Why You Should Consider Abandoning Full Frame and APS-C and Go for Something More Extreme

Why You Should Consider Abandoning Full Frame and APS-C and Go for Something More Extreme

There are good arguments for photographers walking away from full frame/FX and APS-C/DX, instead going for medium format and Micro Four Thirds (MFT). This may be where cameras are heading in the future anyway.

Before you raise your hackles, hear me out. I should start by saying there is nothing wrong with your camera. All big brands make great models, and if what you own is probably perfect for your purposes. I’m not going to argue with that. Furthermore, if you are a competent photographer, I am sure you will be able to adjust your shooting techniques for getting the best out of any system you use. I also understand that you have invested a lot in the system you use and have an interest in it not becoming obsolete.

However, if you are thinking of changing your camera system for any reason, and there are a multitude of reasons why people do, or you are considering buying an interchangeable lens camera for the first time, then please mull over what I have to say.

The most compelling photography usually happens when we push parameters to extremes. Very fast and very slow shutter speeds typically produce better results than those that sit in the middle. Super wide-angle and telephoto lenses regularly bring us more exciting images. High- and low-key images look great, as do those with a lot of contrast and very little. Then, photos shot at low level or very high up generally hold more interest than those taken at eye level. When we shoot between those extremes, the photographs can become, for want of a better word, meh.

Shooting outside normal parameters can make images more interesting.

Challenging the conventions of the herd and shunning the commonplace can enhance your creativity, letting you stand out against the rest.

Therefore, should we consider choosing interchangeable lens cameras at the largest and smallest end of the range? If so, pushing the boundaries means that, instead of full frame and APS-C, we should think about the medium format and Micro Four Thirds.

I can already hear the steam coming from under your collar, but let me explain further.

The Argument Against Full Frame and For Medium Format

Again, I reiterate that images shot with any camera can be superb. There’s nothing wrong with the full frame you have. It's well made, and you take superb photos with it.

Nevertheless, the results of images best suited to larger sensor cameras are not the same on full frame as can be achieved with a medium format camera. Moreover, medium format is relatively rare, whereas full frame cameras, while maybe not 10-a-penny, are widespread. Shoot with a medium format camera, and the result has a greater chance of uniqueness.

Then, on top of that, there is the price overlap, which is growing. Medium format cameras are coming down in price. A Fujifilm GFX 50S II retails at $3,999 while a Canon EOS R5 is only $100 less, while the EOS R3 is $2000 more. Additionally, the physical size of medium format cameras is shrinking, making them more versatile in the field; the GFX 50S II (149.9 x 104.1 x 86.4 mm) is about the same size as a Canon 5D Mark IV (150.7 x 116.4 x 75.9 mm).

Yes, there are some functionality differences, and the overall cost of a medium format system is more. Nevertheless, If you've been arguing in favor of full frame over crop frame cameras, then, logically, the same arguments apply to medium format over full frame. Therefore, you should upgrade.

The Argument Against APS-C and for Micro Four Thirds

Here's looking at the other end of the sensor-size scale and why Micro Four Thirds (MFT) may push other crop sensor formats from the market. Getting back to my introduction, this is about taking advantage of the extremes, and like medium format, MFT is an extreme.

I want you to forget the boring arguments from the usual detractors of crop frame cameras. They are usually driven by two factors: justification for their own more expensive choice and commercial interest. The arguments are skewed too, only presenting the supposed disadvantages and none of the advantages of crop frame systems.

Moreover, their criticisms aimed at MFT are invariably based on comparisons with a full frame. But that is comparing apples and oranges. A better comparator would be with other crop-sensor formats, such as APS-C and Nikon’s DX.

Just like the comparison between full frame and medium format, a big advantage of MFT is that their images are rarer than those shot with the ubiquitous APS-C cameras. This difference will help your photos stand out from the crowd.

Photos that look different from the rest stand out.

There is not a huge difference in sensor size between MFT and APS-C. But because MFT is slightly smaller, it is more capable of taking advantage of the crop factor benefits.

What are the system's advantages? Firstly, it is the reduced perspective, bringing background subjects closer to the foreground for any given focal length. That crop factor also means that the same focal length can be used to achieve a greater effective magnification, thus allowing wildlife photographers to get closer to the subject with physically smaller lenses. Similarly, macro shooters have a greater magnification too. 

You will often hear the uneducated complaint about the depth of field (DOF) at particular f-stops of MFT cameras. However, DOF is only partially affected by the aperture. Proximity to the subject, focal length, plus viewing size of the image also have a bearing. MFT just needs a different way of working, and you can say the same about any system. There are fast lenses with great-looking bokeh available at all focal lengths; MFT shooters can and do blur their backgrounds.

Shot with Micro Four Thirds (OM-D E-M1). The crop factor effectively magnifies the subject within the frame, and out-of-focus bokeh is achievable (190mm at f/5.6).

Additionally, we photographers don’t always want the shallowest depth of field; just because you have an f/1.2 aperture doesn’t mean you will be shooting at that setting. For example, with a portrait, we may want the whole face in focus and not just the eyes. There are also times when we want to add background detail for context, and MFT can do this at a wider aperture. Then, with landscapes, we often want back-to-front sharpness, something that's easier to achieve at a wider aperture with MFT.

With the massive advances in modern sensor technology, the image quality of MFT is so good that any real-world differences in quality between it and APS-C are redundant. After all, look at the excellent quality of modern cell phones. Their sensors are far smaller than MFT, yet for a few photographic genres, people are shooting more than adequate photos with them.

If you want further convincing, look at the photographs taken by the top pros that use Micro Four Thirds. For example, in Joe Edelman's photography, you would be hard-pressed to tell his photos apart from those shot on any other system.

On top of all that, there are the practicalities and ergonomics of shooting. The MFT system brings huge advantages in size and weight. With the aging population, a smaller, lighter system that delivers outstanding results is massively appealing. This advantage doesn’t just apply to older photographers. Having previously worked in outdoor education, I know mountain guides, sailors, canoeists, and hikers who happily carry the rugged, weather-sealed, and diminutive OM-D cameras on their adventures.

The small size and weight of MFT make the cameras great for genres as diverse as travel, landscape, wedding, wildlife, and photojournalism, plus everything in between. Their discreteness suits street photographers too; larger systems become obvious and can get in the way.

Will Canon and Nikon Catch Up?

Sadly, for their dedicated fans, it will probably take time for Canon and Nikon to catch up. Historically, those brands were regularly late to the game in adapting to the latest advancements. They were behind in adopting mirrorless, slow implementing in-body image stabilization, and, even now, Canon hasn’t restyled their cameras to the more attractive modern look that even Nikon has finally embraced with the Z fc.

Moreover, when they have finally made changes, the results from those brands have, at times, seemed rushed and inadequate. The Nikon 1 system was a flop, and the Canon R5 was brought to market with an overheating problem.

So, let’s hope, if they do ever swap to medium format or even MFT, they learn the lessons of their past and don't launch before they have properly tested their cameras.

Back in 2017, Sony was believed to be developing a medium format camera with a curved sensor, and new patents for the design of lenses have been trickling in ever since. If that happens, and Nikon and Canon don't catch up soon, they will either miss the boat or rush out another poorly conceived model. I wonder if there will be any other surprise announcements around the corner from other brands.

Thinking out of the Box About Camera Systems

Do you shoot full frame? If so, are you tempted to switch to medium format now that they are becoming more affordable? Or, if you were starting afresh, would you reject medium format in favor of full frame/FX? Alternatively, has the convenience and the quality of contemporary cameras in the smaller MFT system already made you abandon a larger format?

If you managed a camera brand, and in the context of the rapidly-shrinking market, would you take notice of the steady leakage of customers to both the bigger and smaller formats, would you be pushing your research and development department to change tack? Would medium format and MFT be in your game plan?

There are, of course, counterarguments for my point of view. As always, I welcome a friendly discussion about that in the comments. Thanks for reading.

If you're passionate about taking your photography to the next level but aren't sure where to dive in, check out the Well-Rounded Photographer tutorial where you can learn eight different genres of photography in one place. If you purchase it now, or any of our other tutorials, you can save a 15% by using "ARTICLE" at checkout. 

Ivor Rackham's picture

Earning a living as a photographer, website developer, and writer and Based in the North East of England, much of Ivor's work is training others; helping people become better photographers. He has a special interest in supporting people with their mental well-being through photography. In 2023 he became a brand ambassador for the OM System

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Previous comments

Looks like Leica APS-C weren't on message either and the message from that manufacturer was loud and clear. If you buy an APS-C camera from that manufacturer don't expect pro grade lenses..

No. The CL lenses are stunning. Absolutely stunning. There's no 2.8 zooms but spped isn't the only factor in a good lens.

While I always enjoy Ivor’s take on things I’m at a loss to understand his logic on this one. Firstly many FF cameras have a crop sensor option. Ok it’s not MFT but it covers some of the points Ivor maked as being advantages. I suppose the main advantage is size with MFT being much smaller. At the moment I’m doing a lot of shooting with my 150-600 on a a A7R3 body. Due to the nature of the project the shooting has to be done hand held. I need to take a break every now and then because my arms get tired! I suppose for what I’m doing a MFT might be an option. BUT for the final images I’m cropping in quite a bit and I need to print big…. Dilemma!
In addition there have been many comparative tests done between mega pixel monsters like the A7R4 and MF cameras and the results have shown not much of a difference to write home about in terms of image output but a noticeable difference in usability.
I have to say I sit firmly in the camp that the best camera is the one you use. I also maintain that the quality of the final image, whatever you mean by that is determined by the shooter and not the camera. Changing systems is expensive. If you have a couple of bodies and a selection of lenses it’s quite an investment. A friend of mine recently moved from Sony FF to Fuji XT4. He is now minus both an arm and a leg! Despite getting reasonable prices for all his gear the switch was super expensive. Has it improved his photography? There sits the question.
What Ivor needs to do is test his hypothesis by sending out 3 shooters each with one of the formats mentioned and ask them to take a variety of shots from various genres. All the images could be presented and us readers would have to guess which system shot which image and which images were the most the most successful. As they say the proof of the pudding….

“ A friend of mine recently moved from Sony FF to Fuji XT4. He is now minus both an arm and a leg! Despite getting reasonable prices for all his gear the switch was super expensive. Has it improved his photography? There sits the question.”

Couldn’t the same be said for switching the other way too, which is what many many people on the internet claim to be doing… huge outlay of expense for marginal improvements.

Good points, Eric. I do absolutely agree with you that the best camera is the one you have with you. I think that experiment has already been done on a mass scale. If you go onto any forum that shows images shot with different systems, then you will find some excellent shots taken with every one, as well as some that isn't so appealing.

As I said at the start of the third paragraph, the article is aimed at those who have reason to change, or are buying into a system for the first time. I'm not advocating changing systems just for the sake of it.

The problem with crop on a full frame camera is that it doesn't reduce the size of the camera gear. For an increasing number of photographers, for a number of reasons, heavy, bulky gear is a big disadvantage. Consequently, there is an increasing rate of migrating to MFT, because the image quality is more than good enough.

With medium format, it's mainly studio shooters I had in mind. Top studios regularly use medium format and, for those studios that currently shoot full frame, then there is a good argument for upgrading now that the prices overlap.

Thanks for the comment and happy New Year.

Agree to a point. Those starting out should spend a deal of time thinking about what exactly they want to shoot and how they intend to shoot it. I know for a fact that many bird orientated wildlife shooters have moved over to M4/3rds due to the compact size and reduced weight. Out in the field that can indeed be an issue especially shooting hand held. In the studio it’s not an issue. If you are a specialist then which system to go for is an earlier answer. If you are more a generalist then the answer is a bit more difficult. Once you are kitted out changing requires a huge spend. I don’t see the point unless the gain is also huge.
I think people can delude themselves into believing a whole lot of photographic crap. Just read some of the comments. If people spent more time thinking about technique, aesthetics, and thinking creatively and less time fretting over gear then that’s a great way to improve as a photographer at zero spend.

Absolutely agree with your last paragraph. Quite a lot of my articles are about creativity, and I occasionally add an article talking at gear. The gear articles get thousands more reads than any of the others. I also love doing interviews because they contain so much information that we can learn from, but those get read less than articles like this. I find that so odd, and also it's incredible that some people get so hot under the collar about lumps of plastic, metal and glass.

I have an Olympus EM1ii because of the compact size and weight of the lenses. Yes at higher ISO's you will get more noise in the shadows but there is plenty of software that will eliminate or reduce it if you find that a problem. Personally, I don't mind noise in my photos, just like I am not obsessed with pixel peeping like some people are. There is no one perfect system and this argument will go on and on, so I say, just enjoy taking photographs with whatever equipment you like and stop all this constant bickering about who's gear is best!

It's an excellent camera, Keith. Thanks for commenting ad Happy New Year.

Mr. Rackhman, I have a question...
Other than bigger resolution, what sort of uniqueness do MF cameras offer compared to modern mirorrles leica format full frame?

Slower AF? Less FPS? Less compatible lenses? Worse AF tracking and subject recognition?
Lack of fast prime lenses, that would be able to replicate the results you get with fast primes for full frame?
Is it the lack of super telephoto lenses? Or ultra wide? Tilt Shift? Lack of special effect lenses?

In which way should Canon try to catch up to Fuji GFX (other than resolution)?
For example... Lets say I have a Canon R5 with RF 85mm F1.2 and a GFX 50s with 110mm f2
What is the uniqueness of the Fuji setup... Other than the lens not being able to produce the shallow DOF of 85mm 1,2 and other than being over a stop darker, forcing you to increase ISO when shooting moving subjects?

You created an account just to project your Canon fetish… cute.

Also, there is more to photography than ‘shooting wide open’

Sure, let's abandon best interchangeable lens systems with most lenses that exist and move to the most expensive ones with marginal benefit for most people or to the system with lowest image quality. I mean I can also argue for anything I decide to, doesn't mean I should..

Hi Petr
I moved from an APS-C DSLR when I realised, that the only good lenses I could get from the APS-C manufacturer were very expensive pro grade lenses designed for Full Frame sensors and the cost of the full frame DSLR body exceeded the cost of a complete Professional grade MFT set up.
Traded in my APS-C gear and now have a weather sealed pro grade set up.
My camera club members commented on the improvement in my photography, which was a combination of more pictures taken, as I was more pleased with the results and not having much else to do whilst furloughed during lock down.
DSLRs have since been discontinued by that manufacturer..
So there will be a lot of people making choices in the coming years.
I don't expect all of those eventually forced to ditch their excellent DSLR set ups whether they be FF or APS-C to stay loyal to the manufacturer who has discontinued their system, so why should they stay loyal to their old format?
For some it could just be the opportunity they've been looking for to branch out into another format.

I have three friends who have gone to Fuji medium format. Two have had all kinds of problems with defective cameras and Fuji is not standing behind their product. The third does not see any noticeable quality difference that their fx sensors. Sometimes bigger is not always better.

Really? That doesn't sound good. Although those I know that use Fujifilm cameras swear by them.

It seems odd that this article comes out just after M43 may be losing its USP. Namely brand neutral lens mount. It was disappointing that only 2 big players took up M43, and now one has sold off its photo arm to venture capitalists. I bet Panasonic must be so happy with this article, I bet they would have paid someone to write it if offered! It's a huge shame that Sigma didn't go with M43. Most of my life they've been struggling to sell lenses with various proprietary lens mounts. Why didn't they get behind M43…?

Please define "USP".

USP = Unique Selling Point. I'm not sure what you mean, Mike, saying that MFT is losing brand neutral lens mounts. OM lenses still fit Panasonic lenses. Please would you clarify what you mean, with evidence.

As for the sale of Olympus' imaging arm, that criticism has long since died off. JIP has turned the business around, as it has with all the others businesses it has bought. If you talk to the employees at camera shows, they are very positive about the future of the brand.

I agree that it was a shame that more companies didn't get on board with MFT, but I suppose they want to sell their own kit, and not risk losing sales of lenses to others.

Hi Mike at the last count there are 41 Supporting Companies in the Micro Four Thirds Organisation, including SIGMA. link here: https://www.four-thirds.org/en/contact/
MFT is an open format.
It reminds me of Linux, that open source kernel that spawned thousands of computer operating systems, including Android.

When ever the Canon R1 comes out, it probably won't compete with the R5 or R3. Could it have a physically larger sensor?

It would be a good move by Canon if it did.

But then none of the current R mount lenses would work right, because they are all made to cast an image circle that just barely fills a 35mm sensor. So you guys do realize that a body with a sensor that is any larger than 35mm will require an entirely new set of lenses, that require a different mount, in order to cast a larger image circle ..... right?

Vignetting - dark corners- really suck horribly, and software does NOT correct fully for this. Great image quality in the deep corners really does matter a lot to many of us, and a sensor that results in dark corners is simply not going to be acceptable.

For something like 15 years already, not all of their DSLR lenses were compatible with full frame.

That is correct (EF-S mount) ... yet it has nothing at all to do with the current topic we are discussing.

I think it is totally on topic with the title. Canon can make what ever they want and if it's worth it, why not. Also, despite having the budget, like many, I haven't upgraded any camera for many years. I could use a medium format for sure. I have been seriously contemplating the Fuji medium format but have also been waiting for Canon to slowdown on their video obsession but I won't wait for ever.

Do you realize that if Canon made a camera with a larger sensor than the current full frame sensor, then that camera would require an entirely new set of lenses with a larger mount? And that NONE of the current EF or R mount lenses would work properly on a body with a larger sensor? I just want to make sure that you realize this. The fact that you suggest the possibility of a larger sensor on a proposed Canon R1 - without even mentioning the need for all new lenses - is a bit alarming. It seems like you didn't even realize that none of the current lenses would work properly with a larger sensor.

I totally do, but it sounds like Canon's problem. I can go to Fuji any day. Fuji people are smart despite not being a major camera manufacturer. Ask Kodak how ignorance helped them put Fuji at the level they were the last decade of film. It's like Kodak opened the gates to let Fuji in.

No, of course it won't.

The Canon flagship series will still be more about speed and AF than resolution and image quality. The vast majority of these top tier Canon cameras are sold to media agencies who specialize in sports action photography for news outlets. That is Canon's primary market for 1 series cameras. I can't see how a larger sensor would be of any benefit to these sports action media outlets who buy most of Canon's 1 series cameras.

They just need to get lost and separate themselves from the 70's once for all. To me they already are more of a video oriented manufacturer than still photography.

Your two sentences seem to be at odds with each other.

Video / still combos and video as a priority are very "now", 21st century things. And yet you fault them for being stuck in the 1970s. I don't understand that.

I'm talking about the naming structure. Most people can't shoot RAW video in 8k even 4k because despite being fairly inexpensive, large drives after large drive cost a lot in storage. I see a lot of those youtubers actually shoot R6 and nothing RAW. I think a lot of people jumped on the R5 for the video but don't actually shoot much video.

At first I was skeptical of this article. After reading it twice, it makes perfect sense. Having shot on Full Frame, APS-C, and Micro 4/3... I realize the validity of this article. It's not about absolute image quality, or tech futures or other photography mumbo-jumbo. It's about expanding your horizons and doing things differently. Full Frame and APS-C sit well within the safe zone of photography. Not giving or sacrificing too much or too little. Medium Format and Micro 4/3 are the complete opposites. Sitting on the outside of the spectrum and both with severe tradeoffs. Either at the cost of reduced video/photo functionality or quality. Or extremely expensive to own. It's rare that people step outside of the comfort zone to take a different approach. Even though I will continue to shoot with APS-C, I occasionally shoot with my wifes Micro 4/3. The challenge of getting a good quality image has forced me to create new composition and alter my comfortable photography methods.

Hi Roger,
You may have already started on your path away from APS-C, at the moment you can go back to it, but with the discontinuation of DSLRs APS-C you may need to make a choice sometime in the future.
If my wife were shooting a different camera format to the one I used and the one I used was being discontinued, there would be a big discussion over which way I went.

I'm definitely sticking with APS-C. It strikes the right balance of price, performance, and compactness for me. MFT is nice, but not for my photography style. I started with Sony mirrorless (A6000, A6300, A6500) and had a great time shooting. But was left unsatisfied my the actual camera experience. Then I made the jump to Fuji mirrorless (X-T3). Honestly, I've never been happier!

To be honest, I really don't care. I've been in the business 50 years now, and long for the old days, the days when we'd throw our images on a table, and let the editor pick the cover shot. Most of us used the same gear, and film. It was the images that counted, and we used what've it took to get the job done. We'd talk with each other and ask question about how we got the shot, or how we processed the image, not what camera we used or what format. At the end of the day we were still friends. In today's digital circus/digital dust it's not that way, everyone is important, their work is "Professional" because they used x,y,z, camera with a x,y,z sensor, really? Give me a break. I can tell what was shot on film or digital, and weather it was negative or positive just like I can tell you if the image was done with a Bayer or Fovoen sensor. It's in the look, does it matter what camera? Not a bit, it's in the image. The same goes for format, let your images speak for you not the camera or format. Some people prefer large format some small who cares? The companies, they have to sell you stuff, then more stuff, then more more stuff, ect ect you get my point, or I hope you do. I try not to read articles like this, but I did today because it's raining out and I bored. I real don't listen to podcast as they remind me of a dog chasing its tail, around, and around not really saying a thing. Here's an idea, go shot figure it out for yourself. Have a gallery showing. One person here said, "most people don't print their images so what does it matter" how true. It doesn't so shoot whatever floats your boat, but will they? No, most have to justify their purchase, or do podcast or write articles to for cash. Although there are a few who do it for fun and they do not need a job or cash they just like too. That's me, I don't need the money, I have enough so I'm going to start a podcast for fun, nothing more, nothing less, just because I'm bored and I like to have fun even at 70.
Let your work speak for you.
Have fun be Safe

Well, I have MFTds, and Nikon Z6 and Z7II. I love them all, I guess I have GAS! Here is my take on what really needs to happen in the Camera Gear world. ALL of the Main Camera Mfg's need to develop very fast Image processors, so they can shoot 16 bit, not 14 bit, Then you will see some serious Dynamic Range, from what we see now. But, then we would have to see many of the print houses get new printers and 16bit drivers to accommodate the Greater Dynamic Range.

Also, I don't want to hear that you can't tell the difference between 8-bit images and 16-bit, that's utter non-sense!
That's BS perpetuated by All the Print houses, They spew that BS, because their systems can't handle the files at 16 bit. I guarantee you, send any of them a 16-bit file, it gets converted to 8-bit!

I know this seems irrelevant to what this article is about, but it is in that, being able to produce higher bit depth in images produces far better images, and that that is what I want to see in a newer sensor and camera, more than anything else, yet it gets overlooked in every new system or camera body that is released! Food for thought!

Doesn't everyone print from jpg? My understanding is that bit depth matters when you are pushing the file; it sucks when the sky falls to pieces (sometimes, just sometimes, 16 bits would be awesome).

I look at your work, and I see images that are really tightly controlled in studio. Are you stretching the files in post?

Congratulations, Ivor, on generating discussion!

Haha good point, someone above accusing him of filling column space, yet there are nearly 100 comments and counting.

Yep. If memory serves, Ivor is dedicated to MFT (my memory may be faulty there).

I think MFT and 35mm iirc. He lives near me so i enjoy his content, the photos are often relatable.

Digitally, I currently shoot MFT, yes, but have owned or used all the digital formats from every brand.

I am a great believer in people finding the best camera that suits them. All the brands make great cameras, though some do make some shoddy ones too! I also believe that if you are a good enough photographer, then you can get a great shot of any subject using almost any camera, which leaves unique features that suit the photographer's genre, and ergonomics as the most important factors in deciding upon a system. For example, I wouldn't suggest a medium format camera for wildlife, or a full frame for mountaineering.

I've taken large format mountaineering...once

After reading this article I am so confused. I depend on these articles to tell me which camera system to buy so that I can be a great photographer. Could you please re-write this article with that goal in mind? Thanks in advance.


Get yourself a pinhole camera, Steven. :)

Ivor is a brave man. Maybe he doesn't realize that FStoppers is the canonical "Herd" photo site?

The Nikon Z fc is 100% retro, with nothing modern about its looks at all. And it's not even a new look for Nikon--it's been around since 2013 and the df. I mean, if you got that part so wrong, I wonder what else you're totally wrong about?

Read it again, Timothy, I said Nikon had embraced it, while Canon hadn't.

I've used APS-C, FF and m4/3. And for me m4/3 strikes the right balance.The lens ecosystem is the best imo. And the compact size is a huge benefit.

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