Square Sensors for Lighter Systems

All of those planes going somewhere without me this morning. 😦

Oh well, I’m still fine tuning my techniques and style in anticipation of future travels, and that means I need to get on with today’s topic which is aspect ratio.  Olympus provides you with many different aspect ratios in the E-P3 with the native aspect ratio of the sensor being 4:3.  For the above picture I chose to set it for 6:6, or for square pictures.  I like this ratio for displaying pictures in my blog, but it means that I’m cropping the sensor as you can see in the following picture.

(Note that I took this picture with my Canon S95 and that the color balances were different.)

Even though I set the aspect ratio to 6:6, when I review the picture taken at that ratio in the LCD, the above is what I see.  It shows me how the camera cropped the sensor to achieve the square format.  Obviously they recorded the full sensor’s data but when I extract the picture from the camera to LR as a DNG picture I only get the square picture.

I have several issues with the above info.  The first is why doesn’t Olympus show the above scene on the LCD while composing the shot?  If they did, it would help in deciding whether to continue with the 6:6 ratio rather than the native 4:3 ratio.  Second, if they record all the data in the 4:3 format, why not make it available when I bring the picture up in LR in a view similar to the above?  But, I’m not as concerned about these first two issues since I usually shoot in the 4:3 format and crop in development.  I’m left wondering about my third issue:  Why don’t they make the sensor in a square format?

I see at least two advantages to having a square sensor.  First, it would eliminate turning the camera to compose in landscape or portrait mode and thus eliminate the awkward holding and use of the camera in a vertical orientation, but that is a minor issue.  My main thought is that a square sensor would enable the construction of smaller lenses.

The primary reason that many of us are moving away from DSLR cameras is to reduce the size and weight of the combined camera and lenses.  The micro 4/3 cameras achieve that by eliminating the mirror and by reducing the size of the sensor.   Efficient production techniques necessitate that lenses be round.   This means that the rectangular sensors only utilize a portion of the lenses’ image projection.  Going from the APS ratio sensors to 4:3 ratio is a more efficient use of the round image and that enabled the lenses to be smaller.  If they would go to square sensors it would be even a more efficient use of the round lens image as depicted below and it would enable us to have even a smaller camera-lens combination with adequate sensor sizes for quality images.

Come on camera designers; give us an even more efficient, smaller, and lighter system with a large square sensor and right-sized lenses.  Seems to make sense to me.


  1. André

    If you open the RAW in Olympus ib (the software that comes with the camera) you can see the 4:3 version and develop the RAW from there. You can even apply an Art Filter. Unfortunately, the RAW support for the EP-3 in Lightroom does not allow to revert to the 4:3 image and you are stuck with the cropped version. I think the problem is Adobe, not Olympus. You can develop a 4:3 version in ib and import it in LR.

    If you own a Mac, you will have the same problem as me, ib is not supported on OSX. The only software from Olympus that runs on it is Olympus Master 2 and it’s not great and will only let you open the RAW. It gives an error when developing. So you are left with the option of running ib in a VM or on another PC.

    I would like very much that Adobe fixes that. I like to see the 6:6 image in the camera LCD as it changes the way you do the composition. If you take the shot in 4:3 and crop in LR you often end up with a different image since you composed the picture in 4:3. But in certain situation, you realize in post-production that the 4:3 would be better. You know you have the data but LR will not let you get it…


    • André

      I just found out that Gimp (free and runs on OSX) can read the E-P3 raw files and gives you the 4:3 image back!


  2. Dee

    What an incredible picture! The color is so beautiful, it reminds me of our sunset here last night which was also spectacular. You are making me think I need to learn more about photography and buy a better camera. What a nice way to start my day.