Difference Between Full Frame and APS-C

Key Difference – Full Frame vs APS-C

The sensor is an integral component of a camera which captures the light that enters through the camera lens. This light is then converted into an amplified digital signal with the use of the sensor. How the sensor behaves will directly impact the quality of the camera. Not only the sensor but also the size of the sensor is important in a camera. In the past, SLR 35mm films were used to shoot photographs. But now the cameras are referred to as full frame digital cameras. These cameras have a sensor size that is almost the size of a full frame 35mm film. There is another sensor called APS-C, which stands for Advanced Photo System type-C. The key difference between these two sensors, the full frame and APS-C, is the size.

What is Full Frame Sensor?

The full frame digital SLR sensor is equivalent to the 35 mm traditional film used in the past. The size of the sensor is 24 mm x 36 mm.

To record a pixel, the sensor contains a tiny light sensor called photo sites which captures the light and outputs a pixel. If the photo site is large enough, it is able to capture more light. It will also be able to capture weak signals. This gives this sensor the ability to perform really well in low light conditions. The full frame sensor is also able to have a larger depth of field due to the size of the sensor. The viewfinder image will also be bright due to the size of the sensor.

The cameras with full frame sensors also come with high-end features that are not available with other cameras. However, the lenses that are available for the full frame sensor is less than that are available for the APS-C sensor. A thing to note is that the weight of the full frame camera increases not because of the sensor but because of the more expensive, large, and heavy lenses.

The main drawback of these types of sensors is that they are relatively expensive. These sensors are cut out of expensive wafer chips. Only 20 can be cut out of one standard wafer. This means that the overall price of the camera will also be high. But, as this sensor gives a better field of view and the lens seems to be zoomed out more, the landscape photographers prefer a full frame camera. Full frame sensor gives a wider view with wide angle lenses. However, some wildlife photographers prefer an APS-C sensor based camera for extra zoom. Of cause, the sensor does not play any part in magnification.

Difference Between Full Frame and APS-C

What is APS-C Sensor?

The meaning of APS-C is Advanced Photo System type-C. APS was able to support three different formats. The “C” stands for ‘Classic’ option. These sensors are closer to the size of the APS-C film from which they get there name. The negative size of APS-C is 25.1 × 16.7 mm and aspect ratio is 3:2. This sensor is smaller than the full frame sensor. The size of the sensor is 24 x 16mm; smaller than the 35 mm film size (36 mm × 24 mm). This means that the full frame sensor will capture a larger picture whereas the APS-C will only capture a cropped version of it. Because of that, these sensors are also known as cropped frame. These sensors are used in DSLRs, mirror-less interchangeable lens cameras, and live preview digital cameras.

The crop factor of the APS-C camera is suitable for wildlife and sports photography as it provides a physical distance which is essential in some situations. The cost of the APS-C camera is lesser than a full frame sensor camera as the sensor is less expensive to make. Lens issues are also relatively lesser as the image is cropped.

Full Frame vs APS-C_Difference Between Image Sensor Formats

What is the difference between Full Frame and APS-C?

Sensor Size

Full Frame: Large 24 x 36 mm

APS-C: Smaller 24 x 16 mm

The full frame sensor is capable of capturing more of the scene than the APS-C sensor. The image recorded by a full frame sensor will look cropped when shot with an APS-C sensor.


Full Frame: Expensive to make

APS-C: Cheaper

Full frame sensors are more expensive to make. So the camera which uses the full frame sensor will also be more expensive.

Lens Availability

Full Frame: Large

APS-C: Smaller

There are a greater variety of lenses that can be used with the APS-C when compared with the full frame sensor.

View Finder Performance

Full Frame: Much brighter

APS-C: Brighter

The viewfinder of a Full frame sensor camera is brighter comparatively as it comes with a larger mirror.

Image Quality

Full Frame: Much better

APS-C: Better
More fine details and better dynamic range make the Ful frame image quality better.

Camera Body Size

Full Frame: Large

APS-C: Smaller

The Full frame sensor is bulky. A street photographer would prefer an APS-C sensor based camera over the full frame due to its size.

Supported File Size

Full Frame: Bigger

APS-C: Smaller

As the full frame sensor produces larger file sizes, more expensive large capacity memory cards need to be bought. It will also limit the storage capacity of the medium used.

Type of Photography

Full Frame: Landscape, real estate, product, art and street photography

APS-C: Sports and wildlife photography with macro.

The APS-C is capable of shooting photos from a distance which makes it ideal for wildlife photography.

Noise Level

Full Frame: Lower

APS-C: Higher

As the sensor is bigger, it is capable of capturing more light and reduce noise. This, with a better dynamic range, makes the full frame camera even better.


Full Frame vs. APS-C

From the above comparison, it is clear that there are many differences between the two sensors. The full frame sensor is capable of producing a better image with less noise, and supports brighter and larger viewfinder, wider angle lens and reduces the depth of field which suits landscape life photography. The downside of these sensors is that it is more expensive, makes the camera larger, and has to use heavier lenses.

On the other hand, the APS-C is less expensive, supports telephoto lens, and great for wildlife photography but it losses wide angle lens effect and, as the sensor is small, the noise is a bit higher comparatively.

However, ultimately it comes down to user preference depending on the type of photographer he or she is. The above highlighted facts will hopefully make it easier to make the decision between the cameras that use these two types of sensor.

Image Courtesy:
Image 1: "Crop Factor" by Self - Self. [CC BY 2.5] via Wikimedia
Image 2:  "Sensor sizes overlaid inside" by Sensor_sizes_overlaid.svg: Moxfyrederivative work: Autopilot (talk) [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons