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dSLRs and IQ

Friday 4 December 2009

Where does image quality (IQ) matter? – In the final use of the photo.

So much has been written about megapixels and sensors all in the name of selling more and more equipment. If you strip away all the rhetoric, all that’s left is the simple notion that for 90% of all photographers and photography, sensor size has far less bearing on image quality then any one of a number of other variables including field techniques and post-capture techniques – both of which are deterined by the photographer, not the equipment. Sorry to burst your bubble, but, a better camera does not make better pictures. Today, virtually any dSLR will be more than sufficient for, by far, the vast majority of people buying dSLRs.

It’s unfortunate to say, but the reality of marketing is that consumers buy the latest cameras and megasensors more because they want to be like the “big boys” then for any concrete IQ and usage reasons. Then, endless reviews and forum posts are written to support the IQ/usage notion.

I defy anyone to tell the difference between 4:3s/Olympus and any other make or model of dSLR camera/lens in the following real life scenarios (in order of common use):

  • websites (screen resolution obscures any difference and, realistically, only pixel peepers view images online at full resolution)
  • regular prints (4×6″ or similar – all that’s needed is 1200x1800pixels for max quality!)
  • enlargements up to 11×14″ (no problem!)
  • photo books (maximum pixel resolution is about 2000 x 2600 – no problem!)

At this point – 90-95% of all dSLR owners, users and usage have been covered!! The higher-end uses include:

  • wedding albums (up to 12″ cropped from a frame – 3600 pixels on longest side)
  • magazine images (the dot pattern introduced obscures any IQ difference)
  • enlargements to 16×20 (40x50cm) – 4:3s interpolated is, again, amazing quality – especially when viewed from normal viewing distance (Why do some people feel it’s necesary to count pixels in a photograph when we don’t count brush strokes on an oil or watercolour? )

So what does that leave – the 0.1% of enlargements larger than 20″ and even photographs that large can be made from 4:3s sensors with excellent interpolation results.

Maasai Herd Boy, Tanzania

Maasai Herd Boy, Tanzania

The difference between dSLRs will be in the handling and the system itself, but then that’s where personal shooting styles come in . As well, there are those who require capabilities beyond what Olympus is producing – gazillion frames per second, for example.

I just had the wonderful experience of going through “old” digital files from when I lived in Africa to produce a book. I was using a 5mp Minolta Dimage 7i and I have tack sharp images of my Maasai friends. Enlarged to 11×14 they defy any observer’s guess at sensor size or make. This is just one example of how we have become too fooled by the techno-gazing pixel-peepers rather than making decisions based on how we are using our equipment and what the end product will be.

Bottom Line: Unless you are shooting for e.g. Sports Illustrated or similar, buy what feels right to you because any of the dSLRs currently out there will more than suit your needs. If you are a bit serious about photography then check out the lenses you are most likely to buy: wide-normal zoom, telephoto zoom and perhaps a macro lens. For most people a body and the two “kit” zooms will be ideal – a system you can grow into. Surprisingly, Olympus came to that realization a few years ago – their “kit” lenses are regarded as the best on the market by almost any reviewer out there! So save a few bucks on equipment and spend it on travelling to that dream photo destination.

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