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Full Frame Or Crop Sensor Camera?

By Expert Author: Christine Austria

Before digital came along film cameras had a standard size of 35 mm film, nowadays referred to as full frame cameras. Now that film cameras have become virtually obsolete, the roll of film has been transformed into a digital image sensor size of 24 mm x 36 mm. Nikon and Cannon both have versions of this camera body, the D4, 1DX, 5k Mark III, D600 and D800 just to mention a few.

From 1996 a smaller digital sensor size was introduced, the APC (Advance Photo System). This was not well received at the time by professionals and did not make an impact on the photographic world. Later on an APC-S was introduced. This image sensor was 16 mm x 24 mm, referred to now as a “crop sensor” which is basically half the size of a full frame sensor. As this sensor is now a lot cheaper to produce, the majority of consumer cameras now contain the crop sensor. Both Nikon and Cannon are making cheaper full frame cameras which are now becoming more accessible to the masses.

There are really 3 main differences between the formats.

Firstly there is a magnification factor due to the nature of the crop sensors. A 50 mm lens on a full frame body is 50 mm. A 50 mm lens on a crop sensor camera, becomes 75 mm. Both Nikon and Cannon also have slightly different magnifications. On the Nikon, the magnification factor is 1.5 on the Cannon its 1.6. If you’re a wildlife or sports photographer this can be very beneficial as a 300 mm lens becomes a 450 mm lens on Nikon body, giving that extra reach for close ups from long distance.

Secondly the lens plays a big part in the quality of your pictures. On a Nikon body, FX lenses are for full frame cameras, but can be used on crop sensor bodies. DX lenses are for crop sensor bodies and normally these can’t be used on FX bodies.There are some exceptions to this rule, but these cause heavy vignetting and therefore are not recommended. FX lenses also tend to be a lot more expensive due to better build quality and sharper images.

Lastly, the full frame sensor will allow more light to enter the camera making them ideal for low light photography. With the full frame Nikon D600, images are still usable up to ISO 6400. With the crop sensor Nikon D7000, you can really start to see grain in the images from ISO 800 and above. Film grain can be desirable for black and white images but can ruin others. Software can correct this to a degree but you will then start to lose image sharpness.

So in reality, if you’re into wildlife or sports photography the smaller sensor is the ideal choice taking into account the magnification factor. For low light photography, weddings or events where you need large apertures and faster shutter speeds, then a full frame camera would be the best option.

Article was written by Phil Cooper, you can visit my website at http://www.tungstenfilm.com, where you can see some great images and learn about photography

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