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Sensor Size and the Importance of Aspect Ratio

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by Turbofrog, Jan 21, 2015.

  1. Turbofrog

    Turbofrog Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 21, 2014
    I'm not really trying to stir the pot here, but I've come to wonder how much of people's impressions of larger sensor formats have to do with the difference in aspect ratio compared to 4/3 and most other smaller digital formats. I recognize the improved quality that Full Frame can offer in some circumstances, but I find it fascinating that APS-C still enjoys the cachet of being considered a significantly larger format. While nominally 60% larger than M4/3, it becomes only 40% larger in area if you prefer the more square 4:3 aspect ratio.

    Even 40% sounds like a big number, until you see it compared in an actual image:

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    So if you like 4:3, APS-C is essentially a negligible bump in size (40% larger is exactly 1/2 stop assuming sensor technology is at parity). I'm not sure how excited people would be to go from an f2.8 lens to an f2.4 lens, or an f2 lens to f1.7. Probably not very.

    It was recently printing time again. My girlfriend and I printed about 120 photos (4x6s and 8x10s) coming from a variety of sources that are either 3:2 or 4:3. Getting everything cropped properly while maintaining what made the shots good in the first place was really challenging! Generally, however, I found it a lot easier to turn 3:2 images into decent 8x10s (5:4) than to turn 4:3 images into 4x6s (3:2), particularly anything that isn't just a landscape with a lot of white space. I found that I was filling the space in a 4:3 image better than in 3:2.

    It's made me realize that I really generally do think in 4:3, and I enjoy the additional real estate that it offers. If anything, I find I'm more likely to crop my images more square to 5:4 or 1:1 than I am wider 3:2 or 16:9. While I learned on 35mm film SLRs, I didn't start to get more serious about photography until I used digital, and that was mostly with 4:3 point-and-shoots and more recently my Micro Four Thirds system with the same aspect ratio...

    So what's your favourite aspect ratio? Is it the same as the native format of the camera you use most often? And do you think that camera has itself shaped that preference and the way you compose?

    Also, by way of compensation for once again daring to mention sensor size, I offer penance in the form of a 4:3 portrait landscape image that I enjoyed making. I think I want to print this one at 16"x24". Maybe a bit bigger.

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  2. WT21

    WT21 Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Feb 19, 2010
    Thanks for posting. This comes up from time to time. Nice summary. In short, there is a difference, but it's not that spectacular. Full Frame is certainly quite a bit more of a jump.

    In some ways, though, it's the limits of the other APS-C systems that keep me with m43. Sony is lacking lenses, and Fuji has quirks that I am not interested in dealing with. If the Sony a6000 had f/1.4 lenses for APS-C, then it would be more interesting to me. But I think even Sony recognizes the "tweener" aspect of APS-C, which is why their concentration has moved to full frame.
  3. ean10775

    ean10775 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jan 31, 2011
    Cleveland, Ohio
    I prefer 3:2 in landscape format, but find myself preferring 4:3 for portrait format (I find it easier to crop to 5:7 or 4:5 starting with the 4:3 file). If I had an m43 camera with a multi aspect ratio sensor, I would definitely shoot that way.
  4. Aegon

    Aegon Mu-43 Veteran

    Nov 3, 2011
    Portland, OR
    I've thought about this too and agree with your statement of differences.

    I prefer 4:3 and 1:1. And I don't consider APS-C to be much better for my needs. I've shot both APS-C and 4:3 long enough to consider them equals.

    And I personally roll my eyes when I hear people suggest that µ4:3 is too small but APS-C is big enough. Ridiculous, IMO.

    That said, FF is bigger, better, and worth the tradeoffs in some situations. But not enough for me to shoot both systems right now.
  5. ean10775

    ean10775 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jan 31, 2011
    Cleveland, Ohio
    What has always made the most sense to me regarding sensor format was to have a FF camera system and an m43 camera system, or just an APSC camera system (if you were comfortable splitting the difference). That said, I'm in the m43 camp with my other camera being an X100S so clearly I don't follow my own advice.
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  6. tosvus

    tosvus Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jan 4, 2014
    To me, I don't see any compelling reasons for apsc to exist at this point. M43 is to me the obvious choice for a lighter setup, and comes so close to apsc in performance, it really is almost a wash. Full Frame on the other hand is a compelling proposition, and something I revisit from time to time. I may at some point end up getting one of those.
  7. agentlossing

    agentlossing Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Jun 26, 2013
    Andrew Lossing
    I think existing lens lineups are the main reason APS-C will continue to exist, as the Big Two aren't likely to adopt the format. Besides, it's not proprietary enough for any of the major APS-C players. They don't know how to play nice with others.

    I almost always use 4:3, although when I use a film SLR I'm sometimes pleased with the more "cinematic" result of the 3:2 format. But I usually don't believe in changing the native aspect ratio of the sensor, I frame as I see through the lens and don't usually crop.
  8. Promit

    Promit Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 6, 2011
    Baltimore, MD
    Promit Roy
    As far as crop goes, I do a lot of 5:4 (8x10), and a lot of 16:9. I have plenty of 3:2 in there as well. I don't think I've ever cropped an image TO 4:3 though, to be honest. The only device I have in that aspect is my iPad, and I don't think I have any print sizes for 4:3.

    As far as sensor size, APS-C works better for me than m4/3 does. FF would probably be even better, but price is still a problem there and there are some technical issues with the FF cameras that are keeping me on APS-C. On m4/3, I basically never stop down past 2.8, lens allowing. I like to be at f/2 DOF wise, but of course that means primes. On my GH4 when doing video, I'm speed boosting a SIgma 18-35 - that means an effective 1.2, and I frequently use that lens wide open.
  9. Klorenzo

    Klorenzo Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 10, 2014
    In comparisons like this one:


    I never found more then an half-stop difference with an APS-C of comparable generation. Even in terms of DoF/blur, seen as an advantage or as a defect, there is a about an half-stop difference for the same framing with lenses of the same equivalent focal length (like 45 and 60). I mean that a 45/1.4 looks like a 60/1.8.
    For the same actual focal length and same framing the difference is extremely small. FF has two clear stops of difference instead. In my opinion no practical difference.

    Regarding aspect-ratio I prefer the 3:2 format, especially in landscape orientation. So I often keep the camera with this setting even if a loose a little resolution. This is the only thing that bothers me a little of m43.
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