When it comes to digital cameras, there are two main sensor sizes: APS-C and full frame. So, which is better? In general, many photographers say full frame sensors are better than APS-C sensors. However, let’s explore the pros and cons of each to help you make a decision for your own photography needs.
What is the Difference Between Full Frame and APS-C?
When it comes to digital cameras, many people are confused about APS-C vs full frame. The main difference is a full frame camera sensor is a little bigger than an APS-C sensor. This means that a full frame camera can capture more light, which results in better image quality.
Some years ago, when digital cameras and digital photography did not exist, 35mm was the standard film size. When digital cameras came into being, the situation changed.
DSLR cameras have digital imaging sensors.
They replaced film cameras and were much smaller than the 35mm.
In the year 2002, we saw the first sensor that had a size equal to that of the standard film (35 mm) known as the full frame.
Is Full Frame Better?
The main advantage of a full frame sensor is that it can capture more light. This results in better image quality, particularly in terms of dynamic range and low light performance.
A full frame sensor is also generally a better choice for professional photographers as it gives you more control over depth of field. This can be a particular advantage when shooting portraits.
Here’s a Cool Story
Canon was the first camera manufacturer to release a type of DSLR camera with a 35mm sensor size. Imagine what happened when the executives from the Canon marketing department met.
Canon figured out how to make the DSLR camera look the best in the market and make the others look like half the camera.
They accomplished the task by naming the 35mm equal sensor the “Full Frame” DSLR camera.
They then named the others “Crop Sensor” cameras.
Their marketing strategy worked. Today, most photographers feel they are using half a camera if they do not hold a full frame DSLR.
Yet, the sensors are not full at all.
Camera manufacturers chose the size arbitrarily many years ago. They could have produced a larger camera. The marketing executives at Canon would have had a second marketing meeting.
The best name for the full-frame would be a 35mm equal sensor. And the right name for the crop frame would be APS-C sized sensors.
At times, photographers use the names when referring to the cameras. Thus, you must understand them too.
So, let us start comparing APS-C vs full frame.
If you are very new to the photography world, you will need the basic definition:
- The 35mm films dominated the photography world until digital cameras came into being.
- Full frame is a term that refers to a sensor that is of the same size as one negative, or frame, on a 35mm roll of film (24 x 36 mm).
- So, full-frame camera bodies have image sensors that are 36 mm wide and 24 mm high. We refer to the sensor’s width-to-height ratio as the aspect ratio that governs every image’s proportions.
- When using a full-frame camera and a 35 mm film, the aspect ratio will be 3:2.
Advanced Photo System (APS) is a film format that entered the photography world in 1996. They discontinued the APS film format later.
Some more on APS-C:
- The APS film frames measure 16.7 x 30.2 mm and exist in three different formats. The formats include the C (classic), H (high-definition), and P (panorama).
- The three formats have a smaller size than that of the original APS.
- They offer a 35mm film size, which gives them the name cropped sensor.
- The APS-H format is the same as the 3:2 aspect ratio you expect with the full frame cameras. The real size of APS-C vs full frame digital sensors varies depending on the manufacturer.
- The APS-C image sensors exist in most digital SLR cameras and compact systems, and mirrorless cameras. The variety of APS-C camera bodies and lenses in the market is more comprehensive than full frame counterparts.
- Manufacturers optimize ZEISS lenses for the full frame image sensors except for Touit.
- A 50mm lens on your full frame camera will have a 50mm focal length.
- APS-C cameras crop the images by 1.5x so that a 50mm lens provides a precise focal length of around 75mm on an APS-C camera.
- Now, you can think of that of the 16mm wide lens you purchased for skyscapes. Put the lens on your APS-C camera. You will get a perspective closer to the 24mm lens APS-C vs a full frame lens. It will be wide but not super wide.
Full frame vs cropped sensor
Full frame at 50mm
APS-C at 50mm
Field of View
For the field of view, cameras with full frame sensors capture more significant portions of the scene. More than those with APS-C sensors do.
That is the primary reason some people call the APS-C sensors crop sensor cameras. The APS-C sensors are smaller than the full frame sensors, which have a larger sensor. The crop factor is smaller than the full frame.
And they capture a smaller part of what the full frame camera sensor would have achieved.
Some things to know about APS-C:
- The APS-C refers to significant focal lengths longer than the real focal lengths. For example, if a full frame camera had a 50mm focal length.
- Then the APS-C camera would have a field of view equal to around 75mm focal length. In other words, you would not capture approximately 1/3 of the subject because the APS-C sensor is small.
- A tremendous sufficient focal length will not provide a high resolution or magnification. It will cover a smaller area of the scene.
- When viewing the small area, it will look like the image had a longer focal length based on a smaller field of view.
Some Other Considerations When Thinking Full Frame vs APS-C:
- Think of the same field of view that a full frame camera would capture with crop-frame cameras. The photographer will need a shorter focal length.
- You could also achieve the field of view of a 50mmm lens on your full frame camera with a 35 mm lens on your APS-C camera.
- When using the 35mm focal length, the field of view would not be the same as the 50mm full frame camera lens. It will be closer.
- Think of when you’re shooting macro or close-ups with the full frame camera. The subject will fill the frame at any distance from the camera lens. It will depend on your subject’s size—also, the focal length and the minimum focus distance of your lens.
- Your full frame might get close to your subject. It would without any part of the subject getting out of the field of view.
- You will be able to work at a longer distance with your full frame camera. It will not distract the subject.
Depth of Field
Here are the main differences between the two when it comes to depth of field:
- A full frame camera blurs the out-of-focus areas, giving a better image quality.
- Say you choose a 50mm lens when capturing a landscape scene. You will get an angle of view that you would get with a 35mm lens on your APS-C camera.
- The 35mm will provide you with more depth of view due to the short focal length. In landscape photography, the shallow depth of view of full frame cameras might have issues. Macro or portrait photographers, yet, find that helpful.
- The depth of field depends on the focal length, subject distance, and aperture.
Comparing APS-C vs Full Frame Image Quality
If you want a wider dynamic range, you will want to choose a full frame camera at high ISO. They give you a wider dynamic range with the same megapixels as APS-C sensor cameras. Though, an APS-C sensor could capture finer detail at low ISO with smaller pixels.
- Full frame cameras were a better choice when capturing indoor and landscape images. They did work in tighter spaces. Yet, the manufacturers of lenses have combated that. They developed the zoom and prime lenses with very short focal lengths.
- A 300mm lens on an APS-C sensor camera would be 480 mm, while a 300mm lens on a full frame camera would be 300mm.
- They’re designed for use with APS-C cameras. The general standard zoom lenses that come with APS-C cameras are 18mm as the widest setting.
- That is roughly equal to the view that the 28 mm lenses of full frame cameras provide.
- The super-wide lenses provide 10mm settings with a sufficient focal length of 15 mm or equal to that. The lenses are not usable with the full frame cameras.
- They provide very dark corners, and so the APS-C offers a broader range of optic choices.
- You will have to consider the ability. Ability comes into play if you are thinking of investing in a full frame body camera. If you bought a dedicated APS-C glass, you will likely forget about some or all our lenses.
Why is a Full Frame Camera Better?
Advantages of Full Frame
- They take full advantage of the available wide-angle lenses.
- Allow the photographers to move closer to their subject and reduce the depth of field. In other words, you can blur away any distracting background.
- The large sensors have manufacturing advantages. They result in lesser noise and fine details in the images.
- These cameras are ideal for landscape photography. Most photographers prefer them for art photography or street photography and product photography and real estate photography.
- The large sensor makes a larger light-gathering surface area. That provides the sensor with an added advantage, especially when capturing images in low light situations. Low-light performance wins with the full frame camera.
Disadvantages of Full Frame
- The full frame cameras are more expensive than the APS-C cameras
- It is hard to fill the frame with any distance, a spooked subject such as a flying birds.
Advantages of APS-C
- APS-C cameras are less expensive than full frame cameras.
- APS-C cameras are smaller than micro four-thirds cameras.
- You can get an inexpensive lens made of smaller glass components due to the sensor’s smaller size. Get details designed for the APS-C cameras specifically. That will save you more money.
- The telephoto lenses are more telephoto.
- They are ideal for wildlife/sports photography and macro, where the actions are at a great distance.
Disadvantages of APS-C
- The wide-angle lenses might lose some of the wide-angle effects
- The backgrounds can be more in focus. In other words, they can be somehow distracting.
- Generally, the small sensors result in more noise and less fine detail.
- If a need to switch to the full frame camera arises later, you will not use the APS-C specific lenses.
- APS-C cameras come with smaller sensors. They come with a lesser light-capturing surface area. That provides them disadvantaged in weak light situations.
- Want to go bigger than full frame? Go with a medium format like a Kodak.
Up to this point, you might have understood how the size of a camera sensor could affect your photography.
Remember that the two types of cameras can serve you the same way, but they will offer different results.
Photographers use the differences to their most considerable advantage.
APS-C vs Full Frame: Our Pick is Full Frame
A full frame camera will cost you more because of the big sensor. The other reason is that manufacturers aim these cameras at professionals. And also photography enthusiasts.
There is a high expectation of the level of performance. And the features, which again increase the price. A full frame camera will provide excellent results, but you have to invest in extensive storage too.
Though both types of cameras an APS-C sensor camera and full frame would be fine for a shallow depth of field when shooting in portrait photography or still-life situations.
APS-C vs Full Frame: Frequently Asked Questions
Can APS-C Lens Be Used on Full Frame?
APS-C lenses can be used on full frame cameras, but they won’t cover the entire frame. The APS-C sensor is about half the size of a full frame sensor, so the lens will only capture about half of the scene. This may or may not be a problem depending on what you’re shooting. If you’re photographing a large scene with lots of space in the background, you’ll probably want to use a lens that covers the full frame. But if you’re shooting a close-up portrait or something else with a smaller composition, an APS-C lens will work just fine.
What does APS-C stand for?
APS-C stands for Advanced Photo System type-C.
Photo System type-C means that it’s an image sensor format that’s pretty much the same size as the Advanced Photo System in its “C” as in the “Classic” format. (25.1×16.7 mm, an aspect ratio of 3:2).