After an eight year hiatus, I’ve returned to the realm of full-frame photography as this past week I added a new camera body to my collection — a Sony A7. What has surprised me is that I don’t want to give up shooting micro 4/3 nor APS-C; full-frame simply provides me with another creative option.
As I work through pairing the A7 with the pieces in my vintage lens collection, I’m once again struck by character of Contax G, Nikon F, Voigtlander VM, Olympus OM and Soviet-era M42 glass. On APS-C and micro 4/3, the central region of each lens is used for imaging and as such, I experience the best optical performance when shooting. Although some of the character comes through and I certainly notice it, much of what makes these lenses special beyond bokeh can be lost out-of-frame.
As strange at it may seem to some, my 40mm f1.4 Voiglander Nokton has been my portrait lens when shooting on my micro 4/3 GH3 as it crops to the equivalent of an 80mm telephoto. Shooting with the A7 this week has enabled me to really see what it is designed to do as a full-frame, standard focal length lens.
Something I’ve noticed when shooting with the A7 is a bit of vignetting in the corners of the frame regardless of vintage lens I’m using. Whether that’s a function of the full-frame design of the A7 (a lot is being asked of both the camera and lens in a very small space) or the optical design of film lenses is of no consequence to me; what I find is elements like that give lenses a distinct character when mounted to an A7 which is my reason for collecting vintage glass in the first place.
Smearing in the corners? Vignetting? So what? Things like that force me to learn how to turn those characteristics into creative tools and achieve more when I’m in the field. As I’ve written about before, I want to do more in-camera to compose my shots and do less in post.
So why am I not transitioning from micro 4/3 to full-frame mirrorless? Like a cinematographer who chooses among shooting formats to achieve a look or capture what will be expected by the director, I feel the same is now true in my mirrorless kit. If I want to shoot high quality telephoto images in a small package, micro 4/3 is the way to go. If I want wide shots or extremely shallow DOF, full-frame. If I’m traveling and want to keep the kit to a minimum, mirrorless APS-C fits the bill.
Adding full-frame mirrorless has changed my perspective, but not my approach. I now have a range of creative options from frame size to optics that will enable me to achieve different outcomes. Mirrorless continues to challenge me as a photographer and brings joy to me as an individual. I’m glad I made the switch.