Owning a full-frame camera has long been a dream for many photographers due to their spectacular image quality and ability to produce huge images.
And as manufacturers began introducing full-frame cameras aimed at enthusiast photographers in recent years, cameras have come down in price and those dreams look easier to achieve.
However, shooting with a full-frame camera doesn’t automatically mean better image quality.
Shooting with a larger sensor requires more thought and care into the process of taking a photograph to ensure your image is sharp, for a start, and that you don’t do something really foolish like damage the interior of your new camera!
There are some common pitfalls that many photographers encounter when they make the leap from an APS-C body to a full-frame camera. Here’s what you can do to prevent them.
Common problems with full frame: 01 Wrong format lens
APS-C size sensors are smaller than a full-frame sensor, so cameras with these ‘crop sensors’ use lenses that don’t need to produce as large of an image circle. This is why ‘crop lenses’ are smaller than full-frame lenses.
In many cases you can use an APS-C-format lens on a full-frame camera if you’re willing to accept some limitations. Nikon DX (APS-C format) lenses, for instance, can be safely mounted on the company’s FX (full-frame) DSLRs.
You can take photos with this setup, but you’ll quickly notice heavy vignetting in your images. Or if the auto-crop feature is turned on, your photos will be cropped to fit Nikon’s DX format.
If you have a camera bag full of DX lenses, the good news is you won’t have to sell them on when you upgrade to a full-frame Nikon camera. But it also means you won’t be enjoying the benefits of that full-frame sensor you waited so long to have.
What’s more, your images will have the same framing and look much as they did on your DX camera.
To fully experience the quality difference with full-frame, you’ll want to shoot with a full-frame lens. With this set-up you’ll be shooting with no focal length magnification factor and you’ll see images from their true viewing angle.
A word of warning before we proceed: Canon EF-S (APS-C format) lenses should not be mounted Canon’s full-frame camera because the rear element extends too far into the body. This could seriously damage your camera’s mirror when it moves during an exposure.
Common problems with full frame: 02 Too far from the subject
A lens’s focal length quite literally is its physical measurement. And that focal length never changes, regardless of whether it’s mounted on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV or a Canon EOS 100D.
However, because that EOS 100D has a smaller sensor, the image a lens produces when mounted on it will look very different than the image produced by the same lens on the 5D Mark IV.
This is because the APS-C sensor effectively crops into the image circle. And this cropping is what we mean when we talk about ‘focal length magnification factor’, or what manufacturers mean when they say a lens has an ‘equivalent focal length.’ The lens produces an image that looks like one from a longer optic on a full-frame camera.
Putting this into a real world example, let’s say you mount a 100mm lens on that APS-C-format Canon EOS 100D. This will produce an image comparable to using a 160mm lens on the full-frame Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.
So if you currently use a 100mm lens on an APS-C-format camera and plan to upgrade to full-frame camera, if you want to fit a lens of the same focal length you’ll probably find that you’re too far away from your subject.
One of the biggest learning curves when switching to full-frame photography is re-educating yourself on focal length and angle of view. Though if you cut your teeth on film when you learned photography, you might be fine.
Because ‘full-frame’, after all, simply means the same size as a frame of 35mm film!
Common problems with full frame: 03 Aberrations and distortions
We talked above about some of the disadvantages, but one of the advantages of using a full-frame lens on a crop-sensor camera is that you only use the central section of an image circle and this is where you will get the best image quality.
But moving up to a full-frame camera means composing with the full-image circle of a full-frame lens. It is at the edges of this circle where photographers are most likely to encounter problems such as vignetting, chromatic aberrations and curvilinear distortion.
Common problems with full frame: 04 Shallow depth of field
When we think full frame we often think of big landscapes with maximum depth of field and bags of detail, but another nice by-product of using a full-frame camera is that you can go the opposite way and restrict depth of field more easily, too.
This comes in really handy when shooting portrait photography, for instance, as it lifts your subject from the background and gives him or her more emphasis.
However, many photographers don’t realise when moving up to full-frame just how much more depth of field is restricted than with their APS-C-format camera. Let’s stick with Canon, for example. If you were using a Canon EOS 80D and a focal length of 100mm at f/16, your depth of field measures about 25cm.
If you were to photograph the same subject from the same position, only you were using that Canon EOS 5D Mark IV we mentioned above, you’d need a focal length of 160mm.
And if shooting again at f/16, your depth of field would measure just 15cm. That’s quite a significant drop from the 80D!
The depth of field shrinks even further down to 4cm with the 5D Mark IV compared to 6cm with the 80D if you physically moved closer to just 1 metre away from your subject.
So what we’re really saying here is that when you photograph with a full-frame camera, the accuracy of your focusing is more important than ever. The slightest error can leave you with a portrait where the eyes are blurry but the ears are sharp.
The risk is even greater when shooting at wider apertures. If you’re shooting your subject – still 1 metre away – with an aperture of f/2.8 on your Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, suddenly our depth of field reduces to 1cm.
To put that in perspective, that’s roughly the distance between your subject’s eyebrow and pupil.
SEE MORE: What is depth of field in photography?
Common problems with full-frame: 05 Camera shake
On that vein of accuracy in focusing, you’ll also notice a greater propensity for camera shake to spoil your images.
You might not be doing anything differently than you did when you were using your APS-C-format camera, but when you’re making images that are 50 megapixels or greater in size, and capturing so much detail, the slightest camera movement will make itself known.
Zoom in on that pistil or eyelash, and you might notice movement and softness. When shooting with a full-frame camera you need to take every precaution to avoid camera shake: use a tripod, set the self-timer and get yourself a remote release.
Common problems with full frame: 06 Filters too small
As we noted above, full-frame lenses produce a larger image circle than APS-C-format lenses, which means they are physically larger. And because of this, the lens’s front element must also be bigger. As a result, your old filters that you used religiously on the front of your APS-C lens will no longer fit. Sorry.
Some photographers try to keep using them with a with an adaptor ring, but usually the filter mount, if it doesn’t obscure the lens’s view, it will cause heavy vignetting in your images.
That said, if you’ve invested in one of the larger camera filter systems such as Cokin P or Lee Filters, you should have no problems using them with your new full-frame camera and lens!