Is Full Frame Necessarily In Your Future?


In 2006, I had a Nikon D200 and D300, and was looking longingly at the gorgeous full frame 5D in the greener Canon pastures. At the time, I knew that something full frame was about to drop from Nikon, but I knew that it would be expensive, and out of my budget, whereas the 5D had been out for a couple of years, and had rebates. So I switched from Nikon to Canon, Nikon announced the D700 shortly thereafter, and I didn’t look back.

Canon, as it turns out, was a good fit for me–I liked the bodies, I liked the lenses, and I love the straightforward simplicity of the 5D. Since that time, I have generally had two Canon DSLRs, and one of them has always been a 5D. I’ve loved the high ISO performance, the shallow depth of field, the ability to use all the wonderful L lenses at their intended focal lengths. At one point I had a 40D also, but was never quite happy with it, and because the focal lengths were all screwy on a crop sensor camera, eventually sold it in favor of another 5D.

Concurrently my small-camera arc started as I shot weddings and other events with heavy bags full of camera gear. I found interchangeable lens cameras I could take on vacation, or when traveling, or when carrying around my now-four-year-old son. These cameras had limitations, but generally were “good enough” and made my life easier. They weren’t quite good enough, though, to replace my DSLRs.

I’m not going to rewrite the blog I wrote recently about the Fuji X-E1 and how I’m selling my DSLRs and all that, because I already did that, and the response has been overwhelming (I will be writing a follow-up to that to answer some questions and address some other things. Clearly there are more than a few people out there who agree with my sentiment and are going through a similar process). What I do want to highlight, though, is this timely article by Nikon pro and internet pundit Thom Hogan, whom I have followed since my first days shooting Nikons. The article in question is here:

The Full Frame Debate –

Essentially, he writes about the same thing I’ve touched on recently, and the epiphany I had while shooting the X-E1 alongside my 5D Mark II and Mark III bodies at a recent wedding–namely, that APS-C sensors have come a really long way in the time between when I had my crop sensor Nikons, the Canon 40D, and now. We have now reached a point where cameras sensors are so good, you don’t necessarily need the biggest sensor or the most sensitivity. My own bar tends to hang somewhere around ISO 3200 or 6400–if I can make useable shots at ISO 3200 with a fast lens, that’s usually good enough. The 5D Mark III allowed me to shoot at 6400 or even 12,800 with impunity, but usually that just provided me the option to use a higher shutter speed or a slower lens. In other words, it gave me more choices, but wasn’t an absolute necessity.

Once I saw that the X-E1 had the chops to hang with a camera more than three times its price, the writing was on the wall. From then on it was just a matter of making sure the camera worked for me operationally and could do the other things I needed it to do.

In almost every discussion I have read or been a part of where there is an up and coming photographer figuring out what gear they want or need next, at some point they say “when I go full frame…” or “eventually I plan to go full frame….” And there are reasons to go full frame, to be sure, but most of the time they can’t articulate why they should go full frame. They just know that it’s something to aspire to, it’s what the “pros” use. Full frame cameras are often lifted onto ridiculous pedestals, idolized as if they cure every photographic ill. They’ve never been much more than one stop better than comparable crop sensor cameras, and sometimes that extra stop of depth of field a crop sensor gives you at a faster aperture is hugely beneficial when you have moving subjects you’re trying to keep in focus. When I had my original 5D, I hesitated to shoot it at ISO 3200; with the 5D II, that moved up to 6400, and on the 5D III, ISO 12,800 (which still just strikes me as ridiculous).

I don’t want this to be a blog about industry trends or overly techy–writers like Thom have that very ably covered already–but I did want to highlight his article, because it comes at a time when I am switching back to smaller sensors from big ones, and when the industry is announcing many new, compact full-frame cameras. Someone mentioned to me recently that if Fuji made a full-frame X-mount camera, they’d be in heaven. I responded by asking them why they wanted full frame, as I found that the economies of scale realized by a smaller sensor actually made the most sense (to me) for these cameras. He never really came back with a totally rational response. My point is not to pick on him, but rather to illustrate again that most people are unable to articulate why they think it is some rite of passage or necessity to eventually get to full frame. There are many upsides to smaller sensor cameras, and fewer downsides all the time.

So if you’re still shooting micro 4/3rds, or APS-C, or something else, don’t have an inferiority complex–what you’re shooting is likely fine, and has much less bearing on the quality of your photographs than things like vision, light, composition, etc. etc. etc.


  1. Bob Danley on Nov 4, 2013 at 11:09 am

    Thanks for the overview…was considering 5D lll…no longer :-)

  2. mschueler on Nov 4, 2013 at 11:38 am

    Bob–there is a lot to be said for the 5DIII–it is a wonderful camera and I loved it very much while I had it. That said, I realized I could get shed some invested money, a lot of weight, and a little complexity with a small camera that is a joy to use and fits my style of photography quite well. :)

  3. Tomas Haran on Jan 9, 2014 at 10:02 pm

    Great post. My reason for wanting full frame is that I wanted to be able to shoot at ISO 3200 with sharpness, good color rendition and low noise. I got the camera and it does really well, but I got to the point where now my second body needed to do the same or I’d feel like it was dragging me back. This is when I came across the Fuji cameras and read that they could be pushed to Iso 3200 and even 6400 better than most similar cameras. I knew I had to look into it more. I love the crop as it gives me more reach, which I like and can shoot at the ISO I’d like to for available light photography. So far very impressed with what Fuji has accomplished. Only wish I had done this research BEFORE buying my full frame. :)

Add A Comment