One curious by-product of Photokina 2012 seems to have been the breaking out of a new round of The Format Wars. Where in the film days it was mostly 35mm versus the various 120 formats, in the digital battle it’s Full Frame versus Micro Four-Thirds versus APS-C.
Some respondents on The Rangefinder Forum seem convinced that m4/3rds is on the way out, while others assert the same for full frame for no good reason that I can see in either case, and a Panasonic spokesman is quoted as saying ‘that APS-C is at the end of its development, while m4/3rds is a newer technology and can be developed further,’ without producing any real proof of his assertion.
About the only thing that is backed up by some facts and figures, is that smart -phones are eating into the traditional point and shoot market. I’ve had a little personal experience of this, as my two daughters who both owned SLRs in the film days, switched to p&s digital cameras that they have now abandoned for iPhones. I’d suggest that it is a scenario that has been repeated in countless other families.
It has put pressure on the manufacturers who relied on sales to the mass P&S market for a large proportion of the income, to be more innovative and explore all market opportunities. This has led to the release of niche models that weren’t on the radar a few years ago. The Nikon 1 and Fuji X100 are obvious examples, but there are others, not including some pretty appalling lash-ups, like the just announced Hasselblad Lunar (which incidentally, seems more like a ‘suck it and see’ try on, than a serious effort).
Image quality is usually the reason given for larger formats. While it is true that ‘medium format’ digital produces the best quality and that full frame (particularly as expressed by the Nikon D800) is better in terms of sharpenss and tonal values than APS-C or M4/3, it is really a question of better for what? For the web, and for the sizes most of us print at the smaller formats deliver the goods. If you regularly print 60 x 100cm prints, a full frame could be a good investment, but truthfully how often do you do that.
Sometimes the desire “to have my focal lengths back” is often quoted, but why?
It is no longer the case that the smaller formats were handicapped by the lack of a decent wide angle lens. Nikon for example have a 10-24 mm lens for the DX which equates to about 16mm on a full frame at the short end. I could live with that, especially as it costs about $1300 less than the cheapest Nikon full frame body. Third party lenses are even less expensive. Full frame only really makes sense if you already have a significant investment in a number of legacy lenses, or lenses that you need are only available in FF.
Both the Nikon 1 and Sony RX100 use a smaller sensor still, but the results posted on the web indicate that the combination of a cracking sensor and good lenses do give amazing results.
For all practical purposes it is more important to choose a system that is going to suit your needs without fretting about the format. I don’t think any of the three main formats are going to disappear anytime soon. I bought into APS-C before micro 4/3rds came onto the market, but if I were starting from scratch today I’d look at that format very seriously, as it has the most astonishing range of lenses at very competitive prices.