Tell me if this sounds familiar...
You want a new camera, but the vast selection of models that are currently available causes you some confusion.
Between the different brands and models, you just don't know where to start.
However, what gives you most pause is understanding the difference between full frame and crop sensor cameras.
I might not be able to tell you what specific camera to buy, but I can at least give you some insight into the full frame vs. crop sensor issue.
Things to Know About Full Frame Cameras
To start, a full frame camera gets its name because its sensor is roughly the same size as a 35mm piece of film - 24mm x 36mm.
Because they have a larger sensor, full frame cameras come with some distinct advantages.
First, a full frame camera like the Nikon D810 pictured above has excellent image quality. This is because its larger sensor has bigger pixels. Bigger pixels equate to improved sharpness and resolution, thereby giving you a better image quality.
Secondly, because full frame cameras like the D810 have larger pixels, they can capture more light.
Obviously, the better a camera can capture light, the more advantageous it will be when you need to shoot in low lighting conditions.
For example, on a full frame body like the Canon 5D Mark III, the sensor will gather more light in the same shooting conditions than a comparable crop sensor camera. That means that you can shoot using a lower ISO on a full frame camera than you can on a crop sensor and still get similar results regarding the brightness of the image.
Remember that the lower the ISO, the less digital noise that occurs...
But full frame cameras also allow you to shoot at a higher ISO than you can on a crop sensor camera without as much digital noise. Again, that means that full frame cameras have the advantage when it comes to image quality.
Full frame cameras aren't without their downsides, though.
Because of their larger sensors, full frame DSLR cameras have larger, heavier bodies.
For professional photographers, this is a worthy trade-off because they'd rather have better image quality than a lighter camera, though mirrorless full frame cameras like the Sony a7R II shown above have smaller, lighter weight bodies than comparable full frame DSLRs.
Additionally, because there are fewer models of full frame cameras, there isn't as wide of a selection of lenses as you find with crop sensor cameras. This is due in part to the fact that many crop sensor cameras are aimed squarely at the consumer market, whereas many full frame cameras are targeted toward enthusiast and professional photographers.
The biggest drawback of full frame cameras, however, is the price.
Typically, full frame cameras are much more spendy than their crop sensor counterparts. For example, a like-new Sony a7R II body goes for around $2,500. Compared to an $800 price tag for a crop sensor Sony a6300, you can see just how much of a price difference there can be.
The Verdict: When it comes down to it, full frame cameras offer better image quality and low-light performance, features that enthusiast and professional photographers demand. And though you can find great deals on used full frame DSLRs mirrorless cameras, if the price is your main consideration, a crop sensor camera might be more suitable for you.
To get more insights on full frame cameras, check out the video above by photophonz.
Things to Know About Crop Sensor Cameras
Crop sensor cameras like the Canon EOS Rebel t6s shown above get their name because their sensors are smaller than a full frame sensor.
Remember, a full frame sensor is about 24mm x 26mm...
By contrast, a crop sensor is in the area of 22mm x 15mm, though the size of the crop depends on the manufacturer of the camera.
For example, most Canon crop sensor cameras have a crop factor of 1.6x, with others at 1.3x. Nikon crop sensor cameras have a crop factor of 1.5x. Olympus crop sensor cameras have a crop factor of 2x.
That means that, even though one crop sensor camera might have a different crop factor from the next, they all share one thing in common: they all have a narrower field of view than full frame cameras.
Here's an example:
Assume you've got a Nikon D7200 crop sensor camera like the one above, and it's equipped with a 50mm lens. Let's also assume you've got a friend with a Nikon D810 full frame camera, also equipped with a 50mm lens.
On your friend's D810, the 50mm lens acts like a 50mm lens. However, on your D7200, that same 50mm lens has an effective focal length of 75mm due to the 1.5x crop factor.
What that means for your image is that it will be more tightly framed on the subject with a narrower field of view. Essentially, it will look cropped, thus the term "crop sensor."
That brings us to one of the primary advantages of crop sensor cameras...
Because they increase the effective focal length of a lens, crop sensor cameras like the Canon EOS Rebel SL1 are sometimes preferred by photographers that need to zero in on a distant subject.
For example, if you enjoy landscape photography and you want to focus on a small vignette in the larger landscape (i.e. a specific mountain peak in a mountain range), the narrower angle of view allows you to do so with a shorter lens.
That "extra" focal length can also be advantageous for things like taking photos of your kids playing sports or wildlife photography.
In the video below, Gil B demonstrates this difference in effective focal length and goes over a few other differences between full frame and crop sensor cameras:
Another benefit of crop sensor cameras is that they have an incredible array of lenses.
As noted earlier, many crop sensor cameras are marketed toward beginner and intermediate photographers. As a result, there are many more lens options to choose from, including lenses that have a much more budget-friendly price tag.
Speaking of budget-friendly, crop sensor cameras win in that department as many of them are less expensive than their full frame counterparts.
The Verdict: Crop sensor cameras get you closer to the action, have a greater selection of lenses, and typically cost less than full frame cameras. They also have smaller, lighter bodies that are easier to maneuver. However, they lack the same image quality and low-light performance of full frame cameras.
Making the Decision
Let me start by saying that you can take great photos with either a full frame camera or a crop sensor camera...
What it will likely come down to is budget first, and then subject matter.
As noted above, full frame cameras are more expensive. If budget is an issue, a crop sensor is the way to go.
What's more, the narrower field of view is a nice feature for getting closer to sports or wildlife action. If those are your primary types of photos, consider a crop sensor body.
However, if you have some money saved up and want to move up to a full frame body, it's worth looking into, particularly because there's such great deals on used full frame bodies.
This is an especially shrewd move if you plan on trying to enter the professional photography market or if you intend to create very large prints of the images you take. Full frame cameras offer a wider field of view that's good for landscape photography as well. If landscapes are your passion, consider a full frame camera.