Digital SLR Camera Lenses – Sensor Types

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 That frame in a digital camera has been replaced by an electronic sensor that captures the image.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 Sensors

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.

crop sensor vs full frame

Full-Frame(red) vs Cropped(blue)

Medium Format

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

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.

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9 Comments

  1. I work a lot with premiere pro and have to crop a lot of frame out of the picture, it would be great if a camera could do that without zooming in. My son takes the pictures I usually edit, I have feeling he doesn’t know too much about crop sensors. I will have to point this out to him. 

    Like you say full frame may too much to take on early in the game, once he becomes more accustomed to the taking pictures then he may be able to handle a camera with this capability as well. Thanks for the great article.

    1. Author

      If your work is generating enough capital, then you might want to consider going full frame. Full frame cameras have that advantage of capturing that extra space with greater resolution.

  2. Holy moly! I had heard certain cameras were very expensive but had no idea just how pricey they could be. So for the crop or the full-frame camera, what kind of price would you suggest a decent quality one for a beginner should be around? You don’t want to pay top dollar but also not go too cheap, ya know? Your advice?

  3. Holy Moly! I had heard that cameras could be pricey but had NO IDEA how expensive that meant they could be! So in terms of the more reasonable full-frame or crop cameras, what do you suggest a decent price range would be, because I don’t want to necessarily by top of the line but certainly don’t wish too go too cheap, ya know?

    1. Author

      Nikon and Canon sell starter kits. The Crop models are priced around $500 to $700 (Sale price).

      These are great kits.  Full frames are more pricey.  They start around $2000

  4. I found this article very interesting, it explains the picture frames and formats well . I do find that I often get confused when using my camera which setting to use and when. And not understanding these points will lead to not capturing your photo at its best.

    Next time I am using my camera I will refer back to this article and get this right! Thank you!

    1. Author

      Please read my other articles that explain the different setting such as aperture, iso, and shutter speed. Hopefully these will help you capture a great photo

  5. Nice simple review of DSLR lenses.

    I hadn’t heard about the lat two options.

    It sounds like for the really best results, a full format lens is the best.

    What is the price difference between the two and are they interchangeable on the same camera?

    Also what is the actual resolution of the two options?

    Look forward to your feedback.

    Tim

    1. Author

      Hello  Tim.  If you plan to take your photography to the next level, then yes, a full-frame options is the way to go.  But if you’re an enthusiast or a beginner who don’t want to spend a lot on camera equipment, the crop sensor camera is a great choice. Crop sensor cameras are very well equipped for taking great shots.  And the prices for these cameras is very reasonable compared with full frame cameras.

      These lenses are interchangeable for the most part. Full frame lens will fit crop camera.

      Crop lens will fit full frame camera, but all four corners of your image may be missing due to the larger  size of the  full frame camera sensor.

      Hope this helps.

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