Photography & Filming

Everything You Need to Know About Full Frame vs Crop Sensor | Click it Up a Notch®

When you are in the market for a DSLR camera, you will come across the terms “Crop Sensor,” and “Full Frame.” You may be wondering what’s the difference between a full frame vs crop sensor camera? I am here to help compare the two types of cameras so you can fully understand what each one is capable of doing.

What is the difference between crop sensor and full frame cameras?

We’re going to start by going into the differences of crop sensors vs. full frame cameras. The main idea is that the full frame camera has a larger sensor and frame and can capture more in each image. Whereas the crop sensor will be a little bit smaller. I’m going to keep it simple. There are four main differences.

Photo of a dog with a graphic overlay showing a full frame vs crop sensor camera.

Higher ISO

First, full frames have higher ISO and can handle that ISO better in terms of grain. The camera itself can allow more light into it because the frame is larger.

Full frame cameras have better picture quality

Second, full frames produce better color and picture quality. You will typically spend a little more on a full frame camera and in return will recieve better picture quality.

A photo of a cottage with a blue fence and pink flowers.

Focal lengths

Third, a crop sensor has a crop of 1.6x (Canon) or 1.5x (Nikon).

This means if you put a 50mm lens on a full frame, its focal length is 50mm. However, on a crop sensor the actual focal length for a 50mm is 80mm (Canon) or 75mm (Nikon). Wondering more about lenses check here for the Ultimate Lens Comparison for Finding Your Perfect Lens.

If you want to see what a 50mm lens would look like on a full frame but only have a crop sensor, check out the 35mm. Here is  a full comparison on the 35mm vs the 50mm.

Depth of field

Girl in pink sweater in a lavender field

Lastly is DOF, although this is actually a myth, I am going to touch on this a bit when we get to the pictures.

Now let’s get to the photos. The photos were all shot from a tripod that never moved and with a model that was sitting in the same spot the whole time. This way you can really see the crop factor on each lens. Lastly, all photos were imported zeroed out and edited the exact same way. The only difference in editing was a few WB tweaks.

Photo examples of crop sensor vs full frame camera

Below you will see photos taken on a crop sensor camera, labeled 50D and a full frame camera labeled 5D. Each photo is taken using the same lens in the same spot but two different camera bodies.

24-70mm 2.8

A photo of a girl wearing a gray sweater showing the differences between the 24mm lens on a full frame vs crop sensor camera

First up is the 24-70mm lens. This is the only lens I felt a strong difference in color and image quality. I would not typically shoot with this lens for these types of shots but I wanted to give you a wide focal point to compare. Oh, and please excuse the foot chop. Whoops!

50mm 1.4

A photo of a girl wearing a gray sweater showing the differences between the 50mm lens on a full frame vs crop sensor camera

Moving onto the 50mm 1.4 . I can slightly tell the difference with color and image quality but honestly besides the crop they look extremely similar. You can see the DOF is exactly the same in both photos.

85mm 1.8

A photo of a girl wearing a gray sweater showing the differences between the 85mm lens on a full frame vs crop sensor camera

Last is the 85mm 1.8. Again there’s a slight difference in color and image quality but they both look fantastic to me. I love the DOF I acquired with both cameras and I would give both shots to my client.

Depth of Field myth

Now back to the DOF myth. The only time DOF applies is when you’re shooting the same photo at the same crop. So pictures 3 & 4 were both shot with my 85mm but with different camera bodies. I had to move in closer with my 5D to get a crop that would be similar to my 50D. Do you see the difference in the DOF in these shots? Again this is the only time it applies.

Basket of sandwhich wraps showing depth of field

Which is better full frame or crop sensor?

Based off of the 4 comparisons above it is easy to say that the full frame camera is a better camera since it can use a higher ISO, has better photo quality, and captures more in each frame.

But whatever camera you have on you is your best option. So if you already have a crop sensor and you have mastered manual mode but you’re still not getting the photos you desire, then maybe consider upgrading.

All that said, if you have a crop sensor camera please do not think you can’t take incredible photos and capture all of your favorite memories. I even recommend upgrading your lens first!

Do professionals use crop sensor cameras?

There are many professional photographers who will use a crop sensor camera because that is what they already have. You might see this often with beginner photographers while they save up to invest in a full frame camera.

Or you will also see photographers investing in better lens since they hold their value way better than a camera body does.

Photographers out taking photos using full frame vs crop sensor cameras

What is a disadvantage of a full frame sensor camera?

More expensive

Full frame cameras are going to cost more than a crop sensor camera. With the larger sensor and more capabilities to fit more in the frame, the cost of the camera will go up.

Larger body

The size and the weight of a full frame is noticibly bigger than the crop sensor body.

The full frame sensor is a larger sensor and all of the mechanics that go into that means the camera body must be bigger than the crop sensor camera body.

Image of two Nikon cameras comapring the size of a full frame vs crop sensor camera

What is the advantage of crop sensor camera?

Smaller camera

The crop sensor camera is a physcially smaller camera. Up until the mirrorless camera came out, it would have bee the lightest option for a professional camera.

Less cost

Most beginner photographers start off with a crop sensor camera because it is cheaper. You can still get some amazing work out of a crop sensor camera and save money while doing it.

Cheaper lens

The lens tend to be less expensive as well since it is a smaller mount and frame.

Full Frame vs Crop Sensor Camera FAQs

Why is a full frame camera better?

The overall quality of a full frame camera is better since the sensor is larger. More light can be let in with it therefor more detail as well.

Should I upgrade to a full frame?

If you think you have maxed out your cameras abilities then yes I say you should look at an upgrade. Or if you are constantly feeling limited with space in your frame or with ISO abilities those would be good reasons to upgrade to a full frame camera.

Are mirrorless cameras full frame or crop sensor?

Most mirrorless cameras are full frame cameras. You are able to find a crop sensor mirrorless camera but they are not near as common.

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