Should I buy a full-frame DSLR?

April 2, 2012 at 5:09 pm  •  Posted in Q&A by

It’s time for me to replace my Nikon D90 and I’m trying to decide between the D7000 or the D800. The D800 has a full-frame sensor and that’s supposed to be a real advantage. Do you agree? And if so, why are we not seeing more new digital SLRs with a full-frame sensor?
—Sal D.

Well Sal, the newer Nikon D800 has other advantages over the much more affordable D7000 including 36.3 vs. 16.2-megapixel resolution, a larger viewfinder and a slightly larger LCD screen, more advanced technology and some additional features. Of course, it’s also larger and 210 g heavier (see Test Review with full specs here).

Like all full-frame DSLRs, the D800 employs an oversized 24 x 36 mm sensor while the D7000 uses a chip of a more typical size, 15.6 x 23.6 mm. Cameras with an oversized sensor have some benefits, but also some drawbacks, as discussed below.

Like all full-frame DSLRs, the D800 employs an oversized 24 x 36 mm sensor while the D7000 uses a chip of a more typical size, 15.6 x 23.6 mm. Cameras with an oversized sensor have some benefits, but also some drawbacks, as discussed below.

The huge 24 x 36mm sensor in the D800 provides one obvious benefit. A multi-format lens, called FX by Nikon, provides the same angle of view as it did on a 35-mm SLR. So, the D800—or any full-frame DSLR—would be great for anyone who already owns a multi-format ultra-wide lens and does not want to buy a new lens, such as a 10-22 mm model. On the other hand, a telephoto lens has greater effective reach with a camera that employs a smaller sensor, like the D7000. (Of course, you could crop the 36.3-MP images made by the D800 to fill the frame with a distant subject and still have plenty of pixels left.)

Note: Any full-frame DSLR was designed for use with the large multi-format lenses, while most owners of small-sensor DSLRs have purchased only the smaller lenses, called DX by Nikon. Moving up to a full-frame DSLR would require a significant investment in new lenses. Not everyone can afford to do so, and hence, the manufacturers are not developing many new full-frame DSLRs. Granted, the D800 does allow for using such lenses but in DX mode, the resolution drops to under 16 MP. That’s still plenty but that negates the primary benefit of the D800 vs. the D7000. Note too that Sony’s full-frame DSLRs can also be used with the smaller DT lenses at reduced resolution while a Canon full-frame DSLR can be used only with the large, multi-platform EF lenses.

Both the full-frame 36.3-megapixel D800 and the D7000 with a 16-MP sensor of a more common size are very highly rated. Of course, as in any brand, the full-frame DSLR sells for more than double making the small-sensor camera more popular among photo enthusiasts. However, pros and others who often need huge image files, and already own FX lenses, will gravitate toward the D800.

There’s another reason why there are not many consumer-level DSLRs with a full-frame sensor. The cost of a 24 x 36 mm CMOS chip—plus the other components required to support that size—prices the cameras above most photo enthusiasts’ budgets. The D800 sells for over $3000 while you can get a D7000 for under $1200. By all means, go for the full-frame model as I have, if you need its features and the ultra high resolution, especially if you already own some FX lenses. Otherwise, you’ll be more than satisfied with the D7000, a fabulous camera in all respects. It’s very fast, versatile and reliable, a strong contender for the best in its category.

2 Comments

  1. Pam / April 4, 2012 at 9:21 am /

    Spend the money and go full frame, if you are a serious photographer you will never go back to a crop frame. The results are just fantastic – depth of field is that much more creamy, iso handling is amazing, wide angle is outstanding. I hav…e been shooting with the 5D for two years, before that I had the 40D (still do) for a year and before that the Rebel, I am serious into photography and I never regret for a second upgrading to my 5D classic and just yesterday bought the new 5DMIII!!! Well worth the investment for sure 🙂

  2. best entry level dslr / January 10, 2014 at 2:35 pm /

    On top of all these, the T3 is compactly designed, fun and simple to use despite its many unique features.
    Night Mode – Night mode can be quite a great deal of fun to play with.

    It is possible to’t go improper with any from the above , if you’re on the budget get
    the Rebel XS, if it is possible to afford $100 more get the Rebel T1i and
    when you need a a lot than both for under another
    $100 more then get the T2i.

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