Why Full-Frame is Overrated in Photography


Full-frame is overrated in photography. Why?

1. Bokeh is overrated

A lot of photographers, myself included, thought buying a full frame camera would give you better bokeh, which would make you a better photographer.

But, making photos with creamy bokeh doesn’t make a good photo.

Richard Avedon. Not shot wide open.

In fact, most of the best photos of history were NOT shot wide open.

Henri Cartier-Bresson had a 50mm f3.5 Lens. His best photos had deep depth of field.


Richard Avedon shot with the smallest aperture possible, to get insane detail with his large format portraits.

Avedon. Not shot wide open

Why is bokeh so popular in photography? My theory:

  1. Photographers want to differentiate themselves from phone photographers, therefore they want the visual “wow” of bokeh photos. Because phone cameras cannot make bokeh, blurry background photos like high-end digital cameras. There is software that can mimic it, but it doesn’t look the same.
  2. Camera companies want to sell more expensive lenses (f1.2-f1.4 lenses). Therefore they pay photography bloggers, or give them free gear, to influence the market— to increase demand for fast Lenses.
  3. Blurring the background while shooting wide open is an easy way to simplify the scene, and remove distractions from the background.

But to be frank, to blur the background is a lazy technique. A truly great photographer will consider the background, to make a strong environmental portrait. Or easier, just to use a simple black or white background is a good way to make a better portrait.


Takeaway point: Full frame is overrated, because the selling point of full frame is better bokeh. But better bokeh doesn’t lead to better photos.

2. You can get good high-iso photos with crop sensors

eric kim street photography x100f fujifilm-7338
Lovely photo by Fujifilm x100 Camera. Bangkok, 2017

Fujifilm makes great sensors, their crop-sensors in their X-series Cameras, which can shoot at very high iso like 6400+ with very little noise.

The truth is actually, by NOT increasing the megapixels of a camera, but by improving the sensor technology, you can get better high-iso images.

For example, the Sony a7s series cameras don’t have many megapixels, but very good high-iso performance, because they optimize the performance of the sensor. Of course, the Sony a7s is a full frame sensor.

Even many micro 4rd sensors have fantastic high iso performance. I’m a fan of the Olympus Pen F.

eric kim photography self portrait by cindy nguyen
Eric Kim in tub. Photo by Cindy. Olympus Pen F.

In the past, only full frame sensors had good high iso performance. But now, even crop sensor, and non full frame sensor cameras have great iso performance.

eric kim street photography portrait
Dalat, 2016. Selfie with Olympus Pen F.

Takeaway point: Don’t buy a full frame camera thinking that it will give you better high iso performance. Rather, consider the quality of the sensor.

Dalat, Vietnam 2016
Dalat, Vietnam 2016

3. Less depth of field

Shot on a phone. More depth of field.

Funny enough, we wanna buy full frame cameras, to get creamier bokeh, and less depth of field.

But having MORE depth of field is often advantageous, especially in street photography.

Shot very close in macro mode on Ricoh GR. Allowed me to get more of her face in focus.
Shot very close in macro mode on Ricoh GR. Allowed me to get more of her face in focus.

For example, shooting on a phone in Street photography is good.

More depth of field: more likely your photos are sharp and in focus.

Full frame cameras have LESS depth of field, so more chances of your photos to be out of focus.

New Orleans, 2015 #RICOHGRII
New Orleans, 2015 #RICOHGRII. I was able to get more of his hands and face in focus, with the crop sensor.

Generally, photos that are in focus are better.

To be technical, shooting a full frame camera at f8 is equivalent to a crop sensor at f11. And a full frame sensor at f8 is equivalent to f16 on a 2x micro 4rd sensor. Which means If you want to shoot street photography with depth and layers, using a SMALLER SENSOR is better.

4. Cost

Shot on crop sensor Ricoh GR II camera. Hanoi, 2017
Shot on crop sensor Ricoh GR II camera. Hanoi, 2017

Full frame cameras are more expensive.

I’d say, use that’s money to travel, attend workshops, and to have more life-affirming EXPERIENCES.

Cindy in elevator. Shot on Ricoh GR II. Hanoi, 2017
Cindy in elevator. Shot on Ricoh GR II. Hanoi, 2017

Money can buy you happiness, only if you spend it on experiences, not stuff and gear.

Practical suggestion:

Spend as little money on your camera as possible, and maximize that money to buy photography books, travel, and experiences, or start your own photography business.

5. Full frame won’t make your photos more personal

Personal photo of Cindy. Shot on a phone.
Personal photo of Cindy. Shot on a phone.

I love personal photography. Because you can shoot personal photos on ANY camera. Your phone, old shitty camera, film, whatever.

The only way to find more happiness and joy in photogrpahy is to shoot more personally meaningful photos. Photograph your loved ones. And SHOOT MORE. The more I shoot, the happier I am.

Photo of Cindy in an elevator on Ricoh GR II , in Program Mode, and flash. Sf, 2016.
Photo of Cindy in an elevator on Ricoh GR II , in Program Mode, and flash. Sf, 2016.

Shoot in weird places, like elevators. Shoot in your own home or apartment. Shoot in the streets. The whole world is your visual playground.

Also don’t forget, the point of photogrpahy is to live a richer, happier, more artistic life. It isn’t about making good photos.

To be happier isn’t to get more likes on Instagram.

The fallacy:

  1. If I buy a full frame camera, I can make better photos.
  2. If I make better photos I will get more likes on social media.
  3. If I get more likes on social media, I will be happier.

This is false.

For example, I deleted my Instagram and now spend less time on social media. Result: less stress, anxiety, and caring less what others think of my photos. Now, I experiment more. And I shoot more and have more fun.

6. What should I buy?

Downtown LA, 2016 #pentax645z

Practical suggestion in photography: for commercial work, shoot digital medium format photography.

For personal photos, use your phone, or a cheaper digital camera.

See more equipment recommendations >

7. Sensors are overrated

The ultimate sensor, the human eye.

Maximum clarity, very high dynamic range, no lag.

And to be honest, film photos will always look better than digital photos. For inspiration, buy FILM NOTES.

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