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The 35mm format has been present in professional photography for over one hundred years. It is the most used format by professionals, and although it does not provide the highest level of quality, it is the most convenient because of the reduced sizes of cameras : it is much easier to carry a 35mm SLR or DSLR than it is to carry a 4x5” camera. The transition from film to digital caused a short break in the professional use of the 36x24mm format, however, it wasn’t long before most manufacturers developed the digital version of the 35mm look, and thankfully, it is constantly evolving.
None of this means APS-C format cameras are bad or cannot deliver professional quality. However, because photography has been shaped so much around this format and because it is the standard in professional photography, we have put together 6 reasons why you should make the leap to the 35mm otherwise known as the full frame format.
1. The viewfinder
Because the sensor is large, so is the optical assembly and the viewfinder. If you’ve ever looked into the viewfinder of a 35mm manual film camera, you’ll know what I am talking about. It is beautifully clear and bright and it makes an APS-C viewfinder look like a narrow tunnel that takes the joy out of framing. Full frame DSLRs have brought back most of that joy that classic viewfinders used to offer. Technically, the matte glass element is missing, but it is still a large, bright and clear view that helps you better imagine the final photograph.
2. Unbeatable low light performance
There is simply nothing that can beat a quality full frame sensor, like that of the D4 or the 1Dx , when it comes to photographing in lowlight conditions. The pixels are large enough to capture sufficient ambient light without producing noise. I don’t care how good you say your APS-C camera is, it’s still miles behind a full frame in the actual field. Medium format digital backs are out of the question. They are still in the stone age when it comes to shooting in available light.
3. Shallower depth of field
This means that if you shoot with the same lens, at f2.8 on crop sensor and on a full frame, the latter will have a shallower depth of field, aka a more blurred background because of the extra space in the frame. The difference is highly noticeable when shooting at long focal lengths, such as 135mm or higher, and when shooting at wide open apertures like f.2.8 or more. Basically, the larger the sensor, the more blurred the background will be. The same goes if you compare a full frame vs. medium format.
4. The possibility of using older and odd lenses
Some of the greatest lenses ever made, from many manufacturers , were designed a long time ago for this specific format. They may not be as fast or as pretty as the modern beauties of today are , but some classic lenses have made history for a reason. There are plenty of optical gems out there in the used markets that can shine again when mounted on a full frame. A classic like the Nikon 135mm f2.8 AI is a great lens on any camera, but it would be an injustice to use it on a crop sensor. Older lenses match the classic saying “they don’t make’em like they used to anymore”.
It has been a growing trend ,especially among photographers who also shoot video, to use thirty year old Zeiss lenses for motion captures. It turns out they make great cinematic lenses and what’s even cooler is that most of them are dirt cheap!
Simply put, the same amount of pixels on two different sized surfaces produce different results. That means that a 16 mpx APS-C sensor will deliver a different amount of detail than the same 16 million pixels that are arranged on a larger, 36x24mm chip. The more room those tiny pixels have, the better it is for image quality and that is why there are considerable differences in sharpness between the two formats. Much like the noise at high ISO, the bigger the sensor, the better. If your work requires plenty of detail ( think architecture or landscapes) undoubtedly this is the way to go. Such differences may not be noticeable on a screen, but large prints ( A2 and bigger) will confirm them.
6. Wider angles
Because there is no cropping, using a wide angle lens on a full frame camera will allow you to actually reach the wider angles, unlike you would with a 1.5 or 1.6 crop factor. This is a great advantage for nature and landscapes photographers and to just about anyone who needs a wide field of view. Mounting a pro wide angle lens that was created for 35mm on a crop sensor will only reveal the center of the frame .A focal length of 24mm, which is pretty wide on full frame, will be converted into 35 millimeters, making it more of a “normal” angle of view.
7. Better built quality
Because it is the choice format of professionals, it also means the cameras are built accordingly. Pro camera are tough and heavy, most are made entirely out of metal and almost all have weather seals. Yes, there are advanced APS-C cameras with weather seals and strong frames, but they are not usually “full option”. At least not yet anyway.
This is by all means an open list and each one of you could add reasons to it. Some serious APS-C fans might disagree with some of the arguments, and that’s just fine. Buying a full frame camera will not make you a better photographer in any way, nor will using a crop sensor make you a lesser one. It is simply a tool with different specifications that will only get the job done if properly used.