Image quality or ease of use?

Discussion in 'Open Gear Talk' started by soundimageplus, May 5, 2011.

  1. soundimageplus

    soundimageplus SC Top Veteran

    Jul 6, 2010
    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.
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  2. BBW

    BBW Administrator Emeritus

    Jul 7, 2010
    betwixt and between
    Real Name:
    A very thoughtful and honest mulling over, David. Not having the same background as you, I may not be able to have the same depth of personal understanding, however I do see what you're saying and where you're going. I wonder how the camera companies are thinking about these things? But back to the personal - your evolution as a camera owner and photographer are very thought provoking. I can't help but think that you're probably are running against the broad "GAS" consumer tide...but maybe not. Maybe less really is more in the picture making world when you get down to it.
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  3. pictor

    pictor SC All-Pro

    Jul 14, 2010
    Very well written! This is exactly the dilemma which troubles me most, too. The problem is, that I see the difference. I know the photographs I took with my Nikon and I know similar photographs I took with my Olympus. The Nikon is by far superior in image quality. It may be true, that I can see this only on the screen at 100%, but I see that the difference is there. Although I do not need the perfect image quality for my real needs, better image quality makes me happy. However, more weight makes me unhappy. At the end of the day I chose less weight over better image quality, because any camera I have with me makes better images than any camera which stays at home. But I still see the noise and the sometimes insufficient dynamic range.

    Now I know, that you don't read David's blog! :tongue:
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  4. soundimageplus

    soundimageplus SC Top Veteran

    Jul 6, 2010
    Sorry I'm really bad with acronyms - GAS??
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  5. Streetshooter

    Streetshooter Administrator Emeritus

    Jul 12, 2010
    Philly, Pa
    It's an interesting dilemma your in the middle of.
    Perhaps it's more about the camera then you let on to believe.
    True, the lens has much to do with IQ and ease of use but I think the real dilemma you face is behind the lens.
    For example, take the M9... Set the aperture, set the shutter speed and find your subject matter. The lens introduces a FOV and your position in the perspective you seek.
    Simple as that. Most other cameras start to introduce complications after that setup.

    So the dilemma appears to be more about the intrusion of gear on your vision. Your vision is focused, that's very obvious. The gear you mentioned is creating the intrusion on that vision that creates the dilemma.

    The backwork is something that is there regardless of camera, lens etc.
    So, looking at the front end that's where I see your situation developing.

    For me it's as simple as... If a camera creates an intrusion on my vision, I move on without it.
    If it doesn't create much intrusion, it moves on with me.
    The used market is flooded with cameras from me.
    It always was and always will be.

    Years back, many in fact, when I did news work... I used an M4 with a 35 for most assignments. No meter, rarely flash, just film and I was good.
    I'd get to an event and sometimes act like I forgot my Nikons.
    The other shooters usually smiles and let me get in closer to get my shot. Usually, it was THE shot.
    There's ways around anything but fighting the intrusion on vision...
    There is only 1 way... Not to have it...
    Good luck in your quest David.
    Your a brilliant guy and a great shooter...
    You'll figure it out...
    • Like Like x 6
  6. christilou

    christilou SC Hall of Famer

    Jul 13, 2010
    Sunny Frimley
    I'm a terrible swapper of cameras. I think I'm in search of the best IQ but then I see a picture with "meh" IQ but it has absolutely captured a moment and I wonder why I bother! I'm really happy with the Petax K5 (at the moment!!!). I love the dynamic range, it's ease of use, it's weight is just right, feels good in the hand and the available lenses show lots of character. I never rely on one camera and like to have a little one to take along. To this end I've been through more cameras than I care to remember and have found most of them lacking in one way or another. The only cure is to stay off the forums I think :( I do believe that a good photographer can take a great picture with almost any camera. Perhaps I'm just a person who can't see the wood for the trees!
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  7. Djarum

    Djarum SC All-Pro

    Jul 10, 2010
    Huntsville, AL
    Real Name:
    I think many people believe Image Quality is mutually exclusive of ease of use. I on the other hand thing they are very related. When it comes to composition and trying to get a good shot, which in my opinion is part of image quality, ease of use can many times trump film/sensor size or lens quality. If we are only talking image quality in terms of dynamic range, noise, sharpness, and pixel density, larger sensors will do better. But those things are only apart of the total image.
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  8. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Jul 3, 2010
    Very interesting perspective, David. For me, all of today's cameras (including small sensor cameras) have crossed my "threshold" for image quality when light is good, and all current 4/3 and larger sensor cameras have crossed my "threshold" for image quality in variable light.

    I look back at my favorite images taken with the Canon 5D, and few of them made use of the very shallow DOF I could achieve with that camera. I look back at my favorite images made with the Nikon D700, and few of those made use of sophisticated AF tracking or the amazing low light performance.

    I can see some of the differences in tonality, for example between a small sensor capture and a 4/3 sensor capture, or a 4/3 capture and a 35mm capture, but I don't put much value on it.
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  9. soundimageplus

    soundimageplus SC Top Veteran

    Jul 6, 2010
    Yes very much agree, and I feel the same way.

    Also what I forgot to include was the fact that none of my hand wringing has anything to do with whats actually in the pictures! Some of the pictures I'm most proud of were taken on less than ideal equipment as is the case with many of the worlds best known images. Alberto Kordas iconic image of Che Guevarra is a 50% crop from from a 35mm negative, and there are many other examples of pictures that resonate across the world that are similar. Content is still the most important element in all of this. Now if I could just convince myself of that!!
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  10. pictor

    pictor SC All-Pro

    Jul 14, 2010
    Gear Acquisition Syndrome
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  11. Armanius

    Armanius Bring Jack back!

    Jan 11, 2011
    Houston, Texas
    Real Name:
    BB is referring to chaps like myself inflicted with GAS (gear acquisition syndrome), AKA (also known as) CBA (camera buying addiction) and LBA (lens buying addiction). I have a problem. Admission of the problem is the first step to recovery. I'm stuck on the first step!!

    All kidding aside, well written David. I hope it will help me recover!
    • Like Like x 3
  12. soundimageplus

    soundimageplus SC Top Veteran

    Jul 6, 2010
    Thank you. Yes I'm actually very guilty of that.

    To all - the points you make are excellent & I see I'm not alone in this.

    Christilous point - "The only cure is to stay off the forums I think" is a good one and shows how things have changed. In the days of film when new models appeared after years rather than months, I kept the same MF camera for 16 years and kept my 35mm cameras for about 5 years each. I'm lucky if some of them last 16 weeks now!!

    Plus just one comment from Dons piece, that I can very much identify with.
    "For me it's as simple as... If a camera creates an intrusion on my vision, I move on without it.
    If it doesn't create much intrusion, it moves on with me.
    The used market is flooded with cameras from me.
    It always was and always will be.."

    • Like Like x 2
  13. soundimageplus

    soundimageplus SC Top Veteran

    Jul 6, 2010
    Pixelheads Anonymous?
    My name is David and I'm a cameraholic.

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  14. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin SC Hall of Famer

    Dec 24, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    Real Name:
    More than just ease of use, I find it is the way that a camera feels and operates that decides whether I choose to keep a camera or move on to something else. I have bought and sold more than a few cameras with great IQ that I just didn't click with. Absolute image quality is just one factor, albeit a very important one.
    • Like Like x 4
  15. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    Real Name:
    you should be able to figure it out...
    This expresses my sentiment pretty much exactly. And I have the advantage of never having owned the ultra high end DSLRs, so I never had to choose. I shot and processed a fair amount of film back in the day and had decent SLRs to work with. And TLRs and such as well. But digital all happened during my 25-30 year hiatus as a mere shooter of snaps while I was busy raising kids and having a career and other stuff. When I decided to "get a decent camera again" a little over a year ago (for a trip my wife and I were planning for last summer) I jumped in like I always do and looked at the available options. And it became quickly apparent to me that the images people were turning out with m43 cameras were eons better technically than the best of my film work. As was most of what I was seeing from high end point and shoots like the LX3 and S90. I knew I wanted more versatility than a tiny camera with a zoom lens but there was no way I wanted to carry a big DSLR unless there was a very compelling reason to do so, so I went the m43 route and have been quite happy with that. Only since then have I started to notice differences in IQ between different levels of gear, but for the kind of shooting I do and the way I view my images, it just doesn't matter.

    I've become a fairly ambitious collector of gear in my one year + back in photography, but none of it has had the ultimate in IQ as its goal - its always been about the camera and lens that best gets out of the way and lets me get the kinds of shots I want to get. And the IQ has invariably been good enough. I have to say I'm getting a bit spoiled by the IQ of the X100 and the Nex, now that I have them and I CAN see a difference. But that has roughly nothing to do with why I bought those cameras and the difference, even though I can see it, doesn't matter to me or affect whether I produce a terrible photograph, a good one, or one of my rare shots thats a little better than good.

    To illustrate, I was recently involved in some discussion or another over on dpreview - I think in either the Fuji or Nex forums. And I had my Flickr stream linked in my sig, as I do most places. I don't have exif data available in my Flickr stream at the moment. And some guy in the discussion happened to open my Flickr stream and started looking at my photographs and liking them. I was flattered. But then he started trying to use them to make points about gear, making some not unreasonable assumptions about what I'd used for various shots. The problem was that he was dead wrong in most of his gear assumptions, as reasonable as his guesses were. He was head over heels about a particular landscape I'd shot and was quite sure it was taken with a Nex (because it was in the same set as another shot I'd noted I HAD taken with the Nex). And he was using it to make a point about how good the APS sensor IQ was relative to m43. The only problem being I'd shot that particular photograph with a Canon S90! Which really screwed up the point he was trying to make.

    I only shot with the S90 on one of the days of my trip last year and I came back from that day with several of my favorite photographs from the whole trip. And I've printed a few of them at sizes the S90 was never intended to support and, I can see the flaws on very close inspection, but visitors in my home never fail to mention a couple of those shots first. Because they're good photographs and the IQ deficiencies of the S90 were not enough to get in the way of the viewer. I've since sold the S90 because its particularly bad for some of the shooting I like to do and the LX5 is much better in that respect, but it had absolutely NOTHING to do with image quality!

    So if I ever start feeling high and mighty about IQ making a difference, I remind myself of those prints and that story and it puts my ass back in its seat pretty quickly.

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  16. bilzmale

    bilzmale Super Moderator Emeritus

    Jul 17, 2010
    Perth, Western Australia
    Real Name:
    Bill Shinnick
    I've owned and sold 21 digital cameras in the last decade and the one I still identify most with is the Oly C5050. It's the one I kept the longest.
    I seem to be in a semi-constant state of flux and am a source of some anxiety to my wife. :redface:. I like Don's analogy of the camera becoming transparent in the image capture process (my paraphrasing). David your thoughts have inspired me to concentrate more on the output regardless of the input tool (camera).
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  17. Andrewteee

    Andrewteee SC All-Pro

    Jul 8, 2010
    I am always amazed when I print. Just last night I was going through some old prints from various digital cameras and they were all very, very good. All printed on good Epson printers after being carefully processed. Looking at pictures on the screen is one thing, and it tends to expose warts and all, but printing levels the playing field. Even though I don't print much right now, pictures are still meant to be printed imo. On the screen is more convenient, but not as pleasing.

    I've also discovered that printing is a great way to edit pictures. I'll put away the prints for some time then come back and review. Some stand out, others fall by the wayside.

    There is one picture that stands out to me, that proves to me that virtually any camera is a great camera for prints. It's a shot of a cement factory in an industrial section of Berkeley. Lots of interesting shapes and lines and textures. Slightly underexposed, but the black and white print is stunning nonetheless.

    IQ and ease of use are separate things to me.
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  18. pdh

    pdh SC Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    this is an interesting thread ... I feel underqualified to add anything, but also feel impelled to do so ... here's a snap of my first "serious" camera and my E-P2 ... I never took a good frame with the first, much as I loved to have it in my hands, because I never had the patience to "learn photography" ... 35 years on, I bought the E-P2 ... it has all the qualities of the first, and I make better photographs ... I have notoriously always wanted "more" in almost every area of life, but mysteriously find that having acquired an E-P2, even a year on, I just don't look at other cameras with any sense of longing ... not even (whisper it ) an M9 ... too big ... however, I have spent the equivalent of the national debt of Mexico on glass ... none of which can I bear to part with yet ... so I seem to be ina bit of a minority ...

    werra + E-P2 by _loupe, on Flickr
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  19. pictor

    pictor SC All-Pro

    Jul 14, 2010
    Cameras like the Nikon D700 and the Canon 5D have spoiled us so much, that we completely miss the point when we criticize cameras like the Olympus E-PL1 or compacts like the Canon G series for their comparably minor image quality. When we shot film no one even dared to dream about shooting color photographs at ISO 3200 and getting an image quality like that of this photograph I did last November:


    Of course, the image quality is not perfect, but there was not even one equivalent color film I know of which was only a little bit usable. Thus this is better than we could expect when we shot film. The ยต4/3 gear offers even better image quality than compact cameras like my Canon G12 and are still very convenient. I understand that there are photographers who really need those heavy and fast cameras, but for many of us its image quality is much more than we will ever need...

    ...if there were not the perfectionist in us...
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  20. Willow8032

    Willow8032 New to SC

    May 4, 2011
    Universal Dilemma

    Apart from my interest in photography I work for a performing arts organisation and the same dilemma exists in sound fidelity. I work with one musician who has genuinely spent twice as much on his sound system as he has on his home. At 55 his hearing acuity will not be what it once was and I wonder whether the premium price he pays for the equipment translates to a discernable difference in what he can hear. Top of the range Hi Fi like lenses being exponentially more expensive that decent Hi Fi equipment.

    I am a tragic cyclist and I won't bore you with the parallels in cycling except to observe that $280 for 12 grams shaved off the weight of a pair of pedals is about the measure of it.
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