First Impressions: Making The Switch to Full Frame

I’ve been into photography for quite some time. I originally learned on film while taking classes in high school, then bought a DSLR a couple of years after my film camera was stolen in Europe. My first DSLR was the cropped sensor Nikon D70. I bought the D7000 about 6 or 7 years later in 2011, which was also a cropped sensor camera. I’ve come a long way as a photographer since buying that camera, and after a lot of saving and anticipation, I finally was able to purchase my first full frame DSLR this week! Meet my new camera, the Nikon D610:

Nikon D610 with 85mm

I hope to do a review at some point in the near future, but seeing as I’m a newbie to the full frame world, I thought it might be interesting to write about some of my first impressions on moving to full frame after so long using a cropped sensor camera.

Let me start off by explaining a little of why I wanted to move to full frame. It’s wise financially and personally to grasp what benefit the new equipment will offer that your old equipment won’t before making that investment. I’ve been using a cropped sensor DSLR for nearly 10 years, and you can see from my work the kind of quality images you can produce with that equipment. So why switch to full frame? There are many reasons, but primarily for me it’s about opening up some doors that the cropped sensor can’t handle so well. For example, in low light situations, a full frame sensor easily outshines its cropped counterpart. Another reason is details – the full frame sensor gives better details than a cropped sensor. There are also better lenses available for full frame cameras, and while you can use those lenses on a cropped sensor, you’re losing a good portion of the glass you paid hard earned money for. These are just a few reasons, but it’s enough to say that for me I had an idea of what I’d be gaining in the switch to full frame. But understanding it and experiencing it are two very different things!

So, with that said, let’s get down to it – what are my first impressions after making the switch? I should first say that unfortunately this ended up not being the best week to test out my new camera. Aside from being a little busier than usual, the weather has been mostly rainy all week. Nevertheless, intent on giving it a good maiden week, I put on my 85mm lens and took it out around my town.

The first thing I noticed was the quality of the bokeh (the out of focus parts of the image). This lens on my D7000 could produce some nice results, but after a long time looking at images from that camera, I could immediately see the difference. The bokeh on the D610’s full frame sensor is nice and creamy. It really makes the overall picture that much more pleasant to look at.

D610 example photoTest image from Nikon D610Japanese rain chain

Another thing I can see as I take more photos is the increase in detail. Part of this is because the size of the image – 24.3 MP on the D610 vs 16.2 MP on the D7000. But it’s also because the sensor is just better.

Test photo from the Nikon D610

I haven’t had a whole lot of opportunities to shoot in low light situations yet, but in the few chances I’ve had, I can see how much better this camera functions at high ISO levels. The following image was taken at ISO 4000, f/1.8, and 1/100sec shutter speed. Certainly not ideal camera settings, but I was testing the camera on purpose. I’m really impressed with how it performed. Use those same settings on the D7000, and you’re not going to be pleased, but it was very usable on the D610. Not only did it perform nicely straight from the camera, but there was a lot more room to pull out extra detail in Lightroom and Photoshop (though since it’s a test image, I didn’t do much adjusting at all).

D610 High Iso image

As of now I’ve taken about 200 photos on my D610, and I can truthfully say I can easily see the difference in quality. Of course, I’ve not yet been able to really test out the camera yet. Hopefully in the near future the rain will at least take a break for a day and I’ll get to take it out and do some more serious shooting, but even with the sample of basic photographs I’ve taken to this point, the differences are pretty clear. I can’t wait for the Fall, when I get to really test it out with all the great colors and textures the season brings.

Of course, one problem with the switch to full frame is the loss of use of my DX lenses. I have two DX lenses currently: the Tokina 11-16mm wide angle and the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G. Both are great lenses on my D7000. I’ve use the Tokina lens an especially large amount, so losing the ability to shoot with it is tough. Of course, the D610 has a DX mode, but you lose a lot of the frame and pixels, to the point that it would be better just to shoot with my D7000.

Or would it?

I had heard that the Tokina 11-16mm lens actually could work on a full frame body at its narrower zoom distance of 16mm and possibly out to 15mm, so I decided to put it on just to see how it worked. For starters, here’s the Tokina at 11mm in DX mode. This gives you an idea of how much area it covers on a cropped sensor at its widest.

Tokina 11-16mm lens on D610 DX

Next, here is the Tokina on the D610 with DX mode turned off. Using the entire full frame sensor at 11mm is obviously not going to work. You’d get a little more of the image if you take the lens hood off, but it’s still just kinda of silly.

Test of the Tokina 11-16 on D610

Finally, here is the Tokina 11-16mm lens at 16mm using the full image sensor of the D610. Not too shabby! And if you compare it to the 11mm photo in DX mode in the first image, you can see it’s actually a tad bit wider since you’re using the full frame sensor with it.

Tokina 11-16mm lens on full frame Nikon D610

One problem I notice is that the corners have some issues with sharpness. Compare the corners in the DX mode photo and you’ll see what I mean. That said, it’s not too bad really, certainly usable, and if you crop the image some you’ll probably get a view similar to the 11mm image on a DX without having to purchase a new lens. Of course, eventually I plan to get a new wide angle lens, but in the meantime having this available is nice.

So that’s a quick overview of my first impressions of switching to full frame. Again, I hope to do a more full review in the near future of the D610 once I’ve had more time to use it fully, but I hope this gives you a taste of some of the benefits of moving to full frame that you can notice immediately. There’s no doubt the image quality is superior to my D7000, and that’s saying something because of the D7000 is no slouch. I’ve produced some wonderful images that I love with that camera, and I likely will have some more to make before I (probably) sell it. Are the differences so major that it makes the cropped sensor images look bad? Not at all. Is full frame a decision that everyone should make? Certainly not. But for me, right now, it was the right one, and I’m excited to see what else I can do with this great camera.

If you have any questions about my jump to full frame, feel free to ask – I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for reading!

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  • Sem'scongratulation for upgrading to full frame les!
    any issues with this body? whereas D600 has many issues with oil spot on sensor?
    at this time i’m using D5100, and pretty happy with the result,
    One day I want to upgrade to the D7100 if my D5100 had reached the limit..ReplyCancel

  • leslieThe D610 was basically an update to fix the oil problem, and I haven’t noticed anything myself yet. Definitely loving it! As for the upgrade, the D7000 has been a fantastic camera for me, and I’m sure you’ll love the D7100 if you decided to upgrade. 🙂ReplyCancel