How do you appreciate your digital images and how does this relate to the megapixel race, in your words...
Discuss this article on the Digital Photography Now discussion forum
Back in August
, in response to some feedback about the perceived quality of some new camera image samples we'd made available, I wrote an editorial that basically examined how we should be appreciating our photography in this digital age. Today, some of the many responses to that article are reproduced below and very interesting reading they make too.
I was prompted to write the editorial after a lot of people criticised the quality of the samples based on examination of the images on-screen and at 100% or 1 image pixel to one screen pixel. The cameras in question were two new ten megapixel models from Panasonic, in particular the Lumix DMC-FZ50. I'm certainly in agreement that the camera industry has rushed to meet the consumer camera ten megapixel threshold at a furious rate and Panasonic is no exception. The predecessor to the FZ50, the FZ30, counted 8 megapixels, but if you asked seasoned camera reviewers you would almost certainly find a consensus that felt that even 8MP was too high a density for a camera of this type. But buyer-ignorance and the marketing impetus has sidelined technical sensibilities.
Nevertheless, camera manufacturers have worked very hard to make very high resolution cameras work well and Panasonic has certainly made a lot of progress in the area of noise reduction with the FZ50. However, all anyone seemed to be seeing in the samples we published was the highly magnified detail that didn't look too impressive.
I, too, assumed the worst when I first looked at the FZ50 results on-screen. But my instincts have always been to make prints and to see how these turn out. I was a lot happier with the FZ50 sample quality in printed form. So I wondered, how do people appreciate digital images? Is 'pixel-peeping' as I have called it, really the way to go or should we be enjoying the potential of our cameras and our photography better through printing? Or, maybe, printing is an old fashioned practice that is on the way out? I don't agree with that, but I wanted to know what you thought:
Tom Bowerman underlines the view that consumer digital cameras have needlessly high resolution sensors:
I agree with many of your points - but I think the question has to be asked - if we are only going to print at a certain size or view at a certain size on screen then what is the purpose of 10mp - especially if the quality of the image when one crops or views the full 10mp worth of image at 100% is not very good. Surely we should slate *all* manufacturers that take this route in the hope they might channel their features and future efforts towards actual tangible and useful improvements – at the end of the day I don’t think anyone wants resolution that can’t be used.
The problem is that there will always be that urge to buy the bigger number. You can't really blame the manufacturers; if one goes down the higher megapixel route and is successful in sales, the others have to follow.
Alan Edelman makes a point that I also agree wholeheartedly with, that we've never had it so good with digital:
Personally I believe that the quality of images consumers are getting out of digital P&S cameras is far superior to comparable 35mm P&S cameras. I think this is primarily due to the sophisticated jpeg algorithms built into the digital P&S cameras and the excellent quality of commercial consumer grade photofinishing. Consumers definitely are switching to computer monitor viewing more than looking at prints. I don't see this as a bad development, simply a shift in paradigms.
Agreed, there is nothing wrong with appreciating photos on-screen. After all, the DPNow photo gallery and our critique sections on the DPNow discussion forum, are all good reasons for enjoying photography on-screen. However, my feeling is that no matter how good an image looks on-screen, a well printed version will look even better.
David Evans wonders if fine technical analysis in reviews is the be all and end all:
I enjoy camera reviews, and I have sometimes been swayed by those technical comparisons. But reading this article has made me rethink. The important thing about a camera, if it will give a decent print of the size you want, is how easy it makes it to get the picture. I'm very pleased with my Panasonic FZ-20 despite its noise issues.
The number of pixels your camera has certainly isn't the defining factor that determines its overall image quality. I have a rather ageing three megapixel, budget-priced, Olympus C-330Z that takes glorious pictures that can be blown up to A3 without difficulty. It's an exceptional camera, but it proves a point.
Greg Avant makes the valid comment that some people are satisfied by less quality than others, like him:
Ultimate quality is what I am looking for in my prints, which is why I still shoot my Pentax 645n Camera for important things like weddings. I have a Nikon D100 and soon to have a Fuji S3 camera. I love digital for what it does but it still can't compete with medium format for total image quality. I constantly hear Photographers who shoot with the 6-8 megapixel cameras that the image is "good enough" and I look at the image and see the highlights blown out and the shadows look like mud. The quality of the image is never good enough. I may seem to be a little too critical here but the photographic industry keeps pushing higher mega pixels at us every day, 6, 8, 10, 12, 16 mega pixels. Which one is the quality good enough? Hasseblad has a 39 megapixel back for their H2d, maybe that's "good enough".
When we were shooting film we went from 35mm to medium format and then to large format to get better quality, but no having to worry so much as losing highlight and shadow detail because film has the latitude to handle that. It seems that we are at it once again with digital.
I love Ken Rockwell's article about the differences between the two.
I also like Clarkvision's article too.
Well, I have some concerns about the Ken Rockwell article. You can't ignore practicality and film quality depends fundamentally on how it is represented – either by being printed using a totally traditional workflow or digitally, by being scanned. It's now increasingly difficult to get film printed traditionally and that sector is shrinking further every day. To really do film justice digitally you need to use a very high quality film scanner costing thousands. For most photographers, the impracticality of getting film scanned has forced them to abandon film altogether. Also, film may have more dynamic range and resolving power than digital (or may not – these points are certainly debatable) but that's not to say that digital is fundamentally deficient in either.
John Wilson makes the case for enjoying projected photography:
As a former transparency shooter looking at prints is not a big deal for me. In fact after 40 years of shooting slides, I have less than 20 prints in my "print" collection. 99.999% of my viewing was either projected on a screen (that's what slides are for) and the same is true of my digital images. Other than printing the occasional shot of my grandson and making Christmas cards, I have never printed my digital images and don't feel any great need to.
I certainly remember the vividness of the colours and the dynamism of the big silver screen from my childhood. My father took family pictures almost exclusively on slide film – half frame at that! Nowadays, digital projectors are rather expensive and lacking in resolution, so I'm not yet convinced that still projection is a match for conventional slide projection, but the technology is improving all the time.
Vegard Brenna feels the same way as I do concerning digital projection:
I am waiting for the digital slide projector with a say, 8Mpix resolution. THEN my pixel-peeped 5-10 years old shots will finally reveal their true potential. Current projectors are aimed squarely at DVD and TV only. Slide is the ultimate photo experience! :-)
I think it rather depends on how close you sit to the projected image. Viewing distances, on-screen, projected or printed, are all critical.
Carlo Rattey, like me, has found that older and lowere resolution cameras need not be inferior in image quality:
I was shocked when I upgraded from my old Canon G2 to a KoMi A200 because the my 5 years old Canon had as much detail as the A200 when I scaled the pics up to 8MP and printed crops side to side to the ones of the A200. Maybe it's because of the noise reduction. Printing the pictures made it much easier to evaluate the real image quality. Concerning MegaPixels, I think it only makes sense if you buy digicams with big sensors like DSLRs or Sony's R1 because you can use crops of these pictures. Every pixel includes real picture information. Small sensors (like the FZ50) with 10 MP make no sense. Why can't the companies take 6MP and concentrate on the noise problem? people who want high resolutions will then automatically go for DSLRs and amateurs like me would have nicer pictures using prosumer cams.
In many ways, I have to agree. However, at low ISOs, ten megapixel point and shoots invariably deliver a true ten megapixel resolution according to test targets. Higher ISO settings erode resolution, however. Dynamic range and issues like fringing are often overlooked considerations with very high density small sensors in consumer cameras.
John, who is 'tarzieboy' on the DPNow discussion forum, seems impressed enough with ten megapixel point and shoots but he's also more than happy with half the number of pixels:
I agree entirely with your article, re sensor size & amount of pixels, yet strangely enough, with the first ever picture I took of some tiger lillies with the new casio 10 meg ex 1000, I & my friends were amazed at the quality, BUT I had printed it 6x4, on my little Epsom picture mate, I am going to have it printed at the shop this week 10x8, I do think though , that this focus on megapixals, is getting out of hand, I also have a Panasonic fz5 that I use mostly, & love it, & the pictures it takes @ 5 meg are good enough for me.
You must let us know how the 10x8 turned out!
A reader who wished to remain anonymous also flies the flag for image projection:
I do strongly believe that people have ignored high image quality, in their quest to go digital. Have any of your readers seen the brilliance, and the quality of a projected slide? Sure, the digital shooters, win the argument over the cost of taking pictures. I don't think that they have won the quest (yet) to bring home the feeling of 'being there', which is what a well photographed, projected slide does. Digital photos are nearly free to take, whereas film costs money to shoot and develop. I say to that comment. If you are worried by the cost of using slide film, then use digital AND slide film. I believe that you never will regret it. I have slides that I photographed 20 years ago. They are simply better than a usual computer monitor. Pay some attention to the beautiful results of a slide, and then you will be happy to still own a film camera! By the way, how much money have you all spent on updating your digital cameras so far?!
Good points, well put. Of course you can have digital images made into slides.
Benjamin Turner appears to suggest that deliberately over-sampling an image by reducing the recorded resolution could be a good idea:
I think that a 10Mp camera doesn't need to look great at 100% crop most of the time, if you take the Panasonic Fz50 for example, and take a really close macro shot then zoom 1:1 on a 1280x800 screen, then you're looking at very close magnification. The less noise the better, and leave a RAW mode for the shots you need to make huge, but I think that if the camera has setting to shoot at a lower resolution with a higher pixel density, so when you only need to display it on a screen choose 2mp mode, let the camera shrink all the sensor data down to the 2mp image, and it will look sharp even at 1:1 that way ;)
I'm not decided, one way or another, whether or not reducing the recorded resolution is a good idea. But it's worth exploring. The reason I'm not sure is that by using excellent noise reduction tools in applications like DxO Optics Pro or Noise Ninja, especially when using RAW file images, some very impressive results, even at high ISO, can be achieved. Resolution is lost, undoubtedly, but whether the loss is as great as dropping from 10 to 2 megapixels is a big question.
Alan Christiansen says: what is this obsession with grain-free photographs?:
I loved in the past when I shoot B/W on my Nikon, to "boile" the developer and press the Tri-X, it was grainy but very well defined grain. Its was "artistic". Now I own Panasonic FZ30, "the grainy one". What nonsense, it's an affordable camera with a long zoom and image stabilized. That over shoulder, put a spare battery in pocket and maybe the wide conversion lens snapped to belt. That's easy travelling, on the bike on foot, whatever and then keeping eyes open for a couple of hours without being pressed by a large amount of gear. The pictures are very sharp and detailed, but yes there is grain in the pictures. And so what? Noise Ninja works very fine, but also take the very fine details awy too. The FZ50 can take very nice pics at ISO 800, well that's one click higher than FZ30. Fine.
Some people might be surprised to hear that it's quite a well-known practice among professional photographers to add noise to their images.
Nuno Duarte says: cameras are tools but too many people regard them primarily as objects of desire:
I think the problem is not new. People tend to satisfy themselves with the skills of the equipment rather then with the artistic qualities of the image. It happened also in the "good old days" of film cameras. Sophisticated cameras respond to our need of owning beautiful objects. Cameras should be seen only as a tool to achieve a purpose. In my opinion a "grainy" camera is valid if the image "asks" for a "grainy look" (and that happens often). The need for cameras that take "clean" pictures whatever the light conditions are is a so-called "hi-standard" that makes no sense when we are talking about people (the ordinary user) who have very little knowledge about photography techniques. What we need is to discuss more and more the artistic meaning of the images. Priority must be for photographs, not for cameras.
I can see where Nuno is coming from, but one weakness in his argument implies that clean images are no good if you are looking for a grainy look. If that is the case you can just add grain afterwards – that's one of the beauties of digital.
Nathan Wong feels that digital has turned us into image gluttons, making it very difficult for us to really appreciate our photography:
I don't have a digital camera nor a film scanner, so I need to print. I found that picture quality and importance, for the most part, has gone down. Pictures are now taken in quantities that should be reserved to movie or video cameras. For example, we were on a trip and the people I was with who owned a digital camera that was able to hold a staggering 2000 shots! The camera was given to the young lad and he proceeded to shoot close to 500 pictures of whatever he felt in a span of 15 minutes. Needless to say when the important part of the trip came where the camera was needed, it was found that the batteries were exhausted without a spare to be found. They had to rely on my fully manual 120-film camera for pictures of the rest of the day. In fact, on the same trip I heard strangers that were on the same boat echo the same words "my batteries died." So, the quality of their pictures was nil. Their 1000 previous pictures couldn't compare with what I was getting at that particular moment.
Again, Nathan makes a good point, but can you really blame digital cameras for such situations that are clearly the result of 'operator error'. And I can think of more than one occasion from my film days when I ran out of film at a critical moment!
Ron Hunter is one for whom printing is practically redundant now:
I print few of my pictures. The values of digital photography is in its ease of distribution of the results to friends and family, and the 'instant gratification' of being able to see my pictures the minute I get home from a vacation, and at no further cost to me. Having all my pictures in one place, instantly available, and organized, makes them a source of enjoyment long after prints would be mouldering away in some album, or box.
Personally, I like digital because it doesn't sacrifice the traditional option of printing while benefiting us with all the cool and flexible new things we can do with our images.
And the last word goes to Bill White:
I am a professional photographer who learned my craft the old way... film, developing, printing, transparencies, in all formats. Not only is digital better in image quality (to the print or printed page) it has allowed many more people the ability to take sharp, properly exposed images. What the technology can not do is teach creativity, artistic point of view, or choice of subject matter. I could never go back. However, all this has turned traditional printing into an art form which will only increase in its rarity and uniqueness. Do not fear the technology, embrace it.
You know, I don't feel the need to add anything to what Bill says.