Full Frame Or Not?

Full-Frame Or Not?

Q) Should I buy a camera with a full-frame sensor or an APS-C-sized sensor?

R. Eick
Porto Alegre, Brazil

A) Whether you choose full-frame vs. APS-C is determined mainly by two factors: cost and the type of photography you do. Generally, full-frame cameras offer higher-quality images and better large-format printing capability. APS-C cameras offer greater speed and enhanced magnification (crop factor). And cameras having the smaller-sized sensor are less expensive than their full-frame brethren.

That doesn’t mean that pro-quality work can’t be accomplished with APS-C digital cameras. As examples, Canon’s EOS 40D and Nikon’s D300 are both capable and feature-filled photographic tools. Other manufacturers like Pentax and Sony also have capable APS-C cameras. And if you’re mostly interested in wildlife or sports photography that demands long lenses, you’ll want the extra 1.6x or 1.5x crop factor that the smaller sensors offer—a 300mm lens offers the angle of view of a 480mm or 450mm extreme telephoto while preserving the original speed of the lens. If you want a wide-angle effect with the smaller-sensor digital cameras, invest in a special lens like a 10-22mm or 12-24mm lens that fits only the APS-C cameras.

Full-frame cameras typically have more, or at least larger, pixels, and these gather more light and capture more information with less “noise.” So full-frame cameras excel in landscape and macro photography and provide more detail, allowing for impressive large-format prints. The slower capture speed of, for example, a Canon EOS 5D, isn’t a problem in landscape or macro photography since light is more controllable as the photographer composes and then captures an image, sometimes using long exposures of the subject. On a full-frame camera, wide-angle lenses perform the same way they do on a 35mm film camera. There’s no crop factor.

So when choosing your D-SLR, consider the main subject area you shoot and what level of quality you need. Be sure to check the bank account as well!

A 24-105mm Canon “L” lens set to 24mm and ƒ/16 at ½ sec. was used with a full-frame Canon EOS 5D camera to capture this morning landscape at Mono Lake, California. A quality lens is necessary when you expect sharpness out to the edges of the frame. The 5D is a full-frame, 12 MP camera that’s light to carry in the field and still offers captures that can be enlarged to great proportions.

One of North America’s best-known contemporary outdoor and nature photographers and a leader in the field of digital imaging and photographic education, Lepp is the author of many books and the field editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine. One of Canon’s original Explorers of Light, Lepp finds inspiration in advancing technology that fuels creative innovation and expression of his life-long fascination with the natural world.