Thursday, November 14, 2013

Can you tell the difference

There was a very interesting article that had three photographs. One was taken with a top-notch camera; one was taken with a middle-range camera and one was taken with a decent compact camera. At the size shown there was no visible difference between the photographs. Let me repeat that, there was no visible difference between the photographs. The top notch camera cost $5,000, the middle-range cost about $1,500 and the compact was $200 apparently.

Where does that leave all the braggards? Simply put - it leaves them eating their own words. My biggest gripe about people who brag about their cameras is that they never ever show a photograph that can't be taken with care and an ordinary compact camera. One of my pet hates is people that brag about the price of their camera gear. I am familiar with a book by a photographer named Feininger. In that book he states:
So, we have gadget freaks that existed in 1977 when the book was written ("The Complete Photographer"). They still collect expensive equipment, rarely if ever use it and ponce about like prima donnas because they have expensive equipment that nobody else can afford. They're also too afraid to use their equipment. I have often said, a cheap camera that gets used is worth a million expensive cameras that stay in the closet.

I have a lot of respect for what Feininger has to say about photography. He wrote one of the few books on photography that I consider worth reading and I found my copy in a secondhand shop in Ohio a few years ago. Don't ask why I was in Ohio - it was a trip I endured rather than enjoyed. I did take a few photos when I was there but would rather forget the trip. Ohio is a bit like that - dark skies, miserable people and generally pretty unhappy. I've been to Ohio on several occasions and can't honestly recommend the place. It's strange what little gems one can turn up in such places though. It's reminiscent of Samson's riddle in Judges 14:14.

Going back to the question as to whether anybody could tell the difference - of course nobody could tell the difference at web size. Nothing online is likely to be more than 1024x768 pixels. If it's bigger then it takes too darned long to download. The internet connection I use is fast. It's 3mbps download according to a test I just ran and a bit slower for upload. I'm using DSL and largely I have no problem with it. I never was really that bothered about ultimate internet speed having started with 14k dial-up. The whole point is though that many people have slower internet connections than this. Anybody using 2G or 3G mobile connections will be very much in the slow lane. Web developers have to remember this so largely don't use huge images. A good rule of thumb used to be that no webpage including images should be over 100k. That might have changed these days a little as developers work toward the majority who have faster connections although with slower 2G and 3G connections, there may be a return to smaller sites.

So, we have a scenario where people take photographs and publish them in online albums. Hardly anybody examines the images to any great size. Nobody is that interested - they're just "pitchers" to most people. The only person that cares is the photographer. Nobody else does. This is largely why nobody ever looks at photos online. I could say "this is a great photo" and I might get 2 or 3 people to view it. Those that view will be viewing more because they want to come up with a self-justifying argument as to why that photo is so awful and why theirs is so great. This doesn't change the fact that photos are never seen full-size online nor does it change the fact that as photos are meant to be printed, taking them to huge resolution is pointless because very few ever are printed.

Today I saw a 10" digital photo frame going for $69 in Walmart. It's probably a load better than the 6x4 photo frame that I gave away about 6 months ago. The fact is though that the resolution is low enough that 1.3 megapixel camera is more than sufficient to take a photo to be displayed on those photo frames. Nobody is going to give the photos displayed more than a cursory glance either.

Therefore, if photos are not going to be printed but displayed instead online at low resolution or on digital picture displays at low resolution, what one earth is the point in spending so much money on cameras that can take photographs in detail that nobody else is ever going to see? I really see no reason why most photographers throw money at digital SLRs, Interchangeable Lens Compacts etc. The might just as well get a digital superzoom instead. At the image sizes used, it doesn't matter how much digital noise is in the photographs. Nobody will ever see the noise at that size reproduction. Thus, there is no real difference for 99.9% of users.

We are now back at Feininger's comment that there are a lot of gadgeteers in photography. I'm going to say that probably 90% of camera gear sold goes to gadgeteers. I have met a few of these people in the past. I do remember the statements about still testing lenses. That rings a bell. The only time one needs to test a lens is if you suspect there's a flaw. The best testing device I have ever encountered is a brick wall. A straight-on photo of a brick wall will show up just about every form of distortion or softness known to man. That's one photograph taken one time only.

The vast majority of amateur photographers fully believe that they are in the 0.1% of users that desperately need to be able to print to huge sizes. More than likely they also believe they have the ability to make money from their cameras despite the fact they never will. There's just so much baloney in photography.

  • The average photographer will make money from photography <--- BALONEY!!!!
  • The average photographer needs the best gear to make money <--- BALONEY!!!!
  • Only the best gear allows you to make money  <--- BALONEY!!!!
  • It's only time before your talents are discovered <--- BALONEY!!!!
  • Only big images will sell <--- BALONEY!!!!
  • A big image is needed for online publication <--- BALONEY!!!!
For all intents and purposes, it doesn't matter which cameras were used for the 3 images. I could do a 3-image sequence and nobody would be able to tell the difference between my cellphone, elderly zoom compact or my elderly DSLR.

I have looked at smaller cameras than my DSLR and really do wonder if for my purposes a simple zoom compact wouldn't do perfectly adequately.

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