Full Frame Versus APS-C for Portraits: Can You Tell the Difference?

How much difference can you see if you shoot portraits on a full frame camera and compare it with those shot on an APS-C camera, both using excellent lenses? This video finds out.

The long-term future of APS-C feels slightly uncertain at present as the industry is waiting to see what Canon has in mind for its mirrorless cameras and Sony is finding ways to make its full frame bodies so small that the cropped sensor format could become redundant. The a7C is a surprisingly small and compact body that at a glance could easily be mistaken for having a smaller sensor and it’s prompted some wonder whether Sony’s a6x00 line might not be updated much further.

Similarly, speculation over Canon’s plans continues; will it introduce a crop-sensor version of its popular RF-mount mirrorless cameras, or will it aim to make smaller, more affordable full-frame bodies to attract entry-level customers? And what does it have in mind for its M-mount cameras?

The difference in colors between the a6100 and a7C is slightly surprising given that these cameras were released a little more than a year apart — the a6100 arrived in August 2019 and the a7C came in September last year. Part of this might be down to the jpeg processing but it’s still a very marked difference between some of the shots.

Would you choose APS-C over full frame? Let us know in the comments below.

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Scott McDonald's picture

"And what does it have in mind for its M-mount cameras?" No one knows but Canon of course...if they were smart about it, they'd keep shelling out the M50. It sells like no other APS-C model...who would discontinue their best-selling product?! It's a great entry-level product and satisfies most beginner or casual user's needs.

Tom Kinkel's picture

Comparing JPEG images not seeing a lot of difference other than the APSC colour not as pleasing as the full frame which was mentioned in the Video .Would be interested to know if the RAW files had more detail in the full frame and DR .I went from Full frame to APSC as the weight of the kit was getting to be an issue "The best camera is the one you have with you " problem .

Stuart C's picture

There are differences, however the level that those differences are overblown by people who have invested their money and want ratification for their purchase is ridiculous.

Roger Cozine's picture

As a shooter of both, I agree with this assessment completely. There isn't much difference between the images taken from my A7iii and my A6300. Especially since they both have excellent glass and 24 megapixels. However, the real difference is only noticeable in low light. Performance is slightly better on the A7iii, but I still get clean excellent low light performance on my A6300 my using a fast lens, tripod and wireless shutter release. With a little editing in Photoshop, the difference is indistinguishable.

Matt Rennells's picture

TLDW (just skimmed video) - but in my opinion the slight differences in colors could easily be attributed to the white balance settings. The shifts appear to be in either the blue/orange or magenta/green (we need to see the RAW files and what the camera picked for WB). The depth of field in the shots makes it pretty easy to pick out FF over crop - which is partially why you go full frame for wide open aperture portraits. In reality, the difference between FF and crop is not just about jpg image quality but usually about other features - low light, weather sealing, FPS, resolution, and DR to name a few. I've shot with $3k cameras and $500 cameras and in properly set up conditions the results are roughly the same. The extra features of the FF may save you in non-ideal conditions though.

Stuart C's picture

If my shits were any of those colours, id be heading to the Doctors.

Leopold Bloom's picture

You made my day. :-D

Stuart C's picture

He edited the word the spoilsport :(

Michael Steinbach's picture

Comparing sharpness, he doesn’t note that at the same aperture you’ll get greater depth of field on the APSC sensor which can fudge your apparent sharpness towards the smaller sensor. Then comparing color, oh for crying out loud seriously! Why would you do that? That’s not a function of the size of the sensor! That can be white balance or individual color science per camera. The key take away should be the out of focus areas, which IS related to the difference in the sensor, as well as the noise levels at high ISO.

Geoff Rehmet's picture

The issue for me is more around size. This especially starts to play out with lenses. For travel, a 200mm lens on APS-C is the equivalent of 300mm on full frame. For travel APS-C makes more sense.

Jason Winters's picture

The difference isn't in the photos but in the gear. Camera makers put all their best lenses and camera features into full frame to distinguish their price tiers and try to get you to spend more on FF.

If they made an APS-C camera with dual card slots, IBIS, an optional battery grip, good 4k and nice glass optimised for the system that was cheaper than equivalent FF gear then I'd never need full frame again. But they won't, because they know they wouldn't make as much money.

Stuart C's picture

You pretty much just described the Fujifilm X-T4 there, aside from your obvious get out of jail card 'equivalence' whereby i can mention a lens and you can say but its only f2.8 on full frame or whatever.

Tom Kinkel's picture

Pentax K-3 mk111 as well as X-T4

Lyle Mariam's picture

By the article's title, I would assume it is a professional photographer shooting portraits. As a pro, in addition to quality of glass and equipment, you want to make sure you're prepared for anything. As an amateur, you can often retake the picture but having to call a customer and have them come in reshoot because you screwed something up is not a good option. Otherwise we'd all use an Instamatic!

Professional photographers want to maximize their chances for a great image and while I agree that a cropped sensor will often do the job, when your income relies on it don't take chances. Besides, every manufacturer puts the best glass and hardware in their "Pro" versions. The mechanic who works on your car uses SnapOn instead of dollar store wrenches for the same reason.

Stuart C's picture

What about pros who shoot Fujifilm? Are they risking their business? Or is possibly a bit of an exaggeration?

Zlato Pramen's picture

A few things that came to mind:

1. Sharpness is delivered by the lens, not the chip. The chip can only provide you with resolution.

2. Sharpness is not that important as we tend to think. For portraits it can even be good to chose an old lens to NOT capture her nose hair and every pore she got unless you love photoshop more than photography.

3. The never mentioned fact that FF has a bigger dynamic range than APS (that was more or less a joke from the film era...) You can clearly see that her hair is overexposed in backlit situations on ASP while FF has lots of tones to do what you want with in post. Unless you allways work with artificial light, APS is not your best partner.

4. More pixels equals smaller pixels, that equals less visable noise. No meaning discussing that further.

5. All cameras, even two of the same will give you different result in colour temp. Even one camera will have different colour settings between pictures if you check it in LR.

6. The bokeh is much softer, less stressing on all your FF shots. My subjective opinion about bokeh is that it should be soft, fuzzy and harmonic. There is no use to separate objekts from background with DOF if the background is bizzy and disturbing.


APSC is great for all you can sell with acceptance for a little techical flaws.
FF is supperior but it dont mean shit unless you got the cash. That sentence dont matter either because the camera dont make the pictures. A "Ferrari camera" with a well payed computer nerd doesnt make better pictures than a "Fiat camera" with Ellen Von Unwerth behind the ocular.