Category Archives: Image quality

The Myth of Sufficiency

A widespread myth of sensor resolution (or the end of the megapixel race) states that if you print larger, you will step back further and, consequently, will never need the resolution given by higher megapixel cameras and prints. This myopic view of megapixels is correct if you are thinking of snapshots, looking solely at web uploads, or preventing* people from getting close enough to inspect the images.

* Helmut Newton’s big nudes are hung above the stairs in the lobby of the Berlin Museum, where it is physically impossible to get closer than about 2 meters, to realize that they are really not that sharp.

Bryce canyon at dawn, Utah, USA

Bryce canyon at dawn (seen from sunset point). One of my best-printing images. Linhof Technika 4×5, Fujichrome Provia 100. Scanned by MSP Graphic Services, Cotati, CA, on a Dainippon Screen drum scanner. 160 MP, corresponding to 15.7 x 19.6″ at 720 dpi, 16 bit, 920 MB tiff. Down-sampled to 2200 pixels on the narrow side and badly jpeg compressed to arrive at a 1.4 MB file size for web upload.

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Digital versus Film Photography: Nikon D800E and 4×5” Fujichrome

Digital versus film photography has been a hot topic of debate for about 10 years. While most professionals have made their decision based on workflow, low light performance, reliability, and running costs, amateurs and fine-art photographers have praised the soul of film and the related process as a way of slowing down and thereby increasing the keeper rate.

Lamayuru Gompa, Ladakh, India

Lamayuru, Ladakh: Nikon D800E with Nikon 50 mm 1.4G at f11

For my part, I do not subscribe to this argument, because the shot discipline required by the latest generation of digital cameras (be it the Nikon D800E, the Sony a7r, or the upcoming medium format systems equipped with the Sony 33×44 mm CMOS sensor) leads naturally to a slower process: setting up a sturdy tripod, focusing in live view (contrast detection), mirror lock up and shutter delay, multiple capture for stitching and focus stacking, and “development” of the RAW files.

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Full Frame DSLR versus Medium Format: Nikon D800E and the Mamiya/Leaf Credo

A number of comprehensive test reports have been published on the Nikon D800E.  The image quality of this camera has triggered shootouts with medium format systems such as the Leica S, Hasselblad H4D, and the Mamiya/Leaf combo.

To me, these evaluations were not really conclusive, as they focus mainly on resolution and often propose pixel peeping on a low-gamut LCD screens.  In discussion forums, these tests have consequently drawn comments that it would be illicit to “compare apples and oranges” and that there are “horses for courses”. Such comments are triggered by the real-world decision-making problems featuring multiple conflicting objectives. The best conceived test is useless if the methodology is not sound and the criteria are not clearly defined. But more importantly any such test will be highly subjective with inherent, strongly weighted objectives.

Mamiya-Nikon

Left: Mamiya 645D. Right: Nikon D800E.

Therefore, I must explain first my shooting style and preferences, workflow, and photographic background. For me, the definition of an outstanding image boils down to a simple question: wouldn’t I mind spending big bucks on printing and framing of an image, displaying it in my home, and looking at it for hours on end? For me, as a scientific engineer, technical perfection is an important aspect. Any of my keeper images qualify for a 60×80 cm (23”) fine art print, holding up 10″ viewing distance. This is what I call supernatural, because the print reveals details that at the location were not visible to the naked eye. I thus spare no effort; when I visualize an image at a remote place, which I might be able to visit only once in a lifetime, I just want to have the best equipment with me. And leaving aside the artistic aspect of photography, if something goes wrong technically, it will be my, and not the equipment’s fault.

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