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Monday, 03 November 2008


Hi Mike, I am thinking your post this morning feels vaguely reminiscent of John Lenon's apology about saying that "The Beatles were bigger than Jesus". Great work, and am an avid reader.
Ian T.

I'm not sure that liking the full frame has that much to do with lots of previous experience in film.

I essentially started photography with a Digital Rebel. I was very used to APS-C, right down to being focused on longer focal lengths (I used a 50mm f1.8 as my "wide" lens for a long time).

I got a 5D earlier this year and I think I'm in love. The combination of incredible viewfinder and high ISO performance means I just don't want to go back, even when using my 20D would make more sense (e.g. telephoto shots of birds).

The viewfinder is quite possibly the most important part of a camera's user interface. APS-C cameras have crappy viewfinders, and just because you're used to them doesn't mean you're not going to realize that fact when you try something better. Unless the camera makers can fix that, there will be a powerful motivation for people to step up to full frame.

In what way? I don't think I've ever read John Lennon's apology.

Mike J.

i'm nuts about good looking cameras, spending far too much time considering the details that crawl upon the surface of cameras and lenses. i always hone in on the best of the breed. as far as wunderplastik goes, the olympus e-1 looks pretty good, and the canon 1dsmkiii would look great if they sliced off the vertical grip. at long last, the prism doesn't look like an elephant's forehead.

Actually I find the A900 to be one of the prettiest DSLRS ever made, it looks like a "real" camera. ;)

I agree that the MP debate has missed the usability problem with APS, at least for folks with older eyes. It takes at least FF to get a view finder you can see through. Bigger than FF, you can see even better, but then the lenses tend to be slower, so you get into diminishing returns fast. (Think Pentax 67 with a 2.4 at best, compared to a FF with a 1.4 50mm.) FF might be a sweet spot, which is why it survived for so long with film, despite many alternatives over the years. (I liked the Pen F, but could not see very well with it.)

"Wunderplastik" is a good term.
I have the apartment full of cameras, and all of those I've bought just as objects are pre-1980.
I'm still hoping somebody will one day combine a really cool digital camera with a beautiful/interesting design.

@erik: actually some smaller sensor based cameras have pretty decent viewfinders, even when they're still smaller than a full frame viewfinder. See http://danny.id.au/photography/equipment/dslr-viewfinder-sizes.html for a comparison in size. I do agree though, that even when I was used to using an Olympus E-1 (0.48x0.54) and never complained about that, I find it hard picking up that camera now I'm used to the E-3 (0.58x0.68). As you can see in the table the E-3 viewfinder isn't that smaller than the 5D viewfinder. I can imagine though that going to an even larger viewfinder would spoil me yet again. It's one of the reasons my wallet makes me afraid to pick up one of these full frame thingies, since one of those and a 24-70 2.8 would be terribly hard to resist for some type of shots.

From a thread on the Pano G1 being the ugliest camera ever ...



Actually, the external prism housing kind of reminds me of the old Nikon F3 and Pentax LX series from days of yore.

Mike writes, "I think it's quite attractive, actually. Some people might not like the shape of the prism, but hey: any prism that wants to give me such a big, beautiful, uncluttered 100% view when I look through it is A-O.K. in my book."

We'll never know if it was a deliberate design decision or just the Marketing dept. spinning the camera that Engineering and Design gave to them, but Sony certainly implied that they were offering a retro, metal-camera look as opposed to polycarbonate "Wunderplastik" curves. From Sony's initial announcement of the 900: "One look at the camera’s distinctive pentaprism and nostalgic body design will evoke its full-frame optical performance. It features a bright, clear optical viewfinder with 100% field of view coverage that would impress even film photography loyalists."

Mike, full frame will take over the market. Your arguments for the cropped censor are valid, but consumers always want bigger, better, more pixels, higher quality. The crop came not because anyone asked for it, but because full frame was too expensive to make at first.

Let us talk again in ten years. I predict full frame will move gradually down the price range, now at 3,000 dollars to 1,500 and 1,000 dollars and finally at 500 dollars nobody will want APS anymore. That's how it works with electronics!

It seems the big camera brands think so too since they introduce so many lenses for full frame and only a few specifically for APS.

There is no "digital" format as in former times there was no "analog" format.
We could choose from tiny Minox spy cameras to the largest large format cameras.
And today we have some tiny sensor formats, the 2/3", the Four/Thirds, APS-C, APS-H, FF or FX-sensors followed by the so called medium format.
Every need finds its own solution.
There is no better proof than the new Leica S2 with its new "small medium format" 30x45mm sensor.

Mike, I just could not believe it when I read the line "It feels like going home".
I bought a 5D earlier this year. Upon being asked by friends "..how I liked it", I responded with that very phrase.
I also followed it up with the line "...like being with an old friend".

I had gone from an EOS A2, to a 20D (still have both)and on to a 5D.

Just had to mention it.

Cheers, from a devoted reader.


I still have my Spotmatic F although the meter has long since died. I think it's a terrific camera except for one thing: the eyepoint ( is that the right term?) really stinks if you wear glasses. Even without glasses I can barely see the entire view in the viewfinder. When I got my D70, my reaction was 'wow i can see everything' . I do prefer manual focus and sometimes it is hard to see what I doing thru the Nikon. So there's another tidbit you can comment on, Mike. How is the eyepoint (or is it eyerelief) of the Sony?


I'll spot you that previous experience in film isn't the only reason a person might prefer a full frame camera. But you're dead wrong about it not making that much of a difference.

The viewfinder is, as you say, a very important part of the user interface. But in terms of interface and ergonomics, knowing your lenses and their angle of view, depth of field response, etc can be much more important. For those that had been shooting film for 30 years or more before going digital (disclaimer: I shot for five years before buying a DSLR), a 50mm lens at 2.8 will perform a certain way. Decades of experience can be a great help to a photographer, and the smaller formats render much of that experience moot. I know this to be true, because my mere five years of experience with 35mm film have just returned to me in a flash with the purchase of a D700. After 4 years in various APS-C cameras, I expected it would take time, but I remember what my 35mm lens is going to look like before I even put it on the camera, and that's a great feeling to return to. For those with much more substantial experience with film, like Mike, I can only imagine that full frame digital feels like the end of a bad dream.

Mike, I sympathize with you about the 35mm lens. On DX, I never liked the 35mm-e, or 24mm, options. The Nikon 12-24 DX was very sharp at 24mm, but it felt weirdly distorting and too-wide; it did not feel at all like using 35mm. Once I got the D700 and my 35/2 became a 35 instead of its old role as a 50mm-e, and I shot with that lens almost exclusively for about a month, I appreciated the perspective more than ever before. Used correctly, it can appear "normal" like a 50 or it can seem very wide, making it ideal for travel and social situations. Now I just wish the 35/2 was actually good at f/2, or I had the Zeiss version.

Hi Mike,
My comment was to your 'mercials blog and in recognizing that if you use canon/nikon when ever John uses Jesus or Christianity in the following clips you may see what I'm alluding to. As those who may misinterpret your meaning.


Ian T.

You said:
“I used to be quite the aficionado of the camera-as-object……….But I just haven't felt that way about polycarbonate cameras. To me they're not aesthetically pleasing objects, not objects to love.”
This comment really resonated with me; however, I suggest that it is not simply the polycarbonate, but rather the comparison of a beautifully precise mechanical device to a an equally precise electronic device, whose precision is not evident to the eye and touch. I bought a K20D in June. Great camera, I use it for snapshots and other shots I don’t have enough interest in or time to use film. I have never had any emotional attachment to the K20D; it’s just a device. In comparison, I recently bought a Pentax 67II. I marvel at the camera; it is to me a fascinatingly beautiful device. I have used a Pentax 67 for several years and see the 67II as an evolved, refined version. Yes, it has some plastic and is enhanced by electronics, but it is in essence a wonderfully precise mechanical device. Perhaps people of our generation have a legacy of appreciation for devices whose operation is understandable in a mechanical way.

"The A900 is the first full-frame DSLR I've used. I have no doubt that my reaction would be exactly the same if the first one I tried had been a 5D or a D700. The upshot is that for many years I shot with 35mm SLRs with a 35mm ƒ/2 or thereabouts as my main lens, and it's just nice to get back to that again. It feels like going home."

Truer words were never spoken ;-) Exactly the feeling I had when I first used my D700 with the Zeiss ZF 35/2, which BTW makes the Nikon AF 35/2 seem like a glass bottle bottom. Carsten

The Leica tweener format, the rumblings about Nikon's coming medium format digital, the Canon EOS 50d potentially hitting a wall at 15 megapixels all point to larger sensors as being the future. Consumer cameras may be less than 35mm size in the future, but for serious work I doubt it. In 2 or 3 years the equivalent of a D700 or a 5DII will be $1200-$1500, why would you use less?

There is of course at least one area which APS will never match against full frame - DOF control. Does this matter? To the majority of camera buyers maybe not.

Yes full-frame will get cheaper, but so will crop cameras. Feature for feature, the crop sensor will be less expensive than the equivalent full frame.

Pixel count? It seems to me that those currently most likely to purchase a full frame camera are also well aware that pixel count is not critical factor (over a certain limit anyway). Quite likely the FF buyer will be asking for NO increase in pixels, in favour of better dynamic range, low noise etc.

The "old" 5D is now out-pixeled by Canon's later APS models, but I don't see any indication of 5D owners "upgrading".

Where I think we are going is something I suggested when the 1Ds was first released. APS will be the "new 35mm" and full frame the "new medium format", and I think the market break down will be similar - by extension, I guess digital MF would be the new "large format".



These arguments about whether full-frame will "win" always seem a bit limited, why does one format have to triumph?

With film there was a big incentive for different systems to use the same stuff, but within that different systems evolved to fill different needs. Put an OM-4ti next to an EOS-1, both with fast 35mm lenses. And a 35ti compact too...

Digital cameras are trying to meet much the same set of desires, only now the designers have a lot more freedom. The current full-frame set are all large cameras, and each new generation fast prime lenses seems bigger than the last. They're only targeting the buyers who want all that performance.

While at the other end pocket cameras get smaller and smaller. I have somewhere a Nikon Zoom35, the smallest 35mm zoom camera in the world when announced, but it's several times bigger than the Ixii that you'd buy instead today.

In between, I think there's room for quite a few formats. "Serious compacts" like the DP1 and micro-4/3 are becoming more common. Then there are olympus and pentax SLRs, at least with the smaller lenses, and some C/N bodies. And as others have said there's space on the other side of full-frame too, witness the new Leica.

Exactly how many of these formats (or rather, how many systems) will survive, well we'll have to wait and see. But it'll certainly be more than the 3 (APS+35+120) we had in the bad old days.

"These arguments about whether full-frame will 'win' always seem a bit limited, why does one format have to triumph?"

It doesn't, but sometimes it does. I can't list all the formats now on the scrap-heap of history, but I'll bet it's not short. 620? 828? 24x32mm, was it?

The film market repeatedly resisted and defeated efforts to miniaturize below 24x36mm. It would really be fascinating if the same size "wins" in digital and relegates the smaller formats to a footnote, although it does seem much less likely. Certainly it's a lot less likely if you take pocket cameras into account.

Then again, we haven't really begun to feel the effects of medium-format digital. Imagine if you could get the Leica S-System or something similar for $2500-$3k. Would that help or hinder "full frame" (24x36) at $1200?

As usual, I advocate for choice for serious photographers. What's important to me is that photographers who are trying to accomplish something with their pictures have the tools they need or want to do good work. Beyond that I don't care about the consumer markets and all the money questions, although naturally the two things are related, sometimes closely.

Mike J.

"It doesn't, but sometimes it does. I can't list all the formats now on the scrap-heap of history, but I'll bet it's not short. 620? 828? 24x32mm, was it?"

Yes but there's an essential difference there: there was a large incentive to build cameras using film that was available, and a large incentive to make film in formats people bought. This is a network effect, it favours a world with few formats over a world with many.

There isn't room for many competitors to blu-ray, to JPEG, to flash, to PDF, or to USB, because these have similar lock-in effects. But there seems to be room for a million raw formats (because supporting them all doesn't seem a huge burden on software writers) and, if you ask me, for more sensor sizes than survived pre-digital.

In fact at the bottom end this has long since happened. Most people were aware whether their cameras needed 35mm or APS film, but ask anyone how big the sensor in their compact camera (or cellphone, or webcam) is, and you'll get a blank stare. (Even from me!) And even for more serious users, we compare the LX3, DP2, GRD-II, G10, etc on their performance as a system. You don't have to know about sensor size, what matters is how well the whole thing works in lots of light, and in not-so-much light. The sensor size is one of many entangled choices the designers made in building what's now a black box, you just have to choose which box you like.

cameras as aesthetic objects

You don't mention one area in which cameras, including digital, can shine - not just how the thing looks, nor how good its output (which is also a function of the human post-processor), but how it feels in the hand. The ergonomics are a form of beauty.

And of course some people oogled the Canon G9 when it first came out, for purely appearance reasons. (Compare the G10; I don't know if it met the same reception, but the whole idea of a +/-2 EV "compensation" dial is abhorrent to my way of shooting, so it'll fail *my* subjective ergonomics tests.)

"There is of course at least one area which APS will never match against full frame - DOF control. Does this matter? To the majority of camera buyers maybe not."

Colin, for me APS-C beats 35mm (or larger) formats for available light wide angle photography, especially in color and indoors.

Too many blobs and blurs around a single sharp face gets boring sometimes, y'know.

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