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Photography Glossary

What is a Full Frame Camera?

October 23, 2022 by

A full-frame camera can be just what you need to boost your photography. It is the top choice among professionals to ensure the highest image quality and performance, and for good reasons.

However, they are quite a significant investment that won’t suit all photographers the same. So, you should be 100% sure about what you need and why.

Generally speaking, full-frame cameras provide higher resolution and a wider field of view for many different situations: fashion, portrait, sports, documentary, etc. I love the versatility they offer, and I can assure you that the improvement in image quality is pretty noticeable once you leave cropped sensors behind.

For that reason, in this article, I’ll cover everything about full-frame cameras (whether DSLR or mirrorless) to help you decide if that’s the next step you must take.

Let’s begin with a general definition.

Table of Contents

What is a Full Frame Camera?

A full-frame camera is a digital camera with an image sensor the same size as the traditional 35mm film (36 x 24mm). It is the largest sensor you can find in a consumer interchangeable-lens camera.

Usually, these cameras are aimed at professionals. The larger sensor makes them bulkier and more expensive, but they yield superb image quality that no cropped sensor could beat.

Even so, they are not built for everyone— they are best suited for photographers who need to capture the most detail possible, particularly in low light conditions.

full frame camera example
full frame camera

That leads us to the following point:

How is a Full Frame Camera Different?

A full-frame camera has a wider sensor with bigger pixels that capture more light, allowing for more detail, higher resolution, and better low-light performance. And that’s just to mention a few perks.

In addition to that, these cameras include much more advanced features for experienced photographers. That makes them versatile for many situations, from fashion to sports or wildlife photography.

Another benefit of full-frame cameras is that there is no crop factor, so you can take better advantage of the focal length of your lenses.

Nevertheless, full-frame cameras are significantly costlier than APS-C or Micro Four Thirds cameras, not only because of the bulkier body but also because of the lenses. Going full-frame means saying goodbye to your budget-friendly APS-C lenses and starting over again.

But why? Let me explain it a bit more:

A lens designed for a smaller sensor won’t cover the entire surface of a full-frame sensor, and you would lose information towards the edges of the picture. Therefore, it is mandatory to invest in new lenses whenever you decide to upgrade to the full-frame world. And sadly, that is not a viable option for beginners.

Full Frame DSLR vs. Full Frame Mirrorless

Nowadays, you can find full-frame sensors in DSLRs and mirrorless cameras to suit different photographers.

Of course, both systems have pros and cons. So, to decide which one is best for you, you’ll have to consider a few aspects:

1. Battery Life

Battery life: since the sensor is constantly exposed —and therefore, the screen or EVF is always on—mirrorless cameras consume more power than DSLRs. So, if battery life concerns you, you might prefer a full-frame DSLR over a mirrorless.  

2. Compatible Lenses

Compatible lenses: although they have the same sensor size, mirrorless and DSLR cameras use different lens mounts, so you should check the compatible lenses available before making your decision. Consider your needs and budget, and choose the option that gives you more flexibility.

3. Performance

Performance: full-frame mirrorless cameras might be the best choice for professional sports photographers who need the fastest autofocus. Since there is no mirror, the AF system is quicker and more accurate.

4. Portability

Portability: a full-frame DSLR is large and heavy, which can be annoying for traveling. So, if you want all the benefits of a large sensor combined with the portability of a small body, you should definitely go for a full-frame mirrorless camera.

Do You Need a Full Frame Camera to be a Professional Photographer?

Although full-frame cameras offer plenty of benefits for the most experienced photographers, you don’t need to spend that much money to become a respected professional. Instead, focus on investing in good lenses and lighting equipment.

Over time —and after years of experimenting— you will begin to understand for yourself what your needs are as a photographer and whether it would be worth investing in a full-frame camera.

professional photographer holding up camera
photographer holding up camera

Why Use a Full Frame Camera?

Simply put, a full-frame camera captures more light and allows for a wider field of view. That can be extremely helpful for many situations, such as shooting in small spaces and dark environments. Moreover, it also affects image quality and depth of field, enabling you to get sharper photos with better bokeh.

To sum it all up, here are the three main reasons to choose full-frame cameras:

1. Increased Resolution

Many people would think that resolution depends entirely on the megapixel count. However, it’s the sensor size that matters the most. That’s why a 20-megapixel full-frame camera can produce better photos than a 40-megapixel phone camera.

As I mentioned before, a bigger sensor has bigger pixels, so it collects more data to create beautiful, crisp images.

In other words, a full-frame sensor allows for more detail in your pictures, resulting in greater flexibility for high-quality prints, cropping, or high-end retouching.

2. Better Low-Light Performance

Bigger pixels also capture more light, which can be particularly helpful in low-light conditions.

Full-frame cameras are ideal for working at night or in any dark environment without the risk of excess noise that can reduce quality.

3. Wider Field of View with a Narrower Depth of Field

A full-frame sensor offers a larger field of view than a cropped sensor. This is not only useful for working in small spaces but also has a direct effect on the depth of field.

By having a wider field of view, you need to get closer to your subject to make it stand out within the frame. With that, you reduce the depth of field and blur the background a little more to create a softer bokeh effect— convenient for creating eye-catching portraits!

Full Frame vs. Crop Sensor

Sure, full-frame sensors offer a lot of benefits for photographers, but what about cropped sensors?

Be sure to check our guide on full frame vs. crop sensor cameras.

There are many advantages of using a camera with a small sensor. Besides, depending on the kind of photography you create, you might not even need to upgrade to the full-frame world.

Let’s talk about the main differences between full-frame vs. crop sensors:

1. Size

Size: the main advantage of a crop sensor camera is the size. An APS-C camera is more compact and lightweight, making it a better alternative for traveling and vlogging.

2. Price

Price: full-frame cameras are expensive and best suited for professionals. Instead, there are many more alternatives for beginner, intermediate, and professional photographers in the APS-C camera market.  

3. Dynamic Range

Dynamic range: full-frame cameras allow for a wider dynamic range, making them the best alternative for night photography. Contrarily, cropped sensors can’t perform that well in low-light conditions.

4. Crop Factor

Crop factor: the crop factor is the ratio of a camera’s cropped sensor to a traditional 35mm full-frame sensor. All cropped sensor cameras have a crop factor that tightens the field of view and affects the effective focal length. For example, an APS-C sensor with a 1.5x crop factor will ‘transform’ a 50mm lens into a 75mm. With full-frame cameras, you wouldn’t have to worry about that.

crop camera next to full frame camera
crop sensor camera next to full frame camera

Final Remarks

Full-frame cameras have countless benefits for most professional photographers, opening the door to a new world of creative possibilities. They are much more versatile, offering a wider dynamic range, superb image quality, outstanding resolution, and better low-light performance. Yet, they are a long-term investment that not everyone needs.

So, once again, the decision to go full-frame will depend entirely on who you are as a photographer.

Remember that no camera can do the work for you, so take the time to experiment with your current equipment before investing in new gear.

Want to know more? Check our article on full-frame vs. APS-C cameras!