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  1. -     larger pixel sites (on the larger sensor) are more sensitive to light and give a cleaner signal

        • less grainy noise,

        • richer, better color

        • higher contrast

        • more highlight/                 

           shadow detail

  1. -     Larger sensor allows the use of super-bright lenses at their full angle of view. Lenses such as 14mm f2.8

        16-35mm f2.8

        21mm f2

        24mm f1.4

        28mm f1.8

        35mm f1.4

        50mm f1.4

        85mm f1.2, etc.

  1. -     Larger sensor allows full use of tilt and shift features of special lenses

  1. -     More wide angle options for larger sensor cameras

  1. -      Larger sensor gives shallower depth of focus and allows more background/foreground separation.

  1. -     Full frame cameras have larger, easier to see viewfinders

  1. -    Your friends will be impressed.

full frame



hen I decided, in 2002, to switch from film to digital, I made a list of the features I wanted in a digital camera. Up to that time, all the digital SLR cameras on the market were built on a 35mm camera format, but had sensors that were significantly smaller than 35mm film. This meant that only part of the image projected by the lens was captured by the sensor. The practical effect of this was to change the angle of view so that, for instance, a 24mm lens, which on a 35mm film camera gives a horizontal angle of view of  about 73 degrees, gives, on a Canon small sensor SLR, a horizontal angle of view of about 50 degrees, about what a 38mm lens gives on an equivalent film camera. In other words, if I bought one of the then-available digital SLR cameras, such as the Canon D30 or D60, I could kiss wide-angle photography goodbye.

The other issue that concerned me was resolution. I had seen and printed plenty of images from the Canon D30 (a 3 megapixel camera) and the Canon 1D (4 megapixels) and they were very close to my minimum quality standards, but I wanted just a bit more. In my (humble) opinion (based on my 20 years experience in digital imaging), 6 megapixel resolution is about where digital catches up to 35mm film. Contax had announced a 6 MP full frame sensor camera in 2000, but two years later there was still no news about it (other than the specifications and a projected price of almost $8000). Kodak announced a full frame digital SLR in 2002, the Pro 14N – built on a low end Nikon body, but featuring a 13.7 MP sensor. The specs looked impressive, but I had enough experience with Kodak to be suspicious of their service and support, not to mention their low build quality. The price, at about $5000, was much more attractive than the Contax and the 13.7 MP resolution a powerful inducement, but I wasn’t about to waste my hard-earned money on a Kodak product.

Then Canon announced the EOS 1Ds, an 11.4 MP full frame camera built to professional standards – Titanium body, horizontal and vertical shutter releases, weather seals, 45 point auto focus system, up to 3 frames per second speed, 12-bit RAW recording, firewire connectivity (the camera could be controlled by computer) and a lot more. It cost me almost $8000, but I still feel, 8 years later, that it was the right choice (and even though the camera is only worth about $700 currently, it still gives great photos).

You, gentle reader, have an advantage over me. I had two choices 

   – $5k for a mediocre camera or $8k for a great camera.

In today’s full frame line-up, you have a choice of many great camera companies: Canon, Leica, Nikon, in alphabetical order (Sony has dabbled in the realm of full frame cameras, but they don’t seem to be serious about it).

Nikon has the D700 (12MP- $2200), & the D800 (36MP- $3000) the D3s (12MP- $5200),  the D3x (24MP- $8000) and the D4 (16MP - $6000). 

Canon gives you the 5D Mk II (21MP- $2200), the 5D Mk III (22MP- $3500), the 1Ds Mk III (21MP- $7000), and the 1Dx (18MP-$6700).

Leica offers a full frame interchangeable lens rangefinder camera, the M9, for $8000

When I bought my first digital camera, there was nothing available in the used market. The technology was too new. Things are different now, though. You can buy the 12MP Canon 5D used for $1000 or less, the 5D Mk II for around $1700, the original 1Ds (11MP) for less than $1k and the 1Ds Mk II (16.7MP) for $2000 or less. Four great full frame cameras available on the used market for a fraction of what my first digital camera cost.

Of these four, I recommend the Canon 5D (unless you want video, in which case you want the 5D Mk II). The quality of the 12MP files  the 5D creates is superb; smooth tonality, sharp details and great color from its low ISO of 50 up to 1600. Even the maximum ISO of 3200 looks good when not underexposed. I use two of these cameras for low-light photography and also when traveling. 12MP is, I think, the sweet spot for digital resolution, and the quality of the images from the Canon 5D allow for spectacular enlargements (I’ve made 40x60 inch prints from them). If you’re serious about photography, you need to get the right camera and that camera is better if it’s full frame.




photos copyright 2012 Edward Crim

The Saint Louis Photo Authority is located by the Delmar Loop at 858 Hodiamont Avenue, Saint Louis, Missouri 63112. To enroll in classes, rent studio space, get tutoring in photography, or hire a really great photographer, contact Edward Crim

  1. -314-504-6692

  2. -Edward at EdwardCrim.com