Crop sensor versus full frame sensor

My camera (Nikon D5200) has a crop sensor body, a fact that was fully lost on me until a recent work event where I attempted to take group candids with a 50mm prime lens which rendered results that I was sure would get me voted off all the islands. Granted the lens was not right for the occasion, but on a crop sensor frame, it was even more not right.

If you’ve ever cropped an image, you’re basically achieving the same result as what a crop sensor will do to your image. It crops away the edges and makes a camera’s image more “zoomed in” than what it would be if you used a full frame sensor camera. How much it crops has to do with your camera’s crop factor (easy to find in a google search). The formula is lens size x crop factor. My D5200 has a crop factor of 1.5, so with my 50mm prime lens, my camera automatically appeared zoomed in as if I were using a 75mm lens. [50 x 1.5 = 75]

Nikon has a webpage that will help you visualize what this means in terms of your images. Visit their Nikkor Lens Simulator and select the following to see the difference:

  • Full-Frame Body: Select FX, then select D800 Series.
  • Crop Sensor Body: Select DX, then select D5000 Series.
  • Then choose a lens and notice how different the field of view is depending on the camera body.

Having a cropped image is not implicitly a negative (plus crop sensors are waaay cheaper and lighter than full frame sensors and therefore the cameras are both cheaper and lighter weight). But just be prepared to force a lot of “togetherness” for group shots in crowded spaces, or tons of solo shots like the one below, taken from about 12 feet away.


50mm, 1/80s, f/1.8, ISO 1000. To get this shot, I had to stand back a good 10+ feet and make sure there was no one in my field of view (read: ask people to move), which is ridiculous for a networking event. Also I wish I had moved the table, but it’s fine. Hat tip to the good sports who humored my efforts so that we would have at least a few decent photos from the event.


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