What Is APS-C? How Do APS-C Cameras Work?

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what is apsc sensor

The camera market has expanded beyond what one might think, and we are now getting all sorts of amazing offerings from the likes of Sony, Nikon, Canon, and so many other companies.

This only means that now is a great time to get a camera, but when you are buying one, you might come across a number of terms that can confuse you.

For instance, a few days ago, someone asked me what is APS-C, and while the answer to that is super simple, I was more surprised that they did not know.

So, in this post, we are going to talk all about APS-C cameras and see how they are different from other cameras in the market.


The Origin of APS-C Sensors


It should not come as a surprise, but APS-C sensors have been around for a long, long time. For those wondering, the full form of APS-C is Advanced Photo System, a film format that was used widely in the mid 1990s but has been discontinued ever since.

No one really knows when the first APS-C camera came out, but the actual origin can be traced back to the mid-90s, and ever since, these sensors have become a lot more common than one might think; not just in more affordable DSLR cameras, but even in mirrorless cameras.

The smaller sensors allow for a much more compact body; however, this is done at the expense of the sensor having a crop factor.

We have talked about crop factor and how they work in detail, but you just have to know that if you are putting a 50mm lens on your APS-C camera, you will have to multiply the focal length with the crop factor of that camera, and that will give you the exact focal length you would be getting.


The Origin Of Full Frame Sensors


Now, moving onto full frame sensors, you are looking at a full, 35mm sensor that is used in the market that has a crop factor of 1.0x.

These are perhaps the most common in all the DSLR and mirrorless cameras in the market that are going to be costly when compared to the APS-C cameras.

The term full-frame first came around in the early 2000s, and this was because of the rise of full-frame DSLRs from the likes of Contax and Canon, but a lot of people have no idea where it all started in the first place.

You can trace back the origins of full frame all the way back to the 1800s when George Eastman produced a flexible film for the first time, and before that, photographers needed to take heavy glass plates aside, and photography was not really that travel-friendly.

Image of George Eastman
Credits: Fee.org

The film that Eastman made was 70mm, however, in the late 19th century, the industry started cutting it in half and then splicing it back together end to end, and this gave birth to what we know as a 35mm film.

As the technology progressed, the 35mm film started becoming more and more common and has been used ever since that in almost every modern camera.


What Is The Difference Between Full Frame And APS-C Sensors?


Now that we are done talking about the origins of both full frame and APS-C, the next step is to start exploring the difference between both form factors, and to be honest, it is not really complicated to understand.

APS C Sensor vs other camera sensors
Credits: Wikipedia

You see, a full-frame sensor has the dimensions of 35.9mm x 24mm; or just 35mm if you want to keep it simpler. However, a crop sensor, as the name suggests, is cropped and has the dimensions of 23.5mm x 15.5mm.

This also means that with crop sensors, you have to deal with a positive crop factor. Now, the most standard is 1.5x, but Canon cameras use a 1.6x crop factor. I have already explained in detail what crop factor is and how it works.


What Full-Frame Cameras Allow You To Use APS-C Lenses


Another question that comes up every now and then is about the lenses that you can use with your full-frame camera that are specifically APS-C, and honestly, this is where things can get a bit confusing.

Now, it is important to know that an APS-C camera can use all the full-frame lenses with the crop factor, of course. However, there are times when lens manufacturers make lenses that are specifically designed for the APS-C system, like the ubiquitous and revered Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8.

In theory and technically, you can use this lens on your full-frame camera as well, however, you will have to use the lens in crop mode, or else there will be some heavy vignette all around the picture, and that is not what you want, and yes, this is the case with every other lens that was designed for the crop-system cameras.


Reasons For Using Full-Frame Lenses Over APS-C


Now, unlike the limitation that comes in the way when you are using APS-C lenses on full-frame cameras, there is no such issue that takes place when you are using full-frame lenses on APS-C cameras. This means that you can easily go ahead and use a wide array of lenses.

Image of a canon DSLR on tripod

I do not have to go into detail because it is rather simple to understand; you just have to be sure that the lens you are going to use is going to be usable for your use case after you factor in the crop factor, or else you would just be buying something that might not suit you all that much.

Therefore, it is better that you are keeping that in mind before you go ahead and invest in a lens.


The Advantages of APS-C


Since all the basic information on lenses is out of the way, we can now focus on talking about the advantages of various sensor sizes.

Although there are more sensor sizes than you might imagine, for this list, we are keeping things simple and will only be discussing APS-C and full frame sensors.

For now, let’s just look at the advantages of APS-C sensors.

  • Slightly Faster Processing: Considering how these sensors do not have as much data to process, they are actually faster in some cases, but it is not going to be a drastic difference.
  • Takes Less Space: One of the biggest benefits here is the fact that images that are coming out of the APS-C sensors are going to be comparatively smaller in size, and they will, of course, take less space.
  • They are Much More Affordable: A camera that is with an APS-C sensor is going to cost you a lot less than a camera with a full-frame sensor. Allowing for a much greater experience.

The Disadvantages of APS-C


Just like you can find advantages of APS-C sensors, there are some disadvantages too, that one must keep in mind. After all, it would be better that you are fully aware of everything, right? That is why we are going to focus on what the disadvantages are in the first place.

So, what are the disadvantages? You can have a look at them below.

  • Tedious Upgrading: If you have decided to upgrade from an APS-C to a full-frame, you will have to go ahead and upgrade all your lenses as well, especially if those lenses are specifically made for the APS-C sensor.
  • Bad ISO Performance: Another issue that I have is that with APS-C cameras, you are not going to get good performance when you are bumping up the ISO as there is a lot of noise that just creeps into the images.
  • Average Depth of Field: With crop sensors, in most cases, you are looking at an average depth of field performance, something that not most people are going to prefer in the first place.

The Advantages of Full Frame


On the opposite end, we have full frame cameras that have been getting a lot of love lately from all communities, and why shouldn’t they. These cameras are excellent, are full of features, and produce some amazing pictures, as well.

Below are some of the most common advantages of full frame lenses.

  • Excellent Quality: Considering how full frame sensors normally come with a larger pixel size, the results that you are going to get is always excellent, and the images come out looking amazing, too.
  • Great Low Light Performance: Thanks to modern full frame sensors being able to run really well on higher ISO, the low light performance is going to be excellent in all the cases, and you will get some exceptional results.
  • Brilliant Depth of Field: Another thing that you are going to get is great depth of field, thanks to the fact that full frame sensors have a larger area that allows for a much better depth of field, too.

The Disadvantages of Full Frame


On the contrary, you do have to realize that while full frame cameras are excellent, there are some disadvantages too. After all, it is better that you are aware of both sides of the story before you make your decision.

Below, you can look at some of the most common disadvantages.

  • Cost: When you are talking about full-frame cameras, they are more expensive and sometimes a lot more expensive.
  • Big and Heavy: Some of the full frame cameras you will find in the market are going to be big and heavy to lug around.
  • Not for Everyone: The last thing is that most of the full frame cameras are not for everyone, and that is one thing that you have to keep in mind before you go ahead and invest in a full frame camera.

Which Sensors Are Best For Which Situations?


Honestly, if you have been wondering which sensor you should be spending money on, then the answer is rather simple, you should always go ahead and invest in a full frame camera because the results are so much better, and you will be getting your money’s worth.

Canon camera and its equipment

A lot of people can argue against that, but APS-C cameras, in the long run, are never fun. If you have the means to it, always invest in full frame cameras.


How Do Professional Photographers Use APS-C Cameras?


Yes, it is true that most of the professional photographers actually use APS-C cameras. The point here is that if it gets the job done for them, then there is absolutely nothing wrong with investing in an APS-C camera and make money using it.


Wrap-Up:

Simply put, if you have been in the market for a good camera and you have the means for it, I would always suggest that you are investing in a full-frame camera. These are inherently superior, with better image quality and the overall experience.

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