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Infobank

Digital image size and preview: Equivalent focal length

Only the EOS-1Ds, EOS-1Ds Mark II, EOS-1Ds Mark III and EOS-5D cameras have a full frame sensor. This means that the sensor in these cameras measures approximately 36 x 24mm – the same size as a 35mm film frame.

In other EOS digital cameras, the sensor is smaller than full frame. The EOS 1D series has a sensor that measures 28.1 x 18.7mm. The sensor in the EOS digital consumer models measures 22.5 x 15mm. These sensors have the same formats as frames in the APS system of cameras and are known as APS-H and APS-C.

If a lens of the same focal length is used on, for example, the EOS-1Ds Mark III and EOS-1D Mark III, the smaller photo sensor of the second camera will see less of the subject than the 35mm frame. The smaller sensor captures only the central portion of the subject recorded by the full-frame sensor.

Because the photo sensors vary in size, and because many users are familiar with the images given by different focal length lenses on a 35mm camera, it has become common to compare the field-of-view of a lens on an APS format camera with that of a lens on a full-frame camera. This is done by looking at the image given by the APS-format camera and asking what focal length of lens on a full-frame camera would give the equivalent result, assuming both cameras are used from the same position.

If both cameras use the same focal length of lens, the field-of-view on the full-frame camera will be wider than that on the camera with the smaller photo sensor. To obtain similar results, a lens of longer focal length is needed on the full-frame camera. This reduces the field-of-view of the 35mm image to match that of the lens on the APS-format camera.

With APS-H format cameras, you need to multiply the lens focal length by 1.3 to find the equivalent focal length needed on a full-frame camera to give the same field-of-view. For example, using a 28mm lens on the EOS-1D Mark III (APS-H) gives the same field-of-view you would expect from a 36mm lens on the EOS-1Ds Mark III (full-frame).

With APS-C format cameras, you need to multiply the lens focal length by 1.6 to find the equivalent focal length needed on a full-frame camera to give the same field-of-view. For example, using a 28mm lens on the EOS 40D (APS-C) gives the same field-of-view you would expect from a 45mm lens on the EOS-1Ds Mark III (full-frame).

Although the APS-H and APS-C sensors appear to provide a telephoto effect, this is an illusion. They are simply capturing the central portion of the subject. You will get the same effect by enlarging the central area of the image from a full-frame camera by the same amount.

One disadvantage of the APS-H and APS-C sensors is that they lose the extreme wide-angle effect of some lenses. The EF 20mm lens gives the equivalent field-of-view of a 26mm (APS-H) or 32mm (APS-C) lens. The EF 14mm lens gives the equivalent field-of-view of an 18mm (APS-H) or 22mm (APS-C) lens. If you want the maximum wide-angle effect of these EF lenses, you need a camera with a full-frame sensor.

It is important to realise that there is no change to the actual focal length of the lens when it is used on cameras with different sensor sizes. Focal length is a characteristic of the lens and cannot be altered simply by moving it to a different camera.