People who grew up in photography in the film days continue to hold onto some of the "rules" and ideas they learned working with the constraints of film technology. To start with, most users of 35mm film were limited in the sizes they could print by both their tolerance for graininess and the lower resolution of both film and the design of lenses made for shooting film.
A lot of us cut our teeth shooting with "faster" films such as Kodak's Tri-X which is a 400 ISO film that generated ample grain at the labeled ISO and especially so when the film was "pushed" to higher ISOs in processing. Because grain limits resolution it became a suggestion or "rule" that good practitioners always shoot with an eye to filling the entire frame with their compositions. The idea was that any part of the frame that needed to be cropped would reduce the overall sharpness and resolution of the final image. It's a sound practice for people for whom image quality is the primary consideration in a photo. "Fill the frame!" was the mantra of every photo instructor or workshop leader in the film days.
In the early days of digital the same basic ideas still held. With 4 and 6 megapixel files any sort of cropping led to less overall resolution and that was a time when our cameras still had to reach hard to match the "standard" of filling a printed page at 300 dpi.
Now we have more pixels that most of us know what do do with and it makes a lot more sense to start re-thinking the arbitrary format limitations we've lived with for so long. There are many images that seem to be more natural in longer, higher aspect ratios and just as many other images that could be made more powerful when cropped closer to a square format or some other lower aspect ratio.
While I am hardly a wide, panorama photographer I could tell even when shooting the mural above that the photo really needed to be a wide, skinny frame to work well. All of the visual material above and below the crop here was just distracting stuff that would take attention away from the part of the image I wanted viewers to see. With a few moments of trial and error I think I came across the best crop for this. It's a wide frame reality in the first place.
With a 47.5 megapixel camera like the S1R it's easy enough to make "radical" crop like the one above and still have lots of detail in the remainder of the picture to use it for just about any medium. Print or electronic.
I find myself using the 16:9 crop more often than not when I head outside to make images of street scenes because there are often times when wider shows more information and taller only serves to minimize what I think is important by adding extraneous detail top and bottom. I'm never happy with radical vertical aspect ratios so I rarely use a skinny crop if I'm shooting that way.
But the thing that brought me back to playing with various aspect ratios was a friend's recent offer to loan me a Fuji GFX 50R and the nice, little 50mm lens. He casually mentioned that the camera, when, cropped to a square and used with the 50mm basically mimicked the frame size and angle of view that I used to get with my medium format Hasselblad cameras when using a 120mm roll film holder. This tweaked by interest and I started thinking more about shooting in the square with my existing cameras.
The obvious choice was to start experimenting with the highest resolution sensor in order to keep at bay my prejudices about cropping too much. The camera shoots files that are 8368 x 5584 pixels in its highest res, native 3:2 aspect ratio but it shoots a healthy 31.5 megapixels and 5584 x 5584 pixels which is an ample file size for everything EVERYTHING that I need to send, print or post.
Once I decided to try that avenue I started thinking about appropriate lenses to mate with the high res camera. I would want to use a lens that was about two stops faster than the lens on my old Hasselblad just to get me a wide enough aperture to mimic the fall off in focus I would have gotten from the lens for the much larger format.
The Hasselblad 80mm Zeiss lens opened up to f2.8. So I was considering a 35mm format lens that opens up to f1.4. But I wanted the lens to be critically sharp, or at least as sharp as possible at that f-stop so I narrowed my search down and decided that the Lumix 50mm f1.4 S-Pro lens would be the best choice. It's the "reference" lens for the system and one of the few 50's on the market that's very high performing at its maximum aperture.
I rarely used the Hasselblad lens wide open and a more usual f-stop was f5.6. With the S-Pro lens that would equal an f-stop of 2.8 which is an aperture at which the lens is, for all intents, perfect.
The combination of the lens performance and the 31 megapixel file size is pretty wonderful. My first tests were done using Raw+Fine Jpeg using the Monochrome "L. Mono" profile, along with a few sub-menu tweaks (plus contrast, minus sharpness, minus noise reduction) and I'm happy enough with the files I'm getting.
I find getting great monochrome results straight out of camera is a lot tougher than just getting pleasing colors so I'm still working on fine tuning the output. I liked the DXO Film Pack for black and white but I think I can make my own custom profiles that are an even closer tweak to my current preferences.
The detail though is superb. And seeing the images in the finder in black and white is wonderful.
The way I use the system most is as a portrait camera and regardless of whether I'm shooting in studio or on location I love working with the camera on a tripod. I guess that's why, even in this age of downsizing, I still have four or five tripods scattered around the studio...
Shooting this way is one of the few times that I actually prefer to use the rear screen of the camera (or better yet, an Atomos Ninja monitor). For some reason seeing that beautiful gray tone square floating in a field of black is very satisfying.
I find that in the past I would have preferred a longer lens for portraits but that I am loosening up now and the 50mm is fine when cropped to the square. I think the best lens for this combination might be something in the 65-70mm range but I guess I should get more frames under my belt with the current set up, just to be more informed.
I like cameras that offer a wide range of aspect ratio choices in camera. The Panasonic S1 series is exemplary in that regard. The S1R offers me my favorites while the S1H seems to offer every choice under the sun.
Hope you just came in from taking some amazing photographs of 2021 and you're enjoying a good, hot cup of coffee. Or the beverage of your choice. We're going to have a great year!