Full Frame vs. Crop: How to Make the Right Choice

June 29

6 min. to read

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In this article, the Skylum team breaks down full frame vs. crop and gives photographers the information they need to make their choice.

New photographers over the years have toiled with the decision — going back and forth between full frame and crop and trying to decipher what the terms stand for and what that means for them.

So, the Skylum team has broken down it down into 5 sections with this article. We’ll cover the basics, the full frame sensor, the crop frame sensor, the crop factor, and what this all means to you, as the photographer.

The Starting Point

In photography, the reference point for talking about a camera’s crop sensor — is a piece of 135 mm film. Full frame sensors are the same size as this film (with a width of 35mm). 

Full Frame vs. Crop: How to Make the Right Choice Image1

Each DSLR has an image sensor inside (it hides behind a mirror and resembles a green rectangle) and this sensor is what conveys the information that creates your photos. Essentially, your camera’s sensor, in combination with your lens, effects how your viewer will see your image.

If all that makes sense, let’s move on to full frame versus crop frame. 

What is Full Frame Sensor?

The full frame sensor, like we said above, is the digital version of a 35mm film frame. Physically, the full frame sensor that lives inside a camera is larger than a crop frame sensor. 

As the larger sensor allows for large photo sites on that sensor, full frame DSLRs shoot better in low light conditions and with high ISO ranges.

What is Crop Frame Sensor?

The crop frame sensor is a sensor that is smaller than 35mm (as if your 35mm piece of film has edges that have been cropped). Crop sensors are not as wide as full frame sensors and provide a narrower angle of view.

What’s the Crop Factor?

Here’s where things get a little confusing for most of us. We have lenses that are designed to work on 35mm frame size — though not all cameras have this size image sensor. 

The crop factor refers to the magnification of the view when looking through the viewfinder. Most APS-C and DSLR cameras have a crop factor of 1.5x (Nikon) or 1.6x (Canon). This crop reduces your field of view through a lens. For example, a 50mm lens on a full frame sensor will have a field of view of 50mm — whereas this same lens on a crop sensor camera will have a field of view of 50mm x 1.5 or 1.6 (the crop factor) which leads your 50mm lens to feel a bit more telephoto than it otherwise would — more like a 75mm lens.

So What Does This All Mean For You (The Photographer)?

A few years ago, serious photographers were perhaps more insistent upon purchasing full frame cameras.

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Today, however, the leaps and bounds of technology with cameras make it possible to choose from a wide variety of lenses for your crop sensor camera. These cameras also perform better now in low light situations and have higher ISO ranges.

Consider your budget: full frame sensors are more expensive to manufacture and as such — full frame cameras tend to be more expensive than crop frame cameras. 

Full-frame cameras are typically ideal for landscape images while smaller-sensor cameras might be more ideal for wildlife and close up photography.

As with many things, both of these different formats have their advantages and their disadvantages — their ups and downs — the positive and the negative.

But, now that you have a clearer understanding on what the terms mean, you can do you camera research with more confidence and figure out what sort of sensor is best for you.

From the Skylum team, happy photo-taking, whatever you choose!

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