Going to a Full Frame DSLR Camera

Excuse the Camera geekery, but I know that this will be interesting to my DSLR friends, because everyone keeps asking. So, remember that I currently have a Canon 5D Mark II in Hand. It is has a full frame sensor. That’s a big deal to Digital SLR buffs. Most of the budget and semi-pro models have what’s called a cropped frame sensor. That basically means that the piece of electrickery where the light lands aren’t the same size as the traditional 35mm film. There are various reasons for that, but the main one really is cost. Building a big (full frame) sensor is more complex and costly than building a cropped frame one. First, some shots with the 5D Mark II from New York (best viewed in full screen)….

So, back to cropped frame sensors. A couple of things happen:

  • Not all the light from the lens gets though.
  • The focal length is scaled up.

The first means that not all of the light coming into the lens gets used (as some of it spills outside of the area of the frame). Canon turns this to their advantage by making some more affordable (and lighter lenses) – the EF-S lenses. It also means that you get less vignetting, since the edges of the lens, where you get light fall off that causes the darkening of the corners, don’t get used.

The second feature means that everything ends up a “zoomed in”. If, like me, you’ve never used a 35mm camera or a full frame camera, then you probably won’t notice. It does mean that some of the photography tips might be a bit off (a 50mm lens acts a lot more like an 85mm lens, so you have to ‘adjust’ accordingly). For 35mm traditionalists, it drives them a bit mad. For the rest of us, it means a smaller lens will get us closer to the subject than with a full-frame.

There is a lot of snobbery about frame sizes. The purists view full frame sensors as the only ‘true’ cameras, and point to lower noise and better light sensitivity for the big SLR beasts. That’s not always going to be the case, given the different generations of technology. These days there are bigger things at play.

So, how is full frame land for me? I have to say, I’m loving it. People have asked how it is loosing the ability to really zoom in tight on a subject. Answer? Wonderful. Why? Because all my lenses are wider – I can get more into the frame and stand closer to the subjects. If I want to get a longer lens, I have an EF 2x extender, which turns my 70-200 lens into a monstrous 140-400mm. The high ISO of the 5D Mark II means that it is more than fast enough to make up for the couple of stops of light I loose in using the extender. I’m using my 85mm for portraits, rather than my 50mm – which is now much more useful for capturing the scene. The 70-200mm L-series lens I have was too tight, now it is getting a lot more use.

Using the 5D Mark II, it feels like it is much more sensitive to light than my 40D, even at the same ISO settings. I’m putting that down to the full frame size. The 5D also has a “peripheral illumination correction” setting, which is a very grand way of saying that it reads what lens you are using, then digitally corrects for the vignetting. Personally, I like a bit of edge fall off – it adds some interest to conference shots, which can otherwise be a bit bland – so I’ve switched the feature off. However, it is very useful to have it there, and it works very effectively (it is calibrated specifically for each lens).

As I mentioned before, I’m loving the feeling of a larger viewfinder too. As you can probably tell, I’m very sold on full frame photography. Not for the technical specs (although I am blown away by the 5D Mark II’s image quality – as it everyone who sees the shots), but because suddenly my lenses feel right. That makes sense, as they are EF lens (designed for full frame use). Moving up to a 5D means leaving the EF-S lenses behind – actually, I have them on the back up body I have with me. I can’t say that I’ll miss them though. Oh, and do I miss the flash? With the 5D’s sensitivity, I don’t think so!

  11 comments for “Going to a Full Frame DSLR Camera

  1. March 15, 2009 at 7:10 am

    Don’t forget that sometimes having the crop factor is like having a free teleconverter of course. I have one full frame, one 1.3x, and one 1.6x crop factor camera. While the full-frame is great for the more creative shots, having my 100-400mm act as a 160-640mm is often welcome. With the 17-40 on the full-frame yesterday, it was a little TOO wide, when I needed to be further away from the subjects in reality.

    So, it can work both ways, and depends what you shoot.

  2. Benjamin
    March 15, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    Hi Simon – yes, spot on. That’s what I was trying to say. My 85mm is now like a 50mm, or looking at it the otherway, on a crop, my 50mm is like an 85mm.

    There is an impact on depth of field too, I think.

  3. March 16, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    I’d love to know what the effect on depth of field is?

    I am an old school 35mm guy, so I get confused over the lenses. Unfortunately I’m too poor at the moment to buy a DSLR, but saving like mad.

    Tim.C

  4. Benjamin
    March 20, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    Cropped frame cameras have a greater depth of field at an equivalent field of view (remember the full-frame camera needs a lens with 1.6x the focal length, or whatever the crop factor is, to give the same view).

    Put it another way, using the same lens on a cropped-sensor camera the image has 1.6x LESS depth of field than the full-frame image would have (but they are different images, since the field of view is different).

    Sounds more confusing than it is. Basically you are ‘zooming in’ with a cropped frame, so you either need to stand further back to get the same shot (hence changing the DOF), or you shoot from one place, get the same DoF, but the image from the full frame sensor will be a much larger field of view.

    Either way, it isn’t going to cause you a problem in reality, just use your eyes :)

  5. April 7, 2009 at 12:41 am

    I made the jump to a full-frame DSLR a couple years ago (the original 5D) and don’t think I could go back, especially since I “see” and “think” wide-angle. It’s a grand world…

  6. Amy
    June 5, 2010 at 1:31 am

    Cropped frame cameras have a greater depth of field at an equivalent field of view (remember the full-frame camera needs a lens with 1.6x the focal length, or whatever the crop factor is, to give the same view).

    Put it another way, using the same lens on a cropped-sensor camera the image has 1.6x LESS depth of field than the full-frame image would have (but they are different images, since the field of view is different).

    Sounds more confusing than it is. Basically you are ‘zooming in’ with a cropped frame, so you either need to stand further back to get the same shot (hence changing the DOF), or you shoot from one place, get the same DoF, but the image from the full frame sensor will be a much larger field of view.

    Either way, it isn’t going to cause you a problem in reality, just use your eyes :)

  7. Schmalerie
    April 30, 2012 at 8:28 pm

    Hi there, I just got a 5D Mark II myself, and am still learning all about it. I was about to buy a 430 EX II flash, and had the sales guy question why I would buy that flash for a full frame camera – to which my only answer was ‘after reading other’s reviews, it sounded like a good fit – without spending so much on the 580″, but it made me question that decision. I didn’t realize that there was a ‘full frame’ flash? Does it really matter? My main purpose would be for fill light in low light situations.

    Do you have any thoughts on it?

    Thank you :)

  8. May 1, 2012 at 8:31 am

    Schmalerie, the salesman is talking nonsense. The 430EX is perfectly good, just not as powerful. No such thing as a “Full frame flash”. The 550EX has more power, and can control 430EX as slaves. I myself have a 550 and two 430 flashes, which I often use as they are smaller and less cumbersome, when I don’t need the raw power of the 550.

    So, the 430EX is perfectly capable and compatible.

    • Benjamin Ellis
      May 1, 2012 at 8:38 am

      Schmalerie – exactly what Simon said. Although the field of light does need to be wider for a full frame camera, I don’t know of a canon flash that is just for cropped sensors – although the more advanced models do adjust the field for different zoom levels. I have had 430’s, 550’s, 580’s and a 580Mk II (that got stolen ***sobs uncontrollably ***). The higher end flashes have more power and more features, so it’s a question of thinking about budget versus long term expansion/future uses. 430 was fine with my 5DmkII. The 580 was killer, but it is (as you say!) a bit more pricy, and also physically quite a bit larger.

  9. Schmalerie
    May 1, 2012 at 7:29 pm

    Thank you so much for your feedback. I thought for sure it was a case of him trying to upsell me, but the confusing part was he was trying to sell me a vivitar of some sort, which I figured maybe he had a higher profit margin on or something. Guess I’ll be buying elsewhere, so I don’t have to deal with it. I’m thinking down the road I may be able to get the 580 and use the 430 for a slave, but with so much $ going out in camera and lenses, have to cut costs somewhere.

    And if you guys have online shops you like to buy from, would love to hear where.

    So appreciate your input!! Thanks again!

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