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Monday, 01 October 2018


Good article and many interesting comments! This small subject subject seems enough for a three days conference. So many things I did not know that I did not know.

From the graphic design point of view Barnack’s ‘Kleinbild’ is a very useable format. One and a half square. Very easy to cut up, to stack or lay-out.

However, if we could start all over again I would prefer the brilliant ratio of the DIN-standard for paper sizes: 1: √2 (1:1.41). That’s between 2:3 (1:1.5) and 3:4 (1:1.33). When divided in two (done in the right way of course) the height/width relation will remain the same. Doesn’t work with any other aspect ratio.

24x36 always felt a bit like a long towel to me. People must have different perceptions. I once had a colleague who was convinced that his field of view was just as high as wide, therefore he preferred square images. I told him that this was probably because his eyes were so close together.

I have used many design principles. Grids built up from squares, the Golden Ratio or the Japanese Tatami to name a few. Nice for the aesthetics, but the purpose is of course is also that you need a structure to be able to produce things easily. A system should serve you, not the other way around.

After many years in the imaging industry it has become a sport to guess what kind of camera or film was used for a photograph. In the days of film it was easy to see what the differences of the various formats or emulsions were. Small, medium and large formats all had their own specific character. But in this digital age? First I look at the aspect ratio and then at colors and contrast. Compared to to old days the formats we use now are relatively close. For me color reproduction and quality of optics seem far more important nowadays than the size of the sensor. Has anyone of you had a photography assignment yet that could only be done with full frame and not with let’s say Micro Four Thirds?

Plus One for Gordon Lewis...I'm in the Micro 4/3rd's boat precisely because I can shoot square or 4:3 (4X5)....the 35mm full frame format, as a long-time f-i-l-m advertising photographer, is virtually worthless to me!

I've said repeatedly, 30 years ago, if you took all the professional photographers in the world, and did a survey on what they photographed with, the only people using 35mm would have been photo-journos; even your wedding photographer was shooting 120! It would have been a small segment of the professional market, BUT, it was the segment that amateurs identified with, because they were in the pages of the magazines, and being commented on.

The thing about formats is this: people do tend to compose to suit the viewfinder image.

That said, setting a given film or sensor size to a viewfinder image format other than the native is not actually achieving a helluva lot: you're just chucking away real estate. You haven't gained anything that cropping in post can't do, and to suggest that folks can't see their pic well enough without masking is a bit offensive - I think.

I also think that 135 is pretty good, generally, for all kinds of horizontal compositions, but when it comes to verticals, I find that if I'm shooting people pix, then yes, it feels too thin. For other purposes, not at all: things just get trimmed by the native format to suit your overall intention.

Obviously, yet another reason for the square, if large enough, because then you can crop to suit your whim, though even then, I always found it easier to make vertical crops than horizontals.

Who crops?

Some of us used to file out our negative carriers to show we had got it right in camera (because there was a nice black line round the uncropped picture).

Some Panasonic cameras allow multiple aspect ratios that all utilize the full image circle via an oversized sensor. They call it "multi-aspect sensor." Recent examples include the GH5s and the LX100 II. Note that in this case, no aspect ratio can use all of the sensor pixels.

For years I have reminded people by writing almost exactly all those things, as people don't know history of 135 format and how 36x24mm frame was taken in use with it. How a half-frame PEN cameras made the word "full frame" as it was Olympus who used in their marketing "half frame" and "full frame" differential. Later Canon to pick up that for their EOS 1D marketing as APS-C failed.

The 4:3 is not from the television, nor is from 110 format (using 17.3x13mm frame), but from the art history from centuries.
Olympus, that has been behind half frame, 4/3" formats, as well behind OM system, 4/3 system and current m4/3 system, did not do those because they just wanted small, but they could do formats that deliver more than good enough quality and in smaller great size for mobility and so on have cameras more often with you.

4:3 use is great as you have more freedom to frame the shot, and then trim it later for best size. Not so you are locked to 4:3 in final image, but you have more freedom and possibilities at final image.

The 3:2 IMHO is restricting as people use viewfinders as defining framing tools, instead as just format guidelines to avoid cropping something out. 1:1 ain't the best for anything else than avoiding rotating camera 90 degrees to vertical as you can frame maximal height as width, and then crop top better fitting size later.

3:2 waste height when horizontal, and width when vertical and rotate camera often, but 4:3 waste least from either edge for final cropping, but requires more often to rotate camera than 1:1.

Today 16:9 is a standard, that is meaning you can't use any other ratio than 16:9 (and it is btw width first, then height, so 36x24mm or 3:2 instead 24x36mm and 2:3, unless you mean vertical rotations vs horizontal aka standard) and it means you are either wasting megapixels on screen or from sensor, and both 3:2 and 4:3 are as bad because neither will fit to 16:9, so either do native 16:9 and waste sensor megapixels, or do what ever is best for the photo itself and waste screen and sensor megapixels. Either way the sensor has far more than the screen does and you waste megapixels anyways, so no better not to waste composition for that and use what ever image ratio there is and crop freely regardless 16:9 ratio of display.

Point is, anyone should avoid using viewfinders as composition rules, instead first find the best perspective (move camera location) and then zoom (change focal length) to be larger than the composition is, so you can later on trim the image to final size, what ever it then will be. Meaning using a 27mm instead 32mm or 78mm instead 85mm.

Such thing as well allows one to see "outside" of the game like with a rangefinder viewfinder that has crop guidelines inside the whole view, as you should have the timing and composition in mind before you even raise camera on eye and leave the framing to darkroom/Lightroom.

Why do we have the "full frame" even today so strong? Nikon and Canon mount is to thank for it. The glass those users had, couldn't change physically the system (mount), they couldn't get around their minds of specific focal length meaning about usual field of view, so they can't neither get around 50mm is 46° as they can't get around 3:2 is 36x24mm.

Legacy has forced people to think on very restricted formats and view, instead being free to use any framing and any focal lenghts to get the moment, story, emotion and memory.

Fear to lose details is one of the worst problems one might have as they can't get over the formats, focal lenghts, ratios etc.

The first Barnack cameras had no space between images on the film, (perhaps sometimes actually overlapping a smidgen),so the horizontal size was decreased just a little to provide such a space.

Something worth noting: Every attempt to supplant Barnack's standard has failed.

Barnack, like Jobs, changed the course of civilization. They never set out to do so.

35mm and 135 are not interchangeable terms.

The 135 format, originally introduced by Kodak, specifies 35mm double-perf film factory packaged in a ready to use cassette that did not need any special action performed by the camera body to open any door, as was the case with the Leica cassettes. They created it to make retail sales of ready to use film more practical and to go along with their then new Retina camera. It was designed so that it would also work in Leica cameras. Without the felt lip style cassette, it isn't "135".

As noted by others, there have been other 35mm wide film formats. 135 was the first, and most long lived, of Kodak's 3 film formats based on 35mm wide film. The paper backed, single perf formats, both 828 and 126, used a thinner film base with 126 also using a double sided plastic package that eliminated any threading issues. The Bantam Special from Kodak was a decidedly up-market camera and it used the film's perferation to auto-stop the film advance. Few, if any, other 828 cameras from any manufacture used the per, instead relying on the "number in the ruby window" approach.

Agfa's Rapid format was an interesting approach that offered an easy loading 35mm format. It was used originally in a 24x36mm format camera and was later resurrected for a line of 24x24 models to compete with Kodak's 126 Instamatics.

I disagree with your characterization of 3:2 as "overly long." 3:2 is much closer to the golden ratio. If anything, it's a tad short. 4:3 is just flat ugly. It's all wrong, hurts my eyes. For my 1st digital cam I chose the Olympus e-1. Never liked it.

"the Internet is surprisingly deficient in answering the question "when was Four-Thirds introduced?"

Here's your answer: https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/olympuse1

"The camera system and '4/3 System' has a public history (although in private it is likely to have started much earlier) stretching back to February 2001 when Kodak and Olympus announced they would be joining forces to 'develop digital camera technology'."

Crabby Umbo: only photjournalists?

"I've said repeatedly, 30 years ago, if you took all the professional photographers in the world, and did a survey on what they photographed with, the only people using 35mm would have been photo-journos..."

In my view, you have been labouring under a huge misconception!

I spent my career doing fashion, calendars and advertising photography. I was never a PJ.

I used more 135 film in those days than I ever did 120, despite having a pretty extensive, top-grade arsenal in both formats; we chose horses for courses. Almost anybody who has experience of shooting freestyle, not-to-layout model shots will tell you: it's about the build-up during the shooting, done by shooting a lot just to help the model and yourself get to the point where it all comes together, and trying that on 120 leads to a very slow and interrupted process. Statistically, getting one good shot out of the thirty-six was good going. It didn't matter: that one shot was the holy grail; it was what film was for.


“But it turned out that the reason Ad-Ams loved big teles was for prestige, not picturetaking. They were big, expensive, and impressive, and that's why people coveted them so much. When "bridge cameras," with their absurdly long telephoto reach, removed the high status from extremely narrow angles of view, it turned out most people didn't care all that much about telephoto reach after all.”

Seriously? You might want to tweak this. No serious wildlife or sports photographer uses m43 for performance, focus tracking and image quality reasons. The only mirrorless camera with sufficient performance is the Sony A9. I own an Olympus EM1.2 and it sucks for action photography compared to top end DSLRs. The advent of diffraction optics has people flocking to smaller super telephoto lenses.

Gee thanks Mike. This post is the essence of why this is my favorite site. Good luck finding this kind of writing anywhere else on the interwebs.

I simply can't understand why Canikon have not released cameras with 36x36mm sensors. The lenses already cover the 36mm image circle, and the shooter could choose to shoot in any rectangular ratio or a full-res square. What a huge win that would be!

Remember the fad for printing 35mm "full-frame"? People went to the extent of filing out negative carriers so the actual image edge showed, you got a black border around the image so everybody could tell you were printing full frame. Now, one concern working with such small negatives was that enlargement made the grain worse, and this gave you the minimum grain for any image size. However, having known a few of these people, there was an almost religious fervor sometimes involved that can't be explained by anything so small.

I crop nearly all the time. First, I'm mostly documenting things rather than taking art shots for art's sake, so I can't always pick and choose all the variables and have to then make the best of what I captured. Second, I don't think all great images are the same aspect ratio :-). And I don't care to pass up any near-greats I stumble upon because they don't happen to match the aspect ratio of my camera.

The people I know, starting with myself, exalted in the longer reach of our old lenses (particularly our 70-200/2.8 lenses) with APS-C cameras. I don't think it goes up infinitely from there -- but for weddings and music jam sessions and and even studio work, 200mm isn't long enough. Most of us couldn't (or at least didn't) afford a 300/2.8 so going past 200 involved a huge increase in shutter speed (or ISO). I didn't even miss the loss on the wide end of the 70-200 that much. And my current Olympus 40-150/2.8 in M43 is about perfect -- that's 80-300 equivalent (except slow; really want it f/2).

If it wasn't advanced amateurs, who was using early 35mm gear, other than a few rare pros? It wasn't casual snapshooters!

I suspect that most amateur photographers don't own 13 or 17 inch printers. The largest that they can print at home is 8 1/2 x 11 (I assume that this is true for A4 size for your country). 8x10 frames are easily available (I have no idea about print and frame sizes outside the U.S.).

With just a software change, it seems that any mirror-less camera could do an in-camera crop for 8x10. A learning photographer could frame the photo in the size he/she intended to print it and could easily frame and hang their best work.

Camera, paper and frame all the same ratio. Crop in camera instead of Lightroom. I think that I would like that.


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