Most amateur photographers rely on the lens of their smartphone and that’s not surprising given the photo quality of new models. However, the camera of an iPhone 14 Pro also reaches its limits, for example when photographers want to use a telephoto lens to bring distant objects into the lens or other lenses are used for special image composition.

Even at night or in low light, smartphone cameras quickly reach their limits. For all of these tasks, a full-frame system camera makes more sense. Five to ten years ago, however, photographers still used SLR cameras, which no manufacturer has developed any further. The digital full-frame system cameras simply offer more advantages. But what is actually the difference?

The difference between the two systems lies in the camera’s viewfinder. With the SLR there is a mirror above the sensor that directs the light from the lens to the viewfinder so that photographers see their subject through the viewfinder. When triggered, the mirror folds up so that the light falls on the sensor. The full-format system camera of course also has a viewfinder, but this means you see the digital image, which you can also find on the camera display.

The big advantage is that the camera is handier and smaller without a mirror mechanism. By the way, “full format” is marketing speak. It just says that the sensor is the same size as 35 millimeter film, which is 24 by 36 mm. A common smaller sensor would be something like APS-C (23.60 x 15.60 mm). But what is actually the difference?

The rule of thumb used to be that professional photographers relied on full-frame cameras because full-frame sensors generally offered better image quality. This was and is especially true in low light, as they capture more light than smaller sensors, which tend to produce image noise more quickly. In addition, full-frame cameras offered better video quality and more accurate autofocus.

Manufacturers, on the other hand, rely on APS-C sensors primarily in smaller and handier cameras, which are more likely to be used for vacation photos by amateur photographers. In 2023, however, it can be said that image quality, resolution of the photos (megapixels) and technical details such as autofocus and the video quality of the full format and APS-C sensors will be on the same level.

The biggest difference between the two sensors comes from the image section they capture. This is smaller by a factor of 1.6 for the APS-C sensor. The APS-C sensor therefore pulls the object towards itself. If you photograph an object with a full-frame and APS-C sensor with the same lens and focal length from the same distance, the full-frame sensor captures more of the subject’s background. If you want to capture the same image section with the APS-C sensor, you have to go back a few steps.

And that’s exactly what can become a problem when it comes to depth of field, for example if you want to photograph a portrait with a bokeh effect. Then the bokeh effect with an APS-C sensor changes with the distance to the photographed object with the same focal length and aperture of the lens. The full-format sensor offers more design freedom.

The same applies, of course, to recordings with wide-angle lenses: the full-format sensor logically takes a larger image than the APS-C sensor with the same lens. The advantage of the APS-C sensor is the already mentioned drawing of the object. If you photograph wild animals, for example, the APS-C sensor is ideal because it highlights the animal.

Of course, you can also create this effect in post-processing if you take photos with a full-frame camera. However, if the full format and APS-C sensors have the same number of megapixels, there is a disadvantage with full format: for the same image section, part of the resolution is lost in post-processing (when cropping). Another advantage of the APS-C sensor is the significantly lower price of the cameras and lenses.

Now that you are aware of the advantages and disadvantages of the sensors and are still leaning towards the full-frame sensor, you should also consider the additional costs you will incur. And that brings us to the lenses, which are probably the main cost factor when you have equipment like tripods, bags

Almost every manufacturer has its own lens bayonet, i.e. the holder to which it is attached. At Nikon, for example, this would be the Z bayonet for full-frame cameras. For example, if you have an older Nikon SLR camera with F lenses, there are adapters that attach the F lens to a Z bayonet. However, there is not an adapter for every bayonet that connects it to any lens. Here it is important to research beforehand what you already own, what fits and what doesn’t.

If you want to record videos in addition to photography, you of course also have to pay attention to what video features the camera has. Professional models now even record videos in 8K, which can be an advantage for post-production, but is far too big for normal consumers. However, almost all new full-format cameras can achieve 4K with 24 frames per second. With slow motion recordings at 120 frames per second at 4K, however, it becomes difficult or even impossible.

Enough theory, let’s have fun: The leading manufacturers of full-format system cameras are Nikon, Sony, Panasonic, Leica and Canon. If you miss Fujifilm, it’s because the manufacturer doesn’t use a full-frame sensor in its GFX cameras, but rather a sensor that’s 1.7 times larger. Below we will look at the entry-level models from Nikon, Sony, Panasonic and Canon. We leave out Leica cameras with full-frame sensors and the GFX cameras from Fujifilm. Both are not affordable for mere mortals.

The full frame cameras from Nikon are the Nikon Z5, Z6, Z7, Z8 and Z9. The Z6 and Z7 are now in their second generation. Nikon marks this with a Roman two, i.e. “II”. It is a relatively young product range because Nikon was one of the few manufacturers that continued to develop its SLR cameras for a long time. It wasn’t until 2022 that Nikon announced it would no longer develop new DSLR cameras.

The Z series is aimed more at professional photographers. The pure camera body of the Z9 costs 5,999 euros (manufacturer’s website) and is therefore not affordable for ambitious hobby photographers. And even for the Z6 II camera body, according to the price comparison, you will shell out around 1,550 to 1,779 euros. On the other hand, the price of the Z5, which was currently available for under 1000 euros, is more beginner-friendly. New full-format system cameras cannot be found cheaper.

Nikon uses the Z bayonet for its mirrorless full-frame cameras. If you already own a DSLR camera from the manufacturer, you know that they have the F mount. However, Nikon does offer an FTZ adapter that allows you to connect F lenses to the Z bayonet. This saves the expensive purchase of new Z lenses for the mirrorless camera.

Let’s get to the technical details of the entry-level model. The Nikon Z5 was introduced back in 2020. The manufacturer relies on a full-frame sensor with 24 megapixel resolution. The sensor is the same as in a Nikon SLR model (the D750). The Expeed 6 is used for the image processor. It also works in the Z6 from Nikon. Two Expeed 6s are used in the Z6 II.

This increased computing power is particularly reflected in continuous shooting, which is important in sports photography. For comparison: The Nikon Z5 with a processor only manages 4.5 images per second, the Z6 II a whopping 13. But for hobby photographers, this shouldn’t be a deciding factor. However, computing power also has an impact on other camera functions. This means photographers have significantly more options when it comes to autofocus on the Z6 II.

And the video functions also differ: With the Z5, 4K is possible at a maximum of 30 frames per second. The Z5 records pixel-perfect videos. This is bad because it narrows the frame when filming, which can lead to problems when using wide-angle lenses. The Z6 II, on the other hand, uses the entire sensor and then downscales to 4K – lens problem solved.

Conclusion: If you only want to take photos with the camera, the Z5 is a successful and affordable entry-level model. Videographers should consider whether they would be better off with a Z6 II if it’s going to be Nikon. By the way, it also manages 4K at 60 frames per second. The extra charge of around 500 euros could be worth it in the long run.

The Alpha 7, Alpha 9 and Alpha 1 series from Sony are the manufacturer’s full-format system cameras. The Alpha 7 series is now in its fourth generation, the Alpha 9 in the second and the Alpha 1 in the first. Like Nikon, Sony marks the generations with Roman numerals after the name. There are also different versions of the 7 and 9 series, which Sony also marks in the name.

As an example, let’s take the Sony Alpha 7 III. They are available in the normal version, i.e. Sony Alpha 7 III, as Alpha 7R III and as Alpha 7S III. The identifiers R, S and “normal” refer to the installed sensor and its resolution – but not only. The Sony Alpha 7 III has a 24-megapixel sensor, the Alpha 7R III has a 48-megapixel sensor and the 7S has a 12-megapixel sensor.

If you think that more megapixels are automatically better, then you are wrong. The different cameras serve different users. The 7S III with 12 megapixel sensor is particularly suitable for night photos in low light because a few large pixels on the sensor capture little light better than many small ones. The camera is also aimed more at videographers who want to film in 4K. For photographers, the 12 megapixels might be too little.

The R version of the camera, on the other hand, is suitable for photographers who need a particularly large number of megapixels for their post-processing. Of course, the camera also offers basic video functions, but they are not as sophisticated as the 7S III. The reason for this is that the 7S III uses the Bionz XR processor, a more powerful processor that Sony also uses in the 7R IV or the Alpha 9 II.

This is due to Sony’s somewhat confusing release strategy. As if the names weren’t confusing enough, the 7R III came onto the market in 2017, but the 7S III only came onto the market in 2020. By the way, the Sony Alpha 7 III came onto the market in 2018, the Alpha 7 IV in 2021, the Alpha 7R IV in 2019 and the Alpha 7R V 2022. With Sony you have to take a close look at what you want to use the camera for, when it came onto the market and what hardware and features you can expect.

Sony doesn’t offer a real entry-level model with a full-format sensor. The manufacturer uses the APS-C sensor for its entry-level cameras (Alpha 6000 series). All Alpha 7 and Alpha 9 models are aimed at professionals. The Alpha 7 IV currently costs around 2,300 euros, while the Alpha 7 III costs around 1,500 euros, making it an acceptable entry into the world of full-frame cameras from Sony. Beginners should also lean towards the normal version because it gives them a formidable mix of reasonable video functions and decent photo quality.

Sony has given it a 24 megapixel sensor. Continuous shooting is possible at up to ten frames per second. This might be a little too slow for sports photographers. Fast movements capture Alpha 1 or Alpha 9 better. 4K videos are possible with a maximum of 30 frames per second. If you lower the resolution to Full HD, the camera creates 120 images per second. Nice: The Alpha 7 III uses the entire sensor for filming and downscales the image. That wasn’t the case with the Nikon Z5.

With the Sony camera you have no problems with wide-angle lenses. Speaking of lenses: Sony uses its own E-mount. Sony itself sells an A-mount adapter for E-mount cameras. Otherwise there are adapters from other lens manufacturers such as Sigma. All in all, the Sony Alpha III is a relatively inexpensive and flexible full-frame camera for beginners and advanced users alike.

For a long time, Panasonic didn’t believe in full-frame sensors. The manufacturer only introduced its first full-format camera (S1) in 2018. Up until this point, Panasonic had relied on Micro Four Thirds sensors. This is a standard that the company developed together with Olympus. Five years later, the manufacturer has of course steadily expanded its product range – and uses a similarly confusing naming concept for its cameras as Sony.

Specifically, Panasonic has two product series: The Panasonic Lumix DC-S1 and the Lumix DC-S5. There are then further identifiers for both series. For the S5, it is R for the high-resolution sensor, X for better video functions and M for the generation designation. So M2 means that it is the second generation of the series. On the SC1, an H denotes the better video version of the camera. The R once again stands for the higher-resolution sensor with 47.3 megapixels.

This only applies to the pure camera body. If you come across additional identifiers while researching, such as XK, and a specific lens. Speaking of lenses: Like Leica, Panasonic uses the L-mount. There are also Sigma lenses with L-mount.

The cheapest entry into Panasonic’s full-format world is the DC-S5, the first generation model, which currently (as of summer 2023) costs around 1200 euros. It came onto the market in 2020 and got its successor in 2023 with the DC-S5 M2, which currently costs around 700 euros more.

The biggest difference between the two cameras is their autofocus. Both use hybrid autofocus with contrast measurement. The DC-S5, however, with depth-to-defocus technology and its successor with phase detection. And the successor is clearly better, because the phase detection prevents the annoying camera pumping, especially when filming, i.e. when the camera searches for focus again.

Otherwise the two cameras are very similar. A 24-megapixel sensor does its job in both. If you take photos from a tripod, the camera also offers a 96 megapixel mode. To do this, she takes several photos with a slightly offset sensor and then combines them into one image. Of course, the object being photographed must not move.

The camera can record video in 4K at a maximum of 60 frames per second, but it does so with pixel precision, which is why you will have problems with wide-angle lenses when filming. It’s a shame, because otherwise the camera offers everything that videographers love: namely HDR recordings with 10 bit color depth.

Canon’s full-frame mirrorless cameras are mostly the EOS-R series models with the exception of the EOS R50, R100, R7 and R10, which use an APS-C sensor. This leaves, in order of price, the EOS R3 (top model), the EOS R5, R6 Mark II, R8 and the EOS RP. All full-format system cameras from Canon rely on the manufacturer’s RF bayonet. Important if you already own Canon lenses: There is an EF-EOS-R adapter from Canon for EF and EF-S lenses. Canon’s EF-M lenses, however, are not compatible. Let’s take a closer look at the entry-level model.

The Canon EOS RP is probably the cheapest entry into the world of full-format system cameras across all manufacturers. It currently costs around 900 euros and came onto the market in 2019. Canon uses a 26.2 megapixel sensor for its camera. As far as video capabilities are concerned, the Canon EOS RP unfortunately only films pixel-perfectly. So you run into problems again with wide-angle lenses. Nevertheless, the camera of course manages 4K at 24 frames per second. However, not in HDR and only with 8 bit color depth.

But this doesn’t affect the photo quality, which is typically good for Canon and the 26 megapixel sensor is unique in its price range. The camera is therefore more suitable for photographers. Sports photographers should keep their hands off the camera because the autofocus doesn’t work as reliably in fast situations compared to other Canon cameras like the R8. But if you’re not on an action-packed holiday, this won’t be of much interest to you.,,,

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