Last year Sarah and I converted from a full-frame Nikon system (featuring D750 bodies and the new f/1.4G prime lenses) to the Fuji X-T2, an APS-C format mirrorless camera. The biggest reason for the switch was that the Fuji images simply looked better, especially in terms of color, with little to no post processing. Shooting with them is also much more enjoyable, which invites us to be much more adventurous in creating with them. Ultimately, we end up with what I feel is a much more interesting essay of images by using the Fuji system.
The only application where I’ve found myself missing the larger format sensor are formal group photos, where faces are small and we’re often using added light. I think of these as the ‘photographs of record’ that document who was at the wedding ceremony, what the given family members looked like at the time, etc. Wedding photographers tend not to look forward to these shots; they aren’t terribly creative, and getting 15 adults to look in the same direction and smile is harder than you might think. In fact, we don’t even showcase these shots on our website since our millennial clients are typically indifferent to them. They’re usually quite important to the parents, aunts, and grandparents though, and there's something undeniably satisfying about really delivering on a traditional photographic task like posed group portraits.
But was there really a difference between our old Nikon system and the new Fujis when it came to the quality of these group photos? To satisfy my curiosity I decided to conduct a side-by-side test at our wedding last weekend in Balston Spa, NY. My original plan was to isolate sensor size as a variable by using a 24 megapixel full-frame camera like the Nikon D750, to match up against my 24MP Fuji X-T2s, which have an APS-C or ‘crop’ sensor. In order to make things more interesting though, I decided to try the best Nikon has to offer in terms of pure image quality and rent a D810, which has a 36MP sensor and even better dynamic range and color fidelity than the D750. Were I to purchase a ‘studio’ camera for tasks like this, the D810 (or its successor) would likely be it.
Before we get to the images, I have to confess that this test was not at all scientific. I fed the Fuji a little more light (lower shutter and aperture since these are a mix of ambient and flash), and left the framing of the Nikon a little bit wider, all in an attempt to compensate for the full-frame’s superior light gathering ability and larger field of view at a given focal length. Also, these were paying clients, and while the wonderful bride and groom graciously consented to my using two different cameras to take these photos, I didn’t want to take advantage of their generosity more than necessary and take more than I needed. Anyone who’s taken photos like this after a wedding knows that the bride and groom are anxious to take as many photos as possible in different locations in that window before the reception, and some of the other guests may be eager to get a drink!
So were the results of the test? In short, there is certainly a difference in favor of the D810, which is visible to just about anyone (but especially photographers) when pixel peeping, ie zoomed in to 100%. This is of course as it should be, given the Nikon’s larger sensor size and higher resolution. But while the difference is there, I'm not sure that is justifies the headache of dealing with a separate camera system during the wedding day.
See the full views below, first the Fuji, and then the Nikon:
There’s some difference to see at this size, at least to my eyes, but I be happy to deliver either of these (the above JPEGs have been through Lightroom for some basic corrections, a link to the originals is at the end of this post). It’s when zoomed into 100% that we see some clear deliniation between the images. Again, first the Fuji, then Nikon.
For experienced photographers, the Nikon image has that ‘bigness’ to it, the distinctive look of a larger sensor. Facial features seem a bit sharper and more well-defined, especially for those in the back row. That may at least partially a result of a longer focal length and wider aperture for the Fuji however, not just resolution and sensor size advantages for the Nikon.
So again, clearly a difference (especially for photographers), but does it really matter? Remember that images like this, if printed at all, will likely be 8x10, maybe 11x14, much smaller than the 27” 5k iMac screens or large 4k monitors that many of us are using now. Even a 16x20 wouldn’t show these differences unless viewed up close, and even then, they would really only be detectable if both images were side by side - which of course would never happen expect on a photographer’s blog post. I won't rule out a larger format sensor in the bag at some point in the future, but this test made me feel a lot better about using the Fujis even for groups, provided we get the technical details and lighting right.
If you’d like to view these for yourself, all of the images used in this post, plus the original RAW files can all be found at this link.
As an epilogue, I actually decided to deliver the Fuji image to the couple, despite the objective superiority of the Nikon’s technical image quality. Why? The bride’s smile is nicer in the Fuji image, and that’s what really matters.