14 April, 2014

What's so full about full frame?

Markets - Samford, Queensland

"Bigger" "Better" "New and Improved" "Dolphin Safe," "Fast acting" "You're worth it"

There's a lot in names and claims. So, here's a riddle: Why are camera sensors like olives?

Answer: Because the naming conventions for both are unhelpful. In olives, "extra jumbo" is smaller than "giant," and "super colossal" is smaller than "mammoth." And in camera sensors, "full" format is smaller than "medium" format.

And it's not about the first DSLR. In 1991, Kodak offered the first commercially available DSLR: The Kodak Digital Camera System (DCS). The Kodak sensor was installed into a Nikon F3, and it was 1.3mp and SMALLER than 36x24.

When I did 35mm film photography in my youth, we never called it "full frame." There was nothing full about it. Truth be told, I always lusted after a Hasselblad 500C. And, by any measure, the 120 film for the Hasselblad was "fuller" than 35mm film. And 4x5 was fuller yet.

When digital sensors came to photography, they were first shoehorned into the film cameras of the day. That's fair enough, because so many of the available lenses had been designed for the 35mm format.

And that made sense until 2003, when Olympus produced cameras specifically designed for digital — the Four-Thirds system. And of course that morphed into the Micro Four Thirds system (same sensor size, but shorter lens flange distance).

I believe that the term "full frame" was lifted from movie film, where 35mm film made use of the full frame of the film gate. Interestingly, the size of that frame is not 36x24mm. The "Super 35" format is 18.66x24.89mm (almost exactly the size of APS-C).

So what's so full about full frame? Not too much.

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