Full Frame vs. Cropped Sensors, 8 Things You Need to Know

#1 Full Frame cameras typically have the highest quality images

When it comes to the discussion about cropped vs full frame sensors whether it is a APS-C or micro four thirds, there is a never-ending debate about which sensor size is “better”. No matter what you believe, it is hard to argue that in terms of overall image quality, full frame sensors have a leg up on their competition. There is an argument that if two cameras have the same amount of megapixels, the cropped frame camera will be sharper because the pixels on the cropped frame sensor are smaller. Although this may be true, in my real-world tests it really doesn’t make a difference to the naked eye and full frame sensors still produce better results at the end of the day.

#2 Full Frame lenses are universal and a better investment

If you are just getting into photography for the first time this may get overlooked (I know it was with me). If you start getting into photography on a APS-C or Micro Four Thirds “cropped” sensors, if you ever decide to switch to full frame camera bodies, the odds are your lenses will not work properly. When I first decided to transition over to a full frame camera body, four out of my five lenses which I had spent $100’s of dollars on had to be replaced with proper full frame lenses. They are two ways to avoid this difficult situation if you decide to upgrade to full frame. The first option is to only buy full frame lenses from the start and use them on your cropped frame cameras because they will all work without any issues. The big downside being that full frame lenses typically cost much more, but at least all of your lenses will work on all your camera bodies. The other option is what I decided to do, which is to purchase a full frame body and use the one lens I had that was compatible while still using my cropped frame camera body for my other lenses until that time when I could “upgrade” to more full frame lenses over time.

#3 Full Frame cameras give you a shallower depth-of-field

Although this could be seen as just one minor benefit to full frame cameras, a lot of the time this is one of the biggest deciding factors for “upgrading” to a full frame camera body. Just to set the record straight, full frame sensors do not actually give you a shallower depth of field, but because of the crop factor of cropped frame sensors, if you have both camera’s showing the same focal length, and at the same aperture, the full frame camera will give you a shallower looking depth-of-field. This is great for when you are wanting to separate your subject or model from the background, and it is why photographers spend exponentially more money on professional lenses that have slightly lower f-stops to let in more light and give them shallower depth-of-field.

This is why photographers spend exponentially more on professional lenses!

#4 Full Frame cameras are miles ahead in terms of quality when you are shooting in low light

The fact is that full frame cameras are just simply better in a few ways than cropped frame cameras, and one of those areas is in low light or astrophotography. Full frame cameras have physically larger sensors in them (hopefully you know that by this point in my article). For this reason, they are able to take handle low light much better and with modern sensors, they are much more equipped to handle noise reduction in photos. I first started into astrophotography on my cropped frame Nikon D7100, and although my current full frame D750 on paper has similar specs, because of the larger sensor size, the two camera’s are not even comparable in low light photography. When pushed to their limits, cropped frame cameras will introduce much more unwanted noise in your photography.

#5 Cropped Frame cameras and lenses are more affordable

There is a reason he majority of photographers start out on cropped frame cameras. For the exception of a couple high-end sports-focused cropped frame bodies, they are much cheaper to buy! This also goes for their lenses. With a smaller sensor, you don’t need as large of glass in your lenses to fill the frame which makes them cheaper to produce and more budget-friendly. If you are wanting to have the ability of getting professional results from a camera, but it’s not in your budget to purchase a full frame camera, all of the modern cropped frame camera options are more than adequate at producing professional results.

#6 Cropped Frame cameras and lenses are much smaller and lighter than their Full Frame counterparts

This is a pretty simple concept to understand so I won’t spend much of your time on it. A physically smaller sensor means a physically smaller and light camera body. When you pair that with “beginner” cameras that don’t need as many features and buttons, you get something like the Nikon D3100 which is incredibly small compared to even the smallest full frame camera while still having many of the most important features. If you are doing lots of travelling, this may be a huge benefit to you (and your back!)

If you’re doing lots of travelling, this may be a huge benefit to you!

#7 Cropped Frame cameras are very good for wildlife and telephoto photography due to their crop factor

One specific area where shooting on a cropped frame camera body really comes in handy is with wildlife photography and when using ultra telephoto lenses. Cost of a lens aside, if you are needing to shoot wildlife from extreme distances, using a telephoto lens on a cropped frame camera will allow you to view the subject up closer. As an example, if you were to shoot something far away with Nikon’s 55mm-300mm VR lens, the 300mm zoom is actually the equivalent of 450mm on a full frame lens. So instead of purchasing a lens for a couple hundred dollars that gives you the equivalent of 450mm, you would need to spend a couple thousand on a full frame 500mm lens which is really meant for professionals.

#8 At the end of the day, both sensors are great, it just depends on what you’re shooting and what your priorities are

The age-old question of which camera is best really comes down to what your priorities as a photographer are. For the majority of photographers who want to seriously get into the field, full frame camera bodies are the way to go. But if you are someone who loves to take wildlife photos or if you don’t want to sink as much of your hard-earned money into something that very well could be just one of many hobbies, cropped frame cameras are definitely the way to go. No matter which camera body you are using, the really skill and creativity comes from you, the photographer.