Full Frame VS Crop: Which is the better sensor?


I’m glad my first DSLR camera was not a full frame.

The first DSLR camera I purchased was a Canon Rebel XTi. It could not take video and it had a 1.6x APS-C sensor. I cut my teeth on this camera and it served me well as a photographer. Many of its features were automatic and I had to guess my way through trial and error when my pictures came out blurry, as well as over or under exposed. As my skills developed through each trial, so did my comfort with disabling the automatic features of my camera.

Soon, I began to not only understand how to use shutter speed, f-stop and ISO settings but more importantly, I began to understand the limitations of my camera. What ISO settings I should not use even though my camera could go up to 5600 ISO. I also learned the difference between my EF-S kit lens and the 50mm EF lens I had purchased afterwards.

I was ready to upgrade.

At this time, having a crop sensor meant two things for photographers/ videographers

  1. Crop sensors are not good for low light

  2. You are amplifying your lens.

For myself, a crop sensor meant I could not shoot photos over 1600 ISO without sensor noise and that my 50mm lens was actually the equivalent of an 80mm lens (50mm X 1.6 = 80mm).

To shoot with my Rebel XTi I needed to be taking pictures with plenty of light and would have to take a few extra steps back to get the framing I wanted. This made me realize I wanted a full frame camera as my next purchase.

Wanted… not needed.

Both limitations of my camera could be overcome by my growing experience. This is important to note as too many photographers and filmmakers place their abilities on the tools they use. A tool is only as good as the person using it. It’s about growing the skill needed to take a compelling picture or tell an engaging story.

The times, they have changed. The Lumix GH5 is an example of a mirrorless camera with a cropped sensor (micro 4/3) that can compete with full frame cameras in low light performance and image quality. The industry seems to be heading that direction as even full frame cameras are becoming mirrorless. The reasons why I upgraded to a full frame camera are not the same reasons someone may upgrade today.

So which is better? It depends.

  • If you have already invested in expensive glass of a certain mount like myself, you will want to stick with cameras that share the same mount as the glass you’ve invested in or be willing to purchase a speedbooster but will still need to consider the amplification.

  • If you’re starting out, do what I did, go with the most affordable option that meets your current needs as a storyteller and then upgrade once you feel the tool you are using has reached its limitations compared to your skill.

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