Is There an Artificial Barrier Between Full Frame and Crop Sensor Cameras?

German photographer Falk Lumo has an interesting post on his blog regarding full frame and crop sensors. His theory is that camera manufacturers have created an artificial barrier between the two sensor sizes for business reasons, and that we’ll soon be seeing big changes in the camera world as this barrier disappears:

[…] there is an artificial separation between the APS-C and full frame markets. Artificial because less people still believe that full frame must be expensive. And artificial because image qualities beyond an effective resolution of 20 MP may simply require full frame. The new offers from Nikon (D800 and D600) therefore directly address this and may accelerate the disappearance of the artificial market separation. This is known as “supercriticality”: the market ought to offer uncrippled, full frame enthusiast cameras in the $1,500 segment but offers APS-C cameras instead. Supercritical systems “fall” into their preferred state after only small perturbations occur. Once this happens, a D800 type camera will be in the $1,500 segment.

He predicts that full frame cameras will soon be much more affordable and compact as mirrorless cameras eat into the APS-C market, leaving “cameras with a full frame mount but a half frame sensor” to be “a curiosity of the past.”

The full frame mystery revisited [Falk Lumo]

  • wahlstrm

    well.. After playing around with the NEX-5n for a few weeks, crop-sensor-dslr looks like a dinosaur. And when I need all the manual controls and the “ruggedness” of a “real camera” I rather go for a big, metal-tank with a full-frame sensor. :)

  • Robert Di Lorenzo

    Well, I sure as hell hope so.

  • Zac Henderson

    Mirrorless Cameras are going to be taking over cropped sensor DSLRS like cell phones took over point and shoots.

  • Thales Nogueira

    I hope his is right

  • mtbdudex

    well glad I bought “L” lens then… 70-200 “L” II works fine on either….

  • Zak Henry

    Hopefully this will lead to greater demand for full frame cameras, driving down the price of lenses.

  • Robert Fitzgerald

    OF course. It’s not just cameras that use this built in obsolescence. Apple mastered the technique with the new model every year BS. Do we really believe that it took some kind of technological leap forward to add a front facing camera to Ipad for video conferencing. Of course it didn’t. That’s why you would buy a film camera and keep using the same one for 25years. They built it as well as it could be built. If you bought a new one it would work the same as the old one. It all started with calculators and digital watches. It’s the end of the world as we know it.

  • wickerprints

    I have to wonder what Mr. Falk Lumo thinks is inside a Nikon D800 that is just taking up space, and could be jettisoned or miniaturized in a putative “Nikon D800c.” If you’ve ever seen the tear-downs of these 135 format bodies, you’d realize that these cameras don’t exactly have a lot of wasted space or extra components. Such a compact body would almost certainly have to be significantly dumbed down, or further advances in miniaturization would need to occur.

  • Slvrscoobie

    apparently no one builds cameras here… I do.
    CCD and CMOS cost ridiculously more as the chip size increases. I can sell a half inch sensor for $600 – a 1″ sensor is well over 3K. and 80% of that is chip cost. theyre is only so many sensors built of each size, and each has a scale of ‘quality’
    the DSLR 1Dx and D4’s of the world get the best
    The rest? they get smaller ones with less imperfections and consumer level get either smaller yet, or more imperfections hidden by software
    obviously, chip costs will drop over time and the economy of scale will at some point erode the APS-C DSLR like the rebels, but its not an ‘artifical’ barrier for business.

  • Zak Henry

    Leica does a pretty good job of squeezing a full frame sensor with all associated electronics into the M9. Sure there are sacrifices, most obvious of which is the lack of TTL viewfinding, but that goes with the territory of rangefinder scale cameras.

  • Jens Hamada

    he sounds like a nikon fanboy…. sorry.

  • OSAM

    What abomination is that one the left? It’s a terrible PS job on what I think was, at some point, a Pentax.

  • jdm8

    Because the surface area is 2x as large as APS-C, it probably costs 2x as much or even more to fab a 35mm sensor. These sensors are considerably larger than the CPU of a desktop computer. The best justification I can think that a 35mm sensor will be crippled to put into an APS-C camera is if it has defects near the edges of the sensor, but even then, that defect might affect the wires going to the sensor’s center, so why risk that?

  • TSY87

    I feel the exact same way.

  • Strelok

    Thinking about my lenses I hope the APS-C cameras won’t die that fast. Only two of them are “full frame ready”.

  • Michael Darnton

    When I bought my Nikon D300 I figured it was only a matter of time before something like this happened, so every lens I’ve bought, save one, has been a full-frame lens. The D600 may be the one to get, for me.

  • jdm8

    A lot of that difference is in the mirror box, and the mirror box also pushes the flange distance back too. Without a mirror box to move’ you probably don’t need as big of a battery. I think the fact you’re paying a lot more for a Leica allows for a lot tighter engineering.

  • Bart Kuik

    My guess is that Full Frame is the new medium format (studio, fashion, landscape). The whole reason
    for SLR cameras falls away more and more with improved electronic
    viewfinders and LCD-screens. It won’t be long until the benefits of
    SLR-design (TTL-viewing, fast autofocus) don’t weigh up against the
    drawbacks anymore (bulky cameras, more mechanical parts and retrofocus
    wide angle lenses).

    APS-C, or even 4/3, are large
    enough sensors for most of us, with the benefit of more compact lenses (because, you know, the best camera is the camera you have in your pocket).
    The reason why 35mm film became the standard in analog times was that anything smaller
    (like 110 film) just didn’t provide reasonable 8″x10″ prints. A modern APS-C sensor gives you plenty of room to crop.

  • osh_sektabrand

    me love me 600D. me use it long time. hunt good.

  • Steve

    I think they can make much smaller full frame cameras, with an electronic viewfinder. The problem is that the lenses are still going to be bigger than the smaller sensor cameras. So there still might only be a small market for them. The prices wont go down much if there’s low demand.

  • brnjb

    Yep! look at the OM-D for example, smaller, lighter, dust & splash proof, in body stabilizaton (what makes also lens smaller and light) and with the same (or even better) capacities than most of cropped DSLRS. Not always bigger means better. I think that we are going to a market clear divided in two (full-frame & mirrorless with smaller sensor).

  • Justin Kerr Sheckler

    The real mystery is the K-5 / D800 hybrid on the left.

  • Kyoshi Becker

    Probably because the D600 and Pentax k-whatever will go head to head

  • OSAM

    Then why photoshop in “D800″, the Nikon logo, and the “FX” onto a Pentax body? Oh, and a F-mount too.

  • Sol_Invictus

    It’s not an issue of a technological leap or even engineering avarice. It turns out that in the case of front facing camera’s and several other “improvements” the issue was obtaining sufficient quantities of those parts.

    A couple of examples also include having the oleophobic coating to resist fingerprints starting on the iPad 2. That was always available on the iPhone at the time the iPad 1 came out. They just couldn’t get sufficient quantities. They also couldn’t get enough camera’s to put them on the iPod touch a few generations back (despite having them on the iPhone).

  • David Rychart

    Correct. I work in the semiconductor business, and I can tell you that if a sensor takes up 2x the area, it costs MORE THAN 2x as much. This is due to die yields.

    Per my extremely rough calculations, on 300mm wafer, you can make ~60FX sensors vs. ~160DX sensors!

    That being said, however, if the relative cost of the sensor compared to the cost of the camera is low enough, there really IS NO REASON not to have a budget FF sensor. In other words, if the cost of the sensor+the assorted electronics that go with it is only 10% of the total camera cost, there really shouldn’t be a huge gap between the two form factors.

  • David Rychart

    Sure, but old school 35mm SLR’s had the same size mirror box and flange distance. The biggest difference is the needed electronics on the backside of the sensor (including the LCD screen).

  • David Rychart

    Imagine 10 years from now when we’ll all be producing on 450mm wafers and MF chips will be “budget” ready!

  • David J

    Unlike logic parts, imaging sensors do not have to be perfect. And in fact, we all know they are not. There are hot and dead pixels on most real sensors. Making a die 2x as large should yield on average 2x as many defects. If the old defects/area was acceptable, the new one should be so, too, and so there is no reason for the cost of a die to go up super-linearly.

    In actuality, a relatively small area of the die is used for the amplifiers, ADCs, muxes, etc, and a defect here would kill the chip, so there could be more yield loss, but the loss yield should only grow if the area devoted to these circuits also grows.

    And finally, this is a small effect, but because the sensor sites on the larger die can be larger, the wiring and transistors around them can be larger, meaning they, on an individual basis, are likely to work better even when small defects are present.

    I, too, worked in the semiconductor business. I designed microprocessors and embedded parts at Intel and other companies for more than 10 years.

  • slvrscoobie

    I agree that many hot/dead/stuck pixels are on each sensor, but they are sorted – look at the TrueSense imagers (formally kodak) you can get a Class 2 with column defects, but in many instances, thats a lot of bad pixels to correct. And on a Professional series body, i expect a better sensor. Now on a entry level FF, thats where all those FF sensors with tons of defects could be used. But people will still need to pay a lot more for a defective FF than a good 1/2.3″ sensor.

  • David J

    Fair enough. Yeah, I can imagine some of those defects would result in clusters of bad pixels that would be hard to correct.

    Still, the old saw that we often hear that a FF sensor costs so much more because the yield of perfect dice goes down with size is a bit overstated.

  • Phyllis Ollari

    I’m not sure if you are thinking about this but in the digital slrs the sensor is under the mirror while in film the film was behind the shutter. That could make a difference.

  • Phyllis Ollari

    Working in the retail side of things I’m not sure how accurate this prediction will pan out. People still buy point and shoots as their small cameras as they want something better then their phones but don’t want to fool around with lenses.

  • Tim

    I think the crop sensor camera will be around for a while, there are a lot more lenses avaliable than full-frame equivalents and the IQ of most is better than the IQ of their full-frame counterparts. Take the sigma 10-20 on a 7d Vs. a Canon 17-40 L on a 5dMK2 – just as sharp but a lot less expensive. And what about sports and wildlife shooters? they prefer the extra reach. Not EVERYONE wants a full frame camera. ISO handling has improved now to point where we can shoot at 3200 and not have to worry about noise and it’s only going to get better.

  • Andy

    I think that people are also forgetting about the benefits of using a crop sensor vs. a full frame. We are aimed to believe that more expensive/bigger is always better, but that’s just not the case!
    A crop sensor has it’s place…as a full frame does…as a medium format…and large formats do. One can not do the job of the other!
    For those that have never had the privilege of playing with a medium format’s a beast! The DOF is sooo shallow that you need to close down some serious aperture to get the same DOF as a full frame…and let’s not even get into the crop!
    So as much as I love my medium format and my full frame…I really love my crop when it’s the right tool for the job!
    Anyone that calls a crop sensor crippled…simply is a crippled photographer!

    EDIT: And one other thing…screw megapixels and ISO, everyone needs to start asking for Dynamic Range and Bit Depth…

  • Andy

    I completely agree…we have a very bad transition from film to digital where everyone thinks bigger sensor means better…this is basically due to the fact that larger film always meant better!

  • Zak Henry

    Hang on, what? The sensor is behind the shutter in all cameras, otherwise what is the point? David makes a good point – handle something like a Nikon FE, and you will see how compact it is, and the viewfinder is enormous. I think the AF system takes up a lot of space though, as the late model film cameras were quite bulky.

  • Richard Lurie

    I disagree… point and shoots are still faster and have better zooms than phone cameras.

  • Lauren

    Nice. Show a Pentax K5 with a Nikon logo and mirrorbox!