Full Frame vs. Crop Sensor: Which One is Right for You?

Full frame, crop sensor. Four words that seem to spark so much debate in the photography community! As photographers, we are artistic, but we also have a technical side to us – we love our gear, and we love talking about it. In this post, we will look at some of the basics of sensor size. While some people may argue that you absolutely have to have a full frame camera, that isn’t necessarily true. 

What’s The Difference?

There are two types of sensors: crop sensors, and full frame. They are exactly what they sound like: a full frame sensor will capture more of the scene in your field of view, while a crop sensor will capture less. 

The aspect ratio of a full frame camera is similar to the 35mm film that everyone used to shoot with not-so-long ago, approximately 36X24mm.
A crop sensor, though, will capture an image smaller than a full-frame sensor, essentially cropping the edges of the field of view. 

The above image is an approximate representation of how a full frame camera, versus a crop sensor, would capture the same scene. As you can see, the crop sensor captures a much smaller (tighter cropped!) scene, while the full frame captures more. 

Full Frame vs Crop Sensor - Which One is Right For You?


There are advantages to both full frame and crop sensor cameras. Here are just a few examples:


Full Frame

  • The large size of the sensor gives you the ability to photograph in low light at a high ISO, with much less digital noise than a crop sensor. 

  • Overall, higher image quality for printing.

  • If you are a landscape or architectural photographer, the wider angle of a full frame can be beneficial to you, as you will be able to capture more of the scene around you. 

  • Full frame cameras also have a more shallow depth of field, which is a perk if you are a portrait photographer. 

Crop Sensor

One of the most immediate advantages of a crop sensor DSLR is the cost. If you are a hobbyist, but still want the advantages of a DSLR over a point-and-shoot, a crop sensor camera will probably be just right for you. Unless you are shooting in really low light, or making giant prints of your photos, you will be able to tell very little difference in image quality between a full frame and crop sensor camera, especially if you are uploading to the internet at a low resolution.

Crop sensors are great for sports and street photography because of the crop factor. Consider the example image above on how a crop sensor zooms in tighter on the scene. This is a real advantage if you are photographing subjects that are far away from you.

And, because of the crop factor, a telephoto lens on a crop sensor can give you a bit more “reach” than on a full frame. For example, if you are using a 100mm lens on a crop sensor, it would work as a 160mm lens. 

Popular Cameras

  • For Canon, the 5D Mark II & III are popular full frame cameras, with the 60D being a great crop sensor option.
  • Nikon also has a wide range of full and crop sensors, with the D600 being an affordable full-frame option.
  • When purchasing a camera, if you find yourself confused about whether or not you are looking at a full frame or a crop sensor, just look for the keywords “crop factor.” If crop factor is discussed anywhere in the specifications under “Camera Format” you’ll know what you’re looking at! 
  • Find a list here of camera with both crop sensors and full frame.