Full-Frame vs Crop Sensor11 June, 2021
Have you ever wondered which is better; full-frame or crop sensor cameras? Full-frame vs crop sensor is a common debate. There’s quite a bit of (mis)information out there; full-frame being ‘better’, for one. Having used nearly every system (full-frame and crop) out there, I’ve come to realize that both have plenty to offer. So if full-frame vs crop is a question affecting your first camera purchase, let’s have a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each sensor size.
What Is a Camera Sensor?
A camera’s sensor is the digital equivalent of film. It consists of millions of photosites which register and record incoming light. This is where the megapixel (MP) count of your camera comes from. A 24 MP sensor has 24,000,000 individual photosites or pixels; the more photosites available, the higher the resolution of the photograph. If your camera is mirrorless, the sensor also acts as the autofocus unit that feeds the electronic viewfinder (EVF). This is one reason why the battery life of mirrorless cameras is low compared to DSLRs. With no separate phase-detection system or optical viewfinder (plus a smaller, mirrorless body), the sensor has to do a lot more work.
The Meaning of Full-Frame and Crop
Why do we use the terms full-frame vs crop? Well, full-frame harks back to the days of film. Specifically, 35mm film photography, which–funnily enough–is also a crop format. It is crop because above that you have medium and large format cameras. When digital sensors came out, the term full-frame helped distinguish the sensors from APS-C, which are considered a crop format. Full-frame sensors were not the largest digital sensors at the time; the term helped film photographers transitioning to digital understand that equivalency in field of view and depth of field wouldn’t be a factor with a full-frame sensor.
Advantages of Full-Frame
There are a number of advantages to full-frame sensors, including:
- More Megapixels;
- A better dynamic range;
- Better light detection;
- Low light performance; and
- Beautiful bokeh.
So let’s take a look at the key advantages of full-frame sensors in the full-frame vs crop debate.
Do More Megapixels Matter?
Higher resolution does not necessarily lead to better quality photos. How many megapixels you need is entirely dependent on you. In fact, there are even disadvantages to a higher resolution sensor. When it comes to full-frame vs crop, full-frame cameras tend to have the highest resolutions, like the upcoming Sony A7IV (61 MP). More resolution gives you more room to crop a shot without visibly losing image quality. This is useful if you view images on large, high-resolution screens. High-resolution images also mean more detail if you want to produce large prints.
But if you’re sharing most of your images on social media only, a high-resolution camera will not be necessary. A 12 MP resolution would be more than enough to view on a screen, plus significantly fewer pixels are needed for smartphone viewing. You don’t look at a photo in a magazine from nose distance. So why would you blow up computer files to check for grain and noise if you aren’t making gallery prints? You need fewer megapixels than you think you do. High-resolution photos also have massive file sizes, that suck up processing power and hard drive space.