The endless debate between full frame vs crop sensor cameras will never die. Each to his own budget is what I always say. There are pros and cons to each and I hope this blog clarifies this for you somewhat.
Let us start at the very beginning…
A full frame camera and a crop sensor camera are two types of digital cameras that are commonly used by photographers of all levels. While they may seem similar on the surface, there are a few key differences between the two that can greatly impact the final image.
One of the biggest differences between full frame and crop sensor cameras is the size of the image sensor. A full frame camera has a sensor that is the same size as a 35mm film frame, which is 36mm x 24mm. This allows for a wider field of view and better low light performance, as well as a shallower depth of field. The larger sensor also allows for more image data to be captured, which results in a higher resolution image.
Pros of full frame cameras:
- Wider field of view
- Better low light performance
- Greater control over depth of field and bokeh
- Higher resolution image
- Better high ISO performance
- More accurate colour representation
Cons of full frame cameras:
- Heavier and bulkier body
- To match performance, lenses and accessories are also costly
- More power consumption – possibly meaning shorter battery life
- More expensive to repair or replace if damaged
- May require larger and more expensive camera bags and cases
A crop sensor camera, on the other hand, has a sensor that is smaller than a 35mm film frame. The most common size for crop sensors is APS-C, which is approximately 24mm x 16mm. These cameras are generally less expensive and are favoured by hobbyists and amateur photographers because they are smaller and lighter. While the smaller sensor does not capture as much image data, it does allow for a smaller and more portable camera body.
Pros of crop sensor cameras:
- More affordable
- Smaller and more portable body
- Ideal for hobbyists and amateur photographers
- Lighter and more compact body, making it more convenient for travel or casual use
- Cheaper lenses and accessories to match camera capabilities
- Repairs are more affordable
Cons of crop sensor cameras:
- Narrower field of view
- Not as good in low light
- Less control over depth of field and bokeh
- Reduced high ISO performance
- Less accurate colour representation
The difference in sensor size also affects the focal length of lenses used on each type of camera. When using a lens on a full frame camera, the field of view will be the same as the lens's stated focal length. However, when using the same lens on a crop sensor camera, the field of view will appear to be zoomed in, because the smaller sensor effectively crops the image. This is known as the "crop factor" and it is typically 1.5x for APS-C sensors. For example, if you use a 50mm lens on a full frame camera, the field of view will be 50mm. But if you use the same 50mm lens on a crop sensor camera, the field of view will appear to be 75mm (50mm x 1.5). See visual example below;
Full Frame Camera
Crop Sensor Camera
Lastly, another difference between full frame and crop sensor cameras is the dynamic range. Dynamic range refers to the range of tones a camera can capture, from the darkest shadows to the brightest highlights. Full frame cameras typically have a wider dynamic range, meaning they can capture more detail in both the shadows and highlights. Crop sensor cameras tend to have a narrower dynamic range, which can lead to blown out highlights or lost shadow detail in certain situations.
In summary, both full frame and crop sensor cameras have their own advantages and disadvantages. Full frame cameras are ideal for professional and/or serious hobbyists photographers who need the best image quality and wider dynamic range, whereas crop sensor cameras are a more affordable and portable option for the not so serious hobbyists and/or beginners.
It is important to consider your photography needs and budget before making a decision on which type of camera to purchase. A part of your planning should be on full frame vs crop sensor cameras. What will serve you best? In saying this, one of the most common questions I answer as a photographic safari guide is;
What gear should I buy?
This is a very difficult question for others to answer for you. There is a lot of incredible gear on the market today, this goes for secondhand gear from a well-established store as well. I always say the best gear for you will be whatever fits into your budget. Only once I know how much you’re willing to spend can I give you more direct answers. You need to also always remember that you will forever find Canon/Olympus/Nikon lovers who will trash talk all other brands.
I’d recommend you speak to professionals within the trade asking the questions you may have. By this I do not mean professional photographers as they are usually pretty attached to a particular camera brand. Speak to people at camera stores and our get in touch with any of our guides. We deal with, photograph with and have great knowledge on all the brands on the market today and will be more than happy to assist you. Getting the most even sided/neutral answers to your questions is what you seek.
When I have these discussions with guests/clients I always recommend that they rent before they buy. Get a feel for the gear and more importantly, are you comfortable with it in hand and the results its giving you.
To conclude, it's worth noting that while full-frame cameras have more advantages overall, that doesn't mean that crop sensor camera are not good, especially for specific type of photography such as sports, wildlife, bird photography or even in some cases portraits, where a longer focal length is desirable. And with the advancement of technology, the gap between image quality between full-frame and crop-sensor cameras has been reduced, making crop sensor cameras a viable option for many photographers.
Additionally, for some photographers, the extra cost and weight of a full-frame camera may not be worth the slight improvement in image quality. For others, the added features and flexibility may be crucial for their professional work. It's important to weigh the pros and cons and determine what is most important for your specific photography needs before making a decision on whether to invest in a full-frame camera.
Lets use my story as an example.
At the end of last year I decided to sell/give away all my professional full frame Canon cameras & prime lenses. There were two main reasons I did this…
- The size and weight of all the gear was always such a hack when traveling and/or when on a safari vehicle. I needed to down size.
- The cost of all the new mirrorless gear is sickening in my opinion. And they not might lighter nor any smaller.
I decided to dump my full frame system and purchase a full micro four thirds OMD System.
This being a big “down grade” on the sensor front;
Micro Four Thirds (MFT or M4/3) is a camera system that uses a smaller image sensor than traditional DSLR cameras. This allows for smaller and more compact camera bodies and lenses. The Micro Four Thirds system was developed by Olympus and Panasonic and is based on the Four Thirds system standard for digital single-lens reflex cameras. It uses the same lens mount as the Four Thirds system, but with a smaller image sensor. This means that lenses designed for the Four Thirds system can also be used on Micro Four Thirds cameras, but with a crop factor of 2x.
In my camera bag today is;
- 2 pro bodies
- 3 pro lenses,
- 4 pro memory cards
This entire set cost me less than what only one replacement canon les would’ve cost. I could, still and probably never will justify the cost of the new Canon/Nikon/Sony gear. Is it worth it… for what I do with my imagery, hell no! I love my small, lighter and highly capable gear.
Old Camera Bag
New Camera Bag
- I love traveling lighter.
- I love using a much smaller camera bag (literally more than half the size I used to use).
- I love the smaller, less intrusive gear when I host me guests on safari.
- I love the incredible technology in all aspects of the cameras as well as its advanced features.
- I love the high-quality image stabilisation.
- I love the live view screen and its movement capabilities.
- I love the fast auto focus.
- I love the gears durability and great build quality.
- I love the affordability. It’s incredible value for money.
- I love so much more about this system I just cannot think of them all right now.
- Reduced sensor size and all that will impact. If you have forgotten, scroll up and start over.
Yeah that’s about it on the cons. A smaller sensor obviously comes with a number of negatives but by fully understanding ones gears capabilities and combing that with the smart use of the incredible software such as Lightroom & Topaz you will come to realise that the latest and greatest is not always the best way to go.
There is that saying; All The Gear But No Idea… The best gear aint going to make you the best photographer. Let me end with this food for thought below;
Your gear plays a very small part in who you are as a photographer!
Now for a last bit of inspiration, feel free to read the following guest blog;
I do hope this helps you when looking at buying new gear. Feel free to reach out to me at any time with questions. I'll happily assist you as and when I can.
Before I go. If you are new to photography, this blog might just help you;
Happy shopping & happy snapping!