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Wednesday, 02 July 2008


Interesting discussion.

May I predict here that I think that FF is here to stay (but so is less than FF). And I believe there's one reason: Zoom lenses.

If I may stipulate that the bigger the sensor, the higher the potential image quality...a FF SLR is about the biggest sensor that can be used with hand held zoom lenses that have much range.

I myself don't use zooms (though I think they'd be handy sometimes) just because they're so darn big. But it seems that they are really, really popular!

But I suppose that there wouldn't be any obstacle to making a 36x36mm sensor camera, would there? I think I'd buy one for sure as the it could use lenses that are mass produced and affordable, for the most part and the camera wouldn't need to be much larger than a FF SLR. But somehow, I don't think any company will make one.


My dream camera is the FM3a you described. Actually, while reading the article, I was daydreaming of being a badass engineer, buying parts from Sony and hacking them on my FM2 for the perfect camera. It could even lack an LCD! The ISO dial could be good only for metering: shoot everything at ISO 100 and boost the signal in RAW processing later, I don't mind. I would pay any money for that.

We're really not asking for much, it's amazing no one actually listens.

"John Hicks wrote of 'the hexaphotocybernetics war.'

I'm sorry John, my memory is going -- is that the war in which we defeated the six-limbed squids from Formica 21?"

No, it's the war in which Minolta thought it had a winner in the XD-11 until Canon A-1's started raining down from the sky. The Minolta, alas, was only pentaphotocybernetic. Canon made a point of rubbing it in.

Mike, you forgot the DPan (Digital XPan).
Would it be so difficult to make an affordable digital panoramic camera?
OK, it would not have a 65x24mm sensor, but taking as a start point the APS-C or FF sensor size, those are the numbers

- Sensor size: 36x13mm (something like the ZX-5n in "Panorama mode")
- Aspect ratio 2.77:1 (same as XPan or GX617)
- Picture size: 7630x2650 pixels, 19.5MPx (using pixel density of K20D), enough at least for me.
- Lenses: since it's a cropped FF, you can use any 35mm lens maintaining the angle of view (think about all that K-mount lenses...)
- With actual LiveView technologies, you even can avoid the pentaprism or rangefinder (or use a separate viewfinder like those for Leica or XPan)


PS: Stiching several photos or cropping a single photo are valid options but:
- Require more post-processing and care when taking the photo, and
- I still sometimes take my old ZX-5n without film, put the lever in "Panorama Mode" and look through the viewfinder... Panoramic is a totally different way of seeing the world...


A very good article. Here are my considerations.

1) Full format and low pixelcount essentially gives a stop or two of extra ISO. Much useful if you are shooting sports or theatre. I don't.

2) Full format and high pixel density. More pixels are always welcome. I don't know if those pixels are needed. I can make decent prints in A2-size from APS-C, do I ever need more? Nice to have, anyway.

3) Telephoto lenses. The 1.5X bonus was nice to have with APS-C. On an FF camera with 25 MPixels I can crop an area corresponding to APS-C, and still have perhaps 10 Mpixels.

4) New lenses. Once you go full frame and past 12 MPixels I really think there is a need for new lenses. With FF lenses on APS-C we only use the "sweet spot" of the lenses. That said,I can now see chromatic aberration on all my lenses, "APO" or not. I think that FF with about 25 Mpixels will make very heavy demands on lens quality.

Will I go for full frame? I don't know! I want the quality but do I need it? To achieve the quality I can gain I need to invest in new lenses, too.

Best regards

all I want is voice recognition

"Many think the Nikon D80 is an ideal size; I think it's a boat anchor. D40/D60-sized DSLRs ought to be the standard, not the exception. The physical bulk of these things is the one carryover from film cameras that I neither like nor understand"

I agree strongly, and I've been bitching about this on my own blog. I consider an OM-1 sized camera about right for pro use, and pocket-sized right for travel and street use. And it really should be possible today to make both of these camera react quickly and give nigh perfect images.

One small point: a digital camera that works without batteries is not likely. A digital FM is extremely unlikely. I am in favor of this camera, but I think it would be far less ridiculous to refer to it as a digital FE, the FE3D perhaps.

This is a very interesting discussion, and I wonder if it might be instructive to the design teams at Canon, Nikon and elsewhere. Not the engineering teams, which is what a lot of photographers talk about; notice how many times the words "engineer(s)" or "engineering" appear here, not to mention internet forums.

Product development goes through periods of varying emphasis on industrial design. I happen to emphatically agree with Archer: "Maitani retired". I am unabashedly an OM semi-geek; I say "semi" because there are many who are far more technically knowledgeable of the OM system than I. But the point is that the OM system was DESIGN-driven by a brilliant man who was motivated by his passion for photography and his love of the Leica. (Several have mentioned the Canonet as the analog of what the DP-1 should be; the XA and the RD are other examples of this. And I don't know if Maitani had much to do with the 35SP, but it is EXACTLY a fixed lens Leica. The VF and lens may suffer a tad compared to an M3 with Summicron, but not by much; and the handling is very much M.)

Without discounting the engineering and cost issues of a 35mm size/format sensor, I disagree with one of your premises,Mike. That is that the manufacturers aren't givng the market what it is asking for. My disagreement is based on two thoughts.

One, the market is BUYING what is being produced. While yes, this may be grudging acceptance to some extent, sales are what drive marketing departments. Should the APS sensor sales crash and burn in favour of "full frame", we would see a big change. Similarly, if the sales of bodies plummet because they are not aas elegant and sleek as an OM-4, FM, etc., the manufacturers would react.

Second, we here and on other pro/advanced amateur sites, are really a tiny market segment. We are right of course ;) but that doesn't make us THE market. And just look at how many opinions about sensor format and camera design have been expressed here in our small group; everything from "a Canonet even with 1/1.8" sensor" to "4/3s DSLR with more rational fast primes" to "FM3a with legacy lenses that work as intended" to "Digital Mamiya 7". Is it any wonder the Wunderplastic continues to dominate?

There simply aren't enough photographers ("real" photographers) to drive the r&d and fab costs involved. The market right now is primarily a generation who have grown up with a very different relationship to technology and the interface between user and device. They (primarily) only know the Windows interface, gadgets with multiple buttons, menues and modes.

But I do see two slivers of hope.

First, I think there is a significant (if currently small) shift occuring. The number of younger photographers who are picking up "legacy" cameras and glass for the exact reasons expressed in this topic, is encouraging. You seem them on RFF, flickr aand other sites, mixing in with us old farts. Yes, some of it is just fashion or retro-trendiness, and some of them may be only dilettantes. But a suprisingly large number of them are serious and good photographers.

Second: Zeiss. Staring with the ZM lenses, Zeiss has been designing superb lenses at interesting pricepoints that are ready for full frame digital sensors. The clear implication is that when the technology is ready (both technically and financially), there will be a ZI-D. IF (and when) this occurs is anyone's guess. Even the M mount, with it's short register, may have to be abandonded in favour of a modified mount/register. But you can bet Zeiss will be there with a re-mount service as well as NIB lenses in the new mount.

In the meantime, the Olympus E-x20 w/ 25mm pancake (or more expensive Leica 25/1.4) may be a sufficient bridge camera. Yes, the high ISO noise issue will remain, but there have been a helluva lot of GREAT photos made in available darkness with grainy emulsions before the current iterations of TMax and Tri-X. Photographers spent a lot of effort tweaking processing to get the "best" out of those films. Good photographers do the same in the digital darkroom. I don't happen to be one of those, since the whole digital workflow is still eno0ugh of a challenge for me that I'd rather be out shooting. With film in my OMs, 35SP, XA and even a Tower 51 with its wicked sharp Steinheil 50/2.8.

And while we are there, why not sensor movements:

- Move sensor in order to focus instead of moving the lens
- Sensor tilt/shift (with current multipoint AF systems camera can automatically figure out the tilt angle for back to front focus and with current stitching algorithms automatically shift the sensor around)

Speaking to the photographers, not the camera enthusiasts for a moment: I hope all of you burning brain cells over camera design and specifications are printmakers or at least the customers of printmakers, because if your work never gets off the LCD screen Ken Rockwell is dead on: there's no justification for anything beyond a D40/D60-level camera. Scanning and printing technology and techniques are far more important to ultimate printed results than camera selection. I think everybody know this, but endless hand-wringing over cameras is so much more fun.

We really Could have the digital equivalent of the TLR. No autofocus, no autoexposure, no swinging mirror. With a waist-level finder, a 3.6 cmm square luminance-only sensor, and adapters for just about any lens-mount you'd care to try. A Seagull? Cosina?

Very interesting post, I can see why it has garnered over 110 replies.

This is the kind of thought-provoking article that keeps me coming back to TOP on a daily basis.

Regarding the 35mm full-frame format....there's a couple of reasons why customers really, really want this. One is, as you've pointed out, it's the perfect compromise between sensor size and image quality. I think another, believe it or not, is that many photographers, do not like square-format cameras, they like the *almost* 16:9 aspect ratio 35 mm has that current HDTV and theatrical films have better; I know I do, in the same way I much prefer my MacBooks 16:10 display than my work Dell's 4:3 aspect ratio. One of the things I distinctly dislike about the Olympus 4/3 sensor is that the aspect ratio is 4:3! Love the glass, don't love the sensor. Too square, man (not to mention it is too noisy, as well)! The 35 mm format *just works* for most people...it's like the diamond-frame bicycle. Many other designs have been tried, but bike makers keep coming back to the diamond framed bicycle....it just works.

These two examples, the 35 mm aspect ratio and the diamond-shaped bicycle, represent one of David Garvin's (a professor at the Harvard Business School) eight dimensions of quality: CONFORMANCE. A key dimension of what customers expect as quality is conformance. I know for a fact that many photographers that started out in digital using APS-C or APS-H sensor cameras really wanted the conformance of a camera with the 36X24 mm sensor. So, it seems do many others.

For me personally, I tired of using APS-C cameras after only about three years of using them. I find their 1.6 or 1.5 crop factors quite constraining on my compositional sensibilities. The 1.3X crop factor on my venerable 1D's (MkI and II) can be lived with, but every time I use my buddy's FF DSLR, I just love it. The big, bright, beautiful viewfinder, the lenses working like they should, and that image quality!

As for the manual-focusing, 12.1 megapixel, one shot at at time smallish D-SLR that costs $2K? Mike, you're talking about a 5D. (you can always switch AF off, you know...)

I am usually a big fan of your articles, but in this case, I think you've missed the target by a wide mile, Mike when it comes to analyzing FF vs APS-C.

A few inconsistencies:

1/ You are arguing that the demand for FF vs APS-C is linked to pride of ownership issues. That is not true. As a wildlife shooter, I still want a full frame camera because larger pixels are better (they have better dynamic range, lower noise and simply look better on a print). If need be, I'd rather crop a little bit and still enjoy those big pixels, rather than rely on using a smaller component of the image circle. Historically a bigger sensor (4x5 vs 6x5 vs 36x24) has always yield better results, and that is still true.

2/ Arguing that the Group f/64's requirements for end to end DoF is some sort of a photographic truism is, well, plain silly. The needs of people shooting large format landscapes and the needs of people shooting portraits and selective focus shots is vastly different. There is a reason so many people buy fast primes, often paying a premium of $1000 for an extra stop - and it is not to stop them down to f16 and shoot.

And I am surprised to hear you drag out that tired old "zoom with your feet and focal length" argument. If I move, my perspective changes. I may not want that - in fact, I usually don't want that. There is a reason I have decided to stand in one location and shoot from there. Consider an example - I am shooting a portait with an 85/1.8 lens wide open on a FF. I get a certain depth of field. How do I re-create the same perspective and DoF with a small camera? Answer: I cannot. For the same composition and subject size in the frame, I have to move further back or use a shorter lens. If I move further back, the actual (optical) magnification decreases and the background blur lessens; also, the perspective changes. If I use a shorter lens, the magnification decreases and so the DoF changes. For a given composition, the magnification is always lower with an APS-C camera than a FF. There simply is no way around it.

Also, w.r.t. camera design - I agree that there is no engineering reason to stay with the same designs as before. A square sensor would be ideal. But for a lot of photographers, professional as well as hobbyist, a square sensor will be either confusing or involve extra work (paper does not come in squares and people will complain). As for the DMD, there may be engineering challenges associated with miniaturizing all the electronics of a camera's computer into such a small package. Look at how long it took Sigma to accomplish it with the DP1 (and even then, it was a bit of botched job).

It may be a bit unfair of you to accuse camera companies of simply lacking creativity, as well as blaming the marketing wonks - their job is to provide products that people want, or think they want - if marketing turns down a product, it is probably because we, as consumers, dont want the product rather than their desire to foist something down our throats (the latter is not good marketing). Sure, mistakes do happen but for the most part, marketing people are pretty good at identifying what customers want. Blame photographers, not them.


"Consider an example - I am shooting a portait with an 85/1.8 lens wide open on a FF. I get a certain depth of field. How do I re-create the same perspective and DoF with a small camera? Answer: I cannot."

Well, of course you can construct a situation that you cannot quite duplicate, claim you must have it, and then say "see?" But in real life there are very few situations where this holds true. There are of course an infinity of possible variations large and small in every photographic situation. If you're an experienced photographer, I think you'd find a way to make either set of equipment work for you.

Mike J.

I am crazy or what but has anyone noticed that the DX sensor frame size gives us a more normal view as to how we humans actually see. So why are we stuck on propagating the 35mm format into the digital age?

I already have several FX format cameras that are super mega pixels. They just use film instead of a electronic sensor.

KR Humphrey

A lot of comments - all I can say (repeat) is that it's the photographer that counts. No amount of technology will ever change the pictures that people take


Your response to Vandit was less than the intellectual honesty you almost always exhibit. Vandit's example (shooting a portrait with a fast 85mm wide open for short DOF) was not one that was strained, unusual, or uncommonly used. There are any number of other examples that could be brought to bear to demonstrate that there is good reason for FF cameras (and you suggested some yourself in your original post).

And the central point of his paragraph was to disagree with the old saw that one should "zoom with their feet and eschew the use of zoom lenses." Given the quality of today's zooms it sometimes seems that the only reason this argument is advanced is because "I walked to school in the snow, so should you."

Can one become a better photographer by working with one fixed focal length prime and really learn what that one lens can and can't do? Yes, certainly. But to suggest that all who use zooms are lazy or giving up quality for convenience, just isn't so.

In all, your short shrift response to Vandit seemed somewhat defensive.


"Consider an example - I am shooting a portait with an 85/1.8 lens wide open on a FF. I get a certain depth of field. How do I re-create the same perspective and DoF with a small camera? Answer: I cannot."

I can
55mm lens at f1.2 on a 15.1x22.7 mm sensor camera

At a distance of 1.5 meters they both will have the same field of view and a depth of focus of about 32mm , assuming similar numbers of pixels etc.

When I was doing a lot of portraits on everything from 35mm to 4.5 , I found if the head were going to fill a certain percentage of the frame, say enough to be 2 inches high on a full frame 8x10 print , to get nose to ear depth of field f/5.6 was always just about right. Wide angle , telephoto , 35mm , 120 , 4x5 whatever. for a particular size of adult head in a print the correct f/stop was always 5.6 .

Diameter of background blur is of course something else entirely, as is how far down you can stop down before hitting diffraction limits etc.

"But to suggest that all who use zooms are lazy or giving up quality for convenience..."

Where did I say such a thing in the original post?? Where did I say "that one should 'zoom with their feet and eschew the use of zoom lenses'"? You guys are inventing arguments I didn't make in order to disagree with them. You both need to read the post as it was written and stop reading INTO it what you imagine it said.

Mike J.

Why did no one mention ‘dust’? A speck of dust on a small sensor is a disaster, one on a large sensor a nuisance… Could that be the reason large sensors are favoured?

Richard said: "all I can say (repeat) is that it's the photographer that counts. No amount of technology will ever change the pictures that people take" -- and Paul De Zan said something similar.

Sure. I'm not trying to be confrontational, but DUH. While there will always be gear-heads on any forum, it strikes me that there are an awful lot of PHOTOGRAPHERS here (whether by vocation or avocation) who can make good pictures with anything you put in our hands. The very fact that we are serious and focused on PHOTOGRAPHY will often mean that we are serious about the tools we use.

Have you ever spoken with, say, a true craftsman who works in wood? I have. They'll tell you that the tools are less important than skill and creativity. BUT they will also be very specific and picky about the tools they actually buy and use day in and day out.

This whole presumption that people who discuss equipment, who have definite opinions about what they'd like the designers and engineers to produce are somehow just gear-heads, that they can't possibly be good or serious photographers -- is poppycock. Why do you think HCB shot the vast majority of the time (if not exclusively) with Leica? No doubt he could have produced great work with a Brownie Bullet. But he didn't, did he?

When I am spinning: There should be a manufacturer produce a full frame sensor that we can clip inside the film trays of our old analogues, that would be cool. Come on Canikolypentaxfujikodaksony-guys pack all your creativity in developing this Wunderthing. Where to get the power? No Prob ,today Accus are liquid! No Place for High Quality Sensor? No matter there will be times you can produce the sensors thinner a film was! Where should we write the data? Isn't their room for an Mini SD Card in one of the film tanks?!

When I am hazard a guess that..: ...as the digital market comes to SLR's in its beginning and they hadn't developed APS-C or Four Thirds i think the DSLR market would have made such the same curve of success, maybe after all the years, now in 2008, we could by a FF DSLR with Kit Lens f.ex. roundabout 600€ instead of 400€ now APS-C/FourThirds is. I know it's keen to say this, but i think all the engineering and developing of new Lens Designs for the smaller Sensors was also a big investion for the manufacturers. If they hadn't done APS-C or FThirds they had could used their moneys to invest in FF-Bodies, down to the entry-level sector. Reckoning the market, and not only the photomarket, the big ones had done this also to move people to (so called) new technology, in order to get money money money money.....

When I am serious: Yes I want FF. The Digital FM3a, the digital Canonet, yes that are cameras i would go for. Also a FF DSLR Body compatible with Minolta MD Lens would be nice....But for now, i haven't find a reason to upgrade from APS-C, also the D700 lets smack my lips....but the biggest wish is: I want a digital camera that will win the test of time. (like my Minolta XE-1 or Rollei 35S)


The reason I want FF is because I have to pull along almost the same heft with those DX format cameras compared to a FF camera. My D2X is the same size as the D3, so why not go for D3 when I have to carry the same weight,

If the DX cameras are sized relative to their sensor compared to FF, with comparable sized lenses to match, I'll would never take up a FF camera at all. Size does matters, but with almost the same heft, I'll rather go for FF.

If Nikon come up with a D60 with the same built and feature set of the D700, the 12-24, the 18-55 and the 55-200 with F2.8, at the same size and weigh of the existing model, then DX rules the earth. But for now, with current crop of the 14-24, 24-70 and 70-200, I'll rather go FF.

In other words, for similar size and weight, why not go for FF than DX?

BUT, will I go further than 35mm FF, NO!! those MF cameras and lenes are beasts.

Oh, one more thing -- the Nikon 10.5mm F2.8 fisheye DX is the 16 F2.8 fisheye to the FF. Compare their sizes, and you get the point of the DX advantage. But where are the cameras with the same sizes to match??

What a wonderful read! What an amazingly diverse set of comments!

Personally, I'd like to have a full frame camera in a size of my late Pentax *istD. I can do without huge buffer or built-in flash or live view auto-focus or even shake reduction, etc, etc, etc. All I want is a full frame sensor in a simplest body possible - black box, shutter, viewfinder, card and other most necessary electronics. I don't think I need the back screen although I do chimp a lot, but I can teach myself not to.

Why? Because IMHO this is what photography is about - the black box with light-sensitive media, the viewfinder and the lens in front. Add to that the photographer in the back and away you go. The rest is mere technology.

I think, no, I am sure that many wondrous things will happen to photographic gear in the future. But there has to be some anchor if you will. Some point of reference. Some kind of nature to be able to return back to...

I admit that my longest lens is Pentax 77/1.8 Limited and I'd love to have it back to its normal self, not to be multiplied in any way.

And yes, the selective DOF is fun.

May the light be with you.

Yesterday I took my old Nikon FM out for the first time in ages and marvelled at how light and small it is, with that freaking HUGE viewfinder. My D200, which I always thought was the best camera I have owned so far, seems like such a piece of crap now. All these useless features such as multiple AF modes, etc. I hate to say it, but it's non-photographers that are driving the market. The non-photographers that snap up Rebel XTs and D40s like they are fashion accesories, they are the ones that make the millions for the camera companies, so why would they change a winning format for themselves?

I've loved the 35mm format for over 30 years. My preference has always been for content over pure technical quality and 35mm delivered the goods in a small package. Small is good.

When I shoot black and white film, I never use anything longer than 85/90mm--and usually it's more like a 35mm or 50mm. For color, I love the look of telephoto lenses. I love the way a long lens at a wide aperture can make the subject stand out within a blur of colors. I started using digital specifically for color photography. So, when I shoot with my 30D, more often than not it's with a 70-200/2.8 or a 400/5.6. The APS-C format means these lenses gain about 1.6X in focal length compared to 35mm. Since I have no desire to use or carry around any lens longer or heavier than these two, I really have a preference for the APS-C format. For my purposes, that is reason enough to like the small sensor. I don't think I would ever consider a full-frame DSLR.

Much of the conservative nature of digital camera design surely comes from the costs of prototyping anything for modern mass production. You can no longer simply have the machine shop fabricate a prototype from some length of angle iron and a slap of black paint. Camera manufacturers are also buying the 'heart' of their machines from giant third-party suppliers. They may not necessarily be able to steer the development of digital sensors suited to their specific use. The development of Leica's micro-lens chip seemed nearly to upend the company.

Your comments regarding the Olympus E1 to E3 evolution - I agree that the E1 is ergonomically one of the best camera designs ever - is surely the result of consumer conservatism and the dead hand of the product focus group. Consumers don't like what they don't know - in the past the more successful companies educated the consumer and brought successfully to market some quite unorthodox designs (ahead of their time). If the camel is a horse designed by committee then we are using a lot of camel cameras today - where is the vision of individual designers like Yoshihisa Maitani (Olympus Pen)? The answers is there are too few camera companies, they are too big and too much is riding on each camera design to trust the vision of one man anymore.

Digital has also given camera manufacturers the perfect solution to the issue of beautifully designed, well screwed together cameras that lasted a lifetime. As I once heard a Kodak salesman say: "So what's the problem with the Carousel? Everybody has got one and they last forever." The mobile phone market points the way - manufacturers don't have to produce products with built-in obsolescence any more to drive the market - this is now instilled in the fashion conscious, feature hungry consumer.

I think this larger sensor issue is a diversion from the real problems that digital cameras have, noise, dust cleaning, lack of durability, and less than true color of film. I never had to clean dust off film, lens yes. Moreover, I've seen some 35mm cameras take hard hits and they are still working today, that is not the case with digital, very fragile! Viewing photos using HD monitors makes the sensor problems with digi-cams very obvious, the bigger sensor is not the fix, hasselblad deals with the same issue, and they have sensors four times the size of the 35mm (FF). Mega pixels and larger sensors are a gimmick to keep the serious photographers hopes up. Think about how clean and sharp some of your slides looked, they don't want you looking back, durability is going to be key here. Look on ebay how many say (broken item needs repair), and they look brand new, bump them a little to hard, and you will need to pull out your trusted old film camera to take some photos at Billy & Vicki's weddings!

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