Since there seems to be an unwritten law of photography that ultimate image quality comes at a price in both financial terms and ease of use, I've been thinking recently about which I value most. This was sparked off by an incident last week. My sister-in-law had printed up two pictures taken by her son to hang in her new house. They were 12 x 18" prints done by the local supermarket and taken on a Panasonic GH1 with the 14-140mm lens. The quality was incredibly good. Very sharp, and the closer I got the better they looked. Compared to the hand made prints from film I used to get done by a top printer in London, they were far superior. It occurred to me that if this quality was achieved by a 12MP camera and a good, but not exceptional lens, then just where is the advantage in going for the ultimate image quality other than pixel peeping on a computer screen? I've spent a large part of my photographic life going for that "ultimate" quality. Carrying medium-format cameras and tripods up mountains, preferring manual focus primes to auto focus zooms and often using cameras that are very difficult to operate. This also often involves a higher financial cost. While realising that the law of diminishing returns applies and that the more money I pay, the less improvement I get, I've still been prepared to do that in this quest for the sharpest images I can produce. To this end I have a Leica Panasonic Vario-Elmar 14-150mm zoom used with an adapter on m4/3. I also have the Olympus 14-150mm m.zuiko. Yes the Vario-Elmar is better, but I'm beginning to question by how much and where exactly will this difference get seen? By blowing images up to 100% I can see that, and yes the picture editors I submit to either directly or via picture libraries may see it too. Assuming that is they take the trouble to blow it up and stare at it intently on a very good computer monitor. Will it print any better? Well the answer to that is almost certainly not. If used on the internet will it look better. Well no it won't. The reason I use these two lenses as an example is that the Olympus is MUCH easier to use. It focuses quicker and its lighter. It is in fact a pleasure to use. I could use this comparison again with other similar lenses I own. The Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 compared to the Panasonic 4/3 25mm f/1.4 plus adapter, the Panasonic Leica 45mm f/2.8 macro compared to the Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar T* plus adapter. In both cases the latter is "better" but harder to use. Looking at my sales from pictures, the "quality" of the image and the equipment it was taken on bears no relation to its financial success. Do my Leica M9 images sell better than my m4/3 images? well no they don't. Comparing the lenses mentioned above, do the "better" lenses achieve higher sales? well no they don't. So why exactly am I doing it? Of all the photographic dilemmas, this is the one that troubles me most. Its the reason I still can't seem to do what I desperately want to do and dump the DSLR's. The Sony a850 currently sits on the shelf, 25MP and all. But thats where it stays, on the shelf. I bought it because it was cheaper and lighter than a Nikon D3X, which I also had at one time in my quest for this "ultimate quality". However I really want to get down to 3 or 4 small light cameras, but seem consistently unable to achieve that. I know if I sell the Sony, there will always be this feeling that I've sacrificed something, that something is missing, that somehow I'm not producing the best I can. But ultimately if I'm not using it, what use is it? I love my Leica M9, but again I don't use it that much. Unlike the Sony, I do love using it, but the dust spots have built up again and cleaning them off is a real pain and slows down my editing process. I have now decided to use it with one lens, so I'm going to have the sensor cleaned (again) and not remove the lens to see if that improves things. I don't really have an answer to my initial dilemma as to whether its image quality or ease of use I value most, but certainly over the past year I'm moving towards the latter. Certainly the Fuji X100 has proved that it is possible to almost achieve both, Fuji software notwithstanding. I probably won't ever completely resolve this and to a large extent its the result of my early years in photography, when there was a very real difference between my earnings from different cameras, with medium-format film proving far more successful than 35mm. However the market is now different. Clients don't look at transparencies on a lightbox any more, they look at thumbnails, but the certainties I had then are proving difficult to shake.