Making sense of camera sensors can be tricky, especially if you choose between Full Frame and APS-C. But then, looking at them in isolation doesn’t make a lot of sense. You should evaluate them based on their utilities and your photography needs.
Coming to the differences between Full Frame and APS-C, a full-frame sensor is bigger than the APS-C counterpart. Yet, there is more to the Full-Frame vs APS-C debate than just size.
Simply put, a Full-frame captures more area than an APS-C sensor. Yet, that isn’t the point where the differences end. Full-frame sensors, housed primarily by DSLR cameras, are great when getting excellent bokeh effect and low-light performances are concerned.
APS-C shooters are the most cost-effective and better bets when sports and street photography are concerned.
But then, you need to understand each sensor type in and out to assess their pros and cons better, as selecting them is often determined by your skill level as a photographer. Keeping the professional and personal requirements in mind, I have put together a detailed comparison of APS-C vs Full Frame, right to the last point.
Full Frame vs APS-C: Detailed Comparison
Now that you have a fair idea about both the sensors, it’s time to compare APS-C versus Full Frame aspect by aspect:
1. Image Quality
If you plan to go with image quality, I personally prefer Full-frame sensors on DSLRs. The reason is higher pixel pitch, allowing you to distinguish the image components better. Compared to APS-C sensors, images clicked using Full Frame have lesser noise. And even if you edit and share them, the reduced quality is still good enough for social media.
But high-end shooters like Nikon D500 make great use of APS-C sensors, which are at par with some of the best full-frame cameras. With top-notch autofocus, improved 3D tracking, and improved burst mode settings, even APS-C sensors can get you exceptional images.
2. Focal Length and Crop Factor
Before you delve into this highly technical space, it is important to first understand how the full-frame and APS-C sensors work. If you stand at the same place, aim at a specific object at a distance, and click the same using cameras with each type of sensor, the image offered by the APS-C variant will be narrower or rather cropped.
This means the equivalent focal length for the APS-C sensors is always higher as they produce narrower images or rather images that have a more restricted field of view — allowing you to concentrate on the object itself and the compactness of the click.
Most cameras with APS-C sensors have the 1.6x crop factor that automatically narrows down the area, producing compact shoots. Therefore, if you pair a 100mm lens with the APS-C camera, the equivalent focal length goes up to 160mm, making the camera good enough for wildlife and nature-specific photography.
Yes, some full-frame sensors can even shoot cropped images with a narrower field of view. Yet, they lose some quality in the process as they aren’t naturally meant for the same.
In some cases, image quality is directly proportional to image resolution. Therefore, if you fixate on the same, Full Frame sensors make more sense as they can help click images with better pixel pitch. But then, if you want to maximize the resolution-based benefits of a full-frame sensor, it is better not to shoot cropped images with the same.
APS-C sensors make sense only if you plan on shooting cropped images, and fewer pixels do not impact your preferences.
4. Low-Light Performance
As mentioned previously, Full-frame sensors have larger surface areas, making them capable of attracting more light. Also, I have already established that full-frame camera sensors have better pixel pitch, and larger pixels also stand for enhanced exposure to light.
APS-C sensors aren’t bad altogether. Instead, they perform really well when the lighting conditions are already better. However, if you frequent low-light areas, cameras with Full-frame sensors are expected to be more flexible when it comes to shutter speed and aperture.
Plus, the ISO sensitivity is also better as compared to a standard APS-C camera, owing to the larger sensor and more light entering the camera for any given setting.
5. Depth of Field
Before I move deeper, you need to understand the differences between the field of view and depth of field. Even though APS-C sensors click cropped and narrow images with narrower FoV, the lens performance can go farther— meaning that it is possible to achieve a higher depth of field with an APS-C camera.
Even full-frame shooters are excellent picks in this regard, but they cannot be paired with APS-C lenses and do lose out on some pixel juice for cropped images:
Viewfinders on digital cameras are great for the frame and even composing scenes. As a photographer, you can look through the viewfinder and ensure that everything gets captured, sans the shake. The viewfinder sits at the top and isn’t something optional for mirrorless cameras that always have viewfinders turned on.
Coming to the sensor type and viewfinders, Full Frame camera sensors make for better viewfinder choices owing to the larger surface area of 24mm x 36mm. APS-C sensors are smaller at 15.7mm x 23.6mm, which means their viewfinders offer a cropped view of the entire scene.
7. Design and Body
Full-frame sensors are larger and therefore, lens and cameras housing them are also on the beefier side. Also, you would know that Full-Frame sensors are primarily housed by large DSLR cameras with sizable viewfinders.
APS-C cameras and lenses are smaller and lighter, making them easier to carry around. Therefore, if you seek portability over everything else, especially as a backpacker, hiker, or travel junkie — I would recommend APS-C shooters over anything else.
8. File Size
Going by the standard camera traits, a Full frame sensor easily lets more light in. Therefore, the higher pixel pitch also results in higher resolution and therefore, a bigger file size. But that’s not why the file size is usually larger in the case of full-frame shooters.
Full-frame cameras also have a larger dynamic range — the detailing required between the whites and blacks. This feature also adds to the file size, making it a tad difficult to share stuff over social media without degrading the quality.
9. Lens Compatibility
First of all, APS-C cameras are more accommodative towards lenses — both Full-frame and APS-C ones. You can pair every possible lens with an APS-C camera, provided the device naturally lets you, or you have the right mount system in place.
Full-frame cameras are a tad stringent in this regard. They offer limited functionality with APS-C lenses, making it harder to work with every lens kit around. But then, they are better when wide-angle lens addition is concerned as APS-C cameras more or less crop everything in the view.
Full-frame cameras are still hailed highly by professionals, making them more expensive than usual. Also, the images have lesser noise and better ISO performances, justifying the higher prices further. The best thing about APS-C sensor lenses and camera units is that they are cost-effective, despite offering excellent shooting quality.
Frequently Asked Questions
A Full frame camera — SLR and mirrorless notwithstanding — means that the shooter incorporates a full-frame sensor within, allowing you to prioritize low-light and wide-angle clicks over everything else.
APS-C cameras are the ones featuring advanced photo system sensors, which rely more on the higher depth of field, cropped views, and cost-effectiveness.
If you are a professional who needs to focus more on low-lighting conditions and wider angles while clicking images, I would recommend a full-frame camera or a full-frame lens. Yet, if you have affordability and wildlife photography in mind, you simply cannot ignore the APS-C shooters.
A camera housing a full-frame sensor makes way for excellent print-quality photographs. Plus, you can get excellent bokeh effects, a wider view, and the most clarified viewfinders ever. In case you want to understand the niches a full-frame camera works best in, try for landscape, architectural imagery, and portraiture.
Both full-frame and APS-C sensors have well-defined roles in photography. While the former is a great option for low-light clicks and portraiture, APS-C cameras have no competition in wildlife and proxi photography. Regardless of the efficiency and other features, it all boils down to the type of photography you are interested in.
Also, if you want to experience the best of both worlds, it is advisable to pair an APS-C camera with a full-frame shooter, keeping the lens compatibility in mind. I hope this APS-C sensor vs full frame comparison helps you make an informed decision.