Rethinking 4/3 Depth Of Field

Started Apr 11, 2013 | Discussions
al_in_philly
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Rethinking 4/3 Depth Of Field
Apr 11, 2013

A lot of the questions about m4/3 (as well as 4/3) as a viable professional format seems to revolve around either low light image quality, moving target focussing speed, or depth of field.  With the development of better and better sensors, the low light image quality issue is discussed less and less; the focussing issue is only an issue for those who frequently shoot moving objects as in sports photography; so lately, it appears that the biggest question regarding m4/3 centers around the inherently longer depth of field for a given aperture compared to the larger FF cameras.  In virtually every discussion, the shallower DOF of a FF camera is seen as a benefit.  Maybe it's time to rethink that--at least in some applications.

I do the majority of my shooting in very low light situations without a flash.  I started out shooting at night with a (then brand new) Olympus e-510 and a Pan/Leica 25mm f1.4.  I know, great lens choice, not best choice for a low-light camera, but that's what I happened to own when what became a three year nightime photo-shoot opened up for me.  Those photos BTW have been published in a variety of newspapers & magazines, as well as having two gallery shows of them.  Now I'm shooting different very low-light subjects with an OM-D and the m4/3 version of the PL 25 1.4, and I couldn't be happier.  Why?  A big part is because of the depth of field that combo gives me.

Like many others, I too like to seperate my subjects from their background a bit by using the selective focus which wide apertures afford.  But often, I don't want to obliterate all the background, or foreground, definition, just soften it enough to tell my viewers wher to plant their gaze in the picture.  So, if I'm shooting in a dimly lit bar or a city street at midnight, my OM-D produces "just right" images at f1.4 and an ISO of 3200, typically yielding a shutter speed of between 1/30 and 1/80 sec, depending on how dark the lighting is.

Of course, I could shoot FF at 2.8, but then I'd also be shooting at an ISO of 12800 for the same shutter speed.  Even as good as FF images are, the OM-D at 1/4 the ISO will always look better.

But there's more.  You know all of that about focussing speed on ILC cameras?  Well the added DOF frequently lets you grab images of moving tagets that are as focussed as an SLR, since there is 4 times more distance which is in an acceptable focus range on an m4/3.  When you're shooting with a 6" DOF your focus has to be absolutely perfect--when your DOF is 2' for the same reolution, you have a whole lot more room for "error."

No, I'm not saying that m4/3 can always FF cameras (or larger) in all situations, but what I am saying is that the discussion of such is far more nuanced than most people realize; and sometimes, just sometimes, the current crop of m4/3 can pull off stunning results that "Pro" cameras might struggle with.

Think about it.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alsphotography/7469950100/in/set-72157626222679005

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alsphotography/7184263746/in/set-72157626222679005

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alsphotography/8434695371/in/set-72157626222679005

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alsphotography/2797278271/in/set-72157606953341377/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alsphotography/5156759746/in/set-72157607936657390

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alsphotography/5091527081/in/set-72157607936657390

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alsphotography/2931803331/in/set-72157607936657390

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alsphotography/5092128380/in/set-72157607936657390

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deckfrost
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Re: Rethinking 4/3 Depth Of Field
In reply to al_in_philly, Apr 11, 2013

Of course, I could shoot FF at 2.8, but then I'd also be shooting at an ISO of 12800 for the same shutter speed.  Even as good as FF images are, the OM-D at 1/4 the ISO will always look better.

That s why ND filters exist !!! shoot wide open at 200 ISO

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al_in_philly
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Re: Rethinking 4/3 Depth Of Field
In reply to deckfrost, Apr 11, 2013

deckfrost wrote:

Of course, I could shoot FF at 2.8, but then I'd also be shooting at an ISO of 12800 for the same shutter speed.  Even as good as FF images are, the OM-D at 1/4 the ISO will always look better.

That s why ND filters exist !!! shoot wide open at 200 ISO

I'm talking about low light situations.  ND filters require higher ISO settings and lower IQ for the same given aperture and shutter speed.

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RoelHendrickx
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I can already predict a response.
In reply to al_in_philly, Apr 11, 2013

I can already predict a response by some people likely to chime in here.

They will say that having shallow DOF at one's disposal is never a disadvantage, because if deeper DOF is desired, the aperture can always be stopped down a bit (while it cannot be "stopped up" to make the DOF more shallow than the lens wide-open on the sensor will allow).

And actually, that is a reasonably valid argument : having wider apertures (and shallower DOF) available is a benefit, even if it is not used all the time.

But there is also the factor of shutter speed (and that seems to be forgotten sometimes by those same people); stopping down the lens for deeper DOF will make the shutter speed slower, and that is something that the photographer can not always afford (in low light).  ISO helps, but there are limits.

Anyway, the likely discussion that will develop here, will boil down to always the same conclusion:

* every systems has its benefits and its drawbacks, and is a compromise between lots of factors (cost, weight, size, speed, DOF shallow or deep, weathersealing, lens range, etc);

* every photographer should prioritize what matters most to him/her, pick a system (or go dual system) and enjoy the benefits and live with or work around the drawbacks; and be happy.

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al_in_philly
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Re: I can already predict a response.
In reply to RoelHendrickx, Apr 11, 2013

RoelHendrickx wrote:

I can already predict a response by some people likely to chime in here.

They will say that having shallow DOF at one's disposal is never a disadvantage, because if deeper DOF is desired, the aperture can always be stopped down a bit (while it cannot be "stopped up" to make the DOF more shallow than the lens wide-open on the sensor will allow).

And actually, that is a reasonably valid argument : having wider apertures (and shallower DOF) available is a benefit, even if it is not used all the time.

Roel,

You're probably right with your prediction.  But What I was trying to say is that being able to have a longer depth of field can be a benefit as well.  This is something I realized many years (decades) ago when I was shooting documentary films. The links included at the bottom of the page were put there to show that not only can 4/3 & m4/3 create a desirable bokeh, but often they can do so without losing most all detail which can be unavoidable with FF gear in certain situations.

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RoelHendrickx
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Re: I can already predict a response.
In reply to al_in_philly, Apr 11, 2013

al_in_philly wrote:

RoelHendrickx wrote:

I can already predict a response by some people likely to chime in here.

They will say that having shallow DOF at one's disposal is never a disadvantage, because if deeper DOF is desired, the aperture can always be stopped down a bit (while it cannot be "stopped up" to make the DOF more shallow than the lens wide-open on the sensor will allow).

And actually, that is a reasonably valid argument : having wider apertures (and shallower DOF) available is a benefit, even if it is not used all the time.

Roel,

You're probably right with your prediction.  But What I was trying to say is that being able to have a longer depth of field can be a benefit as well.  This is something I realized many years (decades) ago when I was shooting documentary films. The links included at the bottom of the page were put there to show that not only can 4/3 & m4/3 create a desirable bokeh, but often they can do so without losing most all detail which can be unavoidable with FF gear in certain situations.

I looked at your links and liked them.

The Corona shot was particularly nice.  Great use of DOF ! 

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Anders W
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Re: Rethinking 4/3 Depth Of Field
In reply to al_in_philly, Apr 11, 2013

al_in_philly wrote:

A lot of the questions about m4/3 (as well as 4/3) as a viable professional format seems to revolve around either low light image quality, moving target focussing speed, or depth of field.  With the development of better and better sensors, the low light image quality issue is discussed less and less; the focussing issue is only an issue for those who frequently shoot moving objects as in sports photography; so lately, it appears that the biggest question regarding m4/3 centers around the inherently longer depth of field for a given aperture compared to the larger FF cameras.  In virtually every discussion, the shallower DOF of a FF camera is seen as a benefit.  Maybe it's time to rethink that--at least in some applications.

I do the majority of my shooting in very low light situations without a flash.  I started out shooting at night with a (then brand new) Olympus e-510 and a Pan/Leica 25mm f1.4.  I know, great lens choice, not best choice for a low-light camera, but that's what I happened to own when what became a three year nightime photo-shoot opened up for me.  Those photos BTW have been published in a variety of newspapers & magazines, as well as having two gallery shows of them.  Now I'm shooting different very low-light subjects with an OM-D and the m4/3 version of the PL 25 1.4, and I couldn't be happier.  Why?  A big part is because of the depth of field that combo gives me.

Like many others, I too like to seperate my subjects from their background a bit by using the selective focus which wide apertures afford.  But often, I don't want to obliterate all the background, or foreground, definition, just soften it enough to tell my viewers wher to plant their gaze in the picture.  So, if I'm shooting in a dimly lit bar or a city street at midnight, my OM-D produces "just right" images at f1.4 and an ISO of 3200, typically yielding a shutter speed of between 1/30 and 1/80 sec, depending on how dark the lighting is.

Of course, I could shoot FF at 2.8, but then I'd also be shooting at an ISO of 12800 for the same shutter speed.  Even as good as FF images are, the OM-D at 1/4 the ISO will always look better.

Yes, it will. The point is hardly new though. I have made it many times over already. When shooting at higher ISOs and when DoF is in short supply, the E-M5 (and other cameras with the latest MFT sensor) will beat most FF cameras. In the scenario you are describing, the E-M5 will be ahead by about 2/3 EV in terms of dynamic range compared to cameras like the Nikon D800 or the Canon 5D3. Among current FF cameras, only the D4 can match the E-M5 in this particular case.

But there's more.  You know all of that about focussing speed on ILC cameras?  Well the added DOF frequently lets you grab images of moving tagets that are as focussed as an SLR, since there is 4 times more distance which is in an acceptable focus range on an m4/3.  When you're shooting with a 6" DOF your focus has to be absolutely perfect--when your DOF is 2' for the same reolution, you have a whole lot more room for "error."

No, I'm not saying that m4/3 can always FF cameras (or larger) in all situations, but what I am saying is that the discussion of such is far more nuanced than most people realize; and sometimes, just sometimes, the current crop of m4/3 can pull off stunning results that "Pro" cameras might struggle with.

Think about it.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alsphotography/7469950100/in/set-72157626222679005

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alsphotography/7184263746/in/set-72157626222679005

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alsphotography/8434695371/in/set-72157626222679005

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alsphotography/2797278271/in/set-72157606953341377/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alsphotography/5156759746/in/set-72157607936657390

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alsphotography/5091527081/in/set-72157607936657390

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alsphotography/2931803331/in/set-72157607936657390

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alsphotography/5092128380/in/set-72157607936657390

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Alumna Gorp
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Re: Rethinking 4/3 Depth Of Field
In reply to al_in_philly, Apr 11, 2013

al_in_philly wrote:

A lot of the questions about m4/3 (as well as 4/3) as a viable professional format seems to revolve around either low light image quality, moving target focussing speed, or depth of field.  With the development of better and better sensors, the low light image quality issue is discussed less and less; the focussing issue is only an issue for those who frequently shoot moving objects as in sports photography; so lately, it appears that the biggest question regarding m4/3 centers around the inherently longer depth of field for a given aperture compared to the larger FF cameras.  In virtually every discussion, the shallower DOF of a FF camera is seen as a benefit.  Maybe it's time to rethink that--at least in some applications.

I do the majority of my shooting in very low light situations without a flash.  I started out shooting at night with a (then brand new) Olympus e-510 and a Pan/Leica 25mm f1.4.  I know, great lens choice, not best choice for a low-light camera, but that's what I happened to own when what became a three year nightime photo-shoot opened up for me.  Those photos BTW have been published in a variety of newspapers & magazines, as well as having two gallery shows of them.  Now I'm shooting different very low-light subjects with an OM-D and the m4/3 version of the PL 25 1.4, and I couldn't be happier.  Why?  A big part is because of the depth of field that combo gives me.

Like many others, I too like to seperate my subjects from their background a bit by using the selective focus which wide apertures afford.  But often, I don't want to obliterate all the background, or foreground, definition, just soften it enough to tell my viewers wher to plant their gaze in the picture.  So, if I'm shooting in a dimly lit bar or a city street at midnight, my OM-D produces "just right" images at f1.4 and an ISO of 3200, typically yielding a shutter speed of between 1/30 and 1/80 sec, depending on how dark the lighting is.

Of course, I could shoot FF at 2.8, but then I'd also be shooting at an ISO of 12800 for the same shutter speed.  Even as good as FF images are, the OM-D at 1/4 the ISO will always look better.

But there's more.  You know all of that about focussing speed on ILC cameras?  Well the added DOF frequently lets you grab images of moving tagets that are as focussed as an SLR, since there is 4 times more distance which is in an acceptable focus range on an m4/3.  When you're shooting with a 6" DOF your focus has to be absolutely perfect--when your DOF is 2' for the same reolution, you have a whole lot more room for "error."

No, I'm not saying that m4/3 can always FF cameras (or larger) in all situations, but what I am saying is that the discussion of such is far more nuanced than most people realize; and sometimes, just sometimes, the current crop of m4/3 can pull off stunning results that "Pro" cameras might struggle with.

Think about it.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alsphotography/7469950100/in/set-72157626222679005

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alsphotography/7184263746/in/set-72157626222679005

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alsphotography/8434695371/in/set-72157626222679005

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alsphotography/2797278271/in/set-72157606953341377/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alsphotography/5156759746/in/set-72157607936657390

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alsphotography/5091527081/in/set-72157607936657390

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alsphotography/2931803331/in/set-72157607936657390

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alsphotography/5092128380/in/set-72157607936657390

Have a read at this.

http://admiringlight.com/blog/full-frame-equivalence-and-why-it-doesnt-matter/2/

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RoelHendrickx
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Re: Rethinking 4/3 Depth Of Field
In reply to Alumna Gorp, Apr 11, 2013

Alumna Gorp wrote:

Have a read at this.

http://admiringlight.com/blog/full-frame-equivalence-and-why-it-doesnt-matter/2/

I had seen that before. But did not know anymore where I had.

Thanks for bringing it up again.

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Alumna Gorp
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Re: Rethinking 4/3 Depth Of Field
In reply to RoelHendrickx, Apr 11, 2013

RoelHendrickx wrote:

Alumna Gorp wrote:

Have a read at this.

http://admiringlight.com/blog/full-frame-equivalence-and-why-it-doesnt-matter/2/

I had seen that before. But did not know anymore where I had.

Thanks for bringing it up again.

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Roel Hendrickx
lots of images: www.roelh.zenfolio.com
my E-3 user field report from Tunisian Sahara: http://www.biofos.com/ukpsg/roel.html

For those of us that have moved from other systems we are generally not concerned, we already know the differences

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papillon_65
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Re: Rethinking 4/3 Depth Of Field
In reply to al_in_philly, Apr 11, 2013

This has been discussed here many times and it is true that the additional dof for a given aperture on m4/3's over a large sensor can be a plus. In reality we are talking at the limits though. As an example, shooting with a 50mm lens at F1.4 on a FF camera (with a distance to subject of 10ft) gives you 1 ft of dof. Change that lens to a 35mm and we're talking 2 ft. That's plenty to play with in most situations. The trick is to best utilise the dof in favour of what you want to achieve with any format. With FF you're in trouble at very close distances, though the effect can also be very nice if you get it right. It's just a case of pick your best compromise.

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Chatokun
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Re: Rethinking 4/3 Depth Of Field
In reply to al_in_philly, Apr 11, 2013

I've had times where I've had an issue with DoF also... using the 25mm at f2 in an indoor arena, I had issues getting two people standing side by side but one slightly in front of the other in focus. On the smaller screen I didn't notice, so I didn't reshoot it. I assumed it would be enough since I was doing whole body shots, but I guess even then I needed to stop down more. I also missed a good shot with the 75, it focused on his ears instead of his face, and the thin dof kept his face out of focus.

What was nice about that photo is, while he knew we were taking pictures of him (he was my demonstration victim for another friend) we had caught him doing a glance around while waiting and it gave it an impression of deep thought (I have a dream!). The expression is a keeper, but the focus... ugh.

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al_in_philly
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Re: I can already predict a response.
In reply to RoelHendrickx, Apr 11, 2013

I looked at your links and liked them.

The Corona shot was particularly nice.  Great use of DOF ! 

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Roel Hendrickx
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Thanks.  I enjoyed looking at your Tunisian photos, especially the portraiture.

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al_in_philly
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Re: Rethinking 4/3 Depth Of Field
In reply to Alumna Gorp, Apr 11, 2013

Have a read at this.

http://admiringlight.com/blog/full-frame-equivalence-and-why-it-doesnt-matter/2/

Far more eloquent than my humble chicken scratchings in this forum.

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Just Having Fun
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Easy to remove DoF - impossible to add back DoF
In reply to al_in_philly, Apr 11, 2013

You can always remove DoF from an image just like you can always soften an image.  You can NOT add back DoF to a single image though (with image stacking you can, but very limited).

As you point out, rather than trying to get razor thin DoF and possibly ruining the focus (wrong focal point), it is easier to concentrate on getting a sharp subject in focus, and processing the DoF and softness how you want later.  Heck, you can even choose how you want the bokeh to look with the right software.

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al_in_philly
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A little background to the original posting
In reply to al_in_philly, Apr 11, 2013

I have a new show going up this weekend.  That means that this past week I've been printing and framing 24 mainly 16x20's and 11x14's.  Those of you who've gone through this ordeal know that you really get "up close and personal" with each print, exploring them in extreme detail.  This upcoming show is the result of 3 years of shooting in one rather dark dive bar (a couple of the links provided in the original post were from this series).  Looking at them, I was impressed with this work (as unhumble as that must sound).  The only technical misgiving I had on one or two of the shots was that I wished I had a touch more depth of field going on.  That's when this thought popped into my head: I was so glad that I wasn't shooting with a FF camera, as even if I could have shot them without drawing attention to myself (not likely), my issue with the DOF would only have been moreso.  That thought, and reading a few posting lamenting the limited DOF in m4/3 was the reason for my post on rethinking 4/3 depth of field.

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SuvoMitra
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Re: Rethinking 4/3 Depth Of Field
In reply to al_in_philly, Apr 11, 2013

This has been discussed before, as others point out, but it's an important point, and a potential advantage of a smaller sensor when you want more depth of field at faster shutter speeds (at a given ISO). A fast-lens compact gives enormous depth of field at fast shutter speeds, but the key is clearly to get to a sensor size that balances this with some ability to focus selectively on human-sized subjects. Consider also that to provide selective focus ability with smaller sensors, lenses have to be not only usable but very strong right from large apertures like f/1.4 or f/1. Also, smooth rendering of out-of-focus areas needs to be provided in lenses of shorter focal length. Some of the lens price differences must reflect these challenges.

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danijel973
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Re: I can already predict a response.
In reply to RoelHendrickx, Apr 11, 2013

RoelHendrickx wrote:

I can already predict a response by some people likely to chime in here.

They will say that having shallow DOF at one's disposal is never a disadvantage, because if deeper DOF is desired, the aperture can always be stopped down a bit (while it cannot be "stopped up" to make the DOF more shallow than the lens wide-open on the sensor will allow).

Except when you stop down to have similar DoF you're no longer at f/2.8, you're at f/5.6, and then you push ISO up two stops to compensate for speed loss and suddenly you wonder where your "two stop advantage at high ISO" went.

It's all BS spewed by people who have very little actual photographic experience but who have filled their heads with theory on the net and now they are annoying everyone.

And yes, I own everything from medium format to iPhone so I'm not really biased.

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danijel973
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Re: Rethinking 4/3 Depth Of Field
In reply to al_in_philly, Apr 11, 2013

You are of course right, but good luck trying to explain that to people who have no experience with both 35mm and 43. The single greatest problem with 43 format is Olympus not being up to date with sensors and bodies. Other than that, it is one of 3 best systems around, the other two being Canon and Nikon.

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danijel973
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Re: Rethinking 4/3 Depth Of Field
In reply to Alumna Gorp, Apr 11, 2013

It's a great article, and I would venture a guess that the reason for that is that the author actually has experience with both 35mm and 43.

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