Bigger Sensor, Better Quality?

I congratulated a friend of mine on his purchase of a full frame camera. He said that he’s been saving and waiting for it for a long time and finally his new camera came and he’s excited to try it out. Why would photographers upgrade to a bigger sensor and expect better results compared to cropped sensor.

It is a known fact that a larger sensor would give you more dynamic range. This means that you’d be able to capture more gray levels or tones in your image. Since a digital sensor’s weakness is dynamic range in comparison to film, a better sensor will at least minimize the gap but film is still king.

Recently, Hasselblad, known for its medium format size, released a mirrorless version making the bulky camera more compact and ready to go outside of the studio. Medium format camera has an entirely bigger sensor size than full frame cameras. It’s not your everyday camera, prize is just too steep that you can buy a decent car out of the camera body alone.

Smelted. Winning shot of Victor Kintanar during the Global Fujifilm Photowalk, June 2016 - Cebu Leg. Fujifilm X-T10, 35mm, 1/160sec, f/2.8, ISO800.

Smelted. Winning shot of Victor Kintanar during the Global Fujifilm Photowalk, June 2016 – Cebu Leg. Fujifilm X-T10, 35mm, 1/160sec, f/2.8, ISO800.

The bigger the sensor the less noise or grain. This is because of the size of the photodiode that can fit a bigger sensor plane. A larger observer simply can take in more light in low lighting scenes. You probably would ask why a small sensor in a camera phone would yield impressive results.

Yes, it is, if you compare it in a small size view. It’s like bringing the fight in your territory. If you’ll compare images taken using a camera phone versus DSLR or compact cameras in bigger view, then you’ll start to see the difference. Camera phones are designed to get the best quality for viewing in LCD and sizes that fits social media platform.

The power of camera phones are of course better small sensor than before but what makes the difference is the camera algorithm. It’s the breakthrough in software. The ability to perform intelligent color adjustments in every shot. That’s the reason these better quality camera phones need more processing power from its chip to perform complex adjustments on the fly.

Bigger sensor also means more shallow depth of field. Although, this is not something a landscape photographer would aim for since they are mostly for a greater depth of field. In bigger sensor, focal length differs when compared with smaller sensor. To shoot the same framing with different sensor size, you need to step back farther from your subject with smaller sensors.

All the advantages of having a bigger sensor has been proven with actual side by side shots. It’s all over the internet. It will definitely give you a better image quality in every sense of it but do not expect your shot to look more visually creative using a bigger sensor. Cameras are tool and no matter how much the digital camera is spread out in everybody’s hands, the cream always rises to the top.

Just like the winning shot by Victor Kintanar from the recently concluded Global Photowalk by Fujifilm. It’s really not the sensor size in this case. Rest in peace Bill Cunningham and thank your for sharing your art to the fashion industry. Keep on shooting everyone!

Text by Albert Pedrosa

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