I’m going full frame


Lucky a with shallow depth of field – Austin, Texas

A couple of weeks ago I said I was contemplating some big equipment changes. It suddenly struck me that the parameters have changed. Assumptions I had about camera performance were also no longer valid. It was time to make changes.

I hinted about my equipment change in my previous post, Does Canon still care about APS-C DSLRs? I realized, in actual usage, my Olympus Pens now matched my Canon 7D for image quality. More surprisingly, Canon really has not updated their APS-C image quality over the last 4 years. Other than for fast action sports, my big Canon 7D DSLR no longer has any advantages over the compact micro 4/3 cameras. And the shift in my usage patterns is telling. I use the 7D less and less and you know how much more I like my small mirrorless cameras, especially for travel.

I then realized that my kids no longer play fast action sports (like soccer). My older boy started playing tennis and the younger one seems to be following. I no longer needed a sports camera. My 7D was the right camera 3 years ago, but the circumstances have changed.

Suddenly, there is no longer any reason to keep my 7D. Why lug a heavy camera around when it takes inferior quality pictures compared to my light and modern Olympus Pens? But, here’s the problem. I have some wonderful glass for the Canon. My favorite lens is my 70 – 200 f4 IS. It’s one of those big white L lenses, though decidedly on their smaller side in the Canon lineup. It’s up there in quality with my Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 that I use on my Olympus. In addition, I have some decent Canon primes, the 35mm f2, the 50mm f1.4 and the 85mm f1.8.

The only logical choice? Move up to full frame. I get to keep my nice Canon glass and I get a level of performance that far exceeds the 7D. Now my lenses also match their originally intended focal lengths, no more 1.6 X crop factor. This is a bigger deal than I thought. With the APS-C sensor, I never got a true 35mm or 50mm lens. The 70 – 200mm zoom became an awkward, 112 – 320mm. It’s a nice focal length boost for birding or sports but terrible for portrait photography and everyday use.

Full frame gives me two features missing from my Canon 7D and the mirrorless cameras. Extremely shallow DOF (depth of field) and truly great high ISO performance. I think these characteristics will be fun to play with. I’ve never shot full frame. I never used a film SLR. The 35mm film point and shoots I used back in the 80s and 90s don’t count. So I’m also going full frame digital out of a sense of curiosity. Sure, it’s still a big and heavy DSLR but perhaps the boost in performance warrants carrying the extra weight? Whenever I get new gear, Lucky gets volunteered to model — sort of a tradition here. I’ve added two examples — they shows shallow DOF and the great high ISO performance.

The APS-C DLSR is dead for me. It’s all about weight vs. performance. Give me the light weight of micro 4/3 or big and juicy full frame. When should I use mirrorless? When do I use full frame? How about landscapes? What will I do with nearly 2 more stops of high ISO performance? I’m going to compare these formats and talk about my experiences on this blog. I bought the Canon 6D. It was an easily decision over the Canon 5D Mark III or older 5D Mark II, but that’s a topic for a future post.

Lucky at ISO 6400 - Austin, Texas

Lucky at ISO 6400 – Austin, Texas

Click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.

24 thoughts on “I’m going full frame

  1. I’ll be extremely interested in your observations. My eyes look at big cameras and say “Yes yes,” but my wrists scream “NO NO”! They hurt, so they win!

  2. Congrats on the acquisition, Andy!

    I do not presently own a FF DSLR (only some film ones), but I have had the opportunity to use some and I can only say that the current generation of FF DSLRs have remarkable high ISO performance and a tonality that, while not matching that of film MF (IMO), is demonstrably superior to that of the previous generation. There is an old hardware saw about glass outlasting bodies…your choice suggests it to still be true. While it is true that I have had more hands on experience with Nikon FX/FF bodies, it should go without saying that both Canon and Nikon FF systems are very capable indeed.

    As you appear to recognize, there is still a place for crop sensor bodies for telephoto work and for the price points below the FF bodies. Nikon has been delinquent in updating its (“Pro DX body”) D300s replacement, but there is a market demand for such a body, even if some of the FF bodies offer a crop mode, if for no other reason than cost.

    I have been trying to be more careful in choosing which lenses to haul around with my DSLR because there is always the weight/bulk trade off, but the higher ISO performance differential between most any of the better DSLRs and the m4/3rds bodies is real and matters when not on the tripod.

    OK, now it’s time to show some images from your new baby.


    1. Thanks Rick. We will see how this turns out. I might show pictures of the camera but you see one 6D you’ve seen them all. I’m going to be posting photos I took with it soon, though.

  3. My path has been similar to yours, just not in the same order. My first digital camera was a Canon G6 compact which I used for six years.

    Because I had EOS lenses from my film days I purchased a Canon 7D in January 2011. I liked the build quality of the 7D but soon realized I then wanted the quality of full frame for landscapes so I sold the 7D after 20 months and bought a used 5D Mk II.

    I also wanted a smaller camera to take with while touring on my motorcycle and purchased a used Lumix G3 but I didn’t care for the colors and returned it. I then bought a used Olympus E-P3 and loved the colors but didn’t care for the sharpness and detail for landscapes so recently purchased a Sony NEX-7. I absolutely loved the Sony for handling and controls (though the menus could use better organizing) but did not care for the end results. The colors are awful and the results with the 24 MP Sony sensor isn’t that much better than the 12 MP sensor of the E-P3 plus the Olympus held details in the highlights better. The Olympus images were far more pleasing so I returned the NEX-7 and was glad I hadn’t sold the Olympus yet. I’m going to add a couple of four third primes (12mm f2, 25 1.4 & 45 1.8) and wait for the price of the E-P5 to drop.

    The full frame system will be used for landscapes and formal portraits and the four thirds for urban photography (which I don’t do much of since I live in a rural area), family candids or landscapes when traveling by motorcycle.

    1. Tom, yes I agree, a different path but a similar set of cameras.

      I don’t hear people complain about the Sony color but I don’t like my Sony NEX-5 colors as much, that is why I went to Olympus. Ken Rockwell is one of the few people I’ve read publicly that says so too. Looks like you also agree about the Sony colors.

      When the face of my kids turns a yellow-green, it’s not very endearing. I recently scrutinized the DPReview photos and noticed the greenish tinge in the yellows. I saw it for the NEX-5, NEX-5n, some in the NEX-7. Interestingly, the NEX-6 looks better.

  4. I love my full-frame cameras. I used the crop sensor cameras only long enough before being able to afford a full frame. I like the ability to really enlarge my images to 20×30 or more and/or to crop them wtihout a huge loss in resolution. And I recently rented the Canon 6D to use with a rented 14mm lens for a wedding I photographed. While I would not recommend the 6D for any sports or moving wildlife, it *is* a fun little camera.

  5. Welcome to shallow DoF heaven. Looks like you’re already nailing shots at f/1.4 – something I find a great challenge. The 6D is a nice camera. I’d definitely have gone that way had I not had a need for the 5D Mark III’s autofocus system. I’d love to have the GPS feature!

    1. Thanks Mike. We need to go out shooting again.

      You know, I really don’t care about the GPS (yet) or the Wifi for that matter. Give me smaller, less expensive and high image quality.

  6. Interesting read as I am going in exactly the opposite direction. I have been shooting Micro 4/3rds and both a Nikon Crop and Full Frame system for a number of years now. I was using the Nikon gear for most stuff when i purchased a GF1 upon release. Over time as the Micro 4/3rds improved all of my shooting other than paying portrait sessions has transitioned to small cameras. I finally got to the point where I thought if Micro 4/3rds is good enough for all of my personal photography why would it not be good enough for my portrait clients? I am in the process of selling off all of my Nikon gear and filling out my Micro 4/3rds kit. Also, i recently picked up an X100s. That was the nail in the coffin for DSLR’s for me. The iQ is so close to my D600 as to be just about indistinguishable. It’s not about “the DSLR is dead” for me. Similar to you, I just don’t need the system for the type of photography I do. I just don’t do action.
    IMO the two short comings of Micro 4/3rds right now are continuous autofocus and no third party support for radio based wireless triggers that support TTL/High Speed sync ala the Pocket Wizard Flex system. That’s about it for me. I don’t do action and I can work around the radio trigger issue.
    Anyhow, I think you make some valid points but if you are not doing action I think you can get similar low light performance out of the Fuji X system and (this is just my opinion as it relates to me and my photography) the super shallow DOF is over rated. It was a painstaking decision to line up 2 Nikon bodies, 6 or 7 pro lenses and all my lighting gear and decide to sell it, but for me i think it makes sense. YMMV but I felt I would rather complete the kit i use (M4/3rds) and take the rest of the money and put it to use for the family.
    If anybody is interested here is the link to the article I wrote last weekend outlining my decision.


    1. Ed, thanks for your visit and comment. Very interesting post, I enjoyed it. And yes, it looks like we are going in opposite directions. But, rest assured that micro 4/3 is here to stay for a while. The Full Frame “Experiment” is a curiosity. I really want to see what it can do and how different it is from APS-C and micro 4/3. Of course, getting a new camera is not going to improve my photography, arguably it may make it worse if I get distracted with the gear and don’t practice shooting.

      Please let me know how it goes with your sans-DLSR move. I’m also curious about how you like the Fuji X100S.

      1. Will Do. I am sure the move will be blog fodder for a little while until it all settles in. Good luck with your new camera. I just thought it funny that we both had similar reasons but came to different decisions.

  7. I can relate to your situation very much. In 2006, I bought my first DSLR, a Canon 5D. In 2010, a year after the 5D Mark II had been on the market I finally bought one. (I was fed up with getting dust on the sensor of the 5D that I just bought my way out of that camera.) I acquired several lenses and multiple Speedlites. I really, really like the image quality of the 5D Mark II, but tired of carrying it on vacation. So a year ago tomorrow, I got a Micro Four-Thirds (Olympus OM-D) to be my travel camera. Funny thing is, my travel camera quickly became my “normal” camera. I only brought out my 5D Mark II during my 4 or 5 paying assignments and a couple of holiday family photos. I had gotten so used to seeing the Olympus images (which are quite good), that after a few months when I finally did bring up some images from my 5D Mark II, I would always hesitate for a second and then say “Whoa!” to myself.

    A couple of weeks ago, my 80 year old mother came over for Mother’s Day. I got out the 5D Mark II, with the 70-200mm f/2.8 II lens and set it up on the tripod on the patio. Self timer to get myself into the photo, too. Later that afternoon, I imported those photos into Lightroom, and realized that the center-weighted metering had been fooled by my Mom’s white shirt. It was underexposed by about 2/3 of a stop. I mention all of this only to say that the amount of post processing adjustability that I could perform on that 14-bit RAW was way more than I had gotten used to from the 12-bit RAW files that the Olympus delivered.

    On Mother’s Day, I realized that maybe I had become too lazy and was using my “travel camera” for much more important photos, just because I didn’t want to deal with the “big and heavy” FF DSLR. I now realize that I don’t want to sell off my DSLR gear. There are definite times and places where I should use it more than I have been. I know that on Father’s Day I’ll be wanting to get the best possible photo of my Dad that I am capable of. My Dad is 84, and even though he’s getting around just fine, you just never know which photo will be the last photo that you take of someone that you love.

    Besides, like you, I’ve got some very, very nice lenses and a half dozen Speedlites that work just great with that FF DSLR. I now am starting to look forward to purchasing the 5D Mark IV in a couple years from now!

    1. Absolutely, Gregg. There is a hierarchy of photographic needs. Meaning some photos are more important than others. Family photos are priceless, the deserve the best that we can give to them.

      I still don’t understand the lo-fi smartphone movement, at least for family photos. They are OK for capturing that latte but don’t people want more than some insta-filtered portraits?

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