Crop Sensor vs. Full Frame: Who you got?

The infamous question, which one is better? I’m not here to make that claim; I do not feel qualified enough on the topic to tell you what to buy. What I can do however, is tell you what I know, and what my experience with each was like. You can then make your own decision, and hopefully create awesome images.

What is a camera sensor?

What the hell do you mean by crop sensor and full frame, anyways? I’m glad you asked, loyal follower. To first understand what a crop sensor is, you’ll need to understand what a full frame is. And to understand what a full frame is, you ought to know what a camera sensor is in the first place. Your camera sensor is basically the piece inside your camera body that encapsulates the image when you click the shutter. The sensor size of a ‘full frame’ camera originated from the 35mm film camera. The sensor size in a 35mm film camera registers at 36mm x 24mm. This set the standard for DSLR cameras that were to follow years later.

Understanding a Crop Sensor

A ‘crop sensor’ camera can most commonly be referred to as an APS-C sensor. These sensor sizes vary by camera manufacturer, but tend to land in the 22-24mm x 14-15mm. To understand the difference in size, understand that the crop sensor is smaller than a full frame. A smaller sensor size means that less light is being registered per image. Most crop sensors are registered in factors; for instance the Canon APS-C sensor has a 1.6x crop factor while the Nikon APS-C has a 1.5x crop factor.

Most consumer-grade DSLR cameras are crop sensors. If you’re shooting Nikon, thats basically their entire lineup from D3000 – D7000; Cannon models include their Rebel X and T models. Nikon vs. Canon can best be left for a later post. These APS-C cameras are relatively affordable and create fantastic images. Most photographers begin in the APS-C world, myself included. If I were to recommend a camera to an individual beginning in the DSLR world, I would highly recommend a Nikon D5300. This was my first camera, and I loved it. Lenses for these APS-C cameras are astronomically more affordable than their full frame counterparts. So if you’re just beginning, I’d recommend this be your starting point.

Full Frame:

Many consider the land of full frame sensors to be set aside for professionals, or those who take photography and their images seriously. I mention this entirely based off the cost difference between the aforementioned. Full frame cameras generally begin at the $1,000 mark and only go up from there. Don’t even get me started on lenses. Full frame cameras require full frame lenses. These lenses are built to match the larger sensor size than the APS-C sensor. Again, a larger sensor brings in more light; the more light being let in means the lens needs to match.

If you really wanted, you could drop $5k on a full frame body alone, and you still could go higher. If you want to shoot a lot of low light stuff, a full frame will become your best friend. Their higher ISO performance blows APS-C’s out of the water. I noticed a huge difference going from my D5300 to my D750 when shooting at night. I was able to push my ISO higher without creating nearly as much noise (noise = the digital version of grain; higher ISO/ASA the higher your noise/grain). Most all professional photographers that shoot DSLR cameras prefer the likes of a full frame. Shooting at night isn’t the only perk. You’ll gather more detail in your image with a full frame than any other. 

Conclusion:

If you’re getting your feet wet in photography, or just don’t want to spend a ton of money, begin with the APS-C sensor. You’ll likely find a camera between the range of $200-$1k. If you’ve been-there-done-that with the crop sensor, head on over the full frame world – but you better have your pocket book ready. Photography is an expensive hobby, but well worth it if you enjoy it.

If you have any questions or think maybe I could have explained something a little better, drop a comment below. 

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