The 3:2 ratio dilemma

The world just does not fit conveniently into the format of a 35mm camera. 


I will be doing some shooting for a dance company later this spring and the pictures I take will need to be printed as 8x10s.  The problem is that the format for a 35mm camera (film or digital) takes pictures at a 3:2 ratio.  Taken at that ratio, a full sized print would be 8×12. 

 “What??”  You say…

 Stick with me…

What you see when you look through the viewfinder is a 3:2 ratio.  Basically, if your print is 3” long, it’ll be 2” wide.  6” long, 4” wide.  9” long, 6” wide and so on.  So, if you’re wanting to print a 4×6 print there is no trouble.  However, if you move toward a larger print – 5×7 or 8×10 – you will absolutely lose some of your picture.  That is BAD if you happen to fill your frame with your subject.   

As I said above, a 3:2 ratio would give you a 12×8 (or 8×12) size print.  If you print it as an 8×10 you are losing a full TWO INCHES off the width or height of your picture.  You can imagine how disappointing that can be when you go to enlarge that fantastic picture of your kid, or dog or whatever!

So, how do you compensate for that?  That’s what I spent a few hours looking into today.  However, short of spending over $100 for a special focusing screen that shows you a 8×10 gridline, there is nothing to do but estimate.  Leave yourself a little room around your subject.  With the size of today’s files (megabytes) you won’t have any trouble cropping in a bit if you don’t use the full picture after all.  But there is no way to ADD room around your subject once the picture is taken.  When in doubt, go slightly wider than you think you might need to.

(I say this with hesitation because I’m a huge advocate of ‘cropping in camera’ which means to EXCLUDE unnecessary or distracting elements of a scene.  But in this case, it must be done.)

One last word of advice – when you go to get your images printed ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS preview them before you okay the order.  Look at each and every one of them.  Sometimes even 4×6’s can be slightly cropped.  YOU want to be in control of what gets cropped out of your own prints. 

Have fun and Good Luck!


For a more detailed discussion on ratios, click here:

This is a good YouTube tutorial on printing 8x10s even with a 3:2 ratio.  It leaves a white border around the print, but at least you don’t lose any of that great shot!

Fro Knows Photos

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