Thursday, March 9, 2017

Full-Frame vs. Small Sensor (don't laugh...)


So here I was, on my way back from Las Vegas, and I came across a run-down old building that has a certain "character".  I pulled over and took a few pictures with my A99 II and Zeiss 24-70 f/2.8, then started to head back to the car.  Then I hesitated.

"These conditions are pretty good.  Strong light, so I can shoot at a low ISO with a small f/stop.  I wonder how the RX-100 V compares in these ideal conditions?".  I went back to the car and tried to duplicate the shots I just took using a small-sensor point-and-shoot.  Then I drove home.

The subject matter and the lighting were so good that I suspected enlargements from the two cameras would be indistinguishable.  (Click on any image to see a larger version.)




You can download and examine the images for differences yourself.  Here are the links:

http://friedmanarchives.com/~download/blog/Vegas_RX-100_V_DSC05978.JPG
http://friedmanarchives.com/~download/blog/Vegas_A99_II_A9909681.jpg

Before I go on, I should mention that in my seminars I always say that no matter how tempting it is, pixel peeping is not an appropriate way to evaluate image quality.  The better, more time-honored way is to make a giant enlargement and then view it from a reasonable distance.

And so I blew them up to poster size and examined them.  I was right.  Not only me, but nobody at the Seminar I did in Tuscon could tell which camera took which image.

A seminar attendee examining the enlargements closely.  We had to put the posters on the floor because nothing would stick to the walls of that venue.
Lots of people attended. :-)
Okay, how far can I push this?  I knew that at this size, the high-end cameras would have an edge with close subjects having a lot of detail that were well-lit.  So I called a 20-something-year-old friend of mine,  "Come to the studio on Saturday and don't shave for a few days!".  My goal was to give this even more of an acid test: a highly-detailed, high-frequency (not shaven) subject shot with the A99 II and the Zeiss 135mm f/1.8 lens, vs. the RX-10 II (which is essentially the RX-100's small sensor with a superb 24-200 lens thrown on it) under ideal conditions.

My friend called in sick, so I had to be my own subject.  Could attendees tell which camera took which picture?




"One of these pictures was taken with $5K worth of equipment", I announced to the room, "and the other was taken with a $1200 camera.  Is one image 5x better than the other?"

Here are the two download links:
http://friedmanarchives.com/~download/blog/Studio_A99_II_A9909947.jpg
http://friedmanarchives.com/~download/blog/Studio_RX-10_II_DSC09453.jpg

While one image was twice the number of megapixels as the other, when enlarged and viewed from a reasonable distance, the two images were very close indeed.  It serves as a reminder that all cameras have been improving over the last decade, even the small-sensor cameras that everyone thumbs their noses at.  Under ideal conditions, it's hard to tell the difference.

So who needs a 42 megapixel camera and high-end lenses then?  I continued my sermon:
"You need the more expensive camera when you're making much bigger enlargements..."
"...I mean REALLY big - places where medium format was once required."
When you want more cropping options, or want to do extreme cropping.

If you covet shallow depth-of-field.

If your light is not as ideal as in these examples (in which case you'll probably want the Sony A7S II).

I will say this... with the small-sensor camera the chest hairs are also in focus. :-)
I was actually surprised at how close these two cameras performed in this acid test.  Now you understand why I've been singing the praises of the RX-100 and RX-10 cameras for so long.

Books Just Out


Books in the Pipeline (let me know if you'd like to be on the waiting list)

  • Sony A99 II
  • French translation of the Sony RX-100 V
  • Update to the French Translation of the Sony A6300 book
  • Spanish translation of the Sony A6300 book
  • Fujifilm X-T20
  • Fujifilm X-100F
  • Olympus E-M1 II (if we get enough email requests)

Do you think there's a need for a book on the new Lumix GH5?  Let the discussion forums know; and have your friends contact me at Gary at Friedman Archives dot com.

Seminars

The next seminar is in St. Albert (just outside of Edmonton), Alberta, Canada.  If you'd like me to bring the seminar to where you live, have your local photo club get in touch with me.  Here's what the rest of the year looks like (the next one is occurring in about a week!):


St. Albert, Alberta (Canada) March 18-19, 2017 Learn More and Sign Up
London (Manchester, actually) June 10-11, 2017 Learn More and Sign Up
Edinburgh (actually Peebles), Scotland June 17-18, 2017 Learn More and Sign Up
Tacoma, Washington August 26-27, 2017 Notify me when enrollment opens!

(And don't forget they're available as a streaming version as well if you can't make any of these.)

Next Time in Cameracraft

Ever wanted to have your work shown at an art gallery, without having to actually invest in giant enlargements and pay a $2500 fee for the privilege?  In the next issue I talk with the owner of the Heaven Art Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona, who has replaced canvases with giant HDTV screens and allow photographers from all over the world to display their work digitally.  (Art-quality prints are then made in the back room on demand.)

Their introductory offer will be gone by the time Cameracraft goes to press, so let me share this with you now: YOU can have your work shown there for as little as $1 per image!  (Then you can claim you were exhibited in a major art gallery. :-) )  Go to www.heavenartgalleryusa.com , and click on "Contest".  Have a look and share this with your friends - this makes galleries accessible to everyone!

I also talk with Dr. Barry Shaffer, who combines impressive classic photography with a humanitarian cause and has amassed his work into an amazing upcoming book.


You can read the previous Cameracraft issue free on line but the print quality is really what it's all about - https://issuu.com/iconpublications/docs/00_8aa8d5bbe4a939  If you like what you see, support this old-school labor of love by subscribing!

Postscript

Remember the big brouhaha a year ago, when the FBI wanted to read the contents of a terrorist shooter's phone, and Apple said no?  That re-ignited the eternal "Should governments have easy access to encrypted communications?" debate.

Right about that time I proposed a technical solution this very problem, which would break the impasse between the "Strong encryption prevents the government from preventing terrorism" camp and the "If you install a back door, hackers will be able to access it also!" camp.  (You can read about my proposed solution here, and scroll down to "Encryption That Makes Everyone Happy".)

Shortly after that was published, someone else proposed my very same idea to a reputable engineering discussion forum called risks.org (where engineers discuss potential risks of technology to society in an effort to prevent ill-thought-out systems).  You can read that proposal here.

So my idea has been vindicated!  Although I'm not impressed with the moderator's response: he essentially dismissed it because it wasn't a million percent perfect, while completely ignoring the fact that it was five hundred thousand times better than what we have now.

Until next time,
Yours truly, Gary Friedman

52 comments:

  1. Great post, Gary! Always love that you cover original, interesting ideas and aren't afraid to go against the grain and question common (and often unfounded) beliefs. Makes for a great read, and - as I think I've mentioned before - makes me want to get out there and take photos...

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  2. Tengo que ahorrar para adquirir la A99

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  3. always fun to randomly check on new content and find some the same day it was published! I'm enjoying my new RX100V, trying to learn more about it. Question: why do you have a piece of green tape (if that's what it is) over the flash on your RX100V?

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    1. When I was writing the book on the RX-100 V, I had the RX-100 IV next to it for reference. Since the two bodies looked so identical, I put fluorescent green tape on the V and fluorescent orange tape on the IV. That way I could tell them apart from across the room. Since the IV is now in the hands of family members, I keep the tape there so we can tell our cameras apart when we're together.

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  4. I just received my Olympus E-M1 II two days ago. Interested in an instruction book from you very soon!

    Burton

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    1. Hi, Burton. Send me an email and I'll put you on the interest list! GF

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  5. Hi Gary without using a sony hotshoe flashgun how can i trigger a sony 60 flash fron my slt99 mk1. Are any of the new triggers able to direct ttl fire my setup?

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    1. What you're looking for are TTL radio triggers. Sony makes one, so does Pixel, PHottix, Godox, etc. Brian Smith compiled a nice list awhile ago: http://briansmith.com/ttl-hss-flash-triggers-sony-multi-interface-shoe/

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  6. "Full-Frame vs. Small Sensor (don't laugh...)"
    Interesting Gary. Just as I'm struggling with my strong desire to go to the a99ii from my a99v you publish this "Full-Frame vs. Small Sensor (don't laugh...)". Have you been getting questions on if it's worth it to switch? Like most photographers I always struggle with the difference between need and want. I don't shoot professionally much anymore and even when I did none of my work was ever printed really, really big. So now you have forced me to admit I want it but not need it (VBG). Thanks

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  7. Here's another good reason why living in the UK is so expensive. How many days a year do you think we get to shoot under ideal conditions over here?! Especially when you're shooting sports in the rain. Flippancy aside, great article and food for thought. Still wouldn't trust the RX100 for sports or shooting in a theatre though...

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  8. Come on Gary, you should know better than to keep kicking this old horse.
    Is a $100 bottle of wine 5x "better" than a $20 bottle of wine?
    Is a $10,000 pair of speakers 10x better than a $1000 pair of speakers... on an on ad infinitum.

    It obviously depends on your personal priorities and pocketbook.

    It also depends on the demands being placed on the equipment. A highly compressed recording of a rock band is not going to sound much different as a compressed MP3 file compared to a 24 bit 96k wave file, but I can definitely hear the difference when playing Stravinsky's Firebird suite through the 2 media.

    Why do superstar athletes get paid so much more than other excellent athletes?

    There are clearly "differences" between the photo comparisons in DOF, DR and tonal range. The smaller sensor photo is also a bit "flat", less "3D" in my humble opinion of course. If those "differences" are important to you and/or your clients, then the extra cost will be worth it.

    After a year with the A7r (and having read your excellent book on it!) I can definitely say I feel the extra cost, particularly in lenses, has been worth the upgrade from the a6000. Can the a6000 take excellent images? Yes, of course it can. Your iPhone? Yes, of course.

    But you may be doing your readers a disservice by letting them feel "satisfied" instead of encouraging them to broaden their comfort zones.

    Cheers

    George Murray

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  9. one question ( nothing about this test ). if i wanna print a 6000x4000 picture to (for example ) 70x50 cm, its better to low the dpi or i can print to 300 dpi without problem?

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  10. Graet infomation, but you know I enjoi mij 42 mp camera do to the ability to crop. It looks like that you can crop forever and Stil get a great picture. I used mij 300mm and crop easily to 900mm.

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    1. I agree. Since I can't afford to pay many 1000s of $ on really good long glass the ability to crop without losing a lot of data is extremely important to me too. And although I'm not a guru at post processing the extra pixels, if shooting raw which I you're all doing, gives lots of information to play with. Back to cropping, I wish Sony would make it so the 1.5x and 2.0x tele zoom function worked with raw. Now that alone for me would justify the cost of the a99ii. Besides, what's to really complain about? Canon and Nikon charge 2x more for their top models.

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  11. Gary,
    I would love to purchase a guide for the Oly EM-1 Mk ii

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  12. I am very much looking forward to your Olympus EM1 mark2 book, because the EM1 and the OM5ii books that I bought from you were excelllent.

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  13. This is and excellent treatment and analysis of the timeworn misunderstanding that "Fullframe" (whatever that is) sensors are required to take really good pics. Modern sensors are way beyond that in all but the special situations that you explain well.

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  14. Yes I am waiting for the a99II book, put me in the waiting list please

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  15. I'm not able to attend your seminar in St. Albert, Gary, but I sure hope it warms up for you. I really, really wish global warming would kick in to Alberta this year. Getting very tired of -30C wind chills!!
    As an aside, I'm very impressed with the Olympus EM-1 Mk II and paired with the Panny 100-400 it looks to be a great camera for BIF. I've already test the CAF with Tracking on my dog in the backyard and I think birds will be easier, but wonderful results. I too would like a book about the Mk II but by the time it comes out, I'll probably have figured out most of the settings the old fashioned way. Going to Barcelona in April and have already booked some bird shoots. Now that I know I can enlarge the prints, just need some good light. Good luck in the frozen north next week.

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  16. I have a question for Gary and not sure where to ask so will do in the comments. Looking to upgrade from my Sony A77 II. What would be the best Sony for Bird and nature photography. I currently have lots of A mount glass.

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    1. Right now the only A-mount camera that's better than the A77 II in terms of focusing would be the A99 II.

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  17. OLYMPUS guide / ME TOO!

    Gary,
    I would love to purchase you guide for the Oly EM-1 Mk ii

    YES, I am very much looking forward to your Olympus EM1 mark2 book, because the EM1 book that I bought from you was excelllent.

    J-Marc G.
    Nice
    France

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  18. I think your article on Full Frame vs Small Sensor is misleading. You say you were surprised at the result of your tests, but if you've been paying attention to advances in sensor technology (and you obviously do) it's no surprise at all that taking a photograph in conditions that are perfect for the smaller sensor will result in images that are indistinguishable from those taken with a larger sensor. If you have ideal lighting and want as much of your image as possible in focus, the smaller sensor may even be a better choice.

    Your test is designed to show the small sensor at its best while not showing anything the larger sensor can do well that the smaller sensor can't. It's certainly good to know that the smaller sensor takes excellent photographs under ideal circumstances, but you need to understand where a small sensor and large sensor differ in order to know whether or not the extra cost of the larger sensor and associated lenses is worth paying for.

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    1. I should have said you need to understand when the smaller sensor is a better choice, when it makes little difference, and when a larger sensor is a better choice. Then you're in a position to decide how to spend your money.

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    2. I think he did, with the "bell" curves.

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    3. Really, the bell curve explained it? I retired from Quality Assurance field and have a pretty good understanding of how to read a bell curve. It ain't rocket science but I doubt the great majority of photo enthusiast and professionals really know how to extrapolate information from a bell curve. IMHO it's like pixel peeping. No disrespect intended to my very well educated and knowledgeable fellow blog followers but I really feel if you're putting this stuff out there to the general public instead of a finite group of people you know that understand what a bell curve is nevertheless how to make use of it, then you need to put it out there so the greatest majority can understand. Not trying to stir the pot just trying to keep it from burning.

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  19. Yes PLEASE review the Olympus EM1 mark 2, I carry your EM1 review with my camera

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  20. I am quite sure that at the present level of sensor, camera and lens development, characterizing micro FourThirds or a Fuji APS-C sensor as "small" is questionable. Look at the DXO rating of the Oly EM1ii.

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  21. Yes I' like to see book of the Panasonnic GX8

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  22. Great point of view! Lots of folks around ( with more money than a down to earth damn good sense of reality) who think that a new bigger and better (?) box will give them the edge to perfor better as a photographer. There are no chops in the box!

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    1. I think you missed the point Andrea. At least for me it's not that it makes anyone a better photographer. It's a tool just like a driver or putter in golf or bat in baseball but even more so with cameras since a camera can do so much more automatically than a driver, putter or baseball bat. If you don't already have the chops NO camera no matter how much you pay will make you better, well maybe but it depends on how much you sucked to begin with. (VBG) Example, lets say you shoot in full auto all the time. With the advancements in the auto functions of the newer cameras the auto mode can in fact be better. Now, that's not to say your composition will be better but the technical aspects of you pictures may certainly be better. Also, for example, lets say you're really good with composition but you suck with the exposure. Than a camera with really good algorithms can in fact improve your pictures. I remember many, many moons ago before I purchased my first TSLR (twin lens) I only had used a point & shoot. My photos were much, much better from a composition aspect than they first were with the TSLR. That's because the p&s didn't offer manual. It did everything exposure wise for you. So all I had to think about was composition and sometimes I didn't even think about that. I used to say my photography got worse when I started using the TSLR because I had to think (VBG). Regards

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  23. What method did you use to up size the photos ?

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  24. Thanks for the comparisons. What about an iPhone camera, say the 7s plus? How big are the possibilities for enlargement?

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  25. Please publish a manual on the Olympus EM1 mark II - I haven't got the camera yet, but your manual on the EM1 is brilliant.

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  26. A99 is sharper and more detailed (resolution) than the RX100, particularly if one views the blue background (reticulation pattern) and the wire net below -- when enlarged a bit.

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  27. One vote for the A99ii book :-)
    Got the A99 - book & camera. Both are great :-)

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  28. I understand your perspective on this, but I feel the 42 Megapixel Full frame camera has distinct advantage for a nature photographer (and worth the additional $3,500). Thanks to the amazing A7R2 the "walking around" field of view can be opened much wider -- very close to my normal vision. There is enough resolution to advance the 35mm sumacron era to the Zeiss 21 (Loxia) era. The 21mm is a small lens that resolves with amazing clarity. Not only do I *see* with the same window as my eyes would experience nature... but the clarity and detail allow for almost any portion of the image to be be cropped, effectively offering a zoom-like potential. I use DxO to process my RAW files, and find the Sony mirror-less camera with the Loxia 21 to be an extension of my being (maybe better). It is the most satisfying camera/lens I have ever used.

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  29. I've been a Sony camera/lens fan for many years now. I'm currently using the a6000 for street photography and portraits and the RX10M3 for nearly everything else. I've had several RX100s but found that they were too small for my hands although I did like the size. Like you, I have found the small sensor to be more than adequate for taking most pictures. I have several 13x19 enlargements hanging on my walls, printed from pictures that I took with a RX10 and the fine detail in feathers and foliage is outstanding. I don't know how much better it can get. Granted, these were outdoor shots with plenty of light, but that's why one needs to know their camera equipment very well in order to exploit its advantages and avoid its shortcomings.
    Once again, Gary, thanks for bringing our attention to a relevant aspect of photography.

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  30. Yes please it would be great if you you could write a book about the Olympus EM 1 mk ii

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  31. You're vastly-even-absurdly -exaggerating tiny, barely discernible differences, as the DXO score for the Olympus EM1mk2 clearly indicate. And the Panasonic DH5 will likely score even higher.

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  32. I vote for an EM1-M2 book. The new AF & HS shutter stuff is complicated and getting the best results is eluding me. Also the changes to the custom settings has some nasty gotcha's and can be confusing. I have the EM1 book and would buy the MK2 book.

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  33. I disagree with your stance GEGJr.

    Cameras are indeed just tools and the right tool in the right hand can certainly deliver better results.

    But I see all too often mediocre photographers making mediocre pictures while holding very expensive tools that they obviously don’t use to improve their skills.

    This test shows anyone that large prints made with cheap and expensive cameras deliver pretty much the same result.

    And this is assuming that any of these weekend warriors ever print their pictures!
    Let alone the fact that if they are inapt to shoot good pictures they are often incapable to process them adequately and expect the camera to regurgitate perfect pictures instead on working on the files.

    Consumerism lead nowhere, and buying expensive cameras is for most amateurs useless.

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    1. Andrea, I subscribe to two theories where photography is concerned. 1 Good is in the eye of the beholder, 2 The only truly bad picture is the one not taken.
      I hope you realize that there are many parents that take what is probably considered technically awful pictures but to them they are precious. The same I'm sure holds true for the vacationer who is visiting a place they will probably never see again. I have a case in point. Many, many, many moons ago my wife and I visited Cancun (not as spring breakers). We traveled to Chichen Itza. I didn't have a slr or tslr only a point and shoot. Among many of the photos I took which I consider precious, are of the Chichen Itza ruins especially the one of the pyramids with steps. Although technically the shot leaves something to be desired, I will always consider it one the best photos I will ever take. If it had not been for the automatic settings of the p&s I would have probably really messed it up.

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  34. I am a retired magazine editor, writer, photographer. My last cameras were the Sony DSLR A100 and SLT-A55V. They have sat in my closet since I bought the DSC-RX100. That little camera has traveled around the world with me and taken many photos that have been published online and in print publications. I still travel and take photos for my own use--and pleasure. My question is: is there a compelling reason for me to move up to the latest version of the RX100? I really don't want to invest in a new camera unless I can justify it to myself! I am really not interested in the equipment, only in the results--and until now, the results of the RX100 have been excellent.

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    1. Based on what you wrote, I'd say there's no really compelling reason. The newer models are more responsive, and the latest (Mark V) can shoot 24 frames per second with phase-detect AF, something most point-and-shooters don't need. (But just you WAIT until those capabilities get rolled into the next RX-10!!)

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    2. I think that one of the main advantages of upgrading the RX100 I to a MK III or later would be the pop-up viewfinder. I have the MK I but do pine for the viewfinder in the more recent versions. I'd be happy with the MKIII in this respect, I'm not too fussed about the other upgraded features.

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  35. Great post Gary. The RX10iii is my most used camera despite owning an A77ii and A99ii. Will you be profiling the RX10iii any time soon. It's lens is outstanding.

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    1. I didn't write a book on the RX-10 III because it's essentially the RX-10 II but with a longer lens. THe book I wrote on the RX-10 II should suffice for that mode. GF

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  36. love to see your instruction guide to Sony A99 M2 I've jumped from A77 what a change!
    Thanks
    Rich Lawton
    richy@umich.edu

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  37. I agree with John Tates comment. As a long time professional photographer, I have used a wide variety of smaller sensor and full frame camera's. I agree that under great light conditions if your goal is to blow the photograph up huge, that full frame is likely to have only marginally better results than a Camera say is the GH5 might be. But I have also worked in numerous shoots for musicians where the difference between having a full frame camera and a really good smaller frame camera made the difference between getting a usable shot and not. I currently use and really like Panasonic GX8. But I don't think I would take it to a shoot in a low light Club. As always the right tool for the right job no matter what industry you are in. But I'm the first to admit that my GX8, and GH4, would likely stand up against a Canon under most normal circumstances for many photographers .

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