It’s Time to Stop Being Elitist About Camera Sensor Sizes

We love cameras

This past week, the PetaPixel team came across an opinion on a photography blog that we didn’t think was fair. In short, it argued that all “small sensor cameras suck,” which is just not true.

The opinion hinges on a couple main points: small sensor cameras (specifically APS-C and Micro Four Thirds) feel cheap compared to full-frame options, have worse overall technology, worse color reproduction capability, and are overall a worse value proposition.

Let’s address the “cheap” and poor value claims first. While it is possible to point to a specific camera that happens to feature a smaller sensor and compare it to a high-end option and walk away from that with the belief that larger sensors equal higher quality products that don’t feel “cheap,” it’s a cherry picked perspective. There are plenty of cameras on the market that are built to higher or lower standards across all sensor sizes.

Take a look at Canon’s lineup, for example. While there are certainly poor options like the R100 you could point to, there are equally excellent APS-C cameras as well, like the R7. The R7 features a 15 frames per second mechanical shutter, a 32-megapixel sensor, and outstanding autofocus. Arguably, there is nothing that fits the bill quite like that from Canon’s full frame line. Quite the opposite, actually. You could instead get an R5 with inferior autofocus capability for more than twice the price, or choose from a bunch of 24 megapixel options.

Canon EOS R7 design video
Canon EOS R7 | Credit: Ryan Mense

From another perspective, some APS-C cameras have lesser build quality because the entire project is designed to offer something that costs less money, which of course means cutting costs across the board, hence why they’re APS-C and not full-frame. That has nothing to do with the sensor and everything to do with its target user and the market appeal.

You can make a full-frame camera with bad build quality, too — just look at the Canon EOS RP.

Objectively, sensor size has nothing to do with build quality. The Sony FX30, OM System OM-1 Mark II, Panasonic G9 II, Fujifilm X-H2, and Nikon Z50 are all incredibly solid feeling bodies with smaller sensors.

Moving on to the claims of worse technology is, again, easy to debunk.

Smaller sensor cameras get features that full-frame cameras don’t. Just look at OM System’s computational photography features: those aren’t only on OM cameras by accident; the smaller sensor and its resulting smaller data offer significant benefits when it comes to processing. There’s a reason we’ve not seen the same features on full-frame cameras, and it’s not because customers don’t want them or don’t care.

OM-1 Mark II handheld example
Chris Niccolls with the new OM-1 Mark II.

Further, Sony is known for testing brand-new features in smaller-sensor camera bodies before bringing them up across its whole portfolio. The easiest example to point to is touch-based Real-Time Tracking, which was introduced on the a6400 — an APS-C camera.

The claim of worse color is also nonsense. While yes, smaller sensors do mean color accuracy will drop faster than a larger sensor in low light conditions, that’s the tradeoff for nearly stacked sensor readout speeds at a much lower price.

A smaller sensor will get you access to higher end features for far less if you’re willing to take an image quality hit. Want a fast stacked sensor for video and electronic shutter? That starts with an OM-1 at $2,000 for Micro Four Thirds and $2,500 for an APS-C Fujifilm X-H2S. Compare that to $4,000 for a Nikon Z8.

We think the spirit of the opinion in question here is true: full frame cameras are a sweet spot in the market right now. However, we don’t agree that in order to get to that point it was necessary to drag down everything else unfairly.

There are an abundance of excellent APS-C and Micro Four Thirds cameras on the market right now, and I hope we made that clear here. Jordan Drake is loving the G9 II, Chris Niccolls uses the OM-1 Mark II every week, Jeremy Gray is over the moon about the X-H2, and I’ve never been more inspired and filled with the desire to make art than when I’m holding the X100VI.

The point is, there is no reason to be elitist about your camera sensor size. There is plenty to love about everything we as artists have access to today. Use what works for you and what you can afford, and you can make beautiful things.

This story was written with input from Jeremy Gray, Chris Niccolls, and Jordan Drake