Full Frame Issues

This article summarizes some of the full frame issues that I experienced which resulted in me stopping the use of this camera format back in July 2015. Photographers should absolutely use the camera format and brand of gear that best suits their needs. Full frame camera gear was not the best choice for my needs. That does not mean that it would not be ideal for other photographers.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge. Photographs have been added to serve as visual breaks.

Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford Ireland, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7 mm, efov 18 mm, f/5.6, 1/30, ISO-1600


One of the most significant full frame issues that I experienced was with depth-of-field. I appreciate that many full frame camera users feel strongly about achieving shallow depth-of-field. For the work that I do shallow depth-of-field is a non-issue the majority of the time. I almost always need deeper depth-of-field for my photography and video work. Using the shorter focal length lenses found in smaller sensor systems to achieve my desired field of view, is ideal for what I create.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/2.8, 1/1250, ISO-400, subject distance 860 mm

For those times when I do need shallower depth-of-field I can easily adjust my photographic approach. This typically involves using a longer focal length lens, moving in closer to my subject, and finding a shooting angle that puts more distance between my subject and background.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/2.8, 1/400, ISO-400, Kenko 10 mm and 16 mm extension tubes used

To create even shallower depth-of-field I can use an extension tube to further shorten my minimum focusing distance. Using a smaller sensor format such at M4/3 or Nikon 1 allows me to achieve the deeper depth-of-field I need at more open apertures like f/2.8 to f/5.6. This also allows me to use lower ISO values.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/8000, ISO-4000

Inefficient Client Video Projects.

When I was using full frame camera gear for my client video work it was terribly time consuming and inefficient. My speciality is producing safety videos for industrial clients so I would often be working in poor light. To get my desired depth-of-field I would typically use an aperture of f/8. Using a shutter speed of 1/60th and keeping my ISO value to ISO-800 as a practical maximum, I had to bring a number of studio lights to every client assignment.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm @ 10mm efov 27mm, f/5.6, 1/200, ISO-160

Filling my car with various camera supports like an assortment of tripods and heads, a slider, stabilizer, jib… as well as 3-5 studio lights was a royal pain. Moving all of that gear around while onsite, shooting some video clips, then having to move it all over again to the next onsite location, was time consuming and physically taxing.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 10 mm, efov 27 mm, f/5.6, 1/160, ISO-400

After selling my Nikon D800 and all of my full frame lenses in July 2015 I started doing all of my client video work using a trio of Nikon 1 V2 bodies and three 1 Nikkor prime lenses (i.e. 10 mm f/2.8, 18.5 mm f/1.8, 32 mm f/1.2). I still had to take various camera supports with me… but I could leave all of my studio lights at home. That made onsite filming much more efficient.

Tairua, New Zealand, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 26 mm, efov 70.2 mm, f/5.6, 1/320, ISO-160

With my Nikon 1 gear I could get the depth-of-field I needed by shooting at f/2.8, 1/60, ISO-800. Not only that, the quality of my Nikon 1 V2 video files looked virtually identical to those shot with my D800.

My D800 was actually quite noisy when shooting video and I’d only use it at ISO-1600 in a pinch. I could do the same thing with my Nikon 1 V2 cameras. At ISO-3200 both the D800 and V2 would produce video files that were basically unusable for my client projects.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 32mm f/1.2, efov 86.4mm, f/1.2, 1/3200, ISO-160

Things became even more efficient when I moved to Olympus and the E-M1X along with a trio of M.Zuiko f/2.8 PRO zoom lenses and the M.Zuiko PRO 45 mm f/1.2 prime. I can now shoot my video projects completely handheld, and leave all of my camera supports and studio lights at home. Everything I need fits into a medium sized shoulder bag. Plus, rather than keep my ISO limited to ISO-800 most of the time, I regularly shoot video up to ISO-5000 with my E-M1X without issue.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 308 mm, efov 616 mm, f/8.5, 1/4000, ISO-1250, full frame capture, Pro Capture H, Subject distance 5.6 metres

Size, Weight and Cost.

As noted in an earlier article, moving to a smaller sensor camera system like Olympus M4/3 allowed me to purchase smaller and lighter PRO f/2.8 zoom lenses, that were also more affordable. Using f/2.8 constant aperture zoom lenses further extends the photographic and video capability of my camera system.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-640, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 3533 pixels on the width, distance to subject 8.8 metres

Frame Rates.

Full frame cameras have no doubt evolved since I sold my gear back in 2015, but one of the things that I loved about moving to a smaller sensor mirrorless system like Nikon 1 were the frame rates available. I could photograph birds-in-flight in continuous autofocus at 15 frames-per-second with my Nikon 1 V2 cameras, and 20 frames-per-second with my Nikon 1 V3 bodies.

With the first frame locking focus and exposure I could shoot both of those cameras up to 60 frames-per-second. These frame rates opened up a lot more potential with my birds-in-fight photography.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 280 mm, efov 560 mm, f/8.4, 1/4000, ISO-1250, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3390 pixels on the height, subject distance 5.2 metres

My E-M1X has further expanded my bird photography potential with Pro Capture and Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking. Adding the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5.-6.3 IS zoom with the MC-14 and MC-20 teleconverters has given my camera system even more reach and flexibility. While still being small and light enough to shoot handheld all day long.

Belleek Castle Ireland, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7 mm, efov 18 mm, f/3.5, 1/15, ISO-3200

Hard Drive Space and Memory Cards.

At first blush using a high density full frame camera sounds wonderful. Once I started using the D800 I quickly realized how quickly hard drive space would fill up… and the added costs of needing to use more expensive memory cards. The last time I used my D800 was to photograph my youngest son’s wedding. It was almost surreal how quickly six 32 GB cards filled.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikkor 30-110 mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 90 mm, efov 243 mm, f/5.6, 1/400, ISO-2800, MOVO extension tubes used

Limitations to Photographing Handheld.

I found using full frame camera gear to be quite restrictive. It was difficult to shoot handheld for extended periods of time. I hate using tripods so this was a big issue for me. It was also quite difficult at times to get large, bulky camera gear into confined spaces. This impacted both my client video work as well as my personal photography. I loathe creative impediments and my full frame gear always seemed to get in the way of what I wanted to do.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 483 mm, efov 966 mm, f/9, 1/2000, ISO-640, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI, cropped to 3331 pixels on the width

Abject Boredom.

After drinking a good dose of full frame KoolAid I had invested 5 figures into a full frame camera system. I believed the hype of more megapixels and some additional dynamic range. When I said it fast… those factors were intriguing. It didn’t take long before those attributes lost their allure. In pragmatic terms all photographing with a full frame camera meant was that I was still capturing images that I had already done in the past. The only difference was more resolution and some extra dynamic range. Full frame didn’t give me the freedom and innovation that I craved. If anything it was more restrictive. Abject boredom soon set in.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 381 mm, efov 762 mm, f/8.7, 1/1600, ISO-2500, cropped to 3191 pixels on the width, subject distance 3.1 metres

More of the Same Old Thing… Versus New Capabilities and Technology.

Selling my full frame camera gear was one of the best things I ever did. I haven’t missed that equipment for even a second. It was just more of the same old thing… just dressed up in some hype. It’s likely that this camera format has improved over the past 6 years and will meet the needs of some photographers extremely well. I’m not one of them. I’ve lived through the pain of my full frame issues and I’m quite happy to be on a completely different path.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 20.3 mm, efov 54.8 mm, f/6.3, 1/30, ISO-400

Technical Note

Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. This is the 1,036th article published on this website since its original inception.

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4 thoughts on “Full Frame Issues”

  1. It’s all about what tool you need to do the job. I do newspaper photography, and I pick my tool depending on what I’m doing.

    If I need speed and the ability to shoot in marginal light and weather conditions (usually for sports), I use my Nikon D3s (or D7500 if I need the the 1.5x crop).

    If I need high image quality and lot of pixels (usually for feature work), I use my Nikon D750.

    And if I need a light and versatile kit that will handle almost any general, I use my Nikon 1 V2 with the 10-100 lens, with the 10, 18.5, and 32 lens for low light.

    Thomas’s site turned me on the Nikon 1 system, and I use it a lot for general photography and/or situations where I want to spare myself of carrying the weight of a full-frame kit.

    I’m not about to abandon my FF and crop Nikons, but I do love using the V2. It’s small, unobtrusive, quiet, and delivers good image quality for the work I do (all stills, no video as yet).

    There’s a lot of good second-hand Nikon 1 equipment floating around, and you can assemble a pretty good kit without spending a lot of money.

    It still is, as Thomas called, “the little camera that could.”

    1. Hi Randy,

      Thanks for sharing your experiences with various camera formats. It is always beneficial to read real-life accounts. I completely agree that folks should buy whatever camera equipment best meets their needs. Everything photographic comes with advantages as well as trade-offs.

      Here’s some details on my experiences shooting video with the V2…

      My specialty for client work was producing industrial safety videos. For this work I eventually ended up using a Nikon D800 with a collection of prime and zoom Nikkor FX lenses. Typically I would keep my D800 video files to a maximum of ISO-800 and go to ISO-1600 in a pinch. At ISO-3200 they were too noisy to be used. I would often use shoot at f/8 to achieve my desired depth-of-field. Keeping a maximum ISO-800 meant that I had to bring 3 to 5 studio lights with me when shooting on site. As you can imagine this added time and physical effort to set everything up, capture the required video clips, then move everything for additional set-ups for other scenes.

      I stumbled into the Nikon 1 system as a small, lightweight second camera for my video projects. The quality of the video produced by the Nikon 1 V2 is surprisingly good. In fact, my clients could not tell any difference at all up to ISO-800 or ISO-1600 in a pinch (just like my D800).

      It didn’t take me long to discover how much more efficient my video projects could be using Nikon 1 gear as compared to my full frame D800. I could achieve my desired depth-of-field by using f/2.8 with my Nikon 1 gear. This meant that I no longer had to bring any studio lights to my industrial video projects. I only brought a small LED light to provide some fill light for specific situations, usually around machinery. Since the V2 can overheat when shooting video constantly, I bought a couple additional V2 bodies. I used the 1 Nikon 10 mm f/2.8, 18.5 mm f/1.8 and 32 mm f/1.2 for the bulk of my work… and the lenses performed extremely well. This saved me time, physical effort, and made my projects more cost effective. I ended up selling all of my Nikon full frame gear in July 2015 and never regretted that decision for an instant. I still had to bring a range of camera supports with me when shooting video with my V2s. This included a selection of tripods, a skater dolly, slider, and stabilizer. I used Nikon 1 gear exclusively for all of my personal and client work for about 4 years.

      When I moved to Olympus gear 2 years ago it made video productions even more efficient. The IBIS on the E-M1X is simply outstanding so I can now shoot all of my video handheld. Everything I need for a client project now fits in one medium sized shoulder bag… E-M1X body, 7-14 PRO f/2.8, 12-40 PRO f/2.8, 40-150 PRO f/2.8 and 45 mm PRO f/1.2. Not only do I leave all my studio lights at home, but also all of my camera supports. The constant aperture M.Zuiko PRO f/2.8 zooms make onsite shooting even more efficient from a composition standpoint. Another benefit is that my Olympus video files are better in low light than those from my D800 or V2 were. I can now shoot up to ISO-5000 without hesitation and at ISO-6400 in a pinch.


  2. Hi Tom,

    I think I wrote it before but it’s worth writing again: to each his own. Different photographers in different fields of specialties require different cameras. The insistence of ‘pundits’ and ‘smart-alecks’ (also trolls) that anything smaller than full-frame is not professional quality, is not acceptable, is not blah-blah, is just plain hot air. While full-frame cameras have their advantages, they’re not for everyone. In my case, hiking with a full-frame camera is simply not fun. I constantly had to worry about banging the camera and lens if I bring them out of the camera bag.

    The weight is also a concern — the former ‘advantage’ of mirrorless full-frame was weight vis-a-vis DSLRs. Not anymore. Some of the Nikon full frames and their accompanying lenses, for example, are not really light.

    In your case, having the Olympus set up really made a lot of sense both in your birding hobby and video business. It works and you’re happy with the results ( your clients, too) and at the end of the day, that’s what matters.


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