Crop Sensors vs Full Frame

Crop Crap with Zack Arias

by Hugh Brownstone9 Comments

This is one of the most entertaining, well-done video reviews I’ve seen in quite a while.

Count me a fan of Zack Arias.

Even if I don’t agree with everything he says.

In a walk down memory lane, Zach schools his audience with an abbreviated history of film and sensor formats, all in service of making two basic points:

1) The full-frame vs. crop sensor (especially vs. APS-C) debate is overblown; and
2) Beyond the camera itself, this is in large measure why he feels so comfortable taking the Fuji XT-1 on a professional shoot.

Zach makes a third, more subtle point — or, perhaps, offers a second data point — which is that micro 4/3 is just fine, too: his review is shot on a Panasonic GH4.

I don’t want to spoil the fun, so I won’t write much more about the review other than to say 1) I laughed out loud and truly appreciated the artistry of the performance, its content and the shoot itself; and 2) present my one caution: while it is true, as Zach asserts, that the differences between full frame and APS-C sensors is moving toward negligible (see “Downsizing from a 5D Mk II to…the Rebel SL1?”), it’s entertainment at the expense of verity — maybe better to write “truth at the expense of accuracy” — when he compares the “war of the sensors”  to the “war of the film formats” a generation ago.

They’re different, and they’re not.

Why? Because:

1) The chemistry of film and the physics of sensors are different.  35mm Tri-X, for example, is the same emulsion as 6×6 Tri-X and 8×10 Tri-X: same grain structure, same light sensitivity, same everything except size.  The only real difference among film formats in image quality, therefore, is resolution (and thus, it’s true nuances in tonality). Different sized sensors, with different sized photo sites and different circuitry and software, yield different light sensitivity, dynamic range and color rendition.

2) Irrespective of format, the lenses in the film format wars were usually functionally equivalent: e.g. an 80mm 2.8 on a 6×6 Hassy was the true focal length and DOF equivalent of a 50 1.8 on a 35mm Leica (less true when considering 4×5 or 8×10, but then they were typically used for landscape, where infinite depth of field was appropriate and daylight was the standard (oh, and there was NO MOTION). In the digital age, the lenses currently native to crop sensor cameras — APS-C or MTF or even the much smaller P&S and smartphones — typically have MUCH smaller maximum aperture equivalents than full frame, leading to significant differences in depth of field and, all else being equal, requiring more light  (or accepting a noisier image), especially when shutter speed must be held constant for videography.  It’s why there’s a growing recognition and yearning for very large maximum aperture lenses in the formats smaller than full-frame

But to the larger point, he’s still right — especially when one considers that most images are not mural sized, but shown instead on computer screens operating well below the potential resolution of most cameras out there — or HDTVs with even lower resolution.

And to what is his most important point — that it’s ultimately not about the equipment but about what the artist brings to it — one can only say: “just so.”  Tri-X could yield billboard sized images, too — and did — when grain was an integral part o the emotional and visual punch of an image.

Zack, you da man!

Crop Sensors vs Full Frame :: Crop Or Crap?

Via Youtube Description:

Let’s get a few things out of the way ::

I have said, in the past, that you should move toward full frame sensors. I have always championed full frame sensors. At the end of the day, full frame sensors beat APS sized and smaller sensors.

The whole reason I bought an original x100 was because it had the largest sensor I could find in a small camera. It had been a number of years since I had shot an APS crop frame sensor. The last APS camera I shot professionally was the Nikon D200. I replaced that with a Nikon D3 (full frame) and then moved on to the Canon 5d2, (also full frame.) From the time I retired my D200 to using the x100 on jobs was about four years. When I bought that little x100 I had ZERO desire to change to a new camera system. I sure as hell was NOT going to switch from a full frame camera to an APS camera. Full frame cameras are better. Right?

If I have ruffled your feathers, as these topics usually tend to do, please read my entire blog post about this topic before you fire something off at me. I go more in depth there.


(cover photo credit: snap from the video)

Hugh Brownstone

Hugh Brownstone

Hugh is the founder of Three Blind Men and An Elephant Productions. He and the team write, direct, shoot, score, and edit web-centric films; conduct photo shoots; and write copy, white papers and blog posts. Hugh also writes screenplays (he recently optioned a TV pilot) and just published his first eBook (Apple's iPhone: The Next Video Revolution). If it's about telling stories, it's in their wheelhouse.

And always with the ambition of authenticity, humanity and wit.
Hugh Brownstone

Weird discussion.... 1 thing I miss, is the 'what are you gonna shoot?'.... Since those medium format and even bigger formats absolutely suck shooting a sports event, or an event.  
also weird to 'down' the discussion between crop and full frame based on 'there are bigger format camera's' (mostly negatives, so in a sense not comparable, or in a price range which is waaaaaaaay out of reach for most...

Bit like comparing cars, saying that the differences between a Ford Kia and a Ford Mondeo are negliable, because cars like Mercedes, Porsche or even Ferrari are waaaaay faster and better driving... Some will drive Ferrari because it's the best car around, but... most can't afford it, and... driving a Ferrari in normal life sucks, and the maintenance is high, need new tires, you pay way more then changing tires on those Fords....

Differences between the Kia and the Mondeo are there, and for most very important, but most will not compare it with high end cars, due to price, due to practicality and ease of use. 

So it's silly to say Kia and Mondeo are almost the same, because of the differences with Porsches and Ferrari's.

Besides.... it's kinda irritating of him to say it over and over and over again. Yeah we got it after the first comparence, so ... no need to prolonge it for the next 5 minutes... 


I get what he is saying, but there are differences in the real world. He failed to bring up the APS film format and the fact that nobody back then wanted to shoot with it professionally because it was a smaller format. 

The reason you get these debates today between APS-C and Full Frame is because the prices are finally similar enough. We don't have affordable digital medium format cameras. They are all astronomically priced. Otherwise every pro would own one. 

The only reason APS-C is even in the conversation is because of the technical/cost limitations of building full frame sensors when digital SLRs first hit the market. Had those limitations not be there, there would be no discussion, we would all own full frame 35mm DSLRs.  

William Sommerwerck
William Sommerwerck

A largely content-free dissertation. For how many decades have we heard that it's the photographer, not the equipment, that makes the difference? Let's add in "If the equipment produces a technically good image (for the intended purpose), then it's good equipment." Well, duh...

Mr Arias fails to address the issue of why well-engineered digital cameras have a subjective sharpness and resolution that's far superior to what a simple consideration of the eye's resolution would predict. I've never been able to understand this.

By the way, there is no significant difference between 645 and cropped 2¼ x 2¼.


@roxics I also use APS sized sensor mainly due to the much better lens selection...meaning with 3 lenses or a very good zoom I shoot a commercial. If we´re talking about S35mm it is exactly the size of Alexa or F55 sensors. Cinema and commercials are still shot in S35mm. Even at a Very High End there aren´t many lenses that cover full frame. Cooke doesn´t Zeiss Master and Ultra and Digiprimes don´t cover. I just mentioned some of the best lenses in the world. So there is a reason to actually shoot with an S35 sensor. Not the price being an Arri Alexa 60K.


@kikojiu I get it. But let's also remember that the reason s35 exists is because of the cost of film. It's cheaper to run it through the camera vertically and get a smaller frame than horizontally. Stills aren't shot at 24fps so going horizontal wasn't an issue.  

There is no reason today in the digital world that we should have to stick to a frame size that was decided upon because of the cost of celluloid. 

In the past it was different when you had every theater equiped with a s35mm projector, You could shoot larger formats like 65mm or vistavision but ultimately in most scenarios your print was super35. even then they tried to cram more information in that frame with anamorphic lenses. 

I'm not convinced that APS-C is the answer long term. I think it was a short term solution to a technical problem of producing large sensors inexpensively. I imagine that in 10 years time most cameras will be full frame. 


1. APS-C lenses aren't that much smaller than full frame lenses. Generally speaking their build size is about the same. 

2. Full frame will always out perform smaller sensors just because of the physics of light. We may reach a point where the differences don't matter (we're close right now). But even now we see cameras like the A7S outperforming APS-C sensors in low light.

3. Full frame cameras are still very portable. I look at my old Nikon FE and it's smaller than my 60D. The A7S again is similar in size. One doesn't really need to go much smaller because then you run into ergonomic issues. The human hand is only so small. We're quickly reaching a point where APS-C and Full frame cameras are the same size and the cost of the sensors will be very close. So why not have full frame and more light absorbing power?

4. A full frame sensor can always have an APS-C crop mode function, but the reverse is not true. So those Cooke and Zeiss optics can still be used.