Lens vs Camera: The FF APS-C Dilemma

Started Aug 3, 2014 | Discussions thread
philip pj Senior Member • Posts: 1,608
Re: P-Mpix scores

Let me rejoin, since this important matter is beneficial to discuss.

'Get a FF if you want, but it won't make your photography better if the APC is all you require. A FF by itself doesn't make you a better or more insightful photographer, it just makes it easier to print bigger pictures - usually.'

I disagree with the first sentence and will explain why, and the second also is impacted so I disagree with that one also.

We can maybe agree that presentation counts in all art (and documentary work also); so being able to present your work well is useful for an artist, or practitioner to include say pro photographers who generally just need to satisfy a certain level of competence.

The qualities that make larger formats so popular are not only related to the things we usually see here - 'sharpness' is maybe 85% of debate. It is:

tonal gradation - separating individual tones as you move from shadow to light
colour gradation - a quality Mike Johnston termed micro-color
a relaxed drawing style (also known as rendering) - images look rich in detail, and very sharp - pure resolution at work
photorealism - the exquisite sense of being there, feeling that you can 'step into the image'

And more, but these are a good start. The eye adapts to what it sees, so we are very happy with apparent image quality from what we see most of the time. Then one day we see something better, and realise what high end images look like. [It happens with increases in Mp within a given format, like 24Mp to 36Mp - this is the reason you are not hankering for a 3Mp or 6Mp camera that made many users deliriously happy back in the early days of digital.]

I still remember using a very good 35mm camera for detailed landscapes on a hiking trip back 20+ years. Prints looked good up until 12x8 then looked poor. I got a medium format film camera and the very significant difference was immediately obvious, not just for larger prints note but even for small prints and when scanned, for jpgs!

Now it is not that easy to see in small web files but that does not mean it does not exist; and the measures used by say, DxO accurately and validly portray some of these differences in technical variables.

Each kind of photography and individual needs can be associated with an appropriate format, so convenience low res needs are satisfied by phones and compacts. Street work or close distance or family or quality snapshots can be best done with small high end compacts like m43. Full frame is popular because historically and contemporaneously these are the largest sensor (film in the old days) cameras that are reasonably sized to carry. A Hasselblad made a very poor travel camera, too much hassle (sorry). 4x5 field cameras enable you to only expose maybe 20 images in a session, so you can see what I am getting at. Trade-offs.

If you look at thousands of images shot with each format you see that users figure all this out and tend to use the cameras for what they do well. As an example, most m43 images are of subject matter very close to the camera, and many people like B&W and more 'artistic' interpretations. As you go up in format size, more highly detailed imagery is well represented, and currently MFD sits atop the tree (except for some diehards shooting B&W in 8x10 (inches) film cameras).

So - you will not see a lot of fine detail in m43 output, this should not be controversial. At the other end of the scale, fine detail is everywhere in MFD. Things like human hair at more than a short distance, the gentle transition of greens in a leaf 10 meters away, the high contrast in a woman's eyes, rocks and blades of grass, everything really.

Now, to the second sentence and here I am on less certain ground, but it happened in my case. I think that better cameras and lenses (rather than faster AF, or ergonomics) make you work harder simply because the images look better, it is a strong incentive. You can maybe agree also that for any given level of skill, experience, composition - call it what you will - a technically better image will look better. Better IQ cameras may compel you to try things that are harder to do, such as work in very low light or difficult light, or in strong contrasty light, or look for how to show fine qualities in your work. All of which are made easier with larger formats..but artistic ability is also better rewarded.

Might not apply to everyone, obviously. Here is an old film medium format shot of some plants, look at it in original form, it might help illustrate some of the points made above.

Look at how many individual leaves, spikes and fronds you can see. What MF gave me over 35mm was an image much closer to real life, to what I actually saw. Shot with a Mamiya 7II and 65/4 lens incidentally if anyone wants to know.

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