New Camera, New Images, New Beginnings

I wasn’t going to write this post since it’s a photo-blogging cliche to rave about your new camera, new lens or other new gear. I really do believe David duChemin’s mantra “Gear is Good, Vision is Better” but sometimes you just have to lay it on the line. I know some folks reading this post are going to hate me for writing it, but here goes.

Back in mid-July David wrote a post entitled Sens(or) and Sensibility where he postulated; 1) that sensor size really does matter in so many ways, but especially to depth of field and 2) to forget equivalency or more simply put, to forget the field of view crop factor between a full frame sensor and an APS-C size sensor. The ensuing comment war went on for over sixty comments all very passionately discussing the various theories of magnification, field of view, focal length and perspective.

Having used the 5DII for a few outings now I can assure you in no uncertain terms, the differences between a full frame sensor and an APS-C size sensor are huge and the difference between Canon’s xD line and xxD line are very significant. I’ll leave the technical discussions of FOVCF to the experts however.

The image below was taken late Sunday afternoon when it “looked” like a thunderstorm was finally going to end our drought here in southeast Texas (unfortunately it never rained here in Sugar Land). I looked outside, saw the wonderful clouds forming and grabbed my 5DII for a few quick exposures at the sugar mill, a site I’ve photographed several times in the past. I took several exposures of this scene using a single AF point positioned over the silos in the frame using apertures from f/5.6 to f/22. I wanted to see what the minimum aperture would be required to obtain enough depth of field to ensure the entire image was sharp. Boy was I in for a surprise.

Storm at the Sugar Mill

Storm at the Sugar Mill
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM tripod-mounted with a B&W circular polarizer attached. The exposure was taken at 24mm, f/11 for 1/40th of a second at ISO 100 on Lexar Professional digital film. Post capture processing was done in Lightroom 2 and Photoshop CS4. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Using either of my 40D or 50D bodies I could have easily gotten away with any aperture greater than f/5.6 but with the 5DII even f/8 provided too narrow a depth of field and I ended up using f/11. I half expected this since I’d seen the same result in a previous post showing the water barrel and now started to understand just how different the depth of field of these two sensors really was. To use this camera effectively for landscape shots I would need to pay careful attention to both focus and aperture.

The other differences that hit me right away were the incredible detail provided by the 5DII and more importantly, the almost total lack of noise in my images. Normally I run each image through Nik Software’s Dfine 2.0 noise reduction filter just to see if any areas need a little noise reduction. On my 50D this was a necessity for almost any high contrast or high ISO image. On the 5DII, Dfine could fine almost no noise at all, not even in the darkest shadow areas and blue sky.

So here’s the good news and the bad news for crop body shooters. In my unscientific opinion, the difference between using a full frame sensor and an APS-C sensor is very real in terms of depth of field, although this may or may not be an advantage to a landscape photographer. I also feel the image quality of a full frame sensor is worth every penny of the 2x cost differential. I won’t speak about field of view or crop factors since those discussions are way over my head, but I will say this; my EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM never looked anywhere this wide or this sharp on my 40D or 50D bodies. I took this shot at 24mm, standing at exactly the same spot as I’ve done in the past with my 50D and EF-S 10-22mm lens. And this shot looks much, MUCH wider and much less distorted. That’s the good news.

Now here’s the bad news. Once you see the results of an average shot taken with a full frame sensor you’ll never want to shoot with a crop body again. I know I didn’t after renting a 5D and trying it out a few months ago. Fortunately the price of full frame DSLRs should begin to fall as each manufacturer reports significant declines in their quarterly earnings and becomes desperate for sales revenue. And as each manufacturer comes out with another new FF model, the prices for discontinued full frame models like the original 5D becomes more palatable. I hate to sound like a fanboy convert but the lure of the full frame sensor is very strong and for good reasons. I hate to say it but I really believe the full frame sensor will allow you to dramatically improve your photography and after all, isn’t that what we all aspire to?

My recommendation is simple. If you’re in the market for a new DSLR of any brand, rent one with a full frame sensor for a week. Shoot almost any subject with your current DSLR and the full frame DSLR you’ve rented. Look at the RAW files from both cameras at 100% crop and I promise you, you’ll be astonished by the difference.

16 thoughts on “New Camera, New Images, New Beginnings

  1. Hi Jeff,

    I’ve been wishing for FF for a while now, for exactly the reasons you’ve given.

    The 5DII is out of my price range for now, but I’m very tempted by a used 5D. In your opinion, would this make a good upgrade to a 40D?

    (I’m not that interested in the 24MP and movie modes of the newer camera, and can get by with the smaller screen of the old model).


    • Kingston,

      Thanks for reading. Yes, the original 5D is a great upgrade from a 40D in terms of image quality. In fact, I think it’s a much better upgrade than moving to the new 50D (which I did and was none too happy).


  2. Great article Jeff. and thanks for sharing your thoughts. The 5D or 5DMKII is definitely on my list of wants. I recently bought the 24-105 and even though I love it on my 40D, there are times I wish I could zoom out a little wider without switching lenses. I think that lens would be just about perfect on a full frame camera.

    • Thanks Sheldon!

      The 24-105 is the sharpest zoom I’ve ever used and on a full frame body it’s the perfect landscape & nature lens.


  3. Thanks for the warning Jeff, I knew this in the back of my head but have ignored it so that I could avoid a mortgage and stay married, even though I am looking at the “dark side” and pricing a new body.

  4. This line Once you see the results of an average shot taken with a full frame sensor you’ll never want to shoot with a crop body again is so true.

    Since buying a 5D Mark II in January, I’ve barely touched my 40D. Even my wife, who knows nothing about photography, prefers using it to the 20D she has. Full frame is just so much nicer to shoot. Now I just need to find the spare cash to buy a second 5D II.

    • Craig,

      Thanks for reading. You let your wife shoot with your 5DII? You are one brave dude! If I’d done that I might never get it back (LOL).


  5. Hey Jeff, really enjoyed this post. Not sure who would hate that you wrote it, bc info is always a good thing…and it’s your name on the blog which gives you editorial control 🙂

    I currently shoot with a 50D and really want a full-frame sensor body. Question, how do you know which lenses are full-frame capable? That is, don’t some lenses crop even full-frame sensors?


    • Hey jeff,

      Thanks for reading and congrats on your wedding man! Brad got some great shots of you two. As for lenses, Canon makes it real easy. Any “EF” series lens will work just fine with the xD series. Any “EF-S” series lens will NOT. EF-S lenses are built differently and can’t be mounted on xD bodies without damaging the mirror.

      The folks that are going to hate me for writing this post are the folks like me that spent a whole lot of money on crop body cameras and lenses. Once you use a full frame DSLR you won’t ever want to shoot with a crop body again.


  6. No need to sell me, Jeff. After using a Nikon D700 FX camera for a couple of weeks earlier this year, it was very hard to go back to my old D70. It’s on my BUY list…in fact, it’s the only thing on that list until I get one. 🙂

    • Scott,

      Man I know how you feel. Shot with a rented 5D for five days and couldn’t believe the difference. Sold almost everything to afford the 5DII.

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