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Monday, July 03, 2006

Wanted: Adjustable Aspect Ratios

Both Mike and I noticed something interesting in the results of the rectangle poll I linked yesterday: on average, respondents preferred a longer rectangle in the horizontal orientation than they did in the vertical. It turns out that both of us share that preference, at least when wielding a camera. As Mike put it, "I long ago noticed that I like a longer rectangle in horizontal format and a stubbier one in vertical format."

Now that engineers can do almost anything with microprocessors, that suggests a nice feature for a DSLR: separate, user-customizable settings of preferred aspect ratios for vertical and horizontal pictures, linked to an orientation sensor that would automatically adjust a viewfinder mask and tag the image file accordingly.

You can always crop after the fact, of course. But many of us find snapshooting more enjoyable, fluid and productive when we simply react to the world intuitively within the frame we have, rather than continually trying to calculate the effect of alternatives.

How about it, camera designers?

Posted by: OREN GRAD


Blogger Howard Cornelsen said...

Interesting idea. Remember that the Leica D-Lux 2 (also available as Panasonic DMC-LX1) already has user-adjustable aspect ratio, viz 16:9, 3:2 and 4:3. It doesn't bother me that they are not automatically adjusted with camera orientation. In fact, I prefer the idea of being able to adjust the aspect ratio quickly for each shot rather than using a frame shape that I locked in last night.

10:30 PM  
Blogger Scott Kirkpatrick said...

That fits with the idea that 16:9 is comfortable as a horizontal format (like a movie or TV screen, which much of the world takes as reality), while a "portrait" seems more natural as 3:2 or 4:3.

11:59 PM  
Blogger Nathan said...

Leica D-Lux 2 anyone?

Obviously not a DSLR, but I can attest that the hardwired aspect ratio adjustment is pretty nifty. A few weeks back my good friend picked one up in NYC and I got to spend a few hours with it. Awesome feature.

2:01 AM  
Blogger Rob Brown said...

Yes, I'm with you there! I'd really like to have the ability to change aspect from square to 4:3 to 3:2, or whatever - in camera. I think you're quite right about being fluid - it is so much more natural to think and compose in camera rather than later on. Aspect ratio on film was a limitation of a static medium. Now that the medium is electronic and the shape and size can be changed, why not allow us to change aspect in camera?

4:22 AM  
Blogger Bernard Piechal said...

Actually I don't like the idea at all. Which is obviously not important for any producer, as I'm 35mm user.
Anyway the idea in practical terms (i.e. with no availability of streching CCDs) could mean only one thing: automatic CROP of the image done by the camera itself. For me it's much like making all the post-processing in the moment of shooting. And I just don't like such an idea.

6:01 AM  
Blogger Dwight Jones said...

I agree completely. While they're at it, camera makers should consider a square format for those of us who prefer it.

7:45 AM  
Blogger jamietie said...

The Kodak pro SLR/c and the SLR/n could both do user set aspect ratios. According to the specs from DPReview, it was a user adjustable crop, and could be 3:2, 4:5 or 1:1.

9:14 AM  
Blogger Motto! said...

Ugh. How about giving dSLRs decent viewfinders first?

12:42 PM  
Blogger robert55 said...

But all those wasted pixels! I think I would always use all pixels available on the sensor. For print I still prefer 3:2. Screen or web is different, but then all of our dslr's are overkill. I'd like a sort of mask to show what a crop to a different apsect ratio however. But the acual cropping will be more accurate on the computer: then you can do a change to aspect ratio at the same time as cropping in both dimensions.

1:48 PM  
Blogger David A. Goldfarb said...

I guess it will probably take the digital camera designers a while to catch up to the venerable Sinar Zoom 2 rollfilm back, which can switch between 645, 6x6, 6x7, 6x9, and 6x12 on the fly.

2:03 PM  
Blogger oren said...

David -

Indeed an amazing beast, though not quite the thing for hand-held snapshooting. The only really close analog I can think of in the film world is the Hasselblad XPan / Fuji TX-1/2, although that camera offered a choice only between a long panorama and the "short panorama" of the classic 3:2 35mm frame.

Howard and Nathan -

Thanks for reminding of the D-Lux 2. Kudos to the designers for implementing the function as a dedicated switch that you can flick with your finger, rather than a setting buried multiple button-pushes deep in a menu tree.

6:44 PM  
Blogger oren said...

There was also the original Konica Auto-Reflex, which allowed switching between full (3:2) and half-frame (4:3) 35mm on the fly. Not quite what I had in mind, though, which would have been switching from a 24x36 to a 24x32 or 24x30 frame, not a 17x24 frame.

I'm sure I'll wake up in the middle of the night now and think of yet another one...

7:27 PM  
Blogger Ken Tanaka said...

Just to give credit where credit is due, Leica's D-Lux 2 camera isn't just "available as a Panasonic DMC-LX1" is the same Panasonic p&s camera. Leica's re-badged version is a bit glitzier and unjustifiably more costly than the original Panasonic camera, offering nothing more or better.

The aspect ratio is a bit of a unique gimmick but sadly the camera is a middling performer. Sharp, clear, vibrant images in brightly lit and/or controlled conditions but noisier than a day care center at ISO 400. If anyone really finds the 16:9 / 4:3 trick irresistibly appealing at least save yourself $150+ and get the Panasonic version.

10:40 PM  

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