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€¢ What is Crop Camera and What is Full Frame Camera?
In digital photography we talk about crop cameras when image sensor (CCD or CMOS) have smaller size than one image on 35mm (135) film (36x24 mm). Because many calculations in photography are based on the film sizes, crop cameras have some complications you have to watch for...

The most visible one is, that crop cameras have limited field of view. Cameras with sensors of about half of film frame (APS, about 24x18mm) are the most common in DSLR world. Compact cameras have even smaller sensors but the limitation is not so obvious because they do not have interchangeable lenses.

Crop cameras, such as Nikon D300 or Canon 40D have about 1,5 times (1,6 times for Canon) smaller sensor, therefor seeing about half of what full frame camera (such as Nikon D3 or Canon 5D) sees. Simpliest to imagine what full frame camera sees when you hold 1,5 crop camera is tu turn your camera 90 (portrait format). What you now see on vertical side, is exactly what full frame camera sees on vertical side when is in normal position (landscape). Yet it have second, same size view right next to it.

Longer lenses, same geometry

Cropping factor basically changes all your lenses to 1,5 times longer lenses from the amount of information recorded. That means, that your 100mm lens on crop camera will appear as 150mm lens on full frame camera.


There is lot of confusion and misunderstanding on the world and even many professional photographers are informing wrong about this. The big "but" is, that it makes your lenses appear longer, because field of view is smaller, but it does so only by cropping your image. That means, that depth of focus, geometry and other properties are same as on full frame camera.
So if we said in previous article that 50mm is closest to human eye (and therefor minimal logical choice for flattering human photography), it cannot be on crop cameras replaced by 35mm lens even though 35mm x 1.5crop is 52mm. You will just have to stay 1.5 times more far from your model than with full frame camera, but lens you need the same to achieve same result.

Drawbacks of crop cameras

Crop cameras beside modifying your field of view also makes mettering different. All distances for flash, lights mettering are measured in full frame sizes. Most cameras even do not adjust flashes accordingly.

All lenses are slower on crop cameras because you need wider apperture to get same amount of light. Therefor f2.8 lens on full frame camera turns to about f3.5 or f4 lens on crop camera. Yet worse, depth of focus stays same.

You need wider apperture to frame the image with given field of focus. Problem is that often you will end with too high field of focus when you will frame your image (especially visible on portraits) or you have to go more far from the subject. You would need to open your lens much wider than on full frame camera which comes with many complications (such as flash synchronisation, lens quality, etc).

Crop cameras have usually higher pixel density, which besides the higher noise (lower sensitivity) of the sensor also affects lot of medium quality lenses.

Advantages of crop cameras

First and most obvious advantage is price. Yes, you can get full frame camera for lower price than best crop camera, but if you compare features, crop camera will always be cheaper. There big advantages ends.

Crop cameras makes some lenses work better. Some lenses have acceptable image in center but worse (vignetting, other aberations,...) towards the fringe. Those lenses will produce better pictures on crop cameras because only the center will be used (given their glass is able to handle higher pixel density).

It makes your lenses longer, that is both advantage and disadvantage. As advantage this means, cheaper long tele lenses. Your 300mm prime will turn to 450mm monster. Try to compare prices of f2.8 200mm and f2.8 300mm lens to see why sport or animal photographers like crop cameras. What needs to be said, that decent converter (needed to buy just once) will remove this advantage easily so even here, the advantage is not big for those who generate income by photography.

Which is best for you?

From what we said above is obvious that for any kind of human photography, or where wide (or tall) photos need to be made, is better full frame camera. You get more architecture and landscape with same geometry distortion and you can shoot wedding without being 10m distant from people you shoot. There you can with lot of compromises work with crop camera, but this type of photography need the full frame most.

Wild animals and sport photographers on other side, might like the advantage of cheap and good long lenses without converter needed even when it means that also the sensitivity of camera is lower. Size is one good reason to stick with 200mm lens on crop camera as option to 300mm lens or teleconverter. Many people mention that you can also easier hand-hold 200mm lens than 300mm lens, but usually full frame cameras are faster so it is also small advantage, if any at all.

Simply said, get full frame camera if you can afford it. For any kind of photography it is better. Full frame cameras are more expensive with given features, so it is obvious that some compromises might be easy acceptable when given the camera price as major deciding factor. If drawbacks are less important for you than price, you will live with crop camera happily for long time with more moneys for good lenses or other hobbies.
If you are a professional, or plan to be, try to get full frame camera from start, otherwise you might find your self upgrading to full frame camera yet before old one becomes obsolete.
Posted on 15 Mar 2008

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