In this post we will talk about different sensor types. Digital SLR cameras come in two different sensor types. They are, Full – Frame and Crop Sensor. Basically These are the actual physical size of the sensor. Similarly, digital SLR camera lenses also come in these two formats. The other types, not so common, but extremely expensive, are the Medium Format and the Lagre Format.
Full – Frame Sensor.
A common description of Full – Frame sensor is that it is equivalent to the 35mm film camera format. This is a very true description. The image is projected on a film that is approximately 36mm X 24mm. If you measure the old film negatives, every frame would measure about 36mmx24mm. That frame in a digital camera has been replaced by an electronic sensor that captures the image. And the size of that sensor is 35mmx24mm. Some camera manufacturers refer to them as FX format.
Full frame sensors are larger when compared with crop sensors. Cameras equipped with full-frame sensors offer better image quality for they have higher resolution. Larger surface area allows larger angle of view and higher resolutions allows more detailed image. Large sensor is more suitable for low light situations for its ability to capture more light. Full frame sensor cameras are also much more expensive because of their higher manufacturing cost. These cameras are a common choice for enthusiasts and professional photographers.
Crop sensor, simply put, are smaller than the full frame sensor. Hence, the term cropped. The term is used in reference to the 35mm sensor. Crop sensors are also referred to as APS-C. It stands for Advanced Photo Systems type C. This is equivalent to the classic film negatives (25.1mm X16.7 mm).
Crop sensor cameras offer better quality than point and shoot cameras as they can collect more light, but not as good as a full frame camera. The resolution on crop sensor camera is not as high as full frame sensor. Every camera manufacturer offers slight variation of these sensors. Some are slightly larger or smaller than the other.
Crop senors have what is known as a crop factor or focal length multiplier. Every camera manufacturer has their own crop factor. Typically, these numbers look like 1.53, 1.54, 1.57 etc. These numbers are used to calculate the field of view equivalent to Full-Frame camera. For example if you take 35mm crop sensor lens and mount it on a camera with a crop factor of 1.57, it will have the same field of view as a 55mm lens mounted on a full frame camera.
(Math: 35mm lens X 1.57 crop factor = appx 55mm)
So you could almost get the same field of view with crop sensors but with variant lenses.
Full-Frame(red) vs Cropped(blue)
Medium Format is generally referred to anything larger than 35mm Full Frame and smaller than large format-discussed next. These sensors come in sizes up to 53mm X 40mm, with a resolution of 60 Mega Pixels. The higher resolution along with greater sensor surface area allow for distinctively highly detailed and lifelike photography. The price tag on these cameras is substantially higher. A new medium format camera generally retails around $10,000 to $32,000. Medium Format was once very popular choice for many photographers. Due to its high cost, its now only used by some niche photographer and enthusiasts.
Large Format is anything 80mm X 50mm or higher. Sensors of this size are not available in consumer market.
Which type is the best?
It does not really matter. If you’re a beginner and learning photography, the Crop sensor camera may be a good choice. It also depends on you budget. Crop sensor or also referred to as DX format, has come a long way. Sometimes its very hard to tell the difference. You can put together a DX format cameras in a considerably less price compared to a full frame.
Some manufacturers allow same lens to be mounted on either the DX or FX. However, if you mount a DX lens on a FX body, your image will be missing from all four edges.
Full Frame camera system will definitely give you that creative edge over the Crop Sensor, but you may not be fully experienced to take full advantage of its functionality.
Which ever format you choose, ultimately your creativity will be put to the test.