Friday, November 8, 2013

All the nonsense

It really is entertaining to read the photography forums. There's so much bullshit on them being paraded as opinion and truth. One of the most popular bits of nonsense fought over on most forums is something like the larger the image sensor on a camera, the lower the digital image noise on the images at higher ISOs. Well, possibly but we are now at such high resolution on the sensors that the noise produced at higher ISOs (some of which were unheard of in film days) is so infinitesimally small that it is of absolutely no consequence.

The vast majority of the people on digital camera discussion forums are not amateur photographers or hobbyist photographers. They probably call themselves that but they are not. What they are is consumerists. They are not photographers - sure they might take photographs but they are not photographers. They buy the latest equipment and parade it either online or in person for bragging rights. Then they sell it in order to "upgrade" or for some pathetic excuse they contrive as an excuse to get the latest version. Why they have to give a reason or an excuse, God alone knows.

I still use 8 megapixel digital SLRs. They're 7 years out of date now. They work. They work very well. The only thing they won't do is video and who really cares about video anyway? I have far more fun with GIF than video. Video, GIF and still photography are three entirely different skillsets. Video is the skill I have the least patience for nor interest in. GIF is pure fun and stills are pure fun.

  • Video needs steady panning, steady zooming, strict noise control and careful planning. If the panning is not perfectly even, the zooming is jerky or the camera zooms in then out or pans one way then the other, it runs a severe risk of inducing motion nausea into the audience.
  • Still images merely require the photographer to keep the camera still while the photograph is being taken.
  • GIF images require the photographer to keep the camera still for a couple of seconds while taking several photos one after the other in continuous mode. Usually this is about 5 photos. On my camera I can take 3 photos a second which means I have to hold still for about 3 seconds which isn't at all hard.

I have - as I said - no real interest in video and don't really expect to gain any either. I shall not be upgrading to a newer camera within the foreseeable future. There's just no need as video is about the only thing I don't have.

Going back to the baloney about noise and image sizes, the question is what one is comparing this mythical noise to and when the noise becomes unacceptable. I used to use Ilford black and white films - Pan F, FP4 and HP5. I also tried Kodak TMax3200 for color I generally used Agfa color slide film and Konica 100. I did try Konica 3200. Above 5x7 with any of those films and grain began to become apparent. With a 3 megapixel digital I can print to 10x8 without any apparent degradation. With 8 megapixels I can print to 16 x 24 without grain becoming apparent.

It becomes a question more of what we are trying to achieve. Are we simply trying to match film - if so then we have surpassed what film can do. We have surpassed what film can do, many times over and on many grounds. In the past, the largest prints were 10x8 and more commonly 5x7 as the large size. 6x4 became the de-facto standard print though in years past, the 6x4 was big with the standard lab print being 3.5 x 4.5. Now people want ever bigger prints. Many demand a 6x4 as a standard size and 8.5x11 or A4 as their big print. Needless to say, some want even bigger and now printers are commonly available for amateurs that will print to 13 x 19 or A3. Prints are now available on demand to much larger sizes and the consumerists are demanding that their cameras be able to produce images that size and bigger in order that they can crop and still get a huge print.

I have a problem with this kind of thing. People's expectations are out of control. How many 10 x 8 prints are hung on the average wall? Not too many. How many 16 x 24 prints are on the average wall? The excuse I hear for people wanting these ridiculously high megapixel count cameras is because they might want a huge print to sell or to use. The chances of selling photographs is very slim. So slim it's not worthy of adult consideration. The chance of wanting to print something to a ridiculous size is pretty slim - about as slim as finding a lab that will do it. Where is the sense in it all? Large sensors that will print flawlessly to very large sizes have several issues.

  • The cameras are ridiculously expensive
  • The prints are ridiculously expensive
  • There's nowhere to hang such huge prints.
  • The file sizes are massive and require massive amounts of storage.
  • Massive files require more massive computing power to handle them.

There is absolutely no advantage to having huge sensors and ridiculous megapixel counts at vast cost just for the possibility of a hint of a slight chance that you might get 50 cents back on a $100 print. Nobody buys photography any more! Similarly, being able to hang a huge print on a wall is a ludicrous aspiration as few of us live in houses big enough to hang a huge print.

In the old days, prints were put carefully into family albums. Now the trend is to show them online with a maximum resolution of 1024x768 as anything larger would take forever to download. There's also a trend toward digital displays which are inherently lower resolution. This makes a complete nonsense of the desire for ever larger sensors.

It should come as no surprise to discover that I think little of the kind of person that will spend hours pouring over an internet forum, posting every 5 minutes into some dreary discussion as to why equipment x is so much better than equipment y.  The chances are that if they own the equipment it is never going to come out to be used - they're forever going to be "testing" it.

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