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.

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