Should you use a full frame or cropped sensor camera for bird photography?

Ralph Lightman
Is it better to use a full frame or APS-C sensor to photograph birds? (Image credit: Ralph Lightman)

Bird photography might be considered a more niche genre, but it has a dedicated community of shooters and provides the nature lovers among us with so many shooting opportunities. Bird species come in all shapes, sizes and colors, and display such a wide array of behaviors to capture – and they can be seen around the world.

Although we've said before that great wildlife photography doesn't need the latest kit, bird photography can still get pretty expensive. For stunning results you'll need one of the best lenses for bird photography, likely a long telephoto lens with a fast maximum aperture. I recently went hands on with the Fujifilm Fujinon XF150-600mm F5.6-8 R LM OIS WR0 and can see it being an amazingly compact birding lens.

But course optics are only one half of the puzzle when it comes to filling the frame with your subjects. You'll also need a decent camera, but when it comes to choosing the best camera sensor, the most expensive, high resolution model isn't necessarily going to be your best option. Let's look at whether a full frame or cropped sensor is better for bird photography, and why...

full frame vs crop sensor

(Image credit: Future)

Full-frame or cropped sensor?

Whether you're shooting with the best mirrorless camera or best DSLR, camera sensors come in different physical sizes. The two most common are full frame and cropped (often called APS-C). While the best full frame cameras sensors will generally offer greater dynamic range and low-light performance, they’re not always the best choice for bird photography, as I mentioned above.

This is because of the ‘crop factor’ on a smaller sensor, which effectively multiplies the focal length of a lens and makes it easier to fill the frame with faraway subjects. As an example, an APS-C camera with a crop factor of 1.6x would give a 400mm an effective focal length of 640mm – that's a lot of extra reach and very handy when you want to get "closer" to your subject at a given focal length.

Lenses are more important than the camera

High-quality lenses are arguably more important than the camera, and if you can only afford one optic, choose one of the best lenses for bird photography lens such as a 100-400mm over a prime, to provide more flexibility when it comes to composing your shots. Consider lens weight too, as you might end up carrying it long distances when stalking subjects in the wild.

If you need to save money, remember that you can always rent out big ticket items for planned shooting trips. And of course, you should only be buying kit that you know you’ll use frequently.

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Lauren Scott
Managing Editor

Lauren is the Managing Editor of Digital Camera World, having previously served as Editor of Digital Photographer magazine, a practical-focused publication that inspires hobbyists and seasoned pros alike to take truly phenomenal shots and get the best results from their kit. 

An experienced photography journalist who has been covering the industry for over eight years, she has also served as technique editor for both PhotoPlus: The Canon MagazinePhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine and DCW's sister publication, Digital Camera Magazine

In addition to techniques and tutorials that enable you to achieve great results from your cameras, lenses, tripods and other photography equipment, Lauren can regularly be found interviewing some of the biggest names in the industry, sharing tips and guides on subjects like landscape and wildlife photography, and raising awareness for subjects such as mental health and women in photography.