If you’re like most photographers, you likely started out with a basic or mid-level crop sensor camera.
And though crop sensors have many great features and virtues, by and large, full frame cameras are what the pros choose to use.
At some point, you may find that you need a camera with more capabilities. But before you make the transition from a crop sensor to a full frame body, you might consider some of the differences that make working with them a little different.
Full Frame Cameras Have More Features
As I already alluded to, one of the nice things about full frame cameras is that they have more features and functions you can use to take better photos.
Now, that doesn’t mean that if you buy a full frame camera like the Sony A7R II shown above and below that you will automatically turn into Ansel Adams. But there’s certainly more there for you to work with to get improved images.
For starters, full frame cameras typically have a much more user-friendly interface, with wheels, buttons, and dials that are easy to reach with your thumb as you grip the camera and menu systems that actually make sense.
In other words, though there’s more stuff there to work with, full frame cameras actually make it easier to change settings, even while you have the camera to your eye to take a photo.
You’ll likely also find that there are buttons on a full frame body that aren’t there on a crop sensor body – like those to change the drive mode, the metering mode, the autofocus mode, and the ISO.
Full frame cameras tend to have an LCD panel on the top of the body as well (some crop sensors do too) that make it easy to check your camera settings.
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Full Frame Cameras are Bigger and Heavier
If you’ve been toting around a Canon EOS Rebel T5i and you upgrade to a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV (shown above), get ready for a big change regarding the size and weight of the camera.
This is true of virtually all crop sensor and full frame cameras, regardless of manufacturer.
Because full frame cameras have larger sensors, they have larger bodies to accommodate those sensors.
What’s more, with the additional bells and whistles I outlined above, full frame cameras weigh more.
So don’t be surprised if you can’t shoot as long or as comfortably at first because that extra size and weight is bound to tire your shoulder, arm, and hand faster than your comparatively small crop sensor camera.
Yes, the Crop Factor is Different
A full frame camera has a crop factor of 1:1. That is, it’s the size of a 35mm piece of film.
Crop sensor cameras are smaller, with a crop factor that might range anywhere from 1.2x to 2x, depending on the manufacturer.
Because of their smaller sensors, crop sensor cameras effectively crop the image.
That means that if you stand shoulder to shoulder with another photographer and you shoot the same image with the same lens on a crop sensor camera as they do with a full frame camera, your image will appear to be zoomed in.
That means you can get closer to the action, so to speak, without being physically closer or using your lens to zoom in.
When you start out with a crop sensor camera, moving to a full frame means you have to get used to the new 1:1 crop factor.
Everything will seem further away and will require you to rethink how you compose your images.
Additionally, where buying lenses for a crop sensor camera can be a little confusing due to the crop factor, when you buy lenses for a full frame camera, the focal length doesn’t change.
So, that 50mm lens that acts like an 80mm lens on your Canon crop sensor camera will act like a 50mm on a Canon full frame camera.
See real-life differences between full frame and crop sensor cameras in the video above by Manny Ortiz.
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Full Frame Cameras are Low-Light Beasts
Where you might encounter some difficulties shooting in low-light situations with your crop sensor camera, once you upgrade to a full frame, you’ll reap the benefits of that larger sensor.
The larger the sensor, the more light it can collect, and the more light it can collect cleanly.
That is, a crop sensor camera shooting at ISO 3200 might produce images that have a ton of noise – perhaps even a distracting amount.
However, many full frame cameras shooting at ISO 3200 might produce images that are clean, crisp, and relatively noise free.
That’s great for you on a number of fronts.
First, you can shoot in low-light situations, boost the ISO, and still get clean shots.
Second, as a consequence of that good low-light performance, you can avoid using a flash or other artificial means of lighting in situations where your crop sensor would have to have that kind of light to get a good exposure.
On a related note, larger sensors also have larger pixels, which means you can create larger prints at a higher resolution.
So, not only will your photos have less noise, but you can make bigger prints of them as well.
Wrapping It Up
Is a full frame camera the end-all, be-all of taking better photos? No.
Is a crop sensor camera incapable of helping you take great shots? Absolutely not!
But a full frame camera is most certainly an upgrade and one that you might seriously consider if you find that your photographic capabilities are no longer being served by your crop sensor camera.
Just keep in mind that everything from the camera’s capabilities to its form factor to its features will be different, and that those things will take a little getting used to.
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