Everything You Want to Know About Camera Lenses: Part 4-Lens on Crop vs. Full Frame Sensors

Today we’re going to talk a little bit about the comparison of your lens on a crop sensor or a full frame sensor. Raise your hand if these words have ever come out of your mouth “My camera sucks, I need to upgrade.” Are you raising your hand? Don’t be shy, mine’s up too. I think everyone comes to this point at some time. Of course this always comes when we can’t afford it. When making that comment has anyone ever told you to upgrade your glass before upgrading your body? Yes? Well they are 100% right.

I personally believe in two things.
1. Know the ins and outs of your camera
2. If you only have kit lenses you should definitely upgrade those before your body.

Today, I’m going to show you just how easy it is to rock a crop sensor camera body with some good lens. This way hopefully we’ll be more content with what you got and will rock it!

Difference in crop vs. full frame sensors

We’re going to start by going into the differences of crop vs. full frame sensors but for the purpose of this post I’m going to keep it simple. There are four main differences. First, full frames have higher ISO and can handle that ISO better in terms of grain. Second, full frames produce better color and picture quality. Third, a crop sensor has a crop of 1.6x (Canon) or 1.5x (Nikon). This means if you put a 50mm lens on a full frame, its focal length is 50mm. However, on a crop sensor the actual focal length for a 50mm is 80mm (Canon) or 75mm (Nikon). If you want to see what a 50mm lens would look like on a full frame but only have a crop sensor, check out the 35mm. Lastly is DOF, although this is actually a myth, I am going to touch on this a bit when we get to the pictures.

Now let’s get to the photos. The photos were all shot from a tripod that never moved and with a model that was sitting in the same spot the whole time. This way you can really see the crop factor on each lens. Lastly, all photos were imported zeroed out and edited the exact same way. The only difference in editing was a few WB tweaks.

24-70mm 2.8

First up is the 24-70mm lens. This is the only lens I felt a strong difference in color and image quality. I would not typically shoot with this lens for these types of shots but I wanted to give you a wide focal point to compare. Oh, and please excuse the foot chop. Whoops!

50mm 1.4

Moving onto the 50mm 1.4 . I can slightly tell the difference with color and image quality but honestly besides the crop they look extremely similar. You can see the DOF is exactly the same in both photos.

85mm 1.8

Last is the 85mm 1.8. Again there’s a slight difference in color and image quality but they both look fantastic to me. I love the DOF I acquired with both cameras and I would give both shots to my client.

Now just for fun, here are five images I shot at this session. From the comparison shots, can you guess which is from my 50D and which is my 5D? Don’t peek! Write them down and then scroll down and find if you got them right.

Are you peeking?

Okay, here are the answers:
1. 5D
2. 5D
3. 5D
4. 50D
5. 50D

How did you do?

Now back to the DOF myth. The only time DOF applies is when you’re shooting the same photo at the same crop. So pictures 3 & 4 were both shot with my 85mm but with different camera bodies. I had to move in closer with my 5D to get a crop that would be similar to my 50D. Do you see the difference in the DOF in these shots? Again this is the only time it applies. If you would like to read more, you can read this great article written about full frame vs crop sensor-depth of field.

I hope this helped some of you out there longing for a full frame camera realize that it’s not all about the camera body. Go get those lens you’ve been longing over first and I bet it’ll be the best investment you’ve ever made.

Read the whole series: Everything you want to know about camera lenses
Part 1: Understanding the writing on the lens
Part 2: What lens should I buy next?
Part 3: Our Favorite Lenses
Part 4: Lens on crop vs. full frame sensor
Part 5: Comparing different lenses
Part 6: 50mm 1.8 vs 1.4

Disclaimer: These are affiliate links. What does that mean? Basically, if you loved the information and decide to purchase anything through the link that the author of this post will receive a small percentage of money from the company at no extra cost to you. Thank you in advance if you do decide to make a purchase :)

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Melissa Noste - Contributor

My photography started 10 years ago in high school with film and the darkroom. Through the years I’ve studied, taken classes, and upgraded cameras and lens. Photography has become my biggest passion, outside of my family of course. My beautiful baby girl pushed me to learn more when she was born in 2010 so I could capture her growing up. | More Posts | Website | Facebook My Camera Bag: Nikon D700 | 50mm f/1.4G

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  1. This is such a helpful post! I’ve seen a few things explaining this but it didn’t really “click” until now. Thanks for always breaking things down in such an easy to digest way.
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  2. Helpful post, thanks!
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  3. These comparisons are very helpful! Thank you.

    My calculations show the 50mm being equivalent to 80mm on a Canon and 75mm on a Nikon. Am I incorrect?
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  4. Great post Melissa!!!!!! :) Beautiful work!
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  5. Thanks so much for such an informative post! I never understood the depth of field issue on a full frame camera vs cropped sensor camera until this post. The old saying that a picture is work 1000 words certainly applies here. Seeing photos with the same lens on different crop factor bodies for comparison is so helpful. I’m glad that I went ahead and got my 50mm 1.4 and 85mm 1.8 lenses to go with my trusty little Rebel.
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  6. Great article. I would like a full frame camera one day, but I absolutely love my 7D. I mean love. :) I think I could easily love a 5D Mark III, but not the price tag. Lol.
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  7. Thanks for this! I’ve been suffereing from camera envy lately and this really helps me to be complacent for awhile longer. I’ll save up for a new lens instead!

  8. I am a math cripple.
    There. I’ve said it.
    Reading over and over again about a 1.5 factor on a crop v. full frame made absolutely no sense to me.

    Your fist two pictures made it crystal clear.
    Thank you.
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  9. Thanks so much for doing this series! This is something that I have had trouble with understanding. You made it simple! I also have been contemplating getting a new lens or even a new body. Now I think I need to think about that a little more.
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  10. Hi Melissa! Providing us this useful information about camera lenses is really a big help. I will follow all the tips that you’ve shared with us here. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!
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  11. I currently own a Nikon D90 and one day hope to own a full frame camera. I’ve researched that DX lenses can not be used on full frame Nikons? So what would you do, continue buying DX lenses knowing they aren’t compatible or settle for the kit lenses knowing you’ll need to start from scratch once you can afford to make the purchase (possibly many years along)? I currently have the kit 25-80mm VR and 70-300mmVR but want to purchase an 85mm 1.4.

  12. Love your website and the wealth of information it provides! I am considering buying a prime fixed lens, I own a cannon 60d, was looking at the 50mm but now wondering if I need the 35mm instead, is one better than the other? I like to shoot a lot of portraits and group shots of the kids and their friends. I also have the lens that came with the camera which is the 18-135mm. I am now confused which would be better? thank you!

  13. *Excellent* article! This is the clearest explanation of the “shallow DOF advantage” of FF, I have ever seen, by far. I use a crop sensor now, and enjoy the extra “reach” it provides, for photograping my kids’ sporting activities. I see now that won’t be gaining any “shallow DOF advantage” by switching to FF, unless I can get closer to my subject (I can’t) or buy even longer fast glass (I can’t). I’ll stick with crop for now and spend any extra on glass. *Love* the shots using the 50D with the 50 and 85mm. Absolutely gorgeous. Thanks again for a wonderful article.

  14. I have a question. I wanted to ask that are there any categories like lenses for full frame and lenses for crop frame?. also crop frame lens cannot get attached to fullframe mount or vice o versa ? please explain.

  15. Hi There! Great article. I was hoping you could clarify something for me…I want to upgrade my kit lens (currently a Canon 18-55mm) to something that would work well for portraits. After reading the lens series, I believe I should be getting something somewhere in the range of 24-70mm but if I have a crop sensor in my camera, do I need to take this 1.6 multiplier into account and buy something lower? Then, if I would upgrade to a full-frame camera down the road, would this require me to need another lens for the same portraits due to no multiplier being added?

    • 85mm is best for full-frame. But for a crop sensor you need something like 50mm. Try the 50mm f1.4 or f1.8. Perhaps the 40mm f2.8. These are just some cheaper lenses. There are plenty of options for much higher prices.

  16. What edit process you apply to the above images? I like the way the images are crystal clear. But i think there is some heavy editing involved. No matter what i do, it does not look that flat, sharp and crystal clear. Do you use some Photoshop actions?

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  18. “Lastly is DOF, although this is actually a myth, I am going to touch on this a bit when we get to the pictures. ”

    That’s NOT true !!! Why do we get such bokeh only with DSLRs and not with point-and-shoot cameras? Because DSLR cameras have huge sensors compared to point-and-shoot cameras. Besides, it would be more helpful to see unprocessed images and not photo-shopped ones.

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  23. I’m a senior in college and a total newby in the photography world…I have a Nikon D3100 that I bought with my high school graduation money and am looking to get new lens and upgrade from my original kit lens. I basically taught myself how to use it and am going back and trying to learn the names and techniques that I kind of already figured out without knowing it, so I can be a bit more precise when taking pictures now. The kit lens I have on there right now says that it’s DX, which from another post I saw is a crop-sensor lens? Does this mean I have to get a crop sensor lens for my next one (I’m looking at the 50mm f/1.8)? Any help anyone can give would be great! Thanks!!

  24. Hi, thanks for the blog, its great, I am still missing something small though and I wonder if you could help. I have a canon 50mm 1.8 on a crop sensor. I need to change lens though as when i take photos indoor i just don’t have the room in my home to step back to get everything I may want in the frame. So I am thinking that I might need a 28mm or 40mm lens, is that correct? Can anyone help?

  25. Wow, This is exactly what I needed to understand full frame vs crop. For the longest time I could see the difference in colors and image quality of full frame cameras, I finally get it. I absolutely love your blog. They way things are explained is just so easy to understand and follow!

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