Should I buy a Full Frame Digital Camera?

Sensor size comparison
Sensor size comparison

Going Full Frame

I've been into digital photography for a long time. In the last few years I got into Digital SLR cameras with interchangeable lenses. These allow a wide range of settings and the ability to use specialty lenses to create amazing photos. Until now, I've only owned crop-sensor cameras (also called APS-C or DX). Most "consumer" range cameras are of this type. They have a smaller sensor that is cheaper to produce and allows you to use cheaper lenses because the image sensor area is smaller. Most allow you to also use standard full frame lenses.

The full frame camera use a larger sensor that is the size of 35mm film, and takes advantage of the larger image area by using standard lenses to their full potential. Currently full frame DSLR cameras start above $2,000, whereas crop sensor cameras are usually in the range of $500-1,200.

I've been looking at new cameras and think I'm ready to take a leap into a full frame. The two most popular full-frame DSLR out there now are the Canon 5D Mark II and the Nikon D700. Both have been out a couple years, and the prices have remained high. I'm waiting for their replacements to be announced to make a decision. I'm not about to spend $2,000+ on old technology when I know something new and better is just around the corner.

The Canon 5D Mark II replacement is going to be the 5D Mark III, and expected to be coming in early 2012, possibly in the first quarter or around February.

The Nikon D700 replacement is rumored to be coming this year, and possibly announced very soon, with an upcoming press event scheduled for August 24, 2011. No one knows the name, but the Nikon D800 name has been going around for a while.

What are the advantages of full frame?

  • Better low light performance (high ISO, less noise)
  • Do not have the "crop factor" of DX = your 50mm is actually 50mm and not like a 75mm. You get a wider angle from your existing lenses.
  • You can use many lenses produced all the way back since 1950-1960s in some cases
  • Large viewfinder, makes it easier to see and focus
  • Large variety of lenses, including very fast and pro-grade lenses
  • More durable build, weather sealing
  • The 12-16+ megapixel DX sensor is near the limit in terms or resolution, and to get more usable megapixels will require a larger full-frame sensor to result in greater sharpness.*

Disadvantages:

  • Full frame costs more
  • Bigger, heavier cameras
  • Lenses can be more expensive, sometimes a lot more
  • APS-C / DX lenses will work, but not at full resolution

* = note, technology is always increasing and there is no set limit. Lenses only provide so much clarity and trying to get more pixels from a small area produces diminishing results. Moving to a larger sensor has the potential to increase usable resolution.

None of this really matters unless you need to push the limit beyond APS-C / DX cameras. I love low light photography, shooting with available light outside in the late evening and night. I love super-wide angles. I love fast lenses, f1.4 and shallow depth of field and bokeh. I want a bigger, brighter viewfinder than my crop sensor cameras provide. For these reasons my next camera will be full frame.

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Comments 2 comments

joekreydt 5 years ago

very useful and thorough! i only have the camera on my phone, but if I ever decide to upgrade, i'll remember your tips!


pork22 profile image

pork22 5 years ago Author

Thanks for your comments. You could start with a crop sensor camera. While the full frame offers some advantages but it is probably a lot more camera than you need if you're just starting out.

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