Hi folks, this is a very quick & concise article covering sensor sizes.
In this post, we’ll be covering what sensor size means along with the pros/cons of each.
Let’s dive in.
What do crop & full frame mean?
The terms “crop” and “full frame” refer to the size of the image sensor in a camera.
The image sensor is the large rectangle that is clearly visible when there is no lens attached to the camera body.
Full frame cameras, such as the Sony a7 lineup, have large sensors, mimicking the original standard frame size of vintage film cameras.
Full frame cameras tend to be more geared towards enthusiasts and professionals, but there’s nothing stopping a beginner from using one.
The Sony a7iii is an example of a camera that has a full frame sensor.
On the other hand, crop sensor cameras have image sensors that are smaller than the standard size.
It’s tough to explain, but this essentially means any image taken will be “cropped” to fit the smaller sensor size.
Take for example: a 50mm lens on a full frame camera is shows a perspective of 50mm, but that same lens on a crop sensor camera would display a perspective of 75mm.
As you can see, crop sensor cameras typically shoot at “1.5x crop” versus standard full frame sensors, although there are some exceptions (Canon is 1.6x, Olympus is 2.0x for example).
The Sony a6000 is a popular example of a camera that is considered a crop sensor.
There are lenses built specifically for each type of sensor, but they are entirely interchangeable… with some caveats.
To put it simply, a 50mm will be 50mm on a full frame camera. On a crop sensor camera, however, it’s affected by the size. The Sony a6000, for example, has a 1.5x crop which means that a 50mm lens will actually be equivalent to 75mm.
While this may sound confusing, it’s helpful if you always think of lens focal lengths in relation to full frame cameras.
Advantages & Disadvantages
Although you might assume “full frame is better!” that isn’t necessarily the case.
Both full frame and crop sensor cameras have their strengths and weaknesses.
Better Image Quality
Generally, full frame cameras tend to have marginally better image quality just due to the fact that the sensor is bigger.
A bigger sensor means more light gets into the camera. For this reason, you don’t have to crank up your ISO as much in low light situations, thus leading to less noise.
In a similar vein, the larger sensor also allows for more detail across images, allowing for better dynamic range and (slightly) better RAW editing control.
Depth of Field/Bokeh
Though your lens’s max aperture is a much bigger determining factor of background blur, the larger sensor does help slightly in creating that sweet, sweet bokeh.
The depth of field difference between crop and full frame isn’t huge, but it can certainly be noticeable if you pixel peep.
Finally, for wide angle enthusiasts, full frame is the way to go.
A crop sensor camera will magnify perspective, but full frame doesn’t suffer from that, allowing you to get that full wide angle view with no compromise.
Better Lens Selection
The simple truth of the matter is that full frame is the what manufacturers tend to focus on, thus there’s a wealth of lenses when compared to crop cameras.
On that same subject, however, full frame cameras tend to be more expensive because they are, in fact, marketing towards professionals and enthusiasts.
Not only will you be paying a premium for the camera body, but also the lenses as well.
Size & Weight
Going hand-in-hand with the previous point, full frame lenses are just generally larger.
The full frame sensor demands more glass in order to meet its higher resolution, thus larger and heavier lenses are required.
Although it’s not a rule, crop sensor cameras tend to be substantially more lightweight and compact than their full frame counterparts.
The reason for this, of course, is the smaller sensor. When the sensor takes up less space, there’s no reason for the camera to be huge.
In addition to being small, crop sensor cameras are almost universally cheaper.
Not just the cameras, mind you, but also the lenses tend to be much more affordable as well.
This is the reason why they’re generally marketing towards beginners or hobbyists.
Crop Factor (Magnification)
The final advantage is the crop factor… but only in certain situations. Like I mentioned earlier, having a crop factor is bad if you’re looking to do wide angle work.
However, it’s a blessing in disguise if you’re looking to work with telephoto lenses.
To reiterate, the sensor “magnifies” any lens, meaning a 200mm lens turns into a 300mm.
All this extra reach is incredibly valuable when doing long-distance work such as wildlife or sports photography.
Lower Image Quality
As stated earlier, crop sensor cameras don’t perform quite as well as full frame.
Now, that’s not to say they can’t produce excellent results. My trusty Sony a6000 produces FANTASTIC images even despite its supposed “limitations”.
Still, a crop sensor can’t match the same kind of dynamic range, low light performance, or depth of field that a full frame camera can.
Can be Limiting
Finally, this last point is a bit subjective, but crop sensor cameras can be limiting.
While there are some fabulous crop cameras out there (like the a6600), they’re generally built with beginners in mind.
This means they may not have more advanced features such as dual card slots, extensive manual controls, and whatnot.
What should you choose?
For a beginning photographer looking to purchase their first camera, I’d say it depends a lot on your budget.
Buy a crop sensor if…
A crop sensor camera is entirely capable of taking great photos and lenses tend to be cheaper, allowing you to experiment more and get a feel for what you like to shoot. You can always upgrade in the future.
Buy full frame if…
If you’re not as concerned about budget and want to get a camera that is future-proof, buy a full frame camera.
Lenses will be a bit pricier, but you’ll never outgrow the camera as you improve your skills.
I would personally recommend the Sony a7iii. While it is quite expensive, the camera will do everything you want it to and more.
As you can see, there’s no wrong answer when debating between a crop sensor camera and a full frame.
They both have their strengths and weaknesses. It mostly comes down to your budget and what you’d like to get out of photography.
Thanks for reading. 🙂
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