Full-frame vs APS-C cameras: what you need to know

A Nikon full frame sensor

So what is full-frame, and what do you need to know in terms of full-frame vs APS-C cameras? In their latest guest blog, our friends at the photo management blog Photoventure run through some of the key points to remember in the great full-frame vs crop sensor debate!


APS-C, or ‘crop-sensor’ cameras, are those that have sensors smaller than a frame of 35mm film. APS-C-size sensors are found in most DSLRs and measure approximately 24x16mm, producing images with a narrower angle of view because they capture a smaller section of the image than a full-frame camera with a 35mm-size sensor can capture.

These sensors are close in size to the APS-C film format, from which they get their name. In the beginnings of digital photography, most cameras had sensors around this size. But as technology has improved, full-frame sensors have become more ubiquitous – and, crucially, cheaper in price.

Which brings us to you. What do you need to know about full-frame vs APS-C cameras when making your decision to upgrade?

Viewfinder performance
If you switch to full-frame cameras you’ll find that the images appear brighter in your viewfinder. This is simply because your full-frame camera provides a larger mirror.

Wider views with wide-angle lenses
Full-frame lenses deliver their ‘true’ focal length on full-frame cameras. There’s no need to apply a focal factor.

Your lenses never go obsolete – and at the prices you paid for them, you probably don’t want to have to re-buy them! What you need to know about using lenses on full-frame vs APS-C cameras is that you can use your crop-factor lenses on a full-frame camera, but the camera will restrict the sensor area to an APS-C size rectangle in the middle of the frame and you won’t get the benefit of your full-frame camera’s resolution.

Depth of field
When you make the switch to full-frame, the change in the appearance of depth of field, or out-of-focus areas, becomes obvious. Let’s put it this way. If you put a 50mm lens on a full-frame camera, in order to capture that same angle of view on an APS-C camera you’d need a 35mm lens.

And the 35mm lens will yield much more depth of field because of its shorter focal length. If you’re a landscape photographer, the shallow depth of field you’ll get shooting full-frame might cause trouble for you. If you’re a portrait or close-up photographer, however, this could make all the difference.

Image quality
Images taken with full-frame cameras (provided the photographer knows what he or she is doing!) will generally have more dynamic range and better fine detail than photos taken on APS-C cameras.

Low light
A full-frame camera will generally produce cleaner images in low light. Push your ISO up to the higher settings and you’ll be amazed at the results it can deliver. If you do a lot of shooting at night, this could be a reason to make the jump.

Body size
While you get more dynamic range, cleaner images at higher ISO settings and better resolution with full-frame, you’re also getting a bigger camera body. And, frankly, that’s a deal-breaker for some people.

If you’re a street photographer and speed and portability are your chief concerns, a smaller APS-C camera might be best for you. Even many compact system cameras now boast APS-C sensors and can deliver DSLR-quality images.

File size
Prepare to invest in bigger – and more expensive – memory cards if you switch to full-frame, as these cameras produce much bigger file sizes. This will also, of course, affect your computer and photo storage options.


11 tips and tricks to speed up your digital workflow
Full frame sensor size explained: how to exploit its advantages and cool effects
Full Frame DSLR: do you really need one?
99 common photography problems (and how to solve them)