Lately I’ve been getting the question by people: “I thought a full-frame camera was better for landscape photography? You use an APS sized sensor camara—why?”
Many of you have heard my reasoning for switching to Fujifilm X-T series of cameras from my Canon full frame, but I want to take a fresh look at this question.
First, I want to start by saying that my goal here is not to tell you that you’ve purchased the wrong camera if you own a full frame camera. The reason I am addressing this subject is because I get quite a few inquiries from people who are interested in changing their camera set-ups for a variety of reasons. So, this discussion is purely for those who have been considering a change in camera systems.
The best camera you can have is the one you have in your hand when you need it. The ranking of what makes a great photograph isn’t the equipment that was used (that ranks so far down the list of criteria that it is hardly important) rather it is; did the photographer capture something about the world or humanity which moves us, makes us laugh, or cry, or angry, or sad, or happy. These are the criteria of what makes a great photograph.
There is a myth that if you are serious about your photographic work you must own and work with a full frame camera. That myth is beginning to crack at the edges. Many working professional and serious amateur photographers have traded in their full frame cameras for APS or Micro 4/3rd camera systems. Why?
Well there are several reasons why you might consider a smaller sensor size. One reason is weight, these systems are anywhere from 2/3rds to half the weight of a full frame camera. The Baby Boomers. (myself included in this group) are getting older and weight means more and more to us with every passing year. The weight savings means we are able to hike further or stay out longer in the field shooting. This also means we have a greater chance of getting the shot. You are a better photographer when you are not tired from physical exertion.
The second reason is cost. Smaller camera systems cost less. The Fujifilm X-T3, and Olympus 4/3rd system and equivalent lenses cost about ½ to 2/3rds what the comparable full frame systems cost. The Panasonic 4/3rd system is even less. These cost savings mean you have more money for things like travel, or more lens choices, or other peripheral hardware. All things that mean you might get more and better images over the long run.
But what about quality? Doesn’t the quality suffer? It stands to reason that the physics of a larger sensor means better quality images—right? Well it doesn’t take much to dispel the myth that a small sensor can’t give you good image quality. You only have to stick your hand in your pocket and pull out your phone to know that over the last 5-6 years the image quality found on small sensors has taken a huge step forward.
There are three things that determine the mechanical quality of an image. I am talking strictly the hardware/software components here—not artistic vision or photographic technique. Those three things are: optics, camera software (not the software we can play with but the software built into the camera’s operating system) and sensor hardware. The bottom line is that just like your phone manufacturer the camera companies that specialize in small sensors (Fujifilm, Olympus, and Panasonic) have been working very hard, and in fact, have been eating the lunch of the big three when it comes to optics and camera software. These important considerations can and do outweigh the size of the sensor. Despite the marketing push to make you want to buy bigger and bigger sensors, size isn’t everything.
The big three camera companies (Canon, Nikon, and Sony) have spent millions of dollars in marketing to convince consumers and professional photographers that they need the latest and greatest larger sensor. If your camera is only a 26 Mp camera—boy don’t you feel inadequate next to someone with a 46 Mp camera! There reaches a point when you have to ask; when is enough, enough? I have images hanging in my gallery that were made with a 12 Mp camera and they look perfectly fine. Certainly the 24×36 inch prints that I create from my Fujifilm X-T2 or 3 hold up every bit as good as any prints I made from my Canon full frame cameras. After all it is not the camera but how you use it that matters.
The advantages of a small sized sensor come with the recent advances in optics. Smaller sized sensors mean the need for really wide angle or short focal length lenses. The developments in this area have been keen to ensure that smaller sized sensors are the way of the future. When you put an 8mm lens on a micro 4/3rds camera you are getting the same angle of view as a 16mm on a full frame camera, however, the 8mm gives you the perspective view of a much wider lens than a 16mm. What this means is that your images have a more dynamic feel to them. The same holds true for any of the wide-angle focal lengths. You only have to look at the micro 4/3rds Leica 100-400 to see the advantages of a long lens on a small sensor camera. This lens is the equivalent to a 200-800mm lens on a full frame! It is smaller than most 70-200 f4 lenses for full frame.
Finally the features that are programed into the smaller sensors cameras are giving photographers new and very exciting tools to create or capture images that were not possible before. Features like the Pro-Sports mode which when set allows the photographer to buffer images continuously and then saves them if you fully press the shutter button. This means you will never miss a shot on a bird or critter because it moves faster than you can react (how many bird photographers out there have lots of images of just the tail feathers of a bird that flew from a perch?) Or consider the in-camera image compositing feature that allows you to build an image from continuous shots and allows you to see this image composite in real time so you can quit shooting when you have achieved the look or feel that you desire.
Innovation is the key to moving the artistic expression forward in photography, innovation in vision and innovation in equipment which allows us to expand our vision. In my book the small sensor technology is the way of the future.