Sensor size - A full frame sensor is equivalent in size to a 35mm format. A crop sensor is smaller, with APS-C and micro 4/3 systems being among the most popular
Field of view - Because its larger, a full frame sensor has a larger field of view. So, if two photographers - one with a full frame camera and the other with a crop sensor camera - take photos of the same subject from the same distance with the same lens, the full frame camera will have a wider field of view.
Focal length - Focal length is based on a 35mm standard. Since a full frame camera’s sensor is the same size, a 35mm lens will have a focal length of 35mm. However, because a crop sensor camera crops out the edges of the frame, it has an increased effective focal length. So a 35mm lens on a crop sensor camera with a 1.5 multiplier would have an effective focal length of 52.5mm.
Improved depth of field - While a full frame camera doesn’t itself improve depth of field, the larger sensor allows you to get closer to your subject, which, in turn, creates a shallower depth of field, as seen in the image above.
Better dynamic range - Full frame sensors can pick up a wider tonal range than crop sensor cameras. This means your images will have deeper blacks and brighter whites with more detail in those areas as well.
Expanded low light performance - The larger the sensor, the better the low-light performance. As a result, full frame cameras can operate in much darker environments than crop sensor cameras. Full frame cameras can also operate at higher ISOs while minimizing digital noise
Price - Full frame cameras are more expensive than their crop sensor cousins. Lenses tend to be more expensive for full frame cameras as well.
Bulk - Full frame cameras are bigger and heavier than crop sensor cameras, as are lenses for full frame cameras. Carrying around all that extra weight can be a deal-breaker for photographers that shoot on-the-go.
Slower frame rate - A full frame sensor is larger, so it records more information. The more information it records, the longer it takes to store it on your memory card and the fewer images you can take when shooting in burst or continuous mode.
What are you willing to spend? As noted above, full frame cameras are a pricier option with more expensive optics. If you aren’t willing to upgrade your camera and your lenses, a full frame camera may not be for you.
Are you willing to wait? If you aren’t in a position to purchase a full frame camera and the appropriate optics at this point, are you willing to save up until you can afford them? What’s more, can you wait? If your current gear is failing you in some way or just isn’t capable of handling what you throw at it, you may not have the luxury of waiting it out.
What type of photography is your primary pursuit? If you shoot portraits, the ability to get up close with a full frame camera means gloriously blurred backgrounds and excellent bokeh. If low light situations are frequent in your landscape shooting routine, like that pictured above, the improved ISO range and low light performance of full frames are a distinct advantage. But, if you typically photograph wildlife, athletes, or other subjects that move quickly or are a good distance away, the reduced telephoto capabilities and slower frame rates might prove to be a disadvantage.
Have your skills or goals extended beyond the capabilities of your current gear? Other than pondering your budget, this might be the most important question you can ask yourself. If this will be your first camera, a full frame may not be the way to go. Instead, learn the ropes on a simpler (and less expensive!) entry-level DSLR. On the other hand, if you simply cannot take the kind of pictures you want to take because your current camera is incapable, upgrading to a full frame may be in order. Just remember - all cameras, no matter how expensive or fancy - are just tools. Don’t expect to take incredible pictures with a full frame camera just because you’ve upgraded. Your talent and skills will determine what the images look like!
As the saying goes, the best camera you have is the one you have with you. And while that is a true statement to a certain extent, it ignores the notion that not all cameras are equals.
Whether you primarily use your smartphone, a point-and-shoot, or a crop sensor camera, you have probably encountered a time or two when it just didn’t get the job done. For example, you might have needed to shoot in very poor lighting conditions and gotten an image that was vastly underexposed or had far too much digital noise.
So, in situations such as these, it’s hard not to dream of upgrading to a big boy full-frame camera. But the question is, is it the right move to make?
Let’s explore a few things to think about when considering an upgrade to a full frame camera.
Crop Sensor vs. Full Frame
First, let’s draw a distinction between crop sensor and full frame cameras. Without getting into a hugely technical discussion, the primary differences between the two are as follows:
Advantages of Full Frame Cameras
Going full frame will give you the following benefits:
Disadvantages of Full Frame Cameras
On the other hand, there are some negatives to consider when looking at full frame cameras:
Beyond learning about the basic differences between full frame and crop sensor cameras and exploring their advantages and disadvantages, it’s important to consider a few questions that will help you determine if a full frame camera is warranted:
Thinking about upgrading your camera gear is awfully exciting, but can be incredibly expensive too. Full frame cameras offer plenty of advantages for many photographers, but they won’t be the end-all, be-all for everyone. Will a full frame camera make you a better photographer? No! After all, you can take stunning images with your phone. But will a full frame camera make it easier or more likely that you create stunning images? Probably so!
The bottom line is that considering an upgrade to a full frame camera needs to include much more than price. Think about the advantages and disadvantages of these cameras, ponder their best uses, and evaluate where you’re at skill-wise. Taking all that information into account will help you make the right decision for your next camera purchase.