As my photographic career has evolved, so has my appreciation of image quality. I now spend a huge amount of time on the road and would love a lighter, smaller system, and yet I can't bring myself to let go of my full-frame sensor.
Until recently, shooting on a full-frame DSLR made sense to me; I traveled only occasionally, didn't mind the weight of the body and the lens, and having that full frame made me feel like a "proper" photographer. Two years ago, my life became much more nomadic and hauling my DSLR and two L-series lenses has become a chore. Given my desire for minimalism and the fact that photography is only one part of my profession, I can't justify the cost and space of owning two different systems. As a result, I find myself caught between a full-frame camera that feels too big, and the prospect of a cropped-sensor system that, despite the amazing technology, feels like a step backwards.
When I made my last purchase, a full-frame DSLR felt like the best fit and, as a long-time Canon shooter, the Canon 6D was a nice compromise of quality, size, and that magical full frame. Despite shooting sports, I don't rely on a high framerate, deciding five years ago that the size, weight, and cost savings justified the 6D's 3.5 fps over the 5D Mark III's 6 fps. A cropped sensor mirrorless camera might have been a much better option, giving me the small, lightweight, and affordable system that I craved. However, switching systems was daunting and mirrorless sensors seemed to attract dirt and kill batteries like nothing else, so I never considered it seriously as an option.
An upgrade is now overdue. I spend most of my life at wide angles and not-massive apertures, and it's only for the occasional portrait (an area of my photography that could do with a lot of practice) that I open up to f/2.8 to take advantage of some nice separation of subject and background, typically at the longest end of my 24-70mm (or my beloved 40mm prime).
That said, the thought of not having two dials — one under my finger and the other under my thumb — is not something that I can contemplate. I always shoot in manual mode, often adjusting my exposure without looking at the numbers. The thought of not being able to respond instantly to changing conditions, whether that's passing clouds or sudden movement, is an unpleasant thought.
But there is one other factor that, I realize now, is even more decisive: my ego. In a way, my sensor has tracked my photography career. I started out shooting cheap color film, scanning soft negatives, before landing an advert for Canon and being paid with my first DSLR. From there, the step to full frame felt natural, giving me the width that I wanted with the lenses that I already owned. And one more crucial element: the sensor quality made me feel like a "proper" photographer.
I've gone from being an incompetent amateur shooting blurry film to a (relatively) tech-savvy photo geek with a professional-looking camera dangling around my neck. The camera itself feels like a passport to this world of accomplishment and prestige. Even now, watching people shoot photos looking at their screen rather than through the viewfinder makes me cringe. Of course, that cringe is ridiculous, but I'm also conscious of what my commercial clients expect: photographers should hold big expensive cameras and look through the viewfinder. They shouldn't be holding a small, toy-like piece of plastic, framing shots by staring at an LCD at arm's length.
Photography has changed and maybe I'm resisting. If Nikon and Canon's reluctance to embrace mirrorless has proven one thing, it's that a unwillingness to embrace change can come at a cost. I need a system that suits me, my lifestyle, and my photography, not my ego and some precious idea of what "a photographer" is supposed to look like. As so many articles point out, these expensive lumps of metal and plastic are not representative of our capacity to produce images. But, at the same time, how we feel when we're holding the camera can influence how we shoot, so, whatever my biases are, they're still factors that are difficult to ignore when making this decision.
Have you ditched full frame for a cropped sensor? I'm keen to hear about other people's experiences. If you have any regrets, wish you had made the move sooner, or have any thoughts on how it affected your photography, please leave a comment below.