Regrets Leaving Full Frame?

Since July 2015 when I sold all of my full frame camera gear, I’ve had people regularly ask me if I’ve had any regrets leaving full frame cameras behind. The quick answer is an unequivocal “no”. This lengthy article provides a detailed explanation.

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

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 250 mm, efov 675 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-250

Our individual choices of camera gear are intensely personal ones. What is appropriate for one photographer may be the wrong choice for another.

I am certainly not advocating that my choice of camera gear will be the right choice for you. Nor am I suggesting in any way, that people who choose to use full frame camera gear have made a mistake… far from it. Everyone should choose camera equipment that best meets their needs. If full frame is the best camera format for what you do… then you should absolutely buy it and use it.

There are a number of reasons why my adventure with full frame camera gear was misguided, a mistake for my business, and for me on a personal basis.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 12-40 mm f/2.8 @ 40 mm, efov 80 mm, f/2.8, 1/6, ISO-1250, subject distance 1.1 metres

Depth-of-field.

It may appear strange that I would list depth-of-field as a negative factor with full frame cameras. After all, the internet is full of people who crow about the shallow depth-of-field that they associate with full frame cameras.

We should point out that sensor size is not directly related to depth-of-field. Lens focal length, aperture, and focusing distance to subject are all factors that impact depth-of-field.  These factors are all relevant when we are trying to achieve shallow depth-of-field, as well as deep depth-of-field, regardless of the camera format we use.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/800, ISO-4000, subject distance 3.4 metres

Achieving deeper depth-of-field with full frame equipment proved to be very inefficient and problematic for me. When shooting client videos, I would typically shoot at 1/60, f/8, and use ISO-800 as a preferred maximum ISO value. When necessary I would push my ISO value to ISO-1600, but at ISO-3200 there was far too much noise in my D800 video files for them to be usable.

Since I shoot in darker, industrial settings I would typically need to bring three to five studio lights/stands with me so I could get a sufficient amount of light to shoot video segments. I’d end up filling my car with camera gear, studio lights/stands, and various camera supports such as tripods, slider, stabilizer, skater dolly and occasionally a jib.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro with 16 mm Kenko extension tube, f/8, 1/200, ISO-6400, subject distance 245 mm

It was very tiring physically to have to move all of this gear, set up my lighting, and shoot a few video segments. Then, I’d have to move it all to a different onsite location, reset all of my lighting, shoot a few more video segments… then do all of that over and over again. All of these resets also burned up a lot of precious onsite shooting time. Time spent setting up = project inefficiency.

I stumbled into the Nikon 1 system almost by accident when I was looking for a very small, compact camera that I could use in tight quarters. It didn’t take too long before I realized that using wider angle lenses with a smaller sensor camera to achieve my desired shot framing and depth-of-field was much easier, and far more efficient, than using full frame gear.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/6.3, 1/320, ISO-3200, Handheld Hi Res Mode, subject distance 245 mm

Rather than use a full frame FX-mount 28 mm prime lens at an aperture of f/8 at 1/60, I could use a 1 Nikkor 10 mm f/2.8 prime lens wide open with a shutter speed of 1/60 and get the depth-of-field I needed. There was no difference in the quality of the video files and the noise characteristics when shooting video were the same between the two camera formats.

Once I began using Nikon 1 gear exclusively for all of my client projects I discovered that I could shoot all of the video segments I needed with three Nikon 1 prime lenses (10 mm f/2.8, 18.5 mm f/1.8, and 32 mm f/1.2)… and never have to bring any studio lights/stands with me. As you can imagine, that was a huge time saver.

I still needed to bring tripods, slider and other camera supports, which was a bit cumbersome.  Moving to Olympus M4/3 camera gear has streamlined things even further. I can now take all of my required camera gear in one mid-sized shoulder bag, and shoot client projects entirely handheld. I have no need to bring any studio lights/stands, tripods or other camera supports… except for the occasional use of a jib for high level pans.

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

Size, Weight and Cost.

As outlined in a previous article, when compared to full frame equipment, using comparable Olympus M4/3 camera gear is much smaller and lighter. And, far more cost effective. Buying camera gear for a business is a more complex decision, than what we would face as consumers. Depreciation, cash flow, and effective life cycle need to be considered with every camera equipment purchase decision.

The size, weight, functionality and cost advantages of using Olympus M4/3 gear compared to full frame gear can lower operating costs, and improve onsite shooting efficiency.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 284 mm, efov 568 mm, f/6.3, 1/3200, ISO-6400, Pro Capture H mode, subject distance 8.2 metres

Inefficient pixels.

I appreciate that high-resolution, full frame cameras are highly sought after by many people these days. One of the things that I didn’t consider when I made the move into full frame gear was how much hard drive space these types of files consume, and the added investment required when using specialized, high capacity memory cards.

I’ve never printed anything larger than 24 x 32 inches (~61 x 81.3 cm). From a practical standpoint I don’t need anything more than 20 MP RAW files for the enlargements that I produce. Shooting with a 36MP D800 sounded good when I said it fast… but it rapidly clogged up my hard drives with inefficient pixels that I really didn’t need for the work I do.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7mm, efov 18mm, f/8, 1/500, ISO-400

More of the same… didn’t make it better.

For the kind of photography that I do, I found using full frame equipment to be restricting. Sure, my photographs had higher resolution and the sensor performance was excellent… but more of the same didn’t make it better. I found the frame rates and overall functionality of my D800 to be quite limiting.

Using my Nikon 1 gear was a heck of a lot more fun! I loved the fast frame rates. Using extension tubes and getting my tiny Nikon 1 bodies into all kinds of shooting positions that my full frame gear just couldn’t go was a blast! The creative freedom that came with the small form factor was wonderful.

My Olympus M4/3 gear has pushed what is possible into new, exciting realms. Some of the amazing technology includes Pro Capture, Live ND, Live Composite, In-camera focus stacking, Handheld Hi Res, incredible IBIS performance, Starry Sky, and AI Subject Recognition.  All of these open up avenues that tempt and challenge my creativity. All of the technology also gives me a wider array of potential solutions when faced with a photographic challenge. For the photography that I do, my E-M1X with my compliment of M.Zuiko lenses, easily runs circles around what was possible with my D800.

Splash from waves hitting retaining wall about to hit my Olympus OM-D E-M1X and M.Zuiko PRO 40-150mm f/2,8 with MC-20 teleconverter

Ignoring Mother Nature.

Many camera manufacturers make equipment that is weather resistant to some extent. None of them come close to the IPX1 ratings to which my Olympus gear is certified. Until a photographer actually experiences this level of weathersealing it is impossible to fully appreciate how liberating it can be.

A few weeks ago I was out in my backyard photographing some small birds using Pro Capture. It had rained heavily during the night and the tarp covering the top of my pergola had a lot of water pooled on it. Being engrossed in what I was doing that fact had totally escaped me.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/8, -0.7 step,1/2500, ISO-1600, Pro Capture H mode

I was standing below the edge of the tarp when a strong gust of wind forced the water to that end of the pergola. In an instant I was drenched head to toe with several gallons of water that poured down from the pergola. It also fell directly on my E-M1X, M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 and M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter.

With any other interchangeable lens camera gear this event could have been catastrophic. I must admit that I had a split second of panic (old habits die hard) until I my old brain realized that I was using Olympus gear. I didn’t even bother to wipe the water off my camera gear… I just kept shooting. Ignoring Mother Nature may be irreverent… but liberating.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-6400, subject distance 275 mm

Loving the Wave.

Like many photographers I had become used to the regimen of regularly cleaning the sensors in my previous cameras. Before every video shoot I would dutifully clean the sensors in each of my three Nikon 1 V2 bodies. My full frame gear was more problematic as I lived through the trials and tribulations of infamous ‘oil flecks’ on sensors.

All of that is just a faded memory. I can’t estimate how many times I’ve changed lenses on the fly with my E-M1X during the sixteen months that I’ve been shooting with it. In all that time I’ve never once had to clean its sensor. Every time I turn the camera on, the Supersonic Wave Filter between the sensor and shutter vibrates at 30,000 times per second and shakes everything off. I’ve never owned a camera that did its own housekeeping for me.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H mode, subject distance 4.2 metres

Regrets Leaving Full Frame?

Nope. I don’t have any regrets about leaving full frame behind. Owning this type of equipment was an important learning experience for me. Sometimes finding out what doesn’t work for us and what we don’t like can help crystallise our thinking. For me, that meant fully embracing the advantages of using smaller sensor cameras.

Technical Note

Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.3, 1/60, ISO-200, subject distance 1.1 metres

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6 thoughts on “Regrets Leaving Full Frame?”

  1. There was a time when every serious photog only used 6×6 and amateurs used 35. Then Leica made 35 a standard and in time the quality of 35 was good enough to equal MF for many. The same thing is starting to happen in digital with MFT cutting into the FF pro market as APSC-has. Unless you are a pro, there is just no need for FF unless you just want it. Small sensors just keep getting better, consider how cell phones have killed the point and shoot digital with those tiny 1/2.3 and 1/1.7 sensors. I put away my DSLR gear when I got a 1” sensor bridge camera and found it to be as good as what I got with my big, heavy DSLRs…now sold. I now have a full Nikon 1 system and the whole thing weighs what my old DSLR and a 70-200 zoom weighed. In time FF will replace Medium Format and MFT/APS-C crop sensors will be the new FF. Love your site BTW!

  2. Count me as another believer and convert from full frame. I shot with a Nikon D800 from the time they came out until about 3 years ago. I am not a pro but I loved the D800. However, the lenses are not inexpensive (and neither are Olympus Pro lens) and they are very heavy. When I got a 80-400 to use bird shooting I was overjoyed and used it with a 1.4TC. In little time, I got tired of using it due to the weight. I rented a 150-600 to use on a shoot and the photos were great but my back was not. So then I moved to Fuji thinking that M4/3 was like a toy. The Fuji equipment is likewise very good and I was happy with it but it too was a little heavier than I liked, especially as I have gotten older. Then I read one of your articles on the M1X and the features just blew me away and still do. Shooting a lot of birds and nature, this camera is made for me and even though its weight is about what I had in Fuji, the camera features blow everything else away. And to get the same fov, I am in much better shape with the weight of my Olympus equipment than I was with Fuji and certainly Nikon. So I am a happy camper and looking forward to the bird shooting feature coming out soon for the M1X.
    Thank you for writing these articles which gave me the initial understanding of what can be done with the M4/3 Olympus equipment.

  3. Tom,

    I guess it’s timely you discussed this in a post. A lot of “forumers” diss APS-C and M4/3 now more than ever with the apparent moves of the major camera manufacturers more and more into full frame format (ex. the new Sony A7C which puts the A7III into an erstwhile APS-C body which are used for the A6 series). It’s really to each his own preference and usage. There’s no one format fits all paradigm. A lot of things have to be taken into account — from file sizes to field usage.

    As you pointed out in past posts, working pros also maximize the working lives of their gear and not just jump into the fray for something new. Now more than ever, getting into a particular format and brand means taking the whole ecosystem into consideration as lenses and other peripherals are not cheap; the capital outlay for them are not easily recovered.

    Oggie
    http://www.lagalog.com

    1. Hi Oggie,

      I suppose the ‘bigger is better’ mantra will always be out there with ‘forumers’ (great term by the way!). It makes me wonder what camera gear that the folks that diss APS-C and M4/3 cameras own, and how often they actually create a photograph. Perhaps they really do have full frame gear… maybe with some dust on it…?

      As the camera market continues to contract many manufacturers will need to decide if they can economically support more than one sensor format. It is certainly possible that we could see various brands concentrate on a single format in order to reduce their R&D and marketing costs to manageable levels given the overall size of the camera market. There’s no doubt in my mind that companies will need to move into only mirrorless cameras in the near future if they are to survive.

      Your comment “It’s really to each his own preference and usage” hits the nail on the head. Each of us needs to find the camera equipment that best meets our specific needs.

      I think the camera market has been evolving from one geared to generalized mass marketing to one that will cater to the unique needs of specific user groups. Camera makers will need to choose niche photography markets, develop products for them… then do their best to dominate those users segments. Nature and bird photography is good example.

      The number and stature of professionals like Andy Rouse, Petr Bambousek, David Tipling, and Jari Peltomaki (to name a few) who have moved to the Olympus M4/3 system is fascinating. None of these pros would make that kind of serious decision unless it was good for their business. Olympus is scheduled to release Bird Detection AI for the E-M1X later this year. If this technology works as well as I anticipate, it will be a game changer. Especially when it is combined with the new long telephoto lenses like the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS and the upcoming M.Zuiko PRO 150-400 f/4.5 TC-1.25.

      Tom

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