What is bet­ter to choose — a cam­era with a full-frame matrix (full frame) or cropped? And what is it any­way? If you thought about it and delved into the top­ic, then you came across pro­fes­sion­al pho­to forums, where the dis­cus­sion began for health, and end­ed in mean­ing­less dis­putes on abstract top­ics.

We fig­ured out this dif­fi­cult top­ic, found out the dif­fer­ence between a full frame and a crop, and col­lect­ed the pros and cons of both full frame and under­es­ti­mat­ed crop cam­eras.

Choos­ing between crop and full frame, the new­com­er is left alone with this dif­fi­cult ques­tion, or receives a cat­e­gor­i­cal and sim­ple answer in the spir­it of “what is more expen­sive is bet­ter”, which does not take into account the needs of the pho­tog­ra­ph­er / Source: unsplash.com

What is crop and how is it dif­fer­ent from full frame?
What are megapix­els in a matrix
Crop or full frame? Pros and cons
Pros of cropped cam­eras
Minus cropped cam­eras
Who is a cropped cam­era suit­able for?
Advan­tages of full frame cam­eras
Cons of full frame cam­eras
Who should use a full frame cam­era?

What is crop and how is it different from full frame?

Crop cam­eras are cam­eras with a “cropped”, that is, as it were, cropped, reduced matrix. The matrix is ​​the most impor­tant, expen­sive and com­plex part of the cam­era. It is on it that light enters the cam­era through the lens, which it con­verts into an image.

The bluish square that is vis­i­ble behind the lens mount is the cam­er­a’s matrix / Source: unsplash.com

The prog­en­i­tor of the matrix is ​​the film in old cam­eras. One frame of film is a 36x24mm square. It is this phys­i­cal size of the matrix that is tak­en as the start­ing point and is called the full frame (also called the full frame). All cam­eras with a matrix size of less than 36x24mm are cropped.

Sim­ply put, for crop cam­eras, the matrix is, as it were, “cut off” at the edges. Visu­al­ly, it looks like this: if you take pic­tures from the same dis­tance and at one lens on a crop cam­era and a full frame, you get the impres­sion that the pho­to from the full frame seemed to have been cut off on the sides with scis­sors and a crop turned out. Because of this, it seems that the crop seems to “shoot clos­er” — the focal length of the lens increas­es. So the “clas­sic” 50mm lens on the crop will pro­duce a por­trait image, as if you are pho­tograph­ing at 80mm, and the por­trait lens com­plete­ly turns into a tele­pho­to lens.

What are megapixels in a matrix

By the way, novice pho­tog­ra­phers are con­fused by the fact that often full-frame and crop matri­ces are dif­fer­ent in size, but the num­ber of megapix­els is the same. And some­times you can find mod­els where crop cam­eras have even more. Is it good or bad? Should it be pur­sued? Read more about matri­ces and pix­els in this text, and we will briefly recall below.

The matrix con­sists of light-sen­si­tive ele­ments — diodes or pix­els, as they are called in the “dig­i­tal space” — in phones, on com­put­er mon­i­tors and lap­tops. They are respon­si­ble for “catch­ing” the light that enters the cam­era. The larg­er the phys­i­cal pix­el size, the bet­ter.

Pix­els are like cells of bal­conies in a house. The more win­dows and the larg­er they are, the more light enters the room (on the cam­era matrix) / Source: unsplash.com

It turns out that crop matri­ces, even with the same num­ber of megapix­els, will catch light worse and in small­er vol­umes. By the way, this is why mod­ern phone mod­els with a huge num­ber of megapix­els in the cam­era char­ac­ter­is­tics still give notice­ably worse qual­i­ty than cam­eras. And so we came to the main thing — the pros and cons and cons of crop cam­eras.

Crop or full frame? Pros and cons

When choos­ing between crop and full frame, weigh your needs, bud­get, and the fre­quen­cy and type of your shoots / Source: unsplash.com

Pros of cropped cameras

+ The cam­era pho­tographs “larg­er”, increas­ing the focal length of the lens. Don’t like it? Buy a spe­cial adapter — a speed­boost­er. It not only com­plete­ly or almost com­plete­ly elim­i­nates the crop fac­tor (how much the cam­era crops and zooms in), but can also increase aper­ture. And so from one lens you get two.

+ More optics options. Full frame lens­es fit cropped cam­eras. The reverse process (when a crop lens is suit­able for full-frame cam­eras) does not work for all man­u­fac­tur­ers (for exam­ple, Canon) — if you put a crop lens on a full frame, you will break the cam­era.

+ Com­pact­ness. Cropped cam­eras tend to be much small­er and lighter than full frame cam­eras.

+ Bud­get. Often, for the price of just one “car­cass” (“naked” cam­era with­out optics) of a full frame, you can buy a crop cam­era and a lens (or even sev­er­al) in addi­tion. Lens­es, by the way, are also cheap­er than full-frame ones.

+ Pho­to may appear sharp­er. This is because a full frame has a wider field of view, and lens­es often lose sharp­ness around the edges.

Minus cropped cameras

- Noise, if you shoot in poor light­ing con­di­tions and at night. This is where small matri­ces lose to the full frame.

- Dif­fi­cult to get ultra-wide angle.

- Worse back­ground blur, hard­er to get bokeh than full frame.

- Already dynam­ic range. That is, when com­pared with full-frame cam­eras, details in shad­ows and high­lights are lost.

Who is a cropped camera suitable for?

A crop cam­era is a small and mobile “machine” that is great for get­ting start­ed / Source: unsplash.com
  • You are a begin­ner who has just start­ed tak­ing pic­tures. You don’t know yet whether you will do it, whether it will cap­ture you? Then there is no point in spend­ing mon­ey on an expen­sive full-frame cam­era, which will then gath­er dust on the shelf.
  • You have a lim­it­ed bud­get. The soon­er you move from the­o­ry to prac­tice, the bet­ter. It is impos­si­ble to become a pho­tog­ra­ph­er with­out a cam­era. It is bet­ter to buy a crop and start shoot­ing than to wait until you have the right amount.
  • You are an ama­teur. You don’t need a cam­era every day, you don’t plan to make mon­ey on this busi­ness and take pic­tures pure­ly for your­self. You don’t need flashy qual­i­ty to print in mag­a­zines and bill­boards.
  • You want a com­pact cam­era to take with you occa­sion­al­ly on fam­i­ly out­ings and trav­els, and you don’t need a huge colos­sus that weighs sev­er­al kilo­grams with a lens.
  • You only take pic­tures in stu­dios. Light — espe­cial­ly pulsed — works won­ders. Thanks to him, you will get a good qual­i­ty pic­ture even with a bud­get cam­era and lens.

Advantages of full frame cameras

+ Beau­ti­ful blur and bokeh.

+ Less noise if you are pho­tograph­ing with poor or insuf­fi­cient light. Also, as a rule, the work­ing ISO val­ue of full-frame cam­eras is high­er. This means that the frame will be brighter, and there will be less noise.

+ Wide dynam­ic range. That is, the pho­tographs will have more infor­ma­tion in the high­lights and shad­ows. For exam­ple, when shoot­ing land­scapes, there is less chance of get­ting a beau­ti­ful sky and “knocked out” into black water / field / for­est belt.

+ Deep­er col­ors. This means that the cam­era cap­tures more shades and mid­tones. This is espe­cial­ly impor­tant if you like when there are few con­trasts, col­ors and shades in the pho­to, you are drawn to min­i­mal­ism and black and white pho­tographs.

+ Ultra wide angle. You can use the ultra wide-angle lens with­out fear of the cam­era cut­ting off the edges.

Cons of full frame cameras

- Price. For the price of one full-frame cam­era, you can assem­ble a com­plete begin­ner’s starter kit with a crop cam­era, a lens and a cou­ple of “gad­gets”, such as flash dri­ves, a pho­to back­pack or a tri­pod to boot.

- Vignetting and drop in sharp­ness at the edges of the frame. Lens­es are not per­fect. Because of this, often the edges of the frame are slight­ly dark­ened — a vignette appears, and sharp­ness also drops. In crop cam­eras, this is imper­cep­ti­ble — the cropped matrix sim­ply “cuts off” these short­com­ings.

- Weight and size.

Who should use a full frame camera?

With­out skills and expe­ri­ence, a full-frame cam­era may not reach its full poten­tial / Source: unsplash.com
  • Por­trait pho­tog­ra­phers, wed­dings. A full frame cam­era will give you beau­ti­ful blur and deep col­ors.
  • Reporters. You often pho­to­graph in dif­fi­cult con­di­tions where there is lit­tle light. It is bet­ter to have an ISO mar­gin than to fail the shoot­ing. More­over, not every­where you can use the flash.
  • Land­scape painters who val­ue a wide dynam­ic range. So that the details are both in the bright sky and in the shade of the trees. To be fair, the full­frame does not com­plete­ly solve this prob­lem. Most like­ly, you will have to pho­to­graph sev­er­al frames of dif­fer­ent bright­ness from a tri­pod and com­bine them in Pho­to­shop. But, in any case, the qual­i­ty will be high­er.
  • You often take pic­tures in the evening or at night, you want to do astropho­tog­ra­phy.

The most impor­tant thing to remem­ber is that the most valu­able thing in pho­tog­ra­phy is not tech­nique, but your skills, vision and expe­ri­ence. They can also be obtained on a crop cam­era. Give a per­son who has nev­er held a cam­era in their hands the most expen­sive medi­um for­mat body in the world with a top lens. Will he get a mas­ter­piece that will imme­di­ate­ly go to a pho­to exhi­bi­tion?

Read also:

When a small sen­sor out­per­forms a full frame