Over the past couple of years, there certainly has been a lot of product development going on in the full frame segment of the camera business. This article discusses my full frame camera transition. This posting is not about why I bought into the full frame format, but rather the exact opposite. It’s about my decision to sell all of my full frame camera gear back in July 2015, and why I haven’t regretted that decision for even a second.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge. Photographs have been added to serve as visual breaks.
A photographer’s choice of camera gear is an intensely personal decision. What is perfect for one photographer may not work particularly well for another. The intent of this article is NOT to suggest that anyone should do what I did in terms of my choice of camera gear. It is simply to share my camera equipment journey with others.
In the late summer of 2012 I bought my first full frame camera, a Nikon D600. Unfortunately I had the same difficulties with that model as many other folks. As a result I traded up to the D800 in early 2013. I continued to invest in full frame gear by adding Nikkor primes, zooms, and a Tamron 150-600 to my kit. Happy with the performance of the D800, I sold my D7000 and all of my Nikkor DX lenses.
Looking for a small sized camera that would give me some added flexibility for some of my client work, I purchased my first Nikon 1 V2 in the fall of 2013. Using native 1 Nikkor lenses allowed me to more easily position cameras in hard to access areas in industrial facilities when shooting client safety video projects. Additionally, being able to use my Nikkor FX glass with an FT-1 adapter provided some additional reach for still photography.
I initially used my Nikon 1 gear for client safety video projects only in specific situations. It didn’t take long before it became apparent that there was no noticeable difference with the quality of my 1080HD video files between my D800 and Nikon 1 V2, including shooting video under lower light conditions. Both cameras were quite good to ISO-800, and useable at ISO-1600.
Discovering that there was a huge difference between the camera formats from a business perspective was a real eye opener. Shooting client work with my Nikon 1 gear was far more time and cost efficient than using full frame gear. Due to the crop factor of 2.7X with the CX format of Nikon 1 gear, I could get the depth-of-field I needed using a more wide open aperture.
For example, a typical video setting for my client work when using my D800 and a Nikkor FX 50mm prime lens was 1/60, f/8, ISO-800. Using Nikon 1 gear allowed me to shoot the same video scene using a 1 Nikkor 18.5mm lens at f/2.8. As a result I no longer had to bring 3 to 5 studio lights/stands to my client projects. Not having to constantly move them around during onsite video recording sessions saved a considerable amount of time and effort.
By the spring of 2014 I began shooting all of my client video projects exclusively with Nikon 1 gear. In October 2014 I decided to leave my full frame gear at home and only take Nikon 1 equipment with me during our trip to Greece. In late 2014 I purchased the 1 Nikkor CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom to use for my bird photography. The result of all of these decisions was that my Nikon full frame gear sat idle more and more often.
By the summer of 2015 it became obvious that it didn’t make any sense to keep business capital tied up in a camera system that was seldom being used. Believing everything that I had read about full frame camera gear had been a big mistake on my part. So, I decided to sell all of my full frame gear. It went quickly and luckily I was able to recoup a good portion of my original business investment. The financial hit to the business was minimal.
In August 2015 I was still a bit ‘sensor phobic’ (I had drunk a lot of ‘larger is better’ sensor Kool-Aid) and I had an unsuccessful experiment with some higher end Panasonic M4/3 gear. Video performance was good, but still photography results were disappointing. So, I returned all of the Panasonic gear about 10 days later and paid a small restocking charge.
From that point in the late summer of 2015 I was fully committed to shooting exclusively with the Nikon 1 system. Even after the Nikon 1 product line was discontinued in July 2018 I continued on exclusively with the system. In hindsight, if I would have bought into the Nikon 1 system earlier and better understood its capabilities, I never would have purchased full frame camera gear.
It was only after some ongoing client interest in 4K video that I began to look at some different camera gear. That led me to try Olympus equipment through the Olympus Pro Loaner Program in May 2019. After 6 weeks of intensive use in a wide range of situations and applications I knew I had found the perfect solution for our evolving business and personal needs. Our initial purchase included an OM-D E-M1X, M.Zuiko PRO 7-14mm f/2.8, M.Zuiko PRO 12-40mm f/2.8, M.Zuiko PRO 40-150mm f/2.8, M.Zuiko 60mm macro f/2.8 and M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter.
Since that initial purchase we have added the M.Zuiko PRO 45mm f/1.2, an Olympus STF-8 Twin Macro Flash, an Olympus FL-700WR Flash, an FC-WR Wireless Flash Commander, and a second OM-D E-M1X. At this point the only other piece of gear we may still add to our Olympus kit is a longer focal length zoom for birding and nature work. In the meantime the M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with the MC-20 teleconverter is doing a good job for us.
As you can imagine, over the past number of months I’ve had a lot of interesting discussions with associates about camera gear. One of the most common questions is about dynamic range. Many people assume that APS-C cameras have a 1-stop advantage over M4/3, and that full frame cameras have a 2 stop advantage. I’ve suggested to associates that they check out the test data on photonstophotos.com.
Once they check out the test data, they discover that within the operating range of the E-M1X (i.e. ISO-200 to ISO-25600) there is very little advantage with APS-C sensors. Depending on the brand of camera, the M4/3 sensor in the E-M1X actually outperforms some APS-C sensors in terms of dynamic range. Full frame cameras generally have about a 1 stop advantage… not 2.
Of course many cameras have a base ISO of ISO-100 or lower. Under certain situations where those lower base ISOs can be used, (e.g. tripod assisted), the dynamic range differences can be higher. For folks like me who hate using tripods and almost always shoot handheld, those tripod assisted dynamic range differences based on lower base ISO values are moot points.
Being able to take advantage of the IBIS performance of the E-M1X can significantly alter how a photographer approaches what they do. In the past I would never have shot handheld using multiple second exposures of 4 seconds or longer. This allows me to use ISO-200 handheld far more often than I was ever able to do with my full frame D800. Shooting video handheld without needing to lug around camera supports still boggles my mind.
One of my initial concerns about buying into the Olympus M4/3 system was moving from a 3:2 image ratio to 4:3. Those concerns proved unfounded. I quickly discovered that the 4:3 format is more ‘pixel efficient’ when composing images of a wide range of subject matter. And, less cropping is needed when producing prints in standard 8×10 frame size perspectives.
To me, the future of photography is in using technology to create images in new and different ways. To expand what is possible to me as a photographer. That’s what fuels my creativity. Using capabilities like Pro Capture. Live ND. In-camera focus stacking. Handheld Hi Res Mode. IBIS that allows for long exposure handheld images. Using fast frame rates for action sequences. Trying my hand at Live Composite gets my old brain sparking.
Using a full frame format camera may be an excellent choice for some photographers. Using that format of camera gear just wasn’t a good fit for me and the work I do.
I have no hesitation admitting that I made a big mistake buying into the full frame format. Fortunately I learned from my mistake 5 years ago. I got myself on the right photographic path for the work I do by using smaller sensor cameras. Make a mistake… then learn from it. C’est la vie!
Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data.
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