Small sensors may yet rule the day!

Written by Gary on October 25th, 2008

There is a short term trend towards the full frame dSLRs as they come down in price, but an interesting comparison of prints from a Canon G10 point and shoot and a $40,000 39megapixel medium format Hasselblad seems to show little difference in prints up to 13″x19″ prints of landscape scenes!

See here.

Now of course, the larger sensor has more narrow depth of field and will perform much better on larger prints, and presumably better at ISO > 200, and on skin tones.

You can get this quality out of a $500 camera which has a sensor a fifth the size of the Olympus / Panasonic Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds.

In my experience, a 10mp high quality image at ISO 100 from an Olympus E510 is not that much different (again ignoring DOF) to my almost full frame 10mp Canon 1DMIII when printed to 20″x30″.

I suspect that if the Canon G10 were 10mp instead of 15mp, you would get just as good prints, and have the added benefit of less noise at higher ISO – but I guess we will never find out the answer to that one!

As sensor technology improves, the better edge-to-edge optical quality that is possible with Four Thirds lenses may mean that prints up to 20″x30″ may always be as good, if not better than full frame dSLRs when used at an ISO 2 stops lower than the full frame given similar sensor technologies.

Now, at present, Four Thirds sensors give best results at ISO < 400, but as technology improves, this will inevitably rise to the point that, apart from DOF considerations, there may not be many photographic situations where a full frame will outperform a Four Thirds camera. Sure the full frame may be doing acceptably noiseless images at some stage in technology advances at ISO 25,000 while the Four Thirds will be at 6400, but in reality, the far majority of images will still only need ISO < 400, which will mean the advantages of the full frame may be reserved for:

  • when you need really shallow DOF or tilt-shift
  • when you need really high ISO
  • when you need really large prints much larger than 20″x30″
  • when you want to carry around a big, heavy, expensive looking camera and lens system

Just some food for thought 🙂


1 Comments so far ↓

  1. Sam Chapman says:

    Having started off with the E-1 (which I still have and use, because it is more compact) and an E-3, one of the major advantages I think the 4/3rds system has over larger sensor sizes, is due to their Telecentric and largely Rectrofocus optical designs which do seem to win out when it comes to cutting down the amount of ‘fringing’ and Viginetting that other formats seem to suffer more from.

    Whilst the idea of a full-frame (35mm) sensor is very alluring, until lenses for these cameras are redesigned specifically for them, which will probably require a much larger body/lens bayonet mount, for the needed larger diameter rear element, I’ll stay with the 4/3rds standard.

    However, I’d guess that the reason many want FF, is so they can still use all their old optics, (!!!) and unless an adaptor to fit these ‘old’ lenses is also produced, these people will probably complain like merry hell!