Many people still believe that to be a professional photographer, or to have better looking photos, you need to have a Full Frame camera, which is simply not true. I am constantly hearing people say they require a photographer to have a Full Frame camera in order to be hired, which is really dumb. I have been shooting with an APS-C sized sensor (crop sensor) camera ever since I started my career. I have not 'upgraded' to full frame for a few reasons, and budget isn't necessarily the main reason. There are my reasons on why you DO NOT need a full frame camera to be a professional.
FIRST, WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A FULL FRAME AND CROP SENSOR CAMERA?
Starting from the basics
It's pretty easy to understand the different concept between a Full Frame (FF) camera sensor and a cropped sensor camera. A FF sensor will allow you to see more of the image in comparison to a crop sensor camera. On a crop camera, the image will appear to be more zoomed in if you use the same focal length lens. Refer to the diagram below;
The large image is what a FF camera can capture, provided that it is using a FF lens, which is required. A crop sensor camera (in green) will have the image zoomed in. Anything between the green frame and the outer frame will not be visible, resulting in the image appearing to be zoomed in. BUT - you will only notice the difference if you are comparing the cameras side by side.
Note: There are various sizes of crop sensor cameras. A FF camera is also regarded as having 1.0x crop, basically no crop. There are APS-C cameras that have 1.5x crop, and some have 1.6x crop factors. There are even Micro Four Thirds cameras that have a 2.0x crop factor.
What does this mean?
Example: A 50mm lens on a FF camera will be a 50mm (1.0x crop). The same 50mm lens on an APS-C camera sensor with a 1.5x crop will be a 75mm [50 x 1.5 = 75]. The same applies for 1.6x and 2.0x crop sensor cameras. A 1.6x crop sensor camera will be an 80mm equivalent lens, and a 2.0x crop sensor will be a 100mm equivalent FF lens. Therefore, you will need wider lenses on your crop sensor camera if you want to see more of your frame.
1. YOU GET MORE RANGE FROM YOUR LENSES
Full frame (FF) cameras seem like the norm they days. They have become cheaper than ever, and now most people can afford to buy them. But, there are many who still cannot afford to spend thousands on a FF camera and FF lenses. If you need a FF camera you need to have lenses that cover the whole sensor. These are more expensive than lenses designed for cropped sensor cameras. But, there is a BIG benefit to having a crop sensor camera.
With a crop sensor camera, you can also use FF lenses on your system, not the other way around. The beauty of this is that you have a lot more lenses and focal options to choose from. Not only can you get crop sensor lenses, but you can also get FF lenses. With a FF camera, the three main typical zoom lens focal ranges are 16-35mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm. These are great, provide coverage from wide, medium, to telephoto. However, if you think about it, if you have a 24-70mm on a crop sensor camera (with a 1.5x crop factor), you get a lot more range than you would from a FF camera with a 24-70mm. On a crop camera, it would be equivalent to a 35-105mm lens. No such lens exists on a FF system with that much range that also offers an f/2.8 aperture. So you get a heck of a lot more zooming range and faster glass as a result.
In summary, a 24-70mm would be approximately 35-105mm FF equivalent. The closest lens in FF glass would be a 24-105, but instead of a f/2.8, it is an f/4.0. F/2.8 being faster (letting in more light) it would perform much better in lower light conditions.
On another example, a 70-200mm telephoto on a FF would be approximately 105-300mm on a crop sensor. A similar lens to this focal range would be a 100-400mm. But, once again, it would not be as fast as on a crop sensor system. You can get a 70-200mm f/2.8, but a 100-400mm would be a f/4.5-5.6. Not nearly as fast (letting in a much light in), and the aperture also varies when zooming in.
2. MOST HOLLYWOOD CINEMA CAMERAS SHOOT ON SUPER-35 SENSORS
Note: This point pertains more towards the video aspects than photography.
When I first started shooting video, I did not mind not having a FF camera because most video cameras, especially the professional Hollywood cinema cameras were shot on Super35 (S35) sensors. A S35 sensor is almost the same size as an APS-C sensor in a digital camera. So the hype of needing a FF camera to shoot cinematic videos is nonsense. If you shoot video and want a FF camera because it is more cinematic, then why do most Hollywood movies use S35 sensors?
Achieving the 'Hollywood look' does not mean you need a FF camera. Filmmaking is a whole different shooting style in comparison to photography. You need to be a lot more careful in exposing your image correctly in comparison to photography as you cannot just crank up more shadow detail as you do in your photos. It's not exactly the same process. So, to achieve that 'Hollywood look', you need to be more careful as to how you shoot and how you expose the image to give you that professional look. There is a lot more to cover, but this is a whole new topic.
3. IT WON'T MAKE YOUR PHOTOS BETTER
Don't assume that owning the best FF camera will make your photos better than they already are. Start with learning the craft with the tools you have - Start with using your phone!
Sure, the photos on your old phone may look like complete garbage, but the point is to learn how to frame your photos and establish good composition. An amazing photo is pointless if it is not framed properly.
4. IT'S NOT AS EASY TO DISTINGUISH A PHOTO SHOT ON A FF CAMERA FROM A CROP CAMERA
Believe it or not, but it's not that easy to distinguish a photo whether it has been shot on a crop sensor camera or a full frame camera. Most often than not, you will not know which camera was used to capture a particular image. The differences are so minor that the only way you could probably tell the difference is if you shot the exact same photo from the exact same spot, at the same time, with two different camera systems and lenses.
Many people that have seen my photos assume I use a FF camera, but I do not. It often leaves them confused and speechless as to how my photos look as good as cameras with FF sensors that are 3 times the price of my camera.
5. THE BEST REASON, THE PRICE
The best reason why a crop sensor camera is a better option from a FF camera is because it is cheaper. You will be spending anywhere from 2-4 times more, on average, than what you would have if you bought a crop sensor camera - and that is not even including the fact that you still need to purchase the more expensive lenses.
A good crop sensor camera with a decent lens can cost you a few thousand. A FF camera with an equivalent lens coverage will be significantly higher. With the price difference, you can get more lenses in your kit, or other necessary accessories.
THEN HOW IS FULL FRAME BETTER?
There are actually a lot of reasons why a Full Frame camera will be better in comparison to a crop sensor camera. If you are reading this blog, and you are new to the craft, chances are, the benefits of owning a FF camera is irrelevant or not as important to you.
In short, here are a list of a few advantages of owning a FF camera:
Better performance in low light (less noise)
More dynamic range (ability to see slightly more into the shadows and highlights)
More shallow depth of field (less in focus - not necessarily always a better thing)
Offer more built-in professional features
Can have more megapixels (if you need more MP, a FF camera will offer that)