Cropped Mirrorless or Full Frame DSLR?

I had a fascinating conversation last night with one of my privately mentored students, Trish Macharla. We were chatting on TOG TALK, my weekly TOG TALK podcast.

Trish had a few questions she wanted to ask me on air and one of them was still resonating with me during my meditation, early this morning. She wanted to know which of the two options listed above, would I recommend… a cropped frame mirrorless camera or a full-frame DSLR?

The debate between DLSR and mirrorless has be raging for several years now and whilst Sony seems to be stealing the show with its full frame mirrorless cameras, there are many photographers out there who don’t seem seduced by the rush to full frame. Whilst the larger sensors can produce better image quality (IQ), how many of us blow up our images large enough to actually notice the difference?

Let’s be honest here, most people view photos on social media using their phones. Some may use laptops, but even then, screen sizes still only average 13 – 15 inches. And if we only look at images on Facebook, the picture quality is massively reduced as Facebook crushes our file sizes in order to take up less space on their servers.

Here’s the Rub

So the crazy thing is, many photographers rush out to buy the best cameras with the biggest and most spectacular sensors, spending huge amounts of money… only to post their images online where the maximum screen resolution is just 72ppi (the web standard) . I am forced to ask myself “What’s the point?”

Back in the days of film we would produce prints of our images. When digital first arrived there was a tendency to continue to print. It was here that higher resolution images of 300ppi could genuinely take advantage of the full frame sensor and those big prints looked amazing.

Technology races forward and today’s sensors are capable of producing incredibly fine detail. They increasingly allow us to pull detail out of shadows that only a few years back would have been impossible.

But very, very, few photographers print these days. Most of us are content with posting our images on the web for others to see.

So although camera technology today means we have the ability to shoot incredibly detailed images, we dumb our photos down in order for people to see them on the internet.

So here’s the big question…

Why bother with full frame at all?

I own and shoot with both full frame DSLR and cropped frame mirrorless. I love both. I am reaching that stage when I feel I am going to have to make a choice – one or the other. The question that keeps haunting me is ‘do I really need full frame?’

I mean honestly, do I? How much of the clamour to full frame is about peer pressure?

I said jokingly on the podcast with Trish that perhaps there is an element of ego involved, the buzz we get of being seen with a full frame camera around our neck.

“Look at him, He has a full frame camera. He must be a pro”

There is nothing wrong with buying the best if we can afford it, but when I see so many unpleasant online conversations from high-end camera owners, speaking disingenuously against others with less expensive cameras, I despair.

Good photography has NOTHING to do with sensor size, and when we next look at a stunning photo on Facebook (on our smartphone)… how would we know whether it was taken with a full frame costing £4000, or a crop frame budget camera for a few hundred?.

I can understand professionals wanting full frame if they are regularly producing large prints for their clients, and there are still a few hardcore amateurs who like to produce prints (these tend to be camera club members), but me..?

I don’t.

Kevin Ahronson

Kevin is a full-time professional photographer and has been teaching photography since 2009. He founded the Hampshire School of Photography where he runs photography workshops and gives one to one mentoring to photographers at all levels, from complete beginners through to those who want to turn professional

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