Full Frame or Cropped Sensor – Which Should I Get?


A long time ago, in the days of film when life was simple and you had no choice all cameras shot with 35mm film. Actually that’s not entirely true because there were and still are various film sizes but the 35mm became probably the most widely known and used.

That basically meant that the area of physical film that the light from the lens fell on to create the negative was 35mm wide.

And that was it.

No further discussion.

Everyone knew that a 50mm lens on a 35mm camera gave you a field of view roughly that of the human eye, 24mm was wide angle and 85mm was a moderate telephoto.

Digital cameras were invented and life became a little more complicated! Cameras were still made with 35mm size sensors and became known as full frame and other cameras were made with smaller sensors and became known as cropped sensor.

Full frame is still easy to understand because a 50mm lens still gives the same field of view as it always did on an old 35mm film camera. the benchmark hasn’t changed. All the other lenses behave in exactly the same way so life is not too confusing.

But, start using a cropped sensor camera with a standard 50mm lens and everything changes. The actual sensor is smaller so it magnifies the field of view. There are a number of different cropped sensor sizes but, as a rule of thumb, if you multiply by 1.5 you will end up with roughly the correct focal length so our 50mm lens ends up being roughly a 75mm lens on a cropped sensor body.

To add further to the confusion some lenses are specifically designed for crop sensor cameras and the field of view is expressed in cropped sensor terms. Others aren’t – just so that you know!

So, the whole lens issue is relatively easily solved and understood – what are the pros and cons of each??

Firstly a few years ago there was a much more marked difference between the output of cropped and full frame. Today the gap is closing and and it is much harder to really tell the difference. However, the main thing that most people will mention as being important is the fact that, as the full frame sensor is bigger it captures more detail, more light so there is less noise and lower ISO can often be used. A full frame sensor with a high quality fast lens also produces a special kind of bokeh or background blur that can’t really be matched by a cropped sensor camera. Full frame is more expensive, you need to have faster and better quality lenses to make it worth while and they tend to be bigger and heavier as well.

So what about getting a cropped sensor camera? Well, it will be cheaper, you will have more choice and your lenses don’t have to cost more than the camera body itself to make it worthwhile. You will find that for 95% of the time it makes little difference in terms of quality and you will probably be delighted with your new camera and have forgotten about the whole dilemma within a day or two.

The only real reason to invest in full frame is if you are looking for the very very highest quality. Maybe you shoot landscapes or architectural photography or shoot in low light and natural light a lot of the time. Still, there will today be only a very small difference and you need to make sure that the extra investment really is worth it to you.

The only thing that you will really notice is very different is bokeh. If you lust after fast lenses and shot wide open and dream of the background blur then go for it. The difference is small but noticable, the blur is beautiful and can be obtained only really by shooting full frame on a very fast lens.

Why Your Iphone is the Best Camera You Own

I have to admit to having a bit of a thing for cameras. I don’t actually know how many I own, or have owned over the years and they have ranged from simple point and shoot film cameras, through vintage medium format cameras to high mega pixel DSLRs and cutting edge mirrorless cameras.

But there’s always one camera that has stood the test of time. The one I use as my “go to” daily camera and the one that I have a little bit of a soft spot for. It doesn’t take technically amazing pictures, it’s a bit slow and the colours aren’t as good as my DSLR but it’s the one that I have taken hundereds of shots of birthdays, high days and holidays, kids, pets and parents. Yes, it’s my trusty phone camera. Mine happens to be an Iphone but, in many ways any phone camera is the best camera you own.

And here’s why:

  • You always have it with you. The best camera is the one you have in your hand at the time and, if you’re anything like me, your phone is more or less within arm’s length or in a pocket fairly much 100% of the time. This means that you are always ready to take a picture. With the best will in the world even the smallest “proper” camera takes time and effort to organise and carry around. The camera phone is always there and always ready. This is having a huge effect in terms of the democratisation of photography in that even news events are often recorded and delivered via phone cameras. The immediacy is impossible to recreate any other way.
  • It’s super discreet. You can almost take any picture of anyone without them noticing on a phone camera. They are so common and so much part of our everyday visual experience that no one notices you taking a picture with them. This makes them fantastic for street photography, photographing kids and for photographing in any situation where you don’t want the subject to be aware.  You can even make the Iphone silent so that there isn’t even a shutter sound.
  • Your photographs are instantly super sharable. How many photographs from your other cameras are still sitting on a hard drive somewhere waiting to be edited, uploaded, printed or shared? Maybe they will never see the light of day! The pictures from your phone camera are instantly shareable – putting them on social media is simple, it’s a beautiful seamless process that allows your pictures to be instantly seen and enjoyed. You can even use free apps to do basic editing bfore they go online – awesome!
  • It’s simple and stress free. How often do you get so worried about the settings on your main camera that you either miss a shot or just simply get stressed and give up? You don’t have the control or the choices on a phone camera – just point and shoot. This can free up your creative thinking, you concentrate on the moment and the photograph rather than the technicalities of actually taking the picture. You are free to work at your composition, be spontaneous and, because it’s just a phone camera, you feel far less obliged to take a good picture which can be creatively liberating!
  • When you upgrade your phone you will probably notice a bit difference in the quality of the camera. Have you ever spent several hundred or maybe a thousand or more pounds on a new DSLR only to realise that it’s, well to be quite honest, only a bit better than the old one you had? DSLR technology has, to a certain extent plateaued but camera phones are going from strength to strength. The difference in quality and usablity from generation to generation is quite noticable and you do get quite a big bang for your bucks!

So, there you have five hopefully compelling and solid reasons as to why your camera phone really is the best camera you possess! It’s not all about mega pixels and zoom lenses and a camera phone is the one that lets you photograph all of daily life in it’s glorious immediacy. Remember the best camera you have is the one that you actually have in your hand. Start to think of your phone as your daily camera and see how far you can push your imagination and creativity with the help of such a tiny and powerful, yet beautifully simple device.


Photographing in the Dark!

There’s no doubt about it photographs taken in the dark can look absolutely fantastic! Relatively ordinary scenes, that by day look quite dull, by night can be full of drama and twinkly lit magic!

But have you tried taking night time pictures? Maybe they have come out blurry or more likely they look too light and nothing like what your eyes are actually seeing or what you imagined when you press the shutter.

To help you out and to enable to you to get the night time pictures you really want here are some helpful hints!

Check your exposure.

This might sound a bit odd but most of the time you will need to under expose your night time shots by quite a long way (maybe 2 stops or so) to get a correct exposure. What on earth does that mean? Well, the meter on your camera is good at recognising the amount of light needed to expose an averagely lit scene but will really struggle in the dark. Darkness doesn’t reflect much light back into the camera and so the camera will compensate for this by over exposing the scene ie making it look too bright.

What to do? Well the simplest thing is to use your exposure compensation dial and to turn it to minus until the image looks right. This might be an actual physical dial on your camera or it could be hidden in the menu system somewhere. Just remember to turn it back to zero once you have finished or your normal daylight pictures will come out very over exposed! You can look at the screen on the back of the camera to do this.

Check your shutter speed.

Due to the low levels of light involved it will probably mean that the shutter on your camera has to be open for quite a long time to get the amount of light needed inside the camera to make the picture. This can be a bit of a problem because the longer the shutter is open the more likely it is that the picture will come out blurry – the camera moves a little as you hold it and this is what causes it.

There are a few things to do here to help. Firstly, you could try to get the shutterspeed faster either by opening the aperture as much as possible (to as small a number as possible eg f2.8) or increasing the ISO. Opening the aperture literally widens the lens and so lets more light in therefore resulting in a faster shutter speed and increasing the ISO makes the sensor more sensitive to light and again has the same effect. Bear in mind that the higher the ISO the more grainy and poor quality the image will be.

You could also either rest the camera on a wall or a chair to keep it completely still whilst the shutter is open or, better still, use a tripod. To a certain extent with a tripod it doesn’t matter how slow the shutter speed goes – the picture will not have any motion blur.

Focus by hand

It’s also worth mentioning that some cameras may well struggle to auto focus in low light and it can be much simpler to go into manual focus if that option’s available. It’s not as hard as it sounds – just remeber to put it back into auto focus when you have done.

So, there you have the basics of night time and low light photogaphy! These few techniques will open up a whole new world of night time photography possibilities – why not go out tonight and give them a go!

Happy photographing!

Getting Natural Photos of Your Kids

We all know that photographing children and getting anything that looks natural and real is incredibly difficult! Often the resulting pictures are full of forced smiles, there are tantrums and tears or the pictures are blurry and badly composed. Trying to reflect a child’s personality with any authenticity through your photographs can seem like an impossible challenge, particularly when photographing as a parent as all sorts of other issues and distractions can get in the way.

So, how do you get good, natural pictures of your kids without the stress?

Here are five top tips to get you started:

1. Don’t make it into a photoshoot – this is a key concept because as soon as it becomes a special “photo shoot” or the camera comes out most children will start to “behave for the camera” in whatever shape or form that takes. You need to try to get to the stage where a camera being there is normal. Don’t announce that you will be taking pictures, just get the camera handy and shoot a few frames whilst you’re playing or doing an activity and then put it down again. A little while later pick it up again and shoot again etc. Very soon the camera becomes part of the furniture and the activity of you shooting becomes part of the daily experience. Your child will stop behaving any differently when the camera is there and you will get much more natural images as a result – it could take days of on and off shooting rather than an hour of forced “photoshoot” but it will be worth it!

2. Do not tell your children what to do, how to pose or to “smile for the camera” – it really doesn’t work! – Make it your aim to capture them naturally engaged in an activity, probably not even looking at the camera – this will be SO much more “them” than you constantly cajoling them to look at you and smile! If you continue a normal conversation and interact whilst photographing you will get natural moments when your child will laugh and look at you and these are the real gems that are like gold dust to photograph. Using the technique above your child will eventually look through the camera to you and will forget that it’s there, it no longer becomes a barrier to natural expression and capturing an authentic connection between the two of you.

3. Get down to your child’s level – See the world as they do, roll around on the floor with them, crawl around and photogaph eye to eye. Often the temptation as a tall adult is to photograph from our default “looking down” perspective but this often prevents a real connection being made between the viewer of the image and the child.

4. Look for good quality light – Whatever you do don’t use flash. Try not to photograph under artificial light but go for window light if at all possible – directional light coming mainly from one direction works well but try to avoid direct sunlight as it can make rather harsh and contrasy shadows. Outside, again try to avoid photographing in direct sunlight coming from the side but try to shoot into the sun – this can create a nice halo effect around your subject. Soft directional light in shade works well and try to keep the light coming from one direction rather than from directly over head. It’s simply often a suggestion of playing together on the floor by the window rather than in a darker artificially lit inner room – it really makes all the diference.

5. Use a wide angle lens and a quick camera – a medium wide angle lens eg 35mm means that you can get close in and it gives a great sense of proximity. If possible try to keep your aperture fairly wide open so that you are blurring out any distracting background elements. Bear in mind that you will also need to keep your shutterspeed reasonable quick as children do have a habit of moving around so shooting at a wider aperture will help with this as well. Camera wise you need a camera that is quick to focus and doesn’t have any shutter lag at all. There’s nothing more frustrating than pressing the shutter to catch a fleeting fantastic moment only for the camera to actually take the picture half a second later! Children are fast moving and don’t wait for anyone!

Let me know how you get on and feel free to get in touch and ask any questions!

How Do I Control a Blurry Background?

We have all seen beautiful photographs where the subject is beautifully in focus and the background has a lovely blur to it. This makes a photograph look far more professional and gives it a sense of quality and control. You might also have seen fantastic images where the beckground, in fact everything from the front of the frame to the back is in sharply in focus and again this is a great looking professional technique.

So, how do you do it?

Well, by controlling your depth of field. This isn’t as complicated as it sounds and the depth of field just refers to the amount of the picture that is in focus from from front to back. An image with a narrow depth of field has the subject in focus and the background blurry and an image with a wide depth of feild will have more in focus from the front to back.

Find your aperture – firstly you need to find the aperture control on your camera. It might be a ring around the lens or more likely an electronic control – have a look in your manual if you’re not sure. Basically all the aperture control does is change the size of the hole in the lens that the light comes through. Generally it goes from low numbers like f1.4, f2.8, f4 for example up to higher numbers like f11, f16 and f22. These are called stops and the higher the number of thr stop the smaller the aperture or hole n the lens and the smaller the number the larger the hole.

Blurry backgrounds – Pop your camera into aperture priority mode. Most cameras will do this apart from very basic point and shoots. Select the f stop with the lowest number possible. Focus on your subject which should be in the foreground and shoot away. You will find that the background is blurry.

You might find that it is only a very subtle effect depending upon the camera and lens that you are using. If your lens won’t open up much below f5.6 or f4 for example it will reduce the effect. A “faster” lens – one that will open up wider – will create a much better effect or you can try getting closer to your subject, this will throw the background more out of focus. You can also try using the telephoto end of a zoom lens if you have one as the effect is better when you zoom in as well.

Sharp backgrounds – Again in aperture priority mode, this time select a higher number f11 or f16 should work well. Focus somewhere in the middle ground of the image and you should find that the resulting picture is sharp from front to back. You can test out the likely effect of the aperture you have selected on most DSLRs by pushing the depth of field preview button.

Again there are a number of things you can do to enhance the effect. Using a wider angle lens or the wider end of a telephoto will help, getting low down on the subject will also give you plenty of foreground or using a smaller aperture such as f22 will give you an increased depth of field.

You might find that, as you “stop down” the lens – or make the aperture smaller, that your shutter speed has to increase to compensate – possibly so much so that you won’t be able to handhold the camera effectively. In this case you can increase the ISO or, more effectively, put the camera on a tripod to keep it steady.

Happy photographing and feel free to comment or get in touch if I can help you further!