The Ideas Behind Why Smaller Sensor Cameras Are Better Than We Think

Lots of folks love to hate on smaller sensors like APS-C and Four Thirds, but they’re a lot better than you may think.

Does anyone remember APS-H? It was a format primarily used by Canon in a variant of their 1D camera models. Back then, they had one full-frame camera for high megapixel shooting and one APS-H camera for sports shooting. APS-H was a 1.3x crop factor, and sports photographers loved the combination of lower megapixels, excellent high ISO performance, and most of all, the extra reach it gave their camera lenses. But then Canon did away with it and went full frame with the option of a crop factor. The truth is that photographers loved their APS-H sensors, and we just adapted to using a full-frame. And for what it’s worth, APS-H is still a great example of why smaller sensors can be better.

Consumers

feature-rich cameras

While photography is essential to them, most consumers use their phone cameras instead of dedicated cameras. Dedicated cameras are a mid-tier luxury, a hobbyist product, and a professional product. So, for someone who just wants to take better photos, they can do it easily with APS-C and Four Thirds sensors. Take a look at our list of the World Press Photo Awards for 2020 and you’ll see that a Fujifilm X-H1 shot the winning image. While it’s being used in the hands of a professional photographer, the fact that a camera like that won a major photography award competition speaks volumes. The idea of only using a full-frame for everything is null; APS-C is more than good enough for many uses. But I’ll still admit that when it comes to ultimate editing versatility, full-frame is the king of the domain. On the other hand, if you’re an APS-C shooter, there is probably more of an emphasis on getting it right in-camera. So if you’re going to edit less and shoot more, then maybe APS-C and Four Thirds are more viable options.

Candid Photography

I’ll give both Canon and Sony their due praise when it comes to autofocus for capturing candid moments. They both do a phenomenal job. But when it comes to shooting candids, tweaking the autofocus of any smaller format camera can give you nearly comparable results. Trying to capture someone running past you? Fujifilm can do that if you adjust the focus sensitivity and tracking performance. What about surfers? Though the specific AF-Tracking mode on Olympus will drive you bonkers, their continuous autofocus mode is pretty stellar (let alone all the advantages that one gets when it comes to shooting video and tracking a face). Again, I’m going to cite the same article I shared in the previous paragraph showcasing several candid moments using an APS-C camera. For weddings, photojournalism, event, and any other type of work involving candid shooting, there is no comparison.

The Ideal Size

Here’s where I’ll admit once again that full frame is doing a great job. With the Sigma FP, you’re getting a super small camera but at a super big sacrifice. The Canon EOS RP is also pretty tiny, and so is Sony’s a7 lineup of cameras. But when it comes to APS-C and Four Thirds, you also need to consider lens size: the lenses for those systems are just that much smaller. This makes the overall package smaller. I know some folks like big cameras because of the ergonomics. And that’s fine. But even those folks will admit that they get heavy over time. And if you want something light and small, then consider a smaller sensor camera. Sure, it will mean that you need to put more work when shooting to get a better shot, but at least you won’t spend endless hours behind a screen trying to fine-tune your image. Instead, you’ll be out there shooting.