Which one to buy, a camera with Full frame or an APSC sensor?

full frame and APSC
Arabian Sea, Mangalore, India

Many ask me the question on what camera sensor should I consider while buying a DSLR – a full frame or an APSC (APS-C – Advanced Photographic System) sensor camera? This question is something that I usually get from those who already know something about Photography or at-least they understand the basics of Photography. Many consider that you get best images only because of full frame. But, before we comment anything about that, one should know where to use a full frame or an APSC sensor DSLR cameras. I will not be speaking about which brand is good as most of them have almost the same technical specification. I’m currently a Nikon user and my explanation will be based on my hands-on experience in using Nikon Full frame camera. Here are few things that you might want to consider before choosing one.

A bit on sensor size – The full frame camera has a sensor which is of the same size as a frame of a 35mm film. An APSC camera has a much smaller sensor size and has a crop factor of 1.5x or 1.6x depending on camera brand. So, when a 300m telephoto lens is used to capture an image: using full frame you get the same output of 300mm where as using APSC sensor you get a zoom of around 450/480mm, for the same lens with the same settings.

Quality and Size – The images are larger and are of best quality. A 14 bit RAW image on my Nikon D600 is about 30 MB. Quality wise, a full frame performs much better than a camera with APSC sensor. One is because of the 24MP+ sensor and the other is the large sensor size, with much larger individual pixels. The size of the photosites (individual pixel) is larger in full frame than the APSC sensors even though both the cameras can be of 24MPs. Full frames have much better way of handling low light as they have larger photosites and hence users will not have an issue even if the ISO is increased to a much higher level to few thousands.

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Usage type – A full frame sensor will give you a smaller depth of field and is ideal for portraiture so that you can use wide aperture and blur the background, thereby making the subject look great. But if you are looking for a larger depth of field then an APSC sensor would be better. This is useful in case you want everything to be in focus like landscape shots. It’s not that you cannot achieve the same using full frame, but you need to have a lens with low aperture and a tripod is a must as you will be using slower shutter speed. When it comes to wildlife and sports, it’s the same story where you might need that extra zoom to get to the subject and APSC helps, but people go for full frames because of the quality and the features that a full frame camera provides.

Price – Full frame cameras are very costly and each of it’s lens will be even more costlier. When you are spending money in buying such expensive body, do not think about buying a cheaper glass. Go for high quality glass, it is costly but it’s worth buying if you are into professional photography business.

Here goes the lens and camera combination (for Nikon and same is the case for other brands as well) that you need to know before buying a camera lens or body.

Camera with APSC Sensor = DX Body; Camera with Full frame Sensor = FX Body

DX Body + DX Lens = DX Output ==> Ideal for beginners.

DX Body + FX Lens = DX Output ==> If you have plans to upgrade to Full Frame.

FX Body + DX Lens = DX Output ==> No point in having a FX Body.

FX Body + FX Lens = FX Output ==> Best Pro output.

It’s up to you to choose on which camera sensor you want depending on the usage type. Also, usually people start photography with a camera which has APSC sensor and later upgrade to a full frame. There is nothing like a full frame is used only by professionals or having an expensive camera doesn’t make you a Pro. It’s just that these full frame cameras have better technology used in handling other stuffs like low light capability, more cross points, better body and many more features.

The above image is captured using Nikon D600 (Full frame) with a FX/DX lens at Surathkal beach, Arabian Sea where the cargo ships were waiting in line ready to be docked at New Mangalore Port. I would say invest more in lens than the camera body as camera body is for upgrade where as lens is for lifetime. If you can afford to buy a full frame then go for it. The camera that I use is Nikon D600 and above have both DX and FX mode of capturing an image, FX by default. I usually use FX, but sometimes just to get more closer to the subject, I switch to DX mode.

Here is an interesting video that you might want to watch: