Full Frame APS-C Dynamic Range Loss

This article discusses some independent test data that illustrates the full frame APS-C dynamic range loss that can occur when shooting full frame equipment in APS-C crop mode.

I get the occasional email asking questions about using full frame camera gear. In most cases I am unable to answer specific questions as I have not kept current with this camera format.

A recent email posed the question if there was any penalty when shooting a full frame camera in APS-C crop mode. The underlying issue linked to this question was using a full frame camera in APS-C crop mode in order to increase ‘reach’ for nature photography.

Back in the depths of my old, porous brain I remembered seeing data of this nature on the photonstophotos website. So, I went online to investigate a few full frame cameras from various manufacturers. I looked at the Nikon D850, Nikon Z7, Canon EOS R, Sony A7R IV, and Pentax K1 models.

What I discovered when reviewing this independent dynamic range test data, was that there is roughly a 0.69 EV to 1.25 EV loss in dynamic range when shooting a full frame camera in APS-C crop mode. This varies by specific ISO value and camera make/model.

When looking at test data in summary for each model it appears that the average loss in dynamic range (when considering standard ISO values from ISO-100 to ISO-25600), averages approximately 0.95 EV to 1.07 EV by camera model.

These results suggest that owners of full frame cameras who are interested in maintaining as much dynamic range as possible in their photographs, should avoid using their cameras in APS-C mode.

If you shoot with full frame camera gear, you may want to visit the photonstophotos website to see if there is test data for your camera in both full resolution and APS-C mode.

You may also want to check out APS-C models for the brand of camera you own. When I did a quick comparison of a few models I discovered that some APS-C cameras from the same manufacturer had better dynamic range than the full frame cameras noted in this article when these full frame cameras were used in APS-C crop mode.

In some cases the dynamic range scores from full frame cameras when used in APS-C mode weren’t much different than current generation OM-D M4/3 cameras like the E-M1X or E-M1 Mark III.

Like most things photographic, trade-offs need to be considered when choosing and using camera gear. It is always instructive to obtain independent test data, rather than making assumptions.

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6 thoughts on “Full Frame APS-C Dynamic Range Loss”

  1. I don’t think that is so. In crop mode, the lens is used in its full strenght over a smaler area, therefore the result is lesser. When you crop in camera, or in processing later on, I think you reduce the dynamic range about the same. Smaller area, – less light gathering, – lower dynamic range. Some of the differences you refering to, I think coming from different proseccing in the pipeline in and from sensor, -different ingeneering for different situations.
    Roar

    1. Hi Roar,

      The article references independent tests done by photonstophotos. I have no idea how photonstophotos calculates the dynamic range of sensors and the differences that they report with full frame versus full frame shot in crop mode.

      Tom

      1. Photonstophotos shows different dynamic range values for full sensor and crop mode because Bill Claff is using his own definition of Photographic Dynamic Range. Most of the dynamic range values you see are the simpler Engineering Dynamic Range, usually just clipping level divided by read noise, which is larger and not affected by cropping.

  2. So, Thomas, it’s better to record the full image with all its gathered light, and then crop during processing, right?

    This also gives flexibility of improved composition, framing, which is why I do it this way when my lens is not quite long enough to get the desired composition.

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