In filmmaking, there are two major camera formats. The first is the Super 35 format and the second is the Full Frame format. Of course, this isn’t a hard rule because you can get other formats such as VistaVision but for simplicity’s sake, we’ll just focus on these two.
Super 35 vs Full Frame: What’s the difference?
The main difference between super 35 and full-frame lies in their aspect ratios. While both have different shapes to their images, they do share a common denominator since they’re both using a rectangular image sensor/film where width=height (in other words; not like an old TV which used 4:3).
The formal definition of “super” or film-type has been defined by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as 35mm wide film running vertically through the camera, creating a widescreen image with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (also called 4:3).
In this context, “super” is both an abbreviation for the larger negative area and a reference to the fact that it exceeds conventional cinema’s standard 24 frame width.
While many still cameras used film which was much smaller than super-35mm in size, most professional motion picture cameras were “super” because they used a 35mm wide format.
About the super 35 format
When you use a camera with the super 35 formats, you’re using a kind of film that is roughly 40% bigger than what you see in theaters (most movies) and television.
This allows for more “space” which gives the freedom to go for either a wider frame or to zoom into something without actually zooming optically.
The reason why most films don’t look like this comes down to economics: Super 35 cameras were rare and so they were only used on big-budget films with high production values.
About the Full-Frame Format
On the full-frame side, the format has been widely used by still photography cameras although it is also possible to achieve this size using motion picture cameras just as it can be done with super 35.
However, unlike the super-35 format, full-frame has been around for a long time and is widely used by many DSLR cameras which are quite affordable nowadays.
The technical definition of “full-frame” has been defined by George Lucas in 1982 as being a camera with an image size approximating the old silent “non-anamorphic” film standard, thus resulting in an aspect ratio close to square 1:1 or 4:3/16:9.
Full frame is also often less expensive than super 35 because it uses smaller sensors which are easier to manufacture. However, despite this fact, full-frame is still superior due to its ability to produce better image quality at high ISO speeds (something that’s really important in low light conditions).
Super 35 vs full frame: Differences beyond the aspect ratio
Beyond the aspect ratio, there are also other differences between super 35 and full-frame. For example, while each camera has its own advantages when it comes to low-light or high-speed shooting, one of the key benefits of using a full-frame format is that it allows you to shoot with faster lenses.
This makes sense because since they’re not using an imaging chip which needs to “zoom”, due to physics, the maximum aperture will be constant across all focal lengths.
Full Frame sensors are bigger than Super35 ones; Full Frame sensors can produce better results at higher ISO speeds (e.g. shooting in low light with less noise); Full frame cameras don’t need as “fast” (i.e. expensive) lenses as super35; Super 35 is more budget-friendly and it’s easier to find lenses for that format; Super35 has a wider variety of sensors and you can get them with different aspect ratios (4:3, 16:9, etc.).
Why use super 35 vs full frame?
The main reason why you would use super 35 over full-frame is that it’s cheaper especially if you’re going to shoot something which doesn’t matter too much about the image is super sharp.
The reason for that is because full-frame costs more to manufacture and buy because it has a bigger sensor which produces sharper images with less noise(grain).
In addition, most cameras have their crop factor which means they don’t have a sensor size of 36mmX24mm but smaller sizes such as 24mmX14.9mm in the case of Canon’s 5D Mark II or even a cropped version where you get something like 17mmX13mm(APS-C).
Super 35 vs full frame: Drawbacks
One of the main drawbacks when using super 35 is that if you want to use anamorphic lenses, then you will only get the horizontal equivalent of that lens. This means that for example, your 50mm lens will act like a 25mm(telephoto) rather than normal since the sensor is narrower horizontally.
On the other hand, full-frame cameras such as Arri’s Alexa suffer from another drawback and that is because it has an extremely high sensitivity to green light.. Why green?
Well, this happens due to Bayer filters on digital sensors which can only measure red, green, or blue light separately.
As you might imagine, this creates some moiré and color artifacts when using lenses designed for super-35 (which usually don’t have these problems).
So which should I use?
Well, it depends on what your needs and preferences are but if we had to choose between the two, we’d definitely go full-frame.
It allows for more creativity and the image quality is just so much better than any other camera around this price range. And since many models come with an interchangeable-lens system, they’re a great tool for photographers as well as videographers.
On the other hand, some filmmakers might prefer to go with super 35mm because it’s a more affordable option and you can get different kinds of aspect ratios without wasting too much money on lenses.
Also, many people have been using this format for years so chances are that there will be more lenses and accessories available in the future.
So why not both?
Well, unfortunately, it’s not that easy to find full-frame cameras within a decent price range… But if you have the option to rent, then it’s definitely worth trying them out.
In addition, both formats can be used simultaneously (i.e. digital full-frame for the wide shots and super35 for close-ups) or you can always change between them as you please during the editing process.