Should you avoid full-frame lenses on APS-C cameras? Yes and no.

It seems there’s been this back and forth over whether it’s better to use full-frame glass on APS-C (crop sensor) cameras. Obviously the answer is No. Where you have the option, use APS-C glass. That’s why they make glass specific for APS-C cameras.

But there needs to be a lot of emphasis on “where you have the option”. Because the options are a lot thinner than many seem to realize. Let me explain.

I have a Nikon D7200, which is a DX (APS-C) camera. And if you look at Nikon’s website at what lenses are available, the DX selection is paltry. Only four (4) primes are listed:

  • 10.5mm f/2.8
  • 35mm f/1.8
  • 40mm f/2.8
  • 85mm f/3.5

There’s a LOT missing from this list, starting with the 50mm prime, which is a popular lens. So your only option is a 50mm FX prime lens – equivalent to a 75mm focal length on a Nikon DX. And I own the 50mm f/1.8 FX lens and recently acquired the f/1.4. And if you wanted a faster aperture than f/3.5 on the 85mm prime (and who wouldn’t?), you need to go FX to get the f/1.8, which is nearly 2-stops faster, or even all the way to an f/1.4. (Nikon makes an 85mm f/2.8, but it’s manual focus only.)

Canon has only 1 APS-C DSLR prime that isn’t a macro lens: 24mm f/2.8.

Third party isn’t much better. Sigma makes only two APS-C primes: 4.5mm f/2.8 fish-eye and 30mm f/1.4 “Art”. Tamron doesn’t make any APS-C primes at all. Same with Yongnuo. Samyang makes a handful, but they’re all very short focal lengths.

The picture is better for zooms. Somewhat. You have more options, but those options aren’t great. And the better options are all, you guessed it, full-frame glass.

The typical Nikon DX kit lenses are the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 and 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3. There’s also the 55-200mm f/4-5.6 and 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6, and other 18-Xmm zooms at f/3.5-5.6. The only options faster than f/3.5 are the 16-80mm f/2.8-4 (shy of 1100 USD) and 17-55mm f/2.8 (~1500 USD). Canon’s APS-C zoom lens selection is similar to Nikon’s, though Nikon has a few more options. Third party provides better options for Canon, but similar options for Nikon to what is already available from Nikon.

The ever-popular 70-200mm f/2.8 isn’t available in APS-C. Same with the 24-70mm f/2.8, another very popular lens.

So to get better apertures (faster glass is typically better glass), FX/full-frame is your only option. Same if you want to zoom out further than 300mm, with the exception of Tamron’s 18-400mm “one lens to rule them all” APS-C zoom. I have a Sigma 150-600mm “C” for wildlife photography (I don’t photograph sports all that much). You won’t find APS-C glass at those focal ranges.

So I don’t really understand why this topic keeps coming up.

Obviously where DX/APS-C options are available, go that route as you’ll get better images with an APS-C body, provided you’re willing to live with the limitations – primarily in apertures. But don’t limit yourself to only APS-C options or you’ll limit your options substantially.

Contrary to what seems to be popular belief, you can get sharp results with full-frame glass on an APS-C body. My 50mm FX prime is my favorite lens. But where you have a similar APS-C option available, such as the aforementioned Nikon 35mm f/1.8, you’ll get better results compared to trying to use the full-frame option. But where you don’t have the option (again, Nikon 50mm f/1.8), or the full-frame option provides better apertures (35mm f/1.4 or 70-200mm f/2.8), don’t lose sleep over it or think you’re going to end up getting terrible results.

And, if we’re being honest, that’s the unintended implication of saying to not use full-frame glass on APS-C bodies. That doing so will lead to bad results despite the fact that APS-C options are actually relatively few, and getting better glass almost-always means going with full-frame glass even with an APS-C body.