Facebook Pixel Full Frame vs APS-C for Wildlife Photography: Which Is Best?

Full Frame vs APS-C for Wildlife Photography: Which Is Best?

The best camera type for wildlife photography

Choosing between a full-frame or cropped-sensor camera for wildlife photography can be tough. Both camera types offer their own benefits, and there’s no one right answer (though plenty of wildlife photographers have strong opinions here!).

Choosing what’s right for your personal use will largely come down to your individual style of shooting and your preferences as a wildlife photographer. In this article, I break it down, focusing on the key differences between crop-sensor and full-frame cameras and how they’ll affect your ability to capture stunning wildlife shots.

Full-frame vs APS-C cameras: the basics

Full-frame vs APS-C cameras for wildlife photography

Before I get started with detailed comparisons, I want to take a moment to explain the difference between full-frame and crop-sensor cameras.

Most modern camera companies use either full-frame or APS-C (crop) type sensors in their mid- to high-end cameras – that is, in their DSLRs and interchangeable lens mirrorless models.

Full-frame sensors are often classed as the professional standard, with the sensor size very close to that of a 35mm film negative.

APS-C sensors, on the other hand, are roughly two-thirds the size of a full-frame sensor. As a result, the field of view is multiplied by a factor of 1.5-1.6x compared to a standard full-frame model. These APS-C sensors are mostly found in lower-tier DSLRs and mirrorless cameras as the smaller chips are less expensive to produce.

Now let’s take a look at more specific differences between these two sensor types and how they can enhance or detract from your wildlife photography:

The crop factor

Full-frame vs APS-C cameras for wildlife photography

One of the largest benefits of an APS-C camera for wildlife photographers is the additional crop factor. When you place a lens onto a crop-sensor camera, its focal length gets a 1.5-1.6x magnification, and this can be hugely beneficial when trying to photograph small birds or distant wildlife. In wildlife photography, filling the frame with your subject is very difficult to do, even if you own a monstrous 600mm lens. Therefore, more reach is almost always better!

Full-frame vs APS-C cameras for wildlife photography
The APS-C crop factor gets you much closer to the wildlife without needing to use huge (and expensive!) lenses.

The crop factor also allows you to get the same field of view with a far smaller lens, helping to reduce the gear you need to carry while still giving you great telephoto reach. This is something a lot of photographers appreciate because it prevents them from lugging huge lenses into the field.

For example, a 70-200mm lens on a 1.5x crop-factor body gives you the equivalent of a 105-300mm lens, which makes for a perfect compact wildlife setup!

ISO sensitivity

Full-frame vs APS-C cameras for wildlife photography
Full-frame cameras give better results in low-light situations, which makes a big difference to most wildlife photographers.

One of the biggest benefits of a full-frame camera is better image quality when shooting at high ISOs.

This isn’t always true – image quality depends on sensor technology as well as size, so a full-frame camera from 2010 will almost certainly get outperformed by an APS-C camera from 2024 – but in general, full-frame models do better in this regard.

You see, the larger sensor size means that the individual pixels are larger on a full-frame camera compared to an APS-C camera. These larger pixels are more sensitive to light and produce cleaner images at high ISO settings. If you like to photograph wildlife in low-light conditions, where a high ISO is a necessity, a full-frame camera makes a big difference!

One caveat: with modern sensor advances, APS-C models of the past few years have come along in leaps and bounds in terms of ISO performance. I’d say that they’re easily usable up to ISO 6400 or so (though it depends on the specific camera model!). But full-frame sensors have improved a lot, too, so if low-light usability is key for the subjects you’re working with, a full-frame camera is still king.

Depth of field

When comparing full-frame sensors with APS-C models, it’s important to account for depth of field characteristics and how areas are rendered out of focus. In wildlife photography, it’s generally a good idea to capture blurred backgrounds that isolate the main subject. You want a camera that maximizes this background blur, if possible.

Put simply, a full-frame camera produces better background blur than an APS-C camera. This comes with several caveats, but smaller sensors capture a deeper depth of field with equivalent apertures and framing.

(Why? Smaller sensors crop the frame, similar to how you might crop an image in post-processing. If you photograph a distant bird with a wide-angle lens, then you crop the image so the bird is large in the frame, the depth of field will be very deep and you’ll end up with very limited background blur. However, if you photograph the bird with a 600mm lens and fill the frame without needing to crop, the background blur will be much stronger. This is an exaggerated version of what’s going on when you use a crop-sensor camera versus an APS-C camera.)

This means that if you are going after wildlife photos with clean bokeh and a very restricted depth of field to isolate and direct your viewer’s attention to your subject, a full-frame model is the better choice.

Full-frame vs APS-C cameras for wildlife photography
Full-frame cameras are great for shallow depth of field effects!

On the other hand, if you’re looking to produce more environmental wildlife photos – where the subject is displayed against a sharp background – a crop-sensor camera will serve you well.


Over the past few years, resolution has advanced steadily, with cameras being introduced that offer 45+ MP sensors. In the past, ultra-high-res sensors were restricted to larger-format cameras primarily used for advertising and commercial photography. But now that high-res technology has been brought into DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, they offer photographers more flexibility.

Today, you can find plenty of high-resolution cameras, though they mainly use full-frame sensors, as packing huge numbers of pixels onto small sensors can heavily impact their quality. The full-frame models with higher resolutions offer a unique advantage: they make the most of the benefits of full-frame models yet offer the ability to crop heavily to replicate the crop factor of APS-C cameras.

A disadvantage is that these high-resolution cameras are often slower in terms of frames per second due to internal data-writing limitations. But this is advancing all the time, especially with new forms of storage media offering faster write times.

Full-frame vs APS-C cameras for wildlife photography
High-megapixel full-frame cameras offer great all-around performance.

A full-frame camera with a high-resolution sensor can be a perfect compromise for those wanting the ISO performance and bokeh-rendering benefits of the full-frame sensor but the extra reach provided by the APS-C sensor. If that sounds appealing to you, just bear in mind that you’ll want to grab a camera with fast continuous-shooting speeds, and that you might spend an arm and a leg to get it! Speaking of which:


The final factor that always plays a part when looking to buy new gear is that of cost. Full-frame bodies, by their nature, are more expensive. The chips are harder to engineer and more expensive to produce, and while there are some budget-friendly full-frame cameras, most large-sensor models are on the pricier side.

APS-C cameras, on the other hand, are often found at lower price points. However, this depends on the body design and extra features such as speed, construction, and cutting-edge AF technology. Some advanced APS-C cameras are significantly more expensive than entry-level full-frame models due to their advanced autofocus features, high continuous-shooting speeds, and rugged build quality.

So which camera sensor is better for wildlife photography?

In my view, whether you should purchase an APS-C or a full-frame camera for wildlife photography largely depends on your target subjects.

If you love photographing birds and small creatures, a high-end APS-C body that combines the crop factor with speed will serve you well. The crop factor is also a huge benefit if you want to get a longer telephoto reach without having to shell out for ultra-expensive super telephoto lenses. That way, you get a small setup that offers a good compromise for most situations.

If you want the absolute best performance and quality, full-frame models are where to look. The high-resolution sensors and excellent low-light performance make for great image files. However, you’ll also need to invest in the best optics to make the most of these sensors, and you’ll need longer lenses to get frame-filling shots.

Full-frame camera setups are costly, and they’re burdensome to carry around. However, if you want the best image quality imaginable, that’s what it takes.

Here’s my final piece of advice:

If you’re a serious wildlife shooter with a lot of money to spend, get a high-end full-frame camera and don’t skimp on lenses.

However, for those just getting started, an APS-C model would be my recommendation. Save your funds to buy decent lenses, as these will largely make more of a difference to your images than a single stop of ISO or a slightly higher resolution sensor.

Now over to you:

What camera type do you plan to purchase for your wildlife photography? Will you go with a full-frame model, or do you think APS-C is the better choice for your requirements? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Tom Mason
Tom Mason

is a professional nature photographer and content creator from the UK. Passionate about the natural world, he aims to document and share stories from the wild. A professional lecturer Tom loves engaging and enthusing others about wildlife photography and helping them to achieve their own goals. Check out his website here.

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