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Medium Format vs Full Frame vs Crop Sensor

size-fov.jpg This is not going to a be a super technical example/talk about sensor sizes, nor am I going to talk about light gathering ability from a larger sensor, or tonal range, etc... All this changes with the advancement of technology.

So Technology Aside.... What does not change with technology? That would be the Field of View aka FOV, the amount of the scene you can see with a larger sensor.

This is how it works, the camera lens, projects an image onto the sensor inside your camera, this image is known as an image circle. This is just like a projector projecting an image onto a screen at the movies.

The size of the image, is relative to what mm lens you are using, and what you are focusing on. It doesn't matter if you have a crop sensor, full frame, or medium format, the image projected by a 55mm lens will be roughly the same size. In my example below, I am referring to the image of the plant. the size of the plant depends on what mm lens you have. (fyi, that was shot 55mm)


Now the size of your sensor determines how much Field of View you have in this image circle. A larger sensor will see more of the image vs a smaller sensor.

There are so many arguments, that sensor size doesn't matter you can do one of two things, just use a wider lens, or just backup further until you get the whole scene in. -- Well, all of these change the perspective, compression, angle of view, etc...

So lets take a look at the many scenarios:

In this photo, I used a 55mm Lens on a Medium Format Camera (Pentax 645Z), Nikon D810, Nikon D3100, all shot from the exact same tripod position. As you can see in this photo, the model appears to be getting closer, this is the Zoom Effect people talk about on Crop Sensor cameras (fyi, this can be effective using long lenses and a 24mp or greater crop camera) This is just because a smaller section of the image was used, hence, a smaller image sensor.


So, now lets move to the first argument Crop Sensor people make (or Full Frame people say about Medium Format), They say, I can use use a wider lens. -- Well lets take a look at this, in the picture below, I used a 45mm lens on the Full Frame camera, and a 24mm lens on the Crop Sensor camera. I get roughly the same view, I was framing the railing behind the model to make all three shots similar. If you look into the details, the taller building in the background starts to get pushed away. You will also notice a bit more distort view of the mannequin, and it also appears closer.


The next argument, is the, I can simply zoom with my feet, and move back to get everything in the shot. In this shot, I used 55mm lens on all three cameras, and framed the railing behind the model and with the top rail to have the same horizon level. As we cab see in this shot, when you back up to take all of the same scene in your Field of View, things change, as you have moved back, and your perspective is now different. The biggest thing you should notice, is the table with my cameras on it. This table was never moved it was in the same position throughout all of these shots. with the 55mm on the Full Frame camera, I now see all of the mannequin, and the mannequin appears to be blocking the chair the model is on. The perspective from the Full Frame is I am looking down on the table vs the Crop Sensor I appear to be looking at it more head on. Take a not on the distance from the mannequin arm to the left side of the frame where there is a big of a green plant, the distance doubles, and you can see the railing between the mannequin and the planter in the Crop Sensor view


Now one could argue, (I heard it in my head when I did the shots) that when I backed up, I should have kept the model the same size, not the railings width and level, and its not an accurate assessment. -- ok, here you go, this shot below is done with 55mm on all three cameras and I backed up until I had the same size in the view finder. What do we notice? Compression at its best. Look at the tree behind the model, its a different size in each picture, its getting closer to the model, oh, and how about the mannequin, its getting smaller and closer the model. Remember, not of these elements moved during this entire exercise. And my model did a great job of keeping the same pose throughout this.


There you have it, a Medium Format, Full Frame, and a Crop Sensor camera will never create the same photo no matter what you do. You can change lenses, but you will have changed compression, and angle of view, you can change distance, but now you have changed perspective. What does it all mean, it means shoot the sensor that gives you the image you are trying to achieve.

For me, when using 300mm and over for sports, events, etc... stuff just gets compressed, so that's not much of an issue for me, and my Nikon D810 is a 36mp full frame camera, so if I crop in to a crop sensor section, it yields 16mp, so it makes sense for me to shoot a Nikon D7200 with 24mp on a DX sensor, and have the presumed 450mm FOV from a 300mm, and a 900mm FOV from a 600mm lens, and I can get a better image than I could from cropping the 36mp Full Frame.

For the majority of my shooting, I will generally use my Full Frame cameras. I have the best portability, best selection of lenses, and all around best pros/cons from them both.

If I need to shoot with the least amount of distortion, compression, perspective, or create an image that is just different, has that medium format feel, then I will jump to the medium format. Pair medium format with roughly an 80mm lens and it provides the best real life view of the three listed here (yes, the 3 reviewed here, there is always 4x5 and 8x10)

If I am shooting large products, such as cars and boats for commercial work, then I will use the medium format.

If your interested in viewing all these together, feel free to take a look at this chart below or download the hires version


Mike Bradley

Author: Mike Bradley

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