Which is better ? Full Frame or APS ? 5D or 7D?

better or cheaper, ahh not so fast !

I get asked this all the time, would you chose the Full frame sensor on the 5D or the APS sensor on the 7D ?

I feel they are very different cameras, let’s do a bit of history.

Small Sensor Problem

In the past when we were all using 1/3 inch sensors on our HVX’s etc we would work hard to get a shallow depth of focus, we would shoot with a long lens, we’d use ND filters as much as possible so that we could open the camera’s aperture up. Basically we would fight for every last bit of Bokeh.

Everyone was begging for ‘Full Frame 35mm’ like a film camera, and the overwhelming voice was that this was the ‘real’ route to take.

Now wer didn’t get there straight away.. Pioneering engineers has to make the first steps for people to realise that a bigger sensor was needed.

These ‘Lens adaptors’ became very popular. People thought, “This is IT ! I’m SET !!”.. but then we ended up dealing with a big long complicated thing.. It all got out of hand !


It had separate batteries for the lens adaptor, and setting up and calibrating the damn thing. We sometimes had to turn our monitors upside down (and those needed separate batteries too) and it was a whole magilla.  Then the next generation of lens adaptors came out that didn’t require us to flip our monitors and we had to then sell our first ones and buy the next ones.. or buy more bits for the old one. You’d end up with a camera, a lens adaptor, the image flip unit, and then an old (but lovely) Nikon or Canon zoom lens.. and it would be about 5 feet long !

ahh.. what we used to deal with back then....

So, instead of having lens adaptors and all this extra gear, why not just use bigger sensors ? like out of a still camera ? Yes, apparently that was the ONLY thing that would be right; 35mm ‘full frame’, none of this APS smaller frame nonsense…… or so the general consensus thought.

The “Game Changer”

So the Canon 5D comes out and we’re all amazed at this amazing thing.. even the Canon Video dept were surprised (the stills division created this monster without the involvement of the Video division which caused a bit internal rift) This camera, in terms of image quality trumps ANY video camera that canon have made. We all buy them and we all start filming, and then we realize… wow, focusing on this is a BITCH !..

How did this happen ??

Yeah !! this is what we wanted.. isn't ? 35mm film camera !

yeah !! 35mm this is what we want !…yeah?

yeah.. it’s just like a ‘movie’ camera… hmm.. why is the film going up the way ?
oh this is more like it !!.. but this looks ‘wrong’, the magazine should be uppy-downy the way, no?…oh wait, this is VitsaVision… oh oh….

At this point people should have looked a little more into this….

Damn.. wait, is the focusing problem due to this big sensor ?… then why don’t normal movie camera’s have this problem…

wait what ?.. the APS sensor is similar is size to motion picture (vertical) film camera size .. damn so our mythical perfect size sensor is actually TOO BIG ?

The Canon 5D sensor on the left and the 7D APS sized senson on the right

Then the 7D comes out.. it has an APS sensor, that everyone up until now has hated… but then the reality sets in….

  • Still cameras have film that moves horizontal
  • Movie camera have film that moves vertical
  • 35mm Still cameras are more like VistaVistion
  • APS cameras (like the 7D) are closer to image size of 35mm motion picture cameras.

This is why the 7D is actually easier to focus, and has a much more similar DOF to a movie camera than the 5D does. This can obviously be a good and bad thing.. it’s all case dependent. This is why it’s not a clear choice with these cameras.

For years, everyone was wanting ‘full frame’ only to find that it’s actually too much !. What they were actually wanting is for it to look like ’35mm motion picture – Academy’ format…. which is what the 7D is.


So, in summary, they are different cameras. With the 5D you get great wide rectilinear shots with the 16-35mm. However a cheap 12mm APS lens for the 7D will get you that, but then you can ONLY use that lens on a 7D.

I know of some people who get the 7D and the  18-200mm lens, simply due to the fact that is it very versatile and the HD nature won’t show the restrictions of the lens.. apart form the fact that it’s an F4.. it’s better to get the shot than not.

If you are shooting normal stills then the 7D has great focusing abilities that are much quicker to change on the fly, and also shoots at 8 frames a second.

The  7D has very superior weatherproofing and overall (I’ve owned the 5D and the 7D roughly since they came out) and the 7D still feels more solid… not that the 5D doesn’t feel solid either, but the 7D still has than ‘tight’ new feeling.. and it’s been to Africa and back already.

The 7D shoots 60fps at 720p.. and in the right conditions it looks great.. but usually (and unless you’re going to the web) you can see the alaising a LOT more than normal.

So, as I said at the beginning of this article.. they are different cameras ! There are pros and cons to both cameras, and I end up using BOTH all the time.. I really like my 5D and I really like my 7D.

However, the L series glass will always look better on the 5D, but in the video area, the 7D will look almost the same.

So, please don’t think of having ONE camera and thinking, “this is the only camera I will need”, cos it won’t be your last, but do NOT think that simply due to another camera coming out that you camera will somehow stop taking pictures !

Right now Canon is launching the 60D.. which shoots the same video as the 7D for under $1000 !!

In time we will get used to the idea that these are simply tools.. different tools for different jobs.

ENJOY YOUR CAMERA !!! buy what you can afford NOW, knowing that there will ALWAYS be more camera’s coming out… always !.. and be ok with that.

2 Responses to “Which is better ? Full Frame or APS ? 5D or 7D?”

  1. Will you let me know which camera device could well be nice to take fast paced items? I am just looking to capture birds in wildlife.

    • Cris Blyth says:

      I would recommend the 7D for birds. 2 reasons..
      – with the smaller APS sensor, you get a longer lens i.e. a 200mm lens is more like a 240mm (roughly).
      – the faster FPS on the 7D..you get 4 on the 5D and 9 on the 7D.

      hope this helps !