Full Frame and Crop Sensors are different camera types. A Full Frame camera has a sensor size that has the same extent as the 35mm film format or the standard film gauge of 36 x 24mm. A Crop Sensor camera has a sensor size that is smaller than a 35mm sensor.
Both types have their pros and cons, and it is an essential factor for you to consider before investing in a camera. Although Full Frame cameras are generally considered to be superior, there are features of a crop sensor camera that may better suit your needs or your personal preferences.
Crop sensor cameras
Until digital SLRs were invented, the film camera was shot on a 35mm reel. With the new DSLR technology, manufacturers made large 35mm sensors so that people could continue using their lenses on new cameras and make the transition easier. These larger sensors were expensive, so smaller, less costly sensors were made, which would work with older full-frame lenses. These were crop sensors. Camera manufacturers also started making cheaper lenses to go along with these smaller sensors, which mimicked the focal length of a full-frame camera.
There are two common types of a crop sensor, the micro 4/3 system and the ASP-C. However, manufacturers each have their own crop factor or naming systems. Canon, for example, has a crop sensor with a factor of 1.6x, and Nikon has a crop sensor with a factor of 1.5x, and Olympus and Panasonic use micro 4/3 systems that use crop factors of 2x.
Some professional photographers prefer crop sensor cameras because they better suit their workflow. They are also considered to be better cameras for amateur photographers because of their portability and price.
The crop factor of an image sensor is the ratio of the imaging area to a reference format, which is generally the 35mm format. Lenses are circular and, as such, have a circular field of view. A full-frame sensor records a rectangular crop of this view. A camera with a crop sensor produces a cropped area of view that is smaller than that of a full-frame.
Pros of a crop sensor camera
Affordability – Crop sensor cameras are far more affordable than full-frame cameras because a full-frame sensor costs so much more to produce. This affordability does not necessarily mean that a crop sensor camera cannot have quality images. A high-quality crop sensor camera can produce the same quality as a camera with a full-frame sensor and, as such, a crop sensor camera offers excellent value for money.
Telephoto capability – Telephoto photography can be instrumental with a crop sensor camera due to the extra reach gained from the crop sensor multiplier. With the use of an appropriate lens, you can effectively get up-close to your subject matter.
Portability – Crop sensor cameras are smaller due to the smaller size of the sensor, which means that they are smaller in size and weigh less. This smaller size makes it far more portable and a better option for photographers when they are travelling. The lenses for crop sensor cameras are also smaller and lighter, which reduces the overall weight of your camera gear.
Increased depth of field – Full frame cameras can take photographs with a shallow depth of field with less overall focus. A crop sensor camera can give you 2 stops more depth of field than a full-frame camera. The additional stops increase the overall focus one needs in certain types of photography like landscapes, architectural, or macro photography, where a more considerable depth of field is required.
Cons of a crop sensor camera
Cropped sensor – Although a crop sensor camera has many benefits, the smaller size of the sensor can be detrimental to the quality of your images in certain instances. The most significant disadvantage is that it physically crops the size of the picture because it captures the central part and not the periphery. This cropping results in the image being focused on a central spot and narrows the angle of the view, which reduces the control of the background.
Poor low light performance – The pixels in crop sensor cameras are closely packed together, which hinders light absorption and decreases exposure. A decrease in exposure results in the photographer needing a flash or external lamp when shooting in a low light situation.
Full Frame Cameras
A full-frame camera has a sensor that is the same size as the traditional 35mm film format or 36 x 24mm. The 35mm format has been the standard film gauge since 1909 due to the balance between quality and cost. High-quality DSLR cameras have full-frame sensors and are used by both professional and amateur photographers.
Pros of Full Frame Cameras
Improved lowlight capabilities and high ISO performance – A full-frame sensor, because it is more extensive, captures more light and makes it easier to focus and capture subjects in a low light environment. It also has larger pixels, which results in less digital noise at higher ISO levels.
More control over depth of field – The depth of field depends on the aperture, the focal length, and the distance of the subject. These aspects mean that with a full-frame camera, you can control your depth of field more by pairing it with a fast lens to create a shallow depth of field, for example. Depending on your settings and the lens you use, you have more control over your background and depth of field.
Larger dynamic range and colour depth – Due to the sensor being larger, a full-frame camera records a greater tonal range, which increases the detail and range of colour of the captured image. The broader angle view of a full-frame sensor camera also has an impact on the extent of the dynamic range and intensity of colour.
Cons of a full-frame sensor camera
Size and weight – The most significant disadvantage of full-frame cameras is that they tend to be larger and bulkier due to the size of the full-frame sensor. The lenses for full-frame cameras have more glass elements, which increase the overall weight of the camera.
Cost – A full-frame sensor camera is more expensive compared to a crop sensor camera. Plus, the high-quality lens that needs to be purchased and any other devices you may need are also more costly than the crop sensor camera counterparts.
No crop factor – The telephoto reach of a full-frame camera is reduced because there is no cropped sensor.
As you can see, there are many pros and cons to purchasing both a crop sensor camera and a full-frame camera. Ultimately the decision will rest on what your budget is as well as what type of photography for which you need it. Whichever you choose, make sure that it is a camera that inspires you to go out and explore your creativity through photography.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission. Dreamstime.