Abstract Any magnetic sensor placed in a spatially inhomogeneous magnetic field delivers a signal proportional the mean field value taken over an effective area or volume which depends on the type of sensor considered. In the case of the field produced by a magnetic dipole and detected by a square or circular planar sensor, the overall measured spatial resolution ideally depends on the ratio of the mean dipole-sensor distance z 0 to the square root of the effective sensor area A E. For Z 0/ A E ≪1 , the spatial resolution is limited by the size of the sensor, whereas for z 0/ A E ≫1 the dipole-sensor distance is the predominant factor. To compare various low noise magnetic sensors operating either at low temperature or at room temperature, we have measured their sensitivities and spatial responses to the field produced by a magnetic moment having the form of a tiny circular current loop. The sensors could be moved in all directions with respect to the current loop. The transfer of each sensor to the magnetic dipole field was compared to their response in a homogeneous field so as to deduce their effective area and compare this area to that deduced from independent spatial resolution measurements. We report the experimental results given by four types of sensors namely a dc-SQUID, a Hall effect sensor, a giant magneto-resistive sensor and a flux-gate sensor and discuss them by mean of a “figure of merit” criterion combining their spatial resolution and their sensitivity.