Lenses on Crop vs. Full Frame Cameras

        Many starting photographers don’t know the difference between a full frame sensor camera and a crop sensor (APS-C) camera, except for a huge difference in price. I’ll show you how the lenses act on both cameras because a 50mm on a full frame camera is not the same as a 50mm on a crop sensor camera.

        When I was searching for this topic I discovered a lot of technical stories with many numbers and that was a little boring to read. So I decided to show you the same lenses on the different sensors with my images so it’s more easy to understand. But of course we start with some important information.

        The two cameras I used are the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV (EN link) / (NL link) (launched Aug’ 2016) and the Canon EOS 77D (EN link)(NL link) (launched Feb’ 2017).

        Crop Sensor (or also called APS-C) vs. Full Frame

        A crop sensor is smaller than a full frame sensor. That means the edges of the image captured by a full frame camera are cropped by the APS-C sensor. Because this is a smaller sensor, it has a slight disadvantage in how much fine detail it can capture. The cameras supporting this sensor can be smaller and usually cheaper, what is a nice benefit. Crop sensors have a narrower angle of view, which enhances the telephoto effect while reducing the wide angle effect. This is great for sport- or wildlife photographers because for example a 100mm lens on a full frame sensor, works as a 160mm lens on a 1.6x crop sensor.

        Note: Canon has a 1.6x crop factor and Nikon a 1.5x crop.

        Lenses For Crop Sensor Cameras

        Some lenses are designed to work only on cropped sensors, keep this in mind when you are switching to a full frame camera because you are not able to use these lenses anymore. This is also why some photographers choose to only buy lenses that will work on both full and cropped cameras. But it’s not always a good idea, because most of these lenses are bigger, heavier and more expensive than lenses that where made for cropped sensors.

        The Pro’s and Con’s

        Crop sensor:
        The pro’s of a crop sensor
        are that is great to start with if you are new to photography. It is less expensive and the cameras are smaller. Also the lenses that are made exclusive for crop sensor cameras will save you both weight and money. It is perfect for shooting sports or animals because a tele lens will give you even more zoom.

        The con’s of a crop sensor are that the backgrounds will be less blurred compared to full frame sensors. The cropped sensors will result in more noise in low light situations and have slightly less fine details. You will notice this during the editing process or if you are printing your photos in big sizes. You will also lose the wide angle effect of your wide angle lens. If you want to switch to a full frame camera, you are not able to use your crop sensor lenses anymore.

        Full frame sensor:
        The pro’s of a full frame sensor
         are that they take full advantages of wide-angle lenses, what is preferred for architecture or landscape photographers. Because of the bigger sensor you are able to capture more fine detail what is great for editing or printing your photos in a bigger size. It also gives better results in low-light situations and also you will notice less noise in the photos.

        The con’s of a full frame sensor are that they are more expensive than cropped sensor cameras. You will also need bigger and more expensive lenses to benefit the most of the sensor. If you are shooting objects from a big distance, you need a good tele lens to fill the frame. Beware that this option is very expensive.

        Depth Of Field

        A 50mm lens will behave like a 75mm on a Nikon crop sensor camera and as a 80mm on a Canon crop sensor camera, but the depth of field (DOF) increases by about a stop. DOF is defined as the area of acceptable sharpness within a photo that will appear in focus. In every photo there is a certain area of your image in front of, and behind the subject that will appear in focus.

        So for example, if you are using a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at f/2.8 on a full frame sensor camera like de 5D Mark IV. It should be used at f/1.8 to get the same results on the 77D, which is not possible because f/2.8 is the lowest F number for this lens. So with a full frame camera, you are able to create even better blurred backgrounds when using the right lenses. Am I saying that bigger is better? No, as there are pro’s and con’s to each system.

        First I wanted to see the difference in depth of field when shooting at f/1.4 with  a 5 meter distance to the model. I made a crop in Photoshop of the full frame photo to get the same frame as the photo I made with the 77D. I expected to see some difference, but it’s hard see here. The only thing I noticed when I zoomed in is that the photo made with the 5D shows more detail.

        Personally I don’t recommend starting photographers to buy a full frame camera because 90% of the time they are shooting in Auto and JPG, so they don’t get the most out of their system, while not shooting in Manual Mode and RAW. Then a entry level camera with a crop sensor is better to learn the basics of photography and to understand how the camera works in different situations. I had two APS-C cameras before I bought a full frame camera because the first cameras where good enough for what I did during my first years as a photographer/photography student. During my final year at the Art Academy I knew it was time to make the switch. I went from 4 lenses to 2 because the others where made especially for crop sensors (Canon EF-S) so first I had to save money to buy the Canon EF lenses.

        The Lens Test

        Enough information, let’s see how the lenses act on a full frame camera (the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) and on a crop sensor camera (the Canon EOS 77D).

        The rules:

        – The distance from me to the model is 5 meters, on each photo.

        – The camera settings are all the same: 1/1250s   |   f/2.8    |   ISO 100

        – The lenses I used are: Sigma ART 35mm f/1.4, Canon 50mm f/1.4, Sigma ART 85mm f/1.4 and the Canon 100mm L f/2.8.





        I hope this article makes it more easy for you to buy your next camera or lens! What camera/sensor do you prefer and why? Would love to read your answer in the comments.

        photography: Liselotte Fleur
        model: Eric van Vuuren







        Liselotte Fleur



        in your test setup all Lenses behave the same in depth of field and aperture, because you are crop in the fullframe image in the first place. You say, that you dont see much of a differents between blured backround from apsc to full frame. Thats because you dont change your distance to the subject. If you dont crop a Full frame image and instead “crop” it with the distance to your subject, to get the exact same image like the apsc one , NOW the Background blur changes signifficaly. Now you have a different dof and more backround blur. But in your Test Setup the dof / blur is completely the same on all pictures.

        Thank you SO MUCH for this post! So clear and informative. I’m on my second APS-C camera and now want to upgrade from my Canon EOS 700D, but can’t decide whether to switch to a full-frame camera and get new lenses. I always feel like I’m turning in circles when choosing a new one but this post has cleared a lot of things up!
        Best wishes,

        Alfredo Brock

        Thanks for such wonderful article. The way you describe is awesome. Thanks for such helpful and informative article.

        Thank you for such wonderful article. I have a Nikon D7100 and I think I will invest in some FX lenses. Don’t know when the itch will materialize to a full frame body. :-) Thank you once again! Your photos have convinced me that it is the Lenses and the lighting which creates the magic.

        Keep in mind too, you have to add crop factor to the Aperture, i.e, f/16 becomes f/10 on aps/c camera, basically divide full frame Aperture by 1.6 to give you what you need, hope this helps.

        Thanks for helping me understand more of the differences with crop and FF!

        I’ve had my Canon 70D crop sensor camera for 4 years now. I already have some Canon lenses that are compatible with both FF and crop, and I’m trying to justify going to the 5D Mark iv. I’ve noticed while using an ultra wide (APS-C only) lens there is a widening effect of the photo the further you look from center along the long side. At these outer edges, there is a considerable amount of this widening or barrel effect. An example was when I had one of my relatively skinny sons on the outside of the frame and he looked rather chubby after! Do you get this same effect with a FF camera at the equivalent focal length, i.e. 10 mm with crop and 16mm with FF?

        Do you have any advice on what lens should be used to get the 35mm full frame shot you got, but on a crop sensor camera?

        or is it simply just getting more distance in between the subject?

        Such a helpful post!! Thank you so much for putting this together.

        I just wanted to say that this article is by far the best and most objective I’ve ever written. I use the Canon 77d . The standardized pictures are really helpful to understand what the actual difference in using a good lens on a
        full frame vs. crop is,especially if you “just” own a crop camera. My conclusion is that a very good lens like the Sigma 35mm on a full frame, is also a very good but different lens on a crop DSLR. Right now I don’t know if I ever buy a full frame the compatibility is worth the money compared to buy the same size lens twice. Thank you!