Make sense of sensors : Is now the time to go full frame ?

 

If you are thinking about upgrading your SLR or compact system camera (CSC) you may be wondering whether to stick with a conventional APS-C sensor or splash out on a camera with a full-frame chip. The good news is that full-frame cameras have got cheaper over the last few years, so it’s worth a quick recap of their benefits.

First, the science bit. A full frame sensor derives its name from the fact that it is the same size as 35mm film negative ‘frame.’ As a result, its light sensitive pixels (photosites) can be bigger than those on smaller (and cheaper) APS-C format and Micro

Four Thirds sensors. More light can enter these larger photosites on full-frame sensors, and you can see the benefit in your pictures. You often get a wider dynamic range and less image interference, or noise. Another big advantage of full frame is that they capture more of the scene compared to an APS-C sensor – this is referred to as the crop factor.

Make sense of sensors

You can read a very full explanation of crop factor here http://www.my-photo-school.com/2013/04/19/the-crop-factor-explained/ but suffice to say, full frame sensors are particularly good for wide-angle scenes and portraits. Your camera is literally recording the bigger picture, and portrait and nature photographers in particular really appreciate how easy it is to get shallow depth of field with full frame.

So why doesn’t everyone rush out and upgrade to full frame? One of the primary reasons is cost. Full-frame sensors are more expensive to produce, though the cost is coming down. An entry level full-frame SLR like the Nikon D610 costs around £1300, but that’s body only; Nikon’s well-regarded APS-C SLR, the Nikon D7100, costs about £300 less, and that includes a 24 megapixels and a decent 18-105mm lens.

Lenses designed for full-frame SLRs are significantly more expensive, too. Also some photographers prefer the way that the crop factor on APS-C sensors gives them more effective telephoto ‘reach’ into the scene. Raw images from full-frame sensors can be quite large too, which again, is a pro or a con depending on your perspective. The 36Mp Nikon D800, for example, kicks out 30Mb-plus raw files which show a great level of detail and are very croppable, but they can also show up a lot of flaws in your technique and slow your computer down.

Make-sense-of-sensors-1Also, don’t disregard the physically smaller sensors in compact system cameras, particularly those based on Micro Four Thirds. The design and quality lenses of some of the best Micro Four Third CSCs – such as the Olympus OM-D E-M1 – still produce fantastic results, and CSCs are obviously a lot more stylish and easier to carry around.

Make-sense-of-sensors-2

If you want the best of both words, the Sony RX-10 is the first full-frame compact system camera, but it will set you back a whopping £2,500.

Make-sense-of-sensors-3

So to recap. I’d argue that the decision to go full frame should be based on your ability level and the type of photography you like to do. For cost-conscious enthusiast photographers, a decent APS-C SLR or Micro Four Thirds CSC should be fine, and you can put the money you’ve saved towards a better lens or good tripod. If you are a real nature, landscape or portrait/wedding specialist, and want to sell images commercially, then full frame is worth the investment.

Don’t expect a full-frame sensor to somehow compensate for your technical shortcomings and budget lenses though – if anything it will make them even more obvious!

Categories:

Geoff Harris

Geoff is an award-winning photography journalist, who launched some of the UK’s first digital photography magazines in the late 90s. He’s recently enjoyed a highly successful period as editor of Digital Camera, which became Britain’s best-selling photography magazine under his leadership. Digital Camera was also […]

Topic Filter: Commercial / Landscape / Portrait / Stock / What's Hot

Related Tutorials

Interviews

Martin Lawrence

After many years as a keen amateur photographer, I decided to start a small landscape photography business called Lakescenes which I ran alongside my main job as an IT Manager. As business increased, I found myself working long, but rewarding, hours just to keep up […]

Read More

Rob Sheppard

Rob Sheppard is a naturalist, nature photographer and videographer who says his favorite location is the one he is in at any time. He is the author/photographer of over 40 books, as well as a well-known speaker and workshop leader, and a Fellow with the […]

Read More

Gary Hart

Gary Hart has photographed California’s natural beauty for over 30 years. Gary’s photos and writing have appeared in many publications, most recently Outdoor Photographer and Sierra Heritage magazines. You’ll also find his images in greeting cards, postcards, calendars, and many galleries and private collections throughout the world.

Read More

Jaroslav Wieczorkiewicz

Originally from Poland, based in London UK, Jaroslav has background in Fine Arts, degree in Architecture, and wide array of experience. Being an Architect taught him how to be resourceful and to solve complex problems with simple, yet innovative solutions. Constant passion for graphic & […]

Read More

What's Hot

7 Pro Tips for Better Portraits

We asked portraits pros to share their best tactics for framing up a subject. Many decisions go into shooting a single portrait. Often, as we chat with our subjects, we’re not even aware that we’re making choices about framing, subject distance and position, color palette, […]

Read More

Photoshop: Color that packs a punch

I like to see lovely saturated color in my photos but sometimes the color I capture just doesn’t do justice to the subject and it isn’t what I remember the scene looked like. Boosting the color can turn a lackluster image into one that totally […]

Read More

Improve Your Shots by Getting Closer

Getting low and tilting your camera up can help too. One of photography’s most honored axioms states: If your picture stinks, get closer. And while this makes for a trusty guide for improving a shot, getting close is only half the story. Getting low and […]

Read More