Why 4:3 Has Succeeded 3:2 As My Favoured Aspect Ratio

Shooting 35mm for five years, naturally my favoured aspect ratio was the 36mm x 24mm of a frame of film, ie 3:2.

When I starting shooting more digital photographs than film, I followed this ratio through, with cameras like my Pentax K10D and Ricoh GRD III, because I was so used to composing in these dimensions.

The more I got into digital compact cameras though (and phone cameras), the more I started to drift back to 4:3, the aspect ratio I’d used extensively with phone cameras and my first Nikon Coolpix before I even discovered film.

Nowadays, aside from an occasional dip into square format, I’m pretty much exclusively using 4:3 again.

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Here are the three major reasons why.

1. It’s the default for most cameras I use.

Although a number of cameras I have can be set to 3:2, 1:1 and 16:9 ratios, all of those also have 4:3. The digital cameras I have that only have a single aspect ratio, are 4:3.

So it makes sense to be consistent across them all, for this ratio to become second nature, and make for as seamless a transition as possible when switching between the handful cameras that remain in my arsenal.

2. It means no cropping is required for 8×6 prints.

I understand why 6×4 inch prints exist, they’re the same aspect ratio as film. But most people these days who want these size of prints are those who want family shots to hand around and put in frames and albums. Photos that have almost invariably been shot on digital cameras and phones with a 4:3 ratio. So every print gets cropped at the top and the bottom.

Even more bizarre are 5×7 prints. I’ve never had a camera which has film or a sensor with a 5×7 ratio. Do they exist? So with 5×7, you lose part of your photo whether you shot it 3:2 or 4:3!

(I’ve been in a photo lab on more than one occasion where the poor assistant has tried patiently to explain why photos made in one aspect ratio won’t fit in a frame of another aspect ratio, without being cropped, stretched or distorted. Still many people don’t seem to get it!)

Anyway, so choosing 4:3 as an aspect ratio means I can easily make 8×6 inch prints. This size is small enough to have a few on a wall and be affordable to print, and large enough to see more detail and make more impact than 6×4 (half the size!).

They look great in widely available and affordable black 12×10 inch frames with a two inch mount around them.

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3. It was the aspect ratio of every screen I grew up with.

I think somewhere deep inside my psyche 4:3 just looks right to me on a screen (ie my camera screen) because I grew up in the pre-widescreen days where all TVs and computer screens were 4:3.

I sometimes pine for the days of the old wooden framed ITT TV we had when I first watched kids TV like Jamie and The Magic Torch, and latterly the magnificent final Sony Bravias, which I still think were higher picture and sound quality than virtually all flatscreen TVs today.

Anyway, the dimensions of 4:3 make sense because for probably the first 25 years of my life, that was simply the size and shape all screens were.

From these reasons, it’s not hard to see why, despite my fondness for 3:2 from my film days, 4:3 has become the practical and most obvious choice for my photography.

How about  you? Which is your favoured aspect ratio for photography, and why? How does it translate when you make prints? 

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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27 thoughts on “Why 4:3 Has Succeeded 3:2 As My Favoured Aspect Ratio”

  1. 4:3… it’s not square, it’s not wide… it’s not good for me at least.

    I still prefer good old 3:2. Seems easier to me to fill the frame. But that’s just ole me, myself an I talking.

    1. Frank, I do think we adapt if we immerse ourselves in one aspect ratio for a while. I was quite happy with 3:2 as my only one for two or three years. But it doesn’t make sense now, for the reasons above.

      If I still shot film, I’d have to go with 3:2!

        1. There you go! My phone does too, and on 16:9 the whole screen is filled with the image edge to edge. It’s rather appealing to use, like you say, the best screen of any camera I’ve ever used!

  2. Here’s a little history for you: some of those odd sizes like 5×7 are holdovers from plate film camera days. When I was young the ‘standard’ print size was 3.5×5, which forced cropping of 35mm negatives. In fact 4×6 was a heralded breakthrough in printing some 40 years ago!
    There were many more such odd film and print sizes back in the day, including 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 and 4 x 5 and metric sizing like 6x9cm. To think that it all came about from coating common-size glass window plates …
    Personally I refuse to accept even self-imposed restrictions, and don’t care if I have to crop to some really offbeat dimensions to make things look right. Although frankly 90% of the time I don’t chop off anything because the image gets (roughly) composed in the finder. It was harder before zoom lenses too.
    Sorry; old man prattling on again! :p

    1. Fascinating Marc! I’m still not sure why 5×7 is still used as a standard today when it doesn’t fit any format in common use though. Why isn’t 4×3 inches used – smalelr of course but quite convenient to physically share and store. Perhaps because most people take photos, store them on their hard drive and never look at them again, let alone print them…

      Like you I try to compose in the viewfinder/screen. That’s what the edges of it are for, to frame only what you want in your photograph and exclude everything else.

      1. It’s a bit odd, Dan, as those sizes didn’t make sense even 50 years ago when they were still default. For some reason the industry was slow to adapt. Back in the really old days there were even more odd film formats, such as 122 “postcard” size which made large contact prints you could send through the mail. Oh the things that were tried!

        1. Hello everyone,

          5×7 is still a common ratio as it is a standard sheet film (large format) size even today, which of course evolved from glass plates as Marc mentioned. The same is true for 4×5 and 8×10. These sizes of paper would have been used on a regular basis for those people contact printing their large format negatives, either on glass or film, and I’m sure there are plenty of people still doing this today if they have darkroom access (there are even still people out there shooting glass plates!). But I do agree that 5×7 and 8×10 prints don’t make much sense as the standard print sizes used by consumer print services that cater to people wanting to print vacation photos or other snapshots since their customers probably aren’t shooting large format film (that’s comical to visualize!). Medium format ratios (6x6cm, 6x9cm aka 3:2, etcetera) would actually make more since as the standard consumer print sizes, in my opinion, but that’s largely because I shoot 35mm so 3:2 is perfect for me. Unfortunately, while 4×6 prints match 35mm film frames, the next step up being 5×7 does not, nor does the next step up from that being 8×10, so the original image inevitably has to be cropped or printed much smaller to fit the paper (leaving a large area of paper unused along with uneven borders). This is irritating to say the least. A few print services offer 6×9 and 8×12 (inch) prints, but not many. Today, I think it would make a lot more since for the standard consumer print sizes to be 4×6, 6×9, and 8×12 for 35mm film shooters (as well as many digital shooters who stayed with that ratio), and 4.5×6, 6×8, and 9×12 for digital shooters. Perhaps someday we’ll see these print sizes be adopted by consumer print labs. I sure hope so. But then we have the added issue of matting and framing for these print sizes. However, that is less of a concern since a custom mat is easy enough to make to use with any larger frame.

          Personally, I prefer 3:2 because shooting exclusively 35mm film that’s the only ratio I use. However, I have nothing against other ratios at all, and 4:3 in particular looks completely “normal” to me. This is no doubt because I also grew up with all TVs and nearly all computer monitors being that aspect ratio. I actually miss that ratio, especially for monitors. Professional 1600x1200px panels were something to behold back in the day when most monitors were 1280x1024px at most. I really dislike the “squattiness” of most monitors today that are 16:9 (made to match the ratio of modern TVs). I even disliked 16:10, which was standard for monitors before that.

          As a quick note: Before somebody rightfully “corrects” me on the fact that 1280x1024px monitors are not 4:3 (1.33:1) but rather 1.25:1, yes, I know. But it’s close enough so I lumped it in with the other standard monitor aspect ratios of yesteryear (640×480, 800×600, 1024×768, etc.).

          1. P, yes I agree it would make sense to have a standard set of print and corresponding frame sizes.

            It took me quite a while to settle on 8×6 inch prints of my 4:3 photos, in a 12×10 frame, so a 2 inch border all around. Which I really like the look of.

            4×3 inch might be popular for sharing real prints with people, rather than everything online, especially as the standard for digital cameras (especially consumer compacts and phones) is 4:3.

            The Fuji Instax cameras are popular and the mini print versions only have credit card sized photos I believe, so 4×3 inch would be bigger than those, but still compact and convenient enough to physically share.

            At my day job I have twin widescreen monitors, which is good for the applications we use, and means you can quite comfortably resize windows and fit to side by side on one screen, if/when you need to also (we sometimes need two, three, even four apps open at once).

            But for viewing most images that are 4:3 or 3:2 they obviously don’t fit well and my desktop wallpaper either “zoom crops” the image to cover the whole screen, or the whole photo shows, but with black borders at the sides.

  3. l aim for 4:3 or 1:1 crops normally, although I’m not averse to using all sorts of other completely different or custom ratios as and when it looks right for the shot. Perhaps not as important in the camera when you are expecting to edit shots later on the computer as much as I do Dan but I generally have it to 16:9 setting which I think it shoots in RAW whether you like it or not because that’s the shape of the sensor.

    1. That wasn’t right was it? 3:2 is what I meant as the standard sensor shape of my APS-C format camera… 16:9 is a widescreen format that came out of my head for some reason….

      1. I had a digital camera recently (a Fuji FinePix F810) where the screen was 16:9. Like my phone actually. When you’re composing at that aspect ratio it’s great! But at a more regular 4:3 there’s wasted space either side.

        I imagine most digital compact cameras have a 4:3 sensor. My Micro Four Thirds Lumix GF1 though I think is 3:2, same as the screen. When you choose 4:3 you get black bars at the sides of the screen.

        A more flexible approach would be to shoot at the native aspect ratio of the film/sensor you are using. But I prefer keeping things simple and just using one, and 4:3 is the most logical for that purpose with what I use now.

          1. Well, that makes sense now you say it Robert, but the GF1 definitely only shows the image full screen in 3:2, and when you select 4:3, there are black bars at the sides. So I’m not sure why the screen’s aspect ratio doesn’t match the sensor’s. Any idea? I just assumed (perhaps wrongly now!) that a camera’s screen dimensions would match the sensor’s, so the system is working at its optimum. Having a 3:2 screen encourages the user to only use a cropped part of the 4:3 sensor. I don’t see why it would be designed like this (but I think you’re right about the GF1!).

          2. Native ratio and screen dimensions do not necessarily match: with a dSLR (like my Nikon D90) it is the other way around. Ratio is 3:2, but the screen has different dimensions. In “live view” or with image display, the remaining black space is used for image info. It is likely to be a practical design choice, I guess.

    1. For me, the experience of photography is more important than the final image. Otherwise I’d just use a phone camera all the time. Keeping the aspect ratio consistent means I can forget about making decisions on which to choose (and how to crop – I just don’t) and immerse deeper into the experience.

      1. I noticed on your blog, you talk about gear and process all the time. Hear is here to allow us makea photograph. Content of the photograph is not important? I see it differently.

        1. Yes, because photography is a pursuit I enjoy on many levels, it’s not just about the pictures. Much of my life reflects this too, that my enjoyment comes from the journey rather than the destination. No point making amazing photographs if you hate using the gear!

          1. No, indeed the aim, should not be what you called “amazing photograph”. The aim is to capture a photograph. You know, that what cameras are for, they capture a moment.

          2. Well, yes, and no. Cameras do of course capture a moment, but you have to be in the right frame of mind to see it and capture it.

            For me that comes from having kit I love using (and know how to use to get the results I like) and a process that works, from picking up the camera to the final image.

            If the equipment or process presents too many obstacles along the way, I don’t enjoy the experience, and most likely I won’t be making photographs I like either.

            You could argue that you can capture a memorable image with any camera, and I agree. A phone camera, a Polaroid, a kids digicam. But for me this is different to the practice and experience of photography I nurture and most enjoy, going out on photowalks in the countryside with cameras I love using. Again the experience for me is more vital than just capturing a moment.

            I have pictures of family made on very basic cameras that conjure up great memories and feelings. These weren’t made by me as part of my photography hobby, and were made to have a certain memory captured, not for the shooting experience. I think I’m going back to what I wrote about before in this post, and the two two main types of photography I partake in – https://35hunter.blog/2019/05/07/how-to-choose-what-to-photograph/

      2. For me, the experience of photography is more important than the final image.

        That’s a stunning sentence for me to read. I have photographs of my deceased grand parents and my recently deceased father. When I look at photographs of them, I don’t think about what lens was used, what camera was used, what film was used, or whether the print ration was used. The photograph evokes memories and emotions connected with my grandparents and my dad.

        I think most human beings would agree that the final image is more important than the process or tools used.

        1. Khürt when it comes to family photographs I completely agree. Most from my childhood were taken by my nan on, I vaguely recall, fairly cheap Kodak 120 film pocket cameras. It’s completely irrelevant now, what matters is she made the photos and we can relive the moments and memories because of them. They’d be no more or less appreciated now if she’d have used a high end Leica or Nikon F series.

          But for my “artistic” photography, the experience of wandering the beautiful countryside using a camera I love, is the main appeal. A decent image or two is the cherry on top. It’s far more about journey than destination for me with this type of photography.

  4. Hi Dan,

    It’s been a while since I’ve commented on your blog. Don’t worry I’ve been reading it every now and again but been preoccupied with babies … we had twin boys last August and I’ve had not time to do much other than work and look after them since. I’ve also taken a lot of baby portraits and not much else.

    Regarding aspect ratios I’d say I prefer 3:2 in landscape, or even 16:9 if it’s a shot OF a landscape, but for portrait 3:2 is just a bit too tall and narrow. I generally crop to 4:3 or sometimes 5:4 if the image was taken in portrait. it just looks more natural to me.

    The Fujifilm camera I’m using doesn’t have 4:3 as an option and 3:2 is it’s native ratio, so I have to crop after the fact, but it’s rare for images taken in portrait and even rarer for actual portraits that I don’t crop it to 4:3.

    All the best

    Tony

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