Nov 102014

Full frame or Aps-C?

Perhaps the question is arises do we want to upgrade to Full frame? (FF) In the below article we discuss the differences and similarities.

1. Sensor size

The FF sensor size is similar to smaller format film (36*24mm), while Aps-C or Dx in Nikon is usually (23.6*15mm (Nikon crop factor 1.5) 22.2-22.5*14.8-15mm (Canon crop factor 1.6 )
The below picture shows the proportions. You can see that FF is much wider or other way Aps-C is much longer, if we use the same lens on the two format cameras.
full frame or Aps-c

2. Field of View

With the same lens attached the FF camera has wider field of view preferred for landscapes, while the crop camera has narrower view preferred for bird/wildlife.

The difference is 1.5x-1.6x in one direction. This proportion is also called crop factor.

To say 10mm lens on Aps-C is similar to 16mm on Full frame. On the other end 400mm lens on Aps-C is similar to 640mm on Full frame.
Some common focal lengths on both formats:

Full frame or Aps-C



4 mm
5 mm
7,5-8 mm
8-9 mm
84-90 mm
125-133 mm
187-200 mm

3. High ISO performance

This is one of the bigger difference between the two different format. For weddings, low light photography the Full frame cameras has a distinct advantage.

The difference is usually 1-2 stops, but if these two stops missing, than the difference is huge. Best Aps-C cameras (Nikon d7000, Nikon d7100) can make usable, not stellar pictures up to ISO 6400. The newest Nikon d7200 is goes up to ISO 51,200 and 102,400 but only in Black and White mode.

Full frame cameras can go little further, with significantly less noise in the slower speeds as well.

4. Viewfinder size

Full frame cameras usually has bigger viewfinders which is just better, brighter and more usable.

5. Depth of field

Full frame cameras has shallower depth of field preferred for portraits. What you can do with a 50mm f/1.4 or 70-200mm f/2.8 lens on a Full frame camera it is hard to produce on a crop camera, especially given the huge price of the brighter lenses, in case of the 70-200 f/2.8 not really exist a brighter alternative, which can produce the same shallow depth of field on a crop camera. f/1.8 lens in terms of dof is similar to f/2.8 in full frame cameras.

6. Speed

“Pro” cameras has usually faster speed at startup and between the frames than the cheaper smaller sensor ones. For high Burst mode through must buy the most expensive cameras (Canon 1D series, Nikon D3 D4 etc), because cheaper models only can have smaller frame rates usually.

7. Weight

Most FF cameras are significantly heavier than most of their smaller format “brothers”. Cameras like 6d or Nikon d610 is almost the same in size and weight as the smaller sensor cameras though. I don’t like added weight very much, unless perhaps if I can make money that way.

8. Price

We just arrived one of the most important factor: price. FF cameras simply much more expensive. On the other hand some of them can be purchased at quite an interesting(low) price on the used market.

This is a point here, camera prices drop significantly in short time, while lenses keep their price in the long run. As I see it, I usually buy used cameras, and spend fraction of the money on cameras, spend on lenses instead, which keep their prices much better.

If we can make money with photography than even an expensive camera can be a good investment.

9. Lenses

Some lens works much better on the full frame cameras (typically 70-200mm zooms, which has more useful range on FF), than on smaller sensor. On the other hand many lenses has strong vignetting (darker corners) on Full frame, and bigger distortion when they are finer on Aps-C (Newer cameras can correct some parameters in some settings, and plenty of software out there).

Typically the most expensive lenses are the long bright prime or zoom lenses (200-400mm f/4, 300mm f/2.8, 400mm f/2.8, 500mm f/4, 600m f/4, 800mm f/5.6) at both manufacturers (Canon and Nikon).

Here with the Aps-C cameras we gain significant reach and money as well, if the quality of the crop sensor cameras are good enough. On the other hand if we want to use these on Full frame and we need long lenses our hand will go deeply in our pocket.

If we want to go really wide the Full frame camera obviously better. Full frame lenses mostly more expensive and heavier as well, but if we fine with a 35mm, 40mm or 50mm prime we can go very cheap as well.

In Nikon land many people use Aps-C lenses on Full frame cameras in DX mode, while it is not possible at Canon only with third party lenses. In this case vignetting is expected and framing on viewfinder also not ideal if we want to omit the usually darker corners.

10. Which one to choose?

For amateurs I think not really need the Full frame camera, but if your budget allows obviously better. Where the full frame camera has more reason to buy it if we want to be a wedding or portrait photographer, or want to sell our landscapes in big prints.

For my needs currently no need for a Full frame camera, I mostly interested in wildlife, and if I use crop cameras it is much cheaper than to buy a Full frame camera, with a longer, much more expensive lens.

I use full frame cameras for lens testing, the quality is better, no argument about that, but the difference is not huge. If I need a Full frame camera occasionally it is much cheaper to rent it, than to buy it.

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