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Full Frame vs Crop

In: 
Published: 11/10/2021

Choosing a camera system is among the most crucial decisions for a photographer because it can influence how you buy accessories and take pictures. In the never-ending battle in full frame vs crop, you need to learn their similarities and differences to know the best time to use each.

Full Frame vs Crop: General Overview

Every digital camera contains a sensor, a rectangular component that reads and records an image according to the light entering the lens. The two major categories are full frame and crop sensors. Let's begin with a run-through of each type.

Full Frame

A full frame is an image sensor that has the same dimensions as a 35mm celluloid film. This standard size is the largest space available for a full projection, making it the most expensive yet professional camera sensor. 

Canon EOS 5D

The bigger size also translates to more megapixels, allowing full frame systems to retain dynamic range even when shooting in low light. Since it has a shorter focal length, it generates a shallow depth of field.

Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 6D, Nikon D750, and Nikon D800 are examples of popular models with full frame sensors.

Crop Sensor

A crop frame sensor has smaller dimensions than 35mm. The smaller sensor crops an image's corners to create a tighter field of view. Hence, if you attach a 50mm lens to a crop sensor camera with a 1.5x crop factor, your focal length equals a 75mm lens.

The sensor size may depend on the brand. For example, Canon's APS-C units have a 1.6x crop factor, whereas APS-C cameras from Nikon and Sony consist of a 1.5x crop factor. Meanwhile, micro four-thirds systems from Panasonic and Olympus usually contain a 2x crop factor.

Nikon D3200, Nikon D500, Canon 70D, and Canon 60D are among the most in-demand crop sensor cameras. 

Full Frame vs Crop

American home sales fell despite the slow price growth in August 2020. Despite that, the residential property market continues to recover with 16% higher sales during the first 8 months of 2021.

As the property market continues this trend, you will also see opportunities to work with home sellers and realtors. With that said, it's essential that you prepare for expected jobs by determining the similarities and differences between full frame and crop sensors. 

Similarities Between Full Frame and Crop

Despite being 2 completely different categories, crop and full frame sensors still share some aspects. It's important you know them to find the best camera for real estate photography or other niches.

  • Sensor Format: Full frame and crop are both image sensor formats that contain light-sensitive spots for recording information. When DSLRs came out, camera manufacturers used 35mm sensors to help people adjust from film to digital. As camera technology became expensive, smaller and cheaper crop sensors entered the market.
  • Depth of Field: The depth of field depends on the lens and the maximum aperture. Still, both types can provide a shallow or deeper depth of field. This is why it's equally important that you know how to apply the proper camera settings and focus.
  • Detail and Resolution: The camera sensor isn't the only factor in image quality. As long as your chosen megapixel count is appropriate for your type of photography, both sensor types can provide your desired output.

Differences Between Full Frame and Crop

Photography professionals and enthusiasts continue to buy DSLR and mirrorless cameras, bringing the global digital camera market to $13.1 billion in 2020. This is despite the growth of high-quality cameras in smartphones. With more cameras entering the market, it's also vital that you know how to differentiate the features.

Nikon D3200

Focal Length Measurements and Field of View

Full frame cameras have a fixed 35mm sensor. On the other hand, crop sensors can have varying dimensions, including 23.6mm x 15.6mm, 22.2mm x 14.8mm, 18.7mm x 14mm, 17.3mm x 13mm, and 8.8mm x 6.6mm.

The difference in focal length also depends on the multiplier. For instance, a crop sensor camera with 12.8mm x 9.6mm may have a 2.7x crop factor. This crop factor results in a narrower field of view compared to a full frame sensor.

Remember that a longer focal length is necessary when using large sensors to photograph the exact field of view. This is why full frame is common in landscape and real estate photography because you need to capture the accurate vastness of space.

Dynamic Range and Pixel Density

The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a 2.3% job growth for property agents between 2019 to 2029. This includes approximately 8,700 jobs opportunities.

However, agents and realtors would want to work with professional real estate photographers who have comprehensive knowledge about the job.

  • Among the essential elements in photography is dynamic range, which refers to a camera sensor's capacity to record brightness. 
  • A higher dynamic range means more details, shadows, and highlights to recover. Thus, you need an excellent dynamic range if you want to recover blown-out highlights during post-processing.
  • Most full frame DSLRs have the highest dynamic ranges, providing you with higher contrast shots. Even if you take overexposed or underexposed photos, you can better edit the highlights or shadows.
  • A full frame and crop sensor camera can both have 24 million pixels. However, a crop system will pack the pixels closer in a smaller sensor, while a full frame will have bigger and better pixels.

Low Light Performance

You can use both crop and full frame sensors in low-light situations, especially if you're using the best off-camera flash or external lights. However, the bigger size in a full frame sensor allows it to capture more light, bringing in more details with less noise.  

Furthermore, having excellent low-light capabilities means you won't need to compensate much in terms of ISO values.

Body Size and Weight

Full frame DSLRs are bulkier because of the large size sensors. However, if you'll be using a tripod most of the time, like for studio and real estate photography, you won't be feeling the weight that much.

On the other hand, the compact size of crop sensor cameras is valuable if you normally walk around while shooting, like in photojournalism, events, or travel photography. 

Even when attaching a battery grip, lens, and external flash to a crop sensor camera, it weighs significantly lighter than a full frame DSLR.

Canon full frame camera

Lenses

While crop sensor cameras have dedicated lenses, some full frame lenses work on them. In contrast, full frame DSLRs won't accept crop sensor lenses.

Unfortunately, this may limit your lens choices and make you spend more in the long run.

Cost

Despite a decline in camera shipments since 2011 due to the advancement of smartphone camera technology, over 15 million digital cameras were shipped globally in 2019. This decline in sales numbers resulted in a 5% increase in the prices of digital cameras over the last couple of years.

This means you can buy highly affordable crop-sensor cameras without sacrificing image quality. However, if you have more budget and want to work as a full-time real estate photographer, a more expensive full frame DSLR may suit you better.

Major Distinguishing Factor

A full frame consists of the standard dimensions for a camera sensor size, which is 35mm film or 24mm x 36mm. Meanwhile, a crop sensor is any size that's smaller than the 35mm frame, including micro four-thirds systems.

When to Use Full Frame

Use a full frame camera if you typically need to print images at large sizes to ensure the highest resolution even when you crop. It's also best to use a full frame if you're generally shooting in low-light environments and broad spaces, including landscape, nature, and real estate photography.

It's worth investing in a full frame camera if photography is a huge part of your life or a vital tool of your career, as you'll be needing it most of the time.

When to Use Crop

Use a crop sensor if your photography style involves zooming into the subject and you need incredible focus, much like in wildlife and sports photography. A crop sensor is also ideal if you want to achieve a deeper depth of field.

Moreover, it would be better to use a crop sensor if you want a smaller, lighter, and cheaper starter camera.

The Verdict

Despite contrasts in pixels, the field of view, and price, full frame and crop sensors are valuable sensor sizes with superb image quality. Nevertheless, the best camera for your real estate photography needs is the one that can meet your technical requirements, budget, and desired output.

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