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What if Digital Camera Sensors Were Circular?



I’m a photographer who is in no way wedded to any particular aspect ratio. I will trim my images to whatever I consider suits them best, whether or not they fall to one of the recognized ratios or some non-integer ratio.

But, I resent losing pixels. In particular, square format images have to be sliced out of an already elongated 3:2 ratio image — 1/3 of the sensor’s pixels having to be ditched.

Easily selectable aspect ratios of maximum pixel count in digital cameras raises some questions about higher-end camera design. I’ve been mulling this over for a while and concluded that some fundamental changes to camera design would be enormously beneficial.

First a few statements of the obvious:

1. Sensors are rectangular with width greater than height.

2. One always has to turn a camera through 90 degrees to take a portrait orientated image.

3. All cameras are designed to handle most easily in landscape format orientation.

4. Some alternative image aspect ratios may be available via menu options but they are limited and clumsy to select.

5. All lenses throw a circular image around a rectangular sensor.


It’s the last of these statements that suggests a far better approach to camera design and handling. Cameras ought to be able to take advantage of the full image circle by having a circular sensor to capture all of the image data. In-camera software should enable easily selectable aspect ratios (predefined or infinitely variable) via a simple dial option which accordingly masks the EVF and screen.

There are many positives to this but there are two of real significance:

1. Utilising the full image circle means that the maximum possible image size (pixels) would always be available for every selected aspect ratio within the image circle.

2. Portrait oriented images could be made while the camera remains in the comfortable ‘horizontal’ position.


Clearly this requires a new approach to some significant aspects of camera body design, but not lens design. Larger sensors would be required because would they now need the full image circle to be accommodated rather than the 3:2 rectangle. And consequently the EVF and screen would need to be square so that the selected aspect ratio is shown at its maximum size whilst masked.

Additionally, the in-camera software should offer the photographer the option to save the full circular image raw data along with the crop decision made at the time of capture. This would allow an alternative crop decision to be made later. Amendments to processing software to accommodate this would be required. No doubt Adobe and the like would oblige!

An innovation such as this would be a huge step forward which, for some (probably many) serious photographers, would be irresistible.

About the author: Steve Gledhill is a photographer and printer of landscapes, skies, cathedrals, and whatever takes his fancy. He’s based in Worcestershire, UK. You can find more of his photography and writing on his website and blog. This article was also published here.