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My camera can shoot in 4 different aspect ratios (4:3, 3:2, 16:9, and 1:1). Aside from personal preference of composition are there any advantages to choosing one over the other? Is there an industry standard?

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What camera do you have? That might be relevant as it tells us what your native aspect ratio is. –  Reid Jul 19 '10 at 2:05
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I've got a Panasonic GF1... I think it's native aspect ratio is 4:3. –  heavilyinvolved Jul 19 '10 at 2:21
    
For the history of various aspect ratios, see What historic reasons are there for common aspect ratios? –  mattdm Dec 21 '12 at 3:35

6 Answers 6

up vote 14 down vote accepted

My short answer: Always make images with your full sensor, and crop in post. In your case that's probably 4:3. Why throw away data sooner when you can do so later if necessary?

(Of course, this may be moot if you're shooting in raw and get all the data regardless of the in-camera crop. In that case, shoot with whatever suits your fancy, since you can always change it later.)

Another consideration: If your mental checklist for each frame includes choosing an aspect ratio, that's one more step you need to deal with when making every single image. And I assume changing aspect ratios involves a fair amount of button & menu fiddling.

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So if I'm shooting raw it doesn't matter? Can you explain a bit more? –  heavilyinvolved Jul 19 '10 at 2:07
    
Shooting raw means that you are going to get the direct capture data from the sensor, which includes the native aspect ratio for your camera (in your case 4:3). The cropping that you choose is not actually done until you process the raw image. –  chills42 Jul 19 '10 at 15:10
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YES! +1 Always be greedy for as much data as you can get. ;) –  AJ Finch Jul 19 '10 at 15:49
    
Great info... thanks very much! –  heavilyinvolved Jul 19 '10 at 17:44
    
I agree with the not throwing away data concept however some vendors e.g. Sony, allow you to set the viewfinder to 16:9 and after you have imported in Lightroom you have access to the full sensor RAW with the crop already set to the 16:9 framing. –  timbo Nov 19 at 6:37

Other than preference/composition, the only other consideration is that if you're making a print, shooting to the same aspect ratio as the print means that you won't have to crop any of the final image.

Examples:

  • for a 4x6 print, a 2:3 image won't require cropping, where a 4:3 would.
  • for an 8x10 print, either 2:3 or 4:3 will require cropping, but the 2:3 won't lose as much of the image.
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It's really just down to what kind of image you are trying to create.

  • 4:3 a common format for digital compact cameras as this matches standard TV and monitor aspect ratios.
  • 3:2 is the original standard for 35mm film shooting, many DSLRs continue to use this ratio and many compact digital cameras support this as an option too.
  • 16:9 is widescreen TV.
  • 1:1 is just square (obviously)

If you have a requirement to display on a TV/monitor, go 4:3. If you have a requirement to display on a widescreen TV/monitor go for 16:9. If you need to print to match a particular frame you may find it easier to take at the correct ratio rather than cropping later.

Most printing companies offer at a minimum both 6"x4.5" (to match 4:3 ratio images) and 6"x4" (to match 3/2 ratio images) so you are unlikely to have any problems printing at either ratio.

You'll find that most modern basic albums and frames you buy on the high street will probably be 4:3 as they cater for the general consumer market which is largely digital now, but there's plenty of 3:2 frames around though, and plenty of weird shapes/ratios too.

Other than that, just choose whatever suits your subject/shot/composition the best.

[More on wikipedia]

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I would disagree that 4:3 is considered "standard" for digital photos, given that the DSLRs from Canon and Nikon are 3:2. –  ahockley Jul 18 '10 at 20:33
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@ahockley: Point taken, I've re-worded to differentiate between compact and SLR (and dropped the word "standard"). Hows that? –  Simon P Stevens Jul 18 '10 at 20:38

The standard for still photography has generally been 3:2 since that is the standard for 35mm film, which has continued into most DSLR systems. One notable exception to this is the Micro four-thirds system that has gone to a 4:3 native aspect ratio.

As everything goes digital, that is beginning to change because 16:9 and 4:3 are common lcd monitor aspect ratios.

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4:3 and 16:9 are popular as they share sensors from video devices, which are driven by TV ratios. Quite a few of the widescreen computer monitors I've seen/used have actually been 16:10 –  Rowland Shaw Jul 18 '10 at 20:09

It's all down to the artistic effect you're after, but you might find that when getting prints done, they tend to favour specific ratios.

Historically, 3:2 has it's history with 35mm and on through DSLRs, with 4:3 having history in TV (and video) cameras, which is why a number of compacts use this ratio. 16:9 was available on APS format cameras, although I've not seen much support for printing in these ratios except from APS film. Medium format favoured square exposures.

Of course, with the digital age, you can crop to whatever ratio you like -- I tend to print using the either 3:2 or 1:1 ratios as I personally find them most pleasing

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The aspect ratio setting could save you some time for certain tasks though.

Let's say you are shooting time lapse pictures or video anyway and you require a specific format you can already deal with the aspect ratio before shooting.

First of all this will safe you some time in post processing. Secondly, it can avoid trouble if the newly shoot footage is part of a bigger project that is using a certain aspect ratio.

But for your everyday shoots that you process with your normal workflow, you should go for no crop at all and try to retain as much information as possible.

Another reason why you would go a certain aspect ratio is creativity. Your framing and composition for a 4:3 picture is certainly different from a 16:9 picture.

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