Full Frame or Crop Factor Camera?

If you are living in a social media bubble, you’ve likely heard or read something like this: “ALL pros shoot with a full-frame camera. So why would anyone want to use a crop factor camera?”

I admit that I may be stereotyping but the prevailing attitude in the photography world is that you need a full-frame camera to be serious photographer. Over the years, we’ve heard a number of reasons to use full-frame cameras including:

  • Most pros use full-frame cameras
  • A full-frame camera is better than a crop factor camera
  • A full-frame camera has better dynamic range or tonality
  • My photos come out better on a full-frame camera

Social media bubbles rarely represent reality. Our reality is that we almost always carry both a crop factor camera and a full-frame camera. Most professional photographers do not hesitate to grab a crop factor camera when the situation calls for it. Here are few specific situations where we tend to use a specific type of camera.

Low Light Photography

Because of its larger pixel size compared to its crop-factor counterpart, a full-frame camera is typically associated with lower noise levels at higher ISO settings. So, our first choice for shooting low-light or night photography is the full-frame camera because of its high ISO capabilities. You also need a steady tripod to capture low lit, long exposure images such as these.

Night Shot with Full Frame Camera

Canon 5D MKII – Coyote Buttes, Arizona

Large Fine Art Prints

Over time, both crop factor and full-frame camera resolution capabilities keep improving. But at any given time with similar technology, full-frame cameras have more resolution than crop sensor cameras. The reason is pretty simple – large sensors on a full-frame camera can accommodate more pixels of the same or comparable technology. We use a remote release and a tripod to get everything sharp.

Maui, Hawaii (HI), USA

Canon 5D MKIII – Maui, Hawaii (HI), USA

Shooting Wildlife or Far Away Subjects

One of the biggest drawbacks of the crop factor camera is also its biggest advantage – the multiplier effect. The crop sensor increases the effective focal length of the lens you’re using by a factor of 1.3 to 1.6, depending on the camera. The crop factor makes a wide-angle lens longer (an 18mm lens with a 1.6 crop factor has an effective focal length of 28mm) and it makes a long lens even longer (a 400mm lens on a 1.6x crop camera has an effective focal length of 640mm). Because of this, a crop factor camera is an excellent choice when shooting wildlife or far-away subjects.

Note: For those of you who are technical minded a crop factor body will increase the magnification of the lens by 1.3 to 1.6 factor. This will not change perspective like longer lenses do. This is the reason why we use term effective focal length.

  • Volcanoes National Park, Big Island, Hawaii, USA

    Volcanoes National Park, Big Island, Hawaii, USA

  • Grimsey Island, Iceland

    Grimsey Island, Iceland

Getting Close to Your Subject

When using a wide-angle lens on a crop factor body, the near DOF limit is much closer than the equivalent focal length lens on a full-frame camera. As a result, a crop factor camera can get closer to the subject than a full-frame camera for the same field of view. Crop factor cameras are great when you want to get really close to your subject and still shoot wide. We were awfully happy to have a crop factor camera in Utah’s slot canyons!

Zebra Canyon, Grand Staircase-Esalante National Monument - Utah, USA

Canon 40D – Zebra Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument – Utah, USA

So… the choice between a crop factor camera and a full-frame camera comes down to the photography situation. There’s no “right” answer. We personally like to have one of each so that, when we are in the field, we can choose the right camera for the job.

About Author Jay Patel

I could startoff like this – “Seeds of Jay Patel’s appreciation for beautiful places were planted early in his childhood….” but it would get boring really fast. I will just sum it up and say that I am a Landscape and Wilderness Photographer who loves to capture dramatic light. My photographs have been published in various magazines, calendars and advertising materials throughout the world.
Patience is a virtue...unless you are chasing your dreams