Which DSLR Image Sensor Size is Right for Your Photography?

DSLR cameras come with a variety of image sensor sizes. Larger sensors will yield higher quality images at a greater expense, but there are still more factors to consider. Photographers will need to weigh their options to find what kind of camera is best for them.

Sensor Sizes

The largest sensor size available is in a medium format camera. These sensors are larger than a 35mm film frame and are reserved for the most committed photographers who are willing to invest in an extremely expensive camera. A full-frame sensor is about the size of a 35mm film frame. APS-C is a term that refers to a variety of sizes such as a 1.5x and 1.6x crop factor.

A crop factor is measured by the relationship of your image size to 35mm film. If the crop factor is a lower number, such as 1.3x, then your frame is bigger than that of a crop factor with a higher number, such as 2.0x. Knowing this standard will be crucial when picking your camera.

Lens to Sensor Relationship

If you have a 50mm lens, then it will always project the same sized image onto a 35mm frame. So, when you use chips that are smaller than a 35mm frame, you will get tighter images. Though the lens will still be projecting the light as though it were directing it onto a 35mm film plane, your camera's chip will only record a portion of the image. The edges of the 35mm frame go to waste. Though 'waste' sounds like a bad thing, it comes with some advantages. Lenses tend to be sharper in the center of the image than at the edges. This is most apparent with lower quality lenses. When you discard the edges of the frame, you discard the softer portions of your image. This can, in the end, benefit the quality of your photography, but you will need adjust yourself to the new lens to image size relationship.

Depth of Field

As the image sensor size increases, the depth of field becomes more minimal. Though depth of field is often an aesthetic choice, some situations call for quick focus calls. A journalistic field photographer will need to be able to capture moving subjects at very key moments. Such a person would benefit from some extra depth of field, so a full frame camera may not be right for him.


In the same line of thinking as depth of field, a heavy camera might not be the best choice for a field photographer. As was just discussed, larger format cameras come with less depth of field. For this reason, the viewfinders are made larger so that the photographer can set the focus acceptably by eye. This increases the size and weight of the entire camera. Also, consider lens weight. Telephoto lenses are heavier than wider lenses. However, with smaller format lenses, a 50mm lens will get a much tighter image than it would on a full frame camera. So on cropped frame cameras, you would be carrying less weight for the same image size.

Though the most important trend in DSLR image sensor sizes is bigger chips lead to more resolution and a greater cost, there are more factors to consider before choosing a camera.

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