Whether you’re camera shopping or just upgrading your current setup, you’ll at some point need to decide which sensor size you want or need. For those new to photography and cameras in general, a sensor is that rectangular plate in the middle of a DSLR camera that reads the image from the lens. Sensors are generally categorized into two sizes; full-frame and crop-frame.
So, full-frame vs crop-frame sensors – which do you choose? Well, it depends on how you intend to use your camera and the kind of shots you intend to take. If you are confused about which of the two to go with, this article is for you. We’ll discuss the major differences between these two sensor sizes and look at the pros and cons of each.
Full-Frame vs Crop-Frame Sensors
The main difference between the two sensors is their size. A full-frame sensor has the same dimensions as a 35mm (24mm x 36mm) celluloid film in analog cameras. Any sensor that has a size less than 35mm is considered to be a crop frame sensor. Cameras with full-frame sensors have larger lenses and gather more light than those with crop frame sensors.
Due to the different sizes of these sensors, there is also a difference in their focal lengths. The focal length of crop-frame sensors is higher than that of full-frame sensors. Crop frame sensors usually have what we call the crop factor, which is basically the multiplying factor used to get the effective focal length.
Most crop sensors have a crop factor ranging between 1.5x to 2x. For instance, if you use a 50mm lens and a camera with a 2x sensor, the effective focal length, in this case, is 100mm. In the same case, a 35mm lens on a 2x crop factor sensor will have an effective focal length of 70mm.
Pros and cons of a full-frame sensor
- More dynamic range: Cameras with full-frame sensors are the best for shooting in high contrast environments, as they gather more light and details. If you shoot more images with a wide range of highlights and shadows, a full frame sensor will perform much better than a crop-frame sensor.
- Better low light performance: Again, this is also due to the sensor size. Full-frame sensors can gather more light, making their nighttime photos clearer with more information being captured.
- More detail and resolution: A larger sensor captures more information while shooting. So, if you intend to shoot images that will be enlarged to much bigger sizes, then a full-frame sensor is what you need.
- Costly: Cameras with full-frame sensors usually have bigger components and more features, which makes them more expensive
- Files are larger: Since they capture more details, images from these sensors are usually very large.
- Bulkier: Camera manufacturers cannot get around the large sensor size, so cameras with full-frame sensors are usually bigger.
Pros and cons of crop frame sensors
- Crop factor effect: This might be a weakness in some scenarios, but it is an advantage when shooting subjects at a distance due to the magnification effect in the focal length of these sensors.
- Smaller, lighter and cheaper: Crop frame cameras are usually smaller and come with smaller components, making them lighter and cheaper to manufacture.
- Lower image quality: Since these sensors typically receive less light, they tend to gather fewer details, which lowers the quality of the images. This is especially apparent in low-light scenarios.
- Not ideal for close-up subjects: Due to the amplified focal length, cameras with crop frame sensors can’t be used to shoot close-up subjects (macro photography). So, if you are going to take photos of food or insects, cameras with crop frame sensors may not be the best choice.
Now that you know the major differences between these two sensors and their respective pros and cons, it should be pretty easy to make a choice. Full frame sensors are ideal for high dynamic range shooting and macro photography. On the other hand, crop frame sensors are the best option for shooting subjects at a distance. For instance, if you are doing sports or wildlife photography, crop frame sensors are ideal because of their longer focal length. As with most choices you’ll make a s you build your photography kit, it depends on your style and preferred type of shot.