Nikon DX & FX Sensors Explained – Which One is Better?


What do the terms Nikon DX and Nikon FX mean? And then which one is better? The answer to this second question is both are good for certain situations.

Regarding that first question, in the old days there were different film sizes, with the most popular one being 24 x 36mm in dimensions (known as 35mm format).

Because the digital market was new and expensive, companies like Nikon didn’t really know if creating “film-like” size sensors would be profitable. Luckily they came up with an idea to create smaller and cheaper sensors that perform almost as good as their big brothers (improving every year), and that’s how we got the FX and DX cameras we still use today.

Nikon DX Sensor

Back in 1999, Nikon released their first DSLR camera. For just $5,000, their D1 came with a DX crop sensor and whopping 2.3 megapixels. Most people wouldn’t want to spend even $500 today for something like that, so we should all remember this little piece of info the next time we complain about prices and current cameras.

The DX sensor measures 15.5 x 24mm, and has a crop factor of 1.5x (as it is 1.5x smaller than film). In actual use, this means that you get 1.5x closer to your subject when using the same lens on DX, compared to using it on FX (full frame).

Just read my article on crop factors and sensor size for a better explanation.


I know all of these numbers and terms are probably confusing you, so here’s a simple example. With a film camera, or an FX (full frame) DSLR, I would capture the entire photograph as displayed above. If I were to use the same focal length on a DX (crop) camera though, it would appear 1.5x closer to the actual subject (blue frame).

This is a really basic explanation, because the DX sensor doesn’t really crop anything (it’s just a term we use). It’s not like it captures the entire scene and then just decides to cut some of the image, you also don’t lose any quality and your lens mechanism doesn’t change at all. Here’s a simple formula to figure it out.

Crop Factor x Focal Length = Field of View equivalent on an FX camera

Let’s say you’re using the Nikon D5100, or any other DX camera, with a 50mm lens.

1.5 x 50mm = 75mm – So, a 75mm lens on FX gives the same field of view as a 50mm lens on a Nikon DX camera.

You don’t need to calculate anything to be honest, as a matter of fact you don’t even need to understand this subject fully to get better photographs. But since it’s so simple and will only add to your knowledge when it comes to upgrading your equipment, why not read a bit.

Nikon FX Sensor

Funny thing, years after their first camera Nikon still didn’t offer any full frame models! Canon already did it in 2002 and gained loads of new customers, with others patiently waiting on Nikon to make their move.

5 years later, 2007, the D3 was finally announced. Packed with a 12 megapixel sensor and excellent high ISO performance, it made it quite obvious that Nikon is ready to fully compete with everyone. To make things even better, a few months later they released the D700 (like a small D3) and the DSLR market finally got much more interesting. People may complain that the selection of different cameras is too big, but competition is why we keep on getting better and cheaper models!

Nikon DX Advantages


  • Price – Smaller sensors cost less, same goes for the cameras that use them
  • Size & Weight – Thanks to smaller sensors and mirrors, the body can be much lighter
  • Lens Problems – Most lenses are worst at their corners. Cropping the image only reduces the amount of visible problems (aberration, flare, vignetting etc.)
  • Getting closer – If you shoot sports or wildlife you can get closer to your subject without spending a lot on telephoto lenses

Nikon FX Advantages


  • Quality – If DX and FX sensors use the same amount of megapixels, the FX one will have bigger pixels which will result in better image quality as they gather more light. However, with the market constantly improving, a DX model released today might be just as good as an FX camera two years ago
  • Noise and Dynamic Range – Again, bigger pixels result in better dynamic range and less noise
  • Better viewfinder – FX cameras are top of the top, so they have the best mirrors and pentaprisms; the viewfinder is brighter and larger than on DX cameras
  • Wider reach – Your images will not be cropped, what you see in the viewfinder is what you get

Just because you have a DX camera it doesn’t mean you can’t shoot certain things, it’s just that certain cameras perform better in different situations.

Nikon DX Models

Nikon FX Models

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