Cheers everyone! Are you about to buy a new camera in the next time? Each of us is constantly thinking about improving our equipment, right?

In case you’re about to upgrade your equipment this article might be helpful for you. Each aspiring photographer is having this basic question at some point of his journey – should the next one be a Full Frame camera or a Crop camera, which camera is better for my needs?

What is the difference between Crop and Full Frame?

Easily said the difference between a crop and a full frame camera are a couple of thousand bucks in your wallet 😀 Joke aside, there are some more differences, for example the actual physical size of the cameras sensor.

A full frame camera is running on a bigger (full frame) sensor, equal to the analogue 35mm film. The difference between full frame and crop is that one that the sensor in a crop camera is “cropped down” 1.5/1.6 times compared to the full frame sensor. Photographers are talking at this point about the “crop factor”. For most of the AP-C and crop sensor DSLRs the crop factor is 1.5 or 1.6, depending on what camera you’re using.

Let’s do some simple math. For myself I’m shooting portrait with a 50mm lens on a full frame camera. The view of field with a 50mm lens is exactly 50mm. But if I’m using the 50mm lens on a crop camera the smaller sensor and therefore the crop factor are dropping in: 50mm x 1.5 crop factor = 75mm. So if you’re planning to shoot 75mm portraits with a crop camera you just need to buy a 50mm lens, the crop factor will do it’s magic.

As I am more a graphical learner (I hated math in school) let’s just keep it like this (image above): A full frame camera is having the view of field like it is written on the lens (14mm view of field with a 14mm lens), a crop camera will zoom in automatically (21mm view of field with a 14mm lens).

What else?

So for now we figured out that the full frame sensor is a little bit bigger compared to the crop sensor. This size difference goes along with some more technical aspects.

As the bigger sensor can handle more light it’s advantage is that the full frame sensor can handle higher ISO settings. The larger sensor can store more image information, especially in low light situations. But that’s it already, that’s the only reason to get a full frame.

Having this said I’m excited what the camera development during the next couple of years will bring us. Some couple of years ago one had to buy a full frame camera in order to get an ISO of 800. Crazy, right? Nowadays crop cameras like the Nikon D7100 can already handle ISO 6.400! That is a huge development. Crop cameras are getting better and better, they are right now at a pretty high technical level. And they are less expensive than the full frame cameras.

So what camera is better for my need?

Let’s recap shortly. The difference between a full frame and a crop camera is the size of the sensor. Still though the crop cameras made huge developing steps through the past couple of years. Now the interesting question – what camera is the best one for you? Let’s go through four simple questions that you should ask yourself if you consider a new camera:

1. Am I getting paid for photography or am I a hobby photographer?

2. What kind of stuff do I shoot?

3. What aspects of my current camera are limiting me?

4. What is my budget?

Lets go step by step through the questions above.

1. Am I getting paid for photography or am I a hobby photographer?

While this step is a simple Yes or No answer, the final outcome is basically the answer of the crop vs. full frame question. In case you are getting paid for photography the next two questions are interesting for you. In case you’re shooting every now and then with friends or somewhere outside during your vacation (hobby photography) you can step the next two questions and jump directly into question number 4 – what is my budget?

2. What kind of stuff do I shoot?

There are a few things to consider with this questions. Do you need a small light camera for traveling or a big and heavy full frame body with the FX lenses? And especially it’s important to ask yourself the question: What kind of stuff do I shoot?

If you are a vacation photographer (hobby photographer) where you are shooting mostly during the day time while being on vacation then the technical stuff like a super high ISO is not relevant. Do you need a full frame camera? Definitely No.

If you are an adventure photographer where you are constantly shooting outdoors, especially during the night (stars), in the early morning hours (blue hour, sunrise) or even more advanced shooting the northern lights, then you need a camera that is capable to work with higher ISO settings without getting noise. Another point when it comes to landscape photography – with a 14mm lens on a full frame camera you will actually get a 14mm view of field. Which means you can basically capture the whole scenario in front of you. Furthermore your camera does need to be really robust and work in any conditions (check out my review about the Nikon D750 at this point). Do you need a full frame camera? Probably Yes, the full frame will help you a lot.

If you are a wedding photographer where you are shooting in low-light conditions most of the time (church ceremonies without flash) then you are going to need a higher ISO performance. At this point a full frame camera can help you to get better results. Do you need a full frame camera? Probably not, the crop cameras got good enough. Five years ago, definitely yes.

 If you are a portrait photographer where you are shooting either on location or in a studio with external light settings there is no need to work with a high ISO. Do you need a full frame camera? No.

 If you are a wildlife and sports photographer where you are shooting looooonger distances you might actually think about a crop camera. Sounds crazy, right? But at this point you can use the “crop factor” to your advantage. Due to the crop factor you can narrow your field of view as your 200mm lens will do the job like a 300mm lens!

3. What aspects of my current camera are limiting me?

For most photographers out there the main limitation is the ISO. Let’s say you’re shooting landscapes on low light conditions with your crop camera and your images are getting grainy with an 2.500 ISO then an upgrade would be approved from my side. This issue is affecting the quality of your work and therefore also your customers images. A new full frame camera can help you out with a much higher ISO without getting noisy images.

In case you’re shooting sports and you are looking for a faster shutter speed a full frame upgrade will not do the job. The fastest low budget full frame by Nikon, the Nikon D750 with 6.5 images per second, is already at 2.000$. There are cameras that are faster, but they start with 5.000$ (body only). In that case you can consider a mirrorless camera, those guys are amazing when it comes to the shutter speed.

Let’s say you’re shooting portrait with your old crop camera and you’re having problems with the auto focus. A new camera will definitely help you out to get sharpener photos, but there is no need to get a full frame camera. The new crop systems are as good as full frame camera when it comes to focusing and image quality.

Shortly said, if you’re having problems with your ISO at 2.500 then a full frame might be a solution. If you’re fine with the ISO but having other limitations (auto focus, shutter speed and so on) there is no need to go full frame, a crop camera will do the job while saving your wallet.

4. What is my budget?

And now the crucial part when it comes to crop vs. full frame cameras. The costs and the hidden costs. Full frame cameras start with around 2.000$ for the body, but they can go up easily towards 5 or 6.000$. The crop guys are at a 500$ up to 1.500$ range.

If you’re getting paid for what you are doing and you need to work with high ISO, then the money for a full frame might be worth it. Otherwise (in any other case) you can spend your money more wisely.

Keep in mind that the professional lenses for full frame cameras (FX) are different to crop camera lenses (DX). They are different by technical aspects, but also different by costs. While you can get great DX lenses for a range of 100$ up to 600$ the FX lenses can easily go up to 2.500$ per lens!

Upgrading from crop to full frame will not only cost you a new camera but also new lenses (using DX lenses on full frame cameras does not make sense). That’s when things are getting really expensive.

Final words

Some thoughts and words from my side. Photography is about the creativity, about the challenges with low light situations. There is one part that is far more important then any technical equipment – that part is called “the photographer”. It’s about how you can handle the equipment, it’s about your knowledge. Focus on your own style, improve your skills, invest in yourself in order to get more stunning shots and you’re going to see some results. The camera is only the thing that is physically capturing the shot, the one who is doing it is your own creativity. Equipment does not matter that much, some guys can do stunning shots with their iPhones 😉

Do you know already know how your next upgrade will look like? Let me know it in the comments! 🙂 

Rock on,

Ingmar

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