November 10, 2021

Camera Sensor Sizes Compared

A visual comparison of camera sensor sizes from the full frame 5D Mk IV to the DJI Mavic Air 2

Article best viewed on a full size computer screen.

All Drone and Camera Sensor Sizes

Note: Not actual size. See below for true sizes.

So does the sensor size really matter for image quality?

Camera sensor sizes are not the only reason for high quality images. The size of the actual pixels on those sensors plays a large part. For example, I would rather have a smaller camera sensor with less, but larger, light-attracting pixels than a huge sensor with many more but much smaller pixels. The latter can cause digital noise to appear in the image.

Sensor sizes on drone cameras

I am writing this post with emphasis on drones because we never actually get to see the sensor on a drone such as the DJI Mavic Air 2/2s, Mini 2, DJI Mavic 3 or any drone with a fixed camera. The DJI Inspire series and XDynamics Evolve 2, both use M43 cameras with detachable lenses so you got to see the sensor.

Looking at the image above doesn't really give you an idea of the actual size of the sensor. That image is blown out of proportion to show the differences between each camera sensor size.

Actual camera sensor sizes

Ok, so you may need to put your glasses on for this as some sensors are incredibly small. I have included the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV's full frame sensor to give you a perspective against a professional DSLR.

Camera or Drone

Sensor Size

Dimensions

Canon 5D Mark IV Full Frame

Full Frame Sensor Size Canon 5D Mark IV

36 x 24mm

True 1" for Comparison

True One Inch for Comparison

25.4 x 17mm

DJI Mavic 3 M43 Sensor

M43 Micro Four Thirds Sensor Size DJI Mavic 3 Cine

17.3 x 13mm

DJI Air 2s 1" Sensor

One Inch Sensor Size DJI Mavic Air 2s

13.05 x 8.82mm

DJI Mavic Air 2 Sensor

DJI Mavic Air 2 Sensor Size

6.35 x 4.94mm

DJI's 1" vs True 1"

One Inch Sensor Inside an Actual One Inch Frame

Tut! Tut!

The useable area of a micro four thirds (M43) sensor is almost the same size as a MicroSD card. Hold one up to the screen if you don't believe me.

Does the size of the sensor matter in the real world?

Think about it. Where do you look at photos the most? Instagram? Facebook? Your Smartphone or Tablet?

Most people tend not to see images any larger than, say, an iPad these days. Therefore, is it really important how big the sensor in the camera was that took the photo?

I'll give you an example, the following image was taken in 2004 using a 6mp Canon EOS 10D which had an APS-C sized sensor (25.1×16.7 mm). In effect, a FULL, true one inch sensor.

Canon EOS 10D Sensor Size Billboard Photo

Here is the original photo...

Woman Sitting on Beach Taken with Canon EOS 10D

...and this 6mp photo has sold multiple times as stock and still does. So, if a 6mp photo from a 1" sensor can look good on a billboard and sell as stock photography, what does the sensor size matter?

Since 2004, the technology being put into way smaller sensors is incredible. So even the images from the DJI Mavic Air 2's 6.35 x 4.94mm sensor is great!

Photo Comparisons from Each Sensor Size

As I said earlier, you won't really see a difference in quality if only viewing images on the web. It is when you see these photos in large print that the differences are noticeable.

Especially with images taken in low light. Large, modern, full frame sensors with less but larger pixels will generally produce cleaner images.

Just for fun, see if you can see much of a difference from the images below when shown on the web. Click each one to see a much larger image. For this test I used:

  1. 1
    DJI Mavic Air 2 (1/2" sensor)
  2. 2
    DJI Air 2s (1" sensor)
  3. 3
    Panasonic GH5 (M4/3" sensor)
  4. 4
    Canon EOS 5D Mark IV (Full frame sensor)

Low Light, 100 ISO, f2.8, 1-2"s, 3800K

All the images below are 100% crops and have been edited to try and match each other. To try and prove a point because we all edit photos right? Click each image to see the full photo.

DJI Mavic Air 2 - 1/2" 100% Crop

DJI Mavic Air 2 Sensor Size
DJI Air 2 Low Light Photo

DJI Mavic Air 2s - 1" 100% Crop

One Inch Sensor Size DJI Mavic Air 2s
DJI Air 2s Low Light Photo

Panasonic GH5 - M4/3" 100% Crop

M43 Micro Four Thirds Sensor Size DJI Mavic 3 Cine
GH5 Low Light Photo

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV - Full Frame 100% Crop

Full Frame Sensor Size Canon 5D Mark IV
5D Mark IV Low Light Photo

Overall, I am impressed with the DJI Mavic Air 2 and DJI Air 2s. I think the Air 2 struggled a bit and the image was a bit "broken" (look at the light panel) but not bad at all for such a small sensor. 

The DJI Air 2s really held its own against the GH5 and looks pretty good. The 5D IV sucked in a lot more light even though the exposure was the same. It is perhaps a little overexposed but I wanted to try and keep these all the same exposure, WB, aperture etc.

Daylight, 100 ISO, f2.8, 100th-500th/sec, 5600K

Now we'll do the same for daylight images taken with these four cameras. As the sensors got larger, as did the amount of light hitting them despite all having the same aperture and ISO.

This meant a wide variety of shutter speeds were used.

  • DJI Mavic Air 2 = 1/120th sec
  • DJI Air 2s = 1/240th sec
  • Panasonic GH5 = 1/400th sec
  • Canon 5D Mark IV = 1/500th sec

DJI Mavic Air 2 - 1/120th sec 

DJI Mavic Air 2 Sensor Size
DJI Mavic Air 2 Daylight 100 Percent Crop

DJI Mavic Air 2s - 1/240th sec

One Inch Sensor Size DJI Mavic Air 2s
DJI Mavic Air 2s Daylight 100 Percent Crop

Panasonic GH5 - 1/400th sec

M43 Micro Four Thirds Sensor Size DJI Mavic 3 Cine
Panasonic GH5 Daylight 100 Percent Crop

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV - 1/500th sec

Full Frame Sensor Size Canon 5D Mark IV
Canon 5D Mark IV Daylight 100 Percent Crop

Being a full frame sensor at f2.8, the focus on the Canon was at the bottom of the steps and thus the top steps are out of focus.

Night Shot DJI Air 2s: 0.8 s, f/2.8, ISO 100, -1.00 eV

...and just "because", the following is one of my first night shots with the DJI Air 2s. Please note, it has been edited and greatly reduced in size for the web. The TIFF file I have is 5464px x 3640px and 113mb.

100% Crop of the Image Above

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Tags

camera sensors, drones


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