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04-11-2013, 05:40 AM   #1
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Why not a square sensor?

I recently spent some time shooting a vintage Ricoh Diacord G with Kodak Ektar 100 -- great old camera, great modern wonder-film. I was very impressed with the output from it. As I was reviewing those square photos in Aperture, and cropping some of them as needed, it got me started thinking about where we've come from and where we're going with digital cameras.

It's not 1960 anymore. The future of photography shouldn't be tied to 35mm film format and pentaprism-based SLR designs. Instead of another "me too" full-frame camera that mimics 135 format, I'd love to see some company think outside the 3:2 aspect ratio box and give us a large, square sensor.

There would be no more concern about turning your camera on its side to frame a shot. That could all be done digitally, cropping the image to whatever final aspect ratio you want, either horizontal or vertical. Composing shots in this way becomes easy if we get rid of the optical viewfinder and go all LCD/EVF -- and that's the future, realistically speaking. The time is fast approaching to send the pentaprism off to its honorable, well-earned retirement.

A square frame makes most efficient use of a given light circle. So, I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations. Your diagonal on 135 format is about 43mm. A 30x30mm sensor would have a 42.4mm diagonal (thank you, Pythagoras), so all the "full frame" lenses, old and new, should cover that image circle neatly. Depending on the crop options you chose, a lot of APS-C glass could be usable, too. Actually, all of it could be usable if you simply put in a compatibility setting; the camera could use the portion of the sensor that the lens's light circle covers, and the electronic viewfinder could scale accordingly.

IMHO, this should be the successor to the DSLR. The K-01 was a sort of awkward step (or stumble, maybe) in roughly the right direction. Put an EVF on it, and swap in a 30mm square sensor, and it could be the beginning of something great.

04-11-2013, 05:44 AM   #2
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Yes, why not a round sensor? We pay through our nose for our lenses, why should any of the image circle go to waste?
04-11-2013, 05:55 AM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by selar Quote
Yes, why not a round sensor? We pay through our nose for our lenses, why should any of the image circle go to waste?
Funny you should mention that... I seem to recall the original Kodak Brownie camera shot round photos!
04-11-2013, 07:35 AM   #4
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At 33 x 44 mm the 645D's sensor is almost square.

Why not put little printers in the battery grip and they can spew out prints like the sonar Polaroid cameras? The image portion on those were almost square too.

04-11-2013, 08:06 AM   #5
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Tony, I was just thinking the same thing recently. I think you're on the right track.

I see two reasons to keep the rectangular sensor, though...

(1) "Seeing" a rectangular format in the viewfinder aids composition, assuming that a rectangular crop is eventually going to happen. Of course, this view could easily be toggled by a button on the camera (without having to rotate, as you said).

(2) Under the assumption that a rectangular crop is eventually desired (which, I realize, is an assumption), a rectangular sensor saves the manufacturers money. A landscape and portrait rotation covers almost the same area as a square sensor. So, for your inconvenience of having to rotate the camera, they save money. I think that this reason alone will keep our sensor oblong for a long time.
04-11-2013, 08:21 AM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by Tony Belding Quote
A square frame makes most efficient use of a given light circle. So, I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations. Your diagonal on 135 format is about 43mm. A 30x30mm sensor would have a 42.4mm diagonal (thank you, Pythagoras), so all the "full frame" lenses, old and new, should cover that image circle neatly. Depending on the crop options you chose, a lot of APS-C glass could be usable, too. Actually, all of it could be usable if you simply put in a compatibility setting; the camera could use the portion of the sensor that the lens's light circle covers, and the electronic viewfinder could scale accordingly.
This isn't necessarily true.
A square indeed fills the most area inside a given circle, however if it's "most efficient" or not, depends on the end-product format (i.e. after cropping). If the intended results is a 3:2 rectangular image, you will actually lose if you'd crop it from a 30x30mm square - effectively getting an 1.2 crop factor.

I can see it work in a special, niche product (unless lens' baffles would prevent using a 30mm high image). It would require a special, low volume (thus expensive) sensor, though, so I doubt it's a viable concept. Maybe for a medium format, some kind of digital Rollei? (but not Pentax, they already have their own format)
04-11-2013, 10:47 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by Tony Belding Quote
Why not a square sensor?
Don't you go muddying the water even further, I've got enough problems getting FF one out of Pentax.
04-11-2013, 11:38 AM   #8
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The golden ratio is pleasing to the eye, otherwise it would make sense.

04-11-2013, 11:56 AM   #9
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I'm also a square-sensor fan. Especially given the polarized nature of screens and nearly every pair of sunglasses, I'd like to crop tall while holding the camera in 'landscape' mode. Nobody has announced such a sensor though, and Pentax doesn't have the clout to buy silence on such a large scale. Maybe in a few years?
04-11-2013, 01:10 PM   #10
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If they announced a sensor that was 36x36, it would take about 12 seconds before someone posted a complaint something like "Why didn't they make it 36x54?".

Last edited by Parallax; 04-11-2013 at 02:22 PM.
04-11-2013, 02:00 PM   #11
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Random thoughts about the square format.
https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/photographic-technique/221297-random-thou...re-format.html
04-11-2013, 02:17 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by Tony Belding Quote
It's not 1960 anymore. The future of photography shouldn't be tied to 35mm film format and pentaprism-based SLR designs. Instead of another "me too" full-frame camera that mimics 135 format, I'd love to see some company think outside the 3:2 aspect ratio box and give us a large, square sensor.
The future of photography isn't tied to 35mm film format just because of inertia, it's tied because 35mm film made sense, which in turn made sense because it's based on the golden-ratio.
04-11-2013, 02:18 PM   #13
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Square compositions can be unique. You can create a circular movement among other things. And as noted, it is more efficient for lenses too. With good grid lines on the viewfinder, I don't see why you can't utilize square compositions with a 3:2, 7:6, etc format. I have a square format film camera in my lineup and use it frequently. It's an acquired taste.
04-11-2013, 04:21 PM   #14
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I don't think it's gonna happen at least until sensor area isn't a big cost factor: they aren't going to want to be having any resolution going to waste in a mandatory crop until they dont' have to charge for it. And certainly, making a square format *SLR* introduces factors like a big flappy mirror and a viewfinder taller than it needs to be. And if it's an EVF camera, there's a lot of design options like simply making a turnable lens/sensor unit or making an easier-to-turn camera. A real reason square format's often used for some applications is to allow *editors* flexibility in how they crop the image. And much more logical that way for medium format even if you aren't wanting to use a waist-level finder. The 35mm SLR shape is kind of ideal for being about the size of camera that fits a human hand.
04-11-2013, 09:29 PM   #15
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The panasonic GH2 had a 'large' sensor - where the crop wasn't so harsh because as you made the sensor less long horizontally, the pixels available top and bottom increased a bit.

I think the diagonal was limited by the lens image circle.

http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/DMCGH2/PanasonicImageCircle2-S.jpg
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