Real World Comparison of Full Frame Versus Crop Sensor

There are many debates over gear in the photography world, one of them coming down to the size of the sensor in your camera. Does it make a real difference? Are you thinking of upgrading your crop sensor camera to a full frame beast? You might want to check this out before doing so.

Manny Ortiz heads out to take some portraits of his wife while comparing two of his cameras, the 24.2 MP full frame Sony A9 with the Sony 85mm f/1.4 G Master lens versus the 24.2MP crop sensor Sony A6500 paired with the  Sony 55mm Zeiss lens. While watching the video and seeing the comparison shots, as I photographer I did notice that some photos shot with the A9 looked sharper and better to me. Depending on who you are shooting for, the real question is will the client notice? Unless you are shooting for high-end commercial gigs, I would go out on a limb and say your clients wouldn’t notice much of a difference whether you shoot crop or full frame, unless you gave them images to compare side by side. There are many talented photographers who shoot with crop sensors and you wouldn’t be able to tell a difference.

Of course, there are advantages of shooting full frame but this shouldn’t be an excuse why you can’t make great photos with a crop sensor camera. I would've preferred to see the same lens both cameras so there are fewer variables that could affect the results, but that also changes shooting distance and it’s just semantics as both cameras produce great and similar results. However, that is one thing to keep in mind, the shooting distance from your subject on full frame versus crop sensor.

Did you notice a huge difference? What do you shoot with, full frame or crop sensor camera?

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20 Comments

Aleksey Leonov's picture

Totally agree. Just switched from Nikon FX to Fuji. No regret! You do see a bit more details on 100%, but for photo journalism, customer will never see the difference.

The excellent web site photonsotphotos.net shows those two Sony cameras to have the same dynamic range from base iso up to about iso 600, so there isn't much to compare. A better comparison would be between the Nikon D750 and D7200. The D750 has a stop better DR than the D7200 and nearly two stops better than either of the Sony cameras used in this comparison.

Samuel Flores Sanchez's picture

They are comparing FF vs Crop Sensor. If they have the same DR that is a point for the Crop Sensor. Still there's sharpness, DOF, detail... a lot of things to compare with

Main thing in crop sense is noise so what did you use on crop sense or pictures for noise reduction?

In available light, noise is never a problem. If you are desperate in low light and absolutely do not want to use a flash, then this is where a big advantage of shooting clean 6400iso on a FF comes in. Software can take care of some noise but turns the image into a painting amost which may or may not be what you are looking for. Alot of apsc can handle 6400iso these days without too much noise, and a little noise never hurt anyone.

"Of course, there are advantages of shooting full frame but this shouldn’t be an excuse why you can’t make great photos with a crop sensor camera." That is probably the most valid point and I totally agree. I started with canon and Nikon crops, then quickly moved to their FF. When I stopped shooting professionally, I decided to get Sony apsc realizing I never wanted to take equipment out to actually enjoy protography when the equipment were so big and bulky. But without a doubt, full frame (dslr) with it's low light, AF, and button layout capabilities is intrinsic to fast paste and/or available light photography (i.e. weddings), I don't see how you can do without it.

Ryan Cooper's picture

One thing to also keep in mind is that since cropped sensor cameras, particularly in the DSLR space, tend to be treated as hobbyist tools while the full frame cameras tend to be treated as professional tools when designed. This means the full frame cameras often offer a greater array of advanced features, more controls for quick adjustments, and a better, more reliable build quality often consisting of more formidable materials. This doesn't necessarily translate to better images, but it does translate to a tool that more reliably delivers in a wider variety of situations, which is something very important for a professional shooter.

Also, I'd add to your comment that people could be buying FF cameras to give a professional look. If you shoot with a crop camera some people may not take you seriously and that is a fear that everyone could have. I think this is the biggest argument when they buy a FF even if they won't admit it. For me it looks like you need a FF if you want to be a professional and look like so.

Ryan Cooper's picture

Thats true, though I suspect 95% of clients can't tell the difference between a high end cropped sensor DSLR and a Full frame. I think that becomes more relevant if you are showing up with a tiny mirrorless to a shoot. (Though, on the flip side, there are clients who expect you to show up with medium format and look down on any DSLR, so it all depends what you shoot)

Craig Tedeton's picture

I have actually been denied membership to a photography referal site because of my former use of a crop senser camera.

I think the #1 thing that would keep me from switching is the availability of high quality lenses in general. Short-sighted though it may be, lens manufacturers by and large still consider the full-frame format to be the "professional" format so their offerings for crop sensor cameras tend to not have the same build quality or image quality as their full frame counterparts. I would say that the notable exception to this is Fuji, who do not produce a full frame camera at all so if I ever decided to make a switch away, that's probably where I would go.

very valid, I ran into the same dilemma when switching to cropped sensors (Sony). The work around was to adapt old glass. Are they as sharp as modern lenses with less aberrations? Maybe not, and do I miss AF for walk around shooting? No a bit. For my purposes, I make due with software corrections where needed and try to shoot to the best of the lens's ability. And you are absolutely right about fuji glass, it is world class.

Peter Guyton's picture

I shoot with Nikon FF and Fuji X. On the D810, I find that the mirror slap causes some vibration that I always have to be wary of, often shooting at higher shutter speeds than I'd like (forcing me to bump ISO). With the Fuji, I feel I can hand hold at slower speeds successfully. FF wins at ISO 3200 and up but below that I don't see much difference. I like to shoot wide open with primes a lot to get a very shallow DOF for subject isolation and I was surprised how well the Fuji 56mm f1.2 performs... such a sweet lens and shooting with it vs my D80+nikkor 85 prime is a coin toss most the time.

I will say the Fuji glass is often outstanding and is probably a strong reason people switch... while Nikon has great FF lenses, great crop nikkors are hard to find. The slow-ish startup or wakeup of the Fuji annoys me a bit and the battery life has a lot to be desired.... but love the silent shutter and e-shutter. I may get the grip to help with the battery situation. DR seems really good on the Fuji and I love they way RAFs open up first time in Capture One Pro.

Not sure I'd sell my FF. I mage quality differences while noticeable to pixel peepers, probably are irrelevant for the most part. Some great options out there. I'd love to see a good comparison of the X-T2 vs Sony A9.

chris bryant's picture

I think this article and video is, sorry, a waste of time. Sure, you can make a crop sensor camera look like a FF frame camera and vice versa. That is the easy bit. I use FF for two main reasons, 1) I like doing a lot of really shallow DOF photos and 2) Coming from film 35mm I can much more ready visualise focal lengths instead of "translating".

I use a Sony A7 (£800) and a Samyang AF 50mm f/1.4 (£500). To get the same DOF on a crop sensor I would have to use what, a f/1.2, and how much would one of those be?

I like this post a lot. Technology has leaped forward so fast that we these days often judge how good a picture is by it's dynamic range, high iso and extreme sharpness and what camera has been used... watched on a 4k monitor. And we as photographers decide how good our pictures are by staring at them in LR or PS at 100% and forgetting the actual feeling in the image. Don't get me wrong I love it as well but have recently tried to relax a bit and enjoy the image from what it tells instead of looking at the technical result. I shoot everything from micro 4/3 to digital medium format to film large format. And must say that film is growing on me more and more again. I know I know we do them digital after that but we accept them as they are without working nights in PS to get it "perfect". We so often forget that the image only ends up online in a super small size and I choose to be outside photographing than burning my eyes in front of my computer.

I also work as an sales manager for an premium image agency and during my years I've learned a lot. I sell lot's of images for massive campaigns and my clients don't look at the technical shit at all. All they care about is what the image is telling and that it has the right feeling and trust me they are not perfect. Another thing that I have seen is that medium format film scans are chosen often as commercial images so it has most definitely something special in it. Sad that so many have stopped doing it because they are often best sellers.

I seem to jump from the topic but it would be nice to see photographers enjoy the cameras they have, find each gears own limitations and actually start printing again. If you earn your living with photography I know that we need to deliver our clients good quality images but that is a very small % of us who actually makes decent money from this and harder it's going to get.

Go out and shoot with what you have and enjoy that.

Thanks
JS

Good post and discussion however I would challenge the assumption that lenses made for crop sensor cameras do not measure up to lenses made for FF. I can only comment on Nikon but their 16-80 mm lens is superb and I wouldn't trade my Sigma 50-150 mm for anything.......well maybe a Nikon D850. Besides, you always have the option of purchasing an FX lens.

Of course many FF lenses and cameras are superb and often way better than crop or micro 4/3 and again MF cameras with some beautiful Hasselbald or Schneider Kreuznach lenses a nice step up from FF. What I tried to explain is that we just put so much money on our gear to get extreme quality that we forget to enjoy the art itself. Amateurs have often better and newer stuff these days than I have but lack knowledge how to use them. It seems that no dynamic range is enough and soon 100megapixel is probably the norm and still the images are only viewed on a monitor or even worse... your phone.When the image has been taken we edit it in photoshop so much that it looks more like a painting. I just shot 100 polaroids and was soooo happy with the images and there is no quality to pixel peep on and my kids have them on their wall actually visible and not hidden in a folder on a hard drive.YES we love likes, my last picture on Instagram only got 40 and I was devastated but still that small artwork in my boys room gave me heaps of satisfaction, had forgot how good it feels to stand there and watch it and then come back the next day and it is still as beautiful.

Kirk Darling's picture

It makes no different except in the cases that it makes a difference. That's all a matter of the photographer's needs for that image. For instance, given equal technology, sensor size still counts when detail and noiselessness in a huge final enlargement is necessary.

Phil Wright's picture

This is more 'how to make a full frame sensor look like a crop sensor'. He adjusted the f-stop to 2.8 to give a similar dof etc. That's one of the main advantages of FF surely...

How are these findings even relevant? The lenses being used on the cameras are not the same focal length. Of course, if you have on a 55 and an 85 they will look the same.