DPP Home Gear Cameras Will Full-Frame D-SLRs Take Over The World?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Will Full-Frame D-SLRs Take Over The World?

DPP talks to several photographers who weigh in on the future of full-frame, APS-C and medium-format technology and the potential for professionals

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Sony DSLR-A900

Nikon D700
Smaller sensors are popular precisely because they’re small. They require lighter, more compact components and make Four Thirds and APS-C systems easy to hold and easier to travel with. Smaller sensors also mean smaller price tags. Historically, plenty of professionals have used cameras that one wouldn’t think of as being a pro model.

Similarly, today, inexpensive, sub-full-frame D-SLRs are especially popular for photographers who want to stay current by upgrading every couple of years. As chip costs drop, high-res D-SLRs get smaller and less expensive, too, while simultaneous improvements to pixel technology means those smaller and cheaper sensors can make better pictures. Factor in the magnification that long-lens lovers relish, and it’s clear that the market is happy to have small sensors. For example, Bob Krist, who is a famous travel photographer and Nikon user, routinely carries a combination of Nikon D90, D300 and, now, D300S bodies.

For some pro photographers, though, no amount of telephoto bonus, portability or affordability will woo them. These pros are die-hard medium-format-system aficionados. It’s because of these photographers that the highest quality will always find buyers at any price—especially in the studio. As D-SLRs can do much of the heavy lifting that medium-format film used to, medium-format digital has largely replaced 4x5 film. Full-frame D-SLRs may be the right choice for many shots—but not all.

“In my experience,” says studio photographer August Bradley, “the medium-format digital camera is usually the better choice. The medium format creates images superior to the 35mm D-SLR in every regard except high-ISO shooting, so I use the [Canon EOS] 1Ds for high ISO or if I really need the speed—which is rare in my work. I’m increasingly gravitating toward the Hasselblad because, for me, it creates better, more versatile images and has really closed the gap on the 35mm D-SLR in terms of LCD size, untethered usability and shooting speed, factoring in flash recycle time. Shooting tethered, there’s simply no comparison in my view; the Hasselblad H3DII is so much more robust and reliable and faster-loading to the monitor than the 35mm D-SLR cameras.

“In terms of image detail, smooth tonal gradients, shallow depth of field and lens quality,” Bradley continues, “my Hasselblad wins hands down. Medium format’s larger color bit-depth provides greater color-transition smoothness and range. The Hasselblad files can be worked deeper in postproduction, pushing the pixels further than 35mm files before breaking.”

Adds Bradley, “I select the best tool, regardless of price. Though the Hasselblad is more expensive, it’s just a job or two to pay for it. I wouldn’t sacrifice quality for that reason, though for some photographers, I can see how the economics would be different.”

Michael Creagh says that for him, it’s not so much the cost, but the value. “I’m not against the overall price,” Creagh says. “It’s an amazing camera for the top professional. I want a better retention and upgrade program. I don’t want to be penalized because I already bought the system before the company figured out all the technology. Instead of trying to lower the price to compete with Canon and Nikon, I want to buy a camera at $30,000 and get two years of low-cost service upgrades included. So when you buy the best, you stay with the best.”


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