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John Perriment

Does Four Thirds Have A Better Aspect Than Other Formats?

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Andy raised a point about image aspect ratios in a comment on Ian's Daily Hints and Tips Blog yesterday. One particular feature that makes Four Thirds DSLRs unique is the image aspect ratio. In common with most compacts the ratio is 4:3 (not the reason for the name of the format, just a co-incidence). However, all other DSLR formats and systems are 3:2 in line with the old 135 (35mm) film format. The question is, does it matter?

The answer is bound to be subjective, but to me it is an issue. The commonly used 3:2 ratio in stills photography is a hangover from the days when the first 35mm film cameras were developed using, as a matter of convenience, an existing cine film format. Like many, I started my photography with the 35mm miniature film format and indeed successfully used the legendary OM system for many years. However, I was never really happy with the image aspect ratio of 3:2 (x1.5) and this was one of several reasons for my eventual upgrade to a 645 Bronica medium format system. To me, this had a far more comfortable 4:3 ratio; although I would have actually preferred 5:4 I was deterred by the extra weight, bulk and expense of available cameras.

When the time seemed right to enter the digital arena I was loathe to return to the 3:2 ratio which always seemed, to me, to be too stretched horizontally and too compressed in the vertical plane. I admit that this was one reason, if not the only one, for choosing an Olympus DSLR.

My views on this issue were expressed on this forum way back in October 2007 in this post

Consider this picture , which I posted in my blog just a couple of days ago. This is full frame, as it came out of the camera, with no cropping. To me, it is perfectly composed.

Now, had I been using a camera with 3:2 ratio it would have looked like this:-

Or this!

Of course, I could have maintained the same vertical field of view to avoid cropping either the bottom of the tree or the sky by selecting a slightly wider focal length and including more at either side of the image. But I didn't want that, at 4:3 I've framed it just how I felt it should be. With the wider format I would have been cropping the edges and with it nearly two million pixels!

Now some may point out, and it is an issue, the lack of suitable paper formats for printing 4:3 images. I know it's not ideal, but I can at least maintain my proportions by printing full frame on the available media then trimming the unwanted blank paper. In any case, 16x12 is a good size and is readily available for commercial printing.

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  1. Ian's Avatar
    Interesting blog, John. In fact 4:3 aspect ratio is not a strict requirement of Four Thirds (despite the name). Four Thirds is derived from the sensor diagonal size in relation to Videcon imager sizes. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 is completely Four Thirds compliant, but offers a variety of aspect ratios that are not cropped from the usual 4:3 aspect ratio. See:
  2. Nick Temple-Fry's Avatar
    Surely it's based around what you want to shoot - 3:2 is a fine aspect ratio for supermarket aisles and inside multi-storey car parks. For the generous surroundings of churches and the great outdoors then 4:3 is so much more appropriate.