Eric L. Woods

Anti GAS RNF: What full frame is and is not.

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Blogging through the madness once again. Let’s get started. Here is a title acronym guide just in case.

GAS: Gadget Acquisition Syndrome. Common in camera geekery, and perhaps elsewhere, and refers to the never ending Pokemon “Gotta catch ’em all.” pursuit. Also akin to a Gollum like “Must have the precious.” <New camera release or blindingly overpriced vintage camera is discovered.> and then “Now I must have that precious.”

RNF: Random Neural Firing. Eric speak for those absolutely no one said anything moments followed by my random ponder then rant generator starting off with, “You know what?”.

You know what? It may just be the social reckoning, pandemic, and the potential brink of an authoritarian takeover desperate pursuit for cognitive distractions talking but camera gear specs and prices have gotten way out of hand.

The starting point for this post was when my friend Anthony (His photography website here.) stated the following:

“I used the a6000 all weekend. I did charge the battery on the D750.”

After a good amount of time with full frame gear Anthony and I have both picked up an a6000 as a light, small, affordable daily shooter camera. We are both impressed at how well this camera performs. So much so that we find ourselves using them more than the full frame cameras when either could have been used.

Before I had full frame gear I had viewed it as some Holy Grail that would elevate the blah blah… While I do appreciate full frame it is an option not a necessity for most.

Along that line of thinking as an intellectual, lowest acceptable spec, and limits of frugality exercise I recently started a Revisiting Old Gear series. The series centers on the system that started my gear churn odyssey, MFT. All gear listed so far costs less than or around $150 each used. I am now looking at the images I am taking with this 8 year old camera and two dirt cheap zooms (The similarly priced primes will be updated soon.) like “What in the actual heck?”

Olympus 14-42mm EZ

And I am just an old gallery review away of being reminded of how capable these MFT cameras are with prime lenses.

Olympus 75mm f/1.8
Olympus 75mm f/1.8
Grace Photo Shoot
Olympus 45mm f/1.8
A visit to the toy store and admired some old gear while test driving a new lens (Olympus 25mm f1.8.).
Olympus 25mm f/1.8
100 Men In Black at UNC Pembroke
Olympus 17mm f/1.8
Rehearsal.
Panasonic 14mm f/2.5

This confirms for me that with primes APS-C and now MFT system cameras are perfectly serviceable in most any practical situation.

I have yet to say it out loud (Typing it out does not count. My made up rules.) but, with my Sony APS-C gear, I had already been thinking that I could sell all of my full frame gear and it would largely not be missed. Not going to as I would definitely kick myself afterward. But I could… Almost. Why hold onto them? Not for the reasons mostly stated.

What I see most used as justification for full frame (Including my past self.).

Light gathering.

Very true. It is hard to fight physics. Low light situations are a full frame camera’s playground. But, we adapt. APS-C is near enough for me where I have little issue with low light situations. But while those larger sensors are better it does not mean that MFT cannot deliver in low light situations as well.

Ferris wheel.
Olympus PEN-F
Carnival.

A few things that can help.

  • IBIS. If you choose Olympus MFT cameras near any body you will purchase will have IBIS. While this does not help with moving subjects, low light stationary scenes are quite easy. Especially if you also employ…
  • Good technique. Shooting with film a lot helps me with this. You learn to square yourself off and take a solid stance as well as holding your arms into your body and shots like the Ferris Wheel above are quite simple. And unlike film you have the added benefit of…
  • High ISO Performance. I set my Olympus cameras to top out at ISO 3200-5000. The grain that does appear is quite acceptable to me. Another perk is…
  • Having fun with it. It changes what you are looking to shoot. Knowing that a longer exposure and solid stance would be necessary I took it to an extreme with the Merry Go Round shot above. While I could have done that with APS-C or Full Frame I am not sure that it would have come to mind.
  • Lens selection. More on this in the next section…

Bokeh.

I will admit that I can be a bit of a bokeh nut. But as shown in the prime examples above a pleasing level of bokeh can be had with MFT. And if these autofocus samples do not provide enough blur. there are quite a few extreme aperture manual focus lenses on the market. Of course full frame will always produce more, but even I admit bokeh gets more attention than it deserves. I could easily make do with these MFT lenses.

Detail.

Yes. Full frame provides more detail. You cannot fight physics. A larger sensor facilitates more MP. But for my purposes this is not as necessary as I had once thought. I used to obsessively pixel peep. But lenses like the 7Artisans 50mm f/1.1 and any number of vintage lenses like the Helios 44-2 shot on digital basically cured me. While focus was still very important the absolute sharpness of a person’s closest eyeball down to the individual veins took a backseat to the overall look and framing of the image. When taking people photos with my sharpest lenses I have actually found myself dialing back the clarity for a more pleasing result. While true that you can dial back an overly sharp image and you cannot increase detail that it is not there I have not found this to be an issue in real world experience. This means nothing if you are blowing up images to an immense scale or if you plan on cropping heavily but, other than the most critical of shoots, these are not typically concerns of mine on a day to day basis.

That being said let me get back on track with the title of this post.

What full frame is.

Fast zoom lens selection.

My main reason for keeping full frame cameras is fast aperture zooms. The APS-C Samsung 50-150mm f/2.8 I had years ago is the only crop tele zoom that even came close to the half a block away background blur full frame tele zoom look I first grew accustomed to with the relatively inexpensive Tamron DSLR 70-200m f/2.8.

Graduation
Samsung 50-150mm f/2.8

Another winner was their Samsung NX 16-50mm f/2-2.8 (Starting at f/2!).

Durham photo walk w/ Triangle Photography Club
Samsung NX 16-50mm f/2-2.8

If they had stayed in the game there is a large possibility that I would have never stepped up to full frame. That largely comes down to their excellent crop zoom and prime lens selection. (But we see what happened with Samsung cameras.)

But who else does this? Almost no one for APS-C. If you look up APS-C lenses with an f/2.8 or faster aperture right now you will get exactly 4 lenses, three Fujifilm lenses and one Sony. And all of these lenses cost more than the most expensive of the Tamron full frame f/2.8 zoom trio. This is a hard sell.

There are a couple more MFT choices at six, with an even Olympus/Panasonic three and three split. But at prices rivaling or more than full frame third party f/2.8 zoom lenses they are also a hard sell for me. The only one that really interests me is the <deep breath> Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Summilux 10-25mm f/1.7 ASPH because of its f/1.7 constant aperture since it is the only one likely to approach the depth of field look of larger sensors. While I can accept f/2.8 on APS-C zooms at this price point for MFT I would want either a faster aperture or a lower price. For the price of the tele fast zoom <deep breath> Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO and Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm f/2.8 II POWER O.I.S. (small sensors, but big names), I could nearly purchase the Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 and a Sony A7II. The kicker is that while the Panasonic compares favorably size wise to the 70-180mm Tamron collapsed it is actually shorter (149mm vs 160mm) than the almost as heavy Olympus. Below I added the older OMD E-M1 which used would put the price of the MFT combination over the full frame set up.

Click Image to See Comparison Website

I know. I know. The Olympus is a much more polished lens that is touted for its prime like image sharpness and reaches a full frame equivalent of 300mm rather than 180mm. You could also close or overcome the price gap by buying the MFT f/2.8 zoom lenses used. If one just wants MFT that could work. But as much as I appreciate that added reach, MFT in general, and Olympus lenses specifically I would still take the full frame Tamron/A7II all day for less or like money and like size. We must also consider that all f/2.8 lenses are not equal since f/2.8 on MFT will not gather as much light as f/2.8 on full frame. You cannot fight physics. For me Panasonic would need to crank out an f/1.7 Summilux tele zoom to go along with that 10-25mm mentioned earlier. But that lens would likely be prohibitively large and expensive for me anyway. In the meantime when it comes to MFT I will happily make do with the decidedly low rent, pedestrian, also reaches 300mm equivalent Olympus 40-150mm.

Scoff as you might, understandably, this way better than it has any business being, little, as much as or less than $99 new or used, fit in my cargo pant side pocket lens is a perfect small size solution for my MFT needs.

Co-Op City, The Bronx
Butterfly house

So there are no practical APS-C or MFT fast zoom solutions that meet my needs. Personal preference. Your mileage may vary.

Resolution

24MP is my sweet spot on full frame, but there are some full frame high MP beasts on the market right now. I have sampled this to some degree with the 42.4MP A7RII years ago.

Sony A7Rii

While glorious it was more MP than I needed since I do not tend to crop often and 24MP serves me just fine on the rare occasion that I do choose to crop.

Kauffmann Wedding Shoot - The Wedding
Original
Kauffmann Wedding Shoot - The Wedding
Crop
Kauffmann Wedding Shoot - The Wedding
Original
Kauffmann Wedding Shoot - The Wedding
Crop

But if I wanted to take it there I would have even higher medium format MP levels available with full frame models from Sony, Canon, or Nikon. The highest MP I have personally used on crop was the impressive APS-C Samsung NX1 at 28.2MP in all of its backlit, high FPS, and very fast phase detect AF glory.

Blossoming Tree
IMG_20160206_193903
Harlem

Dang it Samsung!…

Anyway. Task at hand and all. After a quick perusal of my Northeast research department’s results I see that APS-C tops out at 32MP as long as you want a Canon 90D or M6 but otherwise you will land in NX1 territory at best and MFT tops out at 20MP. While ingenious, MP stacking does not count since that can only be used under very specific conditions. While 20MP is acceptable for most purposes I do like the fact that I could upgrade to MP upper regions later and still make full use of my current lenses. Pixel peepers rejoice.

Well that is all I have got on the what full frame is side. I am sure others could add more justification.

What full frame is not.

Small.

I am not including fixed lens cameras like the RX1 series or functionally compromised (No physical shutter, no viewfinder built in or otherwise, and/or no phase detect AF for example.) cameras like the Sigma fp. That leaves the A7 series (until the rumored even smaller A7c models arrive) as the smallest full frame cameras on the market. While they are small, with lenses like the Rokinon/Samyang 35mm or 24mm, they cannot match the downright puny a6000 w/ the meh 20mm f/2.8 or any number of tiny MFT cameras with a pancake lens like the Lumix 14mm f/2.5.

Len Test - Lumix 25mm f/1.7

Affordable cameras.

My Southeast research department reports that the least expensive bargain grade used mirrorless full frame camera body currently available costs in the neighborhood of $600. You can do a little better with used DSLRs but they will still run you at least $500 for a 20MP and up Bargain grade model. Meanwhile a mirrorless APS-C camera with a viewfinder can be had for around $200 and a MFT camera with a viewfinder can be had for even less. My bargain grade Olympus OMD E-M5 came in at about $130.

Pics for Blog Post - Olympus OMD E-M5

The end all be all.

A while back I had convinced myself that I had to have full frame. This is simply not true. While full frame is better suited for some tasks, like AF with movement in low light situations…

Kauffmann Wedding - The Reception

…and one could argue required for other tasks like heavy cropping or extreme enlargements near any system would fulfill the great majority of my needs. Would I use MFT to shoot a wedding or portrait session? Depends.

If that is what I had, definitely. If I had options I will look at a wedding first as an example (Having shot all of one against my will under great pressure from a good friend who would not take no for an answer.). For a formal wedding at a large venue I would use full frame assuming I was being compensated and had the means to easily bring the gear I needed to bring safely and securely. For a less formal event or a small setting I would do just fine with a small APS-C three prime set up. And if the event was more relaxed and would take place in good light a MFT prime kit would do just fine as well.

For informal portraits I would do just fine with APS-C or MFT. While full frame would be my formal portrait preference APS-C and MFT could be used for those as well. That is not a need but rather a personal preference. While I would likely be able to tell the difference between a MFT, APS-C, and a full frame image with some scrutiny a great many would not notice or care. Same gentleman and fellow 100 Men In Black Male Chorus member below over the years.

Rokinon/Samyang AF 85mm f/1.4 FE
Full Frame
Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens
APS-C
TWC Arena Charlotte Bobcats
MFT

Three different sensor sizes, two different equivalent focal lengths, framing, and edits but I could have easily swapped formats for each.

I wish I had realized this earlier.

Would it have stopped me from buying full frame eventually? Most likely, no.

Does this mean that full frame is not necessary? No. Of course not. It has its advantages.

But I would have enjoyed the journey and the gear used much more along the way.

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