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Photography Question 
Laura J. Smith
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/1/2003

Aspect Ratios and Sizing

What is the aspect ratio of the CCD in a Nikon D70? Can the ratios be changed in this camera or in others like the D300? Can anyone explain why we take pictures with an aspect ratio of 4:3 if paper size is 3:2 - something doesn't compute for me, thanks!

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6/26/2010 9:24:53 AM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  The aspect ratio is actually 3:2. The actual size of the sensor may not come out to be that, but the picture you get from it will be 3:2, which is the same as any other 35mm-type camera, film and digital. It's the same as 4x6 size prints. 8.5x11 paper is close to the 4:3 ratio. Don't know why, but it's always been that. Medium-format cameras can change aspect ratios because you can change the back of it for different film sizes, or sensor sizes.

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6/26/2010 9:50:04 AM

Lynn R. Powers   Laura,
Your Nikon has a 3:2 aspect ratio as do most cameras. The notable exceptions are Olympus, Panasonic, and a couple of the early models of Leica, except the M8 and M9.
The 4:5 (8x10) and 5:7 ratios were popular with the first view cameras and most prints were contact printed or enlarged to twice their size (4x in area covered). But that was in the USA and the papers were made to fit those formats. If I wanted an 8X12 print made from a 35mm negative I would have to pay for an 11X14 print. And if I wanted a 12x12 print for a full frame from my 2 1/4 square negative I would have to pay for a 16x20. When digital photography became popular the papers were cut to different formats to not only include the American standard but also the standards of the rest of the world which use the metric system.
When making your final image crop it to the way it looks best not to the paper sizes. I print my own photos up to 12x18 and found that paper is cheap and ink is expensive. Also, some photos look well when at 12x 18 while others look best at 5x16 or square.
One way to insure that the photo can be cropped to "standard" size is to leave room around your subject so that you can crop the image to 5x7 or 8x10. When you took your 35mm film in to the local drug store the machines automatically cropped your images so this is nothing new. Photographers have been doing it in dark rooms for a century and magazines probably longer.
When matting a photo the matte will cover any extra and if the excess paper is larger than the matte they trim it to a size that is easier for them to work with.

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6/26/2010 1:08:25 PM

Laura J. Smith
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/1/2003
  Thank you both so very much. A big mystery solved.

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6/26/2010 3:27:43 PM

Alan N. Marcus   Aspect Ratio: Artist, for thousands of years favored what is known as the Golden Rectangle. Best you look this up for yourself but its 1:1.618. This size was said to be most pleasing and it was said to have mystical qualities. Renaissance artist gravitated to this ratio.

The Dutch were first at automated papermaking. They produced wooden machines that made a single large sheet and made it fast. The size of this sheet was derived by the length of the outstretched arms of the machine operator. The resulting sheet of paper was cut into various sizes. The idea was cut with a minimum waste. A drawing paper, popular in England resulted that measured 8x10 inches.

Early cameras used glass plates instead of film. The prints made were contract print the same size as the negatives as it was too difficult to make an enlargement. The light sensitive emulsion was coated onto window glass. In that period, cabinetmakers were heavy users of small sheets of window glass. This is actually the origins of 4x5 - 5x7 sizes.

Now Thomas Edison invented the first practical movie camera and display system for use in the penny arcades. He and his chief engineer met with George Eastman of Kodak to purchase film for the project. Kodak was making a 70mm wide film for roll cameras. As the negotiations proceeded, Kodak agreed to cut the 70mm film down the middle to produce roll 35mm wide.

Edison needed sprocket holes to help transport the film in the camera and the viewing machine. The image area available was 24mm wide. This became the width of the image. The height was set at 18mm. Thus, the image area was 18mm x 24mm. The ratio was 1:1.33. The film travel vertical.

Motion picture film became readily available. Camera operators tended to load a fresh roll at the beginning of a shoot for fear of running out, a costly situation. Lots of surplus film was available.

Dr. Ernst Leitz founded Leitz/Wetzlar in 1849. His chief engineer, Oskar Barnack, designed the first still camera to use the 35mm surplus film. The camera's film travel was horizontal. Mr. Barnack double the 18mm former height of the movie format to 36mm. The image area became 24mm by 36mm. The format ratio is 1:1.5. The year was 1924.

By early 20th century the "Brownie" camera and its cousins had extended photography to the masses. Automated photofinishing machines and printers were now being made by Pako of Minneapolis and Kodak and Agfa etc. The machines printed on roll paper hundreds of feet long. The width was 3 1/2 inches. The lengths were based on the film size but most common was a square print 3 1/2 x 3 1/2 and a rectangular print 3 1/2 x 5 (inches). The now popular 35mm film was printed 3 1/2 x 5 to conform to the automated paper cutting machines. The aspect ratio is 1:1.43. Competiveness forces the photofinishers to make a Jumbo size print on 4 inch wide roll paper, the print size is 4x6, the ere 1950 -1960's. I was technical manager for 7 high speed labs each able to mass produce 20,000 rolls a day seven days a week.

In the late 1980's a serious threat to the venerable 35mm format was a consortium of Kodak, Fuji, Agfa, Minolta, Canon, Nikon and others. They designed a new format called APS (Advanced Photo System). This was a hybrid system based on a new film with a transparent sound track coating added, in use as motion picture film. The idea was to optically and digitally record data at the same time. The new format had 18mm wide film. The formats were H (high definition 16.7mm x 30.2mm - C (Classic 16.7mm x 25.1 - P (Panoramic) 9.5mm x 30.2. The system was a failure because ordinary 35mm cameras, were being enhanced with chip logic and digital was imminent. The C format however is the origin of the modern compact DSLR.

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6/29/2010 8:24:17 AM

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