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Wednesday, 06 November 2013

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It's all about the *look* really, a full frame sensor just looks better, especially if you're that f/2 portrait shooter. I've been working on a series about civil war re-enactors (see website) and even the slight difference in look between the 85L @ f/2 and the 24-70 ll @ f/2.8 has relegated the zoom to my B lens (and its by far the best lens I've ever owned). The 85L @ f/2 just looks surreal. But for multi-media the Canon full-frame is *horrible* - it needs an EVF. Sony have made probably the best *multi-mredia* camera to date in the new A7.

I agree with what you say about your favourite 4/3: "would satisfy probably 90% of photographers".

But, we, your readers, are the 10%.

[Hi Christer, No, you're in the 10% only if you regularly need to make prints significantly larger than 17x22". That doesn't even include me, much less all my readers. --Mike]

We're essentially at the point where newer m4/3 and aps-c digital cameras are the equivalent to 35mm film, and newer 35mm digital cameras are the equivalent to medium format film, so I'd agree that m4/3 or aps-c is likely enough for most shooters.

I'm astounded that I can replace my relatively huge Hasselblad with the likes of the little RX1, and not really loose anything in terms of print size, at least up to 24"x30".

Point well taken.

Two stories:

About a year ago I bought a pentax lens locally from someone who shoots weddings on the weekends, outside his dayjob. He sold all his pentax cropped sensor equipment to go full-frame with canikon. He told me it was because he 'needed' (my quotes) it to take quality wedding pictures. Unless I've made up this memory he also mentioned it was because otherwise potential clients would not take him as seriously.

I've used a cropped sensor pentax DSLR for three years, very happily, until I got the mirrorless K-01 with a newer sensor. Despite all the flack the K-01 got, almost exclusively by people who did not use it for an extended period of time, its image quality is more than most of us need, it is almost as compact as a m4/3, works fine in strong daylight, takes those tiny wonderful Pentax lenses and means I have rarely used the DSLR since. It's a shame it was not a market success and thus did not start a line of such mirrorless cameras to make use of all pentax-compatible lenses.

It's a hot question right now, because full frame has never been more unnecessary and never more accessible all at the same time.
A D610 with 24-85/3.5-4.5 is close in price to an E-M1 and 12-40/2.8. The A7 is $1700. Used & refurb'ed Nikon & Canons are cheaper still. And despite claims of FF needing the best glass, it actually needs only modest glass to beat high res smaller sensors.
Meanwhile, small sensor cameras struggle to provide small, fast lenses wider than normal. (Look at that e-mount CZ24/1.8 ... it's not tiny; it's expensive, and when you're done, you have the DOF and low light capabilities of a modest 35/2.8).
On the flip side, a small sensor kit is generally going to be smaller, lighter, cheaper, and really - amazingly capable.
I'm open to the possibility of owning a FF camera one day, but at the moment, am more than content with my D7000 (never mind the D7100).
At Photoplus last week, I tried out the EM1. The UI is like the EM5 ... unique, unintuitive, undoubtedly powerful, but with a learning curve. That aside, the big, sharp EVF was nice (I still prefer an OVF, but see pros & cons to each and am open to either), the camera felt good in the hand, and the lenses are impressive. The 45 is tiny; the 75 none too big, and the 12-40 looks like a really great all-arounder. Compact, f/2.8, good range, and REALLY fast in the AF department on the EM1. If the 40-150 comes close in AF speed, I could honestly see the EM1 being a good alternative to a camera like the D7000/7100 for the first time (given that I rely heavily on a 70-200/2.8). At f/2.8, DOF would be a little deeper; I'd miss the shallower DOF for some shots and appreciate the deeper DOF for others. I'd end up at the same ISO and maybe there's measurably more noise, but I've seen samples and know that I'd be ok with the IQ from the Oly's at the ISOs at which I shoot the D7000.
At Photoplus, there were enormous sample prints from the A7r. Bigger than I'll probably ever print in my life, unless I try it for fun one day. I've seen 20"x30" prints from the 2/3" sensor Fuji compacts. Imgaging-resource claims that the D7100 will do a 36x48" print at base ISO with good detail and that sounds reasonable. And DOF-wise, I get as shallow as I could want with an 85/1.8 on the D7000. (I had a Minolta 85/1.4 for my Sony A700 and found DOF too shallow wide open).
I suspect that despite the sufficiency of smaller sensors, FF will grow in popularity because consumers throughout history have never settled for sufficiency. (It always amazes me that people on forums will criticize fellow photographers for spending more than "necessary" on a camera, when most every car owner in the US owns more then he or she needs in a car ... it's ok to spend more to drive in comfort, but not to have a FF sensor !). I know what I need, but like I said, may end up with more than I need. A big VF is nice. Lens options change. Time will tell.

The other thing I wanted to mention (as if my previous comments weren't lengthy enough !) besides big prints is low light. In a fit of geekiness, I made a chart comparing imaging-resource's print size analysis at various ISOs for 16MP & 24MP APS-C cameras and then 24MP and 36MP FF cameras, and it was very interesting. Basically, at low ISOs, the print size (that the site claims looks good) is primarily based on the resolution, with the 24MP FF and APS-C models being roughly on par with each other. That correlation shifts toward a dependency on sensor size as the ISO increases and by ISO 1600 or so, it's primarily based on sensor size.
But that's assuming you can shoot at the same ISO in low light. To do so, you need to shoot both formats at the same f-stop and that requires having an equally fast lens on FF as well as a willingness to have shallower depth of field. You might need a certain DOF ... say for a group shot ... and end up stopping down the FF lens more, resulting in a higher ISO and the same noise. I shoot indoor stage events with a 70-200/2.8. Half my shots are at 200mm. I'd end up with a 1.4X on the lens in those situations if I moved to FF, negating the low light benefit of the large sensor. I'm sure there would be some modest way in which IQ is "better" but there's a big assumption implied in the whole "less noise at same ISO" mantra.

> perhaps we've now reached a real watershed for "good enough quality."

Not only in terms of image quality, but also in terms of ergonomics, AF speed/accuracy and a host of other factors. I had the chance to play with E-M1 and 12-40/2.8 for quite some time at a local camera store's trade show (with genuine Japanese reps from Olympus, yet) recently. I then gave the D7100 a try at the Nikon table. I'm one of those bitter clingers (to the D300) waiting for the mythical D400. After directly comparing the E-M1 and the "best" DX Nikon the E-M1's advantages in smaller size -- but not too small as the E-M5 felt, excellent seeming construction, IBIS, weather-proofing and the existence of a line of wide-angle primes (which Nikon still has not done for DX!) sold me on the E-M1 (and 12-40/2.8).

I have a fair amount of Nikon gear, and it's rather painful to contemplate reconstructing the depth of options in m4/3 that I have in F-mount, but I'm very tired of the "one step forward but another sideways and back" that seems to be Nikon's pattern lately. Additionally, the local Nikon rep's habit of responding to people wanting high-end/additional DX options with mockery and obfuscation ("We have a 16/2.8 already. Oh, you mean non-fisheye? How many will you buy, because no one wants something like that.") is not helping their cause. I have no idea whether that's just the crankiness of an individual remarkably ill-suited to the trade of selling things to people, or corporate policy. If the latter, it's a very bad strategy.

Isn't 35mm FF easy enough? How lazy can one be:)

I am a dyed in the wool full frame fan. An EOS 5D Mk III is never far from my reach but even closer still is my much loved Pentax Q. The image quality of that little beast is most certainly not up to the 5D Mk III's level but the allure of something so versatile and compact combined with surprisingly good images makes it a fantastic day to day camera. My entire Q kit fits into a bag designed to hold one big superzoom point and shoot. Despite this fact it manages to hold a kit consisting of 3 Q lenses plus an adapter to use Auto110 lenses and at least 1 of those.

There really is something to be said for small and light.

I think the phrase "good enough quality" or "sufficient quality" is a bit too apologetic, especially in the context of the 4/3rds mirrorless cameras.

The truth is if you want what most people think is "good enough" you can just use your iPhone 5.

Even the merely "sufficient" m4/3rds cameras these days will give you a level of technical quality that enthusiasts could never have dreamed of in 35mm film, and they probably give 120 a run for its money.

For me Full Frame is not an image quality question. The only reason to use it is so that your 35mm format lenses behave "correctly", with the right FOV and depth of field. That's why I bought a D700 back in the day ... but I finally got tired of carrying it. And I don't miss it, except for the tiny bit of extra detail you see sometimes when peeping around the edges at 100%.

It's too bad the stuff is not selling. The extra utility from the small size must not really kick in unless you have multiple lenses, which is probably only true for a minority of users. Oh well.

I agree about "good enough quality" being where we are technically. My output is pdf books, printed books such as Blurb's 13x11 Large Photo Books and prints up to 16x20. 12-16 MP is just fine for these sizes. Although I use m-4/3, APS-C and Nikon FF interchangeably, I admit an irrational preference for the admittedly odd aspect ratio of old 35mm film.

Taking the "good enough" point as settled, I wonder if that is also part of the current plunge in DSLR sales. In the old days, you wouldn't upgrade your Nikon F3HP every other year -- not even if you were a pro. While we were on the steep gain in quality represented by digital's rise from 3MP to 16MP there was at least an argument for trading up: all the film-based photographers remembered the first time their subject's eyelashes popped off the page of a film-based medium format print. Now? Well once you have access to a D800E (today's equivalent of 6x6 or 4x5) what more can you use? Heck, you are now challenging your lenses' capability.

In the wake of my slower upgrade cycle, I imagine that the next cameras on the list are a D800 variant and an Olympus m-4/3 offering. But I am nowhere near using up the pixels in my D3 or Oly EP-2. While I can't imagine being without a camera, something has to physically break before I plunk down $1,000's though.

Switching to film resolved the full frame question. If still shooting digital, though, I would prefer full frame for no other reason than to prevent all those wonderful old 50mm manual focus lenses from being transformed into short-teles.

Mike: I just bought an Oly EM1. I have had only m43 cameras for two years; before that I used a 6cm x 9cm view camera and Canon 5D and Canon 5DIIs. For me, I'm getting consistently better images from the EM1 and before that the EM5 than I obtained from any other of the above cameras. I now rarely use a tripod. I am much less static, and much more likely to experiment. The dynamic range of the Olys is much better than I got using Velvia in the 6cm x 9 cm view camera or that I got with the Canons. The lenses are spectacular. The light weight is liberating. What's not to like? Also, the focus is consistently spot on, which is something I cannot say about the Canons and I don't need to use a 6x loupe like I did on the 6cm x 9 cm view camera. So although I can't get as narrow of depth of field as I could with full frame, I'm much more likely to use my lenses wide open and not worry about whether focus will be accurate. BTW, I also just purchased an adapted Olympus 150mm f2 ZD lens to use for my son's soccer and basketball games, and the lens is unbelievable; maybe the best lens I've owned and I've owned a lot of high quality lenses. Also, don't believe the reports on dpreview about 43 lenses (not micro) not focusing well on the EM1. This one, at least, focuses surely and snappily. (BTW, I like the ergonomics of the EM1 much better than the EM5 after one day; after over a year with the EM5, I'm just beginning to bond with it.)

Boy, do I wish someone would make a 16-MP square sensor Micro 4/3 or APS-C. While I know this is an option on many (Sony where are you?) cameras in this category I hate throwing away 25% of the sensor! That is one reason I keep my Sony A900 and why I am considering an A7 variant (at least I can crop to a square).

I came to the same answer when the Panasonic GF1 came out. Most importantly the camera is fun to use I can travel with a camera bag smaller and lighter than most book bags and have the range of 18-600mm (35mm equiv.). And who has the space to display bigger than 11x14 anyway?

I agree that Micro Four Thirds is adequate for most purposes and most people. What bugs me about it is that most native M4/3 lenses are either more expensive than I like, or badly flawed (or both!). Olympus and Panasonic both have adopted the attitude that severe barrel distortion isn't a problem because the camera fixes it up for you when generating JPEGs. Even their wide-angle prime lenses suffer from this, though most of the longer primes are better (the Leica 25mm seems just about perfect aside from the price tag). I find this distortion unacceptable because (1) I prefer to work with RAW files using my choice of processing software, which may not know how to automatically correct for their lenses' defects, and (2) distortion correction blurs the image the farther away you get from the center.

The last thing that bugs me about M4/3 is that it doesn't really handle legacy lenses all that well, since the small sensor loses most of the image. To shoot wide-angle with M4/3, you have to use native M4/3 lenses, which, as noted above, are either expensive or not very good.

If it weren't for my collection of legacy lenses, I wouldn't care about full-frame. Since M4/3 is out of the question due to poor lens designs, I'd probably pick up an APS-C camera with a good selection of native lenses (maybe Fuji or Sony; not Canon, which to this day has very few primes, and not even many high-quality zooms, designed specifically for APS-C). But in my situation, full-frame does matter.

I'm currently thinking about the Sony A7, though I'll wait to see what the reviewers have to say. It seems to have just about everything I want, though its physical aesthetics could be better. The just-announced Nikon Df is also interesting, but it's much too expensive, and I think the decision to give it a traditional SLR pentaprism with no option for a manual focusing aid is unfortunate. I prefer a good EVF these days, but I'd consider a pentaprism with a split-image rangefinder in the focusing screen -- why did Nikon not think of this for a $2700 camera that supports non-AI lenses?

I am probably not the best case for format size comparison. I have been a film shooter for many years and still shoot everything from Minox to 4x5... I was a late adopter of digital photographer. I bought a used Nikon D70 to use as my training wheels and to help me make a decision on whether to get any deeper into Digital. My next camera was a D700. I waited until a good full frame digital Nikon camera was available before committing any real money to it because all of my 35mm glass would work without having to remember to multiply by 1.4 to figure out the format and more importantly I have alwasys enjoyed being able to control my depth of field. A FF Camera makes this much easier. What I have found since owning the D700 is that the main advantage is in low light capability. I was recently at a birthday party for a friend when my friend's son asked me to take a few pics of him proposing to his girlfriend. The party was being held under the carport/patio at the back of the house. Lighting for this was a single 100 watt bulb and some (not much) white christmas lights strung along the top of the carport. It looked a lot better than this sounds. Suffice it to say I was being asked to take make some VERY important images and to do it in the dark. If I had known I was going to be doing this I would have brought a speedlight. I cranked the ISO on the D700 ALL the way up and prayed the images would not be too noisy. I was astonished at how well the camera did. I really believe the images made in that low light situation were better than what I would have gotten using flash. It was natural and even though somewhat posed it looked more like what an onlooker might have seen if they had been there. I have friends who shoot Nikon D300's they say their cameras could have never done this. Like most things this might change but FF has a distinct advantage in low light. If you want to be prepared to shoot in any light you can see FF will help get you there.

Do you prefer micro 4/3 to ILC APS-C? If so, why? Thank you.

The question is basically sensor size and its effect on image quality (IQ). The "rabbit hole" these comparisons fall into is that IQ is assumed to be a simple absolute, while in actuality, it needs to be placed in some sort of context. This was reasonably straightforward when pictures meant photographic prints, and IQ could be placed in a context of print size and viewing distance.

They way pictures are currently viewed on monitors of variable quality, of files of unknown size, and questionable processing, it becomes difficult to determine what visual effect the sensor had on the image.

Me, I use µ4/3 (E-M5) and generally make 12"x16" prints. I know I can get a larger dynamic range straight out of the camera with FF, but I doubt I'd see much of anything else in my prints.

I wonder the same thing Mike. For my job, where I'm shooting in low light all the time, the advantages of full frame are obvious.

As a backpacker shooting landscape images, smaller frame cameras make so much sense. The entire kit shrinks considerably both weight and size-wise.

And finally, you've mentioned this before, but I think for many applications, having more depth of field is a good thing. If I can get the shot in focus at a wider aperture, it's much more likely my handheld image will be sharper because I'd have a faster shutter speed.

TOP's next serious camera review series will not consider the A7's or the Df, but will consist of a comparative look at the Panasonic GX7 and the Olympus OM-D E-M1.

Excellent.

The Fuji X-E2 might also be a worthy candidate for your consideration - it's smaller and lighter than both, and the Fuji lenses ought to be right up your street.
(FWIW I'm trying to choose between the Fuji and the GX7 for my next camera.)

For me it's not about image quality. It's about lens availability, particularly at the wide end, and control of DOF. And I don't mean razor thin plane of focus DOF, I mean the transition of focus in a well judged image. I think FF wins here.

As a side-benefit, FF cameras generally have better viewfinders. (e.g. generally pentaprism v pentamirror, but let's not go there - I haven't researched it. In any case, the crap focusing screens on all DSLRs negate the advantage to some extent)

Mike, we must be on the same wavelength. I've had three full frame cameras, the original 5D and the next two iterations. I bought the first when I was shooting a lot of political fundraising events. I'd been using a 20D and it got to the point where many of the guests attended with the same or better camera, so I bit the bullet on that 5D. It may have been a silly reason.

I essentially automatically upgraded to the Mark II and III. The Mark II was okay but justifiably earned every complaint about having the same AF system as the original. The Mark III is possibly the best camera I've ever owned. Great AF and great handling. But the older I get, the less I want to carry and I'm not shooting events anymore. Photography has become for the most part a personal thing.

I commented on the Canon SL1 here a while back and after lugging the 5DIII with 24-105 and 70-300L on walks or hikes, the thing is a revelation.

Yesterday, I tried an impromptu experiment. Our big elm tree out back has dumped a few inches of leaves on the yard, so I shot a still life of some of them with the SL1 and kit 18-55 STM lens at 55mm and the 5DIII with 24-105L at 85mm and framed the shots about the same. I shot handheld with IS turned on and both lenses at f8 and both cameras set to aperture priority and auto ISO. What I found was an eye opener. The little 18-55 is just as sharp as the 24-105 in the center and sharp to the corners. The 24-105 has soft corners, even at f8. Just for control, I also shot with the excellent 100mm IS L macro on the 5DIII at f8 and framed the same collection of leaves. The little 18-55 stacks up amazingly well to this.

I've put the three shots on Smugmug resized to 3500 pixels on the long side, which is Smugmug's minimum size for the largest print size they offer, so folks can check them out here: http://bannorphoto.smugmug.com/Photography/Full-Frame-vs-APS-C/n-BTm4b/i-4CJHrdb

The images are in order from 1-3, the 18-55/SL1, 24-105 5DIII and the 100mm 5DIII. It's fine to download them for closer inspection and personal use.

My conclusion is full frame is fine if you want it, but you'd better invest, at least in Canon's case, in more than just the kit 24-105 to get the most out of it. Otherwise, stick with smaller formats. Your wallet and your back will thank you. If you were to print these images using Smugmug, it's pretty obvious which files will look better on the wall and the SL1 and kit lens is the price/performance winner. As I don't plan on investing in better lenses, I'm getting to the point where I think it's time to convert the 5DIII and some lenses to money.

I reached my conclusion this summer. And I don't need FF. I also found that I need an EVF; optical viewfinders don't do it for me anymore.

I already have some µ-4/3 equipment, but wanted to try out the competition before spending more money.

So I borrowed a Fuji EX-1 and a Sony NEX-6. I liked the Fuji a lot, but the NEX-6 didn't do anything for me. I also tried out the Canon 6D and Nikon D600. Nice but a bit too large.

Although the Fuji has the edge on image quality; the latest µ-4/3 cameras have a "good enough" sensor for me, and I already have some glass. Also I like the 4.3 aspect ratio better than 3:2, so I will stay with µ-4/3.

The difficult one is choosing between GX7 and E-M1. I will not be surprised if I end up with both ...

If most of your photography is destined for Facebook, or viewed on your shiny new 7.9" Retina pad screen,...then the size of your camera sensor is rather meaningless.

[Hi k4kafka, What you say might be true, but that is not what I'm saying. I'm saying Micro 4/3 is good enough for technically accomplished and discriminating photographers who make excellent prints up to medium sizes. --Mike]

Please add the Fuji XE2 to your list of upcoming mirrorless reviews.

I look forward to that Mike. Just to say that I have been using micro 4/3 for my personal work for some time now and love using the camera (now olympus) and lenses, so you know where I'm at. As It happens,I read a very well written blog entry by a professional photographer,only this morning on Micro four thirds vs Full Frame. For anyone interested it can be found here
http://lindsaydobsonphotography.com/blog/micro-four-thirds-vs-full-frame/

I just have to wonder if one of the reasons that m4/3 hasn't really taken off in the US is our obsession with largeness in general; super size food portions, large SUVs etc. Just saying.

Interesting article, with many valid points. After using (D)SLRs since 1990, in July this year I fully converted to Fuji X. It's a system I like, simple to use, with more than enough image quality for my purposes (sensor plus the lenses). Perhaps not easier on the wallet, but certainly easier on the shoulder.

I think a really interesting side by side would be a D610 and a D7100. I'm thinking about finally retiring my ancient D70 and am having a difficult time justifying the additional cost and weight of moving to full frame.

Do you need FF? Well, yes, you do need FF if you care about big prints with “near exhibition” resolution quality.

I personally define “near exhibition” resolution quality as a print that’s capable of preserving 5 line-pairs/mm detail. And if you want to record that detail in a 16 x 24 inch print you must start with a full-frame original that captures 85 line-pairs/mm detail. If the original was anything smaller than FF, the enlargement fator would then have to exceed 17X, so print resolution would degrade.

About achieving 85 lp/mm resolution in the original: It’s not easy, but it can be done with 135 format FF and Fuji Velvia film (my choice), and possibly with top-of-the-line FF digital (135) cameras too. However, it requires that you utilize only the best (prime) lenses, optimum apertures, and flawless technique. Obviously, the latter implies shooting from a rigid tripod, and using a cable release. If these constraints don’t fit your style, set your aim for smaller print size.

I have experimental data that yes, I do need full frame.
I tried MFT, was not happy, could not get done what I wanted to get done (whether that's important or worthwhile is a different topic.)

Larger sensors offer better support for my tactic of shooting with wide and wider lens and then cropping heavily.

So sometimes, yes, you need FF, but because you have FF, you don't need such long lenses.
(I'm talking street/pictorial/event work - I wouldn't presume to claim this matters for sports or wildlife photography.)

The question might be refined to: do you NEED BOTH full frame AND lenses longer than X?

Hello,
I like your article and the thoughts you discuss, because these are questions I ask myself too.
In my opinion, you can refer to a "need" if the question is whether or not to have something (a yes or no question). However, in my opinion, sensor size more asks about how much you "need". Similar questions could for example be how much money you need, how much holiday, how much food etc. It is really relative and all things being equal (size, weight, lenses, etc.) it is very hard to argue that a smaller sensor would be better. In my opinion for things like this the availability and price mostly determine the "need" (which is not an absolute need).
Just as an example, myself I very much like using two or three old, manual lenses (that were designed for FF). I can do this now on all kinds of different cameras, but currently do so on a micro 4/3 body, because this is what I happen to have (and like). I am therefore not looking at cameras AND the lenses that come with them; I am rather looking at cameras that might go with lenses I already have. Therefore, I have always thought that eventually I would like to also have a FF body that permits the use of these lenses - not because I absolutely need it, but because I think I would really like it. Until a few weeks ago, factors like functionality, price, size and weight of the cameras were reasons why I decided that I do not "need" (want) such a camera.

I honestly do not feel compelled to go FF at this point. My railroad action shooting relies on DX crop (no way that I can afford a 300/2.8) and my candid work is doing just fine with the native glass that is available for my NEX7.

The only thing that would push me into FF would be an affordable (read "under $2000") M mount FF body with an EVF in the traditional RF position - something like a GX7 or X-E1/2 in native M mount would be perfect. Until that happens, the wallet stays shut.

Your article on "The Craft Approach" is bang on! One of the best debunking of the LF elitism I have read. Mind you I shoot a lot of 4x5 but have little time for AA wannabees spouting all the usual lines about music, secret Zone System handshakes and sporting crusty beards. Yes I'm being sarcastic but I'm sure we have all run into the stereotypical Craft LF shooter. For them the process is paramount and it shows in their exquisitely crafted yet painful boring photographs. Tack sharp, tonality up the wazoo but lacking in any glimmer of soul.

On the subject of sensor size if I were to start fresh I would go with the micro 4/3'rds format rather than FX. Currently I use a Nikon D700 which does everything I want it to and supports all my legacy Nikkor glass. Most of my digital professional work is now used mainly in print publications or web. The image quality the FX sensor yields is over kill for both venues.

My "fine art" ( I hate that term) prints range in size from 8x10 to over 40 inches. For these I need the resolution of the big sensor but have considered ditching the D700 in favour of shooting LF colour negative and scanning.

Falk Lumo provides a thoughtful and analytical analysis of this topic here:

http://www.falklumo.com/lumolabs/articles/equivalence/ff.html

The main push for me in going to full frame was the little bit of reach in low light, and in getting my favorite lens back to being the 'right' length. I like shooting in dark places - and I love shoot pics of my kids. You'll note that many times kids play in dim lighting:) So, yeah, silly waste of money, but - I get better results w/ my 85 and a D600 than I did with a M43 and a 45. I get better shots and have a lot more fun using an x100(1.6 crop), too. But outside of grey cats in coal mines, M43 has sooooooooo many fun lenses and fun cameras, it would likely be where I'd start if I didn't have a collection of glass.

And I still prefer real viewfinders - it's very frustrating being night-blind in one eye after using a EVF for a while. And optical finders favor full frame(although not so much the D600. The A900, D3/D4, and kin make me weep with their finders.)

After working with several "full-frame" cameras for years (5DII, M9), I got the OMD-EM5 last year, and now EM1. The full frame stuff just sat there until I eventually sold it off. I just so enjoy using the smaller, more nimble bodies and lenses with m43. I agree with your main argument: the image quality is more than good enough, and the fun factor (for me) is higher.

No, I do not need FF. For almost all of my shooting, the previous generation 12 megapixel micro 4/3 sensor is just fine. The only reason I'm saving to replace my camera is that I need much quicker (not better) autofocus. I'm looking forward to an improvement in dynamic range and high ISO color quality when I do replace it, but I can still work with what I have. Additional megapixels are nice but not required, since 12 is about right for one of my final prints, and 16 gives a little room for rotations, perspective corrections, and cropping. A quieter shutter is more important to me than more pixels.

I would like a FF camera for only one reason: more abundant background blur at wider angles of view. I really enjoyed shooting with a TLR, and the equivalent field of view I want comes from a 35mm lens, cropped square. The equivalent depth of field and blur at infinity works out for a 35/1.4. Logically, if the only thing I need it for is bokeh, and only in particular situations, I probably should get a Lens Turbo, a refurbished NEX, and a 35mm lens.*

Mike, do you have any suggestions for inexpensive 35/1.8 or 35/1.4's that have inoffensive** bokeh? Even APS-C ones would be fine since I'd be cropping to the square. Or, for that matter, any 40mm or 45mm's? Or perhaps you can tell me, did anyone ever make an autofocus lens that was a true tessar design?

Will

*for economic reasons, but even if I was very wealthy, I wouldn't be that excited to use an adapted Sigma or Samyang 35/1.4 on the Sony A7. A big, heavy, noisy combination, and still no AF. The RX1 would be a more likely candidate, though I'd miss the tilt screen and aperture. Maybe Fuji will release a nice FF camera with a leaf shutter, a tilt screen, and a fast 35. That would be a nice dream.
**I'd settle for something that didn't produce nisen-bokeh, but was otherwise flawed.

I think this is basically right. I use m4/3 as my primary system and see limited benefit to FF for my photography—and I see no benefit to APS-C as a format (though particular cameras or lenses may have their attractions). And I really enjoy the benefits of the system: reduced size/weight, some nice fast primes, live view exposure aids for "pre-chimping" (Kirk Tuck's term), face/eye detect AF, fast live-view AF when using the LCD for off-angle shots, etc.

For me, the chief benefit of FF would be shallower DoF in the 35mm-e to 50mm-e range, as I often shoot in visually busy environments and where longer focal lengths aren't an option. But I'm not willing to tolerate the size and expense of FF DSLRs, nor to forgo the benefits mirrorless, to get it. (I'll admit FF mirrorless or fixed-lens might get me eventually.)

On those infrequent occasions when I shoot an event, I would benefit from availability of greater DoF control when using a zoom. But I couldn't justify the expense of a FF f/2.8 zoom for that limited purpose even if I had a FF camera, nor could it put up with its size for ordinary use compared with an f/2.8 zoom for m4/3. So it goes with other benefits of FF: for my shooting they're likely to stay more potential than practical.

Ultimately, the sign that m4/3 is "good enough" for me is that FF appeals primarily as a complement to, rather than an upgrade from, m4/3. Were I given a FF DSLR with a trio of fast primes, I'd surely keep it and enjoy using it when I suits me, but I still wouldn't sell off my m4/3 system.

PS—Mike, what happened to your comparison including the Olympus 17mm f/1.8? I've been looking forward to that.

I found out that I don't need FF. I took a leap of faith and sold all of my Nikon gear and replaced it with Fuji. I now have a camera within reach 24/7. I never leave home without at least 1 camera, and I can carry that camera all day long without being fatigued.

I shoot more, I print more, and I enjoy photography more now than I ever did with all of the heavy Nikon's. The quality of the x-trans sensor might not be as good as the D3, but it is good enough for me.

Full Frame has taken over as the standard bearer (formerly held by MP count) for "serious" camera. For a small number of people the greater number of pixels, bigger pixels, and shallower depth of field will make a real difference in their work. For the vast majority of us, where most of our stuff is viewed on screens or printed no larger than 8x10, our real needs were met by APS-C and Micro 4:3rds some time ago (unless you count the folks who so love shallow depth-of-field that they often can't get both eyes in focus in a portrait.)

The "serious" camera thing can be amusing. Some years ago I was at a Kristkindlmarkt (German Christmas market) and there was one guy wandering around with a huge "pro" Nikon with battery grip and big lens. He held the camera in hand a lot, fiddled with it occasionally, and when he sat down to drink some gluhwein he made sure to set the camera down in a prominent spot. However, although being in his vicinity for roughly half an hour, I don't think he ever put it up to his eye once.

I don't know. I took the leap in July to pursue professional photography with a GH3 (and the three pro zooms), and frankly I actually find the images better than the D300 I was using. And with the GH3, I can actually try to incorporate video into my services.

There however is the perception in the camera-gear-crazy-land where I am that my equipment is not fit for professional photography. It doesn't always hurt (never bring your camera when meeting clients during negotiation, just your photos), but there is a certain tension in the air that some rich knob is going to show off his terribly taken kid photos that have incredibly shallow DoF because he paired a Canon 85/1.2L with a 1DX, and is now asking why your bokeh isn't as good, nevermind the photo is just plain terrible to begin with.

If you have clients who demand lots of pixels, or regularly make 24x16" prints or bigger, I think FF is a good way to go. It gives a definite quality advantage, imho. APS-C cameras and lenses are not really that much smaller or lighter, so the benefits of "smaller" don't really come until you go down to 4/3 or micro 4/3.

Having said all that, I admit I've never used anything smaller than APS-C, and haven't even used that since Nikon produced the D700.

It's not IQ, but viewfinder size and DOF. Who wants to peer down a tunnel to take a photograph,and DOF (or lack of it) is one of the main parameters you can adjust- so why loose it? Also some great lens out there that work exactly as intended on FF cameras. No one prints their pictures anyway so who cares about IQ.......

Have you seen the very good article about FF vs m4/3 by Lindsay Dobson which was posted on 4/3 Rumors?:
http://lindsaydobsonphotography.com/blog/micro-four-thirds-vs-full-frame/

I'm a little surprised, Mr. Johnston, at your statements here. Quality is a really broad term and, I hope, that you are purely looking at noise or color saturation when you state that:

The current 16-megapixel 4/3 sensor in the various current top-line Micro 4/3 cameras is so good that it seems like it might suffice for all but specialty and professional photography. And it's not too bad for those either.

To many of us, the digital sensors of a few years ago were probably fine for our daily work. But what we weren't happy with were the lens options. And it wasn't (and isn't) that the lens quality wasn't (and isn't) good, it's that we liked to see our world with a certain level of foreground and background separation, something that larger sensors, which give you longer focal lengths for a given field of view, allows.

That said, I carry a Micro 4/3 camera with me everywhere to document my world (see examples at http://mejphoto.com), and it works very well. But there's a part of me that sees differently, that sees cleaner than I can with a M4/3. The image quality is fine, but the images aren't the same.

Could I shoot rural America architectural porn (like this: http://www.flickr.com/photos/markejohnson/sets/72157637278332183 ) with my Oly and 12 mm lens? Yeah, I could, mostly.

Could I make an image like this: http://www.flickr.com/photos/markejohnson/10656159016/in/set-72157637278332183 ? I'm not so sure that scene would compress that nicely.

There is a large difference between technical image quality and aesthetic (as a result of the technical) image quality. Perhaps there's a deep intellectual post about how different people see the world differently.

Mike wrote, " I think Micro 4/3 might be sufficient for most photographers."

In fact, a cell phone is sufficient for most photographers -- for some definition of "photographers." Now that I have a "pretty good" phone, I've stopped dragging my mirrorless APS-C camera around all the time. A camera that I bought because the DSLR was often just too much trouble.

It's not just image quality. It's convenience vs. image quality.

On the other hand, when I get back from a trip where I've used both the APS-C and a Full Frame DSLR and look at my images, I usually wish I'd used the FF more.


Great article, though it will probably be at least a little bit controversial.

I completely agree, though, that in most cases, FF is NOT necessary, and the the quality from the M4/3 sensors is truly excellent, and more than up to the requirements for professional use. In fact, many professionals are using them for just the reasons (great glass, smaller, more compact and lighter weight, etc., etc.) that you cite above. For my pro motorports work, I've taken to using my OM-D E-M5 in the pits, paddock, and around the track for atmosphere and people shots; everywhere but trackside during racing. It's a lot nicer than shlepping a big, heavy pro body and big glass around. And the track press team LOVES the image quality.

That being said, the performance from my APS-C Fuji X-trans sensor is still superior to the Oly M4/3: better dynamic range and noise performance at high ISO. And those Fuji colors! Gasp!

Regardless, I love my EM-5; it's a great camera, IMO. I think of it as a little dynamo! So much so, that I think an E-M1 may be in my future for said motorsports work. E-M1, and coupla f2.8 Pannys: the 12-35 and 35-100. I might even try the phase contrast AF for track action on one of those luscious 4/3 Zuikos. Works for me!

Side Bar: When I was up in Wyoming at the Grand Tetons in early October, I only saw two people other than myself using compact system cameras; one person using an X100, the other a Leica.

It seems that M4/3 and the other mirrorless compact system cameras have really caught on with pros, but not with the general public at large; at least, not in North America.

Yet.

I just hope that there will always be the choice. For me, APS-C is the sweetspot in sensor sizes (due to smaller lenses). Currently, the greed for FF in all web forums and blogs, combined with the falling sensor prices, makes me fear that APS-C will eventually become extinct.

Well, I have both a D800 and a Fuji X-E1, and I prefer the look of the Fuji's APS sensor. The only downside of the smaller sensor is the lack of wide angle lenses. Of course this is not a problem for the FF Sonys or Micro 4/3.

Seemingly most people think about FF in the context of background isolation and low light, all of which boils down to that theoretical extra stop you get from doubling the sensor area (over APSC) and increasing the actual focal length (for the same view angle).

However these advantages hold true only if your lens is being used at the same F number. Fine, if your FF budget will also stretch to prime lenses that run into the $2000+ category, but truth be known most are not good wide open, with low contrast, visible purple fringing and longitudinal CA.

In contrast, the Fuji F1.4 23mm (for example) is about 30% cheaper than the Nikkor F1.4 35mm but more importantly it works fine at F1.4. It is as close to faultless as I have ever experienced (and I thought the 35 was good). I have no doubt the 56 F1.4 will give the Nikkor 85 a pasting as well.

So looking at it in a practical (not a theoretical) sense I am NOT losing a stop of light or gaining extra subject isolation at all. I have to stop most SLR lenses down to F2.0 or F2.8 to get them to behave and for landscape shots, I have to stop them down an extra stop to achieve adequate DOF. Zero real world advantage in either noise or bokeh.

The only reason I own a D800 (and I do wonder sometimes) is because it has double the effective resolution and far better support for flash etc. Plus is does support some very good zoom lenses which are great for event work when anything is likely to move. If/when I want an exhibition size print at 36" or more, the difference is quite obvious.

Could I achieve the same with a Sony A7R? Almost certainly. But it is interesting that so far all of their proposed lenses are actually quite slow. So extra resolution? Yes. Extra stop of light over my Xpro1? No. Half a stop at best. Big deal.

If you are happy with 16-24MP and can find the right lenses, MFT and APSC actually give very little ground to FF in use. Only if you really want large prints does FF gain a little ground, but it is already losing some resolution to diffraction for landscapes and you really need a tripod to get the maximum benefit.

If the Xpro2 is a 24MP device, I may well sell off the Nikon altogether. My back is not what it used to be.

As you note, m4/3 advantages include size, cost and good-enoughness. Another important one for me is that I hardly ever use FF images without cropping. (In fact, the reason I shoot a D800 in addition to my GX7s is that you can crop fairly sharply, and still get a pretty high-resolution image.) For me, the m4/3 aspect ratio is simply better than the FF or APS-C aspect ratio -- with those, I almost inevitably win up cutting off the end of the frame. I'm not a landscape shooter, though, and I guess those folks really lean on that long aspect ratio and the high res stuff. Oh, yeah -- one other m4/3 advantage: you can buy a really, really good compact modern lens almost from fisheye to long telephoto. My Panasonic 600-equiv is not much longer than my hand is wide...

It depends how and what you shoot.

A couple months ago I was toying with the idea of buying a compact camera, or an APS/M43 mirrorless + zoom for casual shooting. Surely, I thought, I don't need to drag the 5D2 around when I'm shooting during the day. So, I did my research, I looked at a zillion photos, I read the reviews, and made my tentative decision...and then real life intervened.

Namely, I had a chance to do some casual daytime shooting, both outdoors and indoors. Over four days, I found that my "worth processing" pile tally was:

ISO 200 - 1 image
ISO 800 - 3 images
ISO 1600 - 37 images

In other words, I live in the no-go-zone for small sensors. True, I'm allergic to the forgot-to-pay-the-DOF-bill-so-I-have-to-shoot-at-eff-one-point-nuthin' look, and I like big pictures (my output is 3840x2400 on-screen images), but that's my prerogative. That's how I shoot, and it seems that small sensors are still out for me. I was disappointed that the 5D2 was still a millstone over my shoulder, but very relieved I didn't fork out for a camera system that would only have frustrated me.

Now, the Sony A7R + 35mm f2.8 (or that tasty looking 24-70 IS) are very tempting...but thankfully out of my price range for a system that will only get occasional use.

During the film era, I had both medium format and 35mm cameras. I ended up using the 35mm cameras about 95% of the time (even though MF had better IQ) since MF was too heavy, clunky and slow for my preferred style of photography. I recall a local well-respected instructor (who didn't even ask me what type of photography I was interested in) insist that if I was serious about photography I needed to use a large format camera.

When I got sick of bulky SLRs, I bought a Leica M7 and a couple of lenses and fell in love - my SLR sat on the shelf. However, when it was clear that film was going to be largely replaced by digital, I sold my Leica gear to fund a DSLR and lenses, only to be told by the same well-respected instructor that I would regret the decision (I loved my Leica but I did not regret the decision to go digital).

Since then I've tried a number of DSLRs, full format and APS-C, and even the smallest of those (Pentax K5) ended up sitting in the closet most of the time due to its weight and size with lenses. I have now downsized again to an OM-D E-M5 (which admittedly has its flaws), have an E-M1 on order, and use a few Olympus and Panasonic primes which are outstanding. They travel easily and my subjects are not intimidated by having a bazooka stuck in their face. In addition, the image quality is excellent for my purposes since I don't believe I've ever printed one of my photos to poster size (and doubt most FF advocates have).

We've all read those on-line posts by FF afficionados who insightfully point out that Micro 4/3rds cameras do not have the same IQ as FF and then belittle Micro 4/3rds cameras as crap (likely without using them). To prove their point, they dutifully post their fantastic FF images of cats, flowers and brick walls.* It's the same old story - 35mm is not as good as medium format, medium format is not as good as large format, APS-C is not as good as FF, Micro 4/3rds is not as good as APS-C or FF, digital is not as good as film. But to state the obvious, if those photographic tools don't work for your style of shooting, all you are assured of is that they too will sit in the closet. Small can be beautiful.

----------------
*I don't recall anyone complaining about the IQ of the photos taken by HCB or Salgado, but then again they didn't tend to take pictures of kittens and hummingbirds.

I need FF. But it's not about sensors or pixels or any of that at all. I have thousands invested in Shift lenses, I want that expensive 45mm to be a normal, the more expensive 24mm to be a super-wide, and the stupidly expensive 17mm to be a true ultra wide.

That said, since canon will only give me 18-22mp to play with I'm seriously considering the Sony A7r...

I went from a Nikon N90 to a Fuji S2 to a Nikon D200 to a Nikon D700. I never noticed this "viewfinder size" thing that apparently looms so large in people's minds. I even kept the D200 for most of a year after buying the D700, and sometimes shot using both, so I'd be switching back and forth second by second. Never noticed a difference in viewfinders. Now I don't have the D200, so I can't go back and look.

I’ve settled on APS-C; the image quality is plenty good enough for me.

Speaking of APS-C, my Fuji X100S X-Trans sensor blows away anything I’ve ever shot with, including my D700. It proved to me that there’s more to picture quality than just the size of the sensor.

I've recently been looking at scans of negatives taken on a wide variety of "FF" 35mm cameras a few years back when I still had a 17" CRT monitor - they look so much better than I remembered on my present 22" LED monitor and have a certain "something" that my current digital photos (more or less the same pixel size) lack.
Conclusion - I'm going to work on improving raw conversion and post processing until my digital shots look as nice as the film ones.

Quite happy to stay with the convenience of APSC, FF would cost too much and require too much care and effort for the results to justify the change.

I'd like to disagree inasmuch I think, that sensor technology has to be improved. I don't think of more MP or higher ISO. But I'd like to see a digitally captured image portraying the same power of light (maybe the much better textures of film images can illustrate what I mean - everything seems to have a weight to it). Every digital image (FF or smaller, Leica or Fuji or whatever you can find on flickr) has a technical quality to it, it portrays computed light. And I suspect, that its exactly this technical side, which forces us to rather think of MP and ISO, if we look at such images, than of...the picture. I really wish this would be discussed more. But I am afraid, that nobody really cares. Because digital images can be very impressive in terms of sharpness and detail. - Best regards, Merten

Speed wrote, "On the other hand, when I get back from a trip where I've used both the APS-C and a Full Frame DSLR and look at my images, I usually wish I'd used the FF more."

This reminds me of my old (ancient...) film days. When shooting, I almost always preferred 35mm. Once I got into the darkroom I wished I had shot 4x5 or at least 120.

Today, digital "FF" is the "new medium format". At work I process and print images from a D800 (if they are new) or scans from 35mm via an Imacon 848. My personal work is now m43s (still using an original Panny G-1). The m43/G1 image beat the Imacon 848 scans from Velvia hands down. The D800 images are better, but printed on canvas (our normal medium) the improvement over my m43 images doesn't show until prints are larger than 20x30" when images are made at the cameras' base ISOs.

Maybe I don't REALLY need full frame, but man the Canon 6D with the "about right" 40mm 2.8 pancake is an amazingly comfortable camera for me to use. Relatively light and unobtrusive, not too big or too small. Stick the thing on manual, silent single shot, focus and recompose with the center point and I'm good to go. It's the closest thing I've yet to get with digital that replicates the shooting experience of my old manual film cameras.

These days if I need anything smaller I'll use my iphone 5. It's always with me and it nails that lo-fi look perfectly.

A 5D3 or D800 and a 35/1.4 lens is too big and too heavy?

Really?

So the Leica S vs. Hasselblad H4D , vs Pentax 645d thing is on hold?

psu, that is where m4/3 grabbed me. I bought my wife an E-PL1 about 3 years back. She enjoyed it, I used it a little, but it wasn't there for me. In part it was the lens line-up at the time. I am pretty much an all primes kind of guy and there was nothing (17/2.8 and 20/1.7 were the only primes on the market at the time IIRC).

That combined with image quality that to me was lacking. It was maybe, slightly better than my beloved 35mm film, and with the existing zooms and only two primes, the DoF control wasn't there for me either. Also the noise was more problematic on the 12mp sensors. It might have been a little cleaner than 35mm film (IMHO) at similar ISOs, but 35mm has nice grain too it, those 12mp get some nasty chroma noise (again, IMHO).

Then the E-M5 came along and I'll admit that the retro design grabbed my attention. Then after looking at it more and early reviews and then really looking in to the current lens line-up for m4/3, I knew it had "arrived" for me.

I bought up my E-M5 and quickly added a 30/2.8, 14/2.5 and 45/1.8. A 17/2.8 came soon after and a couple of months later I ditched the 30/2.8 for the 25/1.4 and was in real heaven. I traded up for the 12/2 from the 14/2.5 back in May and I added the 60/2.8 (sigma) about 2 months back. I pretty much replaced my entire 35mm film kit (OM-1) at this point, or at least what I would have considered my core kit.

Over film, the whole kit is at least 1/3rd less weight and size. I can manage high ISO images 3 stops higher than I ever could on film (ISO800 was my limit with color film and 1600 for B&W film, generally. I can easily do ISO6400 with color prints/images and ISO12,800 with B&W from my E-M5). The lenses are sharper than my old 35mm film lenses were with fewer optical defects (in general, ignoring distortion which is corrected in software). Oh and dynamic range is higher. I'll ignore the 3-4 stops of hand holding I can get with the IBIS in the E-M5 (we are up to about a 7 stop difference here, ignoring the fact that on the wide end, my 12/2 is a stop faster than the 24/2.8 I had been using).

35mm film was my bar for minimum requirements as I was getting by just fine with it. I wanted something a little better. I got something a lot better.

FF digital as it exists today it certainly still nicer in a lot of ways than m4/3. However, even at 30, I have some back problems and even when my back isn't troubling me, carrying 3lbs of gear instead of 5lbs in a shoulder bag all day long is sooo much nicer, let along backpacking. I lust after FF sometimes, but I also lust after Corvettes too. Neither are practical for me.

If you are reading this Olympus representatives, you did good with the E-M5. Don't rest on your laurels. The E-M5 is good enough, but I still want better, I just don't want better at the expense of extra weight and size (okay, I'd be willing to go up to something like the E-M1, since the overall package size/weight would only be slightly higher). So...what's planned for the E-M6?

I don't. I don't need APS-C or m43, either, and I don't even need 1"—all I really need is a nice 1/1.7" sensor like the one on so many premium compacts, including my beloved Samsung EX1. More than enough for a satisfactory 12x16" print, and I suspect larger but have not had the opportunity to try, wall space being what it is.

But, I do need a lens that covers the 70-200mm range as well so I do need an ILC for now, and of them an APS-C SLR is still the cheapest option. And, well, shooting with primes is too fun to stop, even if it's technically unnecessary.

It's the nice thing about specializing in portraiture, I believe—unlike with sports or wildlife, composition and connection with your subject dwarf in importance anything your gear could provide, specially when most shots are at the comfortable end of the ISO scale and with the lens stopped down for good measure.

Well its all about compromises - I'm generally a "good enough" kind of guy ... many of my working shoots are in far from ideal conditions, and frankly, just getting the shot can be tough enough. If m4/3 gear helps, then I'll happily use it. The difference in IQ compared to FF is not going to be the crucial factor.

And yet - today I did a product shoot ... comfortable environment, controlled lighting ... so I used my 5DIII. Looking at the images now, I'm reminded just how good the IQ can be. My EM5 isn't really close.

So my thinking is that in ideal conditions, the 5D3 will blow the EM-5 away BUT conditions are seldom ideal and then the 5D3 advantage seems to be somewhat eroded.

What does amuse me are the number of ex-film photographers who sneer at m4/3, but back in the day were quite happy shooting 35mm despite the very clear advantage of medium format.

This latest round of FourThirds format cameras, the Olympus E-M1 and Panasonic GX7, is terrific. The E-M1 is a dream for me: fast, responsive, plenty of sensitivity, a shocking array of available high quality lenses.

For me, the Leica M9 has become my "digital medium format" and the Olympus E-M1 is my "digital 35mm". I use them very similarly to how I used to use a 35mm film camera along with a 6x6cm film camera.

Who really cares about "sufficient image quality" and all that hoo-hah? I care about making photos that satisfy me, and using equipment that I both like and want to carry. Whatever services those two things is what I use.

This full-frame issue really hits home for me because I've been considering adding a smaller camera to my arsenal.

I've been full-frame since Nikon first offered it in the D700, but of course that's only true if you mean digital full-frame. I've been full-frame 35mm since roughly 1967 or so. Which brings me to the first reason I like full-frame. After almost 40 years of training my brain to think and see though full frame lenses, I never completely adjusted to the APS-C standards. Like a lot of people here, I know what the world looks like through a 35mm lens and a 50 and an 85, but only on a full-frame DSLR.

Another reason was mostly true back when the D700 and D3 were first introduced: full-frame allowed for much, much better high-ISO performance. Remember what a revolution the D3 was for low light? Stunning. Suddenly I could routinely shoot at ISO 800 without hesitating. Nowadays, though, I think the APS-C cameras are also very capable in low light/high ISO, so the advantage isn't as pronounced.

A personal reason: I love shallow DOF. Love it. Shallow DOF on an APS-C sensor forced me to use the optically weaker widest apertures on even fast lenses, but it was still doable. With full-frame, f/2.2 on an f/1.4 lens is pretty damned sharp and the DOF is nice and shallow.

Finally, there's also that vague feeling that shooting full-frame, and looking through a prism and mirror through traditional size lenses, that's using a real camera. That's real photography.

But I said at the top that I was looking at smaller cameras, because a DSLR plus a 24mm and an 85mm is a bit big and heavy to lug to a party or out to dinner with friends or on a short vacation. That's why the new Sony's have me intrigued: full frame in a much smaller package. Or even the Fuji's which are APS-C which I'd find acceptable for shallow DOF. It's all very complicated because I have to examine the quality of these electronic viewfinders, the available lenses, the must-have features (spot metering, bracketing), etc. etc.

So yes, I love full frame, but I'm at the point where I'm gazing longingly at the smaller, lighter bodies. We'll see how it plays out.

Coming back to this...

I'm just delighted that I can carry a tiny little kit consisting of a 5D3 and 3 prime lenses instead of a Pentax 67 and three prime lenses.

It all depends on where you put the "good enough" point.

My wife got a GX1 last year and shortly thereafter I sold my Nikon DX body for a m4/3 one. The one thing that has me really lusting after a FF camera is the 20mm Nikkor. I absolutely loved the way that looked on 35mm film, and there's no m4/3 equivalent. On the other hand, the f/4 zoom that covers that length is a lot cheaper than a refurbished D600.

The whole argument gets up my nose, though. Different photographic situations require different tools.* Has anyone seen that little YouTube video shot using a miniature camera strapped to an eagle? Yeah, it's not 60fps HD...but it was shot from a freakin' live eagle. If you're getting the IQ you want from your gear, you're obviously using the right gear.

*I've always wanted to ask a gearhead (but have wisely held my tongue) what kind of pants his idol wears. You never know...those pants might make all the difference.

Mike---In your response to a comment that appeared in “Do You Really Need FF?”, you replied that “Micro 4/3 is good enough for technically accomplished and discriminating photographers who make excellent prints up to medium sizes.”

Since a Micro 4/3 original is about one-half the linear size of a 135 format FF original, I’m curious about the actual dimensions of your “medium size” print. Are you talking, say, 9x12 inches? If any bigger, you’ll run into “empty enlargement” issues.

It’s really tough to capture 85 lp/mm resolution in any original, and if you enlarge more than 17X (approximates 9x12 inches from Micro 4/3), the result won’t net 5 lp/mm in the final print. Now I know that faithful resolution isn’t vital in many images, and that “technically accomplished” photographers are capable of creative post-processing, but this inherent limitation (9x12 inch max. print size) is a critical restriction that deserves advance recognition by anybody who’s considering Micro 4/3. No magic can restore missing detail.

[Hi Bryan, Oh no, I mean to well beyond 17x22. Did you see Ctein's "Big Print" print offer?

http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2012/04/print-offer-small-sensor.html

That print was made from a 12-MP E-P1 file and it was as beautifully detailed as anyone could want, as everyone who bought one can attest. I think you're making the error of confusing theory with practice (and Ctein and I don't think your theory is correct in this case). A Micro 4/3 print from a 16-MP file can be extremely detailed in a print as small as 17x22. We've proven it in practice. --Mike]

We never had these discussions during the film days. You shoot 35mm or move up if you really need it.
I had a friend 20 yrs ago, who was one of the highest paid Fashion Photographers who only shot 35mm. Perhaps people have more disposable incomes these days. "Image Quality"? When I show my 2ft x 3ft prints, taken with a Fujifilm S2pro made in 2004, at 6 megapixels,it's fun to see how disappointed people are, as if they need a reason to buy new cameras. Micro 4/3rd's is fine for most people.

For me "full frame" is now the odd man out except when I load up one of my film SLRs or rangefinders with a roll of Provia, Portra 400 or HP5+. In the electronic world I go from Micro Four-Thirds to APS-C to Pentax 645D. I'm having the most fun by far with the m43 gear. I'm even using an 18/35/85mm Zeiss lens set, via Metabones SpeedBooster, on my Panasonic GX7. (The 85 is the f/2.8, BTW.) This yields equiv. focal lengths of 26/50/120mm...IMO a near-perfect combo.

Given that my largest print size is 20" in the longer dimension, all these formats are capable of delivering high quality results. So why do I have the Pentax? Not for greater spatial resolution—16mp is plenty for me—but rather *tonality*. The sensor in that camera produces rich, finely-gradated files and the Pentax FA lenses seem well suited to it. In APS-C the Fuji X-E1 gives me tonal gradation at least equal to the best 35mm digital cameras I've used. Micro Four-Thirds doesn't quite match the Fuji in this regard but the new Olympus E-M1 is getting there. And the GX7 has a great b&w look right out of the camera.

Fun times!

It's horses for courses. While I generally prefer a larger sensor, I also prefer to shoot hand-held. So 35 mm is an acceptable compromise. (I'd love a S2 but way out of m league.) Although I am a LOT more enthusiastic about carting around my rx-1 than I am my (soon to be DF'd, D3). On the other hand smaller sensors draw differently - "grain", dof, etc. I love the original Sigma DP's. I have yet to try the DPMs. And also the (small sensor) Ricoh GR4. I think it was Sean Reid who came up with the concept of "sketching" cameras - some are good for quick pencil sketches, others for large oil paintings.

I agree with your post, Mike, with regard to most camera-users, but with Joe Holmes about FF. Here's where I have a problem:

"Consequently I think TOP's next serious camera review series will not consider the A7's or the Df, but will consist of a comparative look at the Panasonic GX7 and the Olympus OM-D E-M1."

IMO not a good idea. While 4/3 & APS-C suit most of us, the critical question (for me) would be the size one expects to print. All of my final prints are 14x21", and at this point differences between APS and FF are consequential. Secondly, many readers will be interested in lighter FF bodies that will use legacy lenses, particularly Leica M and Nikon F.

So please continue focusing on all formats without a bias against those who may wish to do more demanding work.

I can almost see why the OM-D wasn't the right "fit" for you. I have the OM-D and just love the pictures it takes, it does everything right, I love the size and build quality, but for the life of me I just cannot warm up to using it as my main camera.

I'll go out shooting with the OM-D all day and be grateful for not having to lug the huge bag and not getting neck stain while still getting some beautiful images; and think I'm so stupid to not be totally in love with this camera. And then I pick up my Pentax K-5 and think to myself, wow, I just LOVE how this camera feels in my hands compared to the OM-D!

There is just something about the handling of the OM-D that I just can't get used to. I've tried it with and without the optional grip, no difference. I don't even have large hands. The K-5 fits like a glove, I pick it up and all the controls just naturally fall into place, with the OM-D I feel like I'm frequently fidgeting to get comfortable with it.

I can't bring myself to get rid of it though.

Very interesting! Now can we have a column on how many megapixels are good enough?
-Julian, currently financially restricted to 10mp APSC

"...who, like short people invoking Napoleon..."

I'm glad I wasn't drinking a cup of coffee when I read that line in your article on the downsides of large format photography. I'd have been cursing you while cleaning my laptop keyboard. Nice piece, Mike.

No comment on the FF question. Shoot what works for you.

m4/3 might be good enough but last weekend I did come across a reason guys might like large equipment.

On Saturday I went to a Rutgers football game. The stadium is so large that I only took a 70-300 mm lens to use with my Nex6.

On two separate occasions girls stopped me to ask to have me take their pictures. I had a big lens so that made me a REAL photographer and they wanted to photographed by one.

When I walk around with my tiny Nex cameras and small lenses this never happens.

There is more to photography than just the pictures.

[Hi dave, Yeah, but on the other hand, some fields have a limit on the size of lenses you can bring in. At Lambeau Field you can't carry in a lens longer than, I think, five or six inches, something like that. I guess they give passes to the pros and they don't want amateurs poaching on pro territory. (Actually I don't know the reason for the rule, I was just relieved that my camera didn't break the rules--the car was parked half a mile away and I would have missed half the first quarter.) --Mike]

Thanks, dude!
I've been arguing the same for a while now on my own blog, but you have so many more readers...

And that's just *now*. In ten years (seven?), we'll be wondering if M4/3 is not actually overkill except for specialized purposes... :-)

Both psu and D make points that I'd have made, and in reference to the same camera. When I got my D700 5 years ago, it was for two reasons. Firstly, I couldn't get the primes I wanted for the angles of view I wanted with APS-C systems. 50mm turns into a wholly-useless for me 75. Full frame let me get the angles of view I wanted (I flirted with a Pentax k20d and limited primes for a few months, but didn't take to those odd focal lengths either, so sold it for the D700). Beyond that, much of my life was taking place indoors at night in dim light, and the D700 finally let me get the pictures I wanted of the life I was living. I adored both of these aspects of the d700, and assumed I'd never sell it, or certainly only for another full frame.

But this summer I did sell it for a Fuji with 18, 35, and 60mm lenses. I take the smaller kit with me at least five times (literally) as often as I took the D700. I blissfully control the camera with physical dials. And my two benefits of the D700? Well, Fuji's focal lengths are all pretty directly correlated to classic focal lengths, so I don't struggle to find the right lens. And the Fuji sensor is even better than the D700 in low light (and at a higher resolution to boot). Finally, many of my AF-D Nikkors needed to be stopped down a bit to be usable, either for sharpness or to control depth of field. My 35 and 60 are sharp and lovely wide-open, and can carry both eyes in a portrait, so in practice, I don't even experience radically different depth of field. So for me, full frame has lost all of its exclusive benefit, even if not all of its (largely sentimental) appeal.

Seems like we keep coming back to this. We really need to find some way to demonstrate in controlled conditions but using "pictorial" subjects (not test charts) two things:

The "tonality differences" that some people see in medium-format vs. 35mm, or today in full-frame vs. M43 or whatever.

The ways different lenses "draw" differently.

Because these two things are what people using more expensive gear fall back to when people using cheaper gear seem to be making just as good-looking pictures.

The one time somebody was sure they could tell from a print I showed them that that picture had been shot with my Leica gear (and this was a good photographer, not a random idiot), it had actually been shot with a Tokina 85-210 zoom on my Pentax Spotmatic.

I'm absolutely, in theory, believing in lens "looks" -- but I need objective evidence to be happy with it. I don't need to scientifically characterize the differences systematically, but I need to see the differences clearly in pictures shot in controlled conditions. I'm willing to believe in those tonality differences -- but I need to see them to be actually convinced, shot in controlled conditions again.

I absolutely had "richer" and "thin" photographs (more back when I was printing in the darkroom), but most of the cases seemed to me to come down to underexposure and degree of torture exerted in the darkroom to get a usable print, rather than to negative size or gear in any way.

I know, I know, testing is hard. But I need to learn to see this stuff I've somehow missed really noticing in 40+ years of serious photography, because I'm starting to wonder how real it actually is. I need reproducible results!

I've just bought a s/h 5DII, a camera I've lusted after for years, during which time I have used Canon APS-C cameras. Yes, it was great to finally pick one up and get to use it, together with the 50mm f1.4 that I bought new at the same time. But you know what? - for what I do, which is pretty casual, infrequent, amateur stuff, it's no better than my 60D. In fact I have a feeling that my 70-200 f4 IS lens produces crisper results on the 60D.

As others have said, the best reason to go to FF is to get lenses that work as they were intended to, but I seem to see in short-telephoto anyway. I've never been able to get anything worthwhile from anything wider than 35mm, and I'm happiest in the 50-100 range - I really like that compression.

As regards technology, at the moment the Canon 70D seems to be hitting the sweet spot in Canon's range - good normal AF, good speed, metal body, that interesting dual-pixel AF for live view and video, and all for a not-unreasonable price. I should have bought one of those rather than the 5DII. I think the latter is going to the big auction site....

Dear Folks,

My standard print size is 16x20/17x22 inches. For 40 years, I used a Pentax 67. Now I use an Olympus mu4/3.

I have not lowered my standards; the Olympus prints are comparable to what the Pentax gave me. They run rings around what I could get from 35mm film, by every measure.

And, no, most of the time, I do not use a tripod, nor do I use only the absolute best lenses made at their absolute best apertures. And, yes, I routinely get pixel-sharp photographs.

That's all, folks.

pax / Ctein

@DDB - you cannot test this sort of thing empirically. The only way is through selection and editing of your shots. And of course I'm not talking about Ctein-sharpnness but subjective quality. It also might be down to more than just the mechanics. If you end up finding the best ones (in your opinion and taste) are made with a particular format, then voila!

Well, I never did too much printing personally, because I was predominantly slide shooter, so I was used to project my slides every so often instead. Few years ago I've bought a digital projector to be able to do the same with my digital photos. It projects a picture about 3 meters diagonally in size with a resolution of 1280x768 pixels. That's about 1 (one) megapixel. From a distance of about 3 meters, these pictures look spectacular (provided they are spectacular in the first place, of course, but that's another matter). So here we go - I can crop about 90% off of my 12 megapixel files and still end up with a nice big image. Nevertheless I would buy a digital version of the Pentax MX/LX for the viewfinder size/quality alone...

I think that all the the replies that a post like yours get, can be summarized as standing in 3 "camps":
Camp 1 - People that have shot a lot, both professionally and not, with FF cameras, have tried m4/3 and have found that they suffice greatly for they job, so they switched over. This is OK, we can agree or not, but whatever.
Camp 2 - Same type of people, same attitude, but they tried the "smaller cousins" and have found that they can't get what they want with them, so they stay with FF. This is OK too.
Camp 3 - And THIS usually is the most vocal. They use FF, they have NEVER tried m4/3, or just old ones (i.e. tech from more than an year and an half ago), and they still mantain that "M4/3 can't be useful for pro work, because everyone knows that ETC. ETC..."

It seems the big "unspoken" in so many of these discussions is specific application for individual photographers. Some types equalize sensors, like travel, street, even portrait. OTOH, having just recently compared a rented RX1 to my K5, there IS a difference in "richness" in output, and I am sure I would see this in large landscapes (my favorite application). Having said that, I am no kind of evangelical for any format!

Coming at it from both ends here. I just ordered a (previous generation) Olympus E-pl3 for my wife, who wants something like a p/s but with better quality in kid related lighting levels, which always seem like slightly too dark for decent iso w/o motion blur. They're currently priced like a p/s with a kit lens.

Specwise, it's similar to my version of the dragoon, a Canon 40d. (which has all the soul of a Honda Accord. Technically competent, but...) We'll see what the image quality looks like when it gets here, and if it winds up as my grab and go camera or hers.

This is why I switched to m43. There's a complete kit in there: GX7, 14mm, 20mm and 45mm lenses, polarizer filter, memory cards, charger and three batteries, and a card reader. I also kept coming back to Olympus because of the beautiful jpegs that kept me from wasting time in RAW (the GX7's jpeg engine is also good enough and much improved). I love the idea of FF, and I loved the shallow depth of field, but I never liked the bulk.

Getting here very late so I've little to add to this very, very long comment thread. My own perspective.
1. Yes, sensor size can make a significant difference for some types of photography but rarely for the type of candid, happenstance photography and small prints most common in avocational work.

2. Yes, I believe that the Micro 4/3rds may be the best price/performance/luggability camera system today. Like Ctein's, my EM5 produces excellent image files. I do not, however, have any plans to move forward with the Micro 4/3rds system as I've all the kit I need and believe that it's reached a dead end.

3. Honestly, the performance of today's big-sensor / fixed-lens pocketable cameras is simply astonishing. My Sony RX100M2 is a rugged, remarkable performer with tremendous flexibility. Its smallness, its articulated LCD plus the detachable hinged EVF make it usable everywhere. And the Ricoh GR, the pro-grade p&s with the APS-C sensor has been even further gaping my jaw with its image quality and snappiness. What an outstanding extension of the decades-old Ricoh "GR" camera line!

Fun fact: This week in preparation for a meeting I gathered 14 "noteworthy" 13x19 prints from recent works and later realized that I captured half of them with my RX100M2. (Only 3 with my Canon 5D3 and the rest with Fujifilm X and Sony NEX cameras.)

Don't look now but the rationale for buying system cameras (with or without mirrors, regardless of sensor size) is very quickly dwindling down to a matter of fetishism.

Mike, you pose interesting questions about camera systems and sensor size. I shoot with both Olympus micro 4/3 and a Canon 6D. Sure the 6D has better image quality for certain applications but I really enjoy shooting much more with the Olympus.

I wrote a post a week ago along the same line.
How does the Canon 6D compare with Olympus micro 4/3?

Jeff1000: "Speaking of APS-C, my Fuji X100S X-Trans sensor blows away anything I’ve ever shot with, including my D700."

Amen to that! That's been my experience with my X-Pro1, except on the Canon side of things. Better than everything I've shot with, including a 1Dx. Don't get me wrong, the 1Dx is truly excellent, but files from the X-trans sensors in the APS-C X-cameras are magic.

Haven't shot extensively with a 5D MkIII yet, but also feel no need with the XP1.

The problem with these comparison discussions is that most posts about them (and reviews of m4/3 cameras) end with either:

1. I like my OMD so much that I now take 90% of my pictures with it.

or

2. When I'm not shooting my D800/E I always shoot my OMD.

What about that last 10% or those pics that "need" the D800/E? Are you willing to give them up or are you happy carrying two systems camera kits around? One of the mistakes I made when I bought my first DSLR was to try to learn to use it's versatility. I learned to take pictures that my previous superzooms could never take, birds in flight, my son in flight on his motorcycle coming directly at the camera, shots inside dark cathedrals at absurd ISO's to capture the natural light. True, these represent only 10% of what I shoot but I'm not willing to give that up just to save a few pounds.

Two sets of systems, whose camera bodies go obsolete every two years, doesn't seem very sensible to me. Better to use the money to buy a new lens for the system that shoots 100% of your pictures. New lenses are fun!

As Craig said, distorted lenses add complexity in RAW processing. I prefer keeping things simple from beginning to end, so I would rather have lenses that produce RAW images without obvious distortion in the usual cases. What I saw from the 20mm f/1.7 when I considered it just slightly crossed the line for me.

Resolution is just one comparison point between sensor sizes. Tonal presentation is, for me, far more important. The FF sensor produces better tonal depth and range at all print sizes.

You used to write large articles, Mike! (as evinced by the LL link)

[No, that was originally written for a camera magazine. I think I got $750 for in the '80s. --Mike]

I use Nikon FF DSLRs for work - D3S and D800. The D800 is absolute overkill for almost everything I shoot in terms of what my clients need. The D3S 12mp is overkill for the majority of what my clients need. The bodies are big and heavy and the lenses are big and heavy. For much of the year I shoot 5000+ images per week and it is taking its toll on my body - and i'm only 42!

I am awaiting shipment of the OMD EM1 with much anticipation. I have a family trip to Paris in a couple weeks and plan on shooting the EM1 exclusively there to run it through its paces. I don't see moving all of my work to this M43 body but i know for a fact that i will shoot a decent amount of my professional work with it.

I honestly believe that Nikon and Canon are both going to become extinct while protecting their DSLRs. I don't want a mirror and the bulk that comes with it. I want an electronic viewfinder. I want a light and silent body. The sony a7 is intriguing but i would only want to shoot it with primes. The problem for FF is not the body size but the necessary lens size.

I'm very interested to see how I like the EM1.......

I have been using an E-510 for about 5 years, for my use, at ISO 100 or ISO 200 (usually even ISO 400 with recent versions of Lightroom), image quality is good enough for me. In low light conditions, or with small apertures, when I need to use higher ISO, I am usually wishing for better image quality. So I have bought an EM-1 because I want to widen the range of lighting conditions under which I can take images that are satisfying to me. This is affected not only by image quality as dependent on the sensor, but also by the improved viewfinder, image stabilization, hopefully faster focusing even with FT objectives.

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