Tag Archives: micro Four Thirds

Craving full-frame? Read this first.

3 Jul

Reading this article might save you some money. No, I’m not sponsored to write this, so you may safely proceed. All you’ll get is technical insight and honest opinion.

Perhaps like many photographers, you’ve thought about going for a full frame camera. Perhaps you’ve heard about shallow depth of field, low light shooting and noise. Maybe you’ve heard that full frame is “one stop faster” or “one stop brighter”.

In this article, I’ll cover one of the reasons for going full frame – more light, and how much sense it makes, especially for your bank balance.

Frontal product photo of a black camera against blueish white background.

Ever wanted a Nikon D800E? Read on. (Image credit: Jastrow)

By going from APS-C to full frame – probably the most common move – you gain approximately one stop of light, i.e. you get twice as much light over the whole of your sensor. It would be approximately true to say that shooting ISO 200 on full frame, you get the same noise as shooting ISO 80 on APS-C. So you can shoot faster shutter speeds and, over the whole sensor, get the same noise. However, if you shoot 16 megapixels on APS-C, then shooting 36 megapixels full frame, you will get the same PER PIXEL noise, at the same ISO. So far, so good.

Small rectangle denoted APS-C next to larger rectangle denoted

Relative size of the two major DSLR sensor formats (Copyright breakfastographer / Chriusha (Хрюша) / CC-BY-SA-3.0)

So if we shoot the same apertures, we gain a stop of light. So we can ask the question, how much does it cost to gain a stop of light?

If you upgrade from an 18-55/3.5-5.6 APS-C kit lens to a 17-50/2.8 APS-C premium zoom, you gain 1-2 stops of light, and it might cost you 150 Eurodollars if you buy used. Or for about the same price, you could upgrade to a 17-70/2.8-4.5, which gives you almost exactly one stop advantage over the kit lens, and a bit of extra range.

If you further upgrade to an 18-35/1.8 zoom, you might pay about 600 Eurodollars used or a good offer new, and you would gain a stop over the 17-50/2.8 or over two stops vs. an 18-55/3.5-5.6 kit lens. But you shorten your range by about one stop of teleconversion. Don’t worry if that sounds technical – just remember that 35mm is 35mm and not 50, 55 or 70mm.

Black zoom lens pointing upwards with hood attached, and lens cap lying next to it, label up. Zoom ring indicates 17-24-35-50. White background.

Another possible upgrade path? The Tamron 17-50/2.8 (Image credit: Christian Fischer/CC-BY-SA-3.0 Unported)

If low light shooting, reduced noise or faster shutter speeds are what you’re after, and you’re still shooting with an APS-C camera and kit lens, you owe it to yourself to first invest the 150 to see if the extra light is worth it. This will put you in a much better position to judge whether you want to invest about ten times that amount (or more) to get to a full frame camera and appropriate lens. (Note that a full frame camera with an f/4 lens offers no light advantage over an APS-C camera with an f/2.8 lens!)

There are other points to consider, of course, some of which I’ll touch on briefly. A full frame camera generally offers greater sharpness due to both an increase in resolution and easier manufacture and assembly of appropriate glass. The full frame format is more resistant to diffraction, typically tolerating f/11 rather than f/8 (APS-C) or f/5.6 (Micro Four Thirds) – note that these assumptions only hold for certain pixel pitch, i.e. a 36 megapixel full frame camera is just as sensitive to diffraction at the pixel level as a 16 megapixel APS-C camera. (Other assumptions apply, such as having comparable filter stacks in front of the sensor.) However, over the entire frame, the full frame camera is more tolerant. The flip side is that you need to shoot at those smaller stops to reach the same depth of field, meaning that in landscape shooting, there is no full frame advantage in available light, for the same positioning and framing.

Furthermore, full frame has greater limitations when it comes to designing zoom lenses – you may notice that a common superzoom lens specification for full frame is the 28-300mm lens, whereas on APS-C, the limit has been pushed to 16-300mm – the same versatility in focal length as a 24-450mm on full frame!

Similarly, compare the Sigma 18-35/1.8 to its full frame sibling, the 24-35/2. The smaller lens is both faster and, depending on your point of view, slightly more versatile. (The comparison is hampered by the full frame lens being the equivalent of a 16-24mm on APS-C – not an easy comparison!)

So a full frame camera is best suited to the shooter who knows what situations they want to cover and what their preferred focal lengths are. If you prefer spontaneous shooting and versatility, it is likely that a full frame camera will not make you happy.

Arguments about achieving shallow depth of field more easily on a full frame camera deserve a separate article.

Update 2/2/2017: Also check out my newer article, Low light photography? Affordable? Look no further! for the latest development, or check out a sample image.

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What’s the deal with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II?

7 Feb

E-M5_II

Olympus this week took the covers off the E-M5 Mark II, which features a new mode where, over the course of one second, eight 16 megapixel images are taken and composited together into a 40 megapixel image. Between exposures, the sensor is moved a small amount, which allows more pixels to be simulated than are actually present on the sensor. This technology has been previously used on Hasselblad digital medium format cameras.

The new mode will mostly be useful to landscape, architecture, still life and product photographers due to its long recording duration. Imaging Resource has published a comparison of the new mode against the capability of the Nikon D810. The main conclusion seems to be that the Olympus mode lags the D810 in terms of dynamic range and spatial resolution (sharpness) although it has been pointed out that setting the Olympus lens at f/8 may have favoured the Nikon. Another less formal comparison against the Pentax 645Z shows similar differences.

The OM-D E-M5 Mark II’s native resolution is 16 megapixels.

If anyone was holding their breaths for 4k video – no, the E-M5 II won’t deliver it either, but note that the sensor in the E-M1 is 4k capable, and access to that mode may in future be given via the LightSnow firmware hack.

Sensor performance: Canon ever further behind

9 Mar

As an update to my recent post about Micro Four Thirds catching up to Canon, here’s how Sony is making them look bad with an even smaller sensor in the RX10:

Even the Sony RX10 beats the 70D across the board except for low-light performance.

Even the Sony RX10 beats the Canon 70D across the board – except for low-light performance.

Given the crop factor of the 70D (1.6) vs. the RX10 (3), the low-light performance of the 70D should be closer to 3.5 times as good (it’s a square law).

Canon have clearly placed a large bet on the success of their dual pixel autofocus technology. They’re currently still feeding on the past reputation of the brand, but how long will that meal last?

It’s already happened: mFT image quality equals APS-C

2 Jan

The smaller Micro Four Thirds sensors have apparently caught up to APS-C in terms of image quality.

Without much further ado:

pm2_vs_70d_edit

Source: DxOMark: Sensor comparison of the Olympus PEN E-PM2 and Canon EOS 70D

Yes, it’s “only” Canon who’ve been beat, but they’re also “only” the market leader, so this is still quite a significant advance for Olympus, especially since the 70D is the interim APS-C flagship camera from Canon (unless/until the 7D gets a successor).

Release sleek, then functional: motto of the 4/3 crowd?

13 Nov

It occurred to me that the more pragmatic design of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 after the more stylish OM-D E-M5 mirrored the same strategy in Panasonic’s succession of the L10 after the L1:

    Image sources: Olympus promotional/Wikimedia Commons

Image sources: Olympus promotional/Wikimedia Commons

Mirrorless vs. DSLR debate: Killing technological opportunity for the sake of being right (or stupid)

6 Aug

The battle between mirrorless advocates and DSLR fans has been so persistent in various photography forums as to be unavoidable to even the casual visitor. I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry at the realisation that if DSLRs go away, so will the opportunity for system-spanning lens adapters that currently allow people to use Leica M lenses on Sony NEX, Canon EF/EF-S on mFT, Nikon F on Fuji X etc. etc. I don’t know why any consumer would want to push that angle.