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Tuesday, 28 June 2016


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I have the full Canon kit at work (5Ds, a couple of 1D4 bodies, all the lenses), but more and more I'm shooting my assignments with the Fuji system and keeping the Canon for when I need "medium format" :) . I'm thinking at this point I could just trade the Canon stuff for some actual medium format gear, as it's getting more and more affordable, and then I would have a much more clearly defined choice between systems. Grab the MF for careful landscapes on a tripod, or the Fuji for candid people and travel.

I think the Leica S would be perfect if it weren't for the need to sell both kidneys.

I think it's a consequence of the ubiquity of cameraphones. Small sensors that are capable of large DoF are everywhere. So one of the simplest ways to tell if a photo was taken on a "real" camera is if it has a shallow DoF. So popular tastes (in certain genres at least) tend to push towards that as a differentiator between casual and "professional" looking images.

You see a similar thing happening with film presets these days too.

I think the shallow DOP is really appreciated in motion picture production as a way to isolate the subject and render the background as background (not in competition with the subject). And to do pull-focus which is very effective as a motion picture technique.

I neglected to say that I'm having a ton of fun with my full frame camera, but yes, high depth of field shots are more complicated with larger sensors.

I noticed that Hasselblad's sample images for their new camera do not emphasize low depth of field at all. Three of them look like a smartphone could have been used.

When I used to live in Alaska I went out shooting a few times with an incredibly experienced nature photographer and prolific photobook author,
Bob Armstrong, who usually shot his insect shots with superzoom cameras because of their small sensors. He also shot jpeg, another can-of-worms.

I use the depth-of-field characteristics of small sensors to my advantage with my “Street Scene” shots, which I shoot from the hip. I currently use a Lumix LX7 for that work, and I manually set the aperture at 3.5 or 4 because I need a really high shutter speed. Even that wide I can manually pre-focus to a field from about 1 meter to infinity. Not something you could do at f3.5 on a FF or even a 4/3 sensor.

When the LX-100 came out I got pretty excited about the possibility of having a larger sensor for this work while still using the same line of compact cameras (I started with the LX2, then LX3 and LX5). But then I realized I would have to shoot at f8 or so, and that most likely wouldn’t work except maybe in full sunlight. So I’m sticking with the LX7.

BTW, I need high shutter speeds because I get motion blur even at 1/500 sometimes. I’m not sure why; I feel like I’m holding the camera steady enough, but guess there’s something about shooting while walking and panning blindly that involves more motion than you’d think, or maybe it’s just messing with the OIS.

Fashion aside, there is one specific technique that is more difficult with smaller sensors: a wide angle of view of a subject at moderate (3 meter) distance, where the background at a medium distance (20 meters) is lower in contrast, making the subject seem to have higher acutance.

The typical kit zoom for any camera makes this difficult to pull off, so it seems to beginners like the problem is the sensor. In my opinion, in the film days, it was easier. Highlight rolloff drops contrast at a distance, as does grain, lenses were not that contrasty outside the zone of sharp focus, and, of course, sensors were bigger, so there were more depth of field choices.

Kirk Tuck, just this past week, was talking about how medium format film cameras had a special advantage with depth of field: the "focus ramp" was steeper. (His term.) Longer lenses (with larger absolute apertures) he indicated, roll off areas of sharp focus to areas of soft focus more rapidly. Is this in fact true? Certainly this is something I've been looking for.

DX works just fine for my back and my wallet.

Bah! No such thing as "too shallow". And I don't really feel "group tasted".
Remember, everyone's an island. And though you might think other islands are just like yours, they aren't, not really. Think back to the "Food for the poor" box.

Back when I was still shooting transparency film, I seriously considered switching from 35 mm to medium format, after seeing the gorgeous work in Robert Glenn Ketchum's book 'The Hudson River and the Highlands'. What stopped me (aside from the considerable jump in cost and bulk) was the depth of field problem. It was already difficult to get adequate depth of field and a reasonable shutter speed with slow 35 mm slide film; in any kind of wind, you were basically screwed if foliage was part of the subject. Medium format with its shallower depth of field made things that much worse.
The advent of 35 mm-size digital sensors, particularly as higher ISO performance has improved, has been a godsend for landscape shooting. Now I can get a reasonable shutter speed even at f/16 if I crank the ISO up a bit, and I can get really good images on a breezy day that were impossible on ISO 50 slide film. I'm still happy to lug my full frame D-SLR and lenses on long hikes. I still love the brilliant optical viewfinder image. But the promise of even better depth of field from much smaller and lighter gear based on smaller sensors is surely tempting.

I've never quite understood the obsession with sensor sizes that are nominally similar to film sizes. Film sizes were an accident of the industrial processes at the time and aside from square I think you'd be hard to find an intellectual argument for picking one over any other.

The thing that did matter was that you can enlarge larger negatives less to get to nice print sizes.

But this is not true for CCDs. Sure larger sensors have a few theoretical technical advantages, but it's nowhere near so clear cut as it was with film. And, with even phone sensors approaching a level of "quality" that is pretty close to 35mm slide film in many ways, does any of this really matter?

Only if you want parts of your picture to be blurry, I guess.

If you want the most flexibility in thin depth of field control, you've got to pay for it with large aperture lenses and big sensors. For some, it's worth the money.

But as soon as you want MORE depth of field at the same aperture, the value proposition of large sensors (or large film formats) disappears.

For comparison, in terms of depth of field, f/64 on an 8x10" camera would be about f/11-f/16 on a 35mm camera, or f/5.6-f/8 on micro 4/3.

Whilst you are right in saying that the confectionary wisdom has flipped, saying that having a shallow depth of field is a disadvantage of the larger format sensor is rather inaccurate. A larger sensor gives you shallower depth of field when you need it, but doesn't deprive you from having more depth of field simply by stopping down.

Sure, you'll need to increase the ISO to get an equivalent exposure so you'll get a noisier photo. However, a larger sensor has noise advantage compared to smaller sensors so a photo taken by a FF camera at 400 ISO might have the same noise performance as the same photo taken by a mFT camera at ISO 100 so quality-wise they are equal.

What makes the FF sensor better is that it affords you better dynamic range at ISO 100 that the smaller sensor cannot compete with and of course, shallower DoF :).

It's tempting to want to buy something that offers a capability that we can't achieve with current equipment, and if the money has been handed over, it's practically mandatory to overuse that facility to justify the expenditure.

Not surprising really. The current generation of photographers grew up with photos taken by their predecessors(*) with what equipment was available at the time. As you mentioned pretty much every camera was handicapped by shallow DOF, and furthermore wide apertures were often used simply to capture enough light.

What was once the result of technical necessity must have simply become the norm for those younger photographers. Add to that the natural tendency to copy a technique without full understanding (a.k.a. cargo cult), Digital Rebel Girls(**) getting their hands on cheap nifty-fifties, and the spread of the term "bokeh" and you get a full-on shallow DOF craze. I remember from my first years on Flickr that there were tons of shallow DOF abstract or single-object photos, most of them completely uninteresting save for the aesthetic effect, but boy was that popular.

(*) I don't mean the likes of Ansel Adams. I mean the albums with the 6x4 prints in the closet taken by dad with his FM or Zenit.

(**) Hell has frozen over. The Internet actually completely forgot that fad.

I thought that this shallow d.o.f. trend was down to, "I've got this very expensive fast lens and look what I can do with it, that you can't do with your cheap old f/2!"

I'm opening up to ooh, f/4.8 or even f/4, me!

Back in Victorian times when the majority of the population worked outdoors (in farming mostly) it was fashionable (for caucasians at least) to have pale skin with no sign of a tan (showing you didn't have to work like the common herd). By the mid twentieth century when almost everyone was working in offices, the fashion became to sport the deepest tan possible (showing you had the time and money to be at leisure outdoors).

The current full frame, tiny DOF, fashion is part of the same 'not of the common herd' mentality. I sometimes think that when large sensors become so inexpensive that they can put in any device, or small sensor cameras become recognized by the general public as totally capable of anything, we will have reached the end of the period when the camera is a desirable object in its own right. Not necessarily a bad thing for photography of course, but terrible news for the camera review industry.

Yeah, but...with ISOs up to 3000 pretty usable on modern FF cameras, you can usually dial down to a smaller aperture if you need more DOF. With small sensors, sometimes you *can't ever* get a DOF as thin as you might want. I admit that this has never been a problem for me, since I'm not a shallow DOF guy, and I do like the extended DOF with m4/3 cameras. It all comes down to what you do...

For an upcoming documentary trip to France this Fall, I decided to buy a second Fuji X camera to augment my current X20 (I'm determined NOT to take my bulky Nikon kit).

I narrowed my choice down to either a Fuji X-T10 with an 18 - 55mm zoom, or an upgrade from my beloved Fuji X20 to an X30. I too have read all the hype about larger sensors: greater detail, less noise, etc, etc, and how inferior the X30 sensor is.

Granted, the X30 is not the camera for the best image quality possible, but then neither was the Leica when it was taken up by Henri Cartier-Bresson in the early 1930s.

For years I waited for digital imaging to become good enough for my purposes - for example, to make a 17x22" print good enough to grace a museum or gallery wall. Well, that day is here, even with a camera that sports a 2/3" sensor like the Fuji X20 or X30.

And let me tell you, the X20 and X30 are great cameras! As Fuji X Forum member bradsamo has stated, "I think the X30 is hands down the best kept secret in the high-end compact world. Smaller sensor, yes, but image quality and shooting experience are arguably better than the 1" offerings out there. It's a stunning camera."

For me, the advantage of the screw-mount-Leica-size of my X20 (and next week - !!! - my new X30) easily exceeds the greater resolution of an X-T10, or even a "full frame" digital camera (with greater depth of field being the icing on the cake.)

Could I get sharper images with a larger sensor camera? Sure, but would they be better than what I get with an X20 or X30? I doubt it.

I agree, the M4/3 format has so many advantages that people just don't consider, or even have the technical knowledge to inform their opinion. Yes, shallow DOF is less apparent, but wow, being able to shoot at 2.8 and having the DOF of full frame at 5.6 is mighty nice under the vast majority of circumstances under which I shoot.

Maybe it's not for everyone, but it works in my favor. I can get away with lower iso's, and in reality, the IQ difference between FF and M4/3 is not two stops, and maybe not even relevant anymore.

If I want shallow DOF I use faster lenses. Voigtlander makes a nice set of 0.95 lenses that work beautifully to give you that look. And they're not so expensive, or big and heavy. A pair of 35 and 85 1.4 lenses from just about anyone will cost more than all four Voigtlander lenses and be a lot heavier. Manual focus is surprisingly easy.

But in photography as is automobiles, motorcycles, houses, diamond rings, and certain parts of peoples anatomy, bigger is always considered better by the unenlightened and ignorant. The idea that something is sufficient for ones needs is a foreign concept to most people.

Like your beloved Miata, it will make you a much better driver than owning a Corvette. You must learn how to corner by braking correctly, carrying enough speed through the apex, and nailing the throttle on exit. If you have a car that makes a bunch of HP, you just get used to mashing the gas, and it makes up for sloppy technique.

There is no shame in a small sensor. And I might say it takes a confident photographer to use a M4/3 camera professionally, especially when all of their colleagues snicker behind his or her back. That is of course until they see the pictures! Then the snickering stops and the questions start about how they too can get into this mirrorless stuff.

Stop down, high ISO if necessary

"...But that's not the way the world is now. The conventional wisdom has flipped, and everyone wants shallow focus."

Smaller sensors and their DoF characteristics happen to play into my most common preferences. So I like them. I've had some great results from the tiny 1/2.3" sensors in the Panny ZS cameras and the Oly TG-4 (which goes even further, with in camera focus stacking.)

Yet I can imagine photographers who like shallow DoF for much of their work AND would like to take advantage of the small size and light weight of smaller sensor cameras.

Might not the current wailing and gnashing of teeth be only from a subset of all of us folks out there taking pictures — and who know what DoF is? A different subset than were feeling the pain of larger sensors/film? \;~{)>

"Ah, the odd vagaries of group taste!"

Are "photographers" anywhere near a cohesive enough group that that sort of generalizations are of any meaning or usefulness?

". . . Very often, too shallow."

That part, I don't "get"

"Oh yeah, I meant to get tip of the nose in focus and the eyes soft."

" Sure, it was important to get the traffic behind the subject in focus."

When it works, it can be wonderful, but there sure are a lot of misses out there, at least to my eagle eye. And those are the ones that get on the web galleries; imagine the outtakes!

When I'm concerned about placement of the plane of focus and DoF, I take brackets of focus.

A major contributor to inadequate DOF as a technique is inadequate DOF scales on most "modern" lenses and the use of zoom lenses which make DOF scales fairly impossible to implement. Another problem is the difficulty of precisely focusing an autofocus camera as you could with an SLR with a microprism on the groundglass.

Want more DOF with your full frame sensor...stop down the lens...same as it ever was...

Great post. Like you, I've been bemused by the current obsession with super-low-d.o.f. photography. That tactic has its uses, but they are limited. Using it for everything is boring and gimmicky.

Another aspect of this fad is the mania for ultra-fast glass, even when there is a penalty in terms of size, weight, cost or overall image quality. (To the point where one respected lens tester only seems interested in testing lenses wide open lately.)

When I used view cameras and medium format gear, it was often a struggle to get enough d.o.f for my purposes without running into problems with camera shake, subject motion or diffraction. Today I can shoot digital "full frame," have fewer issues achieving the d.o.f. I want, and get similar image quality at moderately large print sizes. That was a major impetus for moving to digital, actually.

I'll be glad when the evolution of digital tech allows me to get that same level of quality-- with even more effective depth of field--in an even smaller camera. One more generation of sensors? Maybe two?

Great. Way to go, Mike. Now you tell us, says the man who fed a fetish by popularizing a funny-sounding Japanese word denoting mental haze, senility (so says Wikipedia.)

Human vision has near infinite depth of field. As far as I know, Bokeh has never been studied or employed by painters. Film directors from Renoir to Welles opened our eyes with their celebrated deep focus shots. Only in photography do we swoon over "dreamy" oofs.

I learned this (the hard way) when taking close-up pictures of cameras in a light tent for an upcoming project. My wifes compact 1/1.7-inch sensor camera yielded sharp front-to-back results much more readily than my full-frame digital camera. Same camera turned out to be a great camera for travel pictures taken at normal distances as well. For small prints to be used for a book or photo cards, or to view on a monitor screen, I see no real difference from my full-frame.

I think people mostly now want shallower focus from fast lens effects, i.e., bokeh, and generally don't even understand the relationship between sensor size and DOF (let alone notice poor subject focus in their bokeh frenzy).

Instead, they want bigger sensors because of perceived (not verified) IQ enhancements and/or because they want to use their lenses in 'uncropped' mode (which ironically often produces undesirable edge effects).

And so it goes.

Small sensors seem to be getting the love (again) in TV and indie movies. After dSLR video shook everything up (initiating their own shallow-DOF fad) those guys are gravitating around the old movie standards (what we still shooters would call half-frame), thanks in part to the latest generation of serious dedicated video cameras.

I imagine for manufacturers cine 35mm is conveniently close to APS-C and m4/3. For DP's, it allows straightforward exploitation of a century's worth of equipment and practice (especially lenses, and most especially anamorphic lenses), and grants a reprieve from the too-shallow DOF of dSLRs (thin DOF is a lot trickier when motion is involved).*

It's a different story with the still camera industry/market, which for various reasons standardized around the ("doubled") 35mm format long before digital came along. But for movie guys, super-35mm (very close to APS-C) is the de facto "full frame".

It's one of those things that make me wonder what's in a name. 35mm didn't really get over its "miniature" stigma until after WWII, after a generation of pros and artists learned to exploit its miniature-ness. The miniature frame didn't become "full" until digital came along, I presume. Aside from the weight of decades-worth of standardization and all that legacy equipment, calling something "full" implies that anything smaller is "less than full", and anything larger is excessive, and I think many camera buyers (and sellers?) perceive sensors this way.

*For video, cinema formats are historically an embiggening from TV tubes and camcorder sensors, but this is coming after the love affair with "full-frame" dSLRs.

My findings echo John Krumm's, albeit with a slight twist. My first serious camera was the Olympus E-P1, a camera that only gave me shallow depth of field when I used long lenses and kept a small distance to the subject. I never had trouble getting every object within the frame properly sharp.
Then I went full frame, but with the aforementioned twist - I bought a 135 film camera. At first I found it a nightmare to keep all planes in focus, no matter how much I fiddled with the aperture ring. Even with the standard 50mm-f/1.4 lens I found it hard to keep everything sharp.
This made me think depth of field is not such a bad thing after all. The push for big sensors comes from people who convinced themselves that bigger is better (and they're partially right, if not for the best reasons). Many demand large sensors because there is currently a 'bokeh' mania that, incidentally, is also responsible for the superfast lenses now on offer. (Frankly, who cares for 'bokeh' when using wide-angle lenses?) People let themselves get fooled into believing 'bokeh' is a lovely thing (it can be rather cheesy), hence the demand for large sensors and fast lenses.
My admittedly short experience tells me there's no challenge in getting the 'bokeh' so many crave. What really defies one's skills is to maintain everything in focus when using a camera with a large light-sensitive area.
But small sensors are not the answer when it comes to extending depth of field. A small sensor makes the camera prone to diffraction when using apertures narrower than f/11 - or even f/8, in the case of Micro Four Thirds - and tends to blow highlights with considerable alacrity, which is not necessarily what you want when you're shooting landscapes. Smaller sensors are a trade-off: absolute image quality gets compromised in order to favour convenience and portability. (That's why the first mirrorless cameras had small sensors.) The best thing to do is learn to tame your 36x24 sensor (or film).

Quite so with 36x24 - the advantage is that f/16 is not so deep in the diffraction zone, not that f/1.4 has a hair-width DOF. I like subject isolation and found 1" was not sufficient but m43 is fine, even without the f/0.95 primes.

I've drifted from Pentax to Olympus, mostly because one can get ePM2 and ePL5 used for under $200 and my new EM10 'Classic' was $299. For those prices only the K-01 and a few early CCD bodies can be had for Pentax. At such silly-low prices everyone should try one and look at the images not the web charts.

You know, as I read all those comments, I can't stop thinking, what is it that makes people think that folks who love the shallow depth of field, the incredibly unreal separation of the subject only fast lens and big film gives you, and love using it, i.e. folks like me, are just snobby bastards with no real skill or idea what photography is about.
I, actually, and with a bit of a surprise to me, am taking this personally.
Y'all shallow dof hatin' folks really think people can't take a decent photo with a large depth of field? Nah, scratch that, since I decided to take it personally, you think yours truly, as a humble portraitist, can't take a decent portrait that's sharp all from here to infinity? Really? That all the shallow dof is about is showing off fancy gear?
Well, think again then.
There is beauty to razor thin dof, there are people who take to it, and they don't care one tiny bit what you think about it.
Now, was that a rant? Drat, that was a rant. And a grumpy one at that.
Must be gettin' old.

[Oh, dear me, no, Marcin. I didn't mean to imply any disrespect for shallow focus. Of course many people do choose that and do well with it, and that's the point of creativity--to deploy whatever choices we want. I love bokeh.

All I'm saying is that I wonder why it has swung so far the other way...I would think that more people would be okay with choosing half-frame OVER full-frame or larger, sometimes, when instead everyone seems to just take it for granted that larger sensors are always better and shallower dof is always better. As always, it's possible to do both very good and very poor work with any chosen technique. It's not the technique itself that makes the pictures. But I have no disrespect at all for shallow focus work when it's well done, as it often is. --Mike]

Whatever tool one has simply needs to be mastered to suit the subject and the intention. If it's not possible, a new tool is required.

In the digital world/market, the price of admission when one needs to change formats (sensor size) is pretty high. I think that is one of the attractions of those who go back to (or jump into for the first time,) film - the gear is now pretty darn cheap, whether 35mm, 120 or larger, and changing "sensors" is a snap!

I do think APS-C is the sweet spot for digital sensors. It's just not as profitable for the manufacturers, hence Canon and later Nikon and Pentax jumped into that pool.

Smaller sensor cameras do get love - from the consumers if not from the pundits. Premium 1-inch sensor cameras, for instance, are selling like hotcakes.

Having shot 35mm film professionally since the 1970's, I got to really know my lenses like the back of my hand. When I had to go digital and switch to the DX format, had a hard time pre visualizing the coverage of my DX lenses. Finally got a FX format body maybe around 2005 that took all of my "older" 35mm lenses... happy ever since.

This discussion reminds me of a time when I ran a photography club where I was working. I showed two images of a Coneflower taken at the Ballard Docks in Seattle, WA. I focused on the closest flower in the first one where the one behind was "blurry". The second image was the reverse. I did this to demonstrate the concept of controlling your focus point to get the image you wanted. (I was using the so called "crappy" 18-55mm kit lens wide open at f3.5)

Now, in this club, there was a person who was bragging about their 5MB point and shoot that cost around half as much as my Pentax *ist Ds and how that camera was outperforming my Pentax. Later on, down the way, they came over to me and complained mightily about how their camera had let them down. I explained that the camera could do the same thing, but they had to "understand" how it worked and how to make it do what they wanted it to rather than leave it in auto.

So all this about small sensors is really misleading. Bigger sensors provide more data. Digital imaging is all about data, the more the better. If you don't "understand" how to get what you want out of your system, then yes, stay with your phone. Use a DoF calculator (ha know, one with dials?) and get to know HOW your system responds so you can get it to produce the results you want.

Once upon a time I was very happy to get my double Scheimpflug right.

I've been using a Pentax Q-7 a lot recently, the most striking contrast with a full frame was a recent wedding reception. The wedding photographer nailed the focus but al the people in the background were shapeless blobs. My pictures had everyone in focus, I could even crop a little. When the pictures were compared, everyone commented on the difference—they could actually clearly see all the relatives and friends!

I have a friend who is obsessed with getting everything "tack sharp". I don't get it. It isn't natural (realistic). We don't see that way.

Hold your arm out straight and spread your fingers out. Now stare at your thumbnail and, without shifting your focus from your thumbnail, ask yourself "is my little finger sharp?". The answer is "No!". We see only a 3° circle sharply. Everything else is peripheral vision and is fuzzy. The farther out from the 3° circle it is, the fuzzier it is.

So why do we think we see everything sharply? It is because our eyes are constantly moving from one area of interest to another and our brain remembers. That is an advantage and a disadvantage. The disadvantage for photographers is that unless we consciously look at each of the less interesting bits in front of us we miss seeing things we'd rather not have in our photo and then we have to Photoshop them out.

Personally, as a guy who learned on large format, I kind of like fuzzy backgrounds for a lot of subjects. It just seems like a more natural way to see the world. Total sharpness is too mechanical, less human.

Small sensors get no love? Have I been writing blog after blog praising the one inch sensors in Sony RX10s and the Panasonic fz1000 in a vacuum? The Sony RX10iii is the best small sensor camera imaginable and I use it more than any other camera I currently own. I've got no problem with small.... And I just used the same camera to make a five minute video for a utility company. The process was great. No worries about someone leaning a few inches forward or a few inches back. Depth of field is like compound interest: it can be your best friend or your worst enemy.

[Hi KT, I guess I didn't read the whole review carefully, but I had in mind you mainly wrote about the RX10III as a video cam. Could well be my mistake. --Mike]

I like my bokeh tack-sharp, corner-to-corner.

When I read the title of this post, I thought hell yeah. Why has Canon (or Nikon) chose to forget about making quality prime glass specifically for crop sensors? Then I read all of the other posts, and it seems that I may be on the wrong track. I dunno though, my Rebel makes wonderful photos on its crop sensor, but the prime lenses that I use were originally designed for FF, so I'm really only using the middle 50% of the image circle, and losing all of the great character in the edges and corners. More love to me would mean more aps-c dedicated primes.

I remember when I used to shoot 35mm film cameras,photography was often a desperate struggle between ISO, depth of field, and underexposure. This was because much of my photography was indoor photography, in available light.

From that point of view, life has been a lot simpler with an aps-c camera, and modern digital cameras offer a lot more ISO headroom as well. I don't think I really need to go back to full frame, except perhaps for the relative lack of wide angle lenses in the Nikon dx format.

Now, I instead struggle with not messing up the myriad settings and controls on my menus and buttons.

Dynamic range and colour, in my case.

My last experience with a smaller system (E-M1) gave me extraordinary lenses, but mediocre dynamic range and difficult to tame images that broke apart quickly when pushed a bit: lots of blown highlights, and exaggerated contrast, for what was often tantamount in my eyes to a very much "early digital" look.

So, while the large lenses that go with the D810 pain me (and can be downright mediocre, sometimes, see the latest 24-70 VR...), the colours, and the highlights rollover that that camera produces are just marvelous.
Images have a low contrast (but not flat) look, incredible colours, and such a beautiful rendition of lighter tones that never stops making me enjoy even banal pictures.
In Nikon's camp, no other camera I know gets even near to it.
The dynamic range powerhouses D800 and D750 don't.
Sony, the other dynamic range champ, can't touch it: my RX1 certainly won't, and the Sony A7 doesn't too (maybe the new A7R/II?).

There you have it: why (at least some of us) prefer working with a larger format...


I shoot yachting - getting a bow on shot with the crew in the stern in focus with my old 5D3 or even 7D was challenging without going to higher ISOs than I was comfortable with. No problem with my EM-1 ... for my shooting increased DOF is a definite plus.

Interestingly, DxO rates the Oly EM-1 as having more dynamic range than the 5D3, and I'm certainly very happy with the IQ.

The trade-off? Quality at high ISO falls away more rapidly. But since I seldom ever shot above 800 ISO, not an issue for me.

And should shallow DOF ever become a concern for me, there are a remarkable number of seriously fast lenses for m43.

I'm with Greg. It's all about pre-visualisation for me. Especially with 35 mm and 50 mm lenses on "FF" format. But a tool is a tool. Choose what's right for you and the job.

Yep, 'DOF control' ranks quite high up in the list of self-justifications for dropping a few extra grand on a larger format camera. In practice, it just adds a level of additional planning in the use of a camera.

Such desires are seldom accompanied by a real understanding of DOF or hyperfocal distance, and don't account for the fact that DOF tables use a CoC default that is woefully inadequate for the kinds of large prints a 36MP sensor is capable of.

Using higher ISO to enable higher shutter speeds also wipes out any DR or noise advantage from the larger sensor and causes more diffraction, which means a high MP sensor becomes rather less useful.

The only alternative is to use a tripod, which is fine for landscape photography but not very convenient the rest of the time.

Personally, I found the return to APSC from FF to be a relief.

Readers of the estimable Kirk Tuck's blog will realise there are serious photographers who are entirely format agnostic, and do good work with just about anything.

This entirely unserious photographer is saving up for a 35mm-format mirrorless to use alongside his M4/3 camera. (I have, for example, an old Auto Takumar 35/2.3 which I am hankering to use on its native format.)

I shoot a lot of portraits, I know how the aperture works, I can print and I print large.

With 24x36mm sensors I can see the pores in the face, with smaller sensors I see smudge. Pores can be eliminated, to a certain extent, if one wishes. Smudge cannot.

The choice is simple, ceteris paribus.

When I got my first DSLR it was of course APS-C and I was puzzled by the fact that 28mm didn't look like 28mm anymore but once I got over that I seemed to adapt well and I used APS-C DSLR's for about 10 years, for 7 of which I used a Canon 20D.

When moving to a 5D I actually seemed to have a longer adjustment as I tried to get used to using smaller apertures and keeping an eye on my shutter speed and ISO.

I now shoot with a FF Sony A7 and MFT and I find them good companions. I use the Sony when I want the best quality and I use MFT when I want the most compact kit or when I'm going to a less than ideal / safe place.

I find MFT is pretty good and with the newer cameras I really have to start looking at A7 and MFT pictures side by side and pixel peeping to see differences.

I think that one thing that people can forget to do is to apply the crop factor when different cameras but I find that thinking about equivalence helps me.

Of course, lots of depth of field is not how our eye/brain works. To me, a lot of the hyperfocal-type photographs simply don't work well. Why? Because they lose the depth cue that comes from differential focus. The photo becomes two-dimensional, and especially so if the photographer has ignored the other depth cues that our natural system uses.

This is always a strange discussion, to me. Depth of field is a basic parameter. There will always be people who don't consciously control it enough, but the user doesn't define how useful the tool is.

There are usually enough inexpensive ways to get what you want, whether deep or shallow; high ISO, tripod, stacking, old manual lenses. When you don't have the flexibility you want, you're just stuck. There are lots of very different kits out there today with which you'll probably never get stuck.


I am a Nikon FF shooter but I bought into the Olympus system a couple years back with a full compliment of zooms and primes. I really enjoy shooting with the OMD cameras, but they have a couple drawbacks that keep me reaching for the D5 or D800 for most work - neither related to DOF.

Most important is that the Continuous autofocus is not usable. If you are shooting your kid playing soccer and don't mind half of the images being oof, ok. But when you can grab and DSLR and get almost 100% in focus, that's a tough compromise.

Second, I personally shoot a great deal of low light, available light in the iso 1600-6400 range. While the M43 image quality holds up pretty well at 200-400, the difference becomes quite drastic as you bump the iso.

Of course the argument I often have with myself is that it's possible that I am the only one who would see the image quality difference. But still, I see it and it's quite obvious. Interestingly, when I photograph "things" I never see anything about M43 that is a sacrifice. But when I photograph people and look at their faces, the image crispness, smoothness and 3d rendering seems to be lacking.

I was hanging on to the Nikon D3s as my workhorse for the last few years assuming that would be my last SLR because I much prefer a mirrorless cameras experience. I want a mirrorless D5, but it didn't seem like that was happening any time soon?

I am currently on family vacation and have the EM-1, Leica/Pan 25mm1.4, Oly 12-40 and the Oly 75mm1.8. The days of lugging Nikon gear for personal shooting have ended.

Mike, I think you should try out something like a Pentax 50 1.4 (the old film era one -- you might just already have one in your closet but they are cheap on Ebay) on your soon to be acquired full frame Sony. You don't need to shoot at 1.4, but opened up a bit, I think you would like it.

[Yes, that's one of my favorite lenses, and favorite Planar-types as well. It was remarkably consistent over many generations/iterations and I have used 'em all, every single one. --Mike]

In terms of DOF tastes, I think the trend of shallow DOF is the most obvious way one can differentiate themselves as a "real" photographer in a world dominated by camera phones. A camera phone can do many things, but not shallow DOF. If cameras could only shoot razor thin DOF, the current "art" trend would be F64 front to back focus!

Unfortunately, there's no practical depth of field advantage to smaller sensors, because they are diffraction limited a lower f-stops. Cambridge in Colour has an excellent tutorial on their site here: http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/digital-camera-sensor-size.htm at the end they summarize "…larger sensors…still achieve a comparable depth of field to a smaller sensor by using a higher ISO speed and smaller aperture…".

I often do my street photography with my Panasonic GX7 using a 25mm Pana-Leica lens at f/5.6 ISO200. Anyone with a FF camera can get the similar results by shooting with a 50mm lens at f/11 and ISO800 to maintain shutter speed. The only difference will be the lightness of their wallet and the weight on their arm.

I do focus stacking in PS with sequential DOF shots. Here's a vid eo where it's explained.


This can be done with some analog cameras with interval functions and most upper-level DSLRs. I use a Nikon F4 with the mf23 back and a Nikon D90. Otherwise, I just shoot small sensor. But it's fun to play with the layers, even in the scans of the old film exposures...

I'm sorry for this outburst Mike. I know you didn't mean it that way, but seriously, just read those comments. "People don't understand DOF", "People just want to be real photographers", "People just show off"...
I usually don't care what people say on the web, but I got used to TOP as a kind of place where you come to read a well written piece (that I don't necessarily have to agree with), and have a bit of discussion amongst people who share the same passion. Discussion free of the false sense of superiority.
That's why I got kinda worked up. Sorry again.

It would be interesting to have electo-mechanical rear movements on the sensor. Not sure, but I think the K1 uses the sensor stabiliser to allow for a tiny bit of shift.

There are times when front to back sharpness matters, and times when a thin and isolated field does more. If the choice between the two was no longer available, I would become a painter.

My personal (photo technical) problem right now is inadequate DOF.

It's really more like too much detail. If you are making a gigapixel image of a landscape then it's really hard to get objects a half mile away and 30 miles away both in focus. Of course the optical qualities of the air are a bigger problem.

The wonder of current photographic technology is that it gives us problems that we wouldn't even dream of in the days of film.

As for small sensors, the iPhone gets plenty of love.

Fun discussion. I've been experimenting with F16 thanks to all this. Seems to sharpen up well enough. As was pointed out, raising iso does cost DR, noise, and color depth, so no free lunch when forced to do that, just a bigger, different lunch. What's funny is that with such high megapixels I notice that even many out of focus shots look sharp when downsized for web viewing (perhaps that's the free lunch).

Anyway, the sun is getting low and the light looks good...

Over the years I've shot almost every format up to 8x10 and down to Minox. Each was different and had it's uses and advantages. Lens focal lengths exist of themselves and always had to be related to formats to make sense.

When digital came, I first had a P&S, and then got an APS-C Canon. As things developed I got a 5D, and then later some m43 things. Now, for most of my shooting I use m43, as I find it has the perfect balance of file quality, lens quality (this, to a certain degree is also format dependent, as it's much easier to make a high quality lens that's large for it's format coverage than a small high quality lens - see Leica) and overall size. Stabilization also works better for smaller sensors. I have two 'Full Frame' systems, but they basically get used for specific, non-general tasks.

With film, especially when I wanted to get good technical quality, I often struggled to get sufficient dof, even with tilts and swings. Now, m43 makes my efforts at greater dof with quality to trump the old 160 ISO colour negative film in 645 easy. That's good enough for my personal use. If I want shallower dof, I use longer lenses which are mostly the ones I want to use anyway under those circumstances. I'm happy, and don't worry about the many on the internet who denigrate m43 sensors with strange 'dof equivalencies'.

"As far as I know, Bokeh has never been studied or employed by painters"

There was a big interest in out of focus backgrounds in portraits painted in the early 20th century , Sargent et.al.

These days Chuck Close is obsessed with Bokeh,

It is the lens which is the issue I thought. You use say 300mm on 8x10. What you expect from a 300mm lens, ... no depth of field! Try a 300mm on a 3/4 ... still not much depth of field.

If you have a 90mm on 8x10 (4x5 more likely), there is no need to go to f/64. It is still 90mm.

Try this:

There is a way to have your cake and eat it too. A camera with a FF sensor that can also be used in crop mode.


Want shallow DOF with smaller sensor cameras? Buy f0.95 lenses:)

Want deep DOF with larger sensor cameras? Use focus stacking:)

A little late with this comment. I was reading a thread, somewhere, about sensor size & someone chimed in that FF is old news, tomorrow everyone will want medium format. It brought to mind the old "Googlephonic" bit by Steve Martin:

Not hysterical or anything, but relevant.
(Warning: contains profanity)

The main benefit of M4/3 format is size. Its major drawback is price.

As you go up in format, you can always stop down and compensate with higher iso but you cannot reduce depth with a smaller format.

Larger formats generate the same deep focus as smaller formats. In addition, they can also create shallow depth, where smaller formats are hampered.

QUOTE "I often do my street photography with my Panasonic GX7 using a 25mm Pana-Leica lens at f/5.6 ISO200. Anyone with a FF camera can get the similar results by shooting with a 50mm lens at f/11 and ISO800 to maintain shutter speed. The only difference will be the lightness of their wallet and the weight on their arm."

> This is misleading.

That gx7 with said leica lens costs almost as much as a basic full frame body with a 50mm f1.8.
Nevertheless, the latter combination opens more options than the former.

For fun I shoot film (135, 120, 8x10 when I'm really feeling lucky) and in those cases I enjoy shooting stupidly shallow; but for "work" I shoot m43. Every time I see a review of the next 35mm sensor I start thinking I'll move systems just for the high ISO. I'm always shooting events under bad/dim light. ISO 3200 and F2.0 - F4.0 is pretty much my norm (thank god for m43 primes!). So I start day dreaming of the latest Nikon or Canon monster. And then I remember that because I'm shooting events, I need DOF. The two extra stops of DoF I get with the smaller sensor pretty much equals the two stops of high ISO performance I would get with FF (This is changing with the latest generation of sensors, so hopefully the next Olympus EM1 will get another stop of ISO to keep up).

What really gets me is how many people demand F2.8 zooms on the 35mm sensor cameras. All that money and weight for one more stop, but one more stop that you can only use in very specific situations (might was well carry around a prime just for those situations, save weight, money, and get even more shallow).

I'm back on m4/3rds and intend to stay here.

If I want narrow DoF, I'll use a close-focussing fast prime or long zoom; if I want to combine that with wide angle, I'll bokeh-panorama ("Brenizer") it. Or buy a faster prime.

The rest of the time, I have landscapes to be shooting and I really don't know how FX folks manage it by comparison. f/8 and hyperfocus, suits me just fine.

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