Musings on Photography

Petty Complaints Dept #1 – G9 and Aspect Ratio

Posted in Canon Powershot G9, equipment by Paul Butzi on December 26, 2007

For years and years, I used a 4×5 camera almost exclusively. Now, a 4×5 image has an aspect ratio very close to 4:5 (it’s not quite exact because there’s a border around the 4×5 negative, and that changes it slightly). Now, it turns out that this makes it a good match to most common photo paper (such at 8×10). And somehow, in that ‘come to love the walls of our prison’ way, I got into this mindset that this 4:5 aspect ratio was, in fact, God’s Own Aspect Ratio. And, I’m ashamed to confess, I sometimes looked at the aspect ratio of a print for a clue to what format the photographer used. Snobbery, nothing more.

Then I bought the 5d, and started making prints from the exposures from that camera. And, of course, the EOS-5d has the usual full-frame 24mmx36mm thing going on – the aspect ratio is 2:3. At first, everything seemed wide, and it always felt like I had this extra space at the ends. It didn’t take long to adjust, though, perhaps because I’d been experimenting with a 1:2 aspect ratio with the 4×5, by cropping down the negative.

There probably isn’t one God’s True Aspect Ratio. The needs of the world’s photographers are many and diverse, and although one photographer will thrive with the 1:1 square aspect ratio of the old Hassy, another will thrive with the 6×17 panoramic ratio. That’s a good thing. We don’t have to all be the same.

And that’s why this is a petty complaint. In the relatively short time I’ve been using the EOS-5d, I’ve gotten really enchanted with the 2:3 ratio.

Naturally, my second favorite camera, the recently acquired Canon Powershot G9, has a 4:5 aspect ratio. It’s as if the Photo Gods have sent me a little camera that I like very much, but decided to tweak me just a bit.

On the bright side, this aspect ratio issue remains one of the few things about the camera that irks me. Yesterday I noticed that the camera has acquired several scratches (some in the paint, and one minor scritchy scratch in the corner of the display). This is actually good news – the camera has been riding around in the pocket of my coat, never far from hand. Some might call them scratches of use. I suppose that Fred Picker, bless his soul, would call them Noble Scars.

I’d just point out that if the most annoying day to day thing about the G9 is that I wish it had a 2:3 aspect ratio, then pocket sized compact digital cameras have come a mighty long way toward being real cameras instead of fancy electronic gizmos which can, in a pinch, be forced into making something which kind of resembles a photograph.

There are other problem with the G9, of course. Like every camera I’ve ever owned, I wish the lens was better – in particular I wish it had less distortion and nicer out of focus rendering. And I wish it didn’t suffer quite so much from noise at higher sensitivities. But the bottom line here is that although the G9 might make be inadequate in some ways, to me it feels like such a step up from all the other compact digital cameras I’ve owned that it’s a breath of fresh air.

6 Responses

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  1. Bob Pliskin said, on December 26, 2007 at 10:56 am

    But the little darling has RAW mode, a cure for many ills. It may not be up to the Canon 5D, but it’s product exceeds that of my EOS 10D in many technical characteristics.
    Now, when I shop for work shirts, I check to see if the right-hand pocket will fit the G9!

  2. Dave New said, on December 26, 2007 at 12:53 pm

    Actually, the G9 aspect ratio is the old digicam favorite, 4:3.

    That ratio doesn’t fit ANYTHING, except a standard resolution NTSC TV screen.

    This is a holdover from where the original CCD chips came from — camcorder and video cameras. They started out as 640×480, and have grown larger ever since, but never wavered from 4:3 ratio.

    At least the G9 (for what it is worth) can put gray bars at the top and bottom of the LCD screen in live view, so you can see what will get chopped off if you print on 4×6 paper, but it’s still annoying that Canon can’t see their way clear to put a 3:2 ratio chip in the G-series digicams, which are aimed at least at the more serious amateur market.

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  4. Mark Hespenheide said, on December 27, 2007 at 12:03 pm

    I don’t own a G9, but the published specs imply a 3:4 ratio. Those of us still playing with the anachronistic film format of 645, however, might take heart that many digicams match our old medium format film ratio. I’m in the habit of bringing a 645 camera with tripod while backpacking, backed up by a small digicam for grab shots.

    More to the point, however, the 3:4 aspect can be cropped to either the 4:5 ratio or the 2:3 ratio without losing too much either way.

  5. Ed K said, on December 27, 2007 at 7:23 pm

    1:1, that’s all I want. Won’t someone make a cheep 1:1 prosumer camera, or a maybe a digital insert for my old Rolleiflexes? Please…

  6. Blue said, on January 28, 2008 at 10:21 pm

    I hate to say it, but I like the 4:3 aspect ratio. Why?
    1. My DSLRs are a pair of Olympus 4:3 E400s
    2. It makes for great square crops. I’d hate to crop down to square from 3:2, all that waste!

    I thing the 4:3 on the G9 offers the best cropability options. That said, I’m also looking at getting an LX2 for the 16:9 wide native format, having had an LX1, I think it would make a great pocket buddy for my G9.

    So far as Ed K and his 1:1 dreaming…me too. Let me know when they arrive!


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