Final thoughts (Full Frame vs APS-C)

Lately I’ve been writing a bit about Full Frame (or 35mm) sensors vs Crop (or APS-C) sensors.

List of articles in the recent series:

There's a definite size difference here.

There’s a definite size difference here.

Lessons I learnt:

  1. The Xpro2 is just as good if not better with colour and realistic colour to the 1DsIII.  It’s better than the 1Dx when it comes to colour.
  2. There is some DOF difference (more background blur on FF). But in real shooting it isn’t really noticeable.
  3. The 1DsIII has an amazing sensor when exposed right, but it can’t recover blacks worth a damn.
  4. Xpro2 at low ISO isn’t as good as the 1DsIII at low ISO, but it beats most modern crops and some modern Full Frame cameras.
  5. The Fuji 23mm 1.4 is slightly soft from f/1.4-2, sharp from f/2-4, VERY sharp from f/4-8 and f/8-11 starts to get softer due to diffraction.
  6. The Sigma 35 1.4 Art is an amazingly sharp lens, even wide open.
  7. For most purposes (baring shooting at base ISO) the Fuji Xpro2 sensor is as good as any full frame, lacking only resolution (over the large MP cameras some camera makers offer) and minor DOF differences.
  8. I will keep my 1DsIII for base ISO shooting (it’s cleaner).

 

Full Frame advantages:

  1. Shallower Depth of Field 
  2. Resolution (generally the bigger the sensor the more photosites they can stick on it and therefore they can push the resolution more)
  3. Better base ISO? (Not too sure about this, in the case of the 1DsIII it’s true at least, less so with some other cameras)
  4. Better high ISO (in theory – sensor dependant)
  5. Easier to shoot wide angle (just to clarify, I mean generally at a given mm a Full Frame’s FOV is wider)*

*It’s actually quite easy to go wide on a crop camera too, it gets very expensive to go longer though.

 

Crop advantages:

I would have to wear wrist braces (not shown here) when shooting a Full Frame for a long time

I would have to wear wrist braces (not shown here) when shooting a Full Frame for a long time

  1. Deeper Depth of Field (sometimes  you want more in focus, sports for example)
  2. Size and weight (in most cases a crop camera is lighter and smaller than a full frame camera)
  3. Reach (as it crops the edges of the image, it narrows a lenses field of view, therefore giving the lens more “reach”)
  4. Much less conspicuous (especially in the case of Fuji, yes Leica is an exception, but it costs heaps)
  5. Cheaper (not all the time, but on the whole)

 

Why/where it doesn’t matter.

  1. Exposure (a 1.2 lens will give you the same amount of exposure on any size sensor, noise and how much you can push it IS effected slightly, however mostly this is a moot point as nowadays even crop sensors can easily shoot to 12800iso and even above and still be acceptable).
  2. Resolution (yes generally I know I said this is a Full Frame advantage, however these days unless you NEED 36MP+ a modern crop is 20-24MP making the resolution a moot point for most people).
  3. Video (in most cases a Full Frame sensor isn’t an advantage, even shooting 4K)
  4. Autofocus Accuracy (this depends on the system, not the sensor)
  5. Autofocus Speed (same as above)
  6. Dynamic Range (all modern cameras can be pushed to about 12+ dynamic range these days, unless you’re really picky there’s not much difference)
  7. Sharpness (per pixel sharpness isn’t affected by sensor size)

 

I used to get so tired carrying my camera around with me I'd have to lay down.

I used to get so tired carrying my camera around with me I’d have to lay down.

 

When would I use Fuji Xpro2 or Canon 1DsIII:

  • Studio: Either.   I love the fuji colours so much I would probably just use the Fuji with a 23mm/56mm/90mm combo (35,85,135 in FF terms) though a Sigma 35mm ART and if Sigma release it one day a 85 1.4 ART would be a perfect studio combo for me on the 1DsIII.  Let’s see what is best later.
  • Portraits: Either. I could go either way, the Fuji has slightly nicer colours I think however the FF camera lets me have a bit more blurry backgrounds (though actually not by a significant amount).  For now, Fuji.  The 56mm and 90mm combo is perfect for portraiture.
  • Events: Fuji. I actually think being able to shoot at f/1.4 and having a slightly deeper DOF is useful for event shooting.  So I’d probably go Fuji for this. In the past I’d definitely use Full Frame for the noise advantages (being able to shoot at 6400 or even 12800 is why I got my 1Dx). However these days you can easily shoot at high ISO levels with a Fuji Xpro2 so I’m not worried about that.  Also smaller size lets you blend in more.
  • Sports:  Fuji.  Even if I still had my 1Dx I’d still go Fuji (but with a X-T2)
  • Product/Objects/Macro:  Either.  Would really depend on which lens I owned.  I don’t currently own a macro and the closes I have is the 90mm from Fuji so I guess I’d go Fuji now.
  • Travelling: Fuji.  Size and weight make it an easy choice
  • Streets: Fuji.  Smaller, less conspicuous, hybrid viewfinder (on the Xpro2) the choice is really obvious.
  • Weddings: Fuji. Easier to blend in and same reasons as events.
  • Every Day: Fuji.  Obvious choice.  Lighter and more compact, I can carry it every day without issue.

So for me at least, I’d use Fuji most of the time and could use either for the other things.  Portraits/Studio/Product Shooting being the ones I might go for Full Frame.  I could shoot sports using Full Frame no problem too.

Conclusion

I have both crop AND full frame cameras but I mainly use the Fuji system (which is a crop camera).  I find the images they produce are EXTREMELY nice and the size/weight saving is more than worth it for me.  The ONLY reason I can think to shoot Full Frame is if I really want the shallowest DOF possible or possibly times where I want the best base ISO (product shooting perhaps).   I do currently thing a nice sports DSLR is faster focusing than the X-Pro2, but reports of the X-T2’s AF system are very promising.  The 1DsIII (the full frame camera I own) is a classic that I’ll use until it breaks (which will be a long time) the base ISO shots from that camera are so nice I just have to keep it.

 

One thing I know is true for SURE is I’m MUCH more likely to pick up and go out with my Fuji system than my Canon system (even when I had a 1Dx and a bunch of lenses).  This is a major reason why I switched mostly to Fuji.  The size, weight and USABILITY of the Fuji system are MAJOR advantages for me.  What good is a shiny expensive sports high end pro camera if you’re never going to use it.

 

Lastly… for me at least… shooting with FUJI makes photography FUN.  Canon and Nikon are great tools, but they lack the soul of Fuji.  That’s a personal thing I know, but still.  Also, the Fuji user community feels nice, that’s very subjective of course and there’s a bunch of jerks in any group, but overall they’re a great bunch of coconuts.

I actually use this camera daily.

I actually use this camera daily.  Note, no wrist brace.

 

Thanks for reading and I promise I’ll get onto a different topic soon 🙂

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  • nathanphotographer

    I agree with 99% of what you listed. Great summary. I shoot 90% of the time with my Fuji, although I can’t let go of my 85mm f1.4 on my FF Nikon. Fuji has 2 56mm f1.2 lenses, the base version doesn’t have quite the shallow depth of field, and the APD version loses contrast detection and every reviewer on Amazon who likes it has returned it.

    But curious about your comment on wide angle being “easier” on Full Frame. I understand the whole crop vs FF, but I have the 10-24mm Fuji, which is equal to a 15mm to 36mm FF lens as far as angle of view. Adrian, what is your widest FF lens? Rokinon even has an 8mm fisheye for Fuji, equal to 12mm on FF. (I use my 10.5mm DX Nikon Fisheye on my Fuji occasionally with a $12 adapter, but the Fuji at 10mm is wider with less distortion, and has autofocus and OIS).

    • I meant it’s wider per mm really. Certainly you can go very wide with APS-C.

      After talking to you on FB I am almost decided to get myself a 10-24 🙂

      • nathanphotographer

        If you can try one out, do so. It weighs MUCH less than the 16-55mm, which I also own and love. It was one of the first Fuji lenses I own, and for travel and landscape it’s great. I recently got the 16-55mm f2.8, so I use it a bit less, but when you need wide, it can’t be beat.

        • nathanphotographer

          And for large group shots, it’s great

          • nathanphotographer

            These are sharper “in person” 🙂

          • Looks amazing. I actually wanted to get one (10-24) when I got my 100-400 and some other lenses, however they didn’t have it in stock. I think I’ll have to see how much I have to save to get one now. 😀

          • nathanphotographer

            I don’t know how it is in Hong Kong. I’m an American living in Italy, and Fuji regularly puts their lenses on sale. In the US, this lens regularly gets $200 off (ended end of June, but it will repeat). So what do you use your 100-400mm for ? I have the 50-140mm, and love it. Might get a teleconverter, but when I had 14 lenses for my Nikon, I almost never shot with anything longer than 200mm.

          • Right now, I don’t use the 100-400 for much much. 😉 With outdoor sports I often have found in the past that 70-200 (on FF) wasn’t enough. So I’ve got the 100-400 for future sports and possibly wildlife photography. I am looking forward to trying the 100-400 on some basketball or football (Australian rules of course) or Cricket in the future.

            Possibly I can get the 10-24 in a sale that’s coming up in a shop I like to shop at soon. I’ll see if it’s one of the things they have on sale. We usually don’t have sales on camera stuff here, they just reduce the price and don’t announce it officially until you go ask them.

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  • Andrew Gemmell

    I’m not as convinced for street. I purchased the Xpro2 for this purpose but returned it. It has all the advantages you mention and certainly a nice form factor for street. However in variable light which street has a lot of I found the files struggled to deal with low light situations. The out of focus areas had a consistent artifacts issue showing up and poor uniformity in its rendering. No doubt some of this to do with my exposure settings though overall it struggled with when iso pushed. In good light it was great. I feel the FF sensor in this case can make enough difference particularly if printing.

    • Yeh grain is very subjective.

      One interesting fact is the Fuji sensor is an ISO-less sensor and known for being able to retain colour details etc when pushed.

      I certainly used to see poorer grain comparing Full frame to older APS-C sensors (40D and D7000 vs 5D and 5Dii) however I personally find the fuji grain fine.

      Wondering if you shot RAW or jpeg. JPEG tends to control things well, but I’d rather shoot RAW still (old habits and all that). If you process in Lightroom like I do you have to use different sharpening techniques because of the X-Trans sensor. Or else you get strange artifacts etc.

      My favourite Lightroom sharpening/NR preset is as follows:

      Sharpening:
      Amount: 26
      Radius: 1.9
      Detail: 69
      Masking: 70

      Noise Reduction:
      Luminance: 10
      Detail: 29
      Contrast: 0

      Color: 10
      Detail: 49
      Smoothness: 50

      With these settings I can push the files till the cows come home and maintain nice even grain.

      • Andrew Gemmell

        I think you may be right re knowing how to deal with an X Trans sensor. In camera and post treatment more important and I certainly didn’t have a handle on it.

        I can certainly sing the praises for the D750. I use it for charity work and took it on a trip to China for travel photography. It’s one of the best all round cameras I’ve come across….and I’m really a DSLR fan.

  • Jim Clark

    Having shot pro sports for more than 40 years I differ with your “Deeper Depth of Field (sometimes you want more in focus, sports for example).
    Shooting a 300/400 f/2.8 or 600 f/4 wide open to get the main subject sharp and blurring the background is damned important for many of us. Deeper depth of field is not what we want. We want shallow depth to emphasize the main subject and set it apart from the background, not have it fade into it.
    A Bigger Sensor and ‘more photosites’ isn’t quite right all the time. Larger photosites which help with gathering light. Your 1DsMkIII(I shoot them as well) gives excellent results at lower ISO settings – and admirably keeps up with newer bodies today and still beats many of them. Just wish it had a true ISO 25 to work with. Ever higher ratings are nice but slow and ever sharper and cleaner is more than welcome.
    Yes, wide angle with a full frame sensor is darned nice to have. Add in the optical viewfinder and some of us are just fine. No bright screen to spotlight us when shooting in dimly lit nightclubs or to ruin our night vision when doing night sky images.

    • Valid points. Each system has its merits for sure.

      • Jim Clark

        Shooting the 300 or 400 at a stop or more down is a choice dictated by subject matter. As the athlete gets closer depth of field becomes less. I may stop down a bit more to make sure I can keep the eyes in focus with enough depth to get the face cage or more of the athlete sharp while still getting backbground blur the way I want it. Sticking to just one aperture is limiting in too many ways.

        Doing fashion work with a 300 pretty much wide open works very well but being able to stop down a bit to makes sure the clothing is sharp is creative control.

        High jumpers over the bar is a situation like this. Close enough to work with depth creatively while getting the athletes face sharp using smaller apertures.
        I have tested a number of cameras in the Canon line and still find no reason to move to something else when it comes to lower ISO settings.
        Also use Sigma DP Merrill cameras specifically for the image quality. Stick to ISO100 and much of the time use a tripod so I can take advantage of their sweet spot. They punch way above their weight and are worth it.

        • Thank you for your excellent reply.

          Very valid points about the power of having the flexibility to choose etc. I do think occasionally it’s nice to have the exposure abilities of a lens wide open coupled with the increased DOF. However Fuji don’t make a 300 2.8. That said, separation is also nice to have as you said. If I shot sports like you I’d definately have kept my 1Dx, for me it’s total overkill though.

          The xpro1 AF indeed was pretty poor. Xpro2 is a lot better and the joystick helps a lot. I think the xt2 will be even better still, but in a different form factor.

  • EJPB

    One comparison seems to be avoided: Leica M.240 and X-Pro2. I’m having a few friends owning Leica, but unfortunately, I’ve not been able to make a comparison. The only thing I can tell (and I really mean it) is that some have been very disappointed looking at what Fuji is capable to in f.i. low and artificial light performance. Not long after the X-Pro1 was released, I’ve been running some 1 to 1 comparisons between the M9 and a few Leica lenses and the X-Pro1- even optically I was very surprised how well the X-Pro1 performed and was resolving even in the corners details vs the +2MP Leica CCD (the XF’s are just wonderful).

    • I wish I could afford to make that comparison 😉

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  • Matan

    It needs to be stated that a Full Frame sensor has no effect on Depth of Field. Depth of Field is affected by 3 parameters only, and the sensor size is not one of them:
    1) Focal Length (longer focal lenth = shallower DOF)
    2) Distance between the subject and the lens (shorter distance = Shallower DOF)
    3) Aperture (the wider the aperture = Shallower depth of field)

    What happens in all of these “hmm, let’s prove that a full frame sensor creates a shallower DOF” articles, is that the photographer making the comparison is presenting two images (one from FF sensor, one from a crop sensor) WITH THE SAME FIELD OF VIEW. This is key. When you stand at a given distance from your subject and use a given focal length, the FOV will be different on both sensors – on FF there will be a wider FOV.

    So, in order to produce the same FOV for the comparison, what the photographer does is either:
    1) Gets CLOSER to the subject when using the FF camera Gets further away from the subject when using the crop camera
    2) Remains in the same distance, but changes to a LONGER focal length when using the FF camera changes to a shorter focal length when using the crop camera

    These actions are the ones that produce the differences that we see in DOF in all of these comparisons. It has absolutely no connection to the size of the sensor.

    • Aleh

      Agree in theory, but in practice…
      Say I’m shooting a portrait with FF and 50/1.4. I shoot wide open and get shallow DoF.
      On crop to match the effect (bg bluring, DoF) I need to shoot with 33/0.95 on the same distance. Do we have such lens to buy? Should it be same price as 50/1.4?

      Or I can get father away, but I’ll not be able to get the same DoF then.

      • Matan

        Yes, but it all depends on the lens you are using. If you were comparing two photographers shooting the exact same portrait , one with a Fuji 56/1.2 and the other with a Canon 70-200/2.8 at focal length of 84mm (which will give the equivalent field of view), both wide open, guess who will have the shallower depth of field? The Fuji!!!

        My intention was to make it clear that the sensor size does not affect DOF. When comparing two identical images in terms of field of view shot from the same distance, It depends on the lens you are using and how you are using it. NOT the sensor.
        There are cases where using the FF lens will create a shallower depth of field, there are cases where the Crop lens will create the shallower depth of field. Unless you own every single lens at every possible focal length for your system, you need to be aware of what makes the DOF shallower if that’s an important part of your style. Thinking that FF will always give you a shallower DOF no matter what is just not the case.

        • I’ll preface this by saying I don’t disagree with your point that the sensor technically doesn’t change the DOF, I really appreciate you pointing this out however maybe, for the sake of anyone reading this. I’ll point out why people say FF has a shallower DOF than APS-C. 🙂

          In your first post you said the following affects DOF:
          1) Focal Length (longer focal length = shallower DOF)
          2) Distance between the subject and the lens (shorter distance = Shallower DOF)
          3) Aperture (the wider the aperture = Shallower depth of field)

          1 and 2 are affected by your sensor choice on most occasions. Therefore there’s enough of a slightly indirect correlation between sensor size and DOF to say the sensor does affect the DOF.

          Your example then went on to rely on different aperture settings to get a thinner DOF out of APS-C. However the point most people make is at a given f-stop the FF camera has a thinner DOF, of course you can match it using aperture differences, but if you have two lenses at the same distance from the subject and same FOV (and same aperture) the FF lens will be a longer focal length (say 35mm vs APS-C 23mm) and therefore you’re affecting the DOF by adjusting point 1) in your list.

          SO while technically you’re right, in practice it’s essentially the sensor affecting the DOF by making you adjust 1) or 2) on your list. It’s not a direct causation however it is an indirect, secondary causation. Therefore we just make it simple for the beginner and say:

          “Sensor size affects DOF” because, well, it does. 🙂

          • Matan

            Adrian, I’m sorry but I have to disagree. Explaining it to beginners this way could be very misleading and cause them to make choices that might not always be right for them.

            I think many beginners have a limited understanding of the basics of photography. So they go around blogs, reviews, etc. and they read that if you definitely need a shallower depth of field then you need to go full frame. They don’t realize that it also depends on the lens you are using.

            So let’s say a beginner who is interested in shooting portraits and likes having a shallower depth of field decides he will buy a FF camera for that reason. If he buys the 85/1.2 or a 50/1.4 lens to go with it, he probably made the right choice for him (if depth of field is the only consideration of course).
            But what if he buys a different lens? What if he decided to start with a kit lens? He still thinks that because he’s shooting with full frame camera, he is definitely getting a shallower depth of field. He could then find himself mystified when his friend with a crop camera (and with a different lens) takes the same shot only it has a shallower depth of field. When he realizes that the sensor size is not a factor is this equation (or at least, not the only factor), it could be that he will regret his choice.

            Another “in practice” issue which I think is relevant is that in many cases you might not want to actually shoot wide open. Either because the DOF is too shallow, or because you want to get a sharper image (or both). And when you start stopping down a lens, Those differences in DOF between the FF lens and it’s crop “same field of view” counterpart are being significantly reduced. At F/1.2, the aperture diameter of a 85mm lens is ~71mm, while on a 56mm lens it’s ~47mm – a 24mm difference.
            But stop it down to F/2.8, the difference will only be ~10mm. In practice, for a certain photographer, the DOF differences might not be THAT significant.

            In my opinion, the online community is obliged to be focused on educating beginning photographers so they will have the right tools to make the best decision for them. Making generalizations like “FF=shallowe DOF” because it is a little easier for us to explain and for them to understand – Could potentially cause them to make the wrong choices.

            And if you don’t see it that way, well then – we will have to agree to disagree 😉

          • I get what you’re saying and they’re great points. I won’t disagree because we’ll just go around the same points over and over.

            Nuff said I think.

    • LOL yes, very good point. In practice though we can say a FF camera has a shallower DOF because of the way we use it to compose an image. Thanks for your excellent comment.

      http://i.imgur.com/gRk1uZm.gif

      • Matan

        See my comment to Aleh. This CAN be true in practice as well, depending on the lens that you are using and how you are using it. Having a FF system does not mean you will always get a shallower depth of field, technically AND in practice.

    • Benoit

      Sorry Matan, your rule works for film camera but is outdated when it comes to digital where the pixel size has an effect too.
      I have used extensively MF, FF and sometimes Crop, and the DOF is shallower, the bigger the sensor and the resolution: you have more DOF with a Phase One IQ160 than with an IQ3 100, same thing if you compare a Canon 5DSR to a 5D Markiii.

  • Binarylab

    Amazing comparison! As an amateur photographer I always wanted to see the the real world test between FF and APS-C. Do you think you can made a similar test between micro four thirds and full frame? Or even better, compare all three of them 🙂

    • Unfortunately I don’t own a micro 4/3 camera to do so. I do know someone who owns an old Olympic pen with the kit lens, but they live in another country so that doesn’t help much. Sorry about that.

      • Binarylab

        Ok, I understand. Anyway, thanks again for the awesome test,