I’m ready for a full frame camera! or am I?

I’m ready for a full frame camera! or am I?

You have been shooting for a while, but you feel like purchasing a full frame camera will catapult your work from amateur status to pro. Are you ready for a full frame camera? What are the benefits of taking the plunge to purchase that super sweet new gear? Let’s talk about it…

Starting out

Most photographers these days start out shooting with a crop sensor camera, these are reasonably priced and widely available at big box stores and can often be found in a starter package with a tripod, memory cards and other goodies to get you started on your photography journey. After buying your camera, and maybe winning a couple awards from the fair, you feel emboldened with your photographic skills and start to look for avenues to take your images to the next level. It is usually around this time that our families and friends are telling us that “we have an eye for photography” and usually suggest starting a photography business. That leads you to this article, you feel like your work is good, but you are being held back because you don’t have a full frame camera. Sound familiar?

What is a full frame camera?

The term “full frame” or “crop” refers to your camera’s sensor size. Full frame sensors have the same dimensions as standard 35mm film which measures 24mm x 36mm. Crop sensor refers to any sensor smaller than the 35mm film frame, the most common of these are APS-C and micro 4/3 systems. What is the difference between the sensor sizes? I will break it down…

These differences are generalities, camera sensor technology changes by the hour and though there will be specific differences based on a specific sensor, the generalities stand.

Full Frame Crop Sensor
Wide field of view (see image below) Cropped view,
1.0X magnification ~1.5X magnification (depending on manufacturer)
Better Dynamic Range  
Better ISO performance due to larger pixels on the sensor.  
Better depth of field performance  

The image above shows an approximate difference in an image captured at the same focal length in this case I believe I was at approximately 50mm (Bear Lake near Marble Colorado). The difference in look is the magnification the sensor provides, a 200mm lens on a Full Frame camera is just that – 200mm, but as an example, a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens is effectively a 112-320mm lens on a body with a crop sensor. The larger the sensor, the longer the focal length of the lens needs to be to capture the same field of view.

Sensor performance is where the real differences are in the two types of sensors. A full frame sensor is physically larger than a crop sensor meaning that there is more surface area and therefore larger pixels to capture light hitting the sensor. This larger sensor yields generally better dynamic range in terms of color and ability to pick up more levels of light meaning better highlight and shadow detail. ISO performance is generally better on full frame sensors, meaning you can shoot in lower light situations with less noise. These factors can and do change depending on the manufacturer and cost of the camera, but where things really differ is in depth of field performance. Full frame cameras are just better at getting those creamy soft blurry backgrounds from a wide-open aperture, this is directly related to the ~1.5X lens magnification on a crop sensor. This is why full frame cameras are commonly used by portrait photographers.

So, Crop sensors stink?

Hardly. Perhaps ten or more years ago a smaller sensor meant significantly more noise in an image at higher ISO, but today’s smaller sensor cameras are very capable. The fact that professional photographers only use full frame cameras is a myth. There are many pros that use the crop sensors as their sports go-to rigs because the ~1.5X gives them longer reach when shooting sports and wildlife images. Crop sensor cameras are also orders of magnitude cheaper than full frame cameras.

Will full frame make you a better photographer?

In my work I use a Canon 7DmkII and a Canon 5DmkIV, which are crop sensor and full frame respectively. I use them interchangeably because both have excellent image quality and color reproduction. My main camera is the 5DmkIV if I am shooting bodyscapes or anything in lower light and the 7D when I (try to) shoot sports or wildlife. I have done numerous a/b comparisons using the same effective focal length (35mm on crop and 50mm on full frame) and have found the image quality generally the same. The big differences are when I am looking to shoot bokeh (blurry backgrounds) in a portrait or shooting landscapes.

Will a full frame camera make you a better photographer? No. will it bring your image quality from amateur to pro? In most cases no. If you don’t specifically know why you need a full frame camera, I would say that learning more about your gear and specifically about light will be a better use of your time and money to achieve better image quality. I didn’t buy my first full frame camera until I had learned everything about my crop sensor camera. I had a specific need for the full frame camera to shoot better quality images in low light and wider scenes on my landscape work. Jump in to buying a full frame camera when you know why you need it and you know when you are ready as opposed to some belief that a full frame rig will make you a pro.

Hey! I love to hear from my readers! Feel free to contact me via my social media sites I would love to hear your thoughts on this or any of my other articles! Until then, get out and get shooting! 

My Photography site: http://www.tahquechi.com/

My Bodyscapes project: http://www.bodyscapes.photography/

My travel site: http://www.blindtravels.com/

Instagram and Twitter: @nedskee