Monday, October 28, 2013

Food for thought

I bet you're wondering whether I've gone crackers! No - the point is, this photo was taken with my cellphone camera. It really is quite a decent photo for a camera as casual as a cellphone camera. This was actually my dinner - everything there is healthy down to the beanburger. Actually, one of my friends looked in my fridge one time and exclaimed "there's nothing there I can eat - all this is healthy food!" but that's a story for another time.

How do you define a photograph? At what point do you decide you have got enough photo quality? In the days of film, there were many film formats:
  • 110 - this was the smallest. This was made from 16mm cine film
  • 35mm - this was the most common and made from 35mm cinema film.
  • 120 - this was less common and produced more professional results
  • Sheet film - this came in sizes such as 5x7, 10x8 etc and was for ultimate quality.

I have taken great photos with all of these film formats. All it takes is perseverance.

Now we use digital and without a shadow of a doubt I will say that 8 megapixels of any digital camera are far superior to anything I could produce with 35mm. The question now is what size of sensor do you want. They seem to be various sizes.
  • Pentax Q is the smallest with a 1/1.7" sensor. 
  • Nikon 1 with a CX sensor - bigger
  • APS-C - bigger again
  • "full frame" - the same size as 35mm

All of these will produce a good photo. The photo above was taken with a 1/4" sensor on my Nexus 4. It's quite good though noise is present in the image. Is this unacceptable though? In my opinion it is not unacceptable. What would be unacceptable would be color bias or blur or any form of distortion. That's not present though.

People argue this way and that for different sensor sizes with the general argument being that bigger is better. Yes I will agree bigger is usually better but at what cost? How much better is a "full frame" sensor over an APS-C sensor? I know it's almost twice the size but is it that much better? To be brutally honest, it is not. The same for differences between all the sensors. Where a difference will be noticeable is in lower light levels where the larger sensors collect more photons than the smaller sensors. That is the sole advantage of the larger sensors. This has a knock-on effect of meaning that higher ISOs will have progressively more digital noise as a side-effect in progressively smaller sensors. My Nexus 4 sensor can be very noisy at times.

So, the question is - does a smaller sensor make an image somehow unacceptable? If you listen to the pundits, only the full frame sensor will do. I have heard so many supporting arguments for full frame sensors that you'll be shocked to realize I think very little of such arguments. The sole argument away from the smallest sensors is that the smaller sensors don't have very wide-angle lenses. Otherwise, there is no reason on earth to follow the baloney about using "full frame" sensors.

The smaller the sensor, the more care needs to be taken to obtain the best image quality. All digital cameras now produce images well in excess of what we could produce with film cameras. Why do we keep moving the goalposts? I think a lot too many people believe the marketing and advertising baloney that we're constantly fed. I challenged somebody to produce good photographs using the Nikon 1 system without a viewfinder and in low light. You know what? They did. I was impressed. Now I need to challenge the Pentax Q people to the same thing!

I don't believe in sensor size superiority. For the average amateur even a Pentax Q sensor should be adequate. What we have to do is to work with what we have rather than to go for bigger and better all the time. If we work around our equipment then we get results. If we get equipment that works around us then we go bankrupt.

My advice is just to go simple. I'm simplifying my camera gear. I was never intended to be a professional photographer. I enjoy my photography. I am heading back to being an amateur. Being an amateur does not mean I cannot sell prints or do photo jobs or write books. It just means that it is not a career or a job. It might sound strange but all I ever wanted to be was an amateur photographer that sold the odd print etc. 

I heard from a professional photographer today. He applauded my decision to go back to being an amateur and agreed with all of my points against doing photography professionally. All his usual work had dried up and he was relegated solely to doing stock photography. That's something that's in its last gasp too since microstock came out. Millions of quite good amateurs produce excellent microstock and are happy to get paid pennies for it so the microstock agencies can charge less. Sounds like a vicious cycle to me. I still believe professional photography is doomed. In fact, even he said photography is "like toilet-paper, cheap and disposable".

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