One of the terms you’ll hear people throwing around is crop sensor and full-frame sensor. You might be scratching your head, wondering, “what the heck is the difference and why does it matter?”
Abiding by my no tech-speak rule, I’m going to give you an actually decipherable understanding of both.
To put it simply…
The best way I know how to explain it is with an anecdote.
Imagine that you are standing in front of this ocean pool and you have taken a photo on a full-frame camera.
If you stayed in the exact spot, using the exact same lens…but using a camera body with a crop sensor, you would be able to fit less of the landscape into your image. Hence the term, ‘crop’.
How else does the sensor size affect my images?
If I’m going to get a LITTLE techy, generally-speaking, a full-frame sensor will create better Dynamic Range and low light performance which therefore equal a better quality image.
Plus, a full-frame sensor also creates shallower depth of field (and we all love that cinematic blurred-out background feel).
So is a full-frame camera always better?
It seems that every Shutterbug’s goal is to ‘upgrade’ to a full-frame camera but don’t be fooled; you can absolutely still take beautiful photographs using a crop-sensor camera.
I, myself, started my career on a crop-sensor camera until I saved enough money to afford a full-frame body.
You just need to adjust how you think and work. I.e. to achieve the same composition with a crop-sensor camera as a full-frame camera, you will need to step back from the subject!
Here are the benefits of a crop-sensor camera:
- Crop sensors are cheaper to manufacture and therefore, are cheaper for us as consumers!
- The crop sensor multiplier means that your zoom lens can become a telephoto lens on a crop-sensor camera. For example, a Canon 7D has a 1.6 crop multiplier which means that a 70-200mm lens becomes a 112-320mm lens! This could be pretty exciting if you love to photograph wildlife and sports as it gives you that extra bit of range for a lot less money (keeping in mind a professional full-frame setup would cost thousands of dollars on a body like the Canon 5D Mark IV and a 400mm lens)
But wait, for the tech-heads that wanna dive deeper…here’s what the sensor actually does.
Once light passes through your lens opening (aperture), the sensor collects light information, for however long your shutter speed is set to. Then, your chosen ISO determines the amplification that this light information receives as it is turned into a picture file.
(PS. if you’re unsure about these three elements of the all-important Exposure Triangle, it’s what we cover in the very first module of my eCourse, Photography 101 with Gemma Peanut)
So, the sensor is key.
But as often the case with most photography gear questions, it all comes down to your budget and what you love to shoot.
So I hope that answers your questions about the infamous full-frame vs. crop-sensor debate!