Dec 012011
 

 Just for fun: Sensor sizes compared for Bokeh – Small, Medium and Large

This is a “just for fun” post. I used to do these kind of things all the time not because they are really extremely useful, but because there are some readers out there who are absolute newbies (been getting lots of e-mail on this lately) and they do not even understand that there are different sensor sizes in digital cameras, and the effects the sensor size has on the final image, so this post is for you guys! I decided to post about this after shooting yesterday with three very different cameras. The Leica M9, Nikon V1, and the Sony NEX-7.

Some quick info for the newbies on depth of field and full frame sensors…

The Leica M9 as most of you know is a full frame digital camera. This means that the sensor size is the same size as a full frame of 35mm film, I will call it LARGE size. When shooting with your 35mm lens it is indeed  a 35mm lens with a 35mm field of view. You use the entire lens with a full frame sensor camera and this is how the 35mm format has always been. Even today full frame cameras are still few and far between when compared to the smaller sensor cameras. They are also the most expensive cameras on the market…well, before heading up to medium format, which is an even larger sensor size. The full frame cameras usually offer the richest and nicest image quality if you know what you are doing.

Other cameras with full frame sensors are the wonderful Canon 5DII, Nikon D700 and the pro body Canon 1ds and Nikon D3 series. Full frame cameras often excel in lower light, dynamic range AND allow you to create images with more shallow depth of field. If you do not know what depth of field is you can read up on it HERE.

In some cases you may want a large depth of field in which everything in your image is in sharp focus. A landscape for example always requires a pretty large depth of field so most of us tend to shoot them at f/8-f/11 (at least I do). Others CRAVE shallow depth of field. This is when you have your subject in sharp focus and the background is out of focus, usually melting away into a creamy beautiful artsy blur. The best fast prime lenses give you the best quality blur, otherwise known as “Bokeh”. If you want this blurred out effect you would want to use a “fast” lens. A “fast” lens is not a lens that focuses fast, it is a lens that can open up to a large aperture letting in the most light and at the same  time, giving you the shallow depth of field effect.

A fast lens and a large sensor can create very shallow depth of field – Leica M9 and Voigtlander 35 1.2 II

For example, I have a Leica M9 which as I mentioned above is a full frame camera. I have a 35mm f/1.2 lens, which is a VERY larger aperture lens. The lower the number of the aperture, the faster the lens. BTW, the “fastest” lens in production today for the 35mm full frame format is the $10,500 50mm Leica Noctilux ASPH which has a crazy f/0.95 aperture. It is the low light bokeh king of lenses. Gorgeous but insanely expensive. The 35mm f/1.2 Voigtlander lens I am speaking of is $1399. Still expensive but about 1/4 the price of a Leica 35mm Summilux.

With this 35mm lens I can do some creative things. If I open up the lens to f 1.2 on the aperture ring I can shoot in very low light as the lens is now “wide open”. If I focus on something semi close I can isolate the subject which will be sharp while the background would then melt away into a blur.

On the other end of the spectrum, If your lens is “slower”, say an f/2.8=f/3.5 lens, then it is not really “fast” and it will be harder to get shallow depth of field. If you lens is a wide angle, even harder. Mix a wide angle with a smaller sensor and forget about it! (Nikon V1). But shallow death of field is not something you want in every photo anyway so each type of sensor and lens has its place.

So, to summarize…The best shallow depth of field effects come from “fast” prime lenses of 35mm, 50mm and up.  To get the most depth of field you have to “stop down” your lens (f/8-f/16).

The sensor sizes in the following examples…

As stated, the Leica M9 is full frame and I already spoke about the benefits of a full frame sensor. The other cameras I used for this example are NOT full frame. The Sony NEX-7 still has a nice large sensor but it is the same size that is in most DSLR’s these days, and that would be what I call the MEDIUM size, or APS-C with a crop factor of 1.5 (your 24mm lens behaves like a 35mm  lens in the field of view). The Nikon V1 is even smaller, with Nikon calling it “CX”. I call it “small”.  It has a 2.7 crop factor so a 14mm lens would become a 35mm equivalent. Even HARDER to get shallow depth of field.

When I shot the examples below I wanted them all to be in the 35mm focal length, so with the Leica I used the Voigtlander 35 1.2 ASPH II. With the Sony NEX-7 I used the Zeiss 24mm, which due to the smaller sensor ends up becoming the equivalent of a 35mm field of view. Since the lens is wider, we get less shallow depth of field. With the Nikon V1 I shot the 10-30 zoom set at 14mm which was close to 35mm. You can see the examples below and click on them to see the larger versions.

What these simple samples will show you is the differences in the depth of field you will get with the different sensors sizes. So if your thing is a shallow blur then you may want to find a full frame camera. If you don’t care about blur of bokeh then a smaller sensor camera will do the trick! Enjoy!

The M9 and Nokton 35 1.2 – Full Frame “LARGE” 35mm Format Sensor – Most shallow DOF

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The Sony NEX-7 and Zeiss 24 1.8 (35mm equivalent) – “MEDIUM” APS-C Sized Sensor – Less shallow DOF as the lens is wider and sensor smaller

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The Nikon V1 and the 10-30 at 14mm (35mm equivalent) “SMALL” CX sensor – Largest DOF yet due to super wide lens and much smaller sensor

  65 Responses to “Just for fun: Sensor Sizes compared for depth of field – Small, Medium and Large!”

  1. if there was a m4/3, this post could be more interesting!
    But it’s intersting for the bokeh of the nokton!

  2. While yes, different sensor size cameras produce different depth of field effects, it’s not so much the size of the sensor that causes this. It’s because you’re changing your position with the various crops to maintain the same size for your subject. This changes the camera-to-subject and camera-to-background distances, affecting depth of field/bokeh/etc.

    • In every day laymen’s terms? The lenses are wider thus giving you less depth of field. The lenses are wider due to the smaller sensor and the need to get usable focal lengths. Much easier for newbies to get, which is who this was written for. Thx

    • Actually, that’s not how it works. Steve definitely didn’t change his camera position, since these are all shot with lenses having the same angle of view, namely, an angle of view equivalent to a 35mm lens on a camera with a 35mm sensor. The difference in DOF is due to the fact that a 24mm lens and an ~13mm use different magnifications in order to achieve that same angle of view, with the 35mm lens requiring the greatest magnification. The greater the magnification, the larger the circles of confusion appear in the final print, which results in more apparent blur.

  3. I think the biggest take-a-way from this article is that a 35mm lens is a 35mm lens no matter what camera it is mounted on, Full frame, m43, medium format, large format, etc.

    One consideration people have to make when shooting with formats such as M43 is that you may be using a slightly wide lens like a 40mm as a short telephoto. If you are looking for the compression effects of a short telephoto you will have to switch to something like a 160mm lens and stand farther away. No big deal, just be aware of it.

    Photographers had to adjust to 35mm film being a “2x crop” from medium format 6×7 and in the future I think we will look back at this time as growing pains of the digital era.

    • Craig, your comment:”I think the biggest take-a-way from this article is that a 35mm lens is a 35mm lens no matter what camera it is mounted on, Full frame, m43, medium format, large format, etc.” leaves me a little puzzled…

      First off where have you ever seen a 35 MM lens mounted on a 4×5 or larger camera?

      DOF and compression change has the size of the sensor or film change along with changes in the focal length of the lens.

      A 35mm lens mounted for 35 mm FF camera behaves quite differently than one that might show up on MF…

      This is why you can shoot at 2.8 on a small point and shoot and have still have a lot of DOF and then shoot at 2.8 on a 6×6 camera and it blurs out quite a bit. Also, while you can shoot at f 6ish on an 8×10 camera and the effect is quite stunning – like 2.8 on MF but with your subject pretty much in focus.

      • No no, you a re confused. Aperture is one thing, focal lenght is other. And yes, you could mount a 35mm on a big format camera, but it would be extremely angular. You are rigth, a 35mm lens behave different on each format, or better yet, the lens behaves the same, but the format crops the projection. That is why a smaller format takes only a smaller portion of the image and thus “looks” like multiplying the focal lenght.

        All this confusion resides in the fact that we are so used to 35mm format that we need to translate from other formats to understand how the image would look like with certain focal length. Use the same lens on different formats and I asure you the image would have the same properties of depth of field, but the smaller formats will crop the image, taking the central part.

  4. Steve, thank you for this simple yet interesting comparison.

    I would have one question – as you mentioned in the very beginning of this article, large sensors not only provide less DOF, but often better dynamic range – so I would like to ask – could you make a similar comparison how different sensor sizes influence the dynamic range? I know it is a tricky one (depends strongly on either JPEG engine or RAW processing), but would be very interesting.

    • It is not always the case that a larger sensor has better dynamic range than a smaller sensor.

      Take a look at DxoMark.com, they perform som measurements of sensors including dynamic range, high ISO performance etc.

      Note: generally I don’t think these measurements are very useful, but I guess they still tell you something about a given sensor in “objective” terms.

      • I know I can take a look at Dxo measurements, but can you yourself imaging what is the difference in real life between 8 and 8.5 stops of dynamic range? I can not. That is why kindly asked whether Steve could make such a comparison – I would like to see that difference. Either it will come out of the images or not :)

        • I don’t know if it is possible to see such a small difference in real world images. Then it should be done as like Dpreview do in their tests and comparisons.

          But it is very clear to see in normal shots that for instance an s95 has a lot less dynamic range than for instance a J1/V1, X100 etc.

  5. Excellent explanation for a newbie such as myself. Thanks Steve.

    I stumbled onto your site after looking for a review of the D-Lux 5 for my wife. The different sensor sizes and capabilities of each was a lot to digest. This article answered some of my questions very clearly.

    That said, I originally thought the Leica would suit our needs but I’m not so sure after reading many of your reviews. My wife wanted a camera for taking nature photos, family functions, sporting events both indoor and outdoor, etc. I’d call her a budding enthusiast and the ability to take shallow DOF shots as well as quality zoom’s changes my search a bit.

    Would a camera such as the E-P3 or V1 suit our needs or is there another better suited? She doesn’t want a DLSR as size is important. It appears the 4/3′s E-P3 offers the sensor and lenses to meet her needs but is the Nikon there yet or will it be there soon? I read your reviews and know you really like both.

    I understand there are MANY pro’s and con’s to the different sensor sizes, lenses, etc. but I’d love your thoughts on the limited information I shared with you.

    TIA and love the site.

  6. Would be more useful if all examples have been shot using the same aperture, different apertures give different results

  7. Ah. At first I thought you were going to compare 35mm, medium format, and large format! :) Now THAT should be interesting. Do you still have that Fuji medium format film camera? With a lot of your new readers, that might be interesting to show. You haven’t done a film post in a while. You can show just how much depth of field a medium format f/4 has as opposed to a standard 35mm camera :) I don’t have a large format camera but my Polaroid Land Camera shoots 3 1/4″ x 4 1/4″ and even at f/5, the background is beautifully blurred!

  8. The article title is fairly misleading in that what you are actually comparing is Depth of Field (DoF) for different lenses. For any given lens, sensor size (or even type) has NO effect on depth of field. The depth of field of an image created by any lens is determined only by Aperture Diameter, Acceptable Circle of Confusion (CoC), Focus Distance, and Image Magnification (optical design has only minor effects on DoF mostly related to chromatic aberrations). changing sensor size only changes the area of the image circle that is used and the apparent angle of view, but the Magnification (on the sensor) at a given focus distance for a given lens, and therefor the DoF, DO NOT CHANGE!

    For any given lens, from a fixed distance, shoot a 35mm film frame, a full frame sensor, and smaller cropped sensors, for all of them them DoF will be THE SAME, only the image crop changes, Furthermore if the images are all enlarged to the same size the, smallest sensor will produce the LEAST depth of field because of the increased magnification needed.

    So repeat after me – Depth of Field is a determined by the LENS (more specifically the aperture dia.) not a sensor, Short focal length = deep DoF long focal = shallow DoF for a given f-stop. This is because the actual diameter of the aperture is larger for a given f-stop (F-stop # is a RATIO, = focal length/aperture dia.) e.g. f4 on a 20 mm lens = 5mm aperture dia.,while f4 on a 200mm lens = 50mm aperture dia. DoF is inversely proportional to the absolute aperture dia., when the aperture absolute diameters are the same, all formats have the same DOF.
    For an image of a given scene (e.g. having the same angle of view) reproduced at the same size (differing magnifications) the image from the smallest sensor will require the shortest lens focal length and therefore for a given f stop will have the smallest aperture dia. and produce the greatest depth of field, But note the change in DoF is a result of the shorter Focal Length and smaller aperture dia. and NOT the sensor size. If you put the same short lens on a large sensor and then cropped the image to the same angle of view the DoF would be the same.

    Please also note that the above discussion is a simplification & mostly applies to images produced with the subject at or near the hyperfocal distance. Also note that this discussion does not account for sensor resolution effects, and assumes that the absolute sensor resolution (pixel pitch for digital, or grain size for film) is an order of magnitude greater than the CoC.

    Mathematically, DOF = 2s/[(dm)/c-c/(dm)] where: s= subject distance, d= aperture absolute diameter, m= image magnification and c= circle of confusion diameter*.
    for very short subject distances the DoF may be approximated as 2sc/dm

    * NOTE: The acceptable circle of confusion is influenced by visual acuity, viewing conditions, and the amount by which the image is enlarged (magnification). The increase of the circle diameter with defocus is gradual, and so the limits of depth of field are not fixed, with no hard boundaries between in focus and out of focus.

    • I write an article for the newbies to understand and someone comes along with all of the tech talk that means nothing to them :)

      Basically what I said. The lenses, due to being wider in focal length, which is required due to the small sensors. When shooting with a Nikon 10mm on the V1, you are shooting a 10mm and get the DOF of a 10mm not a 35mm. I just explained things in a much simpler way so everyone could understand the basics of it.

      • Yeah I agree. The bottom line is that in order to get a 35mm angle of view on a camera with a smaller sensor, you need to use a lens with a shorter focal length, which means less magnification on each point, and a narrower maximum aperture.

        It’s sort of misleading to say that the sensor size doesn’t influence DOF. It does, if only by requiring a shorter focal length (and smaller aperture) to achieve the same angle of view.

    • Still fun to read the more mathematical / optical explanation. Thanks David.

    • Blah blah, keep the thing in the real world. Finally, what we do is look and decide. Do you use your calculator before taking a picture?

      For the same angle of view on different formats you HAVE to use different focal lengths, so affect DoF. You are rigth on you explanation, but the point here is not uderstand the sciende behind DoF, but the practical reason why a smaller format gives more Dof for the same ANGLE OF VIEW.

  9. You didn’t break out the 8×10 Deardorff?

  10. Steve, link is down on the Nokton f/2 image. Have to say I’m a real fan of the bokeh of this lens!! It’s a great alternative to selling a kidney for the 35 lux………

  11. Fun little comparison, but kind of hard to take anything away from it since you chose to shoot a sample pic of a tree limb. There’s just too many variables going on; was the limb moving in the breeze, obviously the light changed between shots, were the cameras hand held, etc.

    I rarely ever use a tripod, in fact I can’t stand using them, but the only way to do a fair test of this nature is to set up a stationary scene and mount each camera to a tripod to assure each pic was taken at exactly the same distance to the subject. It would be nice to see a comparison between an M9 with 50mm lens. NEX-7 with 35mm lens, and the E-P3 with 25mm lens all shot from a tripod focused on a subject about 3′ away.

    • Agree with Eric, not really the best choice of subject matter, though spirit of the test is still good.

      I think something setup with cereal boxes etc, basically anything with text or graphics, would make it a bit easier to see the differences, and how with less DoF the words on a further away box are not able to be read with one sized sensor and yet on another they are.

      Just something that makes it a bit easier to clearly see the differences if you put the frames side by side

    • This was to show BOKEH/DOF differences, nothing more. The cameras were all tripod mounted, the light was the same as they were done within 1-2 minutes and there was zero wind. In Phx there is rarely windy days :) You can clearly see the DOF differences and the examples posted show exactly what I wanted to show. Thx.

  12. In your review, you talked about how great the autofocus on the V1 is.

    Of course it is. All it has to do is be anywhere within 20 feet, and … presto.

    • Its quick and fast and accurate, even with the 30-110 at 110 and 5.6. MUCH faster than any DSLR I have owned. So yea, it is fast and accurate, which is more important.

    • It is extremely fast in normal light, but not so much in very low ligh, where at least theJ1 sometimes really struggle getting focus. In low light or near darkness a good old D2H or D700 just nails focus without hesitation.

  13. hey been following your site and love it~ But I would like to add something short to your write up here for viewers as well.

    It really isn’t the sensor that give you ‘more depth’ of field and Steve talked about this, its the fact that using smaller sensors allow the need of wider lenses to make up for the crop to become the standard frame sized mm equivalent on full frame. And wider lenses do not MAGNIFY as much, which gives their out of focus area’s a larger spectrum, making the bokeh not appear as large or blown out. This NEED for wider lenses is what gives you more depth of field.

    Pretty much its like taking a 14mm on a 5d (full frame) and cutting the image 2.7x to get the field of view from the Nikon V1 (small sensor) for example. In both you would have roughly the same bokeh if you were able to use the same lens. I think something I have found that changes is just the look of bokeh with different sensors which give different colors or have larger pixels (like the 5d compared to the 7d) which make the camera better in low light, which some people mix up with it having MORE bokeh than a 7d. It doesn’t, its just easier to MAGNIFY the bokeh through the equivalent mm lenses because there’s no crop factor!

    Cheers! Hope that wasent too complicated, but I think Steve covered most of that already:p

  14. if 35mm is large i wonder what you would call 4×5? ;)

    • And for the future: we can speak about ultra size (I had a 6×9 Zeiss Ikon film camera once…)
      or even hyper size (12x…) ;-)
      In those days 35mm was small, 6×6 or 6×9 was medium, 12x… was large.
      By the way, for the novices: a fast lens allows a fast exposure, due to the bigger amount of light it can let through to the sensor (or the film). A fast film (with higher ISO) allows a faster exposure too, thanks to the greater sensitivity to light. Being an amateur myself, this helped me understanding the use of the word “fast” in this regard. So maybe it’ll help some of my collegues/amateurs in their process to become enthousiasts.
      By the way, Steve’s reviews and photo’s made me experiment more with shallow depth of field, and made me really long for a full frame camera. (Sony Nex-10?)

  15. OK – now we need to go back and have some articles on actual photography and making images and composition and subject matter choice.

    This site used to be fun – it is slowly becoming like a certain other site that makes me want to go out and shoot and not read anymore online – as internet sites are becoming less and less about photos and more and more about details of gear.

    :-(

    • This site is how it has ALWAYS been Richard. Just more of it lately. I used to update 3 times a week, now its daily if not 2X daily. Cant do 2 articles on technique every single day and not run out of articles :) What exactly are you looking for? Give me some ideas and I will run with it. Thanks!

      • OK – I take the more frequent updates.

        You mentioned earlier about doing some vids on process and maybe something with the go pro and some technique.

        I am always amazed at how others shoot. A guy in my Aussie Street photo group shoots amazing street shots with a 4×5!

        And we also all live in vastly different cities and places. Maybe film the next meetup or film an outing and wak through some of the thoughts in your head prior to or after taking a shot.

        Just some ideas….

    • Richard, how can one “make images” as you say, if one doesn’t have an understanding of ones tools first ? Thats the point of the article, trying to teach beginners about all the different tools at their disposal.

      Is depth of field and aperture used not an integral part of the overall composition, just as focal length ?

      For that matter, what exactly would someone really even write about subject matter choice ?? That seems highly subjective to me as we all see the world differently and no one can really tell anyone how or what to shoot. Thats what makes photography fun, that its creative and personal, not a generic “paint by numbers” thing where someone else dictates everything about how we frame our shots, what things we shoot etc.

      Photography is all about learning your tools, and using those skills to achieve ones own vision.

      Unless your someone who just wants to use a point and shoot, set it to the green box mode, and have everything always in focus, photography is and always will be a technical pursuit.

      Mastery of the technical side alone doesn’t make for compelling photos but rarely if ever does anyone produce truly great images if they don’t also understand the in’s and outs of their camera and photography in general.

      I can’t think of any photographers I know that just go randomly walking around pressing the shutter with no idea of how it all works. Rather people I admire are true craftsmen (and women) who have a vision and the knowledge of how to achieve it.

      • Think, compose, point, frame, click. Been done that way for years. I still do so with my Kodak Instamatic 126 and batch of 126 Verichrome that I still have.

      • Jeff,

        Also I don’t need a lesson from the likes of you about how to make a shot or shoot. I am sure I have sold more and exhibited more than you have.

        I come to this blog for FUN – not for lessons. And to me, the tools talk at the current percentage is starting to not become fun. Some different kinds of topics and themes to mix it all up would (for me) return some of the fun.

        Now whether or not I represent a major percentage of the readership, I can’t say. But if we like the site and Steve (and we do) we owe it to him to speak up….. and he graciously asked for some tips and I have provided them, for whatever they are worth.

        Even the older posts were fun when about gear as often it was done while Steve did a trip somewhere. So I used them also as a way to vicariously travel!

    • It’s still a fun site.. nothing wrong with the article. November LFI magazine has the same type of article in it… which by the way folks…. If you are in the camp that doesn’t believe sensor size gives a shallower DOF pick up a Novermber 2011 copy. Larger sensor DOES in fact yield a shallower DOF.
      And yes I know DOF is the same if you put a 50mm on an M8 as it is on the M9. That’s an old argument that has a tiny bit of merit but it is not apples to apples. To get the same picture you can NOT have the same lens.
      Don’t believe it? Write Leica and tell them they’re wrong.

    • I think this site is just great due to the combination of daily inspirations, comparisons and gear reviews.

      • I agree.

        It is still fun. It has always been fun. Maybe it is as Steve says now that he is doing this full time for the past year so the frequency changes.

        The daily inspirations are cool. The gear too is cool. “Steve’s Diary” too is cool – how he is open and lays it out there.

        I guess I just miss or am not reading the same enthusiasm from Steve in the writing – and that may be a factor of dilution since the activity and pace of releases has increased. 2011 was a busy year for kit.

        Maybe another reader challenge or comp?

        Cheers,
        RF.

  16. The technical explanations are interesting, but the photos illustrate the phenomenon beautifully.

  17. You are a brave man to take on this subject as it always becomes heated :)

    I think as a starting point for beginners you are fine, also you have a lot of post material now for the future to bring the beginners on so that’s good too…… although, I’m sure you will get hit when/if you write those too but well worth doing to help people out!

  18. Hi Steve,
    I am a newbee, and really enjoy and learn from this. I have a NEX7 in preorder, and bought the 5n because I could not wait. I am stepping up from point and shoot. I also appreciate the expert discussions because that expands my understanding. But Steve, keep it up! It works fine for us enthusiastic newbees.

  19. As usual, Steve shows very simply what the size of the chip does, nothing more, nothing less! And does it beautifully, as usual!

  20. Wow. The full frame pictures look so much better than the cropped sensors. It’s not even funny.

  21. Nice comparison. Can you do a low light noise test on some full frame and cropped sensors?

  22. Having, read this I like to look at it from the vantage point of the negative/filmslide/sensor. If I (from the position of an micro4/3 sensor look through the world through a 50 mm, I get the same depth of field as my fullframe brother/sister sensor does from a 35mm full frame sensor in a Nikon (at the same aperture that is). But due to the my smaller size I simply see a smaller portion of the world….aka a smaller part of the lens circle (or a smaller lens circle to begin with). Now my big sis the 6×8 analog camera looks through the same lens and sees an even bigger picture then the fullframe Canon. But still with same depth of field. Now that results in different view angles through the same lens…..a 50 mm on a Pen has an angle of roughly 50 degrees while a 50 mm on a GX680 has an angle of about 80 degrees. In shorthand on a Pen a 50 reacts as 50 in terms of DOF and as a 100 in terms of 35 mm equivalent focal length, a 50 on a Nikon D3 acts as a 50 in terms of DOF and as a 50 in focal length (just something we all got arbitrarily accustomed to) and on a GX680 a 50 acts as a 50 in terms of DOF and as a 24 in terms of angle. If you combine all that, it simply means less DOF at the same EQUIVALENT focal length as you enlarge the negative. The normal for an 8×10 is about 300mm…….but that means only that 24×36 mm portion of that negative sees the same as a 300 on a Nikon F5 would see and that the whole negative has the field of view of a 50mm on a Nikon the DOF is like a 300. That’s why LF camera’s have to be able to tilt their field of focus in order to artificially increase their DOF or be stopped down beyond anything remotely reasonable in the 35mm world in order to obtain adequate DOF with these machines.

    Greetings, Ed

  23. Eh, 50 mm on a Pen 50 degrees……what was I thinking, more like 25 degrees…….50 is on a Nikon. See how simple this matter is :-).

    Greetings, Ed

    I should not post before coffee
    I should not post before coffee
    I should not post before coffee
    ….
    ….

  24. Well this is exactly what I am trying to figure out! Thank you so much for catering a bit to us digital newbies.
    I love my Nikon fm3a, but for digital I have only used inexpensive point and shoots. I miss the shallow depth of field! But I’m not interested in buying a DSLR because of size and plus I’m not ready to part with my film camera.
    So my question is, can I get this shallow depth of field for casual portraits without doing so? Specifically with a 4/3 camera like the EP3 or the Fuji X100? I’m confused whether they classify as medium or small sensor cameras. I’m trying to decide if one of these would satisfy me, or if I should go with a cheaper S95 and use my old camera for that stuff.
    The pics are definitely helpful, but this digital newbie is having trouble translating them into people shots. Any more info would be much appreciated.

    • I can’t speak for Steve, but I can tell you that the M4/3 cameras will give you pretty good bokeh if you use a 2.0 or faster lens. The Fuji X100 sensor is about 1.5 times bigger (roughly APSC-sized) and a fast lens, so it will give you a very shallow depth of field. In the two examples you mentioned, the Fuji is more likely to give that “big camera” look to your pictures, but many people complain that both the autofocus and manual focus are poorly implemented. The EP3 has a much faster autofocus, built-in stabilization, but no built-in viewfinder. The pictures from the EP3 are very good, but since you mentioned depth-of-field, the Fuji is likely to be the winner in that category. I have not done the math, but I think you would need an F1.4 lens (on a 35 mm equivalent) on the EP3 to match the specs on the F2.0 on the Fuji X100. In either case, the pictures will be about like putting an f2.8 35mm lens on your FM3A.

      The X100 uses a leaf shutter, which you may actually like better than the focal plane shutter in the FM3A. I think the lens in the Fuji x100 is fixed at 23mm (35 mm equivalent), and there is no image stabilization, so you need steady hands. You don’t need to hold your breath or stop your heart or anything like that, but steady hands or a tripod will help you take some better pictures.

      In my case, I am leaning toward the Olympus because of the fast autofocus. I take lots of pictures of high-speed kids, and the Olympus fits that market better than the Fuji.

      • Thank you Dave! This is very belated, but your answers helped me to realize that I’m not going to be quite satisfied with either the EP-3 or the X100. Willing to wait for the new stuff coming out.
        Again, thanks!

  25. I am preparing my move from F100 to a D800 and am very interested in this discussion regarding
    DOF and sensor size. Assuming, as I do, that larger sensors have more DOF, at what size sensor
    does DOF become virtually insignificant. Without becoming overly technical, why is this?

  26. hello and congratulations for this…
    i have a question..the camera sensor size can vary,right?i have fujifilm hs10,and i dont know the sensor size( i can see it after at photos properties).sensor size is something totaly different from focal length range,right?because i am a bit confused from your reference to 35mm…my camera has f=4.2 – 126.0mm, equivalent to 24 – 720mm 35mm..i mean it’s not relevant to sensor size?!
    thank you and sorry for the stupid question but wherever i read it confused me more,
    Irene

  27. No, you can’t use a 35 mm film lens on a medium or large format camera. The 35 mm camera lens is designed to render an image of roughly 45 mm in diameter, that’s what a 24×36 mm image fits in and your image would be cropped accordingly on medium or large format film or sensors.

    But you can use a large format lens on a medium format or 35 mm camera and medium format on 35 mm and such (if you can fit it on the mount).

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