If you have an APS-C sensor, also called a crop sensor, in your camera but want to use a full-frame lens, you may be wondering if it is possible. Depending on what type of camera you have, the choice of lens type can occasionally make a big difference in the resulting photograph.
Can you put a full frame lens on a crop sensor? The lens area on full-frame lenses is larger than necessary for crop sensors, so as long as the lens is compatible and able to be mounted to the APS-C camera, it is possible to use it. However, the crop sensor will still apply a crop factor that will create a narrower field of view and alter the effective focal length.
The crop factor will need to be considered when choosing to use a full-frame lens on an APS-C camera. For example, if you are trying to use a wide-angle lens because you want to capture a wide, sweeping scene, you are going to lose some of that expanse with a crop sensor camera, even though you are using a wide-angle lens. To determine just how much your image will be cropped, you can calculate the focal length multiplier.
To learn more about what effect using a full-frame lens on a crop sensor camera will have on your images, how to calculate the focal length multiplier, and other important considerations when selecting a lens for your camera, read on below for more helpful advice.
Table of Contents
What Happens if You Use a Full-Frame Lens on a Crop Sensor
In general, a full-frame lens can be used on a crop sensor camera as long as it is compatible and able to be mounted to the intended camera. However, that lens will not perform identically as to if it were mounted on a full-frame camera. This is due to the smaller sensor size of APS-C cameras. The smaller sensor will alter the working focal length of the lens, and so you may need to take this into account when selecting a lens.
Depending on the size of the sensor and the intended lens, there can be a drastic difference in the effective focal length of the lens. For example, a 50mm lens is designed to act like a 50mm lens on a full-frame camera. However, on a crop sensor camera, that 50mm lens now effectively becomes an 80mm lens. This can have a huge impact on your resulting photos: your field of view is shorter and more zoomed-in than if the lens were on a full-frame camera.
Any camera sensor that is smaller than 35mm (the size of a full-frame sensor) will result in capturing only a portion of what the full-frame lens sees. Therefore, the lens will act as if it has a longer focal length, and your image will feel zoomed-in or cropped. This can be helpful in some situations, but if your goal is to capture the full expanse of a scene, you are going to be disappointed.
To estimate the change in your field of view, it is helpful to determine the focal length multiplier, also called the crop factor. The focal length multiplier will let you calculate the effective focal length of a particular full-frame lens when used on a crop sensor camera.
How to Calculate the Focal Length Multiplier
When you are using a full-frame lens on a crop sensor camera, it can be helpful to know what sort of effect it will have on your resulting image. To determine this, you may want to calculate the focal length multiplier. The focal length multiplier allows you to take into account the size of a camera’s sensor and calculate how the intended lens will behave when placed on an APS-C camera.
The focal length multiplier varies between camera manufacturers. In general, this value falls somewhere between 1.3 and 2.0. Frequently, you can look up the focal length multiplier of your particular type of camera. For example, most Canon cameras have a 1.6x multiplier, while Nikon and Fuji have a 1.5x multiplier. Olympus cameras usually have a factor of 2x.
If you cannot find the listed focal length multiplier of your camera, you can calculate it yourself with a little bit of effort. Simply divide 36 (the width of a full-frame 35mm film sensor) by the width of your camera’s sensor.
For example, if your camera’s sensor is 22.2 mm wide (like the standard dimensions of a Canon APS-C sensor), you would divide 36 by 22.2 to yield 1.621, which rounds to 1.6. Therefore, the focal length multiplier for your camera is 1.6.
Use the Focal Length Multiplier to Determine the Effective Focal Length of Your Lens
Using the focal length multiplier, you can determine the effective focal length of your lens regardless of its initial focal length. This means you can use a full-frame lens on a crop sensor camera and know exactly what the converted focal length will be. Knowing what the resulting focal length will be can help you select the appropriate lens for your needs.
Once you have determined your camera’s focal length multiplier as described above, you can use your focal length multiplier to estimate the effective focal length of a lens. For example, let’s say you calculated your focal length multiplier as it was above and came to a figure of 1.6.
Next, you would multiply this 1.6 by the actual focal length of the lens you intend to use. So, if you have a full-frame lens with a 50mm focal length that you attach to your crop sensor camera, you will actually be working with an 80mm focal length lens (1.6 x 50).
Keep in mind that the focal length essentially determines our angle of view and how magnified, or zoomed-in, an image will appear. As the focal length becomes longer, the image will have a narrower angle of view as well as a more magnified appearance. Conversely, a shorter focal length will give a less zoomed-in image and a wider angle of view.
Because of this, focal length can make quite a difference in the quality of your photographs, depending on what you want to capture. If you want to be able to capture close-up images of subjects you can’t necessarily get close to, such as wildlife, a longer focal length may be ideal. However, landscapes or architectural photography usually benefit from shorter focal lengths. Keep these differences in mind if using full-frame lenses on a crop sensor camera.
Crop Lenses Cannot Be Used on Full-Frame Cameras
While you can use a full-frame lens with a crop sensor camera relatively easily, the inverse isn’t true. If you try to use a crop lens on a full-frame camera, you will be disappointed with the results.
Crop lenses are designed to let in only enough light to satisfy the smaller crop sensor, so when they are placed on a full-frame camera, they will not allow enough light to fill the entirety of the larger full-frame sensor. While some full-frame cameras can account for this lack of input, it often results in a cropped image and thus negates the advantages of a full-frame camera.
As a general rule, larger sensors require larger lenses to provide the necessary light to cover the entire sensor. Since full-frame cameras have a large sensor, the smaller area size of lenses designed to be used with crop sensor cameras simply cannot provide enough light to fill the sensor. It will produce images with a vignette-like appearance with darkened edges and corners.
Sometimes, this might be a desired stylistic element, but that usually isn’t the case. The image can be edited later with photo editing software to remove the black ring, but this will ultimately result in a smaller image overall and may fall short of the intended photograph results. So, while you could potentially take photographs on a full-frame camera with a cropped lens, the result is usually not satisfactory, and it isn’t worth the trouble.
When to Use Crop Lenses Instead of Full-Frame Lenses
You may be asking yourself why you should even consider using a lens designed for an APS-C camera rather than a full-frame lens since full-frame lenses tend to be better quality overall and can still work with APS-C cameras. The biggest consideration that usually comes into play is simply cost. APS-C lenses tend to be less expensive than their full-frame counterparts, making them a more accessible option for many amateur photographers.
Crop lenses naturally have a narrower angle of view, which means it will have less chance of capturing unwanted light flare in your images. Since the lens is narrower, it takes in lens light, meaning less possibility of errant rays to spoil your photo. This usually is only of real consideration when you are planning to take photographs somewhere that is excessively bright or if you are shooting on an angle very close to the light source.
If you do not want to have to calculate and contend with a crop factor, it can be helpful to stick to using crop lenses with your APS-C sensor. These lenses are already listed with a focal length that accounts for the smaller sensor size, so the focal length you buy is the focal length you get.
To see a nice infographic by Sony that illustrates the difference in resulting image between using a full-frame lens on an APS-C camera and a full-frame lens on a full-frame camera, as well as the difference of an APS-C camera using an APS-C lens and a full-frame lens, follow this link here.
One final exception to make when considering buying an APS-C lens compared to a full-frame lens is in regards to your future goals as a photographer. If you own a camera with a crop sensor, but you have every intention of eventually upgrading to a full-frame camera, keep in mind that every crop lens you buy will not be able to work with the full-frame camera. It may be a better idea to purchase full-frame lenses, which will be able to work with both camera types.
Best Full-Frame Lenses
If you’re looking to purchase full-frame lenses for your camera, whether it be a full-frame camera or an APS-C camera, there are some great lenses available on the market today. Usually, the choice of lens will be based mostly on the type of photography you intend to practice and your desired price point, but there are some hefty contenders in a couple of categories that are worth noting.
First of all, wide-angle lenses are versatile lenses that can truly give you an extra edge when trying to capture particular scenes and work beautifully with full-frame cameras. Wide-angle lenses are the choice of many landscape and architectural photographers, as they let you capture the sweeping expanse of a setting, even if you’re stuck in relatively tight quarters.
Some favorite picks in this category are the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM lens, the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S NIKKOR lens, and the Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 Vario-Sonnar T* ZA SSM II Zeiss A-Mount lens.
Having a great telephoto lens is critical if you intend to attempt any sort of landscape photography, sports photography, or wildlife. Still, it can also be adapted to other forms of photography like street photography or portraits. The longer focal length will allow you to capture detailed close-ups without having to be intrusive, which can also be useful when photographing social events like weddings.
When it comes to telephoto lenses, some of the top picks include the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens, the Nikon NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens, the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM lens, and the rugged (but pricey) Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens.
Best Crop Sensor Lenses
For those wanting to work with crop sensor lenses on your APS-C camera, there is a large assortment of lenses available on the market in a broad range of prices. Your intended photography goals will likely dictate the choice of lens, so we’ve grouped a handful of our favorites by their general strengths.
For example, the Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-140mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens is perfect for travel photographers. It is capable of wide-angle shots of beautiful quality and works well in both light and dim settings. It’s lightweight, compact size makes it perfect to fit into even the smallest gear bags. The Sigma 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 DC MACRO OS HSM lens is another excellent choice for travel photographers. It captures sharp, pristine images in a compact size.
The Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM lens is a fantastic wide-angle lens for Canon cameras. It can focus as close as 1.15 feet away while still capturing a large, sweeping expanse of the scene. The large aperture gives a shallow depth of field, which is perfect for stylistic portraits. The lens also comes with built-in image stabilization features that help keep photographs crisp and sharp, even if you have a shaky hand and dim light.
For an all-around impressive addition to your camera bag, look no further than the Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM lens. This lens is a versatile powerhouse with a large fixed aperture throughout the entire range of zoom and with consistent, fast autofocusing capabilities. The large aperture also makes it ideal for low light settings. What perhaps truly sets the Sigma lens apart, however, is its more budget-friendly price tag.
If you want an impeccably sharp telephoto lens for your APS-C camera, then you should consider the Sony 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS lens. It has a remarkable focal length range given its small size, measuring only 3.5” long and being very lightweight. Utilize its zoom lock switch to maintain a consistent focal length or switch seamlessly between manual and autofocus. It’s a great lens for anyone photographing action or wanting a good walk-around lens.
In conclusion, your choice of lens will often depend upon what sort of camera you have as well as what sort of photography you would like to practice. If you have a crop sensor camera, there are a couple of things you need to keep in mind:
- A crop sensor lens will be optimized for your crop sensor camera and will be less expensive than a full-frame lens.
- Full-frame lenses can work with most APS-C cameras, as long as it is compatible with your camera model.
- A full-frame lens will have a different effective focal length when used on a crop sensor camera.
- A full-frame lens is usually of better quality than an APS-C lens.
It is also critical to remember that while full-frame lenses can generally be interchanged between crop sensor cameras and full-frame cameras, you cannot use crop sensor lenses on a full-frame camera. The resulting image will be of poor quality, with a large black ring surrounding the picture.
If you have the intention of upgrading to a full-frame camera, it may be advantageous for you to purchase full-frame lenses even while still using your crop sensor camera in the meantime. This way, when you finally upgrade your camera body, you can still utilize all the lenses in your gear bag.