Full frame sensor size explained: exploit its advantages for pro-quality pictures

Full frame sensor size explained: exploiting its advantages for pro-quality pictures

The launch of the Nikon D600 and Canon EOS 6D ‘entry-level’ full frame DSLRs has brought the full frame sensor size to a whole new audience. But what can a full frame sensor offer your photography that your crop sensor can’t?

In this post we’ll explore some of the myths and pros and cons of full frame sensors and explain how it can affect the different types of pictures you may take. We’ll also look at ways to fine-tune your shooting technique you really use your full frame sensor to its full potential.

We’ve used the full frame Nikon D600 and Nikon APS-C sensor cameras for our examples in this article for the sake of clarity. Mixing up each camera manufacturer’s unique nomenclature can get confusing and distract from the overall discussion on full frame sensors. But the same principles discussed below will apply whether you shoot with a full frame Canon DSLR, Sony, Leica or any other full frame camera.

Full frame sensor size explained: exploiting its advantages for pro-quality pictures

What is full frame?


‘Full frame’ is the term used to describe a camera with a sensor the same size as a 35mm film negative, measuring 36 x 24mm. Most DSLRs, however, use sensors measuring approximately 24 x 16mm.

This is close to the APS-C film format, which is why these are often referred to as ‘APS-C’ cameras. Nikon makes cameras in both sizes, but uses its own nomenclature. Its full frame cameras are ‘FX’ format, and its APS-C cameras as ‘DX’.

Originally almost all DSLRs used the smaller APS-C format. Sensor technology was in its infancy, and manufacturing large sensors was prohibitively expensive.

Over the past few years full frame cameras have become less costly, and while Nikon’s D3, D3s and D3x bore professional price tags, the Nikon D800 and D600 introduced in 2012 cost much less. They’re still not cheap, but they are just about affordable.

A Nikon full frame sensor

A Nikon full frame sensor

Bigger is better
In the days of film photography, bigger negatives always produced better quality than smaller ones, and the same is true of digital sensors. Nikon’s full frame FX sensors are 1.5x wider than its DX sensors, with an area roughly 2.4x greater. This has an impact on the quality of the pictures.

In general, pictures taken on full frame cameras are sharper, with better fine detail, smoother tones, a wider range of tones and a greater sense of ‘depth’.

As a result, more and more amateurs and enthusiasts will be tempted to upgrade from their DX- format Nikon cameras (or whatever brand you may shoot with) to a full frame model.

While the improvements in quality are relatively easy to demonstrate, there are disadvantages too. DX-format Nikon DSLRs aren’t just cheaper; they are in many ways easier to use and more practical.

PAGE 1: What is full frame?
PAGE 2: Lens loyalties with full frame
PAGE 3: Why the depth of field is different
PAGE 4: How to shoot with a full frame sensor
PAGE 5: How a full frame sensor affects your pictures
PAGE 6: Pros and cons of using a full frame sensor


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