Hyper reality with the Sony A7r - Pixel Peeping and the way we view pictures.


Yesterday I was out shooting with my Sony A7r and Nikon 85mm f/1.8 lens. The sun was shining through the remains of a dense mist. I was doing some bracketing to get the exposure right and I spotted a figure in the distance. I took the shot and upon getting home looked at the file on my computer. As you can see that figure turns out to be a young man walking his dog who is clearly wearing track suit bottoms with a stripe down them and trainers. I think he is also wearing red headphones. Not bad for a 200% blow up in less than clear conditions. 

So what does this give us? And is it of use to anyone other than private detectives and paparazzi photographers? Certainly this level of resolution and detail is way beyond most reproduction needs. To see these blown up sections in a print on a wall would require a print the size of that wall. But then is a print the medium through which we view photographic images any more? For me it's not. I print virtually nothing. My end result is a jpg. uploaded to a picture library website. 

People on photographic forums talk about pixel peeping, usually using that term in a derogatory sense, but actually hasn't that become the whole point? I've written often enough about how I've only ever sold 2 or 3 images at full 36MP resolution from the A7r or my Nikon D800E. Because who would want to publish an image at that size either in a magazine, book or on the web? But there is a place for images like this and these huge pixel counts and it's what we are both engaged in at the moment. The Photographic internet has become an end in itself. Photographers sharing images, not at Facebook size, but at full resolution and looking at them and discussing them and in my case writing about them. And we do it because we can. And because the best place to see this extraordinary detail is on a computer monitor. And because we obviously get something out of it. Anytime I publish a post with these kind of comparisons and offer full-size files for download, my page views go through the roof.

We've moved on I think from a situation where looking at high-res samples is a way of assessing whether a camera or lens is going to be useful for us. The idea that we look at these, come to a judgement and then go off and follow the traditional photographers path of taking pictures and then printing them at a size that has no need for this kind of MP count anyway, is I believe, far less common than it once was. I don't even own a photo-quality printer anymore. I don't have any framed pictures on the wall and I don't have a portfolio case full of my best prints. Around half of my picture sales also never see paper, they are published on the web. And I'm sure I'm not alone in this.

So is this a bad thing? Well maybe not. I get a much better experience viewing the images I've taken on my monitor than I did when I had to load the transparencies into a projector or look through a set of dodgy prints from the local chemist. If I've got what I think are some really good images, then it's a real pleasure to look around them on my computer screen and see things I never noticed when I was actually at the location. And I suspect many of us do the same thing. And is it enjoyable? you bet it is. I think we should really stop treating pixel-peeping as some kind of guilty pleasure or a consequence of some kind of photographic geekiness and embrace it for what it is for many of us, the reason we do this in the first place. Because if we don't take pictures to look at them and have other people look at them, then what's the point of doing it in the first place? And since the way that we see what we have captured in the greatest detail is by pixel-peeping it on our monitor screens, what on earth is there to be ashamed of? And why can't we bask in the warm glow of seeing just what our high-end camera and high-end lenses have enabled us to produce? We earned the money to buy them after all. 


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