can do more blurring?

  • Stan

    August 22, 2008 03:38 am

    Please Could You Explain Olympus 2X Crop Factor

  • geoff

    August 22, 2008 01:20 am

    I definitely agree with Markus. I have a D300, and was a bit disappointed to realize that only a few months later they released the D700, since I shoot a bunch of architecture and enjoy landscapes. But, instead of running out to sell my D300, I'm going to keep it for awhile since I've really enjoyed the 1.5x reach it gives me on my full size lenses for birds and wildlife. I have a 70-200mm, which ends up being a 105-300mm on the D300, and then if I add on my 1.7 teleconverter, I now have a ~500mm equivalent lens for only a fraction of what a 'real' 500mm would cost me on a FF body.

    That all being said, I'd LOVE to pick up the D700 in 6 months or so when the price (hopefully) drops a bit.

  • Markus Jais

    August 22, 2008 12:55 am

    The argument by Rolograaf is only true for Canon.
    With Nikon, the D700 is as fast as the D300 and the D3 is even faster then it's smaller sisters. All three cameras
    have about 12 MP.

    Nikon will probably introduce another FF with much more than 12 MP soon. That camera will be slower than the D3.

    I think the best solution would be to own two bodies. With Nikon I would go for a D300 for wildlife and birds and a D700 for the rest.

    With Canon a 40D (or 1D Mk III) for wildlife and a 5D (or successor) for everything else.

  • Tomas

    August 21, 2008 10:01 pm

    Hi, I have a question that pursues me ever since I realized cameras can have sensors of different size :)

    Say we have two cameras with different sized sensors.
    Let's assume we are metering on the very same area with both cameras. Let's also assume that the cameras have the same ISO settings, same aperture and equivalent focal length.
    How does that affect the shutter speed?

    I understand that the aperture is a ratio of focal length and the diameter of the opening. Unfortunately, I can't figure out the consequences..
    Is the amount of light hitting the sensors higher in case of the larger sensor, thus allowing shorter shutter speed? Or is the amount of light equivalent for the two cameras, resulting in same exposure time?

    A simple answer is much appreciated..
    a mathematical formula would be a very nice bonus! :)

    Thank you

  • Rolograaf

    August 21, 2008 09:46 pm

    Can I add one more argument (as a full-frame shooter) in favor of the cropped sensors?
    In Canon camera's full-frames come with higher Megapixels than their equivalents, thus larger filesizes to store in memory. Therefor the frames per second are higher in the cropped sensorbody's. Together with their 'improvement' of telelenses makes them the better choice for sports (EOS 1Ds vs 1D)

  • Sunnyman

    August 21, 2008 09:32 pm

    Update - I guess I missed a fine point here: it is not just the number of pixels, but also how they are spaced on the sensor surface. And that is also why a large sensor performs better. Excellent article!

  • Sunnyman

    August 21, 2008 08:14 pm

    "...I can shoot at ISO6400 without worrying about excessive image noise..."
    Wow, that is amazing! Yet it is obvious - when you think about it. A large sensor means more pixels, meaning the image will be less vulnerable to noise. The problem has been the incredibly high price tag on full frame sensor cameras. But I guess those prices are coming down more and more, so maybe the day I upgrade I can afford one.

    Kai the Sunnyman http://www.a1phototips.com

  • David Blanchard

    August 21, 2008 12:40 pm

    I think you need to have a special need (usually meaning Serious Pro) to justify a Full Frame Sensor digital camera. The performance of Crop Sensor cameras is remarkable.

    I had some jingle in my jeans late last year and hoped Canon would produce the 5D MkII everyone knows is on the way. It has yet to happen. I bought a XSi (to join my XTi) and am not looking back.

  • Steve

    August 21, 2008 10:29 am

    Canon's full-frame models are the 5D and 1D. Personally, I'm very happy and satisfied with my 40D.

  • Melanie Richeson

    August 21, 2008 08:21 am

    THANK YOU - I've been looking for the short explanation of this! Finally it clicks :)

    ~Melanie

  • jjohnsen

    August 21, 2008 07:51 am

    So do they make it pretty clear in the specs what kind of frame you're getting? Which Canons are full frame?

  • Richard

    August 21, 2008 05:35 am

    When using a DX lens on a D3 or D700 you're dropping to 9mp surely?

  • Pete Langlois

    August 21, 2008 04:34 am

    @ João Almeida,

    When you use the DX lens on a D3 you're dropping from 12mp down to 5mp.

    Pete

    http://www.petelanglois.net

  • Nikki

    August 21, 2008 03:41 am

    HA HA HA...

    I JUST NOW posted in the DPS forum asking for someone to explain crop bodies with full-frame bodies, and then I click over to the blog and VOILA! you've answered all my questions!!

    Talk about timing!!

  • Scott Fillmer

    August 21, 2008 02:24 am

    Good perspective on sensor cropping... I use both a DX and FX body and they each have their purpose, but it is hard to remember the crop differently when looking through the viewfinder.

  • David

    August 21, 2008 02:22 am

    Another item to think about when choosing full frame vs smaller ccd sensors is where in the lens the image comes from. Many lenses, especially less expensive ones, have less contrast and more distortions closer to the edge of the glass. Shooting with a full frame sensor places the image in the boundary of those glass problems. Using a smaller sensor tends to place the image in the premium part of the lens. This can make your image in a $300 lens as good as one in a $1,000 lens.

    It's certainly a trade off between where in the glass the image comes from and the higher ISO's with less noise!

    David.
    http://outdoorimages.blogspot.com

  • Ryan

    August 21, 2008 02:04 am

    This is a good article. It's easy to understand, and it conveys the differences between the different sensor sizes really well to the reader.

    I for one didn't know that full frame sensors are better in low light conditions, and that they handle noise better than the cropped counterparts. That's a good thing to remember when it comes to buying my next cam. So thanks for that.

  • Mikel Daniel

    August 20, 2008 11:47 pm

    For zoom lenses, you'll need to zoom out a bit otherwise you'll get extremely heavy vignetting. How much you zoom is roughly the lower range times the crop factor of the camera the lens was designed for. For example, you can use the 17-55DX on a FF Nikon, but would need to zoom to about 26 or so to use it without seeing the vignetteing (17 X 1.5 = 25.5). However, the new Nikon FF cameras automatically crop the image for you, though in the process you lose MP.

  • Drewe

    August 20, 2008 11:29 pm

    Thanks for that - I had never considered the low light advantages of a full frame. Now to rethink my next purchase :D

  • J. Pollack Photography

    August 20, 2008 09:40 pm

    I don't think there's a right answer to the question of full-frame vs. cropped. I use two Canon 40D bodies with cropped sensors in my professional work and I enjoy the extra reach that I get from them. The Canon system is nice in that I can take any lens in their current lineup and use it on my bodies without worry. Plus, if I really want the same view as a full-frame sensor, I just step back 1.6 times!

  • João Almeida

    August 20, 2008 09:35 pm

    What will happen if I mount the current "digital lenses" (Nikkor DX and such) in a full frame body?

  • Homburg Pokes

    August 20, 2008 09:07 pm

    Excellent article highlighting the details needed to understand crop factors. Good practical advice for consumer-level photographers.

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