Strong opinions, weakly held

CCD sizes in digital SLRs

Nelson Minar posted the answer to a question I had planned on researching recently, explaining how the smaller CCDs relate to lens size on SLRs. I have an old school Nikon SLR and have been interested in purchasing a digital SLR, and was wondering whether my lenses would work as I expect. Here’s the answer:

But inexpensive digital SLRs don’t shoot a full 35mm frame. Instead they have smaller sensors. The 350D has a “1.6x crop factor”, which basically means your pictures look OK but your lenses are more telephoto than you’d think. A 35mm lens acts like a 56mm lens. If you want a wide angle 28mm shot you have to buy a 17mm lens. Really wide angle lenses for these small sensor cameras are very dear.

This makes me much less enthusiastic about potentially buying a digital SLR anytime soon.


  1. On the other hand, with the 1.6 FOV crop SLRS, you’re using the best part of the lens. The center region tends to have less chromatic aberration, barrel distortion, and better sharpness than the corners. Since the corners for a smaller sensor are closer to the optical axis, they’re rendered with better quality.

    It’s a different system, it’s not going to work the same as film in a lot of ways (e.g. ISO as a control, under/over exposure to name a couple), but it still works well.

  2. This past weekend, we went on a party boat with a bunch of our neighbors. I’m a knowledgable photographer, and I use the advanced features of my digital point-and-shoot camera to their fullest capabilities, but my neighbor with a digital SLR kicked my butt in terms of photo quality anyway. Apples and Microsofts, I mean oranges.

  3. I have a Canon 350D, and it is an excellent camera. I’ve been a photographer since I was 15 (I am now 29), and it is by far the best camera I’ve ever owned (film and digital included, and I’ve owned quite a few) in terms of overall photo quality.

    As a previous poster pointed out, with a 1.6 FOV crop, you are in fact using the best part of the lens, and will tend to get better pictures overall — and in addition, you get “free” zoom.

    I’ve since sold or thrown away all my film cameras (and I had about half a dozen), and now only shoot digital because the quality is so superior.

    Unless you intend to shoot medium or large format, digital SLR is the way to go. Beats film in every test I’ve thrown at it.

  4. You do get a multiplication of the focal length with digital cameras and the amount differs by camera and by manufacturer. This page has a calculator that lets you figure out the change in field of view for various different digital SLR cameras:

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