Nikon going full frame

The origins of this rant begin with a question about Canon’s camera roadmap that occurred during a Christmas party. It built up steam when reading Ryan’s excellent series on camera purchasing and overtopped my levies of tolerance when I was reading this thread on Flickr.

I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!

I’m tired about hearing about how Nikon is going to go “full frame” or about how Canon is going to crush Nikon with a cheap full frame camera.

This is magical thinking on behalf of Nikon or Canon owners. That or Chicken Little thinking if the order is reversed.

[The economics of “full-frame” after the jump]

NDA, shem-dee-ehh?

Someone mentioned that Thom Hogan predicts a Nikon 35mm sensor dSLR by Summer 2007. Then to add credence apparently, “he’s under NDA about further details. :)”

I call B.S.

If Thom was under NDA, he couldn’t even say “Summer 2007.” Plus there is no way a secretive company like Nikon is going to share this information with anyone they think might blab it around. They kept the D70 secret and the D40 under wraps; they surprised us with 10 megapixels in the D200 and by putting a pentaprism in the D80. When it comes to secrecy, this company is the Apple of the camera world.

My guess is Thom Hogan is talking to people who don’t know any better than the next guy. Just because he and Michael Reichmann want it to be so, doesn’t mean it will be. In the grand scheme of the camera market, their opinions move mountains; their purchases on the other hand… Hmm, how come Nikon never made a medium format camera again?

Why Nikon is definitely developing a “full-frame” SLR

Common sense. Do you think Nikon is stupid?

I’m sure Nikon has a 35mm sensor size dSLR under testing and development. If I had to guess, I think they’re maybe testing a couple manufacturers.

Kodak invented 35mm digital sensors and they introduced a 1.3x one for Leica/Panasonic’s new M8. No doubt Kodak wants back in.

Sony makes most of the worlds sensors. They designed and manufacture the 10 megapixel CCD for Nikon’s D80/D200 as well as the 10 megapixel CMOS for Nikon’s D2X/D2Xs as well as the 6 megapixel CCD for Nikon’s D100/D70/D70s/D50/D40. They also manufacture the 6 megapixel Nikon-designed JFET in Nikon’s D2H/D2Hs. Just as Sony moved to APS-C CMOS sensors, I’m sure they’re thinking bigger CMOS. They can’t let Canon rule that roost forever.

Fuji makes their own sensors using a Nikon-designed body. They seem to have hit a limit with their current Super-CCDs. My guess is the next step is to take that design and make it in a bigger package. A full-framed one.

All of this, however, doesn’t mean release. Release is determined by the market. Development lives in the practical reality that a good camera can take years to develop.

And where is the market?

The cheapest “full frame” camera is the Canon EOS 5D which retails (and still sells at some places) for $3300. A reputable dealer (B&H) is selling it for $2800. Over the last year the price has dropped $500.

The construction on the 5D is sub-standard—what is now in a $900 camera. Whoops! there is a $900 camera that crushes the 5D (literally, if I were to bang the two cameras together): the Pentax K10D. I haven’t written about this model yet, but you know my weakness for Pentax and good value means that I obviously love the K10D. 🙂

I just wish people would just get over their obsession with the 35mm format and declare the 5D the flop that it is.


Notice how many people drool over the 5D but how few buy it? I even see this on photography enthusiast sites like Flickr. Flickr users are supposed to be the ideal market for this camera and, for the most part, they’re window shopping the 5D, praying for a sequel or a Rebel with “full frame” (Ha! that’s the 5D idiot!). If you read the hype and the press before and during the 5D launch and it was clear Canon thought this would be a category killer for the serious enthusiast.

That didn’t happen. Almost everyone I know who bought one is a working pro (esp. wedding photographer) who would have bought a 1Ds had the 5D not been introduced.

What happened was the 30D and the Rebel XTi and probably a 40D early next year.

By any objective measure, that’s the definition of failure.

Why APS-C won

APS-C won.

Why? Well my theory is because it came in the right size at the right time with a resolution that was good enough quality to match our film expectations.

Let me take two anecdotes from history:

Why 35mm won

Consider this. Did you know 35mm came not from the photography world but from cinema? Cinema needed to push at least 24 frames a second and film stock was so expensive that it meant a smaller roll film than the 6x4cm 6×4.5cm 6x6cm 4×5″… plates of the “medium format” or “large format” cameras. They settled on 35mm.

How it won over the photography world is a testament to companies like Leica who introduced rangefinder 35mm; Contax who gave us the 35mm SLR; Pentax which gave us the pentaprism and made these things affordable (K-1000); Nikon and Canon which made added excellent and affordable optics to these things; Konica which added motor drives; Minota which invented usable autofocus…

But most importantly it was Kodak and Fuji which improved film chemistry to the point that these films were both of high speed and fine grain—ISO 100 color slide film suitable for gallery-quality blowups. That stuff was unheard of when Henri Carter-Bresson was taking photographs.

35mm got “good enough,” and the trend to smaller film formats might have continued, but Kodak’s APS was wiped out by that new thing called digital.

Why digital is smaller

Resolution and what defines acceptable resolution. I’ve mentioned this many times before.

Consider digital “medium format.”

Did you know that the standard for a medium format digital back or digital camera is 42mmx36mm? This is twice as big as 35mm film, but…

Medium format film comes in many sizes: 6×4.5cm (645), 6x6cm, 6x7cm, up to 4×5″ (1/2 of large format). All much larger than medium format digital. If you look at it, you’ll notice something familiar about the relationship between digital MF and 645.

This begs the question. Why?

It’s because fashion photographers and high end landscape photographers who comprise nearly the entire market of these cameras know that the resolution of a 42x36mm is as good on blow ups as their 645’s are. Sure theoretically you can get more resolution off a drum-scanned 645 print, but realistically you can’t.

(There is a secondary issue here that film can accept light coming in at all angles while microlenses have to focus light to the photosensitive area of the digital sensor. This means only the center portion of a traditional film camera design is usable without vignetting. Don’t believe me? Take another look at Canon “full frame” photos again. You’ll see it—that tell-tail darkening near the corners that you didn’t remember seeing with that same lens on your EOS film camera. Darkening the corners means a loss of contrast and a loss of contrast means a loss of sharpness. So much for your umpteenthousand dollar “L” lens purchase!

This is super extreme in rangefinder cameras, so Leica resorts to actually angling the microlenses in the M8 and having lenses communicate their model number to the camera so it can gain-up the edges in the camera firmware. Clever, but you’re approaching the limits and living with some nasty compromises: increased luminance noise, reduced color accuracy, and decreased sharpness for example.)

Digital has surpassed film in resolution and sensitivity. It has always surpassed film in terms of convenience and cost.

Live that reality.

And where will the market be?

That’s a tough one. But if I were a betting man…

I expect that late this year or early next year Canon would introduced a 5D sequel, it will probably retail for around $3200. There is not much room here because there is no demand for more megapixels: 12 million is more than enough. I can see them improving the construction, fixing the crappy flash sync, and upping the frame rate back to the professional 5 fps. The last one would justify the price, but Canon isn’t about to eat more into the sales of their top model.

I can see the 5D dropping in street price to $2600, maybe as low as $2200 over the year. Let’s split the difference and say the 5D will close out the 2007 selling for $2400.

My guess is that Nikon’s probable sweet spot for a full frame digital body is around $1900. The minimum acceptable quality bar for them will be a D80 in look and feel. While they are both giants of the photography world, Nikon is a much smaller company than Canon and can’t afford to gamble for two years on a mistake—they’ve got to hit the ground with a winner.

I’ll assume Canon isn’t stupid either. Canon’s costs are Nikon’s costs. So I’d bet on no full frame Nikon in 2007. I’d say odds are 50-50 for one in 2008 and with certainty by sometime in 2009.

Even after that, I’ll find utility in my APS-C Nikons. The 18-200mm VR alone justifies APS-C, and this estimate goes a long way to showing why I feel that there is a great future in Nikon DX. Canon EF-S certainly has one too… but there you have so many people there freezing excellent purchases of the 17-55mm f/2.8 IS and the 10-22mm f/4 by getting all misty eyed on “full frame” Canon 5D or a never-exist “full frame” Rebel. Also, I think Canon’s habit of breaking backward mount compatibility might bite them in the ass this time.

What about Moore’s Law?

I bagged on this earlier so I’ll reiterate.

Moore’s Law is about fitting more ICs in a smaller package, not making existing packages bigger.

To do that, you would need to improve plasma deposition, etc. which moves much more slowly. I like to say these sort of advances “move at the speed of chemistry.”

I’ll introduce an analogy here: the chemistry of Li-Ion batteries. How much have they improved their battery capacity in the last six years? If anything because notebook chip and LCD backlight power demands have increased, I’ve noticed notebook weight creeping up.

Not exactly Moore’s Law at work.

What about the past?

Ahh, but then you might point out how cheap cameras have gotten. dSLRs of D70 construction cost $6000 six years ago; four years ago they were $2000; just two years ago they cost $900 for the body; now you can get a Pentax K100D for $520 or a Nikon D40 for $600 with lens.

You might look at digital pocket cameras and say, “Look I can now buy a 7 megapixel camera for $200. We are reaching a singularity!” You might then exclaim.

You’d be guilty of a simple fallacy.

What you are missing is that we witnessed two classically disruptive technologies occuring in succession: film to digital and then CCD to CMOS. The former accounted for the first (and largest) price drop. The second drove improvements in CCD manufacturing and both CCDs and CMOS were able to take advantage of Moore’s Law in terms of image processing capabilities and image storage capacity: two things that made the bulk of your digital photography costs at one time.

Now I hear a lot more people saying “6 megapixels is good enough.” My opinions are clear: 2.5 megapixels was enough to convince me to abandon film; 6 megapixels is indistinguishable from film; and since, reality trumps theory, you can get away with even larger prints. Every new day brings the gradual death of the megapixel myth among exports, professionals, journalists, and consumers.

If people were clamoring for more megapixels now, I’d say the camera market would be like hard drives: you are getting more storage for the same price. But like hard drives, you aren’t getting any cheaper.

And with sensor sizes it isn’t like hard drives, it’s like Li-Ion batteries. What you’ve seen is a jump discontinuity by moving from lead-acid and nickel based batteries to Li-Ion. But it’s hard to look at that and extrapolate into the future wonderworld where our notebooks are powered by a battery the size of a fingernail and our dSLR camera bodies costs $200 for a full frame sensor.

Buying full-frame

If you want the Canon 5D and can get the money together, just buy the damn thing.

That was the advice I gave at the a Christmas party. And if you read this far, you now know why.

38 thoughts on “Nikon going full frame

  1. It’s just a matter of time before Nikon goes full frame, as you seem to agree. Bottom line in photo image quality is that bigger is better. 35mm digital is the sweet spot, bigger sensor without much bigger camera or lenses. 5D is not a failure, it’s part of the transition. Did Canon make mistakes with it, sure. But competition ensures that they will fix those mistakes.

    By the way, that 18-200 sounded nice to me until our new baby was born and I realized all my shots of him are indoors and it’s too slow. In fact, all the zooms are too slow and the faster ones are super expensive. Fast primes are my friend right now. So DX zooms like the 18-200 are not some kind of magic bullet. It’s good for some kinds of shooting, not so good for others.

  2. @ces: Great points!

    Image quality is better with a full frame sensor, but only theoretically. It isn’t practically any better and APS-C since the image quality one sees in contrived tests are way past the limits of printing, handholding, etc. yield. It does have less depth-of-field which is good for event photography, but that that point any argument one can come up with “full frame” can be applied to argue for digital medium format. As for the noise advantages, I’ll pit the forthcoming Fuji S4 Pro vs. the Canon 5D anytime to prove that the sensor size isn’t a practical advantage there either.

    Since the competition for the 5D hasn’t materialized (Kodak stopped making their full frame digital before the 5D had been introduced), I’d call the 5D a failure. I call the Digital Rebel a disappointing success (they got some of their thunder stolen by the D70). IMO, by the time the competition will materialize we’ll be comparing it to at least the Canon 5D Mk II.

    Also we aren’t considering the null hypothesis. How many otherwise great camera and lens purchases were frozen by the existance of the 5D or speculation on a full-frame Digital Rebel? I read the Canon boards a lot and it’s shocking at how much full frame snobishness goes on there.

    That doesn’t mean I think people are “failures” for purchasing a 5D. Actually, the opposite. Right now a lot of those people buying the 5D would have had to buy medium format system and scanning back or the uber-expensive Canon 1Ds Mk II. Canon cannibalized their own sales with the 5D and for that it is a failure for them, not the photographer.

    I never said the 18-200mm is a magic bullet. I said that compared to the Canon 28-300 it’s amazing. I don’t recommend people purchase the 18-200 with their first SLR. I recommend most people buy the 50mm f/1.8D “plastic fantastic” instead. Many of them purchase an dSLR because they are having their first child, and that lens is a $100 godsend, for exactly the reasons you mention. 🙂

  3. “any argument one can come up with “full frame” can be applied to argue for digital medium format”

    I think is where you go off track. Yes, bigger is always better (when it comes to film and sensors), but at some cost the size or cost is too high. Portability and affordability matter. For years and years before digital SLRs, affordable and reasonably sized lenses and bodies were built around 35 mm film. The same can go on, with 35mm sensors. In time.

    Medium format is too big and too expensive. Not so with full frame digital SLRs. They are already affordable by most people (if they are into spending their money on it) and the price will come down – it always does with consumer electronics.

    You seem to accept that Nikon will introduce a full frame digital SLR. Why if there is no benefit?

    I also don’t think it’s fair to compare the 5D to an upcoming Fuji. The 5D is getting old and will soon be replaced.

    My comment about the 18-200 was mainly about the size issue. There is no question that DX lenses are smaller and lighter. For a lot of uses that’s an advantage. But not all the time. It’s likely that Canon and Nikon will make full frame and cropped sensors for quite a while, because they each have advantages. But a bigger sensor will allow better quality. You say it’s not used, but I don’t agree with that. People always find a use for it. People are already doing so today, or nobody would be buying those 1Ds Mk II.

  4. @ces: We’ll have to agree to disagee.

    I don’t believe “high cost” is an argument at all because it’s a relative, not absolute term. 35mm digital photography requires a $2800 for the body only entry fee and correspondingly heavier and more expensive lenses. Even then there are vignetting issues that appear with those same lenses that didn’t when one was shooting slide film. The entry ticket for an APS-C dSLR is much lower ($500 for the body and $1500 for a kit for a professional photographer).

    Years before 35mm SLR established dominance there was what? 35mm has been around since the turn of the century. 35mm SLR photography since the 50’s. bayonet-interchangeable SLR’s from the 60’s, and yet 35mm dominance in photography did not appear until the 1980’s.

    How did 35mm supplant medium format? Why did it occur when it did? What can we learn from history? My answer in the article is because the quality got “good enough” for large prints 11×14″ to be done on slide film. The lesson I”m learning is that APS-C easily meets that quality bar today.

    By any measure (revenue, popularity, etc.) it is now 35mm digital that is “too big and too expensive.” Sure, the price will come down, but how fast? Refute my argument that predicts that 35mm digital camera bodies will not fall below $2400 in 2007? Consumer electornics gets cheaper mostly because it exploits Moore’s Law, but I think I show why this won’t kick in here. Sure if the majority of the electronics cost was in the DIGIC processor as it was five years ago, but today most of the cost is in the sensor.

    Before you make a generalization like “consumer electronics gets cheaper” and imply “35mm digital will replace APS-C” you have to argue how it will get cheaper and why any average person will see an advantage to switch?

    If you have a problem comparing the noise of the 5D to the Fuji S4 Pro, then compare it to the S3 Pro which predates the 5D by a couple years. The S3 Pro and the S4 Pro are the same exact sensor with different image processing.

    (When I talk about noise, I am being rigorous, not like even the most prestigious of camera review sites. I’m looking at luminance noise across a range of f-stops. I’m looking at contrast at the edges, not just the center like they do. I’m going to put a strong hotmirror in front of both the cameras before testing chroma noise, instead of letting Canon cheat by blocking all near-IR and then gaining up the red.)

    As for the 5D being “old and soon will be replaced,” I offer this bet. That Canon will not introduce a $3300 (or cheaper) camera in 2007 that will beat the 5D in sensor performance (noise and resoution). In my opinion the 5D’s sensor is neither old, nor likely to be replaced with the next sequel. In fact, I believe the 5D’s sensor is the greatest thing going for it—the only reason to purchase it.

    You keep saying “better quality” and I keep saying that 1) the same arguments (pro in terms of resolution/noise and background isolation, con in terms of price) applies to medium format digital over 35mm digital and 2) show me how 35mm digital offers any realistic quality benefit over APS-C: by this I mean, in terms of resolution in prints of a handheld shot taken under real conditions (not a digital file analysis of a tripoded shot of a test target).

    You mention that people find a use of those bigger sensors, but why do you stop at the 1Ds Mk II? Why not go bigger with the digital medium format and medium format scanning backs? Why not go bigger and talk about the Horseman panoramic camera? Why not go bigger with people who put lens assemblies in front of their scanners?

    The reality is Kodak lost money on 35mm digital and is licking their wounds. Canon lost money on 35mm digital and only stays in the game to cause a halo effect with their entry level dSLR line. Since the 5D serves neither purpose (it doesn’t cover costs , it canabalizes pro sales, and they already have a pro camera creating a halo), I’ve called it a failure.

    In two years (eons in digital photography time) that won’t be the case. Affordable 35mm digital will have arrived.

    That doesn’t mean that APS-C isn’t here to stay. It won and will continue to win. Deal.

    That doesn’t mean that there won’t be a niche for 35mm digital. There is a whole store near me in Palo Alto that is devoted to medium and large format film and digital. But I can go into any Best Buy, Costco, Target, Walmart, etc. and pick up an APS-C digital dSLR.

  5. “You mention that people find a use of those bigger sensors, but why do you stop at the 1Ds Mk II? Why not go bigger with the digital medium format and medium format scanning backs? Why not go bigger and talk about the Horseman panoramic camera? Why not go bigger with people who put lens assemblies in front of their scanners?”

    Portability, obviously. There is no portability barrier with 35mm digital. Sure, full frame bodies and lenses are bigger but they are not so huge as to be a barrier. Like I said, for decades there were reasonably sized 35mm film bodies and lenses.

    The only issue is cost and you say, in two years, “Affordable 35mm digital will have arrived.” That’s right, except I would say even now it’s affordable for nonpros if that’s how you want to spend your $$. That’s not true for the medium format digital and up. $2400 for a 5D or 5D replacement is affordable. It’s more money than an XTi, but people can still write the check. And the EF lenses are also affordable. Even the Ls can be bought by regular people. Affordable means ordinary people can buy them. Being more expensive does not mean not affordable. $30,000 camera body means not affordable.

  6. Cost is not the only issue; portability does not suddenly hit a wall with 35mm. Show me a full frame 35mm with a 28-300mm lens as portable as a D40 with an 18-200mm VR? After you take a picture with your 5D + 28-300mm L IS lens let’s see if we can tell the difference between it and APS-C? Yes, cost is a huge factor also: $2700 + $2200 vs. $560 + $750 + an extra $100 kit lens for free, but the portability differences are so egregious that a serious adventure photographer wouldn’t even think of carrying the latter around.

    My issue with “affordability” is that same argument was used by Apple fanboys 8 years ago to justify purchasing $2000+ Macs when the PC world was moving to sub-$1000 computers. Our standards for affordability are volatile and relative, not set and absolute. Right now a D40 has an autofocus and exposure system that blows away the top-of-the-line Nikon F4 from the 80’s. But instead of buying D40s those photographers are buying D200s and some balk at the $1800 price tag even though it means never having to buy or develop film again!

    My point is there is nothing magical about 35mm. The magic is what our eyes see and our eyes cannot find any difference between 35mm film and APS-C digital. APS-C satisfies our needs today; “Full frame” might in the future, but it will always be costlier and bulkier. The image quality differences are minimal to non-existant. If this weren’t the case, more people would be buying the 5D and pro landscape/fashion photographesr would be demanding real 645 digital backs instead of 1.5x35mm “medium format” frames that they seem more than happy with.

  7. Interesting thread on Nikon FF Digital. I think it is telling to note that the thread started in the summer of 06 and predicted a release of a D3 in the fall of that year. A release that never happenned.


    If you read some of the later comments, they’re very similar to the arguments I made about Moore’s law in the smack-down of Luminous Landscape’s Panasonic review. I’m glad that people’s understanding of the economics of full-frame sensors is becoming more mature. You guys are showing me up!

  8. One excellent observation I heard and forgot to mention is that given the D2X, it is highly likely that a Nikon “full frame” camera will probably shoot 3 or 5 fps with a high speed “crop mode” that shoots 1.5x (APS-C) at 5 or 8fps.

    That’s an excellent idea because it would allow you to still use your DX lenses.

    Canon cannot do this because their 1.6x EF-S lens system specification allow for an extremely short register distance: one that would crash into the mirror if used on their 1.3x or 1.0x dSLRs.

  9. The only reason for the aps size sensor I believe was the cost factor. It was just too expensive to produce FF when digital first took off. But now that is not the case, canon showed us with 5D, and therefore there is no real argument for it. Really when Nikon or Sony introduces full frame (rumours are Zeiss already have working FF lenses for alpha system), no one will be arguing for aps sensor other than the ultra prtability. But to say there is minimal difference between FF and aps is a terrible argument. The current FF sensor is about generation or two behind, and it is unfair to compare current aps sensor with it. Next FF sensors are rumour at 20-30mp and comparing 10-12mp aps to 20-30mp FF will be the same as comparing FF to medium format. And I don’t think you’d say there is minimal difference 35mm and medium format.

  10. @WJ: Do people like you even read my article? No, you don’t.

    Let’s see who is right. I made some solid predicitons: The Canon 5D would fall to around $2400 street by the end of the year; if there is a sequel to the 5D this year (which I feel is unlikely unless it is a 5D Mk II) it will not have more than 12 megapixels; and that Nikon will not feel the need to introduce a full-frame camera this year. Yours are wishy washy, but for them to be relevant at all, I’ll assume that you are contrary to mine. That the 5D will fall below the Nikon D200; that the 5D sequel will be released this year will have a 20-30mp sensor; and that either Nikon will go full frame this year or their marketshare will go down.

    I explain why there was more than just the “cost factor” involved in the choice of APS-C (the need for near-orthogonal incidence of primary rays). This is real as anyone who has ever seen the output of a 5D has noticed. (Sure, you can mitigate this loss of contrast with software at the price of corner sharpness. But whether this cost is worth it is dependant on the sort of photography you do.) It is real because medium format cameras do not go “full frame” and have never gone “full frame” and will never go “full frame”.

    The article shows why the “cost factor” doesn’t go away and will never go away (specifically Moore’s Law helps for processing speed but does not apply to sensor construction). Also, I never argued that Nikon will eventually introduce a full frame camera, I only took exception to the time—every year people say Nikon will introduce it, and every year they don’t—and, I also argue why full-frame sensors are not a disruptive technology—as in replacing APS-C but rather a niche.

    Finally, where do you get the conclusion that the current full frame sensors are “a generation or two behind”? Bullshit. The 5D sensor is state-of-the-art! It’s a great sensor and an amazing accomplishment for Canon. The sensor is only just over a year old, OTOH Nikon has used the same basic 6mp Sony CCD from the D100 (July 2002) to the D40 today and Canon has used the same 8mp CMOS sensor from the the 10D (March 2003) to the 40D today, finally replacing it with the incrementally better 10mp one when a 50D comes out sometime this year.

    Learn a little about reality before you spew this bullshit about 20-30mp 35mm sensors coming out this year for the 5D. Geez, medium format only just recently moved to 39 megapixels, shoots 1 frame in 1.5seconds despite multi-channel readout and a DMA controller, and they still cost $30k. Moving 35mm into this range is going to require similar advances to reach a couple frames per second! There is no market for a 30mp 35mm dSLR that costs $20k and shoots 2 fps. Give it a few years, and it’ll be 3fps and cost $3k (Moore’s law will kick in for the image processing pipeline, buffer, and memory card size/performance) and most photographers photographers still won’t buy it in that future, because they’d rather buy a $2300 5D sequel which will allow for all day shooting at 5fps.

    There is more about the medium format argument than “minimal differences” The point I was making was that digital medium format:film medium format :: APS-C:film 35mm and you don’t see anybody whining in fashion photography world about digital medium format “full frame.” You only see this stuff among idiots like you who engage in magical thinking to justify your purchase of L 35mm film lenses for your digital Rebel in the hopes that Canon will come out with a $1000 full-frame 500D this year.

    As for medium format being a completely different world: have you ever shot a modern medium format camera? They’re just like really expensive, really bulky 35mm SLRs nowadays. Pick up a Pentax 645 before you say that the (shooting) differences between it and 35mm are more than just cost, size, and bulk.

    APS-C is already good enough. It will always be significantly cheaper than 35mm digital and because of digital-specific lenses has an advantage in bulk that is being realized today. It’s here to stay. But that doesn’t mean that 35mm digital is dead, it will have it’s niche, just like medium format and large format photography does today. A long time ago, all everyone shot were MF and large format and 35mm cameras were toys relegated. Then, film chemistry and optics improved and a new generation came along calling those people old codgers with dated ideas. Now you see the same people arguing that full frame is going to replace supersede APS-C because the only barrier is cost.

    Except now those people are the old codgers.

  11. Seems like my last post was deleted. Well…

    I’ll say this though

    film aps vs 35mm vs medium format = digital aps vs 35mm vs medium format.

    That’s how it will be.

    By the way don’t sate your totally biased subjective views as facts though.

  12. Hi –

    As someone who started off on Miranda Sensorex, moved to Olympus OM-1, then to large format, then to Fuji 6×4.5/6×7/6.9, Pentax 67 and now a Nikon Coolpix 5000, all I can say is: TyChay is right.


    Because digital, in whatever format, is about results and usability, coupled with adequate output.

    I can’t remember when I last took a picture with my Pentax 67, and my regret now is that I won’t get much for it on eBay or from the local store if I sell it via them. I have a quality fetish – which is why I went to the Pentax 67 – and I meet it by tiling my photos and merging them later to create 20-30 MP images. I’ve even contemplated buying inexpensive consumer cameras with 4 MP (you can find them nowadays in job lots for little money) and creating arrays of the cameras to take 48 MP images (array of cameras, 3×4 with the cameras mounted in a brace to ensure proper overlap, etc.).

    But the average consumer, even the average DSLR consumer? Buying 35mm glass and hoping for vaporware in the form of a 35mm sensor is just plain film thinking.

    As I mentioned, I use a Coolpix 5000 as my only digital camera. I haven’t had the need to go longer telephoto as is on that, and the camera meets my needs; more importantly, I’d have to quadruple the sensor resolution to get a really discernable difference in the image, and to create the kind of qualitative jump that you see between 35mm and 6×7, I’d have to go to a 8x improvement in the sensor resolution and resulting image.

    But that’s silly: If I want to print huge images digitally, it is vastly more important to have the glass quality (sharpness and resolution) rather than boosting the pixel count, since the print resolution is fairly fixed (300 dpi: all those lovely 1200 dpi printers don’t print at 1200 dpi, but rather can locate their dots at 1200 dpi: they print as 300 dpi, but mix their colors at 1200 dpi).

    Full-frame is never going to replace APS-C: no one who can use the smaller glass is going to go back to heavier and more costly glass without a really, really good reason. And unless you are going to come up with a 100 MP sensor that really rocks, coupled with a complete redesign of how images are processed and stored, there is no reason to go for full-frame.

  13. @WJ: Sorry. I guess I pulled the trigger on the spamfilter too quickly. I can’t find it in my spam (it get’s auto-deleted after a week) so if you can just post your deconstruction on your blog, I’ll be happy to link it.

    In fact, I usually prefer to link other people’s comments on their blog.

  14. Foreign Dispatches links this article. The Canon profits are an interesting addition.

    I’d like to point out that the dSLR market is more important than just dSLR sales and lenses for the manufacturer. There seems to be a large halo effect between it and entry level and pocket digitals. The only companies to turn a profit on pocket digitals in 2005 were Canon and Nikon (the only two to turn a profit on dSLRs). Many can picture Canon being on that list, but Nikon?

    I wonder how improving camera phones from Nokia and the like is going to affect that.

  15. @Anonymous: You know that my 70-200mm f/2.8 VR had “rebates” attached. So did my 12-24mm f/4G DX. Both of those lenses are still sold today and roughly the same price.

    Want to bet money that it has nothing to do with a full frame Nikon?

    My guess is that it’s a D200s and an update to the D2Hs, both this fall at the earliest.

    Currently D200’s are selling for $1300 down from $1800 over the last few months. For those keeping score at home, that’s a pretty large price drop,, so it is more a sign that Nikon has finally caught up with demand for the D200 than anything else.

    But keep with your magical thinking. People like you just make me look like Nostradamus.

  16. Interesting debate. You’ve not mentioned anything about the problems of wide-angle on APS-C, which is one of the few things that occasionally makes me long for full-frame (the other is reduced high ISO noise). Is a 10-22mm f2.8 lens viable or is that a real reason why APS-C might prove to be a stop-gap? Genuine question, not rhetorical.

  17. i largely agree with the author, however, a couple of missed points through the thread:

    – APS sensor size is not on par with FF in one important aspect: high ISO performance in terms of noise. this is a huge reason why wedding/portrait pros are dropping their nikon systems in favor of the 5D, to be able to shoot available light environmental portraits. if you are a landscape or nature shooter living on long tele-lenses at ISO 100-200, this is a non-issue.

    – 20-30 MP FF 35mm DSLRs. I suspect that lower-20’ies will be the limit for a while simply because most of today’s SLR lenses are going to have serious problems resolving a 30MP sensor – we may need a new generation/level of glass in order to do that. and then what for? the pocket of pros that would benefit from a 30MP image, i.e. make more money, is very small, just imaging shooting, transfering, post-processing with layers and archiving that media!

    my personal take: i sincerely hope that Nikon brings to market a FF DSLR as soon as possible. They are loosing many pro-segments to Canon on a daily basis, just give people the choice, regardless at what price IMO. 2nd area of Nikon concern is that they have stopped updating their pro-lens line-up to some extend: stopped manufacturing the 28/1.4, a AF-S update to the 85/1.4D is long overdue etc. (the new 105/2.8 VR micro being a notable exemption)

    oh well, just my 2 rambling cents.

  18. Joe,

    I don’t think wide angle is much a problem if you buy digital specific lenses and can live with zooms over primes. In many cases you’ll be stopped down anyway and 35mm has never been a good format for this sort of photography other than its huge advantages in size and weight (which the APS-C improves upon).

    I think the reason that a 10-22mm f/2.8 DX rectilinear is not a viable product is because the front element and the retrofocus group would be huge, expensive pieces of glass. The former can be overcome if you relax to allow fisheye and correct in software (there will be a loss of acuity on the edges). The retrofocus might be too large for an F-mount bore. I’m not too sure.

    But in either case, it’d be priced out of what people are willing to pay. (Nikon currently charges $900 for their 12-24mm f/4.) At that point it’s better to get MF wide angle lenses and a 35mm dSLR or digital MF back.

  19. @Patrick:

    Good points all of them.

    I’ll debate the High ISO noise because the Fuji sensor showes that this is more a dynamic range issue than a physical limitation (in other words, it’s the fact that the smaller photosite can’t hold as many electrons, not that the smaller photosite is getting that much less light).

    I definitely think 22ish mpixel to be a great target for 35mm profession full-frame sensors. Currently the 1DS Mk II is at 16.7 megapixel and I wouldn’t be surprised if it breaks into the 20 megapixel by the end of this year. More portrait photographers would make the switch then.

  20. I have loved Nikon, oh how much, you wouldn’t believe, the handling, the feeling, something about these machines….man……
    But I have had the chance to play around with the 5D+the 24-105 f4 IS USM, and I finally understood the point, full frame is simply better for me, shooting inside houses and art galleries, architecture, portraits, high iso performance, AND that fact that when you are not x1.5, you can actually shoot at lower shutter speed and if you add stabilization.
    I have replaced the D2X+17-55 f2.8+Sigma 70-200 f2.8 with a 5D=24-105 f4 IS+70-200 f4 IS, and honestly I can not be happier, my bag is lighter, the camera is smaller and less obvious.
    I do not need super fast AF, I am not fond of flash photography, full frame is better for me.
    Cameras are made to fit individual and professional needs, and on the market there will always be a place for all th formats…..I believe.

  21. @Pierre: Nice kit. If you do indoor + architecture then you probably might want an even wider prime or short zoom as your next lens. 🙂

    I’m glad you like your 5D. I think most people who have purchased a 5D got good value out of it, but not all the people who can will. 😉

  22. I’m currently shooting a D70 at work (70,000 frames on it) and I’ve got a D200 at home. I did a shoot with a friend who has a 5D and I couldn’t believe how clean the files were. Much better than my D200 and the D70 didn’t even compare.
    I think what people forget is that film had unique qualities and limitations too. A factor when reading up on what film to shoot or buy was grain and grain structure. Fuji Velvia is great for getting a clean image, but I also like to shoot with Ilford Delta 100 B/W film and some Ilford 400 film because of the grain structure. The prints didn’t look like Kodak’s film grain and people always like the Ilford film prints better. The D200 is more in-line with the results I got with film and grain.
    The 5D produces super clean files and I think it’s closer to the Velvia feel, not in colors, but in lack of grain. I liked the clean look of the 5D files, but I can not afford the jump at this point. I’m looking at the 5D to do exactly what Pierre is doing with his. I shoot in available light and indoors all the time as a light commercial photographer. The Nikons sensors are a bit noisy for this, but the price point on the Canon is higher. So where is my line drawn for what I need to do? Today, I’m not sure but if my boss would open up the bank I think the Canon would deliver the best file to start from.
    My D200 makes great files. I did two 20×30 inch prints, last summer, with it and they are beautiful, but I’m sure the 5D prints would look even better. Do people actually need prints that large? We did a 12 foot by 15 foot billboard with the D70 and with the printing technology used it was fantastic looking as you drove by at 35-70 mph. I’ve printed for some other adverts in a salon and they did window prints, but only needed quality to be good from beyond 10ft away. You don’t need all that quality for a 2×2 inch image on a brochure, but may need it on a window poster or a trade show booth back drop.
    I recently went to a presentation by National Geographic photographer, Jim Richardson, and gave him the Pepsi Challenge on his he used for the up coming April 2007 issue and he said both. Nikon D2x for some daytime, outdoor wildlife shots, but on the night time prairie shot (consisting of four panels) he used a Canon. You can actually see the arm of the Milky Way in the second panel. It should be a double gate-fold in the April 07 issue of National Geographic. It was so spectacular it sold me on the Canon low noise variable. He said he’s got approx. 30×40 inch prints hanging in his gallery. I Can’t wait to see those.
    I think it all boils down to what you need it for and what style you are looking for? End image quality should be the only factor in the long run…


  23. Ugh. Excluding the pro-level monsters:

    Nikon makes the best body with the best performance (D200).

    Canon makes the biggest sensor (FF) and the best low light (FF).

    Sigma makes the BEST sensor for daylight. It’s just incredibly sharp and beautiful in its color rendition.

    Why, then, can’t we please have a FF Foveon type sensor with nice low light performance in a Nikon D200 body? Well, the camera people at Samy’s Cameras tell me Nikon’s lens mount prevents them from being able to fit a full frame sensor in there. They’d have to produce a new lens mount to pull it off. That’s about it.

    If Nikon managed to produce a 3 layer version of their current Kodak 10MP bayer sensor, I would certainly leave film forever.

  24. I accept that this argument about crop vs full frame could go on and on.

    I would personally be able to take the Nikon cropped system seriously if they produced a professional range of lenses for it. They don’t.

    Where are the fast wide lenses for example? The current Nikkor lineup is so slow yes – slow. I need a full range of f1.4 lenses, from wide, through standard and to short telephotos at f2. These lenses don’t exist.

    The problem isn’t with the sensor, its the lens range. Canon, however, has an extremely full lens range for the 5d. You want a fast wide – no problem. f1.4 standard lens – no problem (sure you don’t want f1.2 sir?). 100mm f2 – here you go.

    That’s the kind of flexibility we have come to expect from a pro line of kit. If Canon can do it, why can’t Nikon?

  25. David,

    Hmm there is the 50mm f/1.4D, 50mm f/1.2 AIS, and 85mm f/1.4D. If you go used there is the 28mm f/1.4D. And 3rd party there is the Sigma 30mm f/1.4. In particular, the 85mm f/1.4D will have a slightly smaller fov than the 100mm f/2 but will have similar DoF and be a hell of a lot faster.

    The difference is that you have to get used to them having a different FOV than what you’re used to. That’s a big weakness, especially on the wide end which I won’t deny. On the other hand, they won’t vignette at all when shot wide open on your Nikon. The Canons, I guarantee, will.

  26. Hello tychay,

    Thanks for your reply. Yes I partly agree. But can I ask why its Sigma who make the 30mm f1.4? – why haven’t Nikon released fast short lenses – they must know many photographers need them? I want Nikon to make a fast wide for me, but they don’t. That’s not too much to ask from a pro kit manufacturer. Canon do the 24mm f1.4, whether it vignettes on a full frame Canon body or not (I’ve never tried), at least it exists. I am offered a choice. For exotic lenses it feels to me that Canon are the main game in town.

    In your post you come perilously close to revealing the true source of my resentment at Nikon. You see I have, and love, a Nikkor 28mm f1.4. This lens cost me a fortune new and I want to use it on digital. This is the most amazing lens I have ever owned but there is no Nikon full frame digital to exploit it.

    On a Nikon cropped body the 28mm, a legendary lens, becomes a crappy standard. That is not acceptable. I never, ever believed Nikon of all people would leave me high and dry. I thought it was a system for life.

  27. David,

    I agree about a reasonably priced 30mmish f/1.4. As for “exotic” lenses, on the other hand, Canon has innundated the world with a lot of shitty exotics: the 50mm f/1.0 leaps to mind. Nikon wouldn’t do such a thing. Similarly the 50mm f/1.2 from Nikon is AIS (manual focusing) currently mostly due to troubles in making a decent AF system at such a large aperture.

    The 28mm f/1.4 turns into a “normal” lens on digital. That’s the problem and I agree with that. The fact that it and the 58mm f/1.2 Noct-Nikkor no longer exist is another problem. Whether it is a standard or not, you have to admit at least it mounts. Choosing Canon means a constant break of backward compatibility (EF-S won’t even mount on full frame). Nikon has the mounts be compatible but features get disabled (D40/x and the AF motor anyone?), Pentax keeps the same mount and all the compatibility. Such is the way the companies have behaved since before digital and they keep the same modus operandi afterward.

    In that light, I think a full frame Nikon, when it is economically feasible (next year with good odds, definitely by the year after) will implement the “standard for life” by having a high speed crop mode at 1.5x APS-C crop so that your DX lenses will still be usable.

    Vignetting is a fact of life on lenses designed for film (which is thin) being mounted on digital (which has thick sensors and microlenses). The fact that this can be mitigated with a good RAW program like DxO, is probably not that important to have contrast/sharpness on the edges, notwithstanding.

    Such it is, the laws of physics can’t be broken. And, my point is, neither much the laws of economics. 🙁

  28. Nikon will sell a 35mm sensor because Canon have done so. Nikon has no other way to go. The others too (Sony, Fuji, etc.). That is it.

    Image quality from 35mm sensor is a lot better than APS, that is enought for quality conscious people.

    Bigger size than 35mm means big problems associated to a new line of lenses. It is safer to move “between” existent hardware (lenses) limits than to introduce anything new. Sensor size have a big barrier there.

    There are important reasons to adopt “sensor size standars”, so no way sensors will be developed in 0.90, 0.70, 0.50 sizes.

    APS is just a transition solution while 35mm is not avalaible at a right price for the market. 35mm sensors will achieve the price of today APS and then APS will be adopted in compact cameras (like new sony one).

    There are millions of lenses out there waiting for 35mm sensors capable of using them.

    The hands of people have a “size” that dictates the approximate “right” size of things like keyboards, mouses and cameras. APS and 35mm are included both in this “right size”.

    I am waiting to use my lenses in a 35mm body.


  29. Thanks, yes you are right about the laws of economics. I know this in my heart, but I sadly no longer identify myself as a Nikon photographer, I am no longer unquestioningly loyal.

    I’ve sold most of my Nikon film outfit, keeping the absolute minimum of my best ever kit (Nikon FM2/T, 135mm f2.8 AIS and the 28mm f1.4). If Nikon ever bring out an affordable full frame DSLR I will snap one up with a standard lens (probably 50mm f1.4) and become a Nikon photographer again, and I would do this with great pleasure. If they never bring out the full frame then I have no loyalty left for them – I’ll stay with Canon.

    For the next few years I will base my work on the Canon 24mm f1.4L. I hope that one day Nikon allow me to resurrect my Nikkor 28mm on full-frame. You can tell that I’m genuinely choked up about this! Anyway, enough of this, thanks for your patience.

  30. David,

    Canon makes a great camera, and its important to see beyond brand loyalties. 🙂

    I have little doubt that in two years your wish will find realization in some form. It’s a long time in the digital world, but it’s pretty short in photographic terms.

    Until then, have fun with the Canon.

  31. I have a question. I just moved into a new portrait studio in Temecula and I have a studio that is about 16 feet deep. My primary business is as a youth sports and school photographer in San Diego, but we just got the studio and are doing a lot more studio work. I'm thinking I should get a full frame camera, like the D700, but what is the best lens(s)? Do I get a prime lens? Right now I have 5 Fuji S5's, 2 S3's, 2 D200's and a couple of Canons. Do I need the D700 for just studio work? I love the video on the 5d but the Nikon seems to have a slight edge on some of the other features. I am thinking of renting the D700 and maybe the 5D for a weekend with a couple of lenses to see what they feel like in the studio.

    Or, am I just fine shooting with the S5's, which are great portrait cameras, but I am a little limited with the 16 foot deep studio. 16 total feet, meaning once you get a tripod and backdrop stands, etc, it is even smaller. Any pointers?

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