Zack Arias Debunks the Full Frame / Crop Sensor Debate

Zack Arias has always been an avid Fuji shooter (starting off with the fabulous X100) and was one of the biggest influences in my decision to finally take the plunge and co-purchase an X-Pro 1 this summer. In this video Zack knocks some sense into you about how silly the full frame / crop debate really is by reviewing the progression of different formats from eight by ten through 4:3. Take a look.

Having shot full frame 35mm digital for a while now it's been interesting how pleased I've been with this little crop sensor camera. When I was first considering the X-Pro someone pointed me to a chart detailing just how minimal the change in DOF really was from FX to DX or APS-C. In technical terms,  you loose roughly a stop in terms of blur and OOF elements, so when shooting with a 35 f/1.4 on my  Fuji you get roughly a 53mm f/2.0, or with the monster Fuji 56mm f/1.2 you'd get the same effective DOF as a full frame 85mm at f/1.8 — which is more than enough for my purposes. The quality was there for me, for most intents and purposes it'd be there for you too.

Of course, at the end of the day the equipment isn't really going to be limiting us. While there are perks that make a D4s appealing to sports photographers, Leicas to those shooting street, and MF to product and studio guys a pro can create with just about any tool they have available (See Digital Rev's Pro Tog, Cheap Camera Challenge).

Zack put it best:

Cameras can't see. This Fuji has no vision. This Phase doesn't know anything about light. This Nikon over here, knows nothing about moment. The eight by ten is a cold beast that knows nothing of emotion. The GH4 shooting this video right now, doesn't have any idea about composition. So what's it come down to? Full frame? No. APS-C? Eh, no. The moron behind the camera. That's you.

[Via Zack Arias @ DEDPXL]

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Edward Porter's picture

The irony is that this guy falls into his own trap: the most annoying thing about format wars is people sounding like pretentious assholes. Now, lets all hug and focus on taking photos :)

I don't know which of the internet's two favorite words to misuse you have misused worse: irony or pretentious.

Edward Porter's picture

Looks like Alex wont be joining us in that hug. LOL

Georgi Andinov's picture

It sure was fun! I totally agree. I love to shoot with medium format, but i love to shoot with the new Fuji/Olympus cameras more :D

Great video and great point, the camera really doesn't matter and the average digital shooter has no idea what truly "full frame/large format is." But why this post then: Seems a little strange to go to medium format because of "image quality and wow factor for clients" and then go to the smallest camera possible for pro shoots because it's "capable"

Leigh Miller's picture

I assume because he's seen "the light". I recall that article way back when...he sold all the Canon stuff. He's allowed to change his mind but I feel like that should have been stated in the video. "I once believed etc etc and now I think differently" kinda thing.

Orpheus Anonymous's picture

What? People are flawed and can make contradictory statements depending on how far along they've come and how much they've reexamined their approaches in life? Cray cray, I say! :)

I want to be clear that I'm not trying to give him a hard time. I'm a big fan of Zack and he has always been very kind to me. I'm just pointing out that his current tone about the Fuji seems to be opposite of his view a few months or years ago and I'd like to hear if he did change his mind or if he decides on the camera based on the job.

Why don't you ask him to clarify?

I agree. Zack has never shied away from sharing his opinions, but he is also humble. I'm sure he'd be more than happy to elaborate.

Liam O'Prey's picture

Isn't he endorsed by Fuji? His argument in this video seems to hinge on form-factor. An A7r takes care of that, you get to keep your full-frame and if you miss APSC, use the crop mode.

A reasoning for that switch from medium format to aps-c would be wonderful as well. Has he completely moved over to Fuji or still uses medium for bigger projects?

Have a read of the blog post that accompanies the video.

"So why am I back pedaling now?

I started shooting personal work with my little Fuji. Then I pulled it out on jobs from time to time because I loved that little camera. Then I used it more. Then I got the X-Pro1. Then I started seeing my Fuji images in print. Then I started putting the Q&A book together and I had the chance to run pages of test prints for the book. I printed every type of image I had from every camera I had owned. Studio shots. High ISO shots. Portraits. Street photos. I cropped into some images and enlarged them to full page. I received the test prints back and I taped them to the wall and took one step back. My Fuji images ran side by side with D3 and 5d2 images without a single noticeable drop in quality. If anything, my Fuji images were just a tad sharper. My PhaseOne medium format images were the only images that had a noticeable change in quality when I looked at everything side by side."

Seems like a fairly clear answer to me. For him, the difference between the Fuji and a full frame DSLR is negligible. I think he still shoots his medium format on for studio work or client work that requires it, but he seems to be going with his small Fuji for a lot of his field work instead of a full frame DSLR.

I think it's fairly and PLAINLY stated WHY he shoots both format. He said that MF offers maximum quality while sacrificing comfort and praticality. He went for APS-C Fuji's simply because between APS-C and 35mm he can't justify the bulkiness of 35mm for the NEGLIGEABLE increase in quality.

It's not a contradiction. I'm pretty sure if a brand made a MF sensor in a small package, he'd jump ship again.. (wouldn't we all??? )

Ralph Berrett's picture

I agree with you, but you have to weigh in the subject, lighting conditions, travel and expenses and of course the client. The other factor to weigh in is resolution, lens quality, noise, megapixel and of course sensor size. It really is just a balancing act.

As the saying goes not all megapixels are the same. ;)

zack arias's picture

Sup Lee?

I love medium format. LOVE it. There are times I want every photo I shoot to be shot medium format or up. But, as you know, the Phase One camera isn't for everything. It's slow. It's bulky. It's best suited on a tripod. The ISO performance is absolute sh*t compared to DSLRs and the like. So it isn't for everything.

As a working photographer you need the right tools for the job at hand. Some of your tools can be switched back and forth. I can shoot a studio portrait with a Fuji or Nikon or Canon or Phase or Hassy or whatever. But if I'm having to work quickly on location and move from one set to the next with very little time and probably needing to live at higher ISO values then one tool outshines the other.

If I'm in a situation where I have time and I can lock the camera down then I'm most likely shooting that medium format. If I'm having to run and gun and work in a low light situation then I'm going Fuji. If I'm having to travel and I have limited room in my carry on and I don't have an assistant to go with me then I have to make some choices about how much gear I'm taking with me. I can't have it all when I'm on the road. I might take the Phase kit with one Fuji and a few lenses or I might just go all Fuji and be done with it and have my entire Fuji kit on hand.

At the end of the day, I could sell all my shit and just use a Nikon or a Canon or a Sony or a whatever. I choose the tools I like but this is something some folks don't realize and others are going to think I'm a pretentious prick for saying this. Lee... you know me personally. You know I'm not a prick. Right?

I'm just doing my thing and having casual conversations about gear and technique and stuff. A lot of people are listening in to what I say and a lot of people ask a lot of questions. All the time. "But Zack, why this? Why that? Why the other?" I get questions every single day from emails to twitter replies to blog comments to facebook to phone calls. Why this? Why that? Why the other? Why not this? Why not that? Why is that important to you?

I get thousands of questions a year. Thousands of them.

So I make these blog posts and videos and the like to answer them. Some people think I make this stuff to preach AT people or to speak DOWN the pipeline. All of my blogs and videos are in response to a lot of the questions I get. I'm trying to answer the question and give my opinion on the matter and I'm always pointing back to the fact that at the end of the day it isn't about the gear. Or the computer. Or the lens. Or the light modifier. Or the whatever. At the end of the day it's about using the tools you have right now to do work right now.

Maybe down the road you'll be considering medium format. Maybe something I say will help you in your research. Maybe I'll convince you that Phase is the way to go. I know I've convinced some that hassy is the way to go. It has furthered the conversation with others that Pentax has a really nice offering right now. I like these conversations but I do not want them to define me.


I'm the first person to understand people taking things out of context and looking for controversy. In fact, you can basically tell that a post or video has been successful if it is surrounded by controversy/comments. Congrats on the great video :)

The interesting thing about most photographers who move to medium format is that they almost always plan their shoots around the camera. If the camera can't shoot past ISO 200 then they will plan the picture and lighting so that they don't have to go over it. I would do the same thing if I spent 50k on a camera.

I know you loved the Fuji for casual shooting but I still assumed you would shoot your pro gigs (unless you absolutely had to) with your medium format. But it sounds like you'd prefer the small camera unless you really need the phase. As you said, each job calls for a different tool.

I've only used medium format once and the ISO performance was so bad and the mp weren't that much better than my d800 so I couldn't justify it, and I understand why you can't use it every day.

Thanks for the explanation and great video.

Jose Miguel Stelluti's picture

Hey Lee If you want, you can give me that medium format camera, you know I appreciate it infinitely. lol .............. a hug

Alvin Toro's picture

LOL! I've been following this site for a minute and I just KNOW this video will bring all the peepers and nay sayers out of the woodwork. In the end a lot of people miss the overarching message: Stop paying so much attention to the pot, get some good ingredients and strive to become a better cook.

Sid Vasandani's picture

Hi Zach, I agree with you completely about the format sizes and the negligible difference. But you have to understand this, the reason the difference isn't important to you right now and many medium format shooters, like I was until a while back, is because we had the ultimate sensor.

To be honest, medium format shooters I know still prefer 40.4x53.9 to 32.9x43.9 phase backs, even though the difference is, you got it, Negligible. I have shot on Phase since 2006 starting with a used P20. Anyway, been there, done that, now it doesn't seem that important anymore. Give the guys a break for whom their biggest jump can be a 35mm. For them, that little increase in sensor size still matters, like i'm sure it did to you one time.

Ralph Berrett's picture

I do miss the Fuji GX680III, I wish there was a good digital equivalent. ;) One camera I had fun with was 24x36 Polaroid Viewcamera. Yes I am dating myself. My 1st pro SLR was the F2 with motor weighing 6 pounds. Makes the D3 feel like a compact camera.

These days I mainly shoot full frame but still shoot crop sensor cameras as well. Watching your video sounded a lot like the conversations I had with several shooters. On a typical shoot I will carry two Nikon D3 bodies and one D2x with 4 lenses, 14-24mm, 28-70mm, 70-200mm and a 300mm.

The debate of on sensors tends to be a lot of "Perception Being Reality". I had fun with a friends photo class once demonstrating this point. I asked class how many felt that a Nikon D3 (Full Frame) has a shallower DOF than D2x (Crop sensor) using the same lens in this case an 85mm. Both shot the same distance from the subject using the same exposures. We compared the images and the DOF was the just the same angle of view changed. That is when I explained why they called it a crop sensor. Also this was only true with DSLRs.

Part of the confusion I think comes from the camera companies themselves. Canon in their DSLR lineup has 3 sensor sizes Full Frame, APS-C and APS-H. Nikon has only two Full Frame and APS-C. A big part of this is camera company marketing, a cameras crop factor becomes magnification factor because it sounds nicer.

Or the more the megapixel on the sensor the better the camera.

The big thing is resolution, format size, noise for digital (Grain for film) and lens quality. Understanding resolution puts most of the format debate to sleep.

Jonathan Acierto's picture


Big fan, I love your honesty and how you're not afraid to "tell it how it is." I totally agree with your point that the most important part of a camera is the 12" behind the camera. A photographer, like yourself, who knows what he is doing can use any camera to make awesome photos. And I also agree that pragmatism plays a huge part in gear choice.

Having said that, I think photography is a visual art in the end and although APS-C and 35mm sensors are closer in performance now than they have ever been, the small differences between the two can be huge depending on a photographer's aesthetic goals. I've realized after studying the approach of the past masters that the key is to make the choice based on what meets your artistic vision. Yeah, 1 aperture stop difference between formats doesn't sound like a big deal, and in most situations it probably doesn't make a difference. But if shallow depth of field is an integral part of a photographer's visual style, than the 1 aperture stop is going to weigh more heavily in their choice of camera and lens compared to someone like a landscape photographer who needs more depth of field. I truly think APS-C, or even Micro 4/3, takes care of 90% of most people's needs. Heck, my tiny Sony RX100 is my daily casual camera. But for those times when I'm doing a client shoot and want a lot of control over DOF and I need really great low light performance, full frame for the moment is still the best choice for me.

Just my 2 cents! Keep up the great work!

Joshua Boldt's picture

I was thinking to myself that Zach will probably just log in and reply, then I scroll down and YUP he did :)

Richard Wagner's picture

Yes but this link is dated back in February 4, 2012, just over 2 years ago. He's not the only one that changes his mind, Trey Ratcliff said he was going to switch to a mirrorless system till the Nikon D800 came out, then he had to back track his words lol. Then not long after that, he decided ya he will switch and went with I think it was the Sony NEX 7. :)

Im selling my Fuji xpro1, 35mm 1.4, 60mm 2.4 and samyang 16mm 2.0. Having a hard time unloading these...anyone want to buy it? Extra batteries, grip and 16gb 95mb/s card included. All original boxes included as well. I also had an x100 and an X-e1 as well, both sold but regretting the x100 sale a bit it was a fun camera and didnt watercolor all of its images.

Guess what i went back to as my walk around camera? A 5D Mk1. Want to know why? It doesnt produce water color images when I take them into lightroom(yes, i know jpeg doesnt produce that artifact, and no, adobe hasnt fixed that problem with fuji raws). Its also kind of a pain in the rear when using with strobes, or any flash for that matter. I can use it with my pocket wizards, no problem. Real pain comes in with getting the shot. With the Canon(or nay dslr), I can shoot multiple frames and lights will pop, cant do that with Fujis. IF i want to do that, i can just press the shutter each time I want a photo like any set up but I miss key frames when the model is moving. Dont even mention that its wait for camer to focus, shoot, wait for camera to save, and repeat. Yes, i can put into manual focus and eliminate the focus part but then the model cant move much if you want sharp focus. The buffer on these things is zilch, a 95mb/s card should handle that no problem but on the fuji, i find myself waiting.

The 5Dmk1 also has a nice warm feeling to the photos and if I need to, I can use it as a backup to my 5Dmk2 I shot a wedding in Lake Como last year with a 5D mk2, Xe1 and xpro1, want to know which camera i kept the most shots from? 5Dmk2. Went to Cali for a trip, packed my xpro1, 16mm, 35mm and 60mm and a flash...traveled LIGHT. All my images look like i used photoshop to turn them into a water color painting. Also, the xpro1 cant hunt worth shit in the dark, literally cant focus at all. its embarrassing trying to get it to focus when its somewhat dark out.

Guess what I dont have these problems with? My 5Ds, even with the notoriously bad focusing system employed in each one(excluding the 5dmk3).

I drank the water, sunk about 3k into these Fuji camera. I think I kind of killed my sale of the camera with this post...guess it will collect more dust on my shelf. haha

Granted, the problems listed above is not for all APS-C bodies and it *might* be an issue with just the xpro1 but man, this video is a little misleading when it comes to the highly regarded Fujis. Again, it might just be the xpro1 and the way I shoot but its definitely something someone should consider. Now that I read this...I kind of want off topic a bit but the Fuji was plugged so much...

Have you tried the firmware update? It is said to give it more snap...

I have, and its still not where I would like it. I will say this, Fuji is INCREDIBLE when it comes to improving their products with these updates. If only the other camera manufacturers did the same thing.

I think that this is why they are getting SO much attention right now.

They are listening and improving by measurable increments over each generations of camera (and they have like 2-3 gens out by now...if that!).

No one else does this. they all have the "iphone" approach where the add and take out minor stuff and rebadge it... -_-

Jonathan Acierto's picture

I've seen the watercolor effect on Steve Huff's website, so it's a common problem. Speaking as an engineer, I believe it's an inherent problem with the fact that Fuji's X-Trans sensor uses their proprietary pixel pattern, therefore the Adobe software engineers who write the RAW converter need to do a better job working with Fuji's engineers to improve the conversion. In a couple years, Adobe will hopefully have it figured out.

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