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10-01-2011, 02:14 PM   #1
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The Meaninglessness of "Full Frame"

I'm getting more than a little irked by the constant use of the term "Full Frame" or "FF" when referring to the conventional 35mm film format. After all, the word "full" means "able to contain no more", "as much as possible" or something similar. If that is so, what, then, do we make of the so-called Medium Format (MF) sizes? Should they be referred to as "Over-Full Frame"?

I suspect that the FF term arises in reference to the film era, when the Olympus (and other) "Half Frame" cameras were made, but I also suspect that the FF term is also used now to give a cachet to the 35mm format sensor that it doesn't really deserve, as desirable as it might be for some people. The 35mm film format is obviously not as far as you can go in sensor size, because (at least theoretically) there is no limit to the eventual size of digital sensors.

There are perfectly good arguments for using the 35mm format as a standard against which to judge the qualities of smaller sensors, which are often, I suspect disparagingly, referred to as "crop sensors" (is that like "crop circles" - well, they're silly things too, aren't they?). However, those same arguments can be transferred both up and down the sensor size range - APS-C versus 4/3rds versus 1" etc etc; Pentax 645D (Kodak) 44mm x 33mm versus 35mm format etc etc. Clearly, there is no single absolute standard, which the term "Full Frame" implies for itself. In short, "Full Frame" is a Mad Hatter use of a term, to attach any meaning you want to give to it - the sort of thing marketers do all the time.

Of course, the term "35mm" is, itself, misleading, but that's another story.

10-01-2011, 02:54 PM   #2
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I agree. Every sensor size is a compromise, including 35mm. There's nothing intrinsically "perfect" about 35mm that means it deserves the "full frame" moniker - as you said, it's a convention born out of convenience that is becoming increasingly meaningless and misleading.
10-01-2011, 05:08 PM   #3
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It's just a label for a format

QuoteOriginally posted by RobA_Oz Quote
I'm getting more than a little irked by the constant use of the term "Full Frame" or "FF" when referring to the conventional 35mm film format. After all, the word "full" means "able to contain no more", "as much as possible" or something similar. If that is so, what, then, do we make of the so-called Medium Format (MF) sizes? Should they be referred to as "Over-Full Frame"?

I suspect that the FF term arises in reference to the film era, when the Olympus (and other) "Half Frame" cameras were made, but I also suspect that the FF term is also used now to give a cachet to the 35mm format sensor that it doesn't really deserve, as desirable as it might be for some people. The 35mm film format is obviously not as far as you can go in sensor size, because (at least theoretically) there is no limit to the eventual size of digital sensors.

There are perfectly good arguments for using the 35mm format as a standard against which to judge the qualities of smaller sensors, which are often, I suspect disparagingly, referred to as "crop sensors" (is that like "crop circles" - well, they're silly things too, aren't they?). However, those same arguments can be transferred both up and down the sensor size range - APS-C versus 4/3rds versus 1" etc etc; Pentax 645D (Kodak) 44mm x 33mm versus 35mm format etc etc. Clearly, there is no single absolute standard, which the term "Full Frame" implies for itself. In short, "Full Frame" is a Mad Hatter use of a term, to attach any meaning you want to give to it - the sort of thing marketers do all the time.

Of course, the term "35mm" is, itself, misleading, but that's another story.
.

Not a bad post, but (forgive me for saying so,) slightly pedantic, IMO. I think almost everyone who inhabits these fora knows that "FF" or "Full Frame" is just another way of saying "35mm film format," or some variation of that. It's just a label - the 'full' does not signify 'absolute' or 'best'.

I think it stuck because the dominant format when digital hit the scene was 35mm film, and the first few DSLRs were aps-c - thus the comparison to the 'Full Film Frame' that the lenses being shot on these new aps-c DSLRs were originally designed for.

Frankly I think "Full Frame" is an easier term to deal with - when I hear '35mm' I immediately think of focal length, not the film format/Sensor size.

It would be nice to have an APS-x designation for it though, much like APS-C (1.5 or 1.6x) or APS-H (1.3x). (Maybe APS-F? )

Folks used to make this same type of argument about the term 'Prime' to describe a fixed focal length lens, because that's not the original meaning of a 'Prime' lens - but it became the ad-hoc definition after a while, and now it's the accepted label for 'fixed focal length lens'.

.

Last edited by jsherman999; 10-01-2011 at 05:19 PM.
10-01-2011, 06:22 PM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by jsherman999 Quote

It would be nice to have an APS-x designation for it though, much like APS-C (1.5 or 1.6x) or APS-H (1.3x). (Maybe APS-F? )

.
Why would there be an APS designation for 135? We use the designation APS because the sensor is equivalent in size to the Kodak APS (Advanced Photo System) film format.

10-01-2011, 08:31 PM - 1 Like   #5
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35mm film (in various formats) has an interesting history. No Satanic rituals, sorry. Tom Edison told Geo Eastman he wanted film 70mm wide for his projects. Eastman made it, then produced various narrower widths cut from 70mm: 35-16-8mm are most prominent. At first, 35mm film in cine used a 24x18mm format, what we'd call 35mm half-frame or 135/HF, very close to the size of APS-C. Then, it was full frame. But when Leitz (especially) built still cameras using rolls of this film, the 36x24mm format we know as 135/FF, was called double-frame.

So, whether a frame is full or half or double or whatever, is often a result of just *when* it's being talked about. Time rules all. You can't beat it.

Then there's the transition of film from rolls to cartridges. Kodak introduced rollfilm around 1892, but 135 carts didn't appear until 1934, almost 40 years. Leica's first 35mm cameras date from 1925 and 1932, and used 35mm film in long rolls. Changing film was a pain. Then came the very first 135 cartridge camera, the 1934 German-made Kodak Retina 1, with a hand-crank shutter and a very sharp 50/3.5 lens. I had one. It taught me photography.

And that ancient folder is what we now call a FF camera. Best resolution for the price!

Last edited by RioRico; 10-01-2011 at 08:59 PM.
10-01-2011, 08:35 PM   #6
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Well, of course it's a label

And I don't take umbrage at the "pedantic" assertion (someone has to be, after all). Every noun is a label, but some are mis-used as a pejorative and worse. Having worked as a volunteer in the disability sector for many years, I am, perhaps, a little sensitive to this sort of thing.

The source of this particular exercise in pedantry has been my experience of the fairly sniffy way a lot of our "Full Frame" Canon and Nikon-toting fellows dismiss the smaller sensor formats as being a sort of unter-Tech, and I was providing a logical counter to it, by demonstrating that the language was itself providing a bias that was undeserved. I hope that when (and I've thought for some time that it is inevitable, rather than optional) Pentax does produce a 35mm "crop format" camera, those of us who take it up don't fall into the same elitist trap.

Labels are clearly useful things, but sometimes they need to be challenged, when they're misused.
10-01-2011, 09:28 PM   #7
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The size of an aps sensor is "full". Just as a 4/3rds or any other size sensor is "full", referred to its own size. I've always thought that the size of the sensor doesn't need comparison. It might be useful to compare the results produced by sensors of differing sizes . For those staring their photography journey in the age of digital, full frame and crop are distracting ideas.
10-02-2011, 02:44 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by Peter Anson Quote
The size of an aps sensor is "full". Just as a 4/3rds or any other size sensor is "full", referred to its own size. I've always thought that the size of the sensor doesn't need comparison. It might be useful to compare the results produced by sensors of differing sizes . For those staring their photography journey in the age of digital, full frame and crop are distracting ideas.
Problem there is that digital cameras have used various of sensors of many sizes, and the official names of those sizes are less than illuminating. Many of the P&S-size sensors have labels inherited from analog vidicon days; as mentioned above, the describe the size of the vidicon tube, not of its sensing area. Our dSLRs have an oddment of sensors too -- APS-C ain't APS-H, and my K20D"s sensor is NOT official APS-C size.

If I know the diagonal of a frame, which is the 'normal' focal length of a lens for that frame, I have a basis for making some comparisons. What's distracting IMHO isn't the terms, but the casual and unexplained use of equivalences. The 7.67mm of a Q, and the 22.5mm of an m4/3, and the 28mm of my K20D, and the 30mm of 'official' APS-C, are NOT the same as a 43mm lens on 135/FF, even though they give equivalent FOV. Without an explanation of frame cropping, we get so many new users asking if a lens changes focal length on a different camera. Oh bother.

10-02-2011, 04:38 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by RioRico Quote
Problem there is that digital cameras have used various of sensors of many sizes, and the official names of those sizes are less than illuminating. Many of the P&S-size sensors have labels inherited from analog vidicon days; as mentioned above, the describe the size of the vidicon tube, not of its sensing area. Our dSLRs have an oddment of sensors too -- APS-C ain't APS-H, and my K20D"s sensor is NOT official APS-C size.

If I know the diagonal of a frame, which is the 'normal' focal length of a lens for that frame, I have a basis for making some comparisons. What's distracting IMHO isn't the terms, but the casual and unexplained use of equivalences. The 7.67mm of a Q, and the 22.5mm of an m4/3, and the 28mm of my K20D, and the 30mm of 'official' APS-C, are NOT the same as a 43mm lens on 135/FF, even though they give equivalent FOV. Without an explanation of frame cropping, we get so many new users asking if a lens changes focal length on a different camera. Oh bother.
To me equivalence is only useful if you are used to shooting a particular format. For everyone else, it just is a confusing concept. So, if you are used to shooting 35mm film and you want "Equivalence" in an APS-C digital body, then 35mm is your starting point and you can go from there. But, it seems as though a lot of new photographers have started off with digital (maybe a point and shoot or bridge camera) and then get thrown out these terms "cropped sensor," "Designed for digital," and they get confused, particularly, since for years camera companies have sold APS-C cameras as giving extra length to your lenses (which they only sort of do).
10-02-2011, 04:44 AM   #10
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Of course there are many formats larger than what we often refer to as FF.

However, it is justified to use "full frame" for the 36mmx24mm format in the context of the K-mount because this format fully utilizes the K-mount. Any smaller sensor used in combination with the K-mount image circle is a crop sensor, i.e., not "full frame".

The term is not as daft as one might think.
10-02-2011, 05:16 AM   #11
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Andy Rooney would be proud.
10-02-2011, 05:55 AM   #12
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Meaninglessness...thats a pretty good word.
I dont think Pentax has the market to create a Full-Frame...i dont know
They already have the K-5 and the 645D
10-02-2011, 07:49 AM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by RioRico Quote
What's distracting IMHO isn't the terms, but the casual and unexplained use of equivalences
Exactly... thanks
10-02-2011, 11:22 AM   #14
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When a camera is described as 1.5x or 1.6x or 1.3x crop factor, it implies it is smaller than the standard of 24x36mm from which the mount and lenses were originally designed. FF is just easy to type and pretty much anyone that has had a film camera knows what that is.
10-02-2011, 06:39 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by RioRico Quote
No Satanic rituals, sorry.
can I at least bring my voodoo doll?

in all seriousness, yes 35mm film size was brought about in a puff of magnesium and potassium chlorate - it was at the time seen a somewhat of an antithesis to 8X10 - in fact many 8X10 photographers scoffed at the ability to produce a high quality image from such a small negative. From one perspective they were correct - as emulsions at the time weren't that great even with modern emulsions the maximum print size of reasonable quality is 11"X14"*


*I know this is subjective but personally even with top of the line Leica glass and a decent fine grained film like T-Max 100 developed in pyrocat HD 11"X14" remains the limit for me.

Last edited by Digitalis; 10-02-2011 at 06:46 PM.
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