Sensor snobbery - 1", 4/3. APS-C, FF sensors compared. Just how much of a difference is there?

In one of my posts yesterday, I responded to an article on 43Rumors. I did so because in the comments section of that article there were views expressed that a 'full-frame' sensor would produce superior results and by implication that it must be easy to see that. My contention is and always has been, that isn't the case. I made some raw files available for download to back that up. 

The point here is that we all try to make the best of whatever files come from whatever camera we use, with whatever sized sensor. When I edit lots of pictures to upload to picture libraries, I'm usually doing that with files from lots of different cameras. From my smartphones to my 'FF' Nikon Df and Sony FE cameras. I just don't see any huge difference between them at low ISO's. At higher ISO settings, yes there is an obvious difference, and the full-frame advantage can be clearly seen. And those 36MP on the sensor of my Sony A7r certainly gives a dramatic boost to the resolution. But as in the original article on 43Rumors, I also wouldn't see any great difference between a 16MP m4/3 camera and a 20MP 'FF' one if care was taken with the original capture and post processing. 

So, with all that in mind I decided to shoot four versions of the same still life setup with my Panasonic FZ1000 (1" sensor) Olympus OM-D E-10 + 25mm f/1.8 lens (4/3 sensor) Fuji X100s + 33mm conversion lens (APS-C sensor) and my Nikon Df + Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART lens ('FF' sensor) I also adjusted the apertures to get approximately the same depth of field and auto focused with a centre spot, which has, cameras being different, focused slightly differently on each shot. This is how we use cameras in the real world. At least, that is, those of us who go out to take photographs rather than test our gear. And if this 'sensor snobbery' is justified, we should still be able to clearly see the differences, right?

I also 'shuffled' them up, so that I don't even know which is which and tried to work out what took what. I struggled. 

Here's the setup.

Tripod mounted, all images ISO 200, various apertures.

Below are 100% blowups, all files processed from raw using Photoshop CS6 (Identical processing) and Adobe Camera raw.

Below are the same files (in a different order) identically processed using Iridient Developer.

Does the 'full-frame' image jump out at you? It was also taken with what is supposed to be one of the sharpest lenses ever made, so if sensor snobbery (and of course lens snobbery) IS justified, it should be obvious. 

I'll leave this with you, since I think I've made my point. 

Finally, I'm not saying that larger sensors don't have advantages, they do. Noise at higher ISO's, dynamic range and the capability to produce very high resolution with the larger pixels do all make a difference. But again I repeat my opinion that this is much less than is often stated. It can usually only ever be observed with high magnification pixel peeping anyway and for most print reproduction purposes is even less observable. So am I saying it's not worth it going for a 'FF' sensor, at least in terms of images quality? Well no, I'm not saying that, what I am saying is that the differences aren't huge and may not even be significant enough for people to 'upgrade' to a larger sensor.

Another reason I responded to the article yesterday was that some m4/3 owners seemed to accept that their cameras and sensor were 'inferior' and attempted to justify their choices by asserting that m4/3 were smaller, lighter, more 'fun'??? and were all that they needed. The point is that m4/3 owners (and other smaller sensor users) don't need to have any kind of 'inferiority complex' about what they own and in fact at low ISO's, with care there isn't any problem in creating top class images with these cameras.

A couple of days ago I went out with my Olympus OM-D EM-10 and I shot the image below with a 25mm f/1.8 lens. I've been experimenting with Iridient developer to see just how much I can upsize my images. The 100% blow up attached to the image is from a file I interpolated 150% and I was very impressed at the level of detail still present and the sharpness I could achieve.

This is a 33MP, 95MB file and yes what I get from my Sony A7r is better, but it shows that if needed, m4/3 files can be printed very large.

As ever, the specs. of a camera, a sensor or a lens don't tell the whole story and there are all sorts of ways to get more from our gear than we might initially assume. Particularly if we listen to some of the know-it-alls on the photographic internet, which is always a bad idea. Since in actual fact, they usually 'know' much less than they think they do.