Full or Crop: The Sensor Dilemma

I've gotten a lot of questions lately about camera sensors and how they determine the outcome of your photographs. I once had this same curiosity, and through much trial and error paired with countless articles on the matter, I came to have a grasp on the great debate:

Crop Sensor or Full Frame?

The answer isn't black and white, but more a myriad of colors that transmutes from user to user. So let's talk about the main difference to establish some guidelines. Camera sensors are based off of the industry standard of 35mm, so any sensor talk and the impacts of image capture are based on that universal standard. A full frame sensor allows the user full access to the field of view, while crop sensor cameras shave down that view based on the multiplying factor of the sensor.

 

 Here we can see the difference in field of view between a full frame sensor and crop sensor.

Here we can see the difference in field of view between a full frame sensor and crop sensor.

So now that we can see how different sensors can impact an image's field of view, lets briefly discuss a topic that can make anyone groan: lens math. Lens math is how you can accurately determine what millimeter equivalent your camera lens operates at on a crop sensor camera. The majority of beginner or amateur photographers might not initially take lens math into consideration when they are first starting out (I know I didn't) and just slap on a lens and go. However, before you drop your hard earned cash on that awesome zoom lens or ultra wide angle, take some time to research and understand how your crop sensor will change the focal length of your shiny new lens. Depending on your sensor's crop multiplier, your 50mm lens could end up giving you a focal length of somewhere around 75mm instead. 

 Here is the multiplier graph for each type of camera and their accompanying sensor.

Here is the multiplier graph for each type of camera and their accompanying sensor.

Now that we see what the multiplying factor of each camera's sensor, we can figure out how to calculate the new focal length of a lens attached to each sensor type. But who really wants to do that? If you're a busy bee like me (ok maybe lazy) you don't have precious time to waste multiplying. Thankfully, there are amazing resources out there made to make your life easier. https://mmcalc.com is a wonderful calculator that can show you exactly what the equivalent focal length is for any lens on any sensor type, and even gives you a little explanation as to why that is underneath your results. No more math or guess work? Don't mind if I do.

So it all boils down to the main dilemma which is: What sensor is right for you?

It all depends. I shot for years with a crop sensor camera as my main squeeze, and I still have lived to tell the tale with some amazing images to show from it. As a professional photographer who loves to shoot with natural or limited light, a full frame sensor really helps me perform my best at a high ISO. The moody style of my photographs can be achieved in low light situations because I can pump up my ISO without sacrificing image noise. However, if you are an amateur photographer or even someone who loves landscapes and wildlife, you can still create amazing images with a crop sensor camera. You might even get more zoom for you buck with your crop sensor at greater distances.

All in all, there are tons of online resources and articles including this small summary, to help photographers of all skill levels grow and enhance their craft. I hope that this little post can help someone out there who may be stuck in this great debate, but just know that it's not always the gear that makes the photo, it's the person behind the lens.