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Saturday, 28 January 2012


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Compelling. Seductive.

I keep tell myself that just changing my shooting aspect ratio won't really change the quality of my photography. But look at this column. Look at the shots that illustrate it. I keep imagining what it could do for me ... hmm ...

Guess I'm 'stogy' then. Since I picked up a used Pen F in 1973 I fell in love with the 3:4 ratio. On my OM screen I scribed lines to show the more boxy frame. Don't know why but it just seems 'right' to me.

I hope it goes without saying that different aspect ratios seem right to different people. I owned a square camera for about a year, in the late '80s, an Exakta 66 Model II with a waist-level finder and an 80mm Schneider lens. Rather to my own surprise, I visualized vertical crops everywhere I looked. Consistently, for the entire time I used that camera, I shot verticals, printed about 11.5 inches high by 9 inches wide. I honestly really didn't do it on purpose--it's just the way my eye saw when I was using that camera. Who knows?


Regarding "guide posts" it's nice to know it's not just me being eccentric. Aspect ratio is one reason my next digital camera will likely be a Micro Four Thirds one.

Although I'll say that I do like the 3:2 aspect ratio for street photography and such.


Hear hear. My little Micro 4/3 camera has been set to 1:1 (or as Olympus quaintly calls it, "6:6") since the day I bought it.

always enjoy finding the tell tale twin notches of the hasselblad negative.
superior work from a superior system.

Plus One for not 'feeling' the 35mm frame. I'm sure there's a million people about ready to write in about the 'golden mean', or how that spacing appears in classic architecture, or blah, blah, blah, but I never warmed to something long and thin like that either...

Love the square and have been a life long Hasselblad shooter, but also love the 4X5/8X10 size, so keep an old RB around, BUT, have to say, after years, sometimes everything you start shooting in the square starts to look the same, and the same as every one else that shoots in a square too. Not too hard to go on Flicker, and find tons of people that shoot studio portraits on Hasselblad, and they all sort of look the same, except for the actual people...in a way, when that happens, the RB seems to free me...

Got talked out of the 4/3rd's cameras, by an 'expert', when it was closer to what I wanted to shoot, now I think I'll sell it all for an EV and see myself back in the square...

And please give me a 3:1 aspect ratio. Stitching panoramas is even more of a "we'll do it in post" solution than taking mental scissors to crop to square format. Cropping is wasteful from 3:2 to 1:1 you lose one third, to 3:1 half, from 1:1 to 3:1, you lose fully two thirds of the available pixels.

One of the interesting things about showing my photos mostly on the web is that I can crop free-hand to any shape I like, without worrying about paper sizes the way I did all those years in the darkroom.

I even end up choosing square sometimes.

It seems like the optimum aspect ratio would depend largely on the subject matter, the print size or the editorial "hole" you need to fill. Just shoot "loose" and edit later.

As a 3:2 fan, I couldn't even get used to my 6x7. What puzzles me with your frustration is, aside from the "wasted" information on the output file, why didn't you just mask a square on your focus screen? It would take less than 5 minutes. And probably even less on a point and shoot's LCD. Seems like you lived with a lot of suffering!

I share your affinity for the square frame, Kirk. I keep hoping that someone will see a market for a digital Rolleiflex. But until then it's a rather unsatisfactory Crop City, one way or the other.

I grew up with 35mm as my only option, and it wasn't until years later that I thought about 120 and other formats. I never liked the TLR for size and parallax, and Hassy? forget it. I could as soon buy my own ocean liner. Further, I don't feel that one format fits all my images. The content drives the format. Now my DSLRs are 35mm format, and I don't worry about format. Bless Photoshop. I know that if I can get tne image into the frame, I can, with little or no loss of image quality, crop to any format I feel fits the image. And now I can experiment to a degree I could never have done in a wet darkroom. I love it.
Ain't progress great???

I'm with Kirk completely on this one. That's why I love the GXR and Olympus Pen. Both give you a 1 X 1 option. I don't particularly like cropping. I'd rather look through the viewfinder and photograph what I'm going to print. I'd probably like 3:2 on my Nikon D700 more if I could find some nice 13 x 19 frames. I can live with 4:3 because Ikea makes some nice frames with an included 11.5 x 15.5 mat.

Very interesting - never tried composing in the square format.

When you shoot in the square format how often, if ever, do you want to change the aspect ratio in post?

I love the 3:2 format. Printed full frame uncropped with a black margin for years.

I can usually crop my 6x7 shots to fit 3:2 as well.

I could shoot for the rest of my life with a 35mm and a 135mm lens on a full frame 35mm camera. In fact, that's probably 90% of my work for the last 20 years.

Doesn't mean I don't like square format prints from somebody else - I just don't see things that way myself.

Every now and then you read an article which is so spot on with you own thinking that it becomes scary. I use an M9, D700 and X100 but something happens when I pick up my Ricoh GXR and switch over to square format. I do not even think about framing, it just happens naturally, and every photo is perfect, at least to me. I think that the Ricoh GXR with A12 modules, is one of the most under appreciated camera out there.

Even though I'm a baby boomer I never used film cameras. I never considered or experimented with Square format images. That is until I built my personal website.

I wanted to create a reusable page design that included text and a slideshow. Square format seemed the right approach because it would accommodate both landscape and portrait images. That worked well except that the excess white space surrounding the rectangular images seemed wasteful. Then I started creating square images for the site. Bingo! I found that I had a natural inclination to see images in 1:1 ratio. Many of my images had a strong square composition buried with the rectangular frame. Now I shoot 1:1 much of the time.

Still the idea of wasting all those pixels in my rectangular sensor makes me wish for a real square sensor switchable to rectangular format.

I love viewing the world through a 1:1 aspect ratio. Once upon a time, I thought Canon might introduce a digital square dSLR format. Hah!

I had always found that the 35 mm format fit me like a glove, though I had no idea why until a workshop instructor described it as "a short panoramic" compared to the less oblong 8x10" prevailing print size. The first time I had some custom prints made from my slides, I was appalled to find they chopped off the ends of each image to fit the 11x14" paper.

Most of my photography these days involves stitched panoramics using a tripod, so the format ends up being whatever the image needs, post-hoc. But this involves a lot of 'guestimation' at the capture stage, and it'd be nice to have something more concrete to look through. My ideal camera would have a big fat sensor with sufficient resolution for most practical print sizes, and a high resolution electronic viewfinder that could be masked on the fly to match the perfect format for that particular photograph.

I can dream, can't I?

An adequately pixel-endowed, 1.5:1(3:2)AR digital camera, especially a reflex one with interchangeable focusing screens, gives ready access to all aspect ratios from 1x1 to 3:1 and beyond. If you can't visually superimpose with your imagination, the desired aspect ratio can easily be marked in pencil on the interchangeable screen. There is no inherent nobility to being a slave to the aspect ratio the box was built with.

I love square. I love it so much I still shoot film squares, but only for me. For clients, they get the rectangles they desire, digital and perfect. But, when I go out to make a photograph for myself, it's a square, perfect in shape, invisible, not insisting that you make it a horizontal or vertical, just is what it is, simple. I've dabbled with the 1:1 aspect ratio on my GH2, and like it enough to use it that way when I'm out and about casually and not wanting to carry my Hasselblad. It's close, but the short lenses and limited dynamic range irk me. I'm not ready to give up my old Swedish battle axes just yet.

I agree thoroughly, and have thought about this a lot. The 1:1 setting on my little LX5 has proven to be very comforting (and useful).

I don't own the square so I'm not trying to sell it to anyone else. I'm saying that everyone should experiment to be sure they're using a format that resonates well with them.

To the people who think cropping or masking is the same as composing in a finder and seeing the same composition on their film or digital file, I would ask, "Do you know of any painters using long or tall canvasses who, when entirely finished with a painting, chop off the parts they don't like?"

Working with the right tools and, in this case, the right aspect ratio for the way you innately see, removes at least one level of friction in the creation of your uniquely seen photography.

Suffering? Not what I would call suffering.

I'm surprised these mirrorless cameras don't have, beyond the usual aspect choices, room for one more: custom. Just enter your numbers and enjoy.

I exclusively "shot square" for several years back in the late '90s and early '00s, and even taped an 8" square on the ground-glass of my Toyo 810G so that I could also comopose and shoot square with my view camera.

However, once I bought my first serious digital camera (a Panasonic DMC-LC1 in 2004) and began working with the 4:3 format, I also began to warm to a more rectangular format and eventually left the square behind, along with film.

Which is not to say that I don't still see "squares" sometimes, and this is one of the reasons I added an Olympus E-P1 to my toolbox. But the 3:2 format is definitely a non-starter for me and it's for this reason alone that I haven't yet bought an M9, as I can't imagine trying to compose for the 4:3 format while staring at 3:2 brightlines in the middle of a much larger frame...

Ahem.."..stodgy and boxy 4:3 ratio"???

This goes to the heart of the main problem I've always had with photography and photographers (I'm a painter/sculptor also doing photography). There's this "notion" that there's something sacrosanct about aspect ratios. THERE ISN'T.

Kirk, you have fallen into photography's worst little cul-de-sac, and down that street all the cars are up on blocks. That you said the above about 4:3 ratio, the one used for "Casablanca" and "The Third Man", among so many others---and we won't go into the still photography area on this one, or into the other visual arts---just too much territory to cover here--- in your piece underlines how much this ultimately winds up being individual taste.

As far as the golden section and Vetruvian Man and etc. are concerned: I can show you how wonderful proportions and compositions can be had in so many formats it'll make you dizzy. Now modern cameras give you a way to impose multiple possible formats on your images in-cam. But I have a better way:

CROP. More precisely, crop to suit subject matter and content. Don't have the tail wag the dog.

4/3 is 1.33:1, the same as Silent Movies and Standard Definition television. 4X5 is 1.25:1. A magazine page is about 1.3:1, so either 4/3 or 4x5 is a good size, unless you are shooting for a 2 page spread (double truck) which is about 3x2.

I like 1:1 for Portraits or Fine Art, but I don't shoot either. Although I'll sometime crop 1:1 to get rid of an unsightly background for my personal work.

Life would be so much easier if one size did fit all. Well, I guess we could go back to 6x6 Film, and crop after the fact. 8-)

No doubt 1:1 frees up composition, especially for portraiture- sometimes the less territory one has to balance and incorporate lets you concentrate on the subject itself. Variable aspect ratio is the best thing digital has going for it in my book.

Thanks Kirk.
I like composing with a square viewfinder. The square field of view is so intuitive (to me) that framing becomes an almost childish task. I had thought everyone was like me, but was surprised to realize most people are much more comfortable with the oblong 3:2 ratio. I've been told off many times for cropping my digital images to form squares. Some of my friends are just too anal to imagine a world without choice between horizontal and vertical. They are genuinely appalled by the terrible waste of good pixels when setting the EVF to the dreaded "6:6" box. And seeing that I don't even bother with RAW they really become nervous.

I definitely feel more at home with square or nearly square (4:5) than I do with 3:2, which just feels too long to me.

More to the point I find when a square format composition works, it really, really works for me.

I'll sometimes crop my 6x6 shots to 4:5 ratio if that would work better. I can stomach losing 1/5th of the 6x6 negative a whole lot more than losing 1/5th of a 35mm frame to get the same ratio.

The other day I was looking at some specs for a new camera (can't recall which one) and noticed that it offered a 1:1 ratio. I thought that was a good thing. My first camera was a 6x6 box thing I bought in 1960. Although it was a cheap camera the 2 1/4" x 2 1/4" contact images were very sharp. And last year a fellow photographer began encouraging me to crop to square. He said he noticed that was how I was seeing the image but was failing to do enough cropping!

My first camera was "square" (Kodak Brownie Hawkeye - which pretty much dates me...).

I've been shooting the E-PL1 in 4:3 but Kirk's post got me out of my chair (!!!) to check the 6:6 ratio on the Olympus.

I'm going to have to give this a go - in B&W, of course. Like being 7 years old again.

Now...where did I leave those flash bulbs?

Thanks Kirk!



The preference for the square was, I think, derived from baby-boom aesthetics which put a premium on very intimate close-up portraits with a strong emphasis on the eyes and visual isolation through the use of wide-open lenses, and a kind of abstraction gained from cutting off unexpected pieces of the body -- the hands, the top of the head. The square was perfect for that.

Older-style portraits, in the vertical "portrait" orientation, often put more emphasis on signs of status, involving clothing, surroundings (books), other people or animals, and even things like guns. The square wasn't so good for that. (See Avedon, The American West.)

I do think some people "see" better in a particular aspect ratio. I'm not even sure that it's photographic training that does it. I wonder if the preference for squareness, among baby-boomers, might not go back to the aspect ratio of early televisions...and if in fact that whole baby-boom aesthetic might not go back to the way TV cameras cut off pieces of bodies, and, at critical moments, often closed in tight on the subject's eyes, to show concern, or fright, or whatever...

I've also got 4/3 cameras, and to tell you the truth, I immediately liked 4/3 better than 3:2. I moved on to 1:1, and then back to 4/3 -- it seems I do like a little rectangularness (?) in my composition.

It is as though you wrote this from inside my head Kirk.

Much as I like my view cameras, I do lament that they don't offer what my 'Blad or Rollei SL66 or Mamiya TLRs afforded me. The 'L7' .... or square view of the world.

I still have an S-Planar 120mm lens, maybe I should find a 500 series Swede to which I can affectionately bond it.


On the subject of EVF, it might be advantageous to be able to adjust the opacity of the "blacked-out" part of the crop much like the said adjustment in Photoshop. You could still see what your choice of aspect ratio is "blacking" out.
I too like the square format and miss using the Hasselblad. Thinking of all the money I've spent on digital DSLRs and lenses, I probably should have just bought one of those $10,000 digital backs for the 500cm :)

"your piece underlines how much this ultimately winds up being individual taste."

But of course! That's the whole point of the piece.

Kirk isn't saying 4:3 *is* stodgy and boxy, he's saying it is *for him.* And he's right...for him.


The 6:6 mode is what kept me in the 4:3 and micro 4:3 formats for so long. It was also one of the best things about the Ricoh GXR (along with a uncannily good and controllable tilt simulation). I'm a square-lover too, and the square (in my case in the form of a Czech made Flexaret VI I bought for $30 when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Slovakia) was also an important thing in the development of my photographic eye. Two years ago I went to Vietnam with nothing but an E-P1, 20/1.7 lens and a 12-60mm 4:3 lens with adapter that I pretty much never used. The E-P1 was set to 6:6 the whole time, and I had a blast with it. I wish the Sony Nex would add this in firmware.

I never mind the people who eschew these modes as "wasting sensor space". The gain, as you point out, in being able to "see" in squares far makes up for it. Thanks for articulating all of that so nicely, Kirk.

All your aspect ratio are belong to us!


Love the photo of the swimmer with the goggles Kirk, it's just perfect.

To this day, I haven't been able to reconcile making many more of my best photos with 3:2 but liking 1:1 better. Both the aesthetic and the taking process. I plan on trying a screen with 1:1 cropping on my DSLR, but I suspect it will only be an exercise and not a solution.

What would be really nice is if they let you set whatever aspect ratio you wanted, e.g., 5x7, 6.5x8.5, and 7x17.

Those that remember my article "Up With Squares" recently published here at TOP and inspired from Mike's article "Why Not Square Sensors?" shouldn't be surprised that I'm total agreement with this article.
Mike's article and mine were mostly about fitting digital cameras with square sensors to please more shooters and enhancing handling and convenience. Kirk's is actually about the beauty of the square frame. I didn't mention it because it was beyond the intention of my article. But I couldn't agree more. Nothing beats the square for portraits of people, animals and objects. Even some landscapes work great in squares like small waterfalls, secluded creeks, etc. The square helps the intimacy needed for such subjects. It helps the viewer feel immediacy and rapport with the subject. Rectangulars don't help for this. For close portraits square is at its best. A marriage made in heaven.

Yes! I never understood 3:2, and even 4:3 was awkward.

But with the Panasonic LX3 I grew to love the square, and it is the same with the LX5. How natural!

While it's getting better, there's still the essential problem that shooting RAW all non-native aspect ratios get ignored in post. I'd be much more excited if the mirrorless manufacturers adopted multi-aspect sensors to match their ratios. Panasonic most or less succeeds with the GH1 and GH2 (except for 1:1), but nobody else has.


I always thought (and still do) that twin and single lens reflexes like the Rollei's, Hasselblads and so on, used the square 6 x 6 format because an oblong aspect ratio is unworkable when viewed at waist level when it comes to making vertical pictures. With a square, you could go either way - oblong proper or vertical. Or square, of course. The negatives were large enough to stand some cropping. If I remember correctly, the etchings on the screen were such that they made it easy to 'see' those crops.
Another thought on aspect ratio. It often happened in the old days (my old days, when I was a young bloke, in the late sixties) that photographers started to shoot on 35mm and a few years later, finances permitting, moved up to 6x6cm for quality reasons. And from that moment onward, often the majority of pictures from such an 'upgraded' photographer would be square, too. I never understood that. An aspect ratio should be determined by one's vision, one's taste or personal aesthetics, not just by a change of camera's. Imagine a painter who only makes square paintings because the painter's supply shop around the corner only happens to stock square canvases. Buying a camera because it has one's desired aspect ratio, is of course an entirely different matter.

I enjoyed the provocation Kirk but maybe we do not all see in a format. And I'm not convinced I can impose my format on all that I see. I do see with a narrow field of view,perhaps from the limits of peering at the world from the center of -10 diopter glasses all my life. I like macro and long lens views in my nature photography. As I attempt to compose a shot I frequently feel the 3x2 does not fit what I am trying to do. And I crop. I get the feeling that the image dictates the aspect ratio to me. Sometimes square, sometimes not. My flying birds are horizontal. Moving objects seem to need space to move into. But in looking back I did crop some anew to square. Apologies all around for cropping . I like your examples but maybe the last one could be vertical as well.

Now that I have a m43 camera (gh2), I'll have to go out and try seeing square, setting the aspect to square and not changing it for a few days. Thanks for the article in getting me to think differently.

As an old Minolta Autocord, Mamiya C330 and Kowa user (all 6x6 format) I agree with you completely. I had the prism for the Mamiya and Kowa so the backwards viewfinder was not an issue with those. The Autocord had the mentioned flip up viewfinder and magnifier thingy. It wasn't too hard to adapt though.

What would help just a little bit would be for the manufacturers to provide user menu selectable grid lines in your digital SLR viewfinder that depict standard print formats.

If someone wants to play around with a square format camera on the cheap then download the app "6x6" for your iPhone and practice your square composition with that. You can even set it to give the reversed image if you are so inclined.

If you also get the "SnapSeed app you can tweak it and (shudder) crop it to a desired final format if you decide that sqaure isn't for you.

Funny, I like 3:2 and recently picked up a Rolleicord because I enjoyed shooting squares wit the P&S. I like, though haven't really got use dto 6 by 7 aka 4 by 5, but I really don't liek 4:3 at all. Don't know why, but I detest it and the best thing about the competition to m4/3 in my mind is the removal of the base 4:3 ratio.

No logic, but there you go.


How about a poll: "What is your least favourite aspect ratio?". Let's give manufacturers data on which to base future camera decisions.

Well I've only recently discovered the joys of the square format and to me it's also part of reducing my the variables.
Square format, Tri-X AT 200, ID-11 1+1, Foma fibre paper. It's a bit like when years ago I took lots of lenses with me, the decision making got in the way. The less choices I have to make, the more I photograph, the more I enjoy it, and in my opinion, the results are better. For me it's all about removing obstacles and square format does that for me.

You're over explaining, why? This whole post reads like you're justifying yourself. The photographers curse.

Right on! I think offering different aspect ratios is an indication that Olympus and Panasonic "get" digital. I won't be buying any more cameras that restrict me to one format.

There is a Flickr group called The Square Party that (surprise) showcases only square format images. Having reviewed a number of other "square" groups on Flickr, this one seems to stand above the rest and I find myself often inspired by the work I see there. Recommended.

I can work with all the boxier formats, but square will always be my first love. I sometimes wonder if this is a function of my vision - I've got two 20/20 eyes, but thanks to a childhood lazy eye (or wandering, I always get them confused) I don't have binocular vision. I see out of one eye and the other acts as a kind of peripheral vision.

Funny, many photographers prefer the square format precisely because they CAN crop later, without having to invert the camera for verticals. Thinking outside the box, so to speak.

A Hasselblad-shooting friend who seems barely aware of digital was talking about some 'panoramic' work he'd seen recently. I pressed for more information and the shots turned out to be regular 3:2 APS-C landscapes. I had to laugh but I suppose that if you shoot square your whole life, I, 3:2 is panoramic.

I happen to like the ratio of regular 35mm a lot but agree on the need to see what you're going to get as you frame, whatever aspect ratio you choose. I can't imagine routinely having to crop every shot just to get to a square — what a depressing idea.

Great column, Kirk.

And I'm glad you enjoyed using a Yashicamat. That Tessar type lens is so sharp.

Some snappers are well and truly hide bound when it comes to formats. Apparently, Oscar B. of Leica fame organised the perfect format for many who slavishly obey his dictate.

Camera magazines were fond of quoting the happy snappers proudly stating they "always printed full-frame (3:2)", as if every silver grain was sacred (to the Monty Python hymn, no doubt) as if their compositions were so perfectly attuned to Oscar's format.

It's good fun to use my Voigtlander Perkeo E 6x6 compact folder now and then (Tri-X, D-76) and scan the neg's. Even to print at maybe 6:5.789...

Article really caused me to re-think what I like & do. I've only been using a TLR for a year+, and find the compositions exciting. Print them 16X16 on 16X20 paper. But I miss the camera movements available with the larger formats. 8X10 and 4X5 always seem unnatural, therefore less frequently used. Did get a 5X7 reducing back, and do like those negs especially for architectural images.
Decided, though, to try my 8X10 with a cut-off darkslide (& tape on ground-glass); and will try some 8X8s to see if they better fit my vision. Thanks, Kirk, for the great article.

Aye. Similar here: I don't think I really "got" the idea of composition until I went square (Lubitel 166B followed by increasingly expensive MF 6x6 gear).

My own preferences are mostly square (closeup work) or 16:9 (landscape), 3:2 for making most use of the sensor and I detest 4:3 - just feels so *fat*. Strangely, I've also come to loathe 5x4 - as with square, I shot it as real film; however, I realise that my best 5x4 work is cropped to square or other aspect-ratios.

Hmmm... I always thought of the square as the “easy way out” of composition, because it's so easy to make all kinds of subject matter look good in it. It started way back in school when the teacher passed around his Hasselblad for the students to fumble and admire. I still remember the instant I looked down into that viewfinder, I just needed to shift the camera a little this way or that, and a pleasing composition magically appeared... it just seemed a bit too easy to me, so I always thought of the square as kind of “cheating” at composition (after all, this is “art”, so it should at least be “difficult”, right?) These days I often crop my digital Canon files to square and I like the results, but it still feels like cheating...

Hmmm... Maybe I should reconsider and fully embrace my love affair with 1:1... Maybe it is legit after all...

I still shoot with my Rolleis...a 2.8E and a Rollei T. I don't about digital squares.

BTW, Kirk, I enjoyed reading your Leica M6 review with all the comments from readers. Thanks!

I think I need to switch one of my cameras to 6:6 and try shooting for a while. I've grown very used to 4:3 (and really don't care for 3:2), but a substantial fraction of what I shoot ends up cropped square anyway. I know that I often find myself composing a shot with the idea that I don't need to worry about the sure-to-be-cropped horizontal dimension. Perhaps the increased discipline imposed by actually shooting to the correct aspect ratio will be good for me. It'll be a fun experiment, anyway.

For several years I owned Rollei SL66 bodies and three wonderful Zeiss lenses. Coming from 35mm, I thought I would have trouble with the square format, but boy, I was wrong.

It wasn't that only square became right, it was that I could see square and shift back to rectangular/35 without becoming disoriented or making a mess of compositions. I'm not patting myself on the back, not saying every composition was perfect, just that it wasn't jarring.

I think the choice provided by an EVF is marvelous. Hadn't thought of that before; thanks, Kirk.

This inspired me to move my Canon G12 to 1:1; off for a days shooting later and very exited!

"Do you know of any painters using long or tall canvasses who, when entirely finished with a painting, chop off the parts they don't like?"

Painters add elements, photographers take them away

It's usually said that square is the hardest to get right so perhaps Kirk is a genius :)

For me one of the great things about digital reprography* is that I can easily crop to the aspect ratio that best suits the subject, and I previsualise accordingly.

I do like cameras that have variable aspect ratios - even if they are faked via cropping - because it's more often possible to get the composition correct before I push the button. It's also useful when a specific print format is the intended result.

I would like to see a camera that allowed the aspect ratio to be customised for each shot and a few ratios saved: it'd be nearly useless for action but very useful for static subjects.

*Pedantic point: it's not photography until you print via a silver halide process.

Back in the late 1960s my parents gifted me with a second hand Olympus Pen D, a 35mm half frame camera, Standard aspect ratio was portrait rather than landscape. Being my first camera, that may have imposed a different way to look at things - certainly, most of my early photographs were shot with that aspect ratio. The next year, sensing a certain fascination, I was gifted with a second hand Durst enlarger and other darkroom equipment and allowed to turn a utility room into a darkroom. Not content to limit myself to just the starter camera, I (and a similarly interested friend) haunted camera swap meets to find other cameras to have fun with - box, folding, and rangefinder cameras of all kinds and aspect ratios, as long as they were not expensive - we tried out everything we could. I have to say that the TLRs were not my favorite back then. Many of these cameras had unusual aspect ratios within the standard film sizes - but I was processing myself, so who cared. I had a number of 35mm cameras and also a well beloved Pen FT (which I still have, Oh God, the 40mm!). Square aspect ratio never resonated with me in the old days, but a lot of what I was shooting was action, like motorcycle races, for a number of years and I think that the landscape aspect ratio works better for action (in most cases). Back in the day, I cropped to what the shot needed regardless of aspect ratio. More recently, I didn't think a lot about aspect ratio, happy to shoot at 4/3 for many years, but I have been following Kirk's VSL Blog for some time. I now find that a significant number of my shots are much happier at 1/1. I can't say that I actively shoot to this aspect ratio, but when I crop, there I am. Square seems to work for me these days...

Kirk, resonate is the appropriate word. It summarizes your essay and the comments.

The Sony R1 would have been great with an option of a square aspect ratio. Ditto for the Sony f828. And Sony, why not a 1:1 option for the NEX cameras?

36MP Nikon D700? You can crop anything out of that you want.

We all visualize differently, we all have different aesthetics and every subject needs a different aspect ratio. If you don't like extreme rectangular aspect ratios, how about this?


First brought to my attention on this very blog!

Square? Nice for some ideas. 3:4? nice as well. 3:2? reminds me of many classic shots. 16:9.... OK you know what I mean.

Actually the sensor that is the best "average" for every aspect ratio from widescreen to square is, ahem, 2:3. Only by accident of course....

I don't understand. I just crop to whatever shape I wish, with no consideration of ratios whatever.

I always have, pre-digital too.

Am I some sort of ignoramus?

I like shooting square at times; but more to the point, I fully empathize with the "guide posts" sentiment. Same goes for color or b/w. I have little interest in converting from color to b/w in post. Maybe with a b/w preview, I could try it, but it's hard to want to shoot b/w knowing my camera is recording color filtered data. For the same reason, I'd prefer to shoot square with a square sensor than a crop, even with a live preview, but the live preview is definitely helpful. I shot square with a DSLR for an online forum "challenge" and did ok with it, but I wouldn't have the discipline to do that on an ongoing basis. What I'd love is a dedicated niche camera that shoots square - something like the new Fuji - better still if it were available in a dedicated b/w version, too.

If I may--with any kind of writing or teaching on the arts, you take it if you want it, use it if you need it, and if you don't want it or need it, then you ignore it.

In any event, no one is calling you a name.


One of my shortcomings as a journalist is my inability to write a story without first forming my lede.

I also don't shoot intending to crop later, and if square was my thing, doing so would make me crazy and depressed. Fortunately, 3:2 suits me just fine.

Not that I wouldn't mind options...

I shot Rolleiflex for over thirty years, l love the square and also 4/3 much less so 3/2. I also paint, my latest body of work is all on square canvas, it seems like the right thing to do.


I guess format preference is very personal. Ansel Adams used a Hasselblad for most of his work in the latter part of his life, and cropped everything into a rectangle. I don't think I've ever seen a square image from him. He said the had no problem visualizing the rectangular crop he wanted in the square viewfinder of the Hasselblad.

Personally I like the 2:3 aspect ratio for horizontals, but frequently find myself cropping something off the top or bottom with verticals. We all see differently. But I certainly support aspect ratio freedom. It never made sense to me that when Canon and Nikon started making digital cameras they stuck with the 2:3 aspect ratio. Why not square, or even better, circular (to match the lens coverage), and let people crop however they want, plus save us the annoyance of having to flop the camera sideways for vertical or portrait orientation?

To the people who think cropping or masking is the same as composing in a finder and seeing the same composition on their film or digital file, I would ask, "Do you know of any painters using long or tall canvasses who, when entirely finished with a painting, chop off the parts they don't like?"
Speaking from experience, in my case masking the lcd on an E-520 with post-its, cropping in post worked just fine. The default square crop lands precisely in the middle, just like the mask. Two keystrokes and done.

Also speaking from experience, I have taken a saw to at least one of my paintings because I was not satisfied with the ratio of the surface or the material I had painted on the extraneous part. But do not take this as true disagreement, rather that no matter how specific the example, on the internet, someone will have a counter example. :)

Also, I want to thank you for your quick and kind response to a question that I emailed you about earlier this month. Let it be known that Kirk is a class act.
Wishing you the best,

Note that when you change the aspect ratio in your camera, the result depends on whether or not your camera uses a Single Aspect Ratio Sensor, or a Multi-aspect Ratio Sensor.

Single Aspect Ratio crops the area on the sensor to give a ratio other than 4:3, whereas Multi-aspect Ratio utilizes the full width of the sensor (except for 1:1).

In m4/3, the GH2 offers Multi-aspect Ratio, utilizing a clever trick,

"where spare pixels around the edges of a slightly larger sensor are used to maintain the angle of view when shooting in different aspect ratios.

The GH2 does this by actually having an 18 Megapixel sensor with a fractionally larger surface area behind the scenes.

This means the GH2 can not only maintain its angle of view as the aspect ratio is changed, but also minimise any loss of resolution.

In contrast, the G3, like most cameras, will crop its images when shooting at anything wider than its native aspect ratio - which in this case is 4:3 - and those crops will also gradually reduce the angle of view."

(see: http://www.cameralabs.com/reviews/Panasonic_Lumix_DMC_G3/ )

(Scroll down to "Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 sensor and processing")

Here is a typical comparison of ratios:


Note that in both cases, 1:1 is cropped.

See this article:


(Scroll down to "Multi-aspect Sensor." to see a diagram of the sensor)



Mandeno Moments wrote,

*Pedantic point: it's not photography until you print via a silver halide process.

Not necessarily so.

Unfortunately, the word "photograph" was hijacked by the silver halide era to refer to the print.

But the original meaning word is broader:


a combining form meaning "light"


a combining form meaning “drawn,” "written” (lithograph; monograph);

specialized in meaning to indicate the instrument rather than the written product of the instrument (telegraph; phonograph).


photo- "light" + -graph "instrument for recording."

That is, recording light.

(Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2012.)

Nice post as always from Mr Tuck. I use a few different formats, but have no overall preference. In general 3:2 feels good for street photography, square - or squarer - for more compositionally oriented photography. I find my choice of shot, subject and composition is determined by whatever I'm using - and so whatever I'm using is determined by what type of images I'm looking for.

Having said that - I do end up cropping quite a few 3:2 images ;-)

Personally I did the opposite Kirk.....I started using a LX3 that gave me just that, choice.....so I worked my way through all formats (except 2 x 3 that I hated since my days using an F3 and F5). Now I enjoy medium format film....and there I have the choice of 6x6 using a Mamiya or 6x8 using a Fuji GX or 6x9 using a Fuji GSW. And guess what, I stopped caring.....now I take the tool I have at hand and frame my photo carefully but the large negatives and scans (up to 70 Mp) give me the possibility to take matters into my own hand and crop until I and not Mamiya or Fuji decide what aspect ratio's my photo's have. Next stop 4x5 and 6x12.......see what that will change.

When my Fujifilm X Pro 1 arrives I plan to select the 1:1 view option (which gives about 10 MP) and see how I adapt.

I also like he 1:1 format and I think that this format makes much more sense technically because it utilises the lens much better than a rectangular frame. And with an evf and no moving mirror there is imho no good reason not to make the sensor square. Well maybe grips will not sell anymore.

Interesting thoughts, I have a soft spot for 3:2 in the horizontal format for landscapes. Just look at the human eye (as in one of your lovely pictures). The ratio of the horizontal (from the outer to the inner canthus)to the vertical (from upper to lower eyelid margins) looks about 3:2 to me. We naturally scan across, and feel most relaxed looking into the distance when the lens of the eye is in a relaxed state. Mind you chilling out and contemplative states aren't everything.

An interesting essay (stimulating too judged by the number of comments).

The word 'format' kept coming up in comments, along with 'aspect ratio' and 'frame' - all rigid methodology to me.

I only say this because I'm one of those photographers (surely I can't be the only one) who doesn't compose pictures in viewfinder or on the ground glass. I've always seen the picture with my eyes, then use a camera to record it. The shape has come out of that.

My background is corporate photography, my interest is street photography but the principle still holds

Hits the nail right on the head... squarely...

Mike wrote: "While it's getting better, there's still the essential problem that shooting RAW all non-native aspect ratios get ignored in post. I'd be much more excited if the mirrorless manufacturers adopted multi-aspect sensors to match their ratios."

Panasonic gets this right with the LX3 and LX5, as the RAW contains exactly the data as selected by the aspect ratio switch. No need for cropping in post-processing.

Wonderful photos Kirk!

After reading this this morning, I went out and deliberately had a wonderful day today shooting 6:6 on my Olympus XZ-1 in "Dramatic Tone" mode. Wheeee-oooo!! The XZ-1 is an absolute hoot!!

I am surprised by the 4:3 hatred expressed by some of the commenters – if they tried 12:9 maybe they would get the bigger picture.

A few months ago a couple of us mused on a discussion list that what is really needed is a camera with a round sensor.

All raw files could be shot "full round frame", with, for those who chose to use it, a menu option to set the aspect ratio of the in-camera jpegs to one of the usual choices, including square. Automatic viewfinder masking would be an additional feature.

For those of us who shoot raw only, the final aspect ratio of the image would be set by an option in the conversion software.

To me, this makes a huge amount of sense.

Also, since going all digital 11 years go, the only two things I miss about my long gone Hasselblads are the square format and the 38mm Biogon on that SWC/M. But I really miss them!

Gee, I just remembered I have a Zeiss Tenax http://camerapedia.wikia.com/wiki/Tenax_I which is 24mmx24mm in my rather meagre collection- I may just get an urge to go out and shoot a roll!!!- it all still works fine. Bruce

Yet again a TOP post coincides with something I'm doing, or considering.

Doing - my first ever purchase of 120 film arrived today. To be used in my parents' old (square format) Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta IV. Also taking the opportunity to try out some of Kodak's much revered B&W films... whilst we still can.

Considering - setting my Ricoh GXR to square format for a while. It my help attune my thinking and vision, before using the Zeiss, and those mere 12 exposures it can take, per roll.

I think some of the comments are missing the point . It is true that different people would prefer different aspect ratios. BUT what this article illustrates is that each one should try to find the one or two aspect ratios that he or she prefers to show its images. The ones who write that it does not matter , that you can just crop left and right are missing something. Think of an exhibit of images. It is very common to find ONE or TWO different apsect ratios in a series not four or five or six. In 25 years of photography , I NEVER was comfortable with the 3;2 ratio . and it is worse when shooting verticals. so I always like to have a more square ratio from pure square to 4;3
hope manufacturers would read this as we see more and more 3;2 ratio only


Also, the square format is awesome, didn't know the 4:3 cameras had a mode for that! Really considering to get one now...

"Fixed aspect ratios are monuments to the stupidity of man."

You're all wrong, 4:5 is the golden, most awesome, bestest ratio in photography. Sheesh, I thought this was common knowledge!

My parents used to play golf with a Dutch couple that was very frugal. My mother´s preferred style of play was to pick a longer club than typically necessary and hit it slow and gentle to get the required distance. This made her Dutch golf buddies very uncomfortable as they complained that she was "wasting" club length. Of course this is not a rational reaction if you think about it.

Many photographers will have similar misgivings about adopting the suggested method of obtaining square format compositions, for fear of "wasting" pixles that are in the sensor or the viewfinder. Go figure...

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