Is Photoshop obliterating the differences between cameras and lenses?

'Frankly, over the past couple of years the differences between sensor performance on most cameras has gotten so close that it takes very large prints and 100% pixel peeping to tell the difference. Also, most cameras do quite well up to about ISO 3200, and few of us shoot at higher ISOs in the real world.'

From Luminous Landscape Review of the Panasonic GX7.

In terms of the statement at the top of the post, its difficult these days to argue that there is any significant difference between comparable sized sensors at low ISO settings. Particularly when images are shot raw, as the processing parameters used and how they are applied can make more difference than what sensor is used. At the higher ISO setiings, there is still a difference that can be detected as noise levels do vary. I have two cameras which are very good at high ISO's Fuji X-E1 and Leica X-vario and two that aren't, my Panasonics. It is however very difficult to discern any difference between all four at base ISO. All are 16MP or thereabouts.

But I would also argue that some of the latest tools in Photoshop are 'equalising' different pixel counts and lens performance between cameras. In the screen grab above, the Image Size and Smart Sharpen options are shown. These are now so sophisticated that its perfectly possible to upsize images quite dramatically. Most of my 16MP images are interpolated to 24MP before uploading to picture libraries, and neither the libraries who accept them or the clients who buy them, see this is a problem. I wouldn't do it anyway unless I believed that it didn't degrade the image quality.

Smart sharpen also 'improves' lenses that are perhaps lacking a bit of bite. Every lens comparison I ever do shows me that differences between lenses, in terms of sharpness, are usually much less than many people try to assert anyway. 

I believe that its now the case, that if you want higher MP's and sharper lenses, then you are actually better off renting Photoshop CC than buying a new camera or lens. Its probably a lot cheaper. As an example, until recently I had a Nikon D800E. Lots of MP's there and really excellent quality files. However with the new Photoshop I can upsize files from my Leica X Vario in particular to the same size as the D800E files and there is actually very little difference. Processing both identically, the Nikon files are still sharper, but adding a touch of smart sharpen to the upsized Leica file, makes seeing the difference very difficult, though the X Vario image will pick up some luminance noise when its enlarged. However in terms of printing and reproduction, virtually no-one could see the difference.  

And then of course there's this. Ken Rockwell's latest little polemic. 


N.B. to see more on the cameras and lenses featured in this post click on the relevant labels (tags and keywords) below.

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