Does Having a Full-Frame Camera Matter?

One of the common beliefs in photography is that a full-frame camera is far superior to a crop sensor, but is this true? How much of a difference does a larger sensor provide?

When I began my career as a photographer, one theme I heard from others was that full-frame cameras were for professionals and crop sensors were for amateurs. I didn’t start to question this until I realized that two of the most successful photographers I knew were using cameras with crop sensors. After trying out their gear for a while and comparing to my Canon 5D Mark IV, I began to wonder if the difference was as significant as I had thought.

This video from Becki and Chris provides the answers to many of the questions you might have about sensor sizes. Here, these two photographers shoot several clips of the same scene with two different sensor sizes to demonstrate the differences that each provides. They then go on to explain the benefits to each option and show in what situations a full frame might honestly be better for you.

I will add that after experience with both full-frame and crop sensors, the larger size is not the ultimate goal I initially thought it to be. Many incredible photographers prefer their crop-sensor cameras, and companies such as Fujifilm have some excellent options right now. What is your opinion? How much does the sensor size matter?

Log in or register to post comments

64 Comments

Previous comments

Sure, a great photographer will get better results with lesser cameras than an average photographer with the best equipment money can buy, but that’s not what this is about. It’s about the same photographer thinking the results will be the same when using different tools.
You can use a small hammer on a large nail or a large hammer on a small nail, but you will get better results if you use large hammer on large nails and a small hammer on small nails, unless you can’t hit the nail at all.

In the end it’s the result that counts and the effort and time to get to the desired result, especially if photography is what pays your bills. Getting the right tool for the job you need to do is part of that.

David Pavlich's picture

Sorry, but sensor size does matter to a lot of us. If I had the money, I'd have my 5DIV for wildlife and action and I'd have a GFX50S for everything else. A phone camera wouldn't work for me because I hate them, but that's me.

Smaller cameras don't work for me because I like the heft and bulk a larger DSLR gives, especially when I put a heavier lens on my camera (5DIV w/grip). Fuji came up with a well thought out medium format camera that closely emulates a good ole' FF DSLR. And Fuji lenses are quite amazing.

John Dawson's picture

"Does Having a Full-Frame Camera Matter?" Only if you need full-frame images.

Linas Laukevicius's picture

No! More important is story, composition, light but not a stupid camera body.

user-156929's picture

How could you disagree with my reply to Linas? It's demonstrably true! If you have a reason, that's fine but have the courtesy to voice it.

Zsolt Könczey's picture

Sorry, wrong button, possible I was in hurry :)

user-156929's picture

No worries. I'm always in a hurry. :-)

user-156929's picture

Just because those things are more important, and I totally agree, doesn't mean a stupid camera body never matters. And that's the real question. If it matters sometimes, you should probably have one. Kinda like a vehicle with 4WD. Nobody needs it all the time but if you need it sometimes, you'd better get it.

Jan Kruize's picture

Just cancelled the PhaseOne 150MP medium format camera because it doesnt matter..... fools.

user-156929's picture

:-)

It depends. If just delivering images is your highest priority, a D500 is better than a D610. If you just want the perfect personal picture, your money is better spent on travel expenses, lighting and makeup artists.

But if money isn't an issue at all, get that juicy A9.

The sensor size might not be the complete reason to buy a particular full frame. The 5D Mark IV shares the 1DX Mark II's AF system and has a pretty respectable continuous shooting speed. To say that you can get the same results is really dependant on a lot of factors like having fast lenses with enough compression to get the same DOF, or having a speedlight to compensate for the ISO wall you hit where the image becomes too noisey.

Christian Durand's picture

Another Sony commercial.....

Francisco Hernandez's picture

They were already going to make the video on this topic but got invited by Sony to California so why wouldn't they take advantage of the change in scenery? It'd be a waste not to do so.

Doesn't matter that much. Now, an actual Optical Finder does for me. I don't get blinded by it in the dark and can see to compose in really dim lighting situations without losing my night vision as the electronic finders.

if you really want to undestand the difference go and see tony northrup video
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hi_CkZ0sGAw&t=1s

or this one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6XMk9jFcnlA&t=2s

at least you can understand, then you can decide if usefull

Levi:

Owning both before I would almost always grab the FF camera. But these are DSLRs. The FF gear allows so much more light into the camera and low light (indoor) focusing is that much better. It's not an image quality issue.

However, with mirrorless cameras the EVF can brighten the view.

Having recently acquiring a mirrorless FF Z6 I find it small and great for travel and street work but still prefer the FF D750 for indoor event photography because it focuses so much faster and accurately in low light with moving subjects. The mirrorless focusing technology is close but not as good.

It seems to me that a crop sensor camera works great most of the time but for low light photography FF is the way to go and for most situations mirrorless is good enough but not as good as a pro FF DSLR, a D850 for example.

Also disappointed that the manufacturers no longer have a built in strobe in pro cameras. Because, sometimes it's just nice to have it.

Hmmmm....FWIW almost every Nikon DX lens on a DX camera like the D500 is rated lower on DXOMark than the equivalent FX lens on a D750. And all lenses rate higher on a D850 than on a D750. Even though many people can’t tell the difference it seems clear that FX is technically superior.

of course it is. but it doesnt matter. the difference is so small they said. im selling my d3s/d4/d4s and getting dx cameras. the kiddos have now decided that it doesnt matter.

user-156929's picture

It sounds like you're kidding. I hope so.

It is all about flexibility. My full frame cameras have a crop sensor mode. They can do both depending on my needs. If I don't want to pack around a heavy FF lens I can always go with an APS-C lens. Sony rocks.

Jim Bolen's picture

So does Nikon. I can do the same thing.

Tom Gath's picture

My move into Full-Frame probably had just as much to do with the contols/layout. The joystick and wheel on the Canon 5D made a world of difference compared to pushing buttons.

Kenneth Muhlestein's picture

Here's the deal. The larger the sensor generally means larger pixels which means less noise at higher iso. That's it. It's all about the glass in front of the camera and the lighting.
So yes, full frame cameras are better in the sense that they are much more flexible in less than optimal lighting conditions. But if you had identical lighting conditions for optimal isos the images would be damn near identical. (Provided you had a comparable lens on each system)

" It's all about the glass in front of the camera "
thats a big problem. there arent many stellar prime lenses for crop. especially UWA

Carl Irjala's picture

It is important for the end result, the amount of information you can get from your camera.
If I want to build a house, I choose a hammer that best suits this purpose. A shoemaker chooses a smaller tool.
Another thing that also needs to be taken into consideration is that if I buy a new camera 2019 with an crop or full frame sensor, I also need to get a new computer. Otherwise, my whole time goes to sit and wait for the computer to finish the work.
This photo has been taken with a 1/2.3" sensor.

Stuff that moves swiftly and is far away is usually better served by APS-C. Many photographers get good mileage out of a 7D2 + 100-400 for reasonable cost vs 1DX2 (or 5D4 if the frame rate doesn't matter) + 600 for example. Sure the 7D2 doesn't have the greatest sensor in low light but it's still a kick ass camera.

I've seen killer portraits out of a 7D + 24-105 + good lighting. As long as the client is happy the photographer should be happy.

If you're into the wickedly shallow DOF thing, sure, get a 5D4 + 85 1.2 and go to town.

I'm getting shallow DOF fatigue and happily embrace both eyes in focus. Ears too, on a good day. If an APS-C body plus an f/4 lens forces photographers to back up we're all better for it.

Everything else being equal, MF > FF > APSC > MFT when it comes to IQ under certain conditions. That said, I have MF, FF, and APSC cameras and do 90% if my shooting with the APSC (XT3) because it's smaller, lighter, fun to use, and the IQ more than good enough in most situations. At the risk of sounding cliche, the person behind the camera matters far more than anything else and I've got lots of awful photos from my MF to prove it.

user-156929's picture

"... I've got lots of awful photos from my MF to prove it." :-D

More comments