The above images were taken with a Leica Q (Typ 116), Panasonic GX8, iPod Touch and Samsung K Zoom Smartphone. Can you tell which is which?
In a world becoming increasingly more dominated by the electronic and web publication of images, just what is the point of extremely high pixel counts on large sensors, lenses and cameras costing 1000's of dollars / pounds / euros and all the disputes about specs, pixel size, processing engines and noise levels? To be honest sometimes I wonder. People print images less and less, magazines and newspapers are increasingly more concerned about their web and mobile content than print and if I had to choose the best way of viewing my images, I'd go for my iPad. They are a nice size, I can view them anywhere and the level of detail, sharpness and colour rendition is fine.
Are all the advances in the gear we use only visible at 100% on a computer monitor? And if that is so, then just how many people, apart from photographers, look at images in that way? Increasingly the people who sell my images and publish my web content are sending me emails about how I should make sure what I produce is 'mobile friendly' and with the increasing size of smartphone screens, we aren't that far away from the sizes that people used to have their 35mm film images printed at. And in many cases viewing them on a screen is probably better quality than those dreadful machine prints from negatives that people used to think was a representaion of what their photography actually looked like.
All of the above images are landscape pictures. Traditionally, this has been an area where photographers have claimed high resolution is important. But is it? Is is really essential that 'every blade of grass is sharp?' What purpose does that achieve? Is there really any point in being able to forensically examine a landscape image in minute detail? Does it make the image 'better' and more enjoyable to look at? I've never thought so and I'm not sure that non-photographers who enjoy looking at landscape images do either. When I edit my images, I'm much more concerned about the colour, the contrast and the overall 'balance' of an image. What it looks like blown up to 100% is a secondary consideration. And since the latest and more camera centred smartphones are now capable of producing images that will reproduce as well or better as 35mm film, why do we bother with all this expensive gear? and more to the point devote millions of words to arguing about the differences, when for the most part nobody will ever see (or actually want to see) those differences?
"Proper' cameras still have lots of advantages in terms of operation, speed and the ability to use different lenses. Some of the images above were taken using a Panasonic 100-300mm lens on a m4/3 camera, which is an approximate equivalent of 200-600mm on a 35mm film sixe / 'full-frame' camera. So that's an advantage right? Well there are now very small compact cameras that have that lens range and there is every indication that something like that will turn up on the front of smartphone before long. Over the past few months my most used camera, by some distance is my Samsung K Zoom smartphone, with it's 24-240mm zoom 'equivalent.' Is the image quality as good as my mirrorless cameras? No of course it isn't, but who exactly, apart from pixel peeping photographers (of which I am certainly one) will ever see the difference?
Anybody like to guess what I took the pictures below with?
They are allscans from 35mm film transparencies. And this is what that looks like blown up to 100%.
Below is an image I shot yesterday with my Samsung K zoom blown up to 100%
As you might imagine, there isn't really going to be that much difference between these two images when printed in a magazine, if any. And no one would have ever suggested that a 35mm transparency wasn't suitable for that purpose, In fact in pre-digital days 35mm film was by far the most used method of shooting pictures for commercial reproduction and was even used for high-end 'coffee table' books of photographs. So, if a smartphone is as good as 35mm film, again I ask the question, what is the point of all those pixels and the endless discussions of the merits of processing engines, pixel size and all the other assorted excuses for an argument on the photographic internet?
And all the above questions are ones that I ask myself constantly these days. All my best selling images in pre-microstock days were shot on film. And viewed at 100% they looked no better than the example above. And some of those earned £1000's in commission and several were printed really large. (We're talking sizes of 10 x 7 metres here) So it's probably the case that a high end smartphone camera is capable of the same. So what does that do for our perception of what makes a 'good' camera? Well, your guess is as good as mine. But what is true is that currently, it's often very difficult to see just are the advantages of some of this bulky, expensive and overhyped gear. Because if this supposed quality is only visible under extreme analytical circumstances, then is it of any use in the real world? where images are selected and published because of their aesthetic rather than their technical merit.
Because as a group, as photographers, it strikes me that we seem to be obsessing about the wrong things. Too often articles and reviews are written about what comes out the camera rather than what we turn that information into. My 'prints' aren't on photographic paper anymore, they are electronic files designed to be viewed predominatly on a screen of some kind. And all my Photoshop editing is undertaken with that result in mind. Because in all likelihood that is how they will be viewed. Certainly that is how I view them. And if a decent smartphone can produce images that work in that context, then why go to all the trouble and expense of using something that is is bulkier, heavier, much more complicated and in many cases a lot more expensive. And this is the question that I find myself asking time and time again. And taking into consideration that my smartphone images (since I started using them) sell just as well as my 'proper' camera images, I may be moving ever closer to the obvious answer.
Now whether all those years of learning my craft and all the opinions on photographic gear that I've accumulated over that time will ever let me do the unthinkable and move to a 100% smartphone workflow, who knows, but that possibility is getting ever closer.