The Bursledon Blog had a post about cameras and how much the tech is required which interested me as it's a topic I've been thinking about. In particular, the long debated question "do you need full frame?".
This question relates to sensor size which relates to how big a camera is and a whole host of other factors. Basically, the order is:
- Full frame 36 x 24mm
- APSC 24 x 16mm e.g. my Sony A6xxx series, shown above
- 4/3rds 17 x 13 mm
- 1 inch 13 x 9 mm e.g. my Sony RX100m4
- 1/2.3 inch e.g. my GoPro 5 Black, Mavic Pro drone
- 1/2.6 inch 5.5mm x 4.1mm e.g. my Pixel 2 phone
There is a school of thought that to be a true photographer you have to use full frame and only noobs and amateurs use anything else. But is that right?
As always, the answer it that it depends, most importantly, on what sort of photography you do, and is strongly connected to the choice of lens.
Many years ago I did a camera comparison and Tillerman commented all the photos looked very similar, which is a good point. For scenes such as these, well lit, using medium aperture and results displayed on small sizes on a screen, there is very little difference and so you don't need full frame.
However there are times when this is not true, such as:
- if you want shallow depth of field and use lenses with large aperture, then full frame is better (e.g. for portraits)
- if you want to take photos and videos in low light, then larger sensor (again, with suitable lens) is better
But how often is that the case for you? With me its not that often, as I get sufficiently shallow depth of field for portraits with my APSC camera if use longer focal length and/or shoot wide open. Also, these tend to be family photos, so the moment and expression are most important, not technical details.
That's an important point: very often its composition that is key, not technical details for pixel peepers. On one of my Greenland trips, someone was just taking photos on his phone and they were great - but he was a film director, used to thinking about composition and using what he had.
The APSC camera is usually, but not always, ok with low light scenes. Sometimes you can get away using a tripod, other times there is actually enough light (e.g. London at night isn't that dark). But there are shots my A6500 can't handle - such as I tried to take a video of us sailing off Morocco under moonlight, and the noise & lack of dynamic range were disappointing.
However that's rare, and there's another consideration, which is weight and size. I take pictures for fun, often while travelling, and there is a significant difference in weight between full frame and APSC. On another Greenland trip I was there with my A6300 and someone else had the full frame Canon 5Dm3. In a battle on features the A6300 would win on all counts apart from sensor size and yet was literally half the size and weight, which to me is an important factor.
And if you're going to crop, e.g. for wildlife photography, you might as well go APSC to start with.
If you're a professional photographer then maybe you'd take what is required because its a job, but I was off travelling for fun, and that fun is a lot less if you're carrying many kilos of weight you don't need most of the time.
There's a saying that the best camera is the one you have with you: yes, the APSC camera might struggle with some shots but if the full frame is so large you leave it at home, you might actually get more shots using a smaller sensor camera as you'd actually bring it.
Then there are specialised niches, such as action cameras. Yes, you could strap a full frame camera to you head and take videos of you zooming down mountains, but its much more sensible to use a GoPro even if its sensor is smaller.
Similarly you might want a stabilised camera, using (say) a gimbal. These are what professionals use to get the butter smooth flowing shots, but that all adds weight. Say you have a full frame camera, good lens & gimbal - that might be 2 - 3 kg in total. Plus you'd need other stuff like ND filters, batteries, external mics, recorders etc etc. Yes the results might look great, but I'd never travel with it.
Instead what I've recently got is the DJI Osmo Pocket, small enough to take anywhere and weighing only 118 grams. Ok, the image isn't brilliant but what matters is story telling and the best camera is the one you have on you, and you can take this anywhere.
So there's not simple answer: it depends on what sort of photography you do.
Maybe one day I'll go full frame, but don't feel you have to. Focus on composition and think about what lenses you need.