What is a Full Frame Digital Camera?

A full frame digital camera is equipped with the full frame CCD which is the simplest form of sensor in which incoming photons fall on the full light sensitive sensor array. To readout the sensor the accumulated charge must then be shifted vertically row by row into the serial output register and for each row the readout register must be shifted horizontally to readout each individual pixel. This is known as "Progressive Scan" readout. A disadvantage of full frame is charge smearing caused by light falling on the sensor whilst accumulated charge signal is being transferred to the readout register. To avoid this,

Sensor Sizes
The relative sizes of sensors used in most current digital cameras, relative to a 35mm film frame.

Nikkor PC-E
Nikkor 24mm PC-E tilt-shift lens on Nikon D700 full-frame DSLR camera
devices sometimes utilize a mechanical shutter to cover the sensor during the readout process. However, mechanical shutters have lifetime issues and are relatively slow. Shutters are not needed however in spectrographic operations or when a pulsed light source is used. Full frame CCD’s are typically the most sensitive CCD’s available and can work efficiently in many different illumination situations. This is in contrast to cameras with smaller sensors, typically of a size equivalent to APS-C-size film, much smaller than a full 35 mm frame. As of 2009, there are only 6 Full Frame 35mm Digital cameras in production. The majority of digital cameras, both compact and SLR models, use a smaller-than-35 mm frame, as it is easier and cheaper to manufacture imaging sensors at a smaller size. Historically, the earliest digital SLR models, such as the Kodak DCS 100, also used a smaller sensor.

Use of 35 mm film-camera lenses

If the lens mounts are compatible, many lenses, including manual focus models, designed for 35 mm cameras can be mounted on the latest DSLR cameras. When a lens designed for a full-frame camera is mounted on a camera with a smaller sensor, only the center of the lens’s image circle is captured. The edges are cropped off, which has the effect of zooming in on the center section of the imaging area. The ratio of the size of the captured image to the size of the full-frame 35 mm format is known as the “crop factor” or “focal-length multiplier″, and is typically in the range 1.3–2.0 for non-full-frame digital SLRs.

One advantage of full-frame DSLR cameras is that lenses designed for 35 mm film cameras provide the same angle of view on the new DSLRs as that to which photographers were accustomed on their film cameras. This can be very useful with wide-angle lenses and with zoom lenses whose ranges were chosen for the full-frame 35 mm format. The full-frame sensor can also be useful with perspective control or tilt/shift lenses; in particular, the wider angle of view is often more suitable for architectural photography.

CCD image sensor architectures

The term full-frame is also used to refer to a type of charge-coupled device sensor technology in which the sensor elements occupy the entire sensor surface rather than sharing space with associated pixel storage sites.

The use of full-frame CCDs is typically restricted to digital SLRs since they require the use of a mechanical shutter and do not output a continuous image. The two uses of the term full-frame are not otherwise related.

135 film cameras

In 35 mm (135 film) cameras, the terms full-frame and half-frame were used to distinguish the 24 × 36 mm and 18 × 24 mm film formats the half-frame 35 mm film format is also known as single-frame in movie film, and as a result, full-frame film cameras were sometimes known as double-frame

The Nikon E2/E2n and E3/E3s digital SLRs, which were Nikon's first entry into the field of professional digital photography, used a reduction optical system to compress a full 35mm visual field onto a smaller digital sensor.

They were not therefore full-frame digital SLRs, although in common with full-frame digital SLRs they had no crop factor. Nikon has designated its full frame cameras with the FX and its smaller sensor cameras as the DX format. Similarly, Canon EF is their full-frame line, while the EF-S lenses only work on the smaller sensor bodies.

Prototype full-frame digital SLRs

Pentax MZ-D (presented in 2000, based on Pentax MZ-S, with the same sensor as Contax N, it never went into production)

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