What is the difference between full frame and a crop sensor?

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Gerry 1 Comment

It’s a question we get asked often on courses and at the office – what is full frame and do I need it?

A lot, and I mean a lot, has been written about the differences between full frame and crop sensors and this has led many photographers to feel that they have to have a full frame camera without even understanding the differences.

There are advantages to both full frames and crop sensor camera bodies and in future posts I will look in more technical details at things like noise levels and sharpness but for now, based on receiving the same question a number of times, I thoughts we’d take a step back and look at the basics in this video.

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As you can see from watching the video there really is no hard and fast rule and I will personally always look at what I am going to photograph and whether I need that extra little bit of reach before making a call either way.

If I had to make a choice for wildlife and sports photography I would go crop sensor and for landscapes and animals in environment I would go with a full frame. If I had to choose just one I would probably go the full frame route but I am lucky enough to have access to large telephoto lenses which gives me the reach even on a full frame camera.

There are loads of other factors that will play a role in your decision such as budget, lenses and the ultimate destination of your images and these all need to be taken into account when making your decision.

As discussed in the video, here is a simple chart which shows the resulting focal lengths of different lenses when used on full frame or crop sensor camera bodies.

Wild Eye Crop Factor

Like I told the people on this last weekend’s Digital Photography course, no one ever stands in front of an incredible image and wonders what aperture of ISO it was taken with.  The sum of all the technical and creative parts is what ultimately creates the magic.

It is very easy to get carried away with the technical details and differences but to me your choice of full frame of crop sensor camera falls into the above statement as well well and at the end of the day it is how you use the tools at your disposal – whether full frame or crop sensor – to create images out in the field.

Until next time.

Gerry van der Walt

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Comments 1

  1. Peter Connan

    Gerry, since I use a Nikon D7000, and since Nikon have neglected to provide a good upgrade path from this camera for wildlife photographers, I have been doing a considerable amount of research about the differences between crop and full frame.

    The conclusion I have reached is that full-frame is better in virtually all respects, but alas costs more.
    In Nikon cameras, the full-frame AF modules are said to be better and faster. There seems to be about two stops less noise at high ISO’s between sensors of similar age and resolution, and the depth of field is smaller.
    Thus changing from a D7000 + 500mm f4 lens, a D600 + TC1.4E + 500mm f4 would give you similar perspective, similar DOF (despite now shooting at f5.6), but there would be about 1 stop advantage in low light and an un-quantified improvement in AF performance.

    It seems that Canon are trying to prove some of this wrong with the 7D2 though…

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