The Sensor Size Challenge

Pepsi challenge, anyone? You may or may not be old enough to have any recollection of this famous 80’s event, but in any case I’m launching version 2.0 here.

Here it is (…suspenseful drum roll in the background…) from 1-inch to medium format, the Measuring Light Sensor Size Challenge!

Does sensor size matter?.. And to what extent? Is medium format better than full-frame or APS-C, and if so does it justify a whole new investment?

Can you spot the difference?

On a serious tone now… This is obviously an ongoing debate you will find everywhere in the internet nowadays.

From my current collection of cameras, I picked the ones that could be representative of the sensor sizes currently available on the market:

  • 1 inch: Leica V-Lux Typ 114 (20 MP)
  • APS-C: Fuji X-E3 (24 MP)
  • Full frame CCD: Leica M-E (18 MP)
  • Full frame CMOS: Sony RX1R ii (42 MP)
  • Medium format: Fuji GFX 50R (51 MP)

The one sensor size missing here is Micro Four Thirds, but unfortunately I don’t own any of those now.

Testing method

As a baseline, I used straight out of camera RAWs and coupled each camera with an equivalent 50mm field of view lens:

  • 50mm f/1.4 Summilux for the Leica M-E
  • 35mm f/1.4 XF for the Fuji X-E3
  • 63mm f/2.8 GF for the Fuji GFX 50R

The Leica V-Lux Typ 114’s shots were taken with the zoom set to 50mm, whereas the Sony RX1Rii, being a 35mm fixed lens camera, its photos were digitally cropped to the equivalent 50mm field of view.

All cameras were set to their lowest native ISO:

  • ISO 100: Fuji GFX 50R; Sony RX1Rii
  • ISO 125: Leica V-Lux Typ 114
  • ISO 160: Leica M-E
  • ISO 200: Fuji X-E3

Last but not least, I shot 3 series of photos with the same aperture across the board. With fixed ISO and aperture, the one thing I allowed the camera to pick for the exposure was the shutter speed.

From left to right: full frame CMOS; full frame CCD; medium format; 1-inch; and APS-C.

Ok, now that I had explained the boring stuff, let’s put everything aside and check the results.

The results

I’m obviously not revealing now which camera took what. Try to guess… You can click on the photo for full resolution. Just try not to look at the available EXIF data, it will reveal the name of the camera. That’s cheating and you know it.

When you finish the guessing game, just scroll all the way down to see the verdict.

Series 1: Flower @ f/2.8

 

 

Series 2: Tin House @ f/2.8

 

 

Series 3: Bridge @ f/8

 

Findings

Firstly, in order to spot any significant difference you will have to check the photos in their full glory, i.e. full size and full resolution. If you are just checking through your phone, then forget it: the photos are compressed in size to the point that will turn any difference irrelevant.

Secondly, let me tell you this: organising the photos for this blog post was a heck of mess for me. I kept right-clicking the images to make sure I was uploading the correct ones, such was the difficulty in differentiating them.

Thirdly, a very visible hint is obviously the bokeh produced by each camera. We all know the effect of sensor size on bokeh, so there you go. That’s an easy one to spot, right?

Last but not the least, if you start pixel peeping, I guess by assessing the level of detail it becomes somehow clear which photo belongs to which camera.

The one thing I learned though, is that unless you blow-up, crop, display or print in large size, it doesn’t really make much difference. Yeah I know, it’s a no-brainer, but still… You have to see it to understand it and confirm it.

The verdict

Ok, here we go… From top to bottom, this is the sequence:

  • Fuji X-E3
  • Sony RX1RII
  • Leica V-Lux Typ 114
  • Fuji GFX 50R
  • Leica M-E

Surprised with the results?

Whatever… Hope you had as much fun as I did with this.

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