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What Does Crop Sensor Mean?

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Related course: Photography for Beginners

Camera sensors come in two versions; cropped and full-frame. In this article, we’ll look at what a crop sensor is and why this is something you need to know.

The sensor is one of the most, if not the most important part of your camera. It is what records your scene. The better the sensor, the more tones are caught, the better the dynamic range.

a close up of a camera sensor

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What Does a Camera Sensor Do

A camera sensor records all the parts of each scene you capture. It is the digital version of what photographic film was for analog cameras. The only difference is that all 35mm analog cameras have an equivalence of full-frame.

The sensor found in digital cameras come in a huge array of varieties and variations. The most important is size and resolution. The bigger the size, the better they are at capturing your scene.

It is true; the more expensive the sensor, the better it is. This means it takes in more detail, color, and light and turns it into better images.

What Is a Crop Sensor?

A crop sensor is anything smaller than the full-frame sensor size. These are also known as APS-C (most DSLR cameras), APS-C (Canon), 4/3″ / Four Thirds (Olympus and Panasonic) and 1″. These are all different sized sensors that offer different crop factors.

What this means is that the focal length and aperture of full-frame lenses change. The focal length changes, depending on the sensor’s crop factor.

For example, the Canon APS-C crop factor is 1.6x. When a 50mm lens works with this camera model, it captures a different perspective. Instead of being 50mm, it becomes (50×1.6) 80mm. The focal length has changed considerably.

an example of camera crop factor - what is crop sensor

Why Would You Use a Crop Sensor

A crop sensor feels inferior and less professional due to them changing the focal length. But, there are advantages to this system.

For one, the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L becomes a 38.4-112mm equivalent lens. Meaning, you have a telephoto lens without actually buying one. You are also much closer to subjects than the full-frame equivalent.

Some camera companies and third-party manufacturers make lenses specifically for crop sensor cameras. But, these can’t be used on full-frame sensors without extreme vignetting.

Likewise, it can help you achieve a focal length that just isn’t available. Take the Canon EF 100-400mm. With a full-frame sensor, it is limited. Drop it onto an APS-C crop sensor, it becomes (100 x 1.6x / 400 x 1.6x)  160-640mm.

With this new length, you can photograph Milky Ways and Astrophotography much easier.

For more in-depth information about full-frame and crop sensors, head over to our article Full Frame vs Crop Sensor.

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