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We’re going to be talking about camera sensors today! Have you ever read a blog post (about photography) and they throw out the words crop and full frame? I know when I first started my photography journey, I had so many questions about what type of camera I had (because that was one of the embarrassing times when I couldn’t even tell you what my camera was called). When doing my research, I came across the terms crop and full frame. In this blog post, I want to lay out what crop frame means and what full frame means, why you should have one type of camera over the other, and what my favorite cameras are for each frame.
I do want to say that if you are looking for a technical post explaining in depth what each term means and the specific measurements for each frame are, you won’t find that here in this blog post. I am just a simple hobbyist who simply enjoys taking pictures. I don’t really care for the technical side of photography (unless it helps me take better pictures). If you are one of the cool ones that likes to know all the technical parts of photography, this article is great in telling you crop vs. full frame.
what is a camera sensor?
First of all, when we are talking about ‘full’ or ‘crop’ frame cameras, we’re referring to the size of the sensor in the camera. Back in the days of film, 35mm was the standard size or ‘full’ frame in cameras. When we talk about full frame cameras today, they still have the 35mm format in them.
Crop frame implies exactly that: the sensor is cropped. If you were to set up a tripod and put a full frame on with a 35mm lens and take a picture and then keep everything the same but switch the full frame with a crop, the images will look different. The full frame will include more of the frame, while the crop frame will be cropped in and leave out a good chunk of the scene.
which camera sensor is better?
It’s not a competition. Both sensors produce beautiful images. I was on a crop sensor camera for about 3 years before upgrading. I still produced beautiful images with that crop sensor camera. But what camera fits your needs? That’s the real question you need to look at. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each sensor type and help you choose which one will be the best fit for you and your photography needs.
full frame benefits
Full frame sensor is what I now shoot with and I love it! I upgraded from a crop frame for a few reasons, but the main one was the low light capabilities and the added setting controls.
Full frame benefit #1: Low light performance. With the full frame you are able to take beautiful low light images. They have a broader dynamic range and will allow less grain in your high ISO images than a crop frame would. Since the sensor is all around bigger on a full frame, it would make sense that the amount and quality of light let in through ISO would be better.
Full frame benefit #2: More setting controls. I upgraded my crop frame to a full frame for more setting controls. I really liked the fact that you could change white balance without going into the menu everytime. I also liked how easy it is to change ISO when I need to. On my crop frame I remember it being a little more difficult. I couldn’t do it quickly if I wanted to. Now I have buttons on the camera that help me quickly change my settings.
Full frame benefit #3: They deliver higher resolution images. Since the sensor is bigger, it helps get more pixels in your images producing higher resolution images.
Full frame benefit #4: Shallower depth of field. The sensor size will affect your depth of field. This means with a full frame, you’ll be able to blur the background easier and separate the background from the subject easier. Although you can do this on a crop frame, it is much easier to achieve with a full frame camera sensors.
full frame disadvantages
There are a few disadvantages when it comes to full frame that I want to discuss, just to get them out of the way and for you to see which camera sensors is best for you.
Full frame disadvantage #1: Cost. A full frame camera sensors is a lot more expensive than a crop frame camera. Although in my humble opinion, the full frame cost is well worth it. The reason they are more expensive is because of the size of their sensor. There are also a few other factors that come into production cost for a full frame camera. They will be significantly more expensive than a crop sensor. So if you’re just starting out, a crop sensor might be your best option to see if you like the art.
Full frame disadvantage #2: Camera body is big. Yep, the camera body on a full frame sensor is a lot bigger than a crop sensor. And it makes sense, because the camera sensors is so much bigger. They are also a lot heavier than crop frame. When I first got my full frame it was quite the workout! I wasn’t used to such a heavy, big camera body! But it definitely made me feel like a professional photographer.
Full frame disadvantage #3: No crop factor. You might be thinking, ‘wait, isn’t the the point?!’ yes, yes it is. But sometimes photographers want that extra crop. Like a wildlife photographer would want the extra crop to get even closer shots of their subjects. A landscape photographer, on the other hand, would most likely always want a full frame for the wider view. It really just depends on what you are shooting.
crop frame benefits
I really enjoyed shooting on my crop frame camera when I had it. It was my first DSLR that I’ve ever owned and I took some great memories on that camera. There are a few benefits to shooting on a crop frame that I want to point out.
Crop frame benefit #1: Cost. The biggest advantage for a crop frame camera sensors is the cost of them. They are a lot cheaper than a full frame. The main reason being that the camera bodies are smaller in general and also the camera sensors are smaller.
Crop frame benefit #2: Size and weight. The size is much smaller and therefore easier to carry around. The weight is also a lot lighter. When I first switched to a full frame I was honestly so surprised at how heavy it is. But it also made me feel like a professional photographer, so you know, maybe this isn’t a pro for the crop frame haha!
Crop frame benefit #3: More depth of field. We discussed this a little with the full frame cons, but if you wanted more of your image in focus all the time (i.e. a wildlife photographer or a landscape photographer) you would want to go with a crop frame. It will allow you to get almost all of your image in focus with a shallower aperture. If you are primarily shooting nature and wildlife, a crop frame might be a good match for you.
crop frame disadvantages
Let’s look over the disadvantages of a crop frame to help you choose which camera is right for you or if you need to upgrade to a full frame or not.
Crop frame disadvantage #1: Cropped images. A crop sensor literally crops your images in. If you were to take an image of the exact same scene with a full frame, you would get a whole lot more in the frame. The solution? Just back up a little more or get a wider lens to achieve the same look. But in reality, sometimes cropping in images isn’t for you. Like if you shot indoors all the time or children who like to get close to the camera.
Crop frame disadvantage #2: Poorer image quality. Since it is cropped, if you were to go in and crop your image even more, you’d lose a lot more pixels than if you had shot on a full frame. If you want to blow your images up really big, crop sensors won’t give you as good of image quality.
Crop frame disadvantage #3: More noise at higher ISO. The crop sensor just does not perform well in low light situations. Which was a big reason why I upgraded. Low light has my heart (and if you’re interested, I even wrote a post on how to achieve sharp low light images). So the fact that my crop sensor just wasn’t producing the images I wanted at lower light situations was enough reason for me to upgrade to a full frame.
which one is right for me?
Looking at the pros and cons of each camera sensors, I hope you can pin point exactly which one is best for you. For me, a full frame is best because of what I typically shoot. I like to shoot indoors, low light, and wide angle shots. But if you like to shoot up close (like wildlife or macro) and never shoot in low light situations, then a crop frame would be ideal for you. Is the cost of the full frame too much for you? Are you just starting out in your photography hobby and just need a nice camera to get you started? Crop frame would be best for you.
I do recommend to beginners that they get a crop frame first. Full frame has a lot of features that might be a little overwhelming to a beginner photographer.
crop and full frame cameras I recommend
I wanted to throw out there some camera models I recommend you getting. Both of my cameras have been in the Nikon family, but I did poll my Instagram followers and got recommendations for the Canon family as well! I know nothing about Canon cameras! Thankful for my Instagram family!
Full frame camera sensors: Nikon I recommend getting the Nikon D610, especially if it is your first full frame camera body. The Nikon D610 is the camera that I use, I wrote a post about the gear I use if you’re interested. Otherwise the Nikon D750 is an excellent choice. Can’t go wrong with either of them.
Crop frame camera sensors: Canon It was recommended by Laura of Laura Mccarney Photography to get the Canon EOS 70D for a crop sensor. Amazon has TONS of good reviews on this camera, so I think it’s safe to say this is a good first camera to get if you want to go into Canon!
Full frame camera sensors: Canon Laura of Laura Mccarney Photography also says she loves her Canon EOS 5D Mark III – However, I couldn’t find this on Amazon! So I decided to go with the next model up (I believe) Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Amazon has some good reviews on this camera and it really seems like an overall good choice for a full frame camera!
So that’s it! Tell me, do you shoot with a full frame or a crop frame? What do you like about it?
Alyssa (sometimes going by Aly) is a hobbyist photographer who loves to teach. Her love of photography started before she ever had any kids. Now a mom of two, she loves to photograph her kids, flowers, and landscape. She specializes in capturing her everyday life. She loves to teach fellow beginner photographers how to take control of their cameras and get the images they dream about getting.