There were two comments from recent days that I'd like to highlight. This is the first:
John Krumm: "Having recently started using a full frame camera after many years of shooting with 4/3 sensors, one of the biggest challenges for me is getting shots with nice front to back sharpness (high depth of field). It's easy to take for granted just how simple it is to use the smaller sensor cameras. I imagine it's even more challenging with this camera and others like it, at least until they have some kind of automatic focus stacking option. Still, I'd love to play with it, and the touchscreen interface looks well designed. I hope they succeed with it."
This has been a mystery to me. Historically the push was always to make greater depth of field possible when you want it. It was the reason for the name of Group ƒ/64, of course—a small aperture (on a view camera, of course) that allowed for pictures to be sharp front to back. Along come the fingernail-sized digital chips, and suddenly the conventional wisdom flips. Everyone is all concerned with how little depth of field they can achieve. And, no surprise, I'm seeing far more pictures in which poor technique shows up as inadequate depth of field. (Along with a lot of great shallow-focus work, it should go without saying.)
Personally, I think the more limited d-o-f of a FF or larger sensor is possibly a disadvantage of that size of sensor, for some people, which must be overcome by other advantages offered. All things considered, a "crop sensor" (we are really dominated by 135 thinking, still) is more ideal for getting enough depth of field most of the time. I'd like to have a Hasselblad X1d-50c for certain kinds of work, but as an only camera it would surely be too disadvantageous to give up the APS-C or 4/3 sensor.
I would even go so far as to say that the ready availability of high-quality sensors that are appreciably smaller than 24x36mm is one of the central advantages of the digital age as far as equipment is concerned.
...But that's not the way the world is now. The conventional wisdom has flipped, and everyone wants shallow focus. Very often, too shallow.
Ah, the odd vagaries of group taste!
(Thanks to John Krumm)
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
John McMillin: "As I like to say, 'Your pictures are too sharp. You need a more expensive camera to take blurrier pictures.' My new 27-inch Retina screen is revealing how much fine detail lurks in all my old pictures, even the first digital shots from that 4-MP compact. Once we're into the Fuji X era, the photos are dazzlingly detailed. But are they better photos?
"I'm not sure. I do know that watching modern animated films can be stressful. Not just for my old eyes and antique, wetware visual processor—my teen daughter found 'The Lego Movie' just too hard to watch, with too much information presented at excessive speed. I preferred 'Finding Dory,' which depicts a vague, watery, low-fi environment in which bright, crisp and dynamic creatures come and go. Maybe this is the point that the animated film has finally mastered bokeh?
"Anyhow, I'm appreciating fuzzy backgrounds more and more. Not because they're realistic, but because they're not. They're a powerful tool for removing distractions and simplifying a scene, and that's always a good thing."
Jim Allen: "You can bet Macro shooters like extra depth of field. Ever tried to get the focus right on a spider's eyes?? I have stacked images with 0.002" movement between shots to get decent depth of field...."
kodachromeguy: "I agree that the availability of 'high-quality sensors that are appreciably smaller than 24x36mm' is an amazing tool of the digital imaging age. When I use a Rolleiflex, I typically use it on a tripod specifically so that I can stop down to ƒ/11 or ƒ/16 and get foreground and distance into focus. For my use, I am not sure if a 24x36 digital chip would offer any advantages. Many of the techno-dweebs on popular photo forums likely also have no real idea what a 24x36 chip would do for them, but they sure like debating the topic."
Tom Kwas: "I have to laugh, I always think of this too! After years working with big sheet film, and 120 minimum, the concept was always trying to get enough in focus, not as little! In fact, many times today, I see what we used to call 'subjective focus' (back in the '70s), and it makes no sense...the person is using the lens wide open (I'm assuming), but not enough of what is in focus, is in focus! It needs more to make graphic or design (or even commercial) sense. It's just people using the lens open all the way with no reason to do it. And of course, with commercial work, the art director is going to tell you what they need in focus, in the shot, and I guarantee it isn't going to be wide open. This too will pass. I've seen trends all through my career: posterization, shooting everything with a fish-eye, shooting everything with a tilted horizon, shooting everything with colored gels; it'll stop sooner or later, but it will stop...."
Mike adds: Don't forget light-painting, fill-flash at dusk, ringlights....
David A Bateman: "Exactly!! This maybe odd, but I think the new X1d-50c is a great companion to a Micro 4/3 system. For those few times you need or want something different. I also have run into many times on my 4/3 camera (E3) where I did not have enough d-o-f, and needed to focus stack for plate copy work. Maybe if you have something cheap and easy, people want to spend more for what is harder."
Dragan Novakovic: "This subject is discussed in John Kennerdell's excellent article 'In Defense of Depth.' Readers may also want to look up Jason Eskenazi's work for examples of masterly use of high depth-of-field."
John Krill: "I've always said that APS-C is the 35mm of the digital age. That's all that needs to be said."
Mike replies: You know, that probably is all that needs to be said.