This year, I’m going to super-size my snaps. I shall inflate my photos. Embiggen my exposures.
And I don’t mean I’ll be ordering 10x12 instead of 4x6 prints from my local Snappy Snaps. Or that I’m replacing my current camera with one that simply has more megapixels.
Nope, I’m actually going to increase the physical size of the medium which creates the photos in the first place: the sensor. Yes folks, I’m buying a full-frame camera.
What am I talking about? For the unitiated, "full-frame" refers to an image sensor format that matches the size of 35mm format film (36mmx24mm) and, considering that 35mm was regarded as an everyday “normal” format in analogue photography’s heyday, it’s surprisingly rare in the digital world.
Most DSLR and digital compact system cameras use smaller sensor formats like APS-C (aka “crop”), Four Thirds or Micro Four Thirds, and most digital point-and-shoots use even tinier ones. But a handful of models on the market (all made by Canon, Nikon, Sony, Leica or Pentax) roll with a full-frame sensor inside.
And in 2017, some will finally be within my wallet's reach.
So, why go full-frame? After all, DSLRs with smaller sensors work just fine – in fact, Stuff’s current top system camera recommendation, the Fujifilm X-T2, uses a 23.6x15.6mm APS-C sensor. And full-frame cameras are pricier, bulkier and fussier about their lenses than other cameras.
To me, going full-frame is all about light. Because full-frame cameras, blessed as they are with those huge sensors, are the best at sucking up huge amounts of the stuff in the shortest amount of time. Pair a full-frame camera with a reasonably fast lens and you can snap away in all but the very murkiest of conditions and still come away with sharp, detailed and noise-free photos – or video clips if that’s your bag.
As a photographer who prefers working with natural, available light rather than a flash, a full-frame camera means I can get stunningly clear shots at times and places where my current, crop-sensored DSLR would serve up nothing but grainy, blur-ridden disappointment.
Having borrowed a full-frame Sony A850 for several months while living in New York, I found myself constantly impressed with its results inside dark bars, or during dimly-lit concerts – and obviously it worked perfectly well in bright sunshine as well.
There are other advantages, too, although for me these are appetisers rather than the main course. Full-frame cameras are better for landscape photography than other sensors, because they can capture more detail and fit more in their wider frame.
Fit a 17mm wide-angle lens on a full-frame camera and 17mm is the real-world focal length; fit the same lens on an APC-S sensor and the cropping process will tighten that focal length to something like 25mm – still wide, sure, but no longer ultra-wide.
I’ll also find full-frame helpful when snapping portraits of friends and family, as the sensor’s larger dimensions translate into a shorter depth of field, meaning with the right lens I can get my subject’s face – or even just their eyes, if I’m feeling particularly arty – in focus while the rest of the image shifts to soft, smooth out-of-focus bokeh. Maybe I can even start charging for headshots…