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I'm looking to get my first DSLR, and I see some cameras listed as having an APS-C sensor and some as having a CMOS sensor. What's the difference between these two sensor types?

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Those are completely orthogonal concepts.

  • APS-C is a sensor-size. Other sensors for DSLRs are Full-Frame or APS-H.
  • CMOS is a type of sensor. Other sensors are CCD.

One can have an APS-C CMOS sensor, an APS-C CCD, a Full-Frame CMOS or Full-Frame CCD. Any combination is possible.

The discussion is almost moot now because nearly every camera on the market uses CMOS now, since the fabrication process is simpler and those sensors can be read much faster than CCD ones. Among very low-end cameras there are still CCDs, and up to recently, some Medium-Format cameras also used CCD but AFAIK, all current DSLRs and mirrorless cameras use CMOS sensors.

This means that if you buy a new DSLR or one made in at least the last 5 years, it will have a CMOS sensor. The choice which is left between APS-C and Full-Frame. The latter is more expensive but also delivers better image quality, particularly in low-light.

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    Not just APS-C and full-frame — also slightly-smaller but still reasonable formats Four Thirds and 1".
    – mattdm
    Dec 30 '16 at 14:51
  • There is also APS-H, Foveon, micro-four-thirds, 1", 2/3" 1/1.8", 1/2.5", 1/1.83", 1/1.2" and many others
    – wander95
    Dec 30 '16 at 15:41
  • @mattdm - The question is tagged DSLR, so I was limiting sensor sizes to what is relevant in recent years.
    – Itai
    Dec 30 '16 at 15:54
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    @wander95 Remove Foveon here because that is not a sensor size (difference Foveon and Bayer sensor - it is how the sensor works in terms of pixels and color). That is yet another dimension, with nearly all of them being Bayer sensors.
    – TomTom
    Dec 31 '16 at 16:00
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    @wander95 - That is outdated. Foveon used to have a 1.7X crop but has not been produced in a decade at least. They now use APS-C sensors which is less troublesome for lenses.
    – Itai
    Dec 31 '16 at 16:54
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So this thread actually still comes up in search so i'm going to add a little addendum to it. I think the reason some folks get confused about this is because sometimes during compares it shows up in the same field.

As you can see in the image, it shows as if some models have a CMOS sensor and others have an APS-C sensor. This can be very confusing to those who are new to sensors.

As others said, it's apples and oranges.

Comparison of some modern canon models

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    Which site is this that needs the cluebat applied?
    – Philip Kendall
    Oct 3 at 9:57

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