Sep 30 2008

Full Frame vs. Crop DSLRs: Pros and Cons

Published by at 5:52 pm under General

If you're looking at getting a new digital SLR, you've probably come across the issue of sensor size. As you probably know, the sensor in a digital camera is responsible for capturing the image. Since DSLRs have much higher quality sensors than digital point and shoots, SLRs are able to achieve much better image quality. In general, the bigger the sensor, the better the image quality.

However, a larger image sensor also means higher cost, so SLR manufacturers had to compromise. Ideally, a digital SLR sensor would be exactly the same size as a frame of 35mm film. However, the cost of producing a sensor like this is so high that most manufacturers decided to create a smaller sized sensor, one that is a fair amount smaller than a full sized sensor. This creates the so called “crop factor”

This crop factor is usually a number around 1.5. Basically, this means that if you were to look at a full 35mm frame, the crop sensor would only capture a 1.5x crop of the frame. In essence, you get an closer view with an equivalent focal length. This means that your wide angle lenses will be less wide, and that your telephoto lenses will have more reach. Note that for a given focal length, the depth of field will remain the same.

For many photographers, these crop sensors work great. If you’re into sports, wildlife, or any telephoto heavy photography discipline, the extra “reach” you get from the crop sensor really comes in handy at times. You can also get extremely affordable crop frame bodies, such as Nikon’s D40. These cameras are a real boon to amateur photographers.

However, full frame sensors still hold a serious advantage in many real world situations. As I said before, bigger equals better when it comes to image quality. Full frame sensors can deliver a much sharper, smooth image at higher ISOs than a cropped sensor can. This is great for those working in low light conditions. Also, for photographers who love wide angle lenses, full frame camera bodies offer the widest degree of options.  New cameras such as the Canon 5D Mark II make it easier to afford these cameras, as well.

Overall, choosing your sensor format shouldn’t be the only factor that you take into account when choosing a new camera, but it should be a major one. The image quality and dim light capabilities of a full frame sensor will blow you mind, if you can handle the price. Otherwise, you might be better off saving your money and getting a cropped sensor camera. Either way, you can still take great pictures.

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