Field of View in Full frame vs. Crop Sensor Cameras [Includes photo comparison]

When photographers are interested in buying a full frame camera for the first time as an upgrade from their crop frame DSLR, they often have a nagging question.  Most photographers have heard there is a difference in the field of view (how much of the scene you can see) when using the same focal length of camera on either a crop frame or full frame camera.  So, they want to know how much of a difference it will make.

If you're brand new to this concept, you can check out this article, where I discuss the difference between crop and full frame sensors.

They usually aren't sure how to phrase this question, so they ask something like these questions:

  1. Do you have any comparison photos of the mm difference between crop frame and full frame cameras?
  2. I know my crop sensor camera is cutting off some of the picture, but how much?
  3. What does a picture look like at 18mm on a crop frame camera, compared to 18mm on a full frame camera?

Field of View, and How it is Impacted by the Crop Factor

Field of view simply means the amount of the scene that you can capture in one frame.  A full frame sensor is physically larger than a smaller crop frame APS-C sized sensor.  This physical difference in the size of the sensor changes the physics of how the lens focuses the image on the sensor.  The larger sensor captures more field of view than the crop frame camera if all else is equal.

The sample picture below shows a picture taken at 18mm on a crop sensor camera, and the same picture at 18mm on a full-frame camera.  The difference is quite surprising.

full frame vs. crop sensor comparison photo
The inner rectangle is the photo taken with a Nikon crop sensor DSLR, the full outer picture is taken at 18mm as well, but with a full frame camera.

Focal Length Equivalents

Please keep in mind that not all crop sensor DSLRs have the same size sensor.  The crop factor on APS-C crop sensor DSLRs from Pentax, Olympus, Sony, and Nikon is 1.5.  The crop factor for most Canon DSLRs is 1.6x.  That means that if you take an 18mm lens and put it on a Canon and Nikon, the Canon picture will be slightly more zoomed in.

On the table below showing the equivalent focal lengths of a full frame and crop sensor camera, I have used the more common 1.5x crop factor.  Canon cameras will be ever so slightly more zoomed in than even what the table shows.

Crop sensor and full frame equivalent mm focal lengths comparison chart.
This chart is based upon a 1.5x crop factor, which is the most common crop factor for “crop sensor” aps-c size sensors in DSLRs.

According to the table above, for example, you would have to use a 75mm lens on a full frame camera in order to get a photo with the exact same field of view as a photo from a crop sensor camera shooting at 50mm.

WHY Does the Sensor Size Change the Field of View?

Physics, that's why!  Remember that the job of the lens is to take a scene and focus it to a small area.  The lens creates the reflected scene and puts it on the image sensor, which records the light focused by the lens.  Naturally, the larger the sensor is, the more of the focused image it can see.  If you're more of a visual learner, check out the picture below that explains the concept.

Why larger full-frame DSLR sensors see more view than smaller aps-c crop frame sensors.
See how the larger sensor is able to capture the entire reflected image, but the smaller sensor can't? That's why! Also, notice the reflected image is upside-down. Your DSLR flips the picture around automatically.

If you'd like to learn more about how your camera works and the basics of photography, you might consider taking my 30-Day Beginning Online Photography Class.

So is Full Frame Worth the Extra Cost?

It depends on what type of photography you're doing.  It's easy to say that full frame is better, but that's not necessarily true.  For example, if you don't have the money to plunk down on extremely expensive super telephoto lenses, then you may want the crop factor of a crop sensor camera to help you shoot wildlife or sports.  If you're a landscape photographer, then you may want to spend the extra money on a full frame camera to help you go wider.

If you are in the market for a full frame camera, however, you should really take a long hard look at the Canon 6D or the Nikon D600.  These cameras are only a few months old and are MUCH less expensive than full frame cameras have traditionally been.

28 thoughts on “Field of View in Full frame vs. Crop Sensor Cameras [Includes photo comparison]”

  1. Julie Kenward

    It’s very interesting to see the difference between the two. I’ve always chosen crop sensor cameras because of the price (and because I do more macro and portrait work than landscape) but I never realized there was this much difference between the two. Still…can’t you just stand back a little further and get that whole scene in with a crop sensor camera?

  2. Ever since I started photography I’ve always wanted to get more of the scene in the picture and I couldn’t figure out why. I didn’t realize that full frames had THAT MUCH more FOV. You’ve just made my newly purchased crop camera feel inadequate. Thanks Jim now I need to go spend $5000 on a new camera lenses, the wife won’t be happy, I’m blaming it all on you. 😉

  3. @Brandon – Tell your wife it was my fault 🙂

    @Julie Kenward – You can’t really just step back and get the same thing, because it changes the perspective of what is on the ground close to you, which gives more of a feeling of “being there.” It’s not such a big deal for portraits, but it IS a big deal for landscape.

  4. Mark Hoffmann

    Hi Jim, thanks for the website, lots of good info.

    Something I have been wondering, regarding the 1.5x (or 1.6x on canon) multiplier to the focal length due to the crop frame effect, is this:

    As the aperture f-number is measured as the ratio of the diameter of the entrance pupil to the focal length, and since that diameter does not change, does that mean that the crop sensor multiplier stops down the lens when it lengthens the focal length?

    I ask because using a 1.5x teleconverter will stop down a lens by one stop for the above reason.

    Or is the diameter of the entrance pupil relative to the sensor size as well, therefore the size of the sensor will not affect the f-stop?

    Have you done any exposure and depth of field comparisons between different sensor size cameras using the same lens?


  5. In your example shot stepping back would probably work. I know that in some cases it would not.
    But the comparison is like the amount of zoom people use. Often zooming when stepping forward would be a better idea.
    The bottom like, I suppose is doing the best with the equipment you have available, be it a full frame or a high end point and shoot.

  6. Interesting article. Many thanks !!

    Is it correct to state that a crop-sensor body, would not be the best buying option for portrait photography ?

    I’m wondering since I have never seen anything said in this way, but as far as I understand, using a crop sensor body and willing to obtain a photography with the exact same framing than with a FF body, the photographer has 2 options :
    1 : using the same focal length and stand further from the subject,
    2 : changing for a shorter focal length while staying at the same distance from the subject.

    The resulting picture will have a deeper DOF than it would have been using a FF body and furthermore the second option will lead to more distortion … and these two effects are not very good for portrait. Aren’t they ?

  7. Thanks for the description. I just made my upgrade purchase from my D3100 (trying to sell now) to the D600 last night and I am PUMPED about the upgrade so much so that I had trouble sleeping last night!

  8. The crop sensor does not change the f stop or background blur. It is essentially the same as taking a full frame image and cropping it in photoshop. Nothing else changes.

  9. I’ll take this opportunity to mention how glad I am that I moved from a 1.6 crop body to a full frame last year. The difference is staggering, and the increase in sensor real estate was more than worth the cost. It’s like getting a whole new set of lenses.

  10. Why call this “full frame”? What if (or when) someone comes up with a larger sensor? Super-full-frame?

  11. I and my big mouth… Had I read your article “The difference between crop and full frame sensors” BEFORE asking the question, as you suggested, and not AFTER, I would have avoided showing my stupid side (too big to hide I guess).

    1. @Kristen – Full frame is great for portrait photography because it allows you to achieve shallower depth of field.

  12. great article. so by this reasoning and the diagram you have drawn, one could say that if you wanted the image out the back(flange) of the full frame lens (seen in your diagram) to fit the crop sensor, couldnt you just position the lens further back toward the sensor so that the image projected fits the crop sensor?

  13. Jim, is it a true statement to say that if I move to a full frame camera and shoot landscape that I’ll spend a great deal of time in post-processing working to stitch foreground and background images together just to get a composition with full depth of field? If so, is the payoff then good enough to move to full-frame if there’s that much more work to do just to get a decent landscape photo? Thanks in advance.

  14. The Image is not cropped at all… how silly would it be to just crop the image and lose half the available light… what actually happens is the image is focused so that all the light is falling on the sensor. Just think of the X drawn over the lens as a pair of scissors with a hinge at the cross point. Now you will understand that when you close the image (scissors) down (bring the lines closer to parallel to one another) until the left side lines fit just over the entire image (causing all the light to fall perfectly on the smaller sensor) that at the same time on the other side of the lens (Toward the subject) it narrows giving a narrower (and more magnified view). This is exactly how it really works.

    1. @Rich H – You are of course correct. I think most of us understand it isn’t CROPPED like in the sense you are saying. But it certainly is effectively cropped.

      1. Is Rich H actually correct? If I’m following what he is saying, wouldn’t the field of view be the same on the full frame and cropped sensors? *All* of the light does not fall on the smaller sensor, else you would end up with the same field of view, right?

        My understanding is that the lens exposes the same size image towards the sensor. Since the cropped sensor is smaller, a smaller portion of the image is captured. Just like the diagram above.

  15. Great Jim! Glad we agree… in Photography no one wants feel they are wasting light… and in this sense, the APS-C and smaller sensors… do the best they can with all the light from the lens…it’s just placed over a smaller area. I never liked the term Cropped Sensor for the exact reason that it implies you lose light as well as field of view.

  16. I would suggest there is an additional aspect to this discussion that photographers should be knowledgable of and that is lense angle of view and how IT is affected by crop frame sensors. This decides what gets to your sensor, large or small. Knowing this allows one to select lenses that complement ones photographic style, especially with the DX cameras so many of us use. I tend to lean towards it is the glass , not the camera. Composition is still a manual process, and bigger does not overrule that.

  17. i think it is correct to say cropped sensor because in relation to the full frame (35mm) sensor it is really cropped. What it is not cropped is the light. That’s why there are lenses for cropped and full sensors since they optimize the light through the onto the sensor.

    cool post Jim!

  18. The term “cropped” is not the correct term to use when talking about the difference between sensor sizes. What really happens is that if you want the same picture with cameras that have different size sensors you must put more light on a smaller size sensor and have less quality in the finished picture.

  19. With a crop sensor camera the sensor is smaller and the image is only captured if it hits the sensor. The lens coverage does not need to reach the edges of a 35mm frame so the lenses could be smaller as they are on micro four thirds. The light on a given unit of area is the same as it is on that segment of the full frame and any light outside that area is irrelevant as you aren’t capturing that part of the image.

    As for using cry sensor to allow you to use a shorter lens as though it were longer, that again really isn’t the case as you could use a full frame camera and crop the image to end up with exactly the same image assuming that your full frame had the same pixel density. It probably doesn’t since 4 times the m43 16 mpixels would be 64 mpixels and 2.25 times 20 mpixel (that is approximate due to the variety in aps-c sensors) is 45 mpixels.)

    Even though a crop sensor camera gives a multiplied focal length field of view, it is still really the original focal length and everything else behaves like the real focal length, such as depth of field. If you want shallow depth of field that can be more difficult since the depth of field on a 35mm lens is deeper at any given f-stop than it is for a 52.5mm lens at the same fstop.

    The only good reason to buy a crop sensor camera is size and price (although micro four thirds does result in equal or better IQ than most aps-c cameras since Panasonic and Olympus treat their design much better than Nikon and Canon treat their aps-c cameras. For Panasonic and Olympus these are their premium cameras while for Nikon and Canon these are the teasers to get you hooked on their lenses.) Size and price are good reasons but on Nikon and Canon aps-c cameras those reasons fail since the lenses, for the most part, are full frame lenses and cost and weigh just as much as they would on a full frame camera.

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