Vintage digital – the first full-frame DSLRs

The late 1990s saw a plethora of digital cameras evolve. Some were collaborations between various manufacturers such as Nikon-Fujifilm. But most of these cameras had sensor sizes which were smaller than that of a standard film camera, e.g. APS-C. The first true full-frame cameras appeared in the period 2000-2002.

The first full-frame SLR of note was the Contax N Digital, a 6MP SLR produced by Contax in Japan. Although announced in late 2000, it didn’t actually appear until spring 2002. The sensor was a Philips FTF3020-C, and was only in production for a year before it was withdrawn from the market. Pentax also announced a full-frame camera (using the same sensor as the Contax N), the MZ-D in September 2000, but by October of the following year, the camera had been cancelled. The next full-frame was the Canon EOS-1Ds, which appeared September 2002. It was a monumental step forward, having a full-frame sensor that was 11.1 megapixels. In reality Canon dominated the full-frame market for quite a few years.

Nikon, who stayed in the APS-C for many year was relatively late to the game, not introducing a full-frame until 2007. The Nikon D3 had a modest 12.1MP sensor, but this is because Nikon opted for a low-resolution, high sensitivity sensor. Many lauded the camera for its high ISO noise control, with Popular Photography saying the D3 “will bestow an unheard of flexibility to low-light shooters, or give sports photographers the ability to crank up the shutter speed without adding flash.” To compare, the Canon 2007 equivalent was the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, sporting a 21.1MP sensor.

How do these stack up against a modern full-frame? If we compare the Canon 1Ds against a Canon R5C on certain charcteristics:

Canon 1Ds (2002)Canon R5 C (2022)
megapixels1145
ISO100-1250100-51200
video8K
weight1585g770g
number of focus points451053
number of shots per battery600220-320

These early full-frame DSLR’s were certainly beasts from the perspective of weight, and even megapixels, but to be honest 11MP still stacks up today for certain applications.

Further reading:

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When more is not always better – the deception of megapixels

I have never liked how companies advertise cameras using megapixels. Mostly because it is quite deceptive, and prompts people to mistakenly believe that more megapixels is better – which isn’t always the case. But the unassuming amateur photographer will assume that 26MP is better than 16MP, and 40MP is better than 26MP. From a purely numeric viewpoint, 40MP is better than 26MP – 40,000,000 pixels outshines 26,000,000 pixels. It’s hard to dispute raw numbers. But pure numbers don’t tell the full story. There are two numeric criteria to consider when considering how many pixels an image has: (i) the aggregate number of pixels in the image, and (ii) the image’s linear dimensions.

Before we look at this further, I just want to clarify one thing. A sensor contains photosites, which are not the same as pixels. Photosites capture light photons, which are then processed in various ways to produce an image containing pixels. So a 24MP sensor will contain 24 million photosites, and the image produced by a camera containing this sensor contains 24 million pixels. A camera has photosites, an image has pixels. Camera manufacturers use the term megapixel likely to make things simpler, besides which megaphotosite sounds more like some kind of prehistoric animal. For simplicities sake, we will use photosite when referring to a sensor, and pixel when referring to an image.

Aggregate pixels versus linear dimensions
Fig.1: Aggregate pixels versus linear dimensions

Every sensor is made up of P photosites arranged in a rectangular shape with a number of rows (r) and a number of columns (c), such that P = r×c. Typically the rectangle shape of the sensor forms an aspect ratio of 3:2 (FF, APS-C), or 4:3 (MFT). The values of r and c are the linear dimensions, which basically represent the resolution of the image in each dimension, i.e. the vertical resolution will be r, the horizontal resolution will be c. For example in a 24MP, 3:2 ratio sensor, r=4000, c=6000. The image aggregate is the number of megapixels associated with the sensor. So r×c = 24,000,000 = 24MP. This is the number most commonly associated with the resolution of an image produced by a camera. In reality, the number of photosites and the number of pixels are equivalent. Now let’s look at how this affects an image.

Doubling megapixels versus doubling linear dimensions
Fig.2: Doubling megapixels versus doubling linear dimensions

The two numbers offer different perspectives of how many pixels are in an image. For example the difference between a 16MP image and a 24MP image is a 1.5 times increase in aggregate pixels. However due to how these pixels are distributed in the image, it only adds up to a 1.25 times increase in the linear dimensions of the image, i.e. there are only 25% more pixels in the horizontal and vertical dimensions. So while upgrading from 16MP to 24MP does increase the resolution of an image, it only adds a marginal increase from a dimensional perspective. Doubling the linear dimensions of an image would require a sensor with 64 million photosites.

A visual depiction of different full-frame sensor sizes for Fuji sensors
Fig.3: A visual depiction of different full-frame sensor sizes for Fuji sensors

The best way to determine the effect of upsizing megapixels is to visualize the differences. Figure 3 illustrates various sensor sizes against a baseline 16MP – this is based on the actual megapixels found in current Fuji camera sensors. As you can see, from 16MP it makes sense to upgrade to 40MP, from 26MP to 51MP, and 40MP to 102MP. In the end, the number of pixels produced by an camera sensor is deceptive in so much as small changes in aggregate pixels does not automatically culminate in large changes in linear dimensions. More megapixels will always mean more pixels, but not necessarily better pixels.

Vintage digital – The Fuji camera with a weird sensor

The Fujifilm FinePix S1 Pro was a somewhat strange, yet innovative camera. Released in January 2000, it sported a 1.1 inch Super CCD sensor (23.3×15.6mm) producing 3.4 physical MP, but after processing would produce an image with a resolution of 3040×2016 pixels (6MP). But it wasn’t exactly built from the ground up. It was a mash-up of a Nikon N60 film camera body, and Fujifilm electronics. At this stage it was considered a “digital SLR”, because true 35mm DSLR had yet to appear. It used Nikon lenses, sporting an Nikon-F mount. It’s actually a bit weird discussing a digital camera, but at 22 years old, these early digital cameras are likely in the realm of vintage.

The photosites on the sensor took the form of a honeycomb tessellation, oriented in a zig-zag pattern rather than the traditional row/column array. This resulted in the distance between cells being smaller allowing for more photosites than a regular Bayer sensor. The camera then processed the data to produce the equivalent of a 6.2 MP Bayer sensor. A conventional CCD has rectangular photosites arranged in columns and rows. The SuperCCD has octagonal photosites in a honeycomb configuration. By rotating the photosites 45° to form this interwoven layout, the CCD’s photosite pitch in the horizontal and vertical directions is narrower than in the diagonal direction. This provides a larger relative area of the photosites per total size of the CCD than possible with the conventional CCD structure. In high resolution mode, virtual pixels are created within the spatially interleaved real pixels.

Sensor size
Super CCD photosites (physical and virtual pixels)

In comparison to other cameras of 2000, the Canon EOS D30, Canon’s first “home grown” digital SLR produced 3.1 MP, and Nikon’s D1 (1999) produced 2.7MP. The Super CCD sensor evolved through a succession of designs and cameras until the final 12MP SuperCCD EXR sensor in 2010. The FinePix Pro series continued until the S5 finished production in 2009, still using the Nikon-F mount.

Further reading:

Where did the term “full-frame” originate?

Why are digital cameras with sensors the same size as 35mm SLR’s, i.e. 36×24mm, called full-frame cameras? This is somewhat of a strange concept considering that unlike film, where the 35mm dominated the SLR genre, digital cameras did not originate with 35mm film-equivalent sized sensors. In fact for many years, until the release of the first digital SLRs, camera sensors were of the sub-35mm or “crop-sensor” type. It was not until spring 2002 the first full-frame digital SLR appeared, the 6MP Contax Digital N. It was followed shortly after by the 11.1MP Canon EOS-1Ds. It wouldn’t be until 2007 that Nikon offered its first full-frame-camera, the D3. In all likelihood, the appearance of a sensor equivalent in size to 35mm film was in part because the industry wished to maintain the existing standard, allowing the use of standard lenses, and the existing 35mm hierarchy.

One of the first occurrences of the term “full-frame” as it related to digital, may have been in the advertising literature for Canon’s EOS-1Ds.

“A full-frame CMOS sensor – manufactured by Canon – with an imaging area of 24 x 36mm, the same dimensions used by full-frame 35mm SLRs. It has 11.1 million effective pixels with a maximum resolution of 4,064 x 2,704 pixels.”

Canon EOS-1Ds User Manual, 2002

By the mid 2000’s digital cameras using “crop-sensors” like APS-C had become standard, but the rise of 35mm DSLRs may have triggered a need to re-align the market place towards the legacy of 35mm film. As most early digital cameras used sensors that were smaller than 36×24mm, the term “full-frame” was likely used to differentiate it from smaller sized sensors. But the term has other connotations.

  • It is used in the context of fish-eye lenses to denote an image which covered the full 35mm film frame, as opposed to fish-eye lenses which just manifested as a circle.
  • It is used to denote the use of the entire film frame. For example when film APS-C appeared in 1996, the cameras were able to take a number of differing formats: C, H, and P. H is considered the “full-frame” format with a 9:16 aspect ratio, while P is the panoramic format (1:3), and C the classic 35mm aspect ratio (2:3).

In any case, the term “full-frame” is intrinsically linked to the format of 35mm film cameras. The question is whether or not this term is even relevant anymore?

The whole full-frame “equivalence” thing

There is a lot of talk on the internet about the “equivalency” of crop-sensors relative to full-frame sensors – often in an attempt to somehow rationalize things in the context of the ubiquitous 35mm film frame size (36×24mm). Usually equivalence involves the use of the cringe-worthy “crop-factor”, which is just a numeric value which compares the dimensions of one sensor against those of another. For example a camera with an APS-C sensor, e.g. Fuji-X, has a sensor size of 23.5×15.6mm which when compared with a full-frame (FF) sensor gives a crop-factor of approximately 1.5. The crop-factor is calculated by dividing the diagonal of the FF sensor by that of the crop-sensor, in the case of the example 43.42/28.21 = 1.53.

Fig.1: Relative sensor sizes and associated crop-factors.

Easy right? But this only really only matters if you want to know what the full-frame equivalent of a crop-sensor lens is. For example a 35mm lens has an angle of view of rough 37° (horizontal). If you want to compare this to a full-frame lens, you can multiply this by the crop-factor for APS-C sensors, so 35×1.5≈52.5mm. So an APS-C 35mm lens has a full-frame equivalency of 52.5mm which can be rounded to 50mm, the closest full-frame equivalent lens. Another reason equivalency might be important is perhaps you want to take similar looking photographs with two different cameras, i.e. two cameras with differing sensor sizes.

But these are the only real contexts where it is important – regardless of the sensor size, if you are not interested in comparing the sensor to that of a full-frame camera, equivalencies don’t matter. But what does equivalence mean? Well it has a number of contexts. Firstly there is the most commonly used situation – focal-length equivalence. This is most commonly used to relate how a lens attached to a crop-sensor camera behaves in terms of a full-frame sensor. It can be derived using the following equation:

Equivalent-FL = focal-length × crop-factor

The crop-factor in any case is more of a differential-factor which can be used to compare lenses on different sized sensors. Figure 2 illustrates two different systems with different sensor sizes, with two lenses that have an identical angle of view. To achieve the same angle of view on differently sized sensors, a different focal length is needed. A 25mm lens on a MFT sensor with a crop-factor of 2.0 gives the equivalent angle of view as a 50mm lens on a full-frame sensor.

Fig.2: Focal-length equivalence (AOV) between a Micro-Four-Thirds, and a full-frame sensor.

Focal length equivalency really just describes how a lens will behave on different sized sensors, with respect to angle-of-view (AOV). For example the image below illustrates the AOV photograph obtained when using a 24mm lens on three different sensors. A 24mm lens used on an APS-C sensor would produce an image equivalent to a full-frame 35mm lens, and the same lens used on a MFT sensor would produce an image equivalent to a full-frame 50mm lens.

Fig.3: The view of a 24mm lens on three different sensors.

When comparing a crop-sensor camera directly against a FF camera, in the context of reproducing a particular photograph, two other equivalencies come into play. The first is aperture equivalence. An aperture is just the size of the hole in the lens diaphragm that allows light to pass through. For example an aperture of f/1.4 on a 50mm lens means a maximum aperture size of 50mm/1.4 = 35.7mm. A 25mm f/1.8 MFT lens will not be equivalent to a 50mm f/1.8mm FF lens because the hole on the FF lens would be larger. To make the lenses equivalent from the perspective of aperture requires multiplying the aperture value by a crop factor:

Equivalent-Aperture = f-number × crop-factor

Figure 4 illustrates this – a 25mm lens used at f/1.4 on a MFT camera would be equivalent to using a 50mm with an aperture of f/2.8 on a full-frame camera.

Fig.4: Aperture equivalence between a 25mm MFT lens, and a 50mm full-frame lens.

The second is ISO equivalence, with a slightly more complication equation:

Equivalent-ISO = ISO × crop-factor²

Therefore a 35mm APS-C lens at f/5.6 and 800 ISO would be equivalent to a 50mm full frame lens at f/8 and 1800 ISO. Below is a sample set of equivalencies:

           Focal Length / F-stop = Aperture ∅ (ISO)
       MFT (×2.0): 25mm / f/2.8 = 8.9mm (200)
     APS-C (×1.5): 35mm / f/3.9 = 8.9mm (355)
Full-frame (×1.0): 50mm / f/5.6 = 8.9mm (800)
      6×6 (×0.55): 90mm / f/10.0 = 9.0mm (2600)

Confused? Yes, and so are many people. None of this is really that important, except to understand how a lens behaves will be different depending on the size of the sensor in the camera it is used on. Sometimes, focal-length equivalence isn’t even possible. There are full-frame lenses that just don’t have a cropped equivalent. For example a Sigma 14mm f/1.8 would need an APS-C equivalent of 9mm f/1.2, or a MFT equivalent of 7mm f/0.9. The bottom line is that if you only photography using a camera with an APS-C sensor, then how a 50mm lens behaves on that camera should be all that matters.

Choosing a camera for travel

Many people buy a camera for taking photographs when travelling. Yeah sure, you could use a smartphone, but it won’t provide you with the flexibility of a real camera. Really. Smartphones are restricted to having small sensors (with tiny photosites), a low-power flash, and uber-poor battery life. While they have improved in recent years, offering quite incredible technology inside their limited form factor, they will never replace dedicated cameras. Conversely, you don’t have to carry around a huge DSLR sporting a cumbersome 28-400 zoom lens.

There are so many posts out there which are titled something like “best travel camera 2022”, it’s almost overwhelming. Many of the cameras reviewed in these posts have never really been tested in any sort of real setting (if at all). So below I’m going to outline some of the more important things to consider when choosing a travel camera? Note that this is a list of things to think about, not a definitive and in-depth interpretation of requirements for cameras used for taking travel photos. Note that this discussion related to digital – choosing a good analog cameras for travel is another thing altogether.

What will you be snapping? − buildings? people? close-up shots of flowers?

Budget − Of course how much you want to spend is a real issue. Good cameras aren’t cheap, but spending a reasonable amount on a camera means that it should last you years. You want a good balance of the items described below. If your budget is limited, go for a compact camera of some sort.

Compactness − The first choice from the camera perspective may be whether you want something that will fit in a pocket, a small bag (e.g. mirrorless), or a complete camera backpack (e.g. full-frame, which I would avoid). For a compact, you could go with one that has a zoom, but honestly a fixed focal length works extremely well. Good examples include the Ricoh GRIII (24.3MP, 18.3mm (28mm equiv.) f/2 lens) and Fujifilm X100V (26.1MP, 23mm (35mm equiv.) f/2 lens, 4K video). Because of their size, compacts sometimes have to sacrifice one feature for another. You also don’t want a compact that has too many dials – their real benefit is being able to point-and-shoot.

Mirrorless cameras are smaller than full-frame cameras because they don’t need to fit a mirror inside – they use a digital viewfinder instead of an optical one. They have a compact size, and provide good image quality. The downside is that they generally have smaller sensors, like APS-C and MFT. I normally opt for both a compact pocket camera, and a mirrorless. Some are better suited to some situations, e.g. compact cameras are much less conspicuous in indoor environs, and places like subways – that’s why they are so good for street photography. More compactness = enhanced portability.

Resilience − When you travel, there is often very little time to worry about whether or not a camera is going to get banged up. Cameras made of metal are obviously somewhat heavier, but offer much better survivability if a camer is accidentally dropped, or banged against something. A camera constructed with a body made of magnesium alloy is both durable and lightweight. It is both corrosion resistant and can handle extremes in temperature well. A magnesium alloy body has less chance of cracking as opposed to a polycarbonate body.

Weather resistance − You can never predict weather, anywhere. Some places are rainy or drizzly, others environs are dry and may have particles of stuff blowing in the air. Obviously you’re not going to take photos in pouring rain, but dust and dirt are often a bigger concern. My Ricoh GRIII is not weather sealed, which seems somewhat crazy when you consider it is a street camera, but there are always tradeoffs that have to be considered. In the case of the GRIII, adding weather sealing would have resulted in less flexibility on lens barrel construction, button/dial layout, and heat dissipation. My Fuji X-H1 on the other hand is weather resistent. Of course you should also choose lenses which are weather resistent. If weather resistance is important, be sure to read up on the specifics for a camera. For example the Fuji X100V is deemed to be weather-sealed, but the lens is not. To achieve this you have to buy an adapter, and add a filter.

Weight − How much are you willing to lug about on a daily basis when travelling? You don’t want to choose a camera that is going to give you back or shoulder pain. Larger format cameras like full-frame are heavier, and have heavier, larger lenses. If choosing a camera with interchangeable lenses, you also have to consider their weight, and the weight of batteries, and anything else you want to carry. There are even differences between compact cameras, e.g. the GRIII is 257g, versus the X100V at 478g, 85% more.

Lenses − If you choose an interchangeable lens camera, then the next thing to do is choose some lenses… a topic which deserves numerous posts on its own. The question is what will you be photographing? In general it is easy to narrow the scope of lenses which are good for travelling because some just aren’t practical. Telephoto for example – there are few cases where one will need a telephoto when travelling, unless the scope of the travelling involves nature photography. Same with macro lenses, and fisheye lenses (which really aren’t practical at the best of times). In an ideal world the most practical lenses are in the 24-35mm (full-frame equivalent) range. I think prime lenses are best, but short-range zooms work quite well too. I would avoid long-range zooms, because you will always use the smaller focal lengths, and long-range zooms are heavy.

Batteries − Camera batteries should have a reasonably good use-time. Using camera features, and taking lots of photos will generally have an impact on battery life. For example using image stabilization a lot, being connected to wi-fi, or turning the camera on and off a lot will run down the battery. There are other things to consider as well. For example most batteries run down quicker in colder environs. Full-frame cameras are bigger, and therefore have a longer battery life than cropped-sensor cameras. Also determine if the camera just comes charging in-camera, you will likely need to buy an external charger. Some battery chargers are also slow. Ideally always carry extra batteries no matter what the manufacturer claims.

Use − What is the camera’s main use during travelling? Street-photography? Vlogging? Landscapes (for poster-sized prints)? Or perhaps just simple travel snapshots. If the latter, then a compact will work superbly. If you want to have the flexibility of different lenses, then a mirrorless camera makes the most sense.

Video − Do you plan to take videos on the trip? If yes, then what sort of capabilities are you looking for? Most cameras produce video in HD1080p, and some have 4K capability. Some cameras limit the length of a video. If you plan to use the camera mostly for video, choose one specced out for that purpose.

Stabilization − Many cameras now offer some form of image stabilization, which basically means that the camera compensates for rudimentary camera shake due to hand-holding the camera, and keeping the camera steady in low-light situations. This is more important for travel photography because it is cumbersome to lug around a tripod, and many places, like the Arche de Triumph won’t allow the use of tripods. Some compacts like the Ricoh RGIII do have stabilization, whereas others like the Fuji X100V do not.

The best way of choosing a camera is to first make a list of all the things you want from the camera. Then try and find some cameras which match those specifications. Then see how those cameras stack up against the considerations outlined above. Narrow down the list. When you have about three candidates, start looking at reviews.

I tend to stay away from the generic “big-box” style reviews of cameras, especially those who use the term “best of YEAR” in the title. I instead pivot towards bloggers who write gear reviews – they often own, have rented, or are loaned the cameras, and offer an exceptional insight into a cameras pros and cons, and provide actual photographs. Usually you can find bloggers that specialize in specific types of photography, e.g. street, travel, video. For example, for the Ricoh GRIII, here are some blog reviews worth considering (if anything they provide insight into what to look for in a review):

Lastly, don’t worry about what professional photographers carry when travelling. Chances are they are on assignment, and carry an array of cameras and related equipment.

Why did 35mm photography become so popular?

Everything in modern digital photography seems to hark back to analogue 35mm. The concept of “full-frame” only exists because a full frame sensor is equivalent in size to the 24×36mm frame of 35mm film (which was only called 35mm because that was the width of the film). If we didn’t have this association, there would be no crop-sensor. Most early films for cameras were quite large format – introduced in 1899, 116 format film was 70mm wide. This was followed in 1901 by 120 (60mm), 127 (40mm) in 1912, and then 620 (60mm) in 1931. So there were certainly many film format options. So why did 35mm become the standard?

In all likelihood, 35mm became the gold standard because of how widely available 35mm film was in the motion picture industry – it had been around since 1889 when Thomas Edison’s assistant, William Kennedy Dickson simply split 70mm Eastman Kodak film in half. (I have discussed the origins of 35mm film in a previous post). Kodak introduced the standard 135 film in 1934, and was designed for making static pictures (rather than film) with the actual exposure frames being 36mm wide, and 24mm high, giving it a 3:2 ratio. In the 1930s, Leica brochures expounded the fact that the film used in their cameras was “…the standard 35mm cinema film stock, obtainable all over the world.

A standard Leica with a 50mm f/3.5 ELMAR lens

There was much hype in the 1930s about the cameras that were termed “minicams”, or “candid cameras”, in effect cameras that used 35mm film. By the mid 1930s, Leica had been producing 35mm cameras for over a decade. A 1936 Fortune Magazine article titled “The U.S. Minicam Boom” described the Leica as a camera which “took thirty-six pictures the size of the special-delivery stamp on a roll of movie film.” There were those who did not think the miniature camera would survive, seeing their use as a form of candid camera craze. Take for example the closing argument of Thomas Uzzell, who wrote the negative perspective of a 1937 article “Will the Miniature Survive the Candid Camera Craze?” [1]:

“The little German optical jewels you carry in your (sagging) coat pockets make many experimental exposures expensive (though perhaps they would do better if they carefully made one good one!). Their shorter focal lengths make the ultra-fast exposures more practical (how many pictures are actually taken at these ultra speeds!). You can hop about quickly, minnie in hand, and take photos of children and babies at play with all the detail that “makes a picture pulse with naturalness and life” (though good pictures have never been taken by anyone hoping about). … I claim there is just one thing they cannot do, and apparently are never going to be able to do. They can’t make clear pictures.”

Uzzell claimed the art of the miniature was the art of the fuzzy picture. His challenger, Homer Jensen on the other hand described the inherent merits of 35mm over larger format cameras, namely that one could “…take pictures under the most unfavourable conditions, indoors and outdoors.”. Some people disliked the minicam because it made it too easy to take pictures (like anyone could take pictures).

One of the reasons 35mm was so successful was the small size of the camera itself. Their lightweight nature made them easy to carry, taking up very little room. This made them popular with both causal photographers and professionals such as photojournalists where the use of bulky equipment would be prohibitive. Another reason was the 35mm camera’s ability to work in existing light conditions. This was an affect of having ultra-fast lenses, something the larger format cameras could not practically achieve. The shorter focal lengths of 35mm cameras also allowed for greater depth-of-field at wide lens apertures. The inaugural issue of Popular Photography in 1937 described the advantages of using miniatures to capture fast action [4].

A large format Graflex camera versus a Leica “minicam”.

Large format cameras on the other hand, were sometimes referred to as “Big Berthas” due to their size [4]. The Series D Graflex, a quintessential 4×5″ press camera of the 1930s weighed 3.06kg, compared with the Leica G, which was one-sixth its weight, and roughly 1/30th its size. In a Graflex brochure from 1936, photographer H. Armstrong Roberts recalls a recent 14,000 mile journey where he took 3000 negatives using his Graflex camera, stating that “Certain I am that no other camera could have achieved the results which I have obtained with the GRAFLEX.”

In 1935, another event foreshadowed the success of 35mm photography – Kodak’s introduction of Kodachrome colour film, followed shortly afterwards by Agfa’s Agfacolor Neu. This may have persuaded many a professional photographer to move to 35mm. Indeed, by 1938, H. Armstrong Roberts was also shooting in colour using a Zeiss Contaflex with a 50mm f/2 Sonnar lens [5] (so much for his belief in large format). The onset of WW2 brought a halt to the first minicam boom, but it was not the end of the story. By the early 1950s, the minicam was on the cusp of greatness, soon to become the standard means of taking photographs. More articles started to appear in photography magazines, enunciating the virtues of 35mm [3].

There are many reasons 35mm film became the format of choice.

  • Kodak’s 135 film single-use cartridge allowed for daylight loading. Prior to this 35mm film had to be loaded onto reusable cassettes in the darkroom.
  • The physical format of 35mm film made it very user friendly. The film is contained in a metal canister that reduces the risk of light leaks, and is easy to handle. Loading/unloading film is both intuitive, quick and easy. It’s compact size made it much easier to handle than larger format film.
  • 35mm also allowed for more exposures per roll than typical large format films. The norm is 24 or 36 exposures. This provided a great deal of flexibility in the amount of shots that could be taken, because 35mm film was easier and cheaper to develop.
  • In the hey-day of film photography there was a huge selection of film types – B&W, colour, infrared, and slide.

Of course there were also some limitations, but these mostly centre on the fact that 35mm film was considered to have less resolving power than medium-format film – great for “snapshots”, but anyone that required large prints needed a large film format to avoid grainy prints.

The invention of the Leica started a new era in photography, spurned on by the introduction of Kodak’s 135 film. Post WW2, 35mm film spearheaded the photographic revolution of the 1950s. It became the format used by amateurs, hobbyists, and professionals alike. 35mm photography allowed for a light, yet flexible kit, which was ideal for the travelling amateur photographer of the 1960s.

Further reading:

  1. Uzzell, Thomas, H., “Will the Miniature Survive the Candid Camera Craze? – No”, Popular Photography, 1(4), pp. 32,66 (1937)
  2. Jensen, Homer, “Will the Miniature Survive the Candid Camera Craze? – Yes”, Popular Photography, 1(4), pp. 33,84 (1937)
  3. “35mm: The camera and how to use it”, Popular Photography, pp.50-54,118, November (1951)
  4. Witwer, Stan, “Fast Action with a Miniature”, Popular Photography, 1(1) pp.19-20,66 (1937)
  5. “Taking the May Cover in Color”, Popular Photography, 2(5) pp.54 (1938)

The different Angle-of-View measurements

Look at any lens spec, and they will normally talk about the angle-of-view (AOV), sometimes used interchangeably (and incorectly) with field-of-view (FOV). But there are three forms of AOV, and they can be somewhat confusing. The first form is the diagonal AOV. It is one of the most common ones found in lens literature, but it isn’t very easy to comprehend without viewing the picture across the diagonal. Next is the vertical AOV, which makes the least sense, because we generally don’t take pictures, or even visualize the vertical. Lastly is the horizontal AOV, which makes the most sense, because of how humans perceive the world in front of them.

Showing the diagonal AOV of a lens is hard to conceptualize. It’s a bit like the way TV’s are described as being, say 50″, which is the diagonal measurement. In reality through, the TV is only 43.6″ wide. Horizontal is how people generally conceptualize things. As an example of a lens, consider a 24mm full-frame lens – it has a diagonal AOV of 84°, and a horizontal AOV of 74°. This isn’t really a lot, but enough to get a little confusing. A 16mm lens that has a AOV of 180° in the vertical, may only have a horizontal AOV of 140° An example of this is shown below.

Things to consider when choosing a digital camera

There is always a lot to think about when on the path to purchasing a new camera. In fact it may be one of the most challenging parts of getting started in photography, apart from choosing which lenses will be in your kit. It was frankly easier when there was less in the way of choices. You could make a list of 100 different things with which to compare cameras, but better to start with a simple series of things to consider.

Some people are likely swayed by fancy advertising, or cool features. Others think only of megapixels. There are of course many things to consider. This post aims to provide a simple insight into the sort of things you should consider when buying a digital camera. It is aimed at the pictorialist, or hobby/travel photographer. The first thing people think about when considering a camera is megapixels. These are important from a marketing perspective, mainly because they are a quantifiable number that can be sold to potential buyers. It is much harder to sell ISO or dynamic range. But megapixels aren’t everything, as I mentioned in a previous post, anywhere from 16-24 megapixels is fine. So if we move beyond the need for megapixels, what should we look for in a camera?

Perhaps the core requirement for a non-professional photographer is an understanding of what the camera is to be used for – landscapes, street photography, macro shooting, travel, blogging, video? This plays a large role in determining the type of camera from the perspective of the sensor. Full frame (FF) cameras are only required by the most dedicated of amateur photographers. For everyday shooting they can be far too bulky and heavy. At the other end of the spectrum is Micro-Four-Thirds (MFT), which is great for travelling because of it is compact size. In the middle are the cameras with APS-C sensors, sometimes often found in mirrorless cameras, and even compact fixed-lens format cameras. If you predominantly make videos, then a camera geared towards maybe less MP and more video features is essential. For street photography, perhaps something compact and unobtrusive. Many people also travel with a back-up camera, so there is that to consider as well.

Next is price, because obviously if I could afford it I would love a Leica… but in the real world it’s hard to justify. As the sensor gets larger, the price goes up accordingly. Large sensors cost more to make, and mechanisms such as image stabilization have to be scaled accordingly. Lenses for FF are also more expensive because they contain larger pieces of glass. It’s all relative – spend what you feel comfortable spending. It’s also about lifespan – how long will you use this camera? It was once about upgrading for more megapixels or fancy new features – it’s less about that now. Good cameras aren’t cheap – nothing in life is, neither are good lenses… but spend more for better quality and buy fewer lenses.

Then there are lenses. You don’t need dozens of them. Look at what lenses there are for what you want to do. You don’t need a macro lens if you are never going to take closeup shots, and fisheye lenses are in reality not very practical. Zoom lenses are the standard lenses supplied with many cameras, but the reality is a 24-80 is practical (although you honestly won’t use the telephoto function that much), anything beyond 80mm is likely not needed. Choose a good quality all round prime lens. There are also a variety of price points with lenses. Cheaper lenses will work fine but may not be as optically nice, have weather proofing or contain plastic instead of metal bodies. You can also go the vintage lens route – lots of inexpensive lenses to play with.

Now we get to the real Pandora’s Box – features. What extra features do you want? Are they features that you will use a lot? Focus stacking perhaps, for well focused macro shots. Manual focus helpers like focus peaking for use with manual lenses. High resolution mode? Image stabilization (IS)? I would definitely recommend IS but lean perhaps towards the in-body rather than the in-lens. In body means any lens will work with IS, even vintage ones. In lens is just too specialized and I favour less tech inside lenses. Features usually come at a price- battery drain, so think carefully about what makes sense for your particular situation.

So what to choose? Ultimately you can read dozens of reviews, watch reviews on YouTube, but you have to make the decision. If you’re unsure, try renting one for a weekend and try it out. There is no definitive guide to buying a digital camera, because there is so much to choose from, and everyone’s needs are so different.

The basics of the X-Trans sensor filter

Many digital cameras use the Bayer filter as a means of capturing colour information at the photosite level. Bayer filters have colour filters which repeat in 2×2 pattern. Some companies, like Fuji use a different type of filter, in Fuji’s case the X-Trans filter. The X-Trans filter appeared in 2012 with the debut of the Fuji X-Pro1.

The problem with regularly repeating patterns of coloured pixels is that they can result in moiré patterns when the photograph contains fine details. This is normally avoided by adding an optical low-pass filter in front of the sensor. This has the affect of applying a controlled blur on the image, so sharp edges and abrupt colour changes and tonal transitions won’t cause problems. This process makes the moiré patterns disappear, but at the expense of some image sharpness. In many modern cameras the sensor resolution often outstrips the resolving power of lenses, so the lens itself acts as a low-pass filter, and so the LP filter has been dispensed with.

Bayer (left) versus X-Trans colour filter arrays

C-Trans uses a more complex array of colour filters. Rather than the 2×2 RGBG Bayer pattern, the X-Trans colour filter uses a larger 6×6 array, comprised of differing 3×3 patterns. Each pattern has 55% green, 22.5% blue and 22.5% red light sensitive photosite elements. The main reason for this pattern was to eliminate the need for a low-pass filter, because this patterning reduces moiré. This theoretically strikes a balance between the presence of moiré patterns, and image sharpness.

The X-Trans filter provides a for better colour production, boosts sharpness, and reduces colour noise at high ISO. On the other hand, more processing power is needed to process the images. Some people say it even has a more pleasing “film-like” grain.

CharacteristicX-TransBayer
Pattern6×6 allows for more organic colour reproduction.2×2 results in more false-colour artifacts.
MoiréPattern makes images less susceptible to moiré.Bayer filters contribute to moiré.
Optical filterNo low-pass filer = higher resolution.Low-pass filter compromises image sharpness.
ProcessingMore complex to process.Less complex to process.
Pros and Cons between X-Trans and Bayer filters.

Further reading: