What is the Difference Between a Full Frame DSLR and a Crop Sensor DSLR?


Full Frame vs Crop Sensor
When I’m talking with people interested in photography, people always ask me, “What is the difference between a full frame DSLR and a crop sensor DSLR?” Let’s go way back to the start of the saga with the death of film. Film’s most popular size was 35mm, however, when the DSLR camera came out, none of the sensors, which replaced film, were equivalent to 35mm. So, the big wigs at Canon put their heads together and came up with a sensor that was equivalent to 35mm. Thus began the great debate of full frame vs crop sensor.

Once the full frame sensor was introduced, Canon had to label all other sensors something. So, they chose to call them crop sensor DSLR cameras. Full frame sensors are actually 35mm equivalent sensors and crop sensors are APS-C sized sensors (as you might have seen them called before).

Positives of a full frame DSLR:

1) Low Light Performance – The performance of a full frame DSLR camera in low light situations cannot be beat. Their ISO goes WAY up there! The 6d, for example, has an ISO range that tops out at 25,600! You might be thinking that the photograph is probably really grainy when taken at an ISO that high. Well, it is probably only about as grainy as a crop sensor would max out.

2) Depth of Field – You may have tried to copy someone’s photograph using a lot of depth of field and noticed you can’t get as much as they could even with a wide open aperture such as f/1.8. That’s because full frame DSLR cameras can produce more depth of field because of their larger sensor size.

3) Bells and Whistles – Unfortunately, camera companies stay stingy when it comes to features that are built into DSLR cameras. Full frame cameras get more features built in, and crop sensors get the basics. It’s sad, really. If you want a crop sensor that has a lot of features (it still won’t have as many as a full frame would) look for the Canon 7d under Hobbyist Cameras on my recommended gear page HERE

Negatives of a full frame DSLR:

1) Price – Full frame DSLR cameras are ridiculously expensive. Like, save for a couple years to buy one, expensive. In recent years, some full frame DSLR cameras have come down in price to tease us, but they are still very expensive. The best and cheapest full frame you can buy is the Canon 6d. Look it up under Hobbyist Cameras on my recommended gear page HERE

2) Field of View – If you are a landscape photographer, don’t even read this because you want a larger field of view. All other photographers beware. Full frame DSLR cameras have a much wider field of view which won’t allow you to zoom as close to a subject like you are used to if you have been using a crop sensor.


Something else to watch for: When you are purchasing lenses, be careful which ones you buy. Canon EF lenses will work on both full frame and crop sensor DSLR cameras, however, EF-S will only work on their line of crop sensor DSLR cameras. As for the Nikon users, Nikon says that both FX and DX lenses will work on full frame and crop sensor, but some DX lenses won’t be able to handle the full frame and will show shadowy black borders on the edge of photographs. Just be careful what you buy.

My thoughts: To be honest, I like full frame DSLR cameras because my passion is landscape photography, but I do not think they are necessary. I’m actually currently using a crop sensor. I can accomplish everything a full frame DSLR can do with my crop sensor DSLR. It’s just a matter of positioning yourself to get the same effect that a full frame would have. If you are a landscape photographer, I’d fully support your decision to go full frame although I don’t think it’s necessary. However, if you do portraits, wildlife, or anything that might require a lot of close up photographs, I’d think twice about a full frame DSLR because you will lose the extra zoom that a crop sensor DSLR will provide.

2 thoughts on “What is the Difference Between a Full Frame DSLR and a Crop Sensor DSLR?

  1. I agree with you and I stick to crop sensor cameras. Being a freelance photojournalist, I have to take photos that cover a wide variety of photographic genres. Landscapes are only a small part of what I shoot. The crop sensor cameras have worked just fine for me. Thanks for the great, straightforward article; well-written and easy to understand!

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