Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What's WRONG With The Canon EOS 5D?

What's Wrong With The Canon 5D? I've uncovered five weaknesses during my several months of ownership and use.

First,the accessory grip BG-4's ON-OFF switch has virtually no detent at the ON position,and in the course of very normal shooting and handling of the camera, the switch quite frequently makes its way far enough toward OFF that the grip's shutter release button is dead when I go to use it. This is a simple engineering failure; the EOS 5D grip's ON-OFF switch moves with very little force. On several occasions,over five months of use of the camera,I've gone to shoot with the vertical release,and it's accidentally slipped to OFF in the course of just handling/using the camera. It's annoying. [Nov 26,2007 Update:Since this writing, I've had three more instances of "dead release button when trying to shoot'.]

The 5D's pentaprism allows a LOT of stray dust into the viewfinder system. I have a 30-year old Nikon FM which was last serviced 1987 and it has about as much crap inside it as my months-old new 5D has accumulated. Seriously.I suspect the 5D's eyepiece window is the culprit. The 5D's viewfinder/pentaprism/eyepiece system is one dust-leakin' mutha. I read about this problem before buying a 5D,and knew going in that it allows a lot of dust to get inside the camera and onto the viewfinder screen. It's a poorly-sealed system.

 Here's a web article illustrated with good photos that show exactly how to remove the viewfinder screen and to clean out all the crap that'll accumulate inside your 5D's viewfinder.

The third thing that's wrong with the EOS 5D is the autofocus system. The 5D uses a diamond-shaped AF point array that's too-centrally weighted,and which does not allow the use of off-centered AF points in the sure,positive manner that I am used to with the Nikon D2x. Also, the 5D does have some difficulties in ascertaining focus under flat,lower-contrast lighting, and also under some low-light scenarios,especially when only an outside,single AF point is in use. The outermost AF sensor brackets in the 5D simply do not meet my performance expectations under low-light or low-contrast lighting scenarios. The left and right edges of the frame are "served" by one AF point at the outermost point of the diamond; again, the 5D's main AF limitation is that it is weak when using off-center AF points. By contrast,the D2x allows you to use grouped off-center AF points, and with those groups of AF points doing the computing, the D2x is amazingly strong at nailing off-center targets. The D2x AF approach gives a higher priority to the edges of the frame,and particularly when photographing people in the portrait orientation, the D2x's grouped AF points can more-reliably pull focus under soft,low light levels like under studio flash modeling lamps. The heavily center-weighted,diamond-shaped AF point array Canon uses in its consumer and prosumer cameras is simply not as sophisticated,nor as costly, as what Canon or Nikon puts in some other camera bodies.

While the 5D's AF performance is reasonably good MUCH of the time,it does not function all that well with the side AF points indoors in a lot of my shooting scenarios using either the 50mm f/1.4 EF, 85mm f/1.8 EF, 135mm f/2 L-series, nor with the 24-105mm f/4 L-series zoom. The 5D's AF system is simply not as sophisticated, nor as user-adjustable, nor as user-controllable as the autofocusing system in Nikon's D2x. That's my take on the 5D's AF system; while the 5D has a Very Good AF system, the D2x has an Excellent AF system. Compare the price,and compare the market niche,and this all makes sense.

The 5D's fourth major flaw is a two-part problem with the viewfinder system. First problem area is the skimpy viewfinder information system. There's no information displayed except plus and minus on the exposure scale and any exposure comp dialed in,and the frames remaining in the buffer. There is NO DISPLAY INFORMATION that tells the user which exposure mode is selected! Yes,that's right: there is NO indication of which exposure mode is selected when looking thru the viewfinder! No metering pattern info, no ANYTHING, except for the exposure setting readouts and frames remaining. The 5D has minimal shooting information visible in the finder. Weird. Very,very weird.

Part Two of the fourth major flaw of the EOS 5D needs to be in all-caps: THE 5D's LCD INFO PRETTY MUCH DISAPPEARS IN VERY BRIGHT LIGHT. It's damned near impossible to see the metering readouts of the 5D when shooting under very bright outdoor lighting. The 5D's viewfinder LED's are so weak and underpowered I am amazed that this serious flaw was not found and rectified during beta testing of the bodies. Using this camera outdoors in very bright light conditions during July and August was a pain in the ass. The metering LED's are very underpowered.

The viewfinder IMAGE, of the framing and focusing of the scene the lens sees, is quite,quite good. I can see almost all of the image area,all the way out to the corners while wearing my glasses. The viewfinder screen is bright,and has a smooth texture. I wish the screen were a bit more coarse and contrasty,and thus more geared toward manual focus ascertainment, but that's just my personal preference. The screen is optimized for autofocus operation with fast prime lenses,and under ideal to good conditions the viewfinder screen allows "reasonable" manual focus ascertainment. Under more-difficult conditions, the screen is not too good for manual focus ascertainment. I've shot the 5D with the Nikkor 85/1.4, 105 DC, 50/2 HC,105/2.5 AiS,and 300/4 AF-S and 400/3.5 and a few other manual focusing lenses. Under optimal to good conditions, the 5D's screen works reasonably well with the above lenses. Good Nikon glass performs very well on the 5D's sensor.

To recap the viewfinder system's weaknesses: 1-The 5D is really is prone to allowing dust and junk into the finder system,to the point you can easily,easily see the crud as you use the camera. 2-In bright light, it can be VERY difficult/impossible to see the 5D's exposure info through the viewfinder. The LED's can virtually disappear and become virtually invisible when shooting under very bright, i.e. under "summertime" conditions. On the plus side, the finder image is large,clear,and not 'squinty' or 'tunnel-like'.

Summary: All told, what's wrong with the EOS 5D is almost all body-related stuff. The camera is generally pretty good in almost all areas,except for a few things. The body and its subsystems are really not as sophisticated as those found in Canon's or Nikon's top-grade bodies,but then the 5D does not retail for $4,500 to $7,999 as do the top-grade bodies. The 5D allows dust into the viewfinder system MORE readily than any body I've ever used. The 5D has only minimal shooting information visible in the finder. And the finder's LCD readouts are seriously underpowered,and pretty much blank out to invisibility,or near-invisibility,when using the camera under bright ambient light shooting conditions. And the 5D is fitted with an AF system that's kind of low-rent compared with what I expect these days from a "pro" body, but this is not a "pro Canon", it is Canon's entry-priced,entry-level Full-Frame digital SLR body.

On the plus side, the sensor's performance is excellent. Truly excellent. The low, medium, and high-iso ranges are all excellent performers. The frame rate is fine,and in social situations the 3FPS rate gives a nice separation between frames. I like the 5D's ability to remove the grip,and to have a half-height camera when portability or smaller profile is advantageous. Shutter lag is acceptable for social photography. Card write times are fine. There's not a lot really "wrong" with the 5D except when you try and shoot with it under bright, outdoor light conditions which make the viewfinder information display's faded-out green characters almost impossible to see without resorting to physically shrouding the area surrounding the viewfinder eyepiece. Aside from the five major flaws I point out,the 5D has a few minor flaws that are related to Canon's goofy button-and-menu control system and Canon's goofball ergonomics and camera control 'decisions'; overall, the EOS 5D is a very,very good image-maker. The 5D makes beautiful images. Across a wide range of ISO's and a wide range of light levels. The camera's sensor is MUCH, much better for higher-ISO shooting than the Nikon D2x,for example. An excellent sensor like the 5D's in a body as excellent as the Nikon D2x would make for an incredible professional camera.

Addendum, August 10,2008: See this thread detailing problems other 5D owners have found at

Friday, August 03, 2007

Canon EOS 5D Review: 90 Days With the 5D

Well, it's now been a little over three months that I've shot with the EOS 5D and its accessory dual battery grip. I've used the 24-105mm f/4 L zoom, the EF 50/1.4, the EF 85/1.8,and the EF 135/2 L-series on the 5D, as well as Nikon's 105mm Defocus Control lens and a few other Nikkors. Now that I've shot a few thousand frames with the 5D, I'm familiar with the kind of results it can produce. Overall, I think the 5D is a fine camera, but one which could benefit from a better body with a little bit better feature set and design. Specifically, the 5D DOES allow a TON of crap to make its way inside the viewfinder system--it's the worst SLR design I have ever shot with in terms of allowing dust to enter the viewscreen/pentaprism areas. The EOS 5D could use a pop-up flash in a major way. And a couple more control buttons. Yet still, the 5D has proven itself to be a practical, easy-to-use, versatile camera, with a great mix of value, image quality, and simplicity in use.

One of the 5D's biggest operational problems is the ultra-soft touch ON/OFF switch on the accessory battery grip. Normal use and handling of the camera can turn the ON/OFF switch slightly forward, away from the ON position by a millimeter or two, rendering the grip's shutter release inoperational. The control has far,far too light of a touch,and has an almost non-existent detent at either ON or OFF. Numerous times, I've found that the vertical grip's trigger is dead, even though I NEVER turn the grip's trigger OFF. The switch is large,and has no safety's free to move toward OFF at any time, with almost no pressure. A crappy design,really. One must constantly make sure the trigger on the grip STAYS where it was put, since it wanders to OFF of its own accord quite often.

Lens-wise, the 85mm f/1.8 Canon EF lens is a tremendous value for the money spent. The 135mm f/2 L is a good telephoto lens, on par with Nikon's 135 f/2 Defocus Control lens,with maybe a bit higher image contrast being shown by the Canon lens.
Canon's 50mm f/1.4 EF is amply sharp and contrasty ,and it focuses very quickly, but the 50/1.4 EF has had some very,very odd failures to initiate autofocus over the last few weeks. While all three of these prime lenses appear well-made and feel solid and they handle and shoot very nicely, I must confess that the operational failures I've had with the $345 50mm lens are kind of pissing me off as of late. The 50's failure to initiate AF has been when the lens got confused and went wayyyy out of focus, and would simply NOT make an effort to seek focus until manually shifted out of AF and into to Manual focus,and the lens ring had to be turned and turned and turned by hand. Perhaps this 50 is a clunker--I've had this odd AF failure happen three times,and three times it has cost me the shot. I've never had a similar experience before or since with any other lenses of any brand.

I've only recently, this week in fact, purchased the 70-200 f/2.8 IS L-series zoom and the 135mm f/2.8 Soft Focus lenses, and have only shot those two lenses a little bit, and only on informal stuff. All of the Canon EF lenses I've used have been good to excellent performers, and the camera's AF performance has been MOSTLY very good, with a few occasional failures to acquire focus where more-sophisticated AF systems (like the one in the D2x) can be utilized for surer performance. But on MOST subjects I've used it for, the EOS 5D's AF system has been pretty good with the lenses I own. One thing is also clear: top-quality Nikkor lenses like the 85mm f/1.4, 105mm f/2 DC, 135mm f/2 DC, and 300mm f/4 AF-S and 300mm f/2.8 AFS-II are superb optical performers on the 5D's excellent sensor.

ISO flexibility is one area where the 5D does well; its performance at elevated ISO settings like 500,640,and 800, is noticeably better than what the D2x can do at those ISO settings. AND, and this is a big and, the 5D's sensor is more sensitive than the meter indicates in most real-world scenes I've run into. The 5D is an excellent low-light d-slr.Better than anything I've yet shot.

Keep in mind that since the 5D's design, Canon has cribbed/stolen/copycatted Nikon's "AF ON" button,and has added the AF ON button to their new pro sports/action EOS 1D Mark III and to the upcoming EOS 40D semi-pro camera. While it's a crude system compared to the two-button,user-customizable AF-AE buttons Nikon's D1 and D2 series have always offered, Canon's copycat move to add a single "AF ON" button is an excellent ergonomics example of where NIKON has long been a leader, and Canon's body ergonomics are and have been seriously lacking. Canon is adding an AF ON button, but is not adding the AE or light meter button Nikon has in its pro bodies. However, Canon engineers are willing to copycat half of Nikon's engineering and ergonomics leadership position and with the adoption of an AF ON button, Canon has finally recognized that a human's right thumb can actually serve a purpose in the control of the camera; in camera control ergonomics, Canon still lags behind Nikon in designing useful,logical camera control systems. In terms of control buttons, the EOS 5D lags behind most Nikon body designs. The 5D is a very simplified body.

Autofocus on the 5D is a mixed bag. Usually the 5D delivers very good AF, but occasionally,it stumbled and provides just the dumbest, crappiest AF performance you can imagine. Weird. I do not think that the user can assign AF points very intuitively with Canon's body controls, and I think that the tiny multi-controller "button" Canon uses is a joke. Better than nothing, but a laughable piece of crap compared with the large, positive, foolproof 4-way-controller Nikon has used for years. Again, imitation may be a sincere form of flattery, but the diminutive Canon multicontroller is VERY difficult to use when one wishes to assign AF to the two points just inside the outermost AF brackets, on either side of the viewfinder screen. Canon's multicontroller does a horrible job when trying to assign AF to any of those four total outer AF brackets,and it represents the same engineering failure on the 5D as on the 20D. If memory serves, the 20D was the first Canon to use the multi-controller "nipple",and the 5D is not far removed from the 20D,engineering-wise. Like I said earlier, while the 5D normally has excellent AF performance, at times it seems very,very "stupid" when using some pretty good Canon lenses--not slow consumer zooms, but the "good stuff". On a scale of 1-10, the 5D gets an overall AF score of 8.75 in my book.

In terms of image quality, the 5D delivers excellent image quality at all normal ISO settings. The camera is not too large or bulky,nor is it overly heavy. I like the "look" of full-frame digital captures very much. The 12.8 megapixel image sensor delivers clean,noise-free images under even poor lighting conditions. The files offer excellent workability in Photoshop. While the body controls and autofocus systems both are somewhat "simplified" and "middle of the road" compared to pro-level cameras, the price is nowhere near as high as the pro-level bodies from either Nikon or Canon. The EOS 5D offers a lot of bang for the dollar spent,and the files it produces are excellent. it is not a perfect camera, nor is it a particularly fast-handling nor a fast-reacting camera; it feels quite slow,mechanically and in terms of overall responsiveness, compared to the Nikon D1 and D2 series bodies I am used to. The EOS 5D is basically a superb image sensor enveloped in a mid-level camera body. The viewfinder information is very difficult to see in bright light. The viewfinder information is exceedingly skimpy. The body controls are rather primitive. But the pictures.....ah...the pictures; the image quality is where the 5D truly delivers.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Full Frame Digital With the EOS 5D

I've gone back to full frame 35mm-style capture, but this time instead of a Nikon F-series body, I'm using a Canon EOS 5D digital SLR. After thinking about it for quite some time,and after reviewing a lot of my photos, I decided I'd had it with the small capture format of APS-C or DX-sensored cameras for my "people pictures" and social photography.

I elected to go with the 5D and 24-105mm f/4 Image Stabiliser L-series zoom lens, the 50mm f/1.4 EF USM normal lens, the 85mm f/1.8 EF USM short telephoto, my current 100mm f/2.8 EF Macro, and the 135mm f/2 L-series telephoto lens. I also have a Nikon to EOS lens mount adapter ring,which allows use of F-mount lenses on EOS bodies,and it works well.

Yesterday I shot a few images with my 180mm f/2.8 ED AiS Nikkor on the 5D,as well as a few with the 135mm f/2 L lens. The Canon has prettier bokeh,and significantly higher contrast and color saturation than the 21-year-old 180mm ED I've had since 1986. The 180 AiS's substantial weight and massiveness counterbalance the 5D body very well in horizontal and vertical modes without the grip on the body,and the old lens's slow-ratio manual focusing throw in the 30-foot to 6-foot focusing range makes it a very easy lens to focus manually, without concern for hair-trigger mis-focusing mistakes,which often are made when using AF lenses with their ultra-quick focus throws in manual focusing mode. The 180 AiS focuses very well on the 5D--smooth helicoid,long focal length,wide aperture and high magnification all together add up to easy focusing.

I shot some stuff around evening time,indoors, at f/2 and 1/40 to 1/50 second under dimmer tungsten+filtered window light,using the 135 f/2 L Canon lens and my battered 1990's 135 f/2 AF Defocus Control Nikkor lens (first version). Eh...the Canon's a slightly better lens,with less corner fall-off, but otherwise the 135 L's not all "that much better" than the 135 DC Nikkor, which I must admit is kind of disappointing. It's early,and the light has been flat here,and I've not made that many exposures, but the 135/2 L doesn't impress me "that" much,and I thought it really would blow my doors off.With the manual Nikon lens on the 5D, the 5D's focus screen and the 135 DC's focusing throw and slightly stiff action (on my old beat up copy the focus throw is a bit stiff) makes for somewhat slow,disappointing manual focusing at closer ranges under 20 feet...using the autofocus system of the Canon 135mm lens is preferrable to the 135 Nikkor in MF mode.

The camera has one stuck-on red pixel group near the far,far right lower corner of the frame,visible mostly in low (EV 4 or lower) scenes,and the sensor was _IMMACULATELY_ free of dust. The viewfinder view screen/prism was 100% free of dust yesterday. But now 24 hours later, I've gotten two dust bunnies on the viewfinder screen big deal. It was nice to buy a new camera with an immaculately clean sensor.

The LCD is a weak area of this camera. It's just an average-quality screen image,and it's hard to see outdoors. The viewfinder is mostly visible to me with my eyeglasses on,and the image is quite usable for manual focusing,at least in decent light. The camera's shutter lag time and mirror return times are reasonably fast, but nowhere NEAR as responsive as the D1 or D2 series Nikons. Shutter noise is kind of dull but clattery,with nothing high-pitched or shrill in the shutter or mirror noise. Loud-ish, yet not too objectionable is how I'd describe the 5D's firing sounds. The camera and 24-105-L combo feels solid and weighty. The body has a large,chunky grip which suits my lengthy fingers well,and the body has a heft to it.

I'll know more about the 5D as I get to explore it over the next few weeks, but sufice it to say--I am VERY happy to see the background control and angles of view I can get at the telephoto end of the 24-105 zoom,as well as the wide angle looks I can get at 24 to 28mm. I'm very anxious to shoot the 85/1.4 AF-D and 105mm DC Nikkors on this camera,and to compare their performance with that of the 135mm-L Canon lens. I also look forward to seeing just how my new 85mm 1.8 EF Canon handles and performs.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Full Frame Digital Versus APS-C Digital

Preface: I worked on the following article over several nights. It's rough, repetitious,and wayyyy too long. I've included stuff that ought to be edited out, but what I tried to do as I wrote this was to shed some light on a few differences between APS-C and larger format cameras, like 35FF or 120 roll film in either 6x6 or 6x4.5 format. So many people are unaware of what HFD or hyperfocal distance means, and are unaware of how DOF does not respond "equally" or in a linear fashion. I often read facile rule of thumb comments that say one needs only 1 and 1/3 stops wider an aperture when using an APS-C camera to get the "equivalent depth of field" of a 35FF format camera. A little bit of research will show you that achieving "equivalent depth of field" between APS-C and 35FF is sometimes *impossible*. As in, *impossible*. The differences between formats can be worked both ways too--it is not a one-way street,and I am not attempting to advocate that 35F is "better" than APS-C, but it is DIFFERENT. And at times, there is *NO EQUIVALENT* attainable between APS-C and 35FF. Please, take note: I am not saying the increased DOF per angular view of APS-C is better than the decreased depth of field per angular view of 35FF--but it is different. In a shorthand way one might say that landscapers love the deeper DOF, and portrait/fashion/studio people realize the APS-C format is perhaps a bit too small a format for the ultimate in versatility, and that APS-C in many situations pushes their images too much toward the deep DOF end of the spectrum.

The web is full of people who have never studied optics or lenswork,and who have a never made photographs with a 4x5 or 120 camera,and who thus really don't have any REAL experience with what it's like to work with a format that is distinctly different in size and pictorial rendering than the much-smaller 35FF or APS-C formats. If all you've ever shot with is an APS-C fomat camera, it's probably impossible for you to imagine how RESTRICTIVE a 120 rollfilm SLR is when you want to try and get deep depth of field using the normal 80mm lens. Shooting in 6x6 format with the normal angle of view 80mm lens set to f/8 and focused at 10 feet, DOF extends from 8.57 feet to 12 feet, for a total DOF band depth of 3.43 feet. Using an APS-C camera with a 31.4mm lens, focused at 10 feet, at f/8, DOF extends from 6.83 feet to 18.7 feet, for a total DOF band of 11.9 feet.

Ponder this: a 6x6 camera will yield a depth of field band that's LESS THAN three and a half feet deep at f/8 at 10 foot focus. But, if you put down the 6x6 format camera and pick up an EOS 20D with its zoom lens set to 31.4 mm, that format will pull depth of field from 1.75 feet closer than would the 6x6 format camera. Where the 6x6 format camera gives a shallow 3.43-foot deep DOF band ,the smaller EOS 20D gives a solid,expansive 11.9-foot deep band extending out to almost 19 feet, while the 6x6 Bronica would cut off sharp focus at 12 feet. To recap,the 6x6 medium format camera gives a DOF band of 3.43 feet, while an APS-C camera gives a DOF band that's 11.9 feet deep when both cameras are fitted with the "normal" lenses for their respective format sizes and focused at 10 feet.

I can assure you I studied these issues,a long time ago,and what I've tried to write is based on both science and practical,as in 'actual pictures made' photography experience with 4x5,120,35mm film,and APS-C digital cameras. About 34 years of shooting, first with 620 rollfilm, then with 35mm adjustable camera in 1974, then 120 rollfilm TLR cameras which used to be cheap and plentiful,and most recently and finally almost exclusivly with APS-C digital SLRs.

The Atkins article gives this rule-of-thumb comparison of depth of field between APS-C, 35FF,and 6x9 rollfilm at "moderate focusing distance" . If 35FF has a depth of field value that is 1.0, then APS-C brings roughly 1.6x MORE depth of field than 35FF, while 6x9 cm rollfilm capture brings only 0.4 as much DOF as does 35FF. So, to reiterate,the numbers are 1.6x, 1.0, and 0.4. APS-C has more DOF than 35FF by a factor of 1.6x, and 6x9 cm has less DOF than 35FF. This only holds true at moderate focusing distances which are well below 1/2 of the Hyperfocal Distance. Beware of the carefully-constructed comparison photo "example" seen in a popular web article showing "equal" depth of field at a distances of about 1 meter,using some small models on a monopoly board. YES, it's possible to go to The Luminous Landscape and see a carefully-constructed sample photo showing a small-sensored P&S digicam and a 1.6x Canon's output,with "equalized" depth of field and identical angles of view, with close-range focusing showing very similar image characteristics. The problem is, the sample photo's situation has been cherry-picked,and the focusing range has a background distance of probably no more than 1.2 meters...there's no distant background to see,and the depth of field characteristics at CLOSE range shift dramatically as the focusing distance moves out toward even 2 meters; with the tiny-sensored-cameras, once your focus distance gets out into even moderate distances like 2.5 meters, your pictures will almost ALL have depth of field that rapidly extends right to infinity,meaning that almost ALL normal scenes will be to state it plainly, "deep depth of field scenes".

The LL article shows that equally-deep DOF can be had with a point and shoot and a small-sensored d-slr; yes,true. But the example does not address focusing at distances approaching hyperfocal distance, NOR does the example show a _SHALLOW_ depth of field comparison, since no parity can be achieved, hence my use of the term cherry-picked. The article I obliquely reference is typical of the academic type of half-truths so many web-published articles point out. The use of the Monopoly board is funny though!

There is no "Lens Magnification Factor" with APS-C. You're using an entirely different FORMAT when you use an APS-C camera. A 100mm lens projects the same size of image on an APS-C body as it does on a Full Frame body, but on the APS-C body, the edges of the lens's image circle are cropped off. Re-read that sentence again if you need to. A 100mm lens projects the SAME SIZED image on an APS-C body as it projects on a Full Frame body. The magnification of the 100mm lens is the same, no matter if the full image circle of the lens is captured, or if some of the circle's periphery is cropped off and not captured--the magnification of the subject with a 100mm lens is the SAME, no matter what format or size of sensor catches the light rays!!! That is a FACT! However, there are many people who say that an APS-C sensor "magnifies the image" of each lens mounted on the camera and in that contention they are WRONG; all the APS-C sensor does is to record only the center portion of the lens's projected circular image. I know that fact is hard to believe for many. But it's true. There is no Lens Magnification Factor when using a crop-sensored d-slr.

APS-C is a different FORMAT than is 35FF. Many people have insufficient experience with formats other than APS-C digital,and thus they fail to understand why,or exactly how, the various formats DIFFER from one another in real-world picture-making scenarios and how different formats bring different "looks" to their pictures. Keep in mind that MUCH of what you read on popular internet photography forums is incorrect,and when the subject turns to lenses and optics, MOST of what passes for fact on today's internet is only half-truth at best.

PART 1: Different Formats Behave Differently In The Real World

Format size matters a LOT in terms of depth of field performance. Those who have shot 4x5 sheet film, 120 rollfilm, 35FF, and crop-sensor d-slr's can appreciate, from their OWN experience how larger format and smaller format cameras perform very differently in the real world. Those who have shot large format, medium format, and 35FF know, from actual experience, that moving to a smaller format camera brings with it greater mobility, lighter weight, and shorter lens lengths in all categories; as format size gets smaller, wide angle,normal,and telephoto lens lengths can be made shorter and shorter and shorter. Those who have actually shot multiple, different formats will tell you that one of the single largest differences between large,medium,and 35FF formats is the difference in image "look" due to depth of field differences and lens performance characteristics between the three formats. Until you've actually shot large,medium,and miniature formats (4x5, rollfilm,and 35FF) then you're probably not truly experienced in how the size of the your camera's capture format affects the way the camera records images using lenses,and how format size affects the photographic process. Sometimes, it's a matter of nuance between what two formats can do better,while at other times using the wrong format of camera can make it almost impossible to get what one wants to achieve,pictorially-speaking.

I have shot 4x5,120,35FF,and APS-C,and currently own cameras of all four formats. I happen to own a Fujinon 150mm f/5.6 lens for 4x5 which is my main 4x5 lens; I own a Bronica PS 150mm lens for use with both 6x6 and 6x4.5 film backs, and I own a 75-150 Nikon Series E lens which I used a LOT on 35FF,and have also used the 150mm focal length quite a bit on APS-C Nikon and Fuji and EOS 20D bodies. My Bronica medium format slr could be consider a three-format camera: I have multiple 6x6 and 645 backs for it,and I also have 35mm panorama back for Bronica SQ. I bought into the Bronica SQ line of camera bodies and lenses in the early 1990's because I did not want one of the many slightly-smaller,slightly lighter 645 rollfilm SLR cameras that were popular then, but I instead wanted a rollfilm SLR camera that could shoot BOTH 6x6 and 645 format images,using the the same lenses but with different rollfilm backs for each format I wanted to shoot in. Different formats have different uses. Having three lenses, 65-80-150 and two rollfilm capture formats made my Bronica SQ investment more useful to me than just buying a 645-only camera like a Bronica ETRs or a Mamiya 645 or the Pentax 645. Plus, the Bronica SQ 645 backs I bought for the SQ series bodies capture their images in a vertical orientation,not a horizontal one. The 645 format is nice for portraiture,since so many shots will look best as vertical compositions.

To those who ask what DOES a larger format do to the pictures? Let me try and give you a short answer. The smaller the film or digital sensor capture size, the more you can get in-focus using normal f/stops like let's just say f/8. With a large camera like a 4x5 using a normal length lens at f/8, there is not very much depth of field either in front of or behind the focus distance. On 4x5,you'd better be thinking f/32, not f/8 if you want much DOF. Moving downward in capture size,you'll find a 75 or 80mm lens is standard for 120 square rollfilm pictures. Shooting with a 35FF camera and its normal 50mm lens gives you deeper DOF than does a rollfilm SLR with its 80mm normal lens. 35FF is a nice format, one that allows both deep, AND shallow depth of field compositions with a huge array of EXISTING lenses. 35FF is a format that's been fully exploited by the camera and lens companies for around five decades; APS-C is a new format,and the majority of the time we are using lenses designed for 35FF use on our newfangled APS-C cameras,and that's not all peachy-keen.

The reality of shooting with any brand's APS-C cameras is that the normal angle of view lens is a relatively SHORT focal length of only about 31 millimeters. With a 31mm normal lens set to f/8, an APS-C format camera will deliver a HUGE amount of depth of field. Simply a HUGE amount of inherent depth of field,ready to come out as soon as the focusing distance stretches out a little bit longer than a big sectional sofa's length. Notice how I said an APS-C camera will "deliver a HUGE amount of depth of field"? Please take note; if you want deep depth of field, APS-C delivers deep depth of field in a big way: as much as 1.6 to 1.9 times, to as much as 2.85 times MORE depth of field than 35FF delivers, with the SAME angular field of view,using the example lens of a 31.25mm lens on APS-C and 50mm on 35FF. The amount "more" DOF APS-C yields is dependent upon how close the lens is focused in relation to the hyperfocal distance for the focal length in question.

You can look at the APS-C camera's delivery of deep DOF as a positive in some cases. In other cases, with other subject matter, deep DOF might not be wanted and might be seen as a negative. In landscape photography, deeper-than-35FF depth of field with apertures like f/8 on a top-grade camera like the Nikon D2x is pretty nifty. F/8 is not diffraction limited on the D2x, and f/8 and a smaller image shot with a 35mm lens will get you MORE depth of field than using a 35FF camera and a 50mm lens. In people photography,however, APS-C has a disconcerting tendency toward being on the side of creating too MUCH DOF in real-world photo studios and living rooms and outdoor locations, and I am not saying this to be negative, but there are BIG,real,observable differences in the "look" between APS-C and 35FF cameras when used for many "people photography" situations. It's not that APS-C is useless for people photography,and that 35FF is Nirvana, but the truth is somewhere in between.

Now, if you've ever struggled to pull deep depth of field from a landscape on 120 rollfilm, you've run into the need for something along the lines of f/32 at which depending on time of day and film speed might mean exposures as long as 1/2 to 3 seconds. That LARGER FORMAT 6x6 camera's capture area and its 80mm normal lens needs to be stopped wayyyyy down to pull anything resembling deep depth of field. Frankly, 645 makes some sense to me as a landscape format if you want deeper depth of field,especially if your camera is set to shoot horizontals easily. The smaller area of 6x45cm versus the 6x6 square gives you the ability to get a little bit more depth of field,at either larger f/stops, and/or higher shutter speeds,plus its relatively large capture format gives better detail than 35mm film can.

APS-C's small physical size means your wide-angle lenses must be very,very short focal lengths. Shorter focal lengths bring deeper and deeper DOF. As one down-sizes the capture format, the hyperfocal focusing distance of each focal length of lens grows shorter and shorter. Go to the on-line depth of field calculator,and look up for yourself the hyperfocal distance for a 50mm lens when it is used on an APS-C body and when the SAME lens is used on a 35FF body. One downside of APS-C is the need for wideangle lenses in the under-18mm range, which necessitates complicated,costly,aspherical lens designs to get rid of geometric distortion that's pretty easy to avoid even when using non-aspherical designs on longer lenses on the larger 35FF format. So, APS-C necessitates more sophisticated,costly,and hard to make aspherical wide angle lens designs,which is not as big a problem as when the capture format is larger. 35FF's larger capture size means that any given wide angle focal length will show a vastly wider angle on every scene than that same lens will show on any APS-C camera. A 14mm lens encompases an angle of view that's a hell of a lot "wider" on a 35FF camera than it is on an APS-C camera.

Many shooters find themselves being forced to move farther away from subjects to compensate for the APS-C sensor's cropping off of every lens's imaging circle. Increasing camera-to-subject distance is the first,easiest,and best way to increase depth of field. The short focal lengths needed on APS-C bodies,and the closer hyperfocal distances due to the APS-C format's smaller size relative to 35FF both,in concert, work togehter to help boost depth of field on APS-C photographs. The common use of fairly short focal length settings on APS-C cameras, combined with the increased camera-to-subject distances together make it almost *impossible* to create anything even remotely resembling a shallow depth of field "look" with an APS-C camera and a wideabgle lens. APS-C is a capture format that is either cursed or blessed with deep DOF,depending on how you want your images to look,and on what "looks" you wish to be able to create. 35FF offers a good mix of "looks", and the lenses to create these various looks are all in existence,right now,today; the same can NOT be said for APS-C format cameras--this format has been in existence since 1999,and as yet,not all the lenses needed have been made for APS-C, and many never will be made.

The APS-C lens needs to deliver high spatial frequency information to a small,densely-packed sensor that needs a 28mm diameter image circle. The 35FF format uses a 43mm diameter circle of coverage from the lens,and depends more on good edge-to-edge performance across a larger image area. Put a 100mm lens on a 35FF camera or an APS-C camera,and the SIZE of the image projected will be the same on both cameras, but the outer portions of the 100mm lens's image circle WILL be recorded on an EOS 5D,while the outer edges of the len's 43mm image circle will NOT be recorded on a 20D body.

APS-C has taken photography one step closer to the ultimate in the consumer snapshot ethos,which was a Kodak invention called the Disc format. Kodak engineers knew that with even 126 and with the even smaller 110 film format cameras, that the film formats of 126 and 110 were both too LARGE to allow for a good,motion-stopping shutter speed with a small enough f/stop to provide hyperfocal depth of field deep enough to get into the 2.5 foot to infinity range using ISO 100 or 200 film. Consumers using 35mm FF, 126, and 110 were STILL getting out of focus blobs when people got too close to the camera. Kodak engineers undertook the task of eliminating out of focus close-range subjects,permanently, by shrinking the film format smaller than had ever been offered for a mass-market camera (ie not a "spy camera" like a costly Minox or Tessina,but a Grandma-and Mom-affordable camera). Kodak designed and invented and built millions of Disc cameras,which due to the ultra-small format needed an ultra-short lens for a normal angle of view. Consumer digicams with the smallest of sensors...well, there's the disc format concept of small capture size/deep DOF/not much need for critical focusing coming back with a sensor instead of a rotating flat cardboard disc with film catching the light rays from that teensy-tiny little lens!

The small format and short focal length lenses used by the ultra-small Disc format cameras meant sharp focus from about 2.5 feet to Infinity. The Disc format cameras were all focused at their hyperfocal distance at the factory,and therefore there was never any need to focus! It was ALL in-focus! Woo-hoo! With the Disc format, it was * impossible* to throw the background out of focus. The Disc format was based on the NEED to create a film format physically small enough to allow a very short focal length lens to be set to hyperfocal focusing distance,and thus to eliminate the need for ANY focusing on the part of the end-user. *Everything* would be in focus,even pretty doggone close-up grand babies,and kitties,and flowers. The diminutive capture format,and its neccessarily short focal length lens meant that Kodak engineers had created a no-fuss, no-worry,foolproof picture making machine. And they did it by boldly going much SMALLER than even 110 format's postage stamp sized negative and dropping all the way down to a capture size that's in the size range of what today's cheap digicams use,to get THEIR deep depth of field off of small format captures. Brilliant Kodak engineering. And the underlying basis of today's small-sensor digicams. A little history lesson there.

35FF allows you to throw the background out of focus with truly fast wide angle lenses, with all normals, and with all telephotos. AND it allows you to pull reasonably deep DOF too,if you'd like that. But APS-C shifts the capture size smaller, bringing deeper DOF with every angle of view equivalence. This is what new shooters seem to miss; a significant change has occurred in the shift from 35FF to APS-C cameras,and it's not just about "equivalent focal lengths". It's about lenswork. And capture size. It's about tools,like lenses,and how they actually WORK in places like basketball courts,track and field and soccer fields,portrait studios,and on-location in all types of situations. The hallmark of professional portraiture, a sharply-rendered sitter or group, with an out of focus and a truly non-destracting background has been hurt pretty badly by the APS-C shift. Due to the way optics rears its ugly head, Nikon and most other manufacturers have not made wide angle lenses with maximum apertures wide enough (like f/1.4) to compensate for the increased DOF the smaller APS-C cameras deliver. So far, most camera makers have only produced f/4 wide angle lenses, and in some cases f/2.8 wide angle lenses, but what would be actually needed to overcome the smaller capture size would be some wides with apertures as wide as f/0.7 or f/0.8, and 70mm-75mm lenses as fast as f/1.2. Such lenses are nowhere to be bought,and might never be manufactured.

ULTRA-Important FACTS To Remember: DOF increases HUGELY as the focusing distance approaches the hyperfocal distance. The smaller the capture format,the sooner the lens will get to hyperfocal distance. Consider that once your format gets small,like APS-C small, there's a tipping point where even though objects are out of focus,and beyond the stated depth of field band,that those objects still have ample visual clarity to identify and to draw attention away from the foreground subject. The inherently SMALL capture size of APS-C format, and the combination of necessarily short focal length lenses like 18 to 50 mm lenses means that using a lens as long as 50mm on APS-C, you can shoot photos of people who are only 2 to 3 meters away,and even at f/5.6, the background 45 feet behind your subject will actually be rendered in-focus-enough to be somewhat distracting. The downward shift in focal lengths needed to make wide-normal-and tele lenses on APS-C format camera brings us right up to and then takes us past a "tipping point"--a point where we often find that there's MORE depth of field than we'd really like to have. This is the area that a careful analysis of my own photos has made me conclude I simply had to get back to full frame capture. This paragraph is perhaps the most essential paragraph to understand in this essay.

Medium format in the form of 6x6 or 12 frames on 120 roll film gives you a lot of room to crop,from a large negative. A 150mm is a moderate telephoto lens on 6x6 format and it feels sort of like an 85mm lens feels on 35FF to me.When you use a 150mm lens on 6x6 it does NOT DO DEEP DOF, not even close to what you can achieve on APS-C with a similar angle of view lens. As one goes larger in capture size, it becomes harder and harder to make pictures that have deep depth of field,unless the lens is stopped wayyyy down, or you use camera movements as on a view camera.

35FF has significantly more Depth of Field freedom than does 6x6 rollfilm. 35FF gives the photographer the freedom to either open up and blow things out, or to stop down and to pull pretty deep DOF. With a 35FF camera and lenses, there are some VERY wide-aperture Canon autofocusing lenses that can make shallow depth of field images,even in the wide-angle focal length ranges like 24mm and 35mm. 35FF can also be stopped down to f/11 or so and deep DOF effects can be obtained. 35FF offers the serious shooter a wide range of options in terms of camera-to-subject distances,angle of view, focal length,close-focusing,and so on. There is no format that has more lenses designed for it than the 35FF format. Canon EF mount and Nikon F lens mounts have several hundred different lens choices available. 35FF can do very shallow DOF work,moderately deep DOF work, and pretty good deep DOF work over a wide range of focal lengths,and there are lenses galore that were designed for 35FF. 35FF has been "king" ever since the 1953 Leica M3 set the standard. Larger and SMALLER formats have been tried, like Kodak's Bantam 135 or 828 format, the cartridge-loading 126 format,and the Half-Frame 35mm format models like the Olympus Pen half-frame series, and two decades later, 35mm Half-Frame models made by Yashica-Contax/Kyocera,with the Yashica Samurai line of Half-Frame 35mm film SLR's. In the late 70's-early 80's there was the faddishly semi-popular Pentax made 110 format single lens reflex interchangeable lens camera,with autowinder and electronic flash options. In the mid-1990's, Minolta pretty much lost its ass on the APS or Advanced Photo System format which they invested very,very heavily into,despite the fact that consumer digital cameras were just around the corner. My wife has a nice Minolta Advantix APS-format film SLR. Nevermind that the APS film format and all its cameras died on the vine because nobody wanted to buy into the all-new format and its at-first scarce photofinishing options due to the multi-format APS aspect ratio choices and the rarity of photofinishing machines that could handle the new film cartridges/archive holders.Even with the beautiful engineering and multi-format selections the handsome and stylish Minolta APS Vectis SLR cameras died out quickly. Sometimes formats do not last long. APS lasted what? Six years from the format's inception to its discontinuation? Something like that? The Disc format is now also dead. Kodak's Polaroid-like formats and cameras....also dead.

35FF uses a different capture size and a different range of focal lengths than medium format. A moderate wideangle lens on 6x6 is a 65mm lens,which subjectively feels somewhat like a 35mm lens feels when shot on 35FF;on 6x6 a 65mm lens is a semi-wideangle lens,and it's always,always, going to be a 65mm lens, and it will not "do deep depth of field" in the same way that a 35mm lens on 35FF camera can "do deep depth of field" shots. The LARGER the FORMAT one uses, the more your camera tends to have a focus band that drops off rapidly behind the point of sharpest focus. For street and PJ work, the 4x5 inch Speed Graphic's format meant it was hard to bridge near and far focus unless small f/stops were used and powerful flashbulbs were used to get to those smallish f/stops,so when the smaller 120 rollfilm cameras got good, most people doing social photography moved to cameras using 120 rollfilm,like the Rolleiflex camera. When film stocks got better, the smaller capture of the 35mm full frame Leicas,Contaxes,and then later Nikons FINALLY became acceptable,and there was a greater acceptance of 35mm camera for reporting and social uses,as well as sports photography.

35mm full frame capture has been a workable,viable format for many uses from the late 1930's until today. 35FF represents a nice format size,with a lot of potential for ultra-wideangle lenses, shallow DOF in wideangle compositions with high-speed lenses, deep DOF in wideangle compositions when stopped down, and relatively flexible background control from 50mm to 200mm using f/stops from f/2.8 to f/11. 35FF is a small format,compared to 6x6 or 6x9 or 4x5, but it can do a lot. MOST ALL of the world's 35mm lenses are designed to work on 35FF cameras.

My first APS-C format camera came into my life in February of 2001,when I bought a Nikon D1. Since then, I've owned several more Nikons and Fujis and one Canon, all APS-C sensored cameras. The biggest difference between 35FF and APS-C is that with 35FF, I have a full set of lenses that were designed and optimized for one format,and one "real-world". With APS-C I have a lot of lenses pinch-hitting in roles they were never designed for. There's a reason the 100 and 105mm lenses were designed. There's a reason the normal wideangles go 20-24-28-35, and a reason why 50mm,85,105,135,180,200,300,and 400mm designs were built; because they work very,very well on 35FF capture cameras in the real world. Using 35mm film-era lenses on cameras with cropped-down sensors is a bit different than merely multiplying a focal length by 1.54 or 1.6x and saying, "Oh, this is my new equivalent lens."

********Part Two-Some Simple Examples of DOF Differences Between APS-C and 35FF Capture Format Cameras**********
I looked around the web to find one,single article that would demonstrate that cropped-sensored d-slr's actually are cameras that represent a different format than the older 24x36mm or 35FF format. Well, I found an article that has some very easy-to-understand charts and a graph and some plain-English explanatory points about how depth of field differs between different capture formats. While an APS-C camera and a 35FF camera might look similar,and can use the same lenses and flashes and accessories, often times the images that come out of the two cameras will exhibit somewhat different looks, to in some cases VERY,very different looks. Aesthetics and intent take more than casual study. Equivalent angles of view do not in any way mean identical images. Far,far from it.

Let's closely examine the third of the colored Depth of Field tables (the lavender colored table). The third table describes DOF behavior using a 1.6x crop sensored Canon d-slr at a focus distance close to hyperfocal distance, with a lens focal length of 31.25mm which will give a 46 degree diagonal angle of view--the same angle of view as a 50mm lens used on a 35FF camera like an EOS 5D or a Nikon F5. So many proponents of cropped-sensored cameras claim that all one needs to do is to figure out what focal length on their cropped-sensor camera will yield the same angle of view as a full frame camera would get, and that everything is peachy keen,and that anybody who complains ought to shut up,a la Bill O'Reilly. Some people even admit that ,"They can't see the DOF issue as being significant." Well, it is significant,provided you have the equipment and the knowledge and the photographic education to understand some very fundamental lenswork concepts. But then, not everybody has shot on three or four film formats, and not everybody is aware of how 6x7 and 6x6 offer significantly different lens choices and DOF possibilities than 35FF offers, and that the difference between 35FF and APS-C is actually a pretty substantial difference. The difference is of about the same magnitude as the difference between 6x6 and 35FF,in my experience.

The EOS 10D's lens is set to f/8,with a 31.25mm focal length setting, the depth of field for this cropped-sensor camera is from 2.85 meters near point, to 20 meters far focus, for a depth of field band of 17.15 meters, or 2.85 times more DOF than a 50mm lens on Full Frame. With the 50mm lens on a Full Frame Body, an f/8 lens aperure and the 50mm lens focused near its hyperfocal distance,10.6 meters, the picture will have a depth of field with near focus from 3.4 meters, but extending back to only 9.4 meters, for a depth of field band of 6.0 meters.

So,let's recap: Using an APS-C Canon using a 31.25mm lens set to f/8,focused at near hyperfocal distance, we get depth of field from 2.85 meters to 20.0 meters (a DOF band depth of 17.15 Meters.) With a Full Frame body and a 50mm lens,set to f/8 and focused near its hyperfocal distance,we get depth of field from 3.4 meters to 9.4 meters (a DOF band depth of 6.0 Meters). Same angular field of view between the APS-C body and the 35FF body,right? Yes,right. But a tremendously DIFFERENT depth of field and image rendering.

Using a 1.6x cropped sensor camera, the hyperfocal distance of a lens is 1.6x closer than with that same exact lens deployed on a 35FF body. Again,re-stated slightly differently,the smaller capture area of APS-C shifts the hyperfocal distance of a given LENS 1.6 times CLOSER than when shooting that same LENS on a 35FF capture medium,either film or sensor.

As Atkins says in explaining this third chart "Between about 0.2m and 3m the 10D shows about 1.6-1.7x the DOF of 35mm film. At very close distances the ratio goes up, and as the distance approaches the hyperfocal distance for a 31.25mm lens at f8 on a 10D  (6.6m) the ratio rapidly rises - this is because the DOF behind the subject in the 10D image is rapidly moving towards infinity."

If you go and read this Bob Atkins article on depth of field, and really take the time to understand it, you'll find out why I think depth of field control issues and background control issues are so problematic on APS-C cameras,especially as lens focal lengths dip down into the under-60mm range. Take very careful note of how the difference in depth of field goes from roughly a steady 1.6x to 1.7x greater with an APS-C camera compared with 35FF, to as much as 2.85x greater depth of field when the focus ring is set to something as simple as 6.6 meters at f/8 with a zoom setting of 31.25mm...the depth of field band goes waaaay out to hell and beyond on an APS-C camera. However with a 35FF format camera, the depth of field band is six meters, or roughly 18 feet total...but the cropped-sensor APS-C camera yields a DOF band that is 17.15 meters or roughly 53 feet deep! The practical,real-world implications of dropping sensor size below 35mm and down to APS-C are pretty clear once you start looking at the focal lengths and the actual optics involved. Unless you've actually seen how OUT of focus you can render a background and still create a true wide-angle composition from a distance of less than 15 feet on 35FF, you can hardly appreciate what the small format of APS-C brings to the table,which is inherently DEEP depth of field,readily and easily. Too much depth of field sometimes. On APS-C you hit hyperfocal focus distance that's about as far as you can spit,and then your fancy camera and costly 12-24mm zoom lens has been turned into almost the equivalent of the 110 format. APS-C and a wide lens yields so much depth of field that you feel like a member of the f/64 Group (look it up if you must). And, with APS-C your studio backgrounds will all tend to be just a hair too much in-focus if you're not incredibly vigilant. In-studio work in front of paper and muslin bckgrounds is one area where APS-C cameras fare badly in many situations.

If you cannot understand the lavender colored chart found at in real-world,practical terms, you need to re-read it,look it,and strive to understand that the 46 degree diagonal angle of view covered by an APS-C camera with a 30mm f/1.4 Sigma lens and by a 35FF camera using a 50mm f/1.4 lens will produce significantly different images under many circumstances. Note that all smaller film formats achieve hyperfocal depth of field earlier,at closer ranges. The problem with APS-C is two-fold; you either zoom the lens short to get a full figure person in, or you move the camera farther back than you'd normally stand using a 35FF camera,so as to compensate for the narrowed angle of view the sensor sees when using your 35,50,85,105,or 135mm lenses; either way, you'll have deeper DOF with an APS-C camera than with a 35FF camera with the same picture angle of view. The smallest commercially successful film format, the Disc format, was designed specifically to give the deepest possible focus,with the closest possible hyperfocal distance. How? By making the smallest capture format film camera ever sold in quantity. Optics at work. Small format. Small,short lenses to cover it. Deep depth of field even at modest aperture like f/4.5. No need for focusing. Ever. Once an optical system's capture format gets very small, the NEED, the necessity for critical focusing largely goes away,and a simple "Set it to 1 meter and forget it" type of intrinsically DEEP depth of field is created by virture of 1) a tiny capture size and 2) a short focal length lens.

On a continum, APS-C is much more on the side of the DEEP depth of field formats that have existed over the decades, while 6x6,6x7, and 6x9 rollfilm cameras represent the most common "Shallow depth of field" formats that have been popular to any real extent over the last few decades. As the British say, "Horses for courses." As in,different horses for different courses. I wouldn't expect a plow horse to win a stakes race,nor a Kentucky Derby runner to be able to help pull like a plow horse in the lower 40 acres.

When you shoot with an APS-C format camera using its very short wide-angle lenses,you will be shooting at close to hyperfocal focus distance at even moderate distances,thus making it almost impossible to create a wide-angle picture with significant foreground/background separation. The APS-C format's smaller capture size,shorter focal lengths, and increased shooting distances plays havoc with the principles of foreground/background relationship and subject isolation.But,by using a larger camera format and its correspondingly longer "wide angle of view" lens,it's possible to show a human figure full-frame,with a wide angle of picture view,from close range, and to throw the background OUT of focus. And that is the major difference between large,medium,minature,and APS-C,and ultra-miniature format cameras; as formats get smaller, we need progressively shorter lenses. By the time the format has gotten as small as APS-C, the increased DOF is so profoundly more that we've moved into an entirely new type of imaging: APS-C brings with it deeper depth of field than 35FF,and loses the "balance" between shallow DOF and deep DOF choices that gave the 35FF format about 50 years' worth of good,solid service.

David Burnett has recently begun covering high-profile news events,like Washington, DC congressional hearings, the Olympics,and so on using a 4x5 Graphic. Have you seen the pictures? Do you see how different they LOOK,compared to what everybody else is shooting on 35mm or smaller? Big,big difference. Due to format size and lenses.
Science, not opinion. Go to the library and look at Life magazine from 1945,when the predominant format was 4x5 inch, not 35mm FF; those photos from 1945 have a look that's very decidedly different from "miniature format" photos made on 120 rollfilm or 35mm full frame film.

The facile idea that one can simply do some quick math and "convert" lenses from one format to another format without substantially altering the imaging characteristics does not hold water. The mistaken idea that "equivalent angle of view equals same picture" between 35FF and APS-C formats is patently wrong. Sure,you get the same angle of VIEW--but the pictures are very,very different. Even though you may be getting the same angle of view, when you use an APS-C sensor camera, each focal length's behavior changes compared to 35FF, because the capture format is differently-sized. Remember-the APS-C format brings the hyperfocal distance 1.6x closer than with 35FF, and remember that APS-C brings roughly 1.6x more DOF than 35FF at many focusing ranges with the same angular view as 35FF--BUT,and this is the big but, as the APS-C camera's focusing distance approaches hyperfocal focus distance, the depth of field goes up to 2.85x MORE DOF as compared with 35FF. Shorter focal lengths have closer and closer hyperfocal distances.

Lenses that capture equivalent angular field of view between APS-C and 35FF capture can be calculated easily, but the actual in-field and in-studio DOF and image "Look" performance between these two formats is HUGE,particularly in the wider-angle segment of many of the best professional lenses many people own, especially down in the 18-70 mm zone. But,alas, the inherently deep DOF that APS-C brings with it means that on APS-C, using a 100mm lens at distances that allow you to capture a half-body standing adult figure,the smaller capture format combined with the longer-than-expected camera to subject distance imposed by the cropped-off sensor means that an APS-C camera renders disturbingly in-focus backgrounds even at wide-ish apertures like f/4 with a 105mm telephoto. The small capture size of APS-C means that even f/4 yields pretty darn good depth of field--because you have to stand so FAR AWAY with a 100mm lens on APS-C! And,as those of us who've studied Depth of Field know, increasing camera-to-subject DISTANCE is the easiest way to achieving deeper,greater depth of field! And, APS-C pushes you back farther and farther from your subjects....bringing more DOF in the process. Or, APS-C forces you to use shorter and shorter focal lengths, thus also bringing more depth of field. This endless catch-22 is what drives longtime shooters like me to long for a digital 35FF camera option for Nikon F-mount lenses. I know what APS-C can do for me, and I like how it works most of the time. But there is a large difference between how APS-C and 35FF cameras actually render scenes; at the wide-angle focal length APS-C lacks wide-enough lenses to get as wide an angle of view as a 35FF can with a short lens,and also APS-C lacks lenses with sufficiently wide maximum apertures like f/1.8 to as wide as
f/0.7 or f/0.8 to give the dreamy 35FF out of focus background,limited DOF look at wide angles of view. At the widest end of the focal length ranges avaialable today, APS-C cameras deliver so much DOF that it becomes difficult,or impossible to get subject isolatation through shallow depth of field due to the deeper DOF the physically-smaller format brings with it.

Addendum: After I wrote this article, a very fine photographer named Robert Whiteman posted a nice studio portrait he has made, in defense of his personal desire to have a 35FF option for Nikon F-mount lenses.

Whiteman's portrait shows the wrinkles on the muslin more-clearly than I would like; he writes, "However, with the cropped CCD I still have more DOF than I'd like to have for 3/4 and full length shots.FF would have had this background more out of focus with the same aperture... The background is 6+ feet away and I have no more room and shouldn't need it. With FF I am able to shoot a longer focal length with the same aperture and achieve the desired results with no problem. It's the easiest fix." end quoted passage from Robert Whiteman. His portrait shot was made at 38mm, f/5.6, on a crop-sensored Fuji S2 Pro.

So there you have it. An actual person,Robert Whiteman, posting one of his own studio portraits, and then calmly and reasonably pointing out what many would consider a flaw in his final results, namely that of too-deep background depth of field. Full frame and APS-C are actual,real,and different formats. The formats are actually different, with very different behaviors due to real,important differences in capture size,lens length,and angles of view,depth of field,and shooting distances.

Did you know that camera to subject distance and only camera to subject distance changes perspective? That's a true statement. Many people confuse perspective with the very real phenomenon of apparent perspective distortion that is often encountered when using a very short focal length lens. Also, close shooting distances in combination with short focal lengths brings with it what's known as foreshortening effects; you know, when the bride holds her hand forward toward your crop-sensored d-slr set to 18mm and her hand suddenly looks as big as an NFL defensive tackle's hand (but with a pretty manicure!) and her head looks like it's roughly the size of a grapefruit. Changing the format changes the camera-to-subject distances we typically are forced into shooting from, and the pictorial results,and the behavior of lenses change with the format's size, in many important ways. If one does not understand the science underlying capture format size and the relationship of focal length to the capture format's dimensions,then one needs to read some old-fashioned books on photography and optics. Most newcomers have never read a single page on lenswork or optics.

Many people do not understand why perspective is changed only by changing the distance from the lens to the subject. Many people speak of "wide-angle perspective" and "telephoto perspective", but many people are unaware that that there is no such thing as either "wide-angle perspective" or " telephoto perspective",and that those two terms are a gross mis-use of the term "perspective". And yet, on the web, there are those who don't even understand perspective and how it is regulated,and yet they insist in engaging in debate about the need,or usefulness even, of 35FF digital capture format d-slrs. These folks,who usually seem to know and understand only around half of the basic principles of lenswork as it relates to focal length and capture size,often state that they like how APS-C is working and they see no need for anything larger. Fair point,as far as it goes. If you do not know from experience what you've given up,or what you could be getting, then ignorance is indeed bliss. Hey,don't get me wrong--at times, the hugely-increased depth of field an APS-C sensor camera give you is a godsend,it really is. With shorter focal length lenses, it's possible to get very,very "deep" depth of field effects with relatively high magnification lenses and to be able to render big,deep swaths of the real world into good,sharp focus. If you want deep DOF, the smaller the format, the better.

"Equivalent angle of view" is not the same thing as "same kind of picture". The format of one's camera affects the way lenses of the identical focal length will perform;the same focal length of a lens will perform VERY differently on differing film or sensor "format" sizes.Ladies and gentlemen, APS-C is a different format than APS-H,which is 1.3x, and APS-C is a significantly different FORMAT than is Full Frame,aka 35FF, aka 24x36mm.

Take a look at what I've been blogging about...f/8, focus approaching hyperfocal distance, ie, focus set to about 20 feet, your cropped-sensor 20D's wide angle zoom lens is set to 31.25mm,and it makes a picture that has 53 feet of acceptable depth of field. Your 35FF camera,also capturing a diagonal picture angle of 46 degrees, has an 18-foot deep depth of field band. In this normal,real-world example, matching the angle of view of an APS-C sensored camera to that of a 35FF camera,the APS-C camera makes a picture that gives you a depth of Field band that's 53 feet deep, whereas Full Frame has an 18-foot deep zone of DOF. Who here cannot mentally "see" the difference in photographic result that the smaller capture format imposes,even though the angle of view is identical? Once again,let me reiterate, 35FF and cropped-sensor capture represent actual,different FORMATS.

Scaling down the format from 24x36 or 35mm Full Frame (aka 35FF) to APS-C makes the hyperfocal distance of a lens 1.6x closer than when the same lens is used on the 35FF format camera. When using cropped-sensored cameras, we often find ourselves moving FARTHER away from our subjects. And hey kids, guess what--nothing increases depth of field faster and better than moving FARTHER away from your subject! Wooo-hoo! The smaller-formatted camera forces you to move farther away,thus rapidly increasing depth of field. DOF is pretty shallow at close ranges, but as one moves the focus distance towards infinity,DOF builds rapidly and more rapidly,and then as one approaches the hyperfocal distance, DOF extends by leaps and bounds behind the focus point,stretching all the way out to infinity. The shorter the focal length lens one uses, the closer that lens achieves focus at its hyperfocal distance. And the smaller the capture size, the CLOSER the hyperfocal distance becomes! Making one's capture format smaller results in a complex shift in lens performance characteristics. Please, if you're not familiar with what I'm talking about, consult the article referenced here, and take note of the final two points Atkins makes:
4. If you use the same lens on an EOS 10D and a 35mm film body, then shoot from different distances so that the view is the same, the 10D image will have 1.6x MORE DOF then the film image.
5. Close to the hyperfocal distance, the EOS 10D has much MORE than 1.6x the DOF of a 35mm film camera. The hyperfocal distance of the EOS 10D is 1.6x less than that of a 35mm film camera.

Is it any wonder that I'm disturbed by how many overly IN-focus backgrounds I see these days with the proliferation of cropped-sensor cameras? I constantly see seamless paper rolls, muslin,and location backgrounds that are are competing for attention with the foreground subjects on many full-body or multiple-person photographs. Why are we seeing so,so many photos with very deep DOF these days? Because, as I've been writing about, the difference in depth of field between the very popular APS-C format camera and a 35FF format cameras, is HUGE, under a relatively large number of frequently-encountered,real-world shooting conditions. Typically,you're going to see from 1.6x more to 1.9x more to as much as 2.85x MORE depth of field with the same angular field of view coverage,at many "real-world" shooting distances when you shoot a cropped-sensor APS-C camera and not a 35FF format camera.

Perusal of the depth of field tables at
will show that: 1)at close-range focusing distances the 1.6x Canons 10D-20D-30D will have 1.9x more DOF than 35FF. At "intermediate" focusing distances (which Atkins describes as 'not macro,not close to HFD'), the cropped-sensor Canon has 1.7x more depth of field relative to Full Frame. And as detailed above, at a focus distance close to the hyperfocal distance, the cropped-sensor Canons will show 2.85 times MORE depth of field,relative to Full Frame. Yes, the number is correct: 2.85 times more depth of field. That's almost three times more in-focus depth,in feet!

One really simple bit of proof that the difference between Full Frame and APS-C is actually a FORMAT difference manifests itself when you note that using an APS-C sensored camera brings each lens's hyperfocal distance roughly 1.6x times CLOSER than if using the same lens on a 35FF format camera. Yes,you read that right--using an APS-C camera shifts the hyperfocal distance of a lens 1.6x CLOSER than if one were using that same focal lenght lens on a 35FF format camera. Also,under real-world situations, APS-C brings with it from 1.9x more, to 1.6x more, to 1.7x more, to as much as 2.85 times MORE depth of field than what one would get if shooting on the entirely different full frame FORMAT capture size, while capturing the same angular view. The APS-C sensor brings with it a double-whammy if one wishes to limit or tone down background focus,especially at moderate distances or at shorter focal lengths. The smaller capture area "tends to pull everything into better focus." Take note,as focusing distances increase, APS-C picks up additional DOF at a truly astonishing rate; do not be persuaded otherwise by deliberately or innocently misleading examples of DOF on APS-C at close ranges like 6 feet...take a look at how much DOF APS-C renders at distances like 3 meters, 4 meters,5 meters, and so on.

Atkins has written an excellent article that attempts to illuminate and to cut through a lot of the total bullshit about depth of field that you'll hear and read on the web. His article allows those who do not understand the difference between cropped-sensor and 35FF capture to gain some real information on just how DIFFERENTLY lens focal lengths behave on different format cameras. What I am trying to show is that 35 Full Frame is actually a capture FORMAT. A format. In caps! Just like 120 rollfilm shooting 6x4.5 cm is a format. And 120 or 220 rollfilm shooting 6x6 is a format. And how the Pentax 6x7 represents a particular FORMAT. Just as 6x9 cm is a format. And 6x17 cm is a format. And how "4x5" is a format. There are real,actual,proven,well-known DIFFERENCES in the way cameras and lenses perform on different formats, but most newcomers have zero personal,real experience with anything other than APS-C and so they talk about stuff they don't understand from real experience,parroting a lot of internet myths,thus confusing the subject and muddying the waters for those striving to understand why "some people" want 35FF in digital slr bodies. The newbies often cannot seem to undertstand that moving to a teensy format can have REAL, and LARGE impacts on the pictures that can be made.

When one uses a small format camera like APS-C, lenses behave very differently than when shooting on a larger format camera. When switching from a full frame camera to a 1.5x crop or 1.6x crop camera, if all you compare is the "equivalent" angle of view you are going to be shocked when you make some images using the two different sized formats and look at the pictorial results. Just go to and scroll down and look at the three different colored DOF and focal length/format tables. Compare the 6x9 cm FORMAT with its 125mm lens and its 46 degree angle of view,and look at the total depth of field band depth in the three charts. Then look at the depth of field of 35mm and 10D when both are at 46 degree angle of view equivalence. Compare the 6x9 cm, the 10D, and the 24x36mm Full frame or "35mm" FORMATS,and you can see that depth of field varies *tremendously* between these three formats.

So many people have come into d-slr photography without experience in using say, a 120 rollfilm camera with a 75 or 80mm "normal lens" with its large negatives and rather shallow depth of field tendencies.I know a couple people who have some of the absolute BEST cameras and the absolute best lenses made, but who have never fired a single frame of 35mm film, but who nevertheless, have gone on to become very, very "into photography". I'm not trying to be elitist, but throughout photography's history, there has been a trend toward smaller and smaller film formats and many newcomers who argue that cropped-sensor cameras are "equal to" larger-sensored cameras really don't know what they are talking about. Smaller formats bring with them deeper depth of field tendencies. The actual "look" of images is format-dependent,and there's a different "look" to using a 150mm lens on 4x5 inch sheet film, and one hell of a different "look" to a 150mm lens on a DX-sensored Nikon. I know. I like the look of my Fujinon-W 150mm f/5.6 lens on 4x5 sheet film; on my 4x5, the 150mm

gives a nice,ever-so-slightly-wider than normal view. On a 1.5x d-slr, my 75-150 Series E zoom set to 150mm is quite a narrow-angle telephoto focal length. Let me say it again: 4x5,6x9 cm rollfilm,6x6, 6x4.5, 24 x 36mm, 125 square, 110,APS-C, APS-H,and 4/3 are all different formats. And the way lenses perform on these different formats is in no way "equal" or "equivalent" if all one does is try to get the same angle of view in a simple millimeter-for-millimeter equivalency of angle of view. Most newbies do the simple math and assume that equivalent angle of view equals "the same pictures",which is not true at all,not by a long shot. It's much more complicated than simply multiplying by 1.6x and "converting" focal lengths...the equivalence in angle of view does not square with the realities I've seen in 34 years of shooting pictures using formats as large as 4x5 inch to as tiny as 110.

I have owned a Bronica 120 rollfilm camera system for over 15 years,and I have a 65mm lens, an 80mm lens, and a 150mm lens for it. AND,and this is the kicker, it uses 6x6 and 645 backs,as well as 35mm film backs. I bought this multi-format Bronica system for its flexibility with 120 rollfilm. I have shot both 6x6 and 645 film thru the same body and lenses, and guess what--the cropped-down 645 format is actually noticeably different with the 65,80,and 150mm lenses than when shooting in the larger capture size of 120 square AKA 6x6. I've shot,and owned several 150mm lenses....and on different formats, 150mm behaves like a slightly-wider-than normal on 4x5, a nice medium tele on 6x6, a slightly-longer telephoto on 6x4.5, and on 35mm a 150mm is a slightly long medium telephoto, and on a cropped-sensored camera a 150mm lens gives a nice,tight angle of view. I think my experience on the Bronica system qualifies me to state unequivocally that a cropped-sensor d-slr is a camera that shoots in a different format than a 35FF camera. The difference is not simply in angle of view--the differences are much,much more fundamental. Cropped-sensored APS-C cameras capture their images in a different format than 35FF cameras do. We need to understand that different capture sizes have ALWAYS been considered to be different FORMATS. The rampant boosterism of the DX and APS-C crowd does not change the fact that the 35FF format is a different format,and has a different set of capbilities than other formats do. Those who tell you how to multiply focal lengths by 1.54x or 1.6x to get "equivalent pictures" with an APS-C camera really do not know what they are talking about in most cases;often, their arguments are simplistic,and based on something like having used ONE format for two years....they've often never shot anything larger than 35FF,and so they tend to be very partial to their pet format,and very sensitive to what they perceive as criticisms of the APS-C format's inherent tendency toward deep depth of field.

There's no need to be defensive about APS-C or "DX Format" as Nikon calls its 1.53x camera line....but there is a need to understand the truth behind different formats and how lenses of identical focal length perform VERY differently depending on how large the capture medium behind the lens actually is. The fact that Nikon,Pentax,Fuji,Sigma,and Olympus all make only cropped-sensored cameras has many users of those brands with their panties all in a bunch, constantly trying to tell experienced shooters that there's "no need" for a sensor larger than APS-C or 4/3. But,uh, Canon seems to have two cameras that capture to the 35FF format,and they are being used by many serious workers who really know,from their own actual experience, how making the capture format significantly smaller than 35FF significantly changes the way we can make pictures.

This one is for those who've never studied much about lenswork. Good page! A second,more primer-like
I discovered this article after I wrote the main blog entry;this article from 2003 covers the myth of the "crop factor",and explains,lo and behold, that cropped-sensored d-slr's represent a different format of camera than 35mm full frame! Australian landscape photographer Nick Rains wrote a very,very,very good article explaining how thre is no such thing as a "magnification factor". His article is an absolute must-read for those looking to sort the bullshit from the facts.
This on-line calculator has the BEST illustrations of ANY on-line DOF calculator. Great little drawings are rendered with each computation. Kudos! An article entitled Working With Perspective,Subject Distance and Focal Length. A nice short article,with some nice illustrations.

Focal Length of a Camera Lens, in an article entitled Equivalent Lens Focal Lengths For Different Film Sizes. This article deals with how different focal lengths are rendered differently, based on the capture format's physical size. This is the part of the science where many people are weak.
A page entitled simply Rui Salgueiro's field-of-view calculator,this allows you to input different values for many different FORMATS of cameras,such as 24x36mm (aka 35mm film, aka 35FF), 14x36mm (aka 135- or 35mm panorama), 6x6 (56x56mm), 645 (41.5x56mm), 6x7cm (55x70mm), APS-H (16.7x30.2mm), APS-C (16.7x25.0 mm), APS-P (10.0x30.2mm), 4x5 inch (101.6x127mm), 5x7 inch (127x177.8mm), or 8x10 inch (203.2x254mm). Plus, a custom-configurable field with user-selected width and length parameters.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Full-Frame Digital: Some Day Nikon Will Have It

The lure of the EOS 5D full frame digital SLR is pretty great for many "serious" Nikon shooters. I can't stop thinking about the camera lately,myself. I read a post yesterday where one Evan E admitted he's thinking about the 5D. I've read posts from many Nikon users with large investments in Nikon glass,lamenting how much money it would/will/is going to cost them to make the switch to Canon. Many people can see several specific Canon lenses they want; the 24mm f/1.4,or the 35mm f/1.4,or the 50mm f/1.2,or 85mm f/1.2. Or the 135 f/2.Or the 300/4 IS. Or one of several Tilt AND Shift lenses that Canon makes. While I'm not particularly envious of any tilt /shift lenses (except the Nikkor 85mm macro) I do have a hankering for the Canon 24mm f/1.4 and the Canon 135mm f/2,and I must admit a modern 50mm f/1.2 autofocus lens would be something I've never owned. I've owned two 35mm f/1.4 Nikkors and I could see enjoying the 35/1.4 OR the 35mm f/2 Canon EF lenses. Canon's small,light 35/2 actually looks like an okay lens for outdoor snaps and I've owned three 35mm f/2 Nikkors over 25 years,so the small size and light weight would be appreciated. I actually LIKE a 35mm lens on 35FF; I love the semi-wide angle of view,and the large background object size that a 35mm lens gives. It's a nice look, that of a fast 35mm lens shot on 35mm film. My first 35mm f/1.4 was a pre-Ai Nikkor model with the 1973-era styling that I bought in 1985. I lament the fact that Nikon doesn't make ANY high-speed wide angle lenses these days.

Currently Nikon digital shooters can not make the kind of shallow depth of field pictures than Canon users can by using a 24mm f/1.4 wideangle lens on a full-frame d-slr body. The Nikon lens system simply has _nothing_ that can approach a 24mm lens of f/1.4 aperture,since Nikon has only 1.53x or DX format cameras, and has no 24mm lens faster than f/2.8. Combining the 35FF to APS-C difference of 1.53x and a DOF differential of at LEAST 1 and 1/3 stops, and Nikon comes up woefully behind at 24mm. Canon's 24mm f/1.4 lens coming in at two whole f/stops faster than f/2.8, is a huge difference in light-gathering power for the Canon lens/camera combo. Canon also "owns" Nikon with its 35mm f/1.4 L-series lens,and the 50mm f/1.2 and 85mm f/1.2 lenses, at least if one's goal is the widest aperture on the market at each of those three focal lengths,and with the difference in DOF between APS-C or DX and 35FF, the Canon system does have the low-low-low light categories sewn up, as well as offering the shallowest DOF, or the highest shutter speeds, or the most subject/background isolation potential in basically, four prime lens lengths: 24,35,50,and 85mm. Say all you want, but the Nikon system has no 24/1.4, no 35/1.4, no 50/1.2,no 85/1.2. And no 35mm-style FULL Frame format digital cameras to maximize the shallow DOF, subject isolation/ smooth OOF background blur look that so many people photographers want to be able to exploit.

Once Nikon offers a Full Frame d-slr choice,there will be a huge shift in the attitude of Nikon users who so valiantly try to justify the crop-body-only offerings Nikon currently has on the market. Right now, there's a tremendous number of Nikon-using posters who are spending a lot of time attempting to justify their own equipment choices,and spending a LOT of effort trying to convince other people that there's absolutely "no need for Full Frame". This handful of mostly amateur enthusiasts maintain that everything that FF can do,DX can do,which is not true by a loooong shot. While those few DX-boosters make up only a minority,they are a very loud, vocal minority. Full frame or 24x36mm sensor size is an entirely different "format" than is APS-H which is roughly 1.3x, and Full Frame is a different "format" than APS-C or 1.5x or 1.6x crop.

Pretty soon, Nikon will have FF. And the tune will change. Oh,yes, it will change. Pretty soon an entire subset of loudmouthed DX boosters will be forced to admit that,hey,this FF thing has advantages after all. What I want FF for is the shallower DOF and I want to re-establish a USEFUL set of prime lenses that function as they are supposed to function. That is to say Nikon makes excellent 20,24,28,35,45mm,50mm,60mm,85mm,105mm,135mm,180mm,200mm,and 300mm and 400mm lenses. I own all those lenses. And I'd like 'em back. As full-field lenses, with shallower DOF. And better High ISO shooting capability. And a larger viewfinder. And a large, 12 megapixel or so capture size.

The people who could make the best use of Full Frame are actually people and event shooters; the crop-sensored d-slr's simply bring too MUCH depth of field with them,and they make your studio or camera room too SMALL, too short. It's simply ridiculous to see how many people are trying to do portraiture/model photography using short focal lengths on 1.5x Nikons or 1.6x Canons--the damned backgrounds are all wayyyyyyyy too much in focus. I can see every wrinkle in seamless rolls, I can see creases in muslin backdrops, I can see street signs and billboards in street scenes...all over, there's this Deep Depth of Field APS-C type of image,ruining all sorts of people photos. The crop-sensored d-slr's force most people to drop way too short in focal length in-studio and also on-location,and depth of field control is problematic on APS-C sensored cameras due to the inherently DEEP depth of field the smaller sensor always brings with it. APS-C is simply too small of a format to do "the best" people photography with in the studios/location conditions most people actually shoot in. Those who are shooting modeling work and portraiture need to take a good look at their backgrounds, and be honest about it; using a 31,32,33,34,35,40,43 mm focal length to get a full-body shot in-studio yields images that look second-rate; the backdrops are too in-focus, and limbs are being distorted by the too-CLOSE camera positions forced upon shooters whose cropped-off sensors force the use of short focal lengths under almost all close-range indoor shooting conditions. If you cannot understand the nuances relating to format size/focal length/perspective/ shooting distances, then you're not truly qualified to judge how the film format-focal length-shooting distance relationship actually works in the REAL world.

If you've shot medium format, you probably understand from actual,practical experience how a "sub-miniature" format like APS-C affects the look of the actual PICTURES you can make,given the confines of typical studios or camera rooms and the lenses available for the format. Many people have insufficient real-world experience with 120 rollfilm or 35mm FF or FF 35-mm style digital to evaluate how the larger capture formats differ from crop-frame d-slr shooting. Many DX-users are unaware of what a 14mm or 16mm wide-angle lens looks like on full frame; many are unaware that Nikon does not manufacture any high-speed wide angle lenses which allow the background to be thrown decidedly out of focus when shooting a DX format camera; the DX capture format is so physically small that lenses approriately scaled to the new format are simply NOT actually capable of making the types of image "looks" that a lot of people want to make,and which went away back in 2001 when we went to 1.5x cropped digital cameras.

I see a LOT of crop-frame portraiture/modeling work that looks unprofessional simply because there's too much depth of field inherent in the tiny APS-C-sized sensor captures, and people are forced to use SHORT focal lengths to compensate for the cropped-off sensors,and they are forced to use short focal lengths because to do a full-body shot indoors in many smaller to normal-sized studios, the lens focal length must be down in the 30-40mm range, and that is a very,very UGLY range of focal lengths for rendering faces and bodies. 30-40mm is wide-angle,so the background angle of view,behind the subject, is very w-i-d-e in acceptance, and the background appears small, far away, but in sharp focus! In much people photography,the APS-C format is sort of a lose-lose proposition in terms of working distance,angle of view, studio lengths,and the introduction of foreshortening effects due to short focal lengths and close camera-to-subject distances. Noses and limbs can "grow" to ugly dimensions whenever you are zoomed short enough to get a full head-to-toe composition of a person standing on a 9-foot wide seamless backdrop without showing the edges of that 9-foot wide roll of paper...your background is so much in-focus that even some of the better lighting practitioners are showing photos that have wayyyyyy too much in-focus,or too much distracting detail visible, on their muslins or papers. If we all had camera rooms that allowed 75-80 foot shooting distances, there'd be no problem with the crop-sensor 1.5x and 1.6x cameras. As it stands now, full frame or 120 rollfilm is the choice of the best people shooters, for some pretty obvious reasons to those with enough real-world experience in the "old way" of shooting.

There is a reason that 120 rollfilm and full frame digital cameras are STILL the tools of choice for at the upper ends of the quality scale of people photography. The crop-sensor formats 1.5x and 1.6x are simply NOT the best tools for people photography. I am old enought to remember what was called "half-frame" format, or 24x36mm cut in was not a popular format,and it had two runs at it, the first with the Olympus-Pen half frame cameras,the last run at making it with the Yashica Samurai's two-model, half-frame line of the late 1980's. "Half frame" sucked. It died out,and the entire industry went back to Full Frame 35mm film, which is 24x36mm.

It might be another year before Nikon gets a FF camera on the market. An announcement of one "might" come tomorrow, or in a few days time at PMA 2007, perhaps on March 8. Who knows. I do NOT think that Nikon can continue to offer ONLY DX-sensored cameras and remain competitive in serious photography for much longer. I'm tempted to buy an EOS 5D FF simply because I want the 85-105-135-200-300 lens lineup to be wider in angle of coverage,and shallower in depth of field,and so I can get the kinds of pictures I had BEEN ABLE to make until I went to crop-sensor digital in 2001 with the D1,then the Fuji S1 Pro right after that. I really,really want a larger viewfinder image. I dug out my F3HP and my N90 the other day....good LORD, the finder in the N90 suits my eyeglasses!!!! I was awestruck,simply awestruck by how B-iiiiiii-gggg and expansive the viw thru the finder was. Slapping on the 17-35 zoom, I about crapped myself. I could actually SEE what the image looked like,even with that low-magnification of a lens on there.

The tunnel view is getting kind of old. Go,go,go and pick up your favorite 35mm SLR right now, and run your lenses thru it. Take five minutes,and pop on a few of your favorite lenses. Just take a LOOK, with your very own eyes, at what you can see and frame using your 35mm film slr body. Oh,and if you don't have a full frame 35mm SLR body around the house,that's too bad,because you can't see what you're missing! I've used quite a few Nikkor lenses on my EOS 20D with an adapter,and the optical performance is pretty good! Specifically, the 45-P,60 Micro,85 1.4 AF-D, 105 DC, 135 DC,200/4 AiS,Sigma 180 EX Macro, 180 AF-D,300 f/4 AF-S, 300/2.8 AFS-II,and 400/3.5 all perform amazingly well on an 8.2 MP EOS sensor. I'd be willing to use my tele Nikkor lenses on an EOS 5D body for much of the people photography I want to do.

The trio of 85-105-135 all work very,very well on the EOS bodies. I'd dearly,dearly love to be able to have those three lenses back to full field capture on a NIKON body. I'm tired of waiting for a FF Nikon digital,and so I'm very,very tempted to buy myself a 5D this spring, just to be able to get back to full field shooting with those three lenses alone. But I am gonna' wait until PMA 2007 is over to see if Nikon's got anything else it's holding in the pipeline before re-evaluating my next move. I'm tired of the D2x being my best camera body choice...I need something that does better at higher ISO's and in lower, uglier lighting conditions,and I want a larger,better viewfinder image too.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Another look at the 50-150mm Lens

I'd like to say,"Thanks for the comments,people!" I've recently begun to get comments here and there from folks who are reading my blog, and I'd like to take the time to thank each and every one of you who have posted a comment to my blog. I appreciate hearing from those who have read what I have to say, and I try to let people have their say without a lot of refutation on my part.

Recently I got a second,excellent and well thought-out,comment from Anonymous vis a vis my feelings about Nikon's missing lenses. I guess I misunderstood the comment Anonymous left the first time about the differences he sees between a 50-150mm zoom lens and a 70-200mm zoom lens. Anonymous suggests that it's nitpicking to differentiate between a 50-150 and a 70-200mm zoom lens; I beg to differ. There's a substantial difference between 50 millimeters and 70 millimeters when that focal length is multiplied by 1.55. The twenty millimeter difference is actually quite a large difference, and I suspect that's why Sigma has introduced its new 50-150mm f/2.8 HSM lens for crop-frame d-slrs.

An article entitled,"Nikkors Need a New Nidus: Let's can the eclectic lens lineup and do a clean restart" appears on Thom Hogan's web site at I think it's worth going there and reading what Hogan thinks are problem areas for the current Nikkor lens lineup. In his article Hogan says Nikon needs to design and offer Nikon DX users,and this is a quote: "50-150mm f/2.8 VR AF-S DX.The DX equivalent to the old telephoto standard, but with a big [sic] more reach. Plus it's smaller and lighter than the film equivalent. Note that Nikon will probably get this lens wrong, and make it a 35-135mm f/2.8 or 50-135mm f/2.8."

So,apparently, I'm not alone in thinking that a 50-150mm f/2.8 lens is not that wrong to want for my DX-bodied Nikon cameras. I would also disagree strongly that a 35-135 f/2.8 would be 'getting it wrong'--for MY own use, a 35-135mm would be even BETTER, since what I want is a lens that offers the most focal length flexibility in one lens tube,for sports/action. Making the lens shortish,like 35mm to start,would make it MORE useful,not less. I could sacrifice the range from 135mm to 150mm easily,since there's little difference between 135mm and 150, but there's a world of difference between 35mm and 50mm. Hogan's article also suggests that Nikon needs a 100-300 f/4 AF-S VR DX lens. I own a Sigma 100-300 f/4 EX HSM,and it has a LOT of focusing problems....I got it used,and maybe that's why I got such a good deal on it. I find the autofocus performance of the 100-300 rather poor--it's unreliable,focus-wise. It hunts wayyyy too often, and back-focuses a lot too. Frankly, Sigma's HSM protocol does NOT impress me on either their 100-300 f/4 or their 180 f/3.5 EX Macro which are my two Sigma lenses. A Nikkor-branded 100-300mm f/4 AF-S lens would no doubt focus much more reliably than the hunt-prone Sigma HSM lenses do.

A lens that I think Nikon ought to build is something along the lines of the Olympus 35-100mm f/2,seen and described here
This is a $2,499 lens using a 77mm filter and weighing 3.64 pounds, with 21 elements, 1 Super ED element, 4 ED elements, focus hold buttons, and styling reminiscent of the Nikkor 200mm f/2 AF-S VR-G. The Oly 35-100mm f/2 is a modern,sexy,well-designed lens,with the rounded,waterproof focus hold buttons out near the front of the barrel...just like the very newest pro Nikkors! The big thing here is the f/2 aperture...not f/2.8, but f/2. And just over three and a half pound weight. I know this is a 4/3 lens, but this lens could cover a small, APS-C sized sensor and still be in the same,exact specification range,filter-wise and weight wise. This is a lens many people would BUY and LOVE TO USE. Nikon has DX wide angles, but NO professional DX-optimized teles or DX-optimized professional tele-zoom lenses.

The problem with the 70-200 on 1.5x for me is that,in many sports situations like long jump, finish line photos,triple jump or high jump,baseball from 1st baseline or 3rd, basketball,volleyball,etc the 70-200 is simply too LONG at 70mm to get the kind of shots I want, and there's really no way to back up and get farther away. While the 200mm end of the zoom is fine for distant shots, as athletes approach the camera position, it's nice to be able to zoom back....unfortunately, at 70mm x 1.55x,well, you've got the angle of view of 108.5mm using a 1.55x factor for Nikon. With a 50mm lens, the shortest equivalent angle of view is 77.5mm. QUITE a difference between that and 108.5mm,really.

I think there's a reason the 70-200mm 2.8 lens has totally supplanted the 80-200mm f/2.8 lens, and that is simply that 80mm is too LONG to begin at....70mm is only 10 millimeters shorter than 80mm, and yet, the 70-200 has become the defacto standard for professional f/2.8 and for professional f/4 lenses like the new 70-200 f/4 L IS lens from Canon. The difference beetween 50mm and 70mm is twenty millimeters. Not surprisingly, Sigma has now created the world's first 70mm macro lens. Sigma has also created the world's first 50-150mm f/2.8 autofocus lens....I think because there is a real,significant difference in the utility of a 50-150 lens as opposed to a 70-200 lens on a DX-sensored body. With today's higher-MP cameras, the 1.5x FOV crop is no longer an advantage--we've got plenty of resolution and file size with the D2x to crop and throw away HALF of a frame,and it's STILL got much more info than a 2.7 MP or 4.1 MP file ever had.

I owned the 50-135mm f/3.5 AiS Zoom~Nikkor for a number of years,and found that it was a MUCH handier general purpose zoom lens on 1.5x than my 80-200 f/2.8 AF zoom, or my 80-200 f/4 (old) Zoom-Nikkor, and it was also much handier than my 70-200 VR as a general-purpose, all-in-one lens for walkabout use. When I got the 70-200VR, I kept the 50-135 f/3.5 manual focus, and loaned the old one-ring 80-200mm 2.8 to a UK photographer who had all of his equipment stolen and the 80-200 f/4 went to my sister in law. Then,somehow, my 50-135/3.5 went missing. I have NO IDEA what the hell happened to it,it's just simply "gone". What I like about the 50mm focal length is that it can be used to make what I call wide-angle compositions,as well as telephoto compositions. It's actually wide enough to give a sense of place,and to put things into context,where 70mm has absolutely NO wide-angle nature whatsoever--all compositions with a 70mm are short telephoto type compositions. I personally think that with the increased MP count of good new cameras, that a shorter,wider-angle zoom lens will allow better utility from a single camera body,without the need to always be reaching for the second camera and lens combo. In many situations, there is simply not enough time to reach for a second camera,bring it up,frame,and shoot, but there IS time to zoom back,using the same zoom lens as you began with. Hence, my desire for a 50-150mm lens, and not yet another 70-200mm lens for "serious" use. [Update: In October 2007,my 50-135 was found,unharmed.]

I think a similar argument,that of great flexibility and utility, can be made for the existence of the 100-300mm f/4 Sigma HSM,and the 120-300 2.8 Sigma EX; the 70-200 f/2.8 and f/4 zooms are simply NOT long enough for those who want 300mm worth of reach in ONE LENS,for FAST deployment on sports or action. I would LOVE to see a NIKKOR 100-300mm zoom, since the Sigma 100-300 f/4 HSM has so many focusing problems and is really NOT up to professional optical quality on the D2x. There are always tradeoffs; a 300mm f/2.8 prime lens is sharp,focuses great,and has superb optical performance, but when athletes come anywhere close to you, the lens is useless. Enter the Sigma 120-300 f/2.8....I'm starting to see this lens more and more at larger outdoor sporting events. While it might not be as good as a Canon or Nikon 300/2.8, it has the focal length flexibility and the range that many sports/action shooters want to have all in ONE LENS BARREL,for fast deployment.Zooming flexibility can be worth a LOT.

A case in point about lens designs and the range that sports/action shooters want; Nikon has made a really stupid lens design decision with its fairly new 200-400mm AF-S VR G lens. WHO,exactly, was this thing designed for? It's a $5,099 lens. It's a 200mm f/4. It's a 250mm f/4. It's a 300mm f/4. It's a 350mm f/4. And it's a 400mm f/4. Good Lord Almighty, people are paying five THOUSAND dollars for a 200mm f/4 lens? And five thousand dollars for a 300mm f/4 lens? Shit, that is simply insanely specialized. A 200mm f/4 that weighs 7.2 pounds with its protective glass installed, or 6.9 pounds without the protective glass? I hate to be so blunt, but I see the 200-300 part of the range at a mere f/4 and have to wonder to myself WHY this lens was ever made. It seems to me to offer too slow of an aperture at both 200 and 300mm to cost $5,099. If you want a 200mm f/4 lens, it ought to weigh about one pound,and you CAN buy a 200mm f/2.8 lens from Canon for $659,and it weighs 26.8 ounces. while the 300mm f/4 Canon Image Stabilizer weighs 2.6 pounds and costs $1,149 I can see wanting a 200mm f/2.8 prime that weighs under two pounds,and I can see a 300mm f/4 stabilized lens that costs $1,149 and weighs 2.6 pounds. But I can NOT see the need for a 200-300-400 f/4 lens that costs over five grand, is too slow to use a teleconverter on,and which needs to be stopped down smaller than f/4 to get the BEST sharpness. if you want a lens that WEIGHS WAYYYYYYY too much over 85% of its focal length range, the 200-400 f/4 AF-S VR-G is your lens....24 elements, 17 groups, and weighs a ton.

A 50-150mm f/2.8 lens priced at $1100 from Nikon would be very,very welcome. It would actually re-create the 70-200 in terms of FOV. And people could afford it,and it would have broad utility. I ask you, who exactly is the 200-400 VR targeted at,and why is it such a slooooow seller? I do not think it sells poorly because of price alone, but because it's somebody's pet project,and it's "neat".

I think Nikon has some real,significant gaps in its lens lineup,and a significant problem with its sensor size offerings. Pretty soon we will see if Nikon brings out a Full Frame d-slr camera; rumors are now flying that Nikon might produce a d-slr with a 1.1 or 1.13x fied of view factor. Short of full frame admittedly, but larger than 1.55x that they now have. In the meantime, we'll all have to remain content to carry two d-slr's,one on a monopod,and one around our neck. The lack of a 50-150mm f/2.8 lens for field sports costs us an extra $6,000, just to be able to cover closer action.

I can see why Nikon is not too worried about its current lack of a 50-150mm f/2.8 pro-grade lens--Nikon has lost the majority of the PJ/sports/event market to Canon.