The crop vs full frame debate will never end. Of that there is little doubt. The truth is, for the vast majority of people out there, there’s really going to be virtually no practical difference between the two. But there are times when one definitely shines over the other. Wildlife is one such case. Camera resolution being equal, the extra reach of a crop body can be a valuable asset.
The alternative is teleconverters. They’ve been around for years. Common in the days of film, and still used today by those wanting a little more reach out of their lenses. They do have their drawbacks, though. In this video, wildlife photographer Steve Perry talks about the advantages and disadvantages of shooting a Nikon D5 with a 1.4x teleconverter vs the cropped sensor Nikon D500.
With resolutions being similar, the Nikon D500 against the D5 with the 1.4x Nikon TC-14E III teleconverter, is a pretty fair comparison. Except, perhaps, when it comes to price. The Nikon D500 currently comes in around $1,800, whereas the D5+TC-14E III totals closer to $7,000.
Looking at the results in the video, it’s obvious that the D500 is the clear winner. For a start, the images are quite a bit cleaner. The details are sharper. You’re also able to shoot at a lower ISO because you’re not losing a full stop of light to the teleconverter.
Switching out the full frame camera to the much higher resolution Nikon D810, the results start to sway a little the other way. But, this is only once the images are scaled down to match those of the D500. Steve suggests that this difference in resolution means that it’s really not a very fair comparison. Personally, I think it could be a fair comparison depending on one’s needs.
The cost of the D810 is much closer to the D500 than the D5, for a start. Many photographers also already own D810 bodies and might be considering a D500 for wildlife, sports, or other long range activities. But sharpness is only really part of the story. The D810 only shoots 5fps (6fps in crop mode) whereas the D500 shoots up to 10fps. With fast and unpredictable subjects, this could be the difference between getting the perfect shot or missing the key moment.
Steve’s conclusion is that generally speaking, given similar resolution, a crop camera is always going to give you better results out of the camera than a full frame camera with a teleconverter using the same lens. He does, however, suggest that with a little sharpening applied, the full frame camera’s images would probably be indistinguishable to the majority of viewers.
There are a number of comparison examples shown in the video between the various cameras. If you want to see the full list of comparison images, check out Back Country Gallery.
If you shoot wildlife, or other subjects at range, which do you prefer? Full frame body with a teleconverter? Or a crop body? Do you carry both sensor format cameras with you just in case? Or do you just stick with one size for everything? Let us know, and tell us your thoughts in the comments.