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Full Frame and Cropped Sensor Explained

Jared Polin July 27, 2010 12

There are a few different sensor sizes out there today. You have Full Frame and Cropped Sensors and now Four Thirds which I did not speak about in this video.

On the Nikon end you have FX and DX. FX is a full frame sensor based on a 35mm size and DX is a cropped sensor based on a 24mm or APS size.

There are advantages and perceived disadvantages to both. With Full Frame you get much better Hi-ISO capability but it is much more expensive.

DX is a small sensor but makes your longer lenses act like they have more power. You multiply any lens you put on the camera by 1.5X to determine its 35mm equivalent. The downside is you need to purchase special ultra wide lenses to capture really wide angle images on DX. Another disadvantage to DX is you will not want to use those lenses on a Full Frame camera. So it becomes a dilemma on weather not to purchase a lot of DX lenses or not.

On the Canon side you have three sensor sizes. Full Frame, 1.3x magnification in their sports cameras and APS-C which is 1.6x magnification. On the canon side. Any lens that you place on the APS-C sensor you will multiply by 1.6x to get the 35mm equivalent. As in the Nikon the larger the sensor the better the Hi-ISO capability the camera will be. Unlike Nikon Canon utilizes a 1.3x cropped sensor int heir high end sports camera. Sports photographers like having their longer glass have more reach.

The cameras that have Full Frame sensors will be more expensive because they are more costly to manufacture. They are generally put into higher end bodies that are packed with more features.

Should you go Full Frame or Cropped sensor? That all depends on the type of work you will be doing and your budget.


  1. mecca July 27, 2010 at 10:01 am -

    hi jared.

    just to let you know that youtube is telling me that the video is private.

    not sure you’re still uploading it or not, but we can’t see it.

    best regards from portugal :)

  2. Anthony July 27, 2010 at 10:27 am -

    Great topic to explain. Many have no idea of the differences in sensors. BTW, no problems with youtube

  3. Peter Dudek aka Wishmaster July 27, 2010 at 12:01 pm -

    Nicely explained very simple to understand. I like to use cropped for macro or even sports, but whent I done some portrait with D700 I lend from some shop wooow just amazing how the FX can be, and low light of course this is the main thing to consider when buying/upgreading to FX format :].

  4. chris aka mr wiggly July 27, 2010 at 12:02 pm -

    I got with my D300s a 18-200mm f3.5-f5.6 vrII does the 1.5x apply the same with DX lens or only on full frame..

    • Jared Polin July 27, 2010 at 1:02 pm -

      @Chris aka mr wiggly any lens you place on the DX you multiply by 1.5 to find out the 35mm equivalent. We have been trained to think 35mm if we werent than we would understand what 1-=200 really was lol.

  5. guunther1 July 27, 2010 at 12:04 pm -

    i have been holding off buying a dslr just for this topic, is fx ever gonna breakthrough or will it remain a niche??, sony can put an ff sensor in the market at 1/3 price.. Whats holding back the manufactures?

    • Jared Polin July 27, 2010 at 1:02 pm -

      @guunther1 FX is the best of the best for the pros but not sure if they can bring the price down right now to where a consumer would benefit from it. Sony does a lot of things while loosing money to try and win the market.

  6. Michael Perlman July 27, 2010 at 2:49 pm -

    Great explanation. I don’t get why Canon has 1.3x crop sensors, but that probably a topic for a whole ‘nother discussion.

    It’s been said in several reviews of the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 DX that the lens works very well on FX bodies (in FX mode), with only a little bit of vignetting. So you could have a medium-wide angle lens in a pinch.

    • Jared Polin July 27, 2010 at 2:51 pm -

      @michael perlman yes that 35mm 1.8 does work on it.

  7. Marcus July 27, 2010 at 3:02 pm -

    I would love to see examples of a DX lens on an DX vs FX to see the difference in quality etc.

  8. dod July 28, 2010 at 11:00 am -

    So if I buy a 300mm Lens and put it on a D700 I get 300mm, if i tell then stick it on my D90 do i get 450mm with the same lens?
    Can i force the d700/ds to go to dx mode and get that 450mm ?
    how about on your d3s does it do that ?

    As right now im using a D90 but selling all the dx lens and replacing with FX glass in prep for the D700 replacement due sooooon.

    • Jared Polin July 28, 2010 at 11:08 am -

      @dod yes, when you put that 300 on a DX camera you get 450mm. You can force the d700 to shoot in cropped mode but there really is no reason to do so. In the D3s as someone pointed out yesterday and I did a little more research there is a 1.2x crop option at 8.7 mega pixels or something like that. Again there is no reason to do this even for more reach. I hate to say it but if people with a D3s want more bang they will just crop it. You are not gaining much more by going into 1.2x.

      Hope that helps.