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APS-C (D7100) vs Full frame (D610/D750)

edited November 2014 Posted in » General Discussion
So, I can get a pretty good deal on either the D610 (for USD 1,370) and the D7100 (for USD 780). I’m so tempted to go full frame, but the cost difference is huge. The D610 body itself costs 75% more than the D7100 and I’ve not even taken into consideration the new lenses that I’ll need.

I understand the advantages of full frame but I also feel like they’re really minor:

Wide angle lenses
I just don’t shoot that wide very often. 99% of my shots are taken at 35mm or 50mm. If I do need to go wide, I find that the wide end of my 17-50mm f/2.8 to be sufficient (just needs to some distortion correction in post processing).

Shallower depth of field
Using my f/2.8 zoom and my f/1.8 prime lenses, I’ve never had an issue with DOF not being shallow enough. If anything, I often want wider depth of field.

About 1-stop better ISO performance
I’ve been very happy with the ISO performance of my D5100. ISO 6400 gives me noise-free 4x6 prints and I consciously try to never breach ISO 3200. Considering that not many years ago ISO only went as high as 800, I think better technique will more than make up for this point.

Better dynamic range and color depth
If I’m being honest, I can’t tell the difference.

On the other hand, it seems to me that the D7100 has some significant advantages over the D610:

Higher resolution screen
Better AF system with more AF points and better coverage
Smaller & lighter
Max shutter speed of 1/8000 compared to 1/4000 for the D610
Costs about 40% less

So I don’t know. I’ve always felt that I would eventually upgrade to full frame, but cameras like the D7100 are making me think that there’s not really a good reason to bear the cost of a full frame system unless I do photography for a living.

Anyone here who went from a APS-C body to a full frame have any thoughts on this? I feel like I’m missing something in my analysis. There HAS to be a reason for that huge price difference, right? Or is it really just the cost of manufacturing?


  • edited July 2014
    Hi there,
    I've had this same discussion with myself over the new full frame Canon 6D as opposed to the imminent new 7D (or whatever they decide to name it). Like you, I would have to ditch my APS-C only lenses and start again.
    In the end, I decided that for what I do, APS-C mostly covers it.
    The price difference on full frame is mostly to do with the cost of the sensor; the more silicon you have the costlier it gets. Consider the difference in price between the Nikon 610 and a medium format camera!
    Best regards,

    P.S. Your simple tips are absolutely great for newcomers.
  • edited July 2014
    Anything I say will, of course, be entirely subjective, but my wife and I have long been film photographers (full frame) and recently got digital cameras. I got a D3200 because I have no stake in older AF lenses and I intend to keep on shooting with my old f/4 anyway. She got a D7100 because she has a number of fine 35mm AF lenses that require the "screwdriver" focus, and like you she rarely goes wide. My D3200 is pretty good, and of course it's a huge bargain at the price, but her 7100 is REALLY good. I think if you don't need the wide angles, you'll be pretty happy with the smaller format. If you have that money to spend you'll have some left for another lens.

    I like to go wide from time to time, and have an arsenal of fine old MF lenses. I've thought of someday going to a full frame retro machine like a DF, but this has more to do with getting the most out of lenses than with the quality of the images.
  • edited July 2014
    “Oh man, I should have done this years ago!”
    That was what I thought when I got my first DSLR.

    I just don’t want to eventually move on to full frame several years later and have that same experience. Thanks for the advise. I'm going to sleep on this for a while and think it through some more.
  • edited November 2014
    I thought I would share an update on my struggle with APS-C versus full-frame.
    I figured that if I stay with APS-C, I would forever be questioning myself over this issue, so I took the leap and got a D750.

    A couple of first impressions:

    The shutter is loud. Obviously, this is due to the size of the mirror compared to that of an APS-C camera; larger mirror means it’s heavier which results in a louder slap.

    The high ISO performance is ridiculously good. The D5100 isn’t exactly a slouch in ISO performance; I would confidently shoot at ISO 3200 while ISO 6400 would still be acceptable. On the D750, even ISO 12800 looks remarkably clean.

    6.5 FPS is more than enough. I found the 4 FPS on my D5100 to be adequate for the sports stuff that I shoot. So 6.5 FPS is just icing on the cake. In fact, I would suggest that you don’t need a faster camera unless you’re shooting professional sports.

    The auto-focus performance is amazing; fast and accurate. The tracking great. On the D5100, when I shoot action stuff like my son’s soccer, I get a good hit rate of in-focus shots; probably 75%. On the D750, EVERY shot was spot on. If the camera took any poorly focused shots, it was clearly because I missed, not because of the AF.

    I find the tilt screen to be just ok. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the swivel screen on the D5100, so this feels like a step backwards in terms of functionality. But I do feel it’s a useful addition for shooting at odd angles and for video work.

    The native WIFI capability is iffy. The app that’s used to communicate with the camera is awkward and looks outdated. The app can be used as a remote viewfinder and it can trigger the shutter which is a nice feature. I’m not going to elaborate much on the image transfer process. If anyone is curious regarding this feature, let me know and I’ll rant about it. But it’s not very good and I don’t see myself ever using it; I’ll just leave it at that.

    An unexpected result of using this camera is how it made my Eye-Fi Pro X2 memory card impractical. For a long time, I loved this card because it completely eliminated the need for me to manually transfer pictures off the camera. I found that the larger file sizes of a 24MP camera meant that the camera’s battery life took a considerable hit during transfers. It’s so bad, that it’s common for the battery to drain over 75% just for the data transfer of one day’s worth of shots. And forget about it when trying to use it on the field in real-time. So I’ll be going back to using a SD card reader to transfer my pictures going forward. Oh well…

    The Nikon 35mm f/1.8DX is the gift that keeps on giving. This DX lens is a favorite of every Nikon DX shooter (seriously, if you don’t have one, you need to get one). Just for kicks, I mounted this lens onto the D750. Lo and behold, this DX lens actually casts an image circle that covers a full-frame sensor. There’s vignetting, for sure. It's definitely very usable, especially if you correct it in post-processing or use it for artistic effect purposes. Makes me wonder why anyone would buy the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G which is designed for full-frame and costs $600 when this $200 lens works so wonderfully!
  • edited November 2014
    A nice roundup.

    Since the D750 is full frame at 24mpx, it looks as if you would get decent density in DX mode, and a bit better than the D5100 in 1.2 crop mode. If you can get the same high ISO performance in cropped modes, the old 35 might make a really brilliant 42.

    It's likely to be some time before I give in to the urge for FX, though it's crossed my mind. Since I have lots of old lenses and no particular need for video, the Df has more appeal. The 750 is certainly a better deal, and from what I read its high ISO performance is hard to beat.
  • edited November 2014
    Indeed, the resolution in the crop modes are very usable. 24MP in FX, 16MP in 1.2x crop, and 10MP in DX, but unless I’m using a DX lens that casts a small image circle (which interferes with metering), there’s not much reason to use any of the crop modes. I can always just crop in post.

    BTW, I sold off my D5100 and Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 for about $300, losing about 70% of the initial value. =(

    The Df is an interesting camera but its place in the Nikon lineup is odd. If you compare it to the D610 or D750 which are the cameras priced below the Df, it seems overpriced for what it brings to the table. But if you compare it to the D4 which shares the same sensor, it seems like a steal!
  • edited November 2014
    Indeed, many of us old film shooters have lamented for years that they couldn't somehow make a digital Nikon F. Now that they have, we hem and haw because, of course, digital really is a bit different. The Df appeals still not only because it is "purer" in some pretentious way, but because it will accept old lenses in the format for which they were designed. Some of the other features, such as the ability to shoot at ISO 204,000, are cool, but it's hard to imagine when I'd need them.

    Maybe in a few years when they start showing up with some bangs and bruises and a "bargain" grade at KEH I'll get one.

    Part of the problem for me is the thought of carrying that much money around on a strap! There's something comforting about a D3200 that you can drop in the ocean and only say "oh, ****" for a few days instead of a lifetime.
  • edited November 2014
    A couple of shots with the 35mm DX lens in FX mode. Nikon probably shot themselves in the foot by making this cheap lens so great!
  • edited November 2014
    That looks pretty good. Only the big shot shows vignetting, which is not bad. Is that with vignetting handled by post, or before?
  • No post processing! Images are JPG straight out of the camera.
  • edited November 2014
    Well, that certainly is nice performance then, especially considering the price of the lens. If I weren't so happy with my old 35/2.8 PC, I'd spring for one myself. Who knows, maybe I will eventually.

  • edited December 2014
    Very interesting read on this post.
    I'm looking at upgrading to the D750 next year, but my main concern is the cost of lenses. I was particularly interested in @ohyeahar photos with the 35mm DX lens. I have this lens, so it's great that I can still use it. I also have a 50mm f/1.4 which is also an FX lens. At least I'll have two lenses.
    I will be selling my D3200 and a couple of lenses when the time comes. I will be sad to see it go as it is a excellent camera which reinvigorated my passion for photography.
  • edited January 2015
    Remember too that because the D750 has a built in focus motor and an AI meter follower, it can use many older lenses. Of course the D3200 can use even more and older, but it cannot focus or meter with any of them. The 750 can meter with AI manual lenses and work fully with older AF lenses. There are a lot of very good AFD lenses out there.

    I'm sticking with the D3200 for a while, in part because it's such a nice cheap traveling camera, but who knows what the future brings?
  • edited December 2014
    The 35mm DX lens is a gem, but apparently I was being too giddy over its FX performance. I tried stopping it down to f/8 focused to infinity and voila! There was severe vignetting that makes those types of shots unusable unless cropped.
    So there are limitations. It’s usable for many situations. Just don’t shoot at small apertures focused into the distance. That means, it’s a poor choice for something like landscapes.
    So when you do make the jump to FX, keep this lens and try it out. Just don’t expect it to be fully functional. It is, after all, a $200 DX lens.

    What other lenses do you currently have for use with your D3200?
  • edited January 2015
    I tried my DX lenses on my f/4, which has a true 100 percent viewfinder. I can't control aperture directly on a G lens with that camera, and can only manipulate it indirectly in S priority mode. On that, the 18-55mm kit zoom vignettes wide open from a bit over 24mm on down. It covers the plane between 26mm and 55mm (with probably some darkening but no actual black borders), and does not seem to get worse when stopped down. The 55-300mm is hopeless, working only just above 200mm wide open, with the vignette shrinking then growing as it zooms. It might work better stopped down, but in full frame you can see not only vignetting but distortion, even though it's a grand performer in DX. I don't think an atom of glass or a pixel is wasted on this lens; it's pure DX.

    For the most part, I think you'll be ahead by buying even relatively low-end full frame lenses for full frame shooting, and save the DX either for the DX camera or for DX format shooting on the 750mm until you can find bargains you like. If you have not checked out, it's worth a look.

    As an example, I have the 70-300mm f/4-5.6 D ED lens (my only non-DX autofocus lens, in fact), a screwdriver autofocus from a few years back. It was relatively cheap new, and can be had now for not much over a hundred bucks. A disappointment to those who had hoped an ED lens would be spectacular, it was, alas, just very good! Well built, competent, a little soft at 300mm, but mostly quite good. It will almost certainly serve you better in FX than repurposing the 55-300mm DX, even though it lacks VR and does not suit the high density D3200 sensor as well.

    Similarly, you can get a nice basic 50mm f/1.8 lens that will suit your FX format beautifully. The first generation AF or the next generation AF-D can be had in fine condition for about a hundred bucks. I don't think there's any version of this lens that is not optically superb.

  • edited December 2014
    The lens situation when moving from DX to FX isn’t as bad as it may seem. When you get the D750, get the kit. The included lens is the fantastic 24-120mm f/4. That is a very impressive lens and is the preferred option over the much more expensive 24-70mm f/2.8 for many folks. It’s smaller and lighter, has a very useful focal range, and it has VR. Also, from my usage of the lens, I find that f/4 on FX is sufficient for indoor lighting.
    Along with your 50mm, that may be all the glass that you need. Just start there and fill out your kit according to your needs.
  • edited December 2014
    ohyeahar, I have few lenses other than the 35mm f/1.8 and the 50mm f/1.4. When I bought the D3200 it came with the kit 18-55mm and 55-200mm. I also have 2 Tamron lenses, a 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di LD Macro (very cheap, but reasonably good) and a 17-50mm f/2.8. I also recently bought a Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR. I didn't really need this lens, but it was irresistibly cheap second hand, and never used. So when I sell the D3200 I can include the kit lenses, which I never use now, and maybe the 70-300mm. The other DX lenses I will need for my D7000. I also have a Tamron 500mm f/8 adaptall 2 mirror lens with a Nikon adaptor. I bought this one nearly 30 years ago for my Olympus OM1 and OM2SP cameras.

    I understand the limitations of DX lenses on FX bodies, but at least I might be able to have some fun with it.

    Cheers, Paul.

  • edited December 2014
    Ah, if you’re going to keep D7000 around, then at least your DX lenses won’t go to waste which is good.
    If I’m not mistaken, your 70-300mm is an FX lens. You might want to hang on it unless you intend to replace it with a 70-200mm.
  • edited December 2014
    You're right! I always assumed the 70-300mm is DX format. I was thinking of 70-200mm f/2.8 as I take photos of my son's football matches. The 70-300mm f/4-5.6 can be a little slow for this, but it all comes down to dollars.
  • edited January 2015
    @PaulsPics, you seem to have things pretty well covered already. I'd just add that if you're selling the D3200, the included kit lens plus the 55-300mm makes a very nice cheap kit for a traveler with good coverage and decent performance. Of course it all depends on who buys it and why, but that's a pretty handy combination. It's what I got earlier this year for a trip to the Galapagos in which I wanted decent digital performance and lots of reach in a package that's easy to carry, and that I could afford to drop in the ocean.
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