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Does camera sensor size really matter anymore? As photographers, we have never had so many great camera options that will produce amazing images. There are very capable cameras sporting everything from Micro Four Thirds sensors to APS-C, full-frame and all the way up to massive medium-format sensors.

A Camera Is More Than Just Sensor Size

With so many great options in different formats now, the real key as an artist is to weigh your options and decide what attributes are the most important to you. Is it portability, lens options, absolute image quality, price? For the last 10 years or so, the go-to sensor format for most serious and professional photographers has been full-frame, which closely resembles the size of the 35mm film many of us had been shooting prior to switching to digital. In the early days of digital, most of us were shooting cameras from that had cropped ensors, which were very limited in terms of dynamic range and high ISO ability. Like many others shooting at the time, when I got my first full-frame camera (in my case), it blew me away with its ability to produce quality images at high ISOs in light I had never previously even bothered to shoot in. At the time, switching to full-frame sensor size was a game changer that gave us an edge over shooting smaller sensors.

Fast forward 10-plus years, and full-frame is still the primary choice of most professionals like myself. But in these intervening years, camera makers have really been pushing the limits of what smaller sensor cameras can do, allowing for less-expensive and lighter-weight cameras and lenses and sensors that, though smaller, are still capable of professional-level work. While they been mainly focused on their flagship full-frame camera systems and have relatively limited collections of lenses designed for smaller sensors (especially fast primes), companies have gone all-in on smaller sensor systems and have each developed large (if not thoroughly comprehensive) lens lineups with many options equal to the quality of those available for the larger full-frame systems.

The real question becomes, with so many systems from which to choose, which one is best for your needs? Maybe you’ll decide you want two different systems, each for specific uses. Much of the decision comes down to your planned end use for the images you produce.

Big Sensor Low-Light Advantage: Do You Need It?

Where things start to separate is when you are shooting in less-than-ideal conditions. Larger sensor cameras are going to beat out the smaller sensors when using higher ISOs to compensate for dim light. While the ISO breaking point of each camera is slightly different, if you mainly shoot in good light, this is a non-issue. Typically, it’s the landscape photographer who is most concerned with the ability to make huge prints, but landscape photographers are almost always shooting at base ISO locked down on a tripod, so who cares how the camera does at ISO 6400 compared to other cameras? Worried about the narrower dynamic range of smaller sensors? Again, if you are shooting landscapes on a tripod, you are likely already bracketing for HDR in high-contrast scenes, making this another non-issue.

For me, it’s when I’m shooting wildlife, sports or assignments where I have to produce quality images no matter how bad the light that I appreciate the edge full-frame gives me