DX vs. FX: It's Not a Debate, It's a Choice

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A friend of mine recently took a step into a brave new world of digital SLR photography when she shelved her point-and-shoot camera and purchased a Nikon D5300 and kit lens. The purchase was not without an amount of trepidation: confusing controls, buttons everywhere, multi-function interfaces, knobs, an interchangeable lens, and increased size.

For many customers, moving from your camera phone or compact point-and-shoot to a larger and more complex photographic tool is a big decision. Some immediately feel at home with the DSLR, and others never get past what can be an intimidating technological leap.

Within a few days of purchasing her new camera, a friend of hers, a "professional" photographer, did exactly what a friend/mentor/advisor encouraging a shy new photographer entering the DSLR world probably should not have done. He told her that she had purchased the wrong camera. Why? Because the Nikon D5300 has a smaller than full-frame sensor, what Nikon calls its "DX," sensor. "You should have gotten an FX (full-frame) camera," he told her.

"DX" and "FX" are Nikon's designations for the size of the cameras' sensors. It was not very long ago that all DSLR cameras came with sensors whose dimensions were smaller than a frame of 35mm film. However, things have changed, and photographers may now purchase DSLR cameras with "full-sized" sensors from Canon, Nikon, Sony, and others. Once the sensors grew in size, the debate over sensors grew in volume. For the purposes of this article, I will use the Nikon DX/FX nomenclature to refer to the sensor sizes, but the reader should be aware that this discussion applies to any manufacturer who makes 35mm equivalent full-frame and cropped-frame sensors. For example, Canon's cropped-sensor lenses, in Canon nomenclature, are known as EF-S.

A Nikon DX sensor (left), compared to Nikon FX sensor (right).

My friend was immediately filled with self-doubt after having made a sizable financial investment in her new camera. Should she return the camera to the store and spend more on a larger and more expensive camera that requires more expensive lenses, or should she just retreat from DSLR photography altogether and use her new D5300 as a paperweight?

If you, like many photographers, have been inundated with blogs, chats, and editorials about this issue, you are likely on your way to being firmly entrenched in the FX side of the camp, as the DX stalwarts are becoming few and far between.

No need to panic, DX fans! There are many out there who still enjoy the benefits of the DX sensor while living, happily in many cases, with its drawbacks.

PROS AND CONS

FX Sensor
Pros Cons
Low-light performance/Image quality - directly attributed to larger pixels Higher Price
More control over depth of field because you have to get closer to your subject Size (the full-frame cameras are generally larger and heavier - there are exceptions)
"True" angle of view/focal lengths - No conversion needed Cannot use lenses designed for smaller sensors without cropping to the smaller image
Higher dynamic range Image quality - by using a large portion of the lens image circle, edge softness and vignetting can occur
DX Sensor
Pros Cons
Lower Price (cameras and DX lenses) Low-light performance inferior to FX
Size (usually smaller and lighter cameras) Smaller dynamic range
"Telephoto" effect (a 200mm lens is virtually a 300mm lens) General lack of "super-wide" lenses
Versatility - uses specially designed smaller lenses as well as all "normal" lenses Smaller viewfinder image
Image quality - captures image closer to the center of the image circle. This usually offers more sharpness and less vignetting (darkening) around the edge of the frame  

Moving away from the technical differences and impassioned sales points in the battle between the FX and DX sensors, I feel that photographers hoping to educate and inspire new photographers should steer clear of telling other photographers that they are "wrong" simply because they purchased a DX-sensor camera.

My father used to tell me, "Some of the world's greatest photographs were taken with a cardboard box (pinhole camera)."

My father used to tell me, "Some of the world's greatest photographs were taken with a cardboard box (pinhole camera)." This is true. Pulitzers have been won with photos taken with $20 plastic cameras. Point-and-shoot disposables have captured exquisite beauty.

The camera is a tool used to gather light. And, like any tool, there are different cameras for different jobs. The DSLR might be the photographic equivalent of a pocket-sized multi-tool, but it is not always the right camera for every job. Continuing that thought process, there is not only a market for the DX sensor cameras, there are real-world benefits to their operation and those fans of DX should not be criticized for their choice of tools.

So, if you are shopping for a new DX DSLR camera, or you are a fan of the DX sensor and its advantages, know that there is no reason to bury your head in the sand or feel envy when someone comes by with their FX machine—the world will keep spinning about its axis. Meanwhile, go out and create some great photographs with your camera—regardless of the sensor size.

808 Comments

Hello Todd! I stumbled upon this very helpful article due to my personal battle between upgrading to a D500 or D800-850. I currently use a D5xxx series (so DX) with a 150-600mm tamron g2 and a few other lenses, but I am mainly concerned about the camera in use with the 150-600mm.

I do wildlife photography, which the camera would primarily be used for... but I cannot for the life of me decide which would be the best at this focal length. I understand that DX virtually magnifies the focal length through cropping it, but would cropping the image of an FX lens to get the same virtual zoom as the DX lens sacrifice too much quality? One of the largest challenges I face is being within a good distance of wildlife to get a good shot, so the extra 300mm of focal length at 600mm on a DX (~900mm total) sounds appealing... but many of the specs of the D850 plus the interest of wandering into the FX world also sound dandy. Any insight you may provide would help dramatically, thank you!

Hi Creston,

If I was primarily a wildlife shooter, I would probably stay in the DX world and, let me throw you this curve ball, look at the D500. The D500 is basically a D5 without the FX sensor or vertical grip.

In my head, shooting FX and doing a DX crop is just more work. Would you still get the maybe-kindof-can't-really-tell-without-pixel-peeping FX benefits inside that crop? I don't know.

And, as an APS-C shooter, I really don't feel much of the pull of FX...

That is my $0.02. Please let me know if you have more questions!

I really appreciate your insight and the help the article provided. I have decided to get the D500 since your recommendation and in only the past few hours of playing with it, I love it! Thank you again!

Hi Creston,

Great news! I am glad you are enjoying your D500! How did you get it so quickly?

Hi, Todd: I have a Nikon D3400 which came with two kit lenses: AF-P 70-300mm and AF-P 18-55 (and two Vivitar attachments for the smaller lens, a 2.2X telephoto converter and .43x wide angle converter w/macro). I got the camera over a year ago and have since got a fixed lens AF-S 50mm and AF-S 18-140mm (and the corresponding telephoto and wide angle attachments. Question 1: Since I have the 18-140mm, do I need the 18-55mm or does it serve a specific purpose? Question 2: Crop sensor lenses don’t work well with full sensor cameras, right? Question 3: Is there a compelling reason to switch to mirrorless? I love the Nikon Z7 but have a hard time justifying the nearly $4K cost and I love my current camera.

Hello Peralte,

I apologize for the delay as I was in Japan for business last week.

Thanks for your note! Good questions… 1. You could probably ditch the 18-55 since you have the 18-140 unless you like the size/weight of the 18-55 for some outings. Another consideration: I have seen amazing macro work with the 18-55 and extension tubes. I don’t know if the 18-140 performs the same. 2. You can use the lenses on FX cameras, but the cameras will shoot in crop mode. 3. Mirrorless is the way of the future, but there is no rush to switch. I bet Nikon’s 2nd generation of mirrorless will be even better than the Z6/Z7, but they made a couple of great cameras to start into their FX mirrorless journey. If you love your D3400, there is no need to switch!

Hi Todd,

I am debating which to buy:

What's a good lense for portraits for the D850?

Would this work well? Nikon 50mm AF-S f/1.8G Nikkor Lens?

Thanks!

Hi Charles,

The 50mm f/1.8 is a fantastic lens and I recommend that everyone carry one. https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/photography/buying-guide/the-one-lens-every-photographer-should-have-and-use-the-50mm

It will work well for portraits on the D850, but photographers usually prefer lenses around the 85mm or 105mm focal length for portraits with full-frame cameras in order to get a little more working distance between the camera and subject as well as soften the background a bit.

Thanks for your question and thanks for shopping at B&H! Let me know if you have any follow-ups.

Hi Todd,

Thanks for all that you do for us novices.  I have a Nikon D3400 and will be heading to Africa in July. I have the 18-55  and 55-200mm kit lenses but wish to stretch out to 300mm for the safari.  First, do you think I need the added length and second, if so what would you recommend?  Since the D3400 is DX should I restrict my search to DX lenses only?  Thanks in advance for your help.

Rick

Hi Richard,

You are very welcome!

Great questions here. Sorry for the delay in replying...I was traveling last week for B&H.

For an African trip, you really cannot have too much focal length, from what I have heard. 300mm is pretty much the furthest you can go without a second mortgage these days.

If you shoot DX, you can go with DX and FX lenses, so no need to limit yourself to DX.

As far as 300mm lenses, you could get a zoom that reaches 300mm [https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1275036-REG/nikon_20062_afp_dx_nikkor_70_300mm.html], but that would be redundant with your 55-200. Because of this, you might want to treat yourself to a 300mm f/4 lens. Nikon has 2 versions...the older D version which is excellent (I own one) [https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/207356-USA/Nikon_1909_Telephoto_AF_S_Nikkor_300mm.html]  [Refurbished https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/731041-REG/Nikon_1909B_Refurbished_Telephoto_AF_S_Nikkor.html] and the new Fresnel model [https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1111442-REG/nikon_2223_af_s_nikkor_300mm_f_4e.html] that is incredibly light and small, but much more expensive.

There is also the weapon-sized Nikon 200-500mm lens. Fantastic, but large and heavy. [https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1175034-REG/nikon_af_s_nikkor_200_500mm_f_5_6e.html]

And, another large option...a 150-600mm lens. [https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/search?sts=ma&fct=fct_lens-mount_3316%7cnikon&N=0&Ntt=150-600mm]

Another outside-of-the-box idea would be to get an inexpensive 500mm mirror lens. The downside of this is that you will be stuck at f/8 and manual focus...not so good when it gets dark.

I probably just gave you too many options. Let me know if you have any follow-up questions. Thanks for stopping by!

Hi Todd,

I saw you replying to comments as early as a month ago and I thought I can pour my dilemma out here and see if I can find an answer. Apologies for the long comment.

I purchased a Nikon D7000 back on Black Friday 2014 with 18-55 and 70-200 kit lenses. I was also gifted a 50mm f1.8 AF (75mm on my APS-C) lens by a coworker who was upgrading his gear. But I was new into DSLR photography and I could not commit to learning and practising with it. The bulk of carrying multiple lenses also made me shun the whole idea of DSLR photography. The camera was left in a bag for almost 3 years while I focussed on using my Google Pixel with moment lenses due to the portability I got from it. I shot raw/jpeg in manual and I got decent pictures out of it considering it was a smartphone camera after all.

After all these years when I opened up my bag and checked my D7000 out it was performing fine without any fungus or other issues. I shot a few photos with the 50mm 1.8 AF and it just felt like a breath of fresh air, like I reconnected with a long lost lover. I also researched a bit and came to the conclusion that I could sell my kit lenses and get a 35mm F1.8 lens for my day to day and travel use. with the 50mm F1.8 being my "zoom lens" for portrait needs.

Here's where my dilemma begins, my D7000 is a really old camera (duh) and online quotes for selling my body+kits is coming to below $250 (inc in BHP). Should I sell my D7000 for this cheap and get a newer model (D7200 maybe) before I get into using a DSLR regularly? I usually take both landscape and portrait photographs on my smartphone and I sometimes do take photos in the night when I travel but not on a regular basis. I feel so much more comfortable using it now than I did in 2015 and I feel this time I am learning fast. I just don't to be stuck in a camera that's so far behind in quality/generation that I can't make the most out of it and end up selling my body+kit+35mm lens (that I'm yet to buy) for cheap next year and purchase a new FX/DX camera.

Again, apologies for the length. I await your response.

--

Prasan

Hello Prasannajeet,

No worries! I am still here. Also, no need to apologize for a long question. Context is good!

First off, you D7000 is still a good camera and the latest Nikon APS-C cameras (D7200, D7500, and D500) are not really a full generational leap ahead of the D7000 as far as sensor technology. They will be better, but not super-noticably better. The D500 and D7500 have the same sensor, with the D500 being the truly pro camera as far as speed and ruggedness.

If you are compelled to upgrade, I would go with the D7500 as it is newer than the D7200. I would imagine the D7200 will be upgraded sometime in the near future. I have no specific information, but if you look at the time period between the D7000, D7100, and D7200, you will likely see a pattern developing...unless the D7500 was actually a D7200 replacement. Depending on who you talk to, it might have been.

You won't regret getting the DX 35mm lens. It is inexpensive and great and can replace your 18-55mm if you "zoom with your feet."

I am not sure I am answering your question regarding the upgrade. In summary, if you want to upgrade, step up to the D7500 and don't sweat the FX/DX debate at this time. Or, keep shooting the D7000 and grab a new lens or two that will stay with you when you do upgrade your camera body.

Please let me know if you have follow-up questions! I will be standing by!

Thanks for reading Explora!

[Received via email...]

 Hi Todd,

Somehow, I'm unable to comment to the article.
I want to thank you for the article. I have a different perspective and would like to see if it's correct.

1) FX and DX lens of the same focal length should have the same optical characters. For example, we compare 300 mm FX and 300 mm DX lenses on a DX body. We expect to get the same image in terms of depth of field, compression, and the physical size of the image on the sensor.

2) If we are shooting birds, the size of the bird image is much smaller than a DX sensor. A 24M pixel DX sensor will have greater pixel density than a 24M FX sensor. So, there will be more pixels for the bird from the DX sensor. Does that make a DX sensor better for shooting birds?

It always kind of drive me nuts when people use the 1.5 crop factor to say that a 300 mm lens becomes a 450 mm lens. The optical characteristics is still a 300 mm lens. But if you were to count the number of pixels for a bird, then 300 mm on 24M pixel DX sensor would be the same as 450 mm on 24M pixel FX sensor.

Is this correct?

Thanks,
Luke

Hey Luke,

Thanks for your email.

Your statements:

1) FX and DX lens of the same focal length should have the same optical characters. For example, we compare 300 mm FX and 300 mm DX lenses on a DX body. We expect to get the same image in terms of depth of field, compression, and the physical size of the image on the sensor.

False. Remember, a 300mm lens is a 300mm lens regardless of the camera it is attached to. Also, there is really no such thing as an "FX lens." There are lenses designed for DX cameras and then there are the rest.

So, if someone sold a "DX 300mm lens" and you put that lens on a DX (1.5x) camera, it would have the same field of view as a 450mm lens on a full-frame camera because the DX sensor is capturing a smaller area of the image circle projected by the lens.

A logical question to follow up here would be, "What is the difference between a DX 300mm lens and a 300mm lens that is compatible with a full frame camera?"

The answer is that a DX lens can be designed in a smaller form factor as it does not have to project the same size image circle as a lens for a full-frame camera. Even though they both have a 300mm focal length, the DX lens can be smaller in diameter and have smaller glass elements. This allows DX lenses to be smaller and lighter than the full-frame compatible lenses of the same focal length

2) If we are shooting birds, the size of the bird image is much smaller than a DX sensor. A 24M pixel DX sensor will have greater pixel density than a 24M FX sensor. So, there will be more pixels for the bird from the DX sensor. Does that make a DX sensor better for shooting birds?

Technically, I would say you are correct, but don't get stuck in the weeds here. Yes, a 24MP DX sensor has more pixels per square inch (not a unit of measure used for sensors...but fine for this discussion) than a 24MP FX sensor. So, theoretically, that one bird in the frame will have more pixels dedicated to it on a DX sensor—assuming the bird is the same size in both the DX and FX frame...but that would require the DX shooter to have a 300mm lens and the FX shooter a 450mm lens while standing in the same spot and shooting the same bird....or the FX shooter to be 1.5x closer with the same lens. (Digression alert.)

Anyway, so, yes, a more dense sensor means more pixels per subject of the same size.

However, is this noticeable? Not to your eye and normal magnifications. In fact, you would have to zoom in pretty far...down to the pixel level...in Photoshop to start seeing a difference.

And, pixel density has drawbacks as far as noise performance. More megapixels isn't always the best thing.

It always kind of drive me nuts when people use the 1.5 crop factor to say that a 300 mm lens becomes a 450 mm lens. The optical characteristics is still a 300 mm lens. But if you were to count the number of pixels for a bird, then 300 mm on 24M pixel DX sensor would be the same as 450 mm on 24M pixel FX sensor.

Don't go too nuts. In a sense, people might not be correct, but what they say is a simplification of the truth on a subject when the detailed truth might be confusing to many. Yes, it is still a 300mm lens, but, the field of view makes it a virtual 450mm lens on a DX camera.

The bizarre thing about all of this is that we use focal length numbers (length) to represent fields of view (which are measured in degrees) and we force these numbers and conversions down people's throats when they honestly don't even know (or often care) that a 50mm lens is "normal" and a lower number means a wider lens and a larger number means more telephoto.

Anyway, I hope this helps. Standing by for follow ups!

 

Thanks!

-Todd

Hi Todd,
 
Thanks for putting up with my delay.
 
I have changed FX lens terminology to regular lens.  The attached diagram illustrates what I was trying to say.  The different "field of view" is shown as different size circles.  
 
Other than the size of circles, both lens have the same magnification, depth of field, compression, and the physical size of the image (letter A) on the sensor.  I believe this is what you mean by 300 mm lens is a 300 mm lens, regardless of whether it's regular or DX.
 
To me, field of view is a size/weight/cost issue, not an optical issue.  Optical has to do with magnification, depth of field, and compression.  (You don't have to agree with my definition.  You just need to understand what I'm trying to say.)  But many people confuse "equivalent 450 mm" to mean greater magnification for a 300 mm DX lens.  I believe that to be false.
 
I understand the trade-offs between DX and FX lens.  For example, greater pixel density means more noise.  However, if you are only counting pixels, DX sensor would give you more pixel under the letter A in the attached diagram.  This adds further argument to the greater magnification thinking.
 
I'm writing to you because my friend thinks he will get greater magnification with a DX sensor and DX lens.  I try to tell him the above, but he doesn't believe it.  So, I thought I would verify with you.  I'm not trying to say what is better or worse.  I'm just trying to explain that there is no increase in magnification.  The increased number of pixels for letter A is due to increase in pixel density.
 
Please confirm.  Please also feel free to add this to your article (and edit for clarity).
 
Thanks,
Luke
 
PS:  I understand that the pixel density argument might lead to people into false thinking that DX sensor is better.  I'm just not sure how to really explain this crop sensor issue so there is no false understanding.
Hey Luke,
 
No worries about the delay. I am on your schedule!
 
Nice diagram! It looks accurate to me.
 
I believe I understand what you are saying and, yes, a lot of people, I believe, think that there is some sort of teleconverter or magnifying glass somewhere in the DX camera that causes that 300mm lens to look like a 450mm lens when it is actually a change of field of view created by a virtual cropping of an image. [Simplified terms.] 
 
So, your friend is technically wrong, but go easy on him! His logic is not uncommon as you can see in a myriad of the comments following the article. But, you are correct, there is no added optical magnification with a DX lens or DX camera—there is only a virtual magnification caused by the crop. You can tell him he is wrong, but buy him an adult beverage at the same time (if legal and appropriate) and go outside and take some photos and don’t worry about all the math!
 
Thanks,
 
Todd

Hello, thank you for the article. I have been shooting live band photos recently with my DX body Nikon D7200. With the low light and flashing stage lights I am having to shoot at relatively high ISO's above 3,200 upwards of 12,800. Another photographer shot the same show constantly at 1,600 ISO and higher shutter speeds than me with an FX Nikon D750. Does that mean that if we both have a 50 prime (or 35mm on mine to compensate for the 1.5x crop factor) that we would get different results in exposure with the same shutter, aperture and ISO? Considering changing to that camera but I like the extra "reach" with my zoom lenses.

Hey Jeffery,

Good question.

So, if he is shooting a 50mm f/1.8 lens at f/2 on the D750 at ISO1600 and you are shooting next to the other photographer with the D7200 with a 35mm f/1.8 lens at f/2 and ISO1600, you both should be getting virtually identical photos. They might get slightly better noise performance at a given ISO, but it shouldn't be very apparent as both cameras have sensors from the same generation of technology.

My guess is that the other photographer was shooting at wider apertures than you because exposure math remains constant regardless of the sensor size of the camera. If it didn't, light meters would have to have settings for cameras with different sized sensors.

Do you know what aperture they were working at? Let me know and thanks for your question!

PS. Sorry for the delay in replying...I was out of the office for the holiday.

Hi Todd,

This article has been very helpful to finally make up my mind to stick with Dx (Nikon D5300) and not to upgrade to Fx camera. I mostly shoot Landscapes and Travel photos and currently own Tokina 11-16, 35mm prime and 18-55 kit lens on my Nikon D5300 but I have been planning to add one more lens to my gear collection which can cover from wide to mid telephoto range since sometime i feel the need to zoom in and capture one part of the landscape and not the entire landscape especially when there is no interesting foreground and cases where I want to show the scale with telephotos. I have tried my hands on Tamron 70-300 for a month but i found it to be too long since it becomes around 110-450 on Dx and usually i dont prefer shooting landscapes in more than 200mm on Dx and with this lens i have also been losing 55-70mm focal range along with my other lenses. I am looking for a recommendation on wide to mid-telephoto range with VR/IS under 600 USD which can produce sharp images because i fell that my 18-55 doesnt give sharp enough images even when i think i am doing everything right.

P.S: I am also open for refurbished ones in good conditions.

Hey Naquib,

I am glad the article has been helpful to you!

Your Tokina and 35mm prime are great lenses. Nice work!

A couple of lenses come to mind for your telephoto dreams. One would be the venerable DX 18-200mm that falls just above your price range (well below if you go used). This would be a nice compliment to your existing kit and would replace your 18-55 easily. The 18-200 got rave reviews when it came out and has almost 1000 reviews on B&H at 4.5 stars. There is also a DX 18-300mm option as well. I would recommend doing your homework on both of those lenses, but I am sure you will find many happy owners. Both of those lenses should be sharper than your 18-55.

The DX 16-80mm is a fantastic lens, but a bit on the spendy side and probably isn't as long as you would like it to be.

Let me know if you have more questions and thanks for reading!

Hey Todd,

Your recommendation sounds really useful to me. but I have one more lens in my mind and that is Nikon 24-120mm. What is your opinion on this, i know this is a Fx lens?

Hey Naquib,

That is also a good lens...I guess I didn't think of that option! For some reason, maybe because I have never used that focal length zoom, those lenses rarely end up on my radar. Also, the Canon 24-105mm seems to have more of a following than the equivalent Nikon for some reason.

You'll have a little bit of a gap between 16mm and 24mm, but that isn't really a big deal. New, it is also well out of your specified price range, but we have a refurbished one listed for much less.

Thanks for the assist!

Hi Todd,

I have been thinking of buying a Nikon 24-120mm refurbished but delivery charges for india is quite significant, that's one issue for me.. and is there any import duty to be paid too on top of shipping charges from US to India?

Hey Naquib,

Sorry, friend! That is why outside of my wheelhouse. I recommend you go through the purchase process online and see if import taxes show on the web, or call B&H and talk to one of our sales team.

I wish I could be more help, but I honestly am not familiar with international shipping.

Hi! This has been a very helpful read and may be swaying me to stick with my D7200. I currently shoot indoors for hospital newborn sessions (Fresh 48) and In-Home lifestyle sessions. I'm using my Nikon 35 1.8 DX, so switching to full frame would also mean switching to new glass. I do feel limited in low-light situations and in tight spaces. I'm hoping to get into birth photography in the next year, so my current setup isn't going to cut it. I'm thinking of the Sigma 18-35, but I would really need to commit to sticking with the crop sensor to make that one worth it. I'm also considering the Sigma 24 1.4, with the idea that it could be used on my 7200 or on a full frame body if I ever do upgrade...which, again, I may not need to! Can you make a recommendation or do you have a better idea? Thanks so much! 

Hi Sarah,

Remember, you are shooting a great camera and using a great lens there. Beware of the gravitational pull of "newer" and "better" gear!

I like the idea of the Sigma 24mm prime. Why? You already said you are using the 35mm prime lens, so I sense you are not one to lean too heavily on the crutch of a zoom. Prime lenses, as you have discovered, are going to give you optimal image quality and, when it comes to that type of photography, I am sure parents are super picky about the images.

Future-proofing for a move to full-frame is a good idea, as well. And, not to push you off the fence, but if you did switch to full-frame, replacing your 35mm f/1.8 with a Nikon 50mm f/1.8 is not too much of a wallet drain...especially if you get the older AF-D version—an amazing lens on its own right.

Let me know if you have follow-up questions! I am glad the article was helpful. :) Thanks for stopping by!

Via email...

Message: Hi Todd,

I read your post on B&H and it was very useful - thanks for that.

However, I have one additional question. I am currently shooting with a D750 and a 24-70mm f2.8 lens. I am planning on using this lens on a D7200 which has a crop sensor (1.5x). When mounting the lens to the D7200, would it automatically become a slower lens, meaning that the photos taken at f2.8 would drop to an FX sensor equivalent of more like f4?

Two concrete examples:

1) I am shooting with the D750 and the above lens at f8 a lot when doing landscape photography to capture most of the scene sharp. Using the D7200, would f8 lead to the same result in sharpness or would I need to adjust the aperture?

2) In terms of brightness - I am usually shooting with the D750 at ISO 100 whenever possible. Shooting with the D7200 at f8 (as with the D750), would I need to increase the ISO in order to get the same level of light compared to the D750?

Thanks,

Rupert

Hi Rupert!
 
Thanks for the email!
 
Here we go!
 

However, I have one additional question. I am currently shooting with a D750 and a 24-70mm f2.8 lens. I am planning on using this lens on a D7200 which has a crop sensor (1.5x). When mounting the lens to the D7200, would it automatically become a slower lens, meaning that the photos taken at f2.8 would drop to an FX sensor equivalent of more like f4?

Nope. f/2.8 is f/2.8 when it comes to exposure. Mathematically, the DOF on the D7200 at f/2.8 will be closer to that of an f/4 lens, but the exposure does not change. If exposure changed, we would need to put in a crop sensor conversion to our handheld light meters.
 

Two concrete examples:

1) I am shooting with the D750 and the above lens at f8 a lot when doing landscape photography to capture most of the scene sharp. Using the D7200, would f8 lead to the same result in sharpness or would I need to adjust the aperture?

2) In terms of brightness - I am usually shooting with the D750 at ISO 100 whenever possible. Shooting with the D7200 at f8 (as with the D750), would I need to increase the ISO in order to get the same level of light compared to the D750?

 
Shoot at f/8 on both bodies for maximum sharpness. The sharpness of the image will be unchanged. Brightness is also unchanged. The same amount of light is coming through the lens at a given aperture…you are just capturing a smaller portion of that image circle with the crop lens. You will not have to change ISO.
 
I hope this clears things up, Rupert! Let me know if you have other questions and let me know!

Hi Todd - Your article is helpful. Thanks.  I need advice. I have a Nikon D5300.  I have kids who play sports and I like to shoot their games. I have an AF-S Nikkor 55-300 lens. It's fine for my needs but not in lower-light conditions.  I know it's an "amateur" lens and I am ready for something a little higher quality and better in lower light.  What would you suggest? THANKS. 

My lens is AF-S Nikkor 55-300mm 1:4 5-5.6 ED.  F/4.5 I believe 

Hey Marya,

Thanks for the kind words!

You came to the right place to get advice!...so here we go!

One of the annoying things about long(er) telephoto lenses is their cost. Even the smaller and lighter lenses command high prices. Blah.

I assume you are enjoying shooting way out at the 300mm focal length for the kids sports, correct? Here are some options in order of cost:

This lens will probably have slightly better image quality than your 55-300mm lens, but it has the same maximum apertures, so you are not going to get more light-gathering performance. https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1349415-REG/nikon_20068_af_p_nikkor_70_300mm_f_4_5_5_6e.html

If you want to reach out further and carry a huge lens around with you (the other parents will be very intimidated!), check out this lens: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1175034-REG/nikon_af_s_nikkor_200_500mm_f_5_6e.html

Finally, leaving the world of zoom lenses is the 300mm f/4. The new Fresnel version is very expensive but it is super small and light...https://blogd7.bhphotovideo.com/explora/photography/hands-review/birding-dream-team-nikon-d500-and-nikon-300mm-f4. https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/207356-USA/Nikon_1909_Telephoto_AF_S_Nikkor_300mm.html

The "older" version is the AF-S 300mm f/4. I own this lens and it is fantastic. Also, you can find them fairly reasonably priced at the B&H Used Store [https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/browse/Used-Equipment/ci/2870/N/4294247188]. https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/207356-USA/Nikon_1909_Telephoto_AF_S_Nikkor_300mm.html

So, you might have noticed, none of those are DX lenses...if you switch to full-frame in the future, these lenses will come with you. If you don't, no big deal. Also, aside from the 75-300mm lens, these other options are serious pro-level lenses you are about to start rocking! Let me know if you have follow ups!

THANKS!  MUCH APPRECIATED 

You are very welcome, Marya! Let me know if you come across any more questions.

Good luck!

Hi Todd,

Thanks for the great summary. You're article outlines the differences between DX and FX but in general the scope is to justify why folks shouldn't scoff at crop sensors. I totally agree. I've had a D5500 for 3+ years and love it and have taken many fantastic pictures. That being said I wanted to pick your mind regarding reasons to upgrade. Recently I feel like I've been bumping up against limitations of the DX sensor. Specifically low light performance (indoors and outdoors) and scene detail for my landscape photos. Those advantages along with increased dynamic range are often what I hear from manufacturers and other blogs as to reasons to upgrade. On the other hand I've read articles from folks that claim the upgrade won't do much for your photography as you're probably doing something wrong with your DX camera. I don't doubt that I still have a great deal to learn and improve upon with practice. However I was wondering if you can make your own counter argument for reasons to upgrade for those of us that are on the fence. Thanks!

Dunes

Hi Dulnath,

Great question. You have obviously done a lot of homework already on this topic, so I will try to give you a brief answer.

Is there a gigantic improvement in a full-frame sensor over a DX sensor in low-light performance and dynamic range? No. Is there a difference, I suppose there is, but it wont be obvious to most folks. We could be entering the world of the pixel peeper here...

Digital cameras are constantly improving in both low-light performance and dynamic range...regardless of sensor size. Your D5500 probably outperforms older top-flight professional DSLRs of just a few years ago in many ways, so you have a very capable camera. Remember, as you bump into these perceived limitations of your sensor, you are likely taking photos where film photographers might never have even considered shooting years ago.

My question to you is: What lens(es) are you shooting? My guess is that the better investment for you will be on better optics and not on a new camera...

Standing by for your reply and follow-ups! Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks for the response Todd! I've got a few lenses. My two primes are 35mm f1.8 and 85mm f1.8. For looking at those birds I have a 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 IF-ED VR. Those last two are FX worthy I believe. I also have the kit 18-55mm AF-P and the new consumer 10-20mm f4-5.6 wide angle.

One aspect of my wanting to upgrade had to do with lower light autofocusing, which I feel like the D5500 some times "misses the mark". I can get a gently used D750 or a nearly new D7500 (DX I know) for right around $1000 and I've heard they both do well with their autofocus system.

Another aspect is detail in the photo. In my landscape I'll occasionally take a shot where I think I'm doing all the right things (tripod, VR Off, mirror flip up, remote trigger, etc.) and I still feel like I should be able to get better detail out of the leaves in the forest.

And of course we want low light capability to capture the kids on-stage performances!

Maybe I'm being too demanding :-) or maybe I need better glass. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks again!

Hi Dulnath,

Thanks for the update on your kit. It looks like you only have two non-DX lenses that would make the switch with you, so you have to figure the cost of many new lenses, or shooting the DX lenses on FX in crop mode. Everyone thinks that is a great idea, but I have never really come across anyone who actually does it.

The D7500 will outperform the D5500 in the focus arena and other areas without forcing you into purchasing multiple lenses.

Regarding detail in the photo...that is a function of optics and sensor resolution. More megapixels; more detail....unless the optics cannot keep up. Your prime lenses are probably the only ones you have that could give you a fighting chance at winning with a super-high resolution sensor.

Here is a trade secret...promise not to share? If you come across an epic landscape that you want more than just a snapshot of, then affix one of your prime lenses and do a panoramic image...stitching together a bunch of frames to make one. This will give you incredible detail with the kit you already own by leveraging your best optics to capture the scene in segments instead of all at once. Besides, it is really fun to do it and then zoom into the finished product on your computer later. Just don't tell anyone the secret!

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/photography/tips-and-solutions/how-make-panoramic-photographs

I am guessing that the D7500 and some new glass might be your best plan. Also, keep an eye out for D500's...that camera has Nikon's best AF system and processing power. A truly professional DX camera.

Standing by for follow-ups!

Have a great weekend!

Hi Todd,

Thanks again for the advice. I played around with a D7500 for a while and decided that it was the right choice. I purchased one at an digital camera expo in the Seattle area a week ago. While I haven't had a lot of time to take it out for a serious spin, my early test shots in lower light and with fast moving kids look great. Obviously it will take some time to adapt my skills to the flexibility that this camera opens up. I particularly enjoy how many of the functions buried in menus in the D5500 are now available externally at my fingertips.

Interestingly enough, I attended a workshop with one of the Nikon Technical Reps (Paul Van Allen) and he also discussed the technique of stitching together photos taken in the portrait orientation. I'll definitely give this a try!

I'll plan on learning with this camera for the next year and then maybe consider a new lens during next year's expo. I'm guessing that I'll have the 35mm f1.8 glued to the camera most of the time. Any suggestions for lenses that might replace the 18-55mm AF-P? Mostly I'd be looking for a faster lens.

One last question, I'm heading to Singapore and Sri Lanka in a few weeks to visit family. It'll be a great opportunity for photography. Any suggestions for preparing and caring for the camera in high humidity environments?

cheers,

Dunes

Hi Dunlath,

Sorry for the delay! I was out of town for a few days.

Don't forget, B&H does price matching and we don't charge sales tax in some states...in case you need another D7500!

Yes, the higher-end Nikons have controls and functions that are much more accessible than the D3000 and D5000-series cameras.

The 35mm f/1.8 is actually a great replacement for the 18-55mm. You just have to "zoom with your feet!" If you want a top-flight DX zoom, check out the 16-80mm f/2.8-4 lens. Super sharp and nicely sized!

For high-humidity environments the camera should be OK. The biggest issue is condensation when leaving air conditioned environments for the warm and humid outdoors. Don't expect to be able to take a photo a few seconds after you walk out of the door! If you can put the camera and lenses outside before you leave the indoors, do that to let them acclimate to the humidity.

Cheers!

Todd, 

  Great breakdown between DX and FX, (went to 2 camera stores today and didn't get that kind of detail).  I am looking to upgrade our D5200 currently have a Nikon DX VR AF-S Nikkor 18-140mm and a DX AF-S Nikkor 18-300mm.  What I am looking for is a combination of body and lens to get ultra crisp photos from wildlife to portraits and weddings.  I am wondering what you think about the Nikon D7500 and what I should get for lenses to go with it?  In your opinion is there one factor over another (in terms of lens or body) that creates the sharp focus in a photo?  I think you mentioned in an earlier response, how comfortable you were in the DX world (even as a student) so that was encouraging to read because I'm not sure I want to step up to the FX world yet. 

Thanks, Chip

Hi Chip,

Thanks! I am glad to be informative!

The D7500 is a great camera. You cannot go wrong there. It is a nice upgrade from the D5200.

Sharpness is 99% a function of the lens. I suppose there are blurry sensors out there, but I don't know about them.

For a great and relatively inexpensive DX portrait lens, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 is fantastic. I can't recommend that one enough.

The DX 16-80mm lens would be a great workhorse for wedding work and some portraits.

For wildlife, you need a longer reach and you can either keep rocking your 18-300 or get a telephoto zoom lens like the 70-200 f/4 or 300mm f/4 (either the AF-S D version or the new Fresnel version). A sleeper lens, older but still amazing, is the Nikon 80-200 f/2.8. All of these lenses require an investment, unfortunately.

And, for the record, I still shoot DX for work, fun, and clients. No one has yet told me that I need a bigger sensor to make my photos better!

Standing by for follow-ups! Thanks for stopping by!

Hello Explora readers...I received the following message via Instagram direct message and will post it here and reply as I don't want to try to bang out a lengthy reply on my phone keyboard:

Hello Todd I read an article you did explaining crop factor. I understood what you were saying however I was left feeling that your point was to say if you’ve never shot on a full frame camera the crop factor isn’t important because you have no reference point regarding the difference in field of view. My thought would be if I’m using a 35mm focal length on a canon with 1.6 crop that’s going to make my wide angle lens not shoot like a wide angle lens. Is that a correct way of thinking? Wouldn’t that be important to know if for instant I want to shoot a full body shot. From my research you want something right around 50mm for full body portrait. So if I use a 50mm I won’t be shooting with a 50mm FOV anymore. I’m trying to decide if me buying a 35mm lens will to the trick since that will bump me up to 56mm on my canon in regards to the crop factor. Thanks in advance. —rambofoxx

Hi rambofoxx,

I did make the point that if you have never shot on full frame (or 35mm film) then you do not have a frame of reference when correlating focal length to the angle of view.

So, a 35mm lens on an APS-C (1.6x) Canon sensor will not be a true wide-angle lens. It falls firmly in the range of what we call "normal" lenses. Yes, it would be important to know what kind of angle of view to expect for a given focal length on a particular camera. However, in the photo world we translate angle of view into focal lengths and then base the standards on 35mm-format film or 35mm-format sensors. It is a bit arbitrary!

So, for full-body portraits with an APS-C camera, the 35mm lens might work great—depending on how much space you have to work with. You could do full-body portraits with a 50mm lens on an APS-C camera as well, you'll just have to get further away from your subject. If you are working in gyms and other tight spaces, definitely go with the 35mm to give yourself more flexibility.

Thanks for reading and let me know if you have more questions!

Cheers!

I have a few Fuji S5s from my wedding days and need to update to a new camera.  I am very unknowledgeable about how my lenses will translate.  Nikkor lenses: an 85 1.4, a 50 1.4, a 70- 200 2.8, a 17-35 2.8 and a 35-70 2.8.  All say AF-S on them and have a D or ED.   Will I be able to use those lenses on a Nikon D500?  I shoot only on location fashion at this point.  Should I consider an FX or will I be happy with a DX? 

Hey Laurine,

Great lenses! All of those lenses are non-DX glass, so they will work fine on a full-frame or DX camera. Yes, the D500 will work with them, but the D5 will also work...and other Nikon FX cameras.

For what it's worth, I assume you have the first generation 70-200mm f/2.8. I used to shoot that lens on DX cameras and had pretty noticeable vignetting. I would imagine that it is even worse on a full-frame camera. This might be something to keep in mind.

Your other lenses will be fine in front of any sensor.

Let me know if you have follow-up questions! And, feel free to keep rocking the S5s!

Hey Todd,

Thanks so much for clearly up a lot of things with this article. I am new to photography but very motivated to learn more and have an established photographer on the side. I recently bought a Nikon D5600 and so far I love it. Of course being new to all this I didn't realize it was a crop sensor when I bought it. Since then, I have bought a 50 mm 1.8 lens and also a 35 mm 1.8 lens. I am trying to decide what lens would be beneficial for me to invest in now. I'm feeling like I could use something with a little more wide angle for those shots I need when I don't have much room to back up but I also would like something versatile that I can use most of the time. I Photograph a lot of different things- family, kids, seniors, newborns etc. I've been told the Sigma 17-50 mm 2.8 is good but I'm wondering if I should go for the 16-80 mm (I saw you mentioned it in one of these posts) The price difference is very big here but I want something I will be able to use for multiple things! Also, do you think sticking with DX would be a good choice if I am trying to run a business on the side. I don't want to invest in a bunch of lenses if I will eventually have to upgrade to a full frame!

Thanks in Advance! :) 

Hi Rachel,

First of all, do not lose sleep over your sensor size. Your camera is capable of taking great photos!

Secondly, GREAT choice on those two prime lenses! Your 50mm f/1.8 will be great for portraits and the 35mm is fantastic as an everyday lens on that camera.

The two zooms you mentioned will be great all-purpose lenses, but know that your two primes are included in the focal lengths of those zoom lenses. This could be seen as redundant, or you might start using the zooms all the time and leave the primes on the shelf to collect dust. Let's hope not! If you want to go a bit wider, one of these lenses would be good for you, but remember that you'll likely get sharper portraits with blurrier backgrounds with the prime lenses than the zooms. Given the option, I might lean towards the Nikon 16-80 for a bit more versatility at the expense of not having an f/2.8 aperture all the way through the zoom range. I know the price is steep, but check out our Used Store to see if you can get one for less.

You can certainly run a business with a DX camera. Don't let anyone convince you otherwise! I do commercial photography with an APS-C camera and got a masters degree in photography shooting with a DX camera. Never once has anyone told me that they thought I could have better photos with a bigger sensor.

Let me know if you have follow-up questions!

Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks so much for your quick response!! This makes me feel so much better about my purchase and moving forward with my crop sensor!! I'm very new to all this so this was so helpful! So do you think it is better to stick with my prime lenses over the zoom? I'm wondering if a more wide lens would be helpful for me since my 35mm is more like a 50mm. And also, I would like to have something with a smaller angle for detail shots etc.! I have only ever shot with a prime so i'm not sure how a zoom differs from what I have now! Would I need a macro lens for details or could the zoom lens suffice for that? Sorry for all the questions! 

Thanks so much in advance!

Hey Rachel,

Absolutely no worries on the questions! Keep them coming! It is my pleasure to help you.

Yep, your 35mm is like a 50mm, but that is a good thing.

So, you have two semi separate requests here...a wide-angle lens and a macro. You really cannot knock out both birds with one stone here.

Let's discuss each:

For wide-angle shooting, you could go with another prime lens around 12 to 16mm. Unfortunately, Nikon really isn't in the business of wide-angle primes lenses for APS-C sensors. There are 3rd party brands that do cater to that need, however. Also, there are some great wide-angle zoom lenses—a favorite of DX shooters being the Tokina 11-16mm. There are a lot of lenses to choose from, so let me know if you need help narrowing your options.

Macro is a different ballgame. If you want to get into macro shooting, the fastest and easiest way is to get extension tubes for your prime lenses (you'll probably use your 50). That will get you quick, easy, and economical macro capabilities. However, if you want a dedicated macro lens, Nikon has a bunch to choose from at 40mm, 60mm, and 105mm. The 40mm is DX, so you might want to go with something full-frame compatible if you want to future-proof yourself. The secret sleeper Nikon macro lens is the older manual focus 55mm macro. They still sell them new, but you can get them on the used market for a song. Great lens and you will find that most macro work benefits from manual focus anyway, so having an older lens that has a great manual focus feel makes doing macro a pleasure.

And, before I forget, you are certain to run into fellow "pros" and other sensor-size-snobs who will criticize your DX sensor. When they show up, don't give them a second thought and feel free to send them my way!

FYI...we are closed for the next 12 days, but I will try to circle back to see if you have more questions.

Cheers!

Hi Todd, thank you for a very informative article which has helped me crystalise my thoughts on where I should go next.  11 years I ago i purchased a D40X as my first SLR let alone DSLR.  I found the camera very easy to use and have shot thousands of exposures since then.  I've acquired along the way a modest set of lenses: a Nikkor 18-200 VR DX, a Nikkor 105 Micro 2.8 and a Sigma 10-20 DC.  The D40X is beginning to show its age.  the 10M sensor doesn't really seem enough any more for the the macro shots I make of insects and butterflies and the fairly limited ISO range.  Now I have a good grounding in the basics I feel I will get the value from  a more professional camera.  I was thinking about whether to go FX, even though that would make two thirds of my lenses obsolete - or least cut the resolution of the full frame considerably when using a DX lens - but after reading your piece I am more inclined now to stay with DX.  Instead I shall refrain from getting any more DX lenses and  perhaps over time replace the DX ones with non-DX.  My interests are mostly landscape, city and rural, wildlife and latterly bees and all varieties of insects. 

I am based in the UK, where thanks to the plummeting £ this gear is just getting more expensive, so was thinking I could buy a second hand D7500 and go from there.  Could you suggest a good non-DX replacement for my 18-200 VR DX?  I truly love that lens and it is my default lens for much work. 

Many thanks

Hey Stephen,

Thank you for the kind words and you are welcome!

It sounds like you have a good plan in place for your kit here. The non-DX cousin of the DX 18-200 is the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 28-300 f/2.5-5.6 G lens. https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/729950-USA/Nikon_2191_AF_S_NIKKOR_28_300mm_f_3_5_5_6G.html

Before you click, get ready for a little sticker shock, and, before you get it, note that it is noticeably larger and heavier than the DX 18-200—approximately 350g more, 20mm longer, and 5mm wider.

Let me know if you have any follow-up questions. Thanks for stopping by B&H!

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