Is Full Frame Actually Better than APS-C?

Gold Coast Blooms – Laguna Beach, CA – Fujifilm X100V – upcoming Film Simulation Recipe

The announcement of the Nikon Zf seems to have rekindled an old adage: full frame is better than APS-C. Some are saying that full frame cameras have the minimum sensor size necessary for serious photography, and APS-C and smaller are for amateurs. But is this actually true? Is full frame superior to APS-C? Can APS-C cameras be just as good or perhaps even better than full frame? Does the size of the sensor actually matter all that much? Why even buy a Fujifilm APS-C camera now that Nikon has the full frame Zf?

At the core is the physical size of the sensor. Full-frame is 50% larger than (most) APS-C. The size of a full frame sensor is the same as a 35mm film frame, while the size of an APS-C sensor is the same as an Advanced Photo System Classic film frame. In the film days, no respectable pro or enthusiast photographer used Advanced Photo System cameras. Why should they in the digital age?

Misty Saguaro – Buckeye, AZ – Fujifilm X-T5 – Pacific Blues Recipe

Back in the early days of digital, when dynamic range and noise control were much more critical than nowadays, full frame had a clear advantage, as one needed to squeeze the absolute most out of their files and full frame allowed that. APS-C was more affordable and smaller, so it was popular with amateurs and enthusiasts on a budget. This is where the stigma originated that APS-C is not for those who are serious, and to an extent it unfortunately remains to this day, despite so many incredibly talented and successful photographers utilizing APS-C models.

Since APS-C sensors are smaller than full frame, there is less physical room for light sensitive sensor elements (pixels). There are two options: smaller pixels or fewer pixels. Smaller pixels will allow for increased resolution, but at the expense of low-light capabilities and dynamic range. Fewer pixels allows for better low-light capabilities and dynamic range, but at the expense of resolution. Resolution is resolution, and 24mp on full frame is the same as 24mp on APS-C, yet the pixels on the APS-C will be smaller than those on the full frame sensor. 61mp on full frame is more resolution than 40mp on APS-C, yet their pixels are similarly sized. It’s easy to see the advantage of full frame! Except that most photographers don’t actually need 40mp of resolution, let alone 61mp. It looks good on paper, and it’s great for pixel-peeping and bragging rights, but in practical use, the majority of photographers don’t actually need more than 20mp, and everything above that is overkill. Yes, there are some who do need more, because they crop deeply or print huge, but most people who say they need that much resolution don’t actually need it. Megapixels sell cameras, though, so camera makers keep pushing higher and higher. My argument is simply that there is plenty of real estate on an APS-C sensor; while the increased room on full-frame sensors does offer advantages, those advantages find themselves on a diminishing returns segment of an inverted U curve.

Shot on a Canon EOS 5DS R

Improved dynamic range and high-ISO are often overstated on full frame. The dynamic range of, say, the APS-C Fujifilm X-T5 and the full frame Canon EOS 5DS R are quite similar, and not much different at all in real world use. There are some APS-C cameras with more dynamic range and some with less dynamic range than the X-T5; likewise, there are some full frame cameras with more dynamic range and some with less dynamic range than the 5DS R. But even if we’re talking about an APS-C camera with less and a full frame with more, in practical use, that difference is fairly insignificant (outside of some extreme circumstances). Same with digital noise. Full frame might be cleaner with less noise—particularly as the ISO climbs—but a camera like the X-T5 has a film-grain-like rendering to the digital noise that is much more tolerable than the noise from the 5DS R. In other words, the more noisy X-T5 might be preferable to the less noisy 5DS R at the same ISO. For the most part, full frame does have the advantage with both dynamic range and high-ISO, but it isn’t nearly as big nowadays as many might think.

Now let’s talk crop factor, which is often given as a reason to choose full frame. Because full frame sensors are 50% larger than APS-C, there is a 1.5x crop factor for APS-C focal lengths. For example, a 50mm lens on an APS-C camera will have the same focal length as a 75mm lens on a full frame camera. If you are trying to reach far, it’s a little easier on APS-C than full frame, and if you are trying to go wide, it’s a little easier on full frame than APS-C; however, there are plenty of long telephoto and ultra-wide lens options for both sensor sizes. Crop factor also affects depth-of-field, as f/2 on APS-C has a larger depth-of-field than an f/2 on full frame. If you want a shallow depth-of-field, it’s a little easier to achieve on full frame than APS-C, but if you want a large depth-of-field, it’s a little easier to achieve on APS-C than full-frame; however, it’s still very much possible to get a small depth-of-field on APS-C and a large depth-of-field on full frame. One often-overlooked advantage of APS-C is that, to achieve that shallow depth-of-field, you’re likely to use a larger aperture, allowing more light to reach the sensor, which means shooting at a lower ISO.

Shot on a Canon EOS 5DS R

Perhaps the biggest advantages that APS-C has over full frame—and likely the main reasons why most choose APS-C instead of full frame—are size and price. APS-C cameras are often smaller and weigh less than full frame. Smaller gear can be preferable, especially when traveling, and it can potentially provide a better user experience. Because the sensor is smaller, the price is often lower, sometimes much lower. Your money often goes further with an APS-C system than full frame.

While APS-C cameras can have some advantages over full frame, and some of the strengths of full frame can be overstated, bigger sensors obviously do allow for more and/or bigger light sensitive sensor elements, which generally speaking is better. My point is not to diminish full frame, because they serve important purposes, and can be preferable; instead, my point is only that the stigma that APS-C is “less than” and isn’t for serious photographers is outdated and inaccurate. Full frame has advantages, and APS-C has advantages, and you might find one more preferable than the other, but they are both very capable sensor sizes. My personal preference is Fujifilm X-Trans APS-C, as it works quite well for my photography. You have to decide for yourself what works best for you. I just hope that the stigma can finally be put to rest, as it’s simply not true.

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Fujifilm X-T5 in black:  Amazon  B&H  Moment
Fujifilm X-T5 in silver:  Amazon  B&H  Moment


  1. Bob Travaglione · September 22

    Honestly, some days I am more than satisfied with my images from the little sensor of my iPone.

  2. tabfor · September 22

    I think that comparing APS-C and FF matrix is not so in a meaningful way, there should be compared particular cameras, for example, Fujifilm X-T5 and Nikon Zf.
    But maple leave in the background of birch bole that’s cool. 😉

    • Ritchie Roesch · September 22

      I think there will be a ton of comparisons between the X-T5 and Nikon Zf in the coming months. It will be interesting to see what people say in those side-by-side looks.

  3. John · September 22

    I’ve exclusively used APS-C X-Trans in my full-time photography career for the past 7 years and not one person cared (or noticed) that it wasn’t full frame.
    I have noticed, however, that X-T5 files take a bit more finessing in post production. I wish they had kept it at 26MP – 40 is honestly just for bragging rights, as you said, and has limited practical purpose other than maybe the occasional extreme crop. I kind of prefer using my X-T4!

    • Ritchie Roesch · September 22

      Yeah, I prefer the 26mp sensor, too. The 40mp sensor on the X-T5 is (generally speaking) unnecessary in my opinion. 24-26mp seems to be a resolution sweet spot. Thanks for the comment!

  4. Scott · September 22

    You made a statement that isn’t true.

    “ For example, a 50mm lens on an APS-C camera will have the same focal length as a 75mm lens on a full frame camera.”

    It will have the same field of view as a 75mm but 50mm is 50mm regardless of the sensor size or format.

    • Ritchie Roesch · September 22

      Yes, but it’s commonly said that the 50mm lens is full-frame equivalent to 75mm, which is true. We’re splitting hairs here, I think.

  5. Max · September 22

    Back in the film days wasn’t 35mm considered for amateurs and professionals only shot medium format?

    • Barry Studd · September 24

      Many professionals used 35mm in the film days, mainly the big 5. Nikon Canon Pentax Olympus and Minolta.

    • Ritchie Roesch · September 25

      I don’t think that’s completely true, but prior to the 1980’s, there was a stigma that 35mm wasn’t “professional”; however, that did begin to change in the 1970’s (thanks, in part, to the New American Color movement, and improvements in color film…).

  6. Bert · September 23

    Well written article that takes a very balanced approach. There is no right or wrong answer. It depends on your situation and needs. And certainly photos taken with APS-C in general are just as good as taken with full frame.

    • Ritchie Roesch · September 25

      Exactly! There are pluses and minuses either way, and it depends on what’s most important to the photographer.

  7. Lyn Rees · September 23

    Full frame is over 130% larger than APS-C, not 50% as stated.

    • Vladimir · September 24

      It is 50% larger in length or width, 2.5 times larger in area.
      What 130% are you writing about, my dear?

      • Lyn · October 2

        864mm2 is ~135% bigger than 367mm2. Or, 2.36 times bigger, if you prefer.

    • Ritchie Roesch · September 25

      It’s not. Sorry.

      • Lyn · October 2

        864mm2 is 2.35 times larger than 367mm2. That’s the same as saying it’s 135% larger.

        To put it another way: 367+135% = 864 (roughly).

        To give another example, 50% extra free means you get something 1.5 times the size you would have.

      • Ritchie Roesch · October 2

        I’m talking about physical size, you’re talking about surface area real estate. For example, Canon says (of their APS-C, which are smaller than Fujifilm’s), “A full-frame image sensor is physically about 63% or 1.6x larger than an APS-C format image sensor.” For Fujifilm’s, it’s 50%, or 1.5x (which is where the crop factor comes in…). That’s all very true. Now that 50% larger sensor affords 2.3x-ish more room for light sensitive sensor elements (pixels).

        The real question is whether those 2.3x more or larger (or a combination of both) pixels offers 2.3x or even .5x more image quality or not. But there are two different inverted U curves to consider. The first is dynamic-range/high-ISO, in which 2.3x larger pixel sites don’t offer 2.3x improvement, but anywhere from 0%-20%, depending on the models being compared (5%-10% is most typical). The second is whether or not those dynamic-range/high-ISO or resolution bumps actually matter in practical use. In both cases, they fall in a diminishing returns segment of the inverted U curve. So they can make a difference, but not nearly as much as a lot of people believe.,APS%2DC%20format%20image%20sensor.

  8. Architect1776 · September 23

    I could afford any FF or APS-C camera on the market for cash.
    I chose APS-C over FF specifically for the crop factor. I like shooting wildlife and a 100-400mm with 2X teleconverter is far more portable than any FF equivalent. And easy to handhold as well as the AF works just fine with the TC.
    No regrets, a 10mm is plenty wide as well and have not come across a situation where I wanted more.
    Finally I get better DOF without having to stop down to image destroying small apertures.

    • Ritchie Roesch · September 25

      The crop factor can really be advantageous. I appreciate it every time I need to maximize reach. Thanks for the input!

    • theBitterFig · September 25

      I feel like another way to phrase this is that a 100-400mm with 2x converter is the same lens on all formats (FF, APS-C, M43), but if you’re shooting things which are small, the larger sensor and wider field of view is often just more stuff you’ll need to crop away in the end.

      If at the same actual (non-equivalent) focal length you’re filling an APS-C sized frame on something like a X-H2S, your 26MP is going to provide the same detail as a 60MP sensor FF cropped down to the same area. If your subject only fills the frame on the 25MP Panasonic G9 II, you’d need a 100MP FF sensor if cropping down to the same size object. A smaller sensor like these will often have a much faster readout speed, faster burst rate, less rolling shutter. You either need to lose a lot of MP, or gain a lot of price, to accomplish that on FF.

      For non-portrait telephoto use, so much of the larger sensor is just waste, and crop sensors are incredibly practical, since often the lenses are smaller, the bodies lighter, the system cheaper (Nikon z9 is more than twice the cost of an X-H2s, and the X-H2s can get more pixels onto an object, given the same actual focal length and distance).


      The flip side is something where you can take a very high MP image with a very sharp wide angle lens, then crop the heck out of it later. Something like the Leica Q3, for example, with the 28/1.7 at 60mp is shallower DOF than the 18/1.4 with more resolution than a Fuji can offer, but you can also crop to 35mm at 40mp, 50mm at 19mp. That’s still the same resolution roughly as a X-T5 with the 23mm, or an older Fuji X-E2 with the 35mm. There’s times when most of the bigger FF sensor is wasted, and times where it can really be leveraged. There’s just more to work with on a Q3 than a GRIII or x100v, although less pocketable.

  9. Lou's Weather and Hiking · September 24

    Full frame is objectively better, I hate the title of this. But it’s not always worth it or needed, that’s why APSC is pretty sweet

    • John · September 24

      Semantics. Depends on how you define “better.” The title – and article – is speaking to the goals & needs of the individual photographer, not lab specs.

      • Ritchie Roesch · September 25


      • Christopher J Broughton · September 26

        The purpose of a sensor is to sense light, and full frame sensors are about 2.3 times as good at doing that than crop sensors of equal tech.

      • Ritchie Roesch · September 26

        How’s that? Resolution is resolution, if that’s what you’re saying. 100mp on medium format is not different than 100mp on a cellphone sensor (assuming the lens can resolve it). Larger light sensitive sensor elements (pixels) can potentially gather more dim light or have less bleed-over, which makes a difference for dynamic range and high ISO. But it’s not that simple. For example, if you go to DxOMark (not my favorite place, but we’ll use it anyway), you can see that the APS-C Nikon D7200 scores a higher dynamic range than full-frame Nikon D750, despite identical resolution. For the most part, excluding the more extreme examples, full frame tends to have a 5%-10% advantage when it comes to dynamic range and high-ISO over APS-C. Yet you have to take into account the inverted U curve, and ask how much that 5%-10% actually matters in practical use. If it falls on the diminishing returns segment (which it does for most people), then it’s really only a fraction of that percentage that makes any sort of real-world difference. All while larger, heavier, more expensive, slower, etc.. It’s definitely not “2.3 times as good”—not even close under the most extreme examples possible. In other words, you have to give up quite a bit to gain potentially just a little, but for some people (not most people, just some people) that difference can make all the difference.

    • Ritchie Roesch · September 25

      It depends on what you mean by “better”. Full frame will either have more resolution and/or more dynamic-range/high-ISO because of the large sensor size (more real estate), but if those things fall on the diminishing returns segment of an inverted U curve (which they do, generally speaking), then perhaps the smaller size, lighter weight, faster speeds, cheaper price, etc., of an APS-C camera might be “better”. I think it all depends on what’s most important to the photographer.

  10. Peter · September 25

    I have a Sony A7R4 full frame and a Canon apsc. Both give great results but to be honest, the full frame is superior side by side. Captures more area and greater detail.

    • Ritchie Roesch · September 25

      I have a Sony A7 IV (a couple family members use Sony professionally, and wanted my help with better SOOC results…). Compared to the X-T5, there’s very little difference in image quality. Barely more dynamic range, and that’s the biggest difference. I prefer the X-T5 at higher ISO because the noise looks better (more organic) on the X-T5, despite being more pronounced. I rarely use the Sony, and it collects a lot of dust.

  11. Christopher Broughton · September 26

    There’s a little error here, to match the pixel size(and therefore sensitivity with equal tech) of a 61mp FF sensor, the apsc sensor must be about 26mp, not 40.

    A 40mp apsc sensor has as a pixel density that would be 94mp if it was covering FF sensor area.

    And a 40mp apsc pixel density would be 157mp if applied to the area of a Fuji medium format sensor.

    In my opinion, the reason full frame is better overall is because that’s where all the latest and greatest engineering is being directed, if you want a smaller camera setup, very small FF cameras exist(Sony RX1, Sigma Fp, an XT-5 is about the same size and weight as an a7 series camera), if you need extreme low light performance, FF has that covered, if you want crazy high resolution, FF has that covered, if you want to use smaller crop lenses, you can even do that on a FF body.

    Full frame is just the defacto standard of high end cameras, and crop is largely a compromise for size or price savings.

    • Ritchie Roesch · September 26

      Yes, the 60mp Sony A7R IV has the same pixel density as the Fujifilm X-T4, but I used the 40mp sensor of the X-T5/X-H2 (with its higher pixel density) because it has very similar dynamic range and high-ISO performance. Pixel density isn’t 1:1 when it comes to output. For example, the higher-pixel-density Nikon D7200 has greater dynamic range than the lower-pixel-density Nikon D750.

      The Fujifilm X-T5 is not a similar size to the Sony A7 series. It’s visibly smaller and noticeably lighter. Not sure where that comparison comes from.

      If where the “greatest engineering is being directed” is what makes something better, than the lowly cellphone sensor is the clear king. By far, that’s where the majority of innovation is happening. While it is true that Canikony brands have focused their engineering less on APS-C the last several years, that’s not true across all brands.

      Interestingly enough, I know several successful pro photographers who choose to use APS-C over full frame… not because they cannot afford it, but because it works better for them and their photography.

  12. Lucas Guillemette · September 29

    One point nobody mentions is Hollywood has largely relied on film formats smaller than aps-c for a century. All the most common film format (academy , super 35…) use 35mm stock but pass it vertically instead of horizontally like in full frame. If they were able to build the Hollywood look using that, aps-c is good enough for me.

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