Full Frame vs DSLR

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Updated November 9, 2022

Within every photographic device is many intricate parts, each affecting the overall image quality of a camera. Many of the best digital camera manufacturers, like Canon and Nikon, often experiment with different features to optimize the quality of their devices. One of these parts that specifically affects the performance of the best DSLR cameras is the sensor size. To help you understand how the sensor size affects image quality and explain the options that are out there, we’ll compare full frame vs DSLR cameras below.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Full-frame cameras use a larger digital sensor to match the size of traditional 35mm film.
  • A larger sensor increases the camera’s pixel count/size, allowing for increased coloration and a more shallow depth of field.
  • Smaller “crop length” sensors are much more affordable and often better for wildlife photography because they provide extra zoom, known as crop sensor camera multipliers.

And if you liked reading this, why stop now? We have great guides on other materials, like the difference between phone cameras and DSLRs.

Insider Tip

Some camera manufacturers, like Nikon, allow users to use either full or crop lenses interchangeably on any camera type.

Difference Between DSLR and Full-Frame Camera

Knowing how to choose the best digital camera requires a strong understanding of the internal components. For example, DSLR cameras use a digital APS-C sensor to capture light. However, before the digital era, SLR cameras used 35mm film to capture light to record images.

The first digital cameras used smaller APS-C sensors (about 22 x 15mm) than the traditional 35mm film. Soon, manufacturers understood that smaller sensors reduced image quality and larger sensors allowed more information to be recorded per shot, producing a better image.

Realizing this, they began producing full-frame 35mm digital sensors. The alternative smaller sensors are still used and are called “crop-sized.” However, although full-frame DSLRs are typically known for higher quality, crop-size sensors also have their share of advantages.

If you want to brush up on these differences, we have a great article comparing digital cameras vs DSLRs.

Image Quality

A larger sensor captures a wider image, increasing the camera’s focal length. Larger sensors are also better in low and high light settings because they have larger photosites that pickup up light signals.

Also, the larger pixels increase the sharpness of the image and its dynamic range of color.

To better understand how full-frame cameras stack up against other options, read our guide on medium-format digital cameras vs full-frame sensor DSLRs.

Depth of Field

Full-frame cameras can achieve a shallower field depth, which means the ability to focus on a small area while blurring out the rest is better. This makes full-frame cameras great for portrait shots. On the other hand, regular crop-frame DSLRs will have greater trouble focusing on a small object.

Warning

There are separate lenses for both full and crop-frame cameras. Full-frame lenses will work on a crop frame camera, but the reverse usually isn’t true.

Depth of field is a crucial element in many specific types of photography. To learn more about how the various camera style can contribute to photographic style, we have an article explaining DSLR vs mirrorless cameras for astrophotography.

Affordability

Full-range sensors are much more expensive to create than crop-range sensors, costing many times more to manufacture. Because of this, full-range cameras are usually significantly more costly.

STAT: Of those living in a household where the total income was 100,000 U.S. dollars or more per year, 58 percent said that they owned Canon products. (source)

Full Frane vs DSLR FAQs

How do I know if a full-frame camera is right for me?

If you're a professional photographer or have been dissatisfied with the quality of your crop-lens camera, investing in a full-frame sensor may be the right option.

Is a full-frame sensor better for video?

Full-frame sensors are considered superior for shooting video because of their focal length advantage and ability to shoot in low-light conditions.

What is a crop sensor multiplier?

Also known as "crop factor," this ratio shows what the size of a crop sensor is about that of a full frame.
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