Are you new to photography and feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the jargon and technical terms? You may have come across the term “crop sensor” and wondered what it means and how it affects your photography.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many photographers, especially beginners, find the concept of sensor size confusing.
In this article, we’ll break down the difference between crop sensor and full-frame options, and explain the advantages and disadvantages of each. You’ll learn what a crop sensor is, how it affects your photos, and what you need to consider when shopping for a camera.
Plus, we’ll help you navigate the marketing hype and understand what really matters when it comes to sensor size.
So, sit back, grab a cup of coffee, and let’s dive into the world of crop sensors.
- Full-frame and cropped sensors refer to the size of the sensor in your camera. Full-frame sensors are the same size as traditional 35mm film.
- Crop factor is used to help photographers understand how a digital camera will perform relative to an equivalent film option.
- Image quality is a complex concept with multiple factors to consider, and while full-frame sensors are generally capable of delivering higher image quality, it’s not always a clear-cut winner.
- Cropped sensors are typically cheaper than full-frame options and can still deliver excellent image quality.
- A higher crop factor can be advantageous in certain applications like telephoto photography, and cropped cameras are usually smaller and easier to carry around.
- A cropped sensor can make cameras more affordable, simpler to use, and offer extra zoom for certain types of photography.
- However, full-frame sensors typically provide better low-light performance, image data, and overall versatility.
- Professional photographers may benefit more from full-frame sensors, while casual users may not notice a significant difference.
- It’s important to check individual reviews for specific camera models, as the crop factor alone is not enough information to make a decision.
- Cropped sensors may be better for certain types of telephoto and wildlife photography, but it depends on the performance of the camera.
In a nutshell, the terms “full-frame” and “cropped” are simply referring to the size of the sensor your camera is using. Full-frame sensors are larger and the same size as traditional 35mm film.
Back when film photography was in full force, 35mm became the standard film size used most universally. Full-frame cameras became the standard used for this type of photography. Today, full-frame sensors remain larger than their cropped counterparts, but it’s incorrect to conclude that this means they’re always better.
Most cameras are capable of taking phenomenal shots — your specific use case will determine which camera is the best fit for you.
When shopping around for cameras, you may see the following formats advertised:
- APS-C (Canon uses a slightly smaller APS-C format than competitors)
- Four thirds
APS-C is by far the most ubiquitous variant of cropped sensor currently available, but four-thirds options are also quite easy to find.
Another important term to get to grips with is crop factor. In short, it’s used to help photographers understand how a digital camera will perform relative to an equivalent film option. All calculations for crop factor are made in reference to the 35mm film format.
It tells users what their field of view will look like when using their digital camera. Ever used a cheap point-and-shoot and noticed that the image looks super “zoomed-in”? The camera was probably using a higher crop factor.
A camera with a crop factor of 1 is the same size as a 35mm film equivalent. This is what we refer to as “full-frame”. If a sensor has a crop factor of 2, a 35mm film frame is twice as large.
Knowing the crop factor of your camera makes it easier to know how it will perform and what to expect when using it. Manufacturers provide what’s called a crop factor number. Users can take this number and multiply it by the focal length of the lens they’re using.
The resulting figure is the equivalent focal length they can expect relative to a 35mm, full-frame device.
We dive into the other pros and cons of cropped sensors vs full-frame sensors below, but we wanted to address image quality first. It’s the primary concern of most buyers. When comparing camera formats, it can be difficult to provide the black and white answers that many people are looking for.
While as a very general rule, a full-frame sensor is capable of delivering a higher image quality than a cropped equivalent, it’s far from being a clear-cut winner. Image quality is a complex concept with multiple factors to think about.
That’s before we even get into other considerations like price and convenience. Some more premium cropped cameras can actually outperform lower end full-frame options, so it’s worth reading further to understand things in full detail.
This section explores some of the reasons why it might be a good idea to consider a cropped sensor over a full-frame option. Keep in mind that there’s a vast amount of choice out there.
It’s important to research any specific camera you’re looking at thoroughly — knowing that a product is full-frame or cropped isn’t enough information on its own.
Cropped sensors are typically much cheaper to produce than full-frame options. This means that a cropped camera can save you a decent chunk of money with even a small amount of shopping around.
Unless your requirements are professional, you’re unlikely to notice a significant difference if you pick a good camera. We strongly recommend considering cropped cameras if price is a priority.
As we briefly mentioned earlier, a higher crop factor results in an image that appears more “zoomed-in”. In certain applications like telephoto photography, this can actually prove advantageous.
For sports photos, for example, this extra reach can give certain photographers an edge. It’s important to note that this advantage applies to higher end cropped sensors that can still deliver excellent image quality.
The smaller sensor size associated with cropped products means that they’re usually much smaller and easier to carry around with you. If you value portability, it’s well worth considering a cropped camera.
Add the smaller footprint to the fact that these options can usually save you a fair bit of money, and you’re looking at a pretty compelling package. It all comes down to how much performance you need as a hobbyist and whether you’re likely to need the extra room afforded by the full-frame format.
Again, this depends on the specific model in question but cropped cameras can often be simpler to use. Their target demographics include more casual users. For this reason, cameras using cropped sensors tend to be easier to get to grips with.
Keep in mind that you should definitely double-check this with any specific model you consider.
While a smaller format isn’t usually an issue for casual users, there are disadvantages that come with cropped models.
The smaller size of cropped sensors means they’re less capable of adapting to a range of environments. Low-light performance is one area where this is particularly noticeable. A full-frame camera will typically perform much better in this regard.
The crop factor of these sensors affects the real-world focal length you’ll be working with. Professional photographers who use multiple lenses throughout a shoot can find the calculations involved for determining focal lengths a bit of a hassle.
The larger size of full-frame sensors means they can capture scenes with far more data. Not only does this make post processing tasks easier, it also maintains image quality much better for large photo prints.
This is one area where cropped products fall short. If extensive editing or printing are important parts of your photography, look into full-frame options.
This section addresses some of the most common questions we encounter about this kind of sensor.
The short answer is, yes — usually. The longer answer is that it depends on your specific requirements. For casual users, the savings associated with most cropped cameras are more than worth it in our opinion.
If you’re a professional, however, a full-frame option is probably the way to go. The increased low-light performance, image data, and overall versatility will serve you well. It’s just that more casual users may not even notice this bump in performance.
Any number of people can produce stunning images with a cropped sensor. That said, they’re definitely worth considering if:
- Price is important to you
- You do certain kinds of telephoto photography
- Portability is a priority
- You don’t need pro-level performance
Our advice is to check out individual reviews for any specific camera model you’re considering. The crop factor alone probably isn’t enough information to go on.
In some circumstances, yes. The extra zoom provided by a cropped sensor can give users an edge when capturing far-away subjects. It’s all about the performance of your individual camera, though, so it’s important to consider other factors as well.
In conclusion, the debate between crop sensors and full-frame sensors ultimately comes down to personal preferences and the specific needs of the photographer.
While full-frame sensors have their advantages, cropped options can still perform very well and are often more affordable and portable.
So, whether you’re a professional photographer or an amateur, make sure you consider your priorities and the type of photography you do before making a decision.
And remember, no matter what equipment you choose, the most important thing is to keep practicing and improving your craft. Happy shooting!