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Why pixel peeping and megapixels matter to me.

Discussion in 'Open Gear Talk' started by soundimageplus, May 17, 2011.

  1. soundimageplus

    soundimageplus SC Top Veteran

    578
    Jul 6, 2010
    WHY PIXEL PEEPING AND MEGAPIXELS MATTER TO ME.

    Pixel-peeping is almost a term of abuse these days. "The difference only matters to pixel-peepers" etc. I spend a lot of time testing lens / sensor combinations, and attempting to see what is sharp and what isn't, how much CA and fringing there is, and how in general a file looks viewed at 100% on a good monitor. So what does that make me? The photographic equivalent of someone who listens to their hi-fi rather than the music? Some nerd who's more interested in lens performance than taking pictures?

    Well no. Its often a matter of commercial necessity. As many are aware I make my living as a stock photographer, selling images via picture library websites. Many of those websites have a submission and acceptance / rejection way of working. I know that the images I send to them are going to be "pixel-peeped" to a very high level. My images will be scrutinised for technical quality and faults will not be tolerated. If I can't get an image accepted onto a website then it won't sell. This makes making a living somewhat difficult.I therefore have to make sure that even before I submit an image to a library, it has to be "scrubbed up" to pass the stringent quality control criteria.

    Then there is the question of size. The larger the image, the more pixels it has, the more opportunity it has to sell. A large image taken on a camera with a high MP count creates the possibility of a wider number of possible sales. It can be used at larger sizes such as A3+ and it can be cropped while still retaining quality. An image created on a camera with less MP's has a more restricted sales potential.

    Some libraries accept interpolated files. There again the actual quality of the file is important, as the higher the quality of the original the better it will enlarge. The less you have to interpolate it the better the end result. So the difference between 14MP and 16MP does matter.

    Then there are the clients. The people who buy pictures. Basically the people who enable me to pay my mortgage and eat regularly. Some will study a file intently, some won't. However I have no way of knowing who does what so I have to make sure that I'm submitting my images in the best possible way and to the highest possible standard.

    So does this matter to the average "enthusiast photographer"?. Well every individual can only answer that for themselves. It does, to a certain extent, depend on how and to who you present and show your pictures, and also what medium you use for this. Whether you print or use the web, make photo books or submit for publication, you have to make sure that your files are capable of fulfilling the requirements of the means you use to distribute your work. Having run my own picture library for a number of years, I'm well aware of how different people view these requirements.

    One of my contributors was a long time news photographer. He was at one time picture editor of one of the most famous newspapers in the UK and was someone who had visited and photographed virtually every country in the world and had tens of 1000's of images published. However the majority of these were in newsprint, not known for presenting images in the best possible way, and he tended to think that his files needed to to fulfil those standards only. His files were truly terrible. Huge crops blown up to ridiculous sizes, some of the worst Photoshop editing I've ever seen in my life, and a list of faults as long as your arm. To my astonishment, many of these images sold very well, but only to that newspaper market. I sent a few of his images to upmarket magazines and advertising clients but soon stopped when I realised that my reputation for quality was going to suffer if I carried on doing it.

    To him the image was the thing. The state of the digital file was secondary. Its true that many people do think that, but I would argue that there is hardly a renowned photographer who doesn't take the greatest care over having their work presented in the best possible way. Its also interesting to note how many of the famous photographers use the best gear. Leicas, Medium and Large format are commonplace.

    Going off on another of my musical analogies, great musicians care about using the best instruments they can. So why should photographers and their cameras be any different? I've been around one or two famous and successful photographers and I found it difficult to believe quite how fussy they are about their gear. One well-known landscape UK photographer told me he spent 99% of his time testing and 1% taking the pictures that earned him his reputation. That might be somewhat over the top but I can understand the commitment if not the obsession.

    So pixel-peeping to me isn't a term of abuse, nor do I think it a pointless exercise. For me its a very necessary part of what I do. Sometimes it does drive me crazy and I often wish I didn't have to do it. Being happy with a camera phone or micro sensor compact camera image would make life a lot simpler for me, but I'm not and it isn't.

    Some may say "Oh but you're a professional" but then I did this before I started earning my living from photography. That is if you count viewing transparencies on a lightbox through a loupe as "pixel-peeping" Some might also say "You don't need more pixels" which to me is one of the most arrogant and patronising statements I ever read concerning digital photography. What gives people the right to say this to another photographer is beyond my understanding! What we use and what demands we make on the equipment we use is our decision. Also when you realise that reading between the lines "You don't need more pixels" usually means either "You're a rubbish photographer so the extra resolution is wasted on you" or "I can't afford a better camera so I'm going to attempt to trash anyone else who can".

    So I'm a self admitted "pixel-peeper" and I have no reason to apologise for it. The technical quality of my images matters to me, both professionally and personally, and I shall continue to do it.

    This is intended as a companion piece to the post I started that posed the question "Image quality or ease of use?" I still haven't decided which is more important to me and in some ways this might be seen as contradicting some of what I said in the previous post. But as I said at the time, this is a constant dilemma for me, and I'm no nearer to finding a satisfactory solution than I was then. However no matter what I actually use, and that decision may be dependent on other factors, I will still be concerned to see whats out there so I can make my decisions having considered all the available information. "It'll do" is not a part of my photographic vocabulary, "What could I achieve with that" is the sentiment I experience more often.
     
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  2. Lili

    Lili SC Hall of Famer

    Oct 17, 2010
    Dallas, TX
    Lili
    Soundiamge, did you ever perchance see this article?
    Kidding
    I mention it only because the cameras involve are at the top end of their technologic niches at the time.
    What you are doing in you tests is not what I meant, if indeed you meant my post.
    You do your own tests, and provide original files.
    Other just pull test images from various sites which may or may not have bearing in real world use.
    I can understand your need for quality files, pro or not we all share that need else we'd be satisfied with digital box cameras and not be spending hundreds on high end gear.
     
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  3. soundimageplus

    soundimageplus SC Top Veteran

    578
    Jul 6, 2010
    I did read the article yes. And no it wasn't a response to your post, I've actually had it written for some time and I was waiting for a "gap" in the front page schedule to open up to post it.

    On the Michael Reichmann piece, I think its very much a thought provoking essay. I also looked at the highest res. samples he provided and I thought the MF back image was way better. However making prints is probably the medium where you see these differences less. He also picked a subject that again was suitable for comparison. If he'd included a landscape with part of it in the distance, then you would see a real significant difference. The bigger something is in the frame the better it will look. The extra pixels kick in when you need detail on something thats small in the frame.

    As you say my testing is always personal and is done in the way I work. Its not meant to be a technical definitive review just an account of how it works for me.

     
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  4. Lili

    Lili SC Hall of Famer

    Oct 17, 2010
    Dallas, TX
    Lili
    Yes that article spoke to me, for a long time, in my film days I only ever shot Rollei and a GSW690 as I could tell (without a loupe) the difference in 8X10 or larger prints in the tonal range and transitions (my vocabulary here is imprecise I fear) between medium format and 35mm or smaller formats.
    For my eye at the time I demanded the best I could reasonably afford or carry with me.
    So I quite understand where you are coming from.
    Later, I started to see grain as one would the brush stroke in painting, or more accurately those from pencil or charcoal drawings.
    In terms of the image provided yes, they were the best type to show the G-10's quality.
    I forget who said it but I agree that large things should be shot with large negatives/sensors.
    We are fortunate now that we are able to get larger sensors in quite compact and affordable gear.
     
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  5. jonoslack

    jonoslack SC Veteran

    203
    May 6, 2011
    Excellent piece soundimage. I agree with almost all of it. Just a couple of things which spring to mind, not so much with respect to your piece, but as a general observation.

    1. Everybody pixel peeps at 100% - whatever the resolution
    Which means that a D700 file (at 100%) for instance will look better than a D3x file (at 100%). I produced two wedding books simultaneously a few months back, one which had been shot with a D700 and one with a Sony A900 - looking at 100% the D700 files did look better . . . but the A900 produced a much better book (all that extra resolution more than made up for the extra noise at 100%).

    I've been guilty of this recently in comparing images from the X100 with those from my M9 - in fact, the M9 is better at 100%, but it looks close - however, do an A2 print and there's a world of difference.

    2. Subjects really do make a difference
    For lots of subjects you really don't need a great deal of resolution, for some - eg landscape - you really do.

    For me, there is always a trade between useability and ability - of course, for my landscape and nature work I'd get better files if I used Medium Format digital, but experience tells me that once I start faffing about with tripods and carrying 20kg kit my muse (what little there is of it) gets left at home - so the A900 and M9 do well.

    Anyway, many thanks for your post, you've clarified some things for me which should have been more obvious, and I shall be acting accordingly!
     
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  6. Streetshooter

    Streetshooter Administrator Emeritus

    Jul 12, 2010
    Philly, Pa
    David,
    I am not a pixel peeper. I do minimal testing on an outfit and then....
    I search out results from whom I consider trusted pixel peepers. There exist only a few I trust. You David, I consider a trusted PP. Why? Because you test for what translates to money.
    That's the key for me. I also make money and a following with my images.
    I sell to Museums, galleries and collectors.
    So the standards are extremely high. Without trusted PP shooters, I'd still be on film.

    David, thanks for your writing and work. My clients and I are happy with your efforts even though you may think they go unnoticed.
    Don
     
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  7. ZDP-189

    ZDP-189 Twitter: <a href="http://twitter.com/#!/ZDP189">@Z

    64
    Apr 18, 2011
    I agree with soundimageplus to a great extent. I use a 21MP camera and I often use that for centre cropping, or downsizing to sharpen an image or to squelch a bit of noise. A better photographer than I might achieve the same results with a much lower resolution camera, but like soundimageplus, I enjoy the luxury of tweaking my images on the PC and a high resolution certainly makes it easier.

    I am far from a professional. My 'clients' are mostly family and friends and don't need to blow up my images to billboard size at 300dpi. We're a bit backward here; even the local production houses in Hong Kong rarely work at such resolutions. East Asia Professional (our leading pro print house) put up a 30'x20' poster in a prime advertising spot in Central and they could only manage 8MP. It looked fantastic though. That spot normally goes for $100,000 per month, but they had no client and were using the banner to advertise their own service.

    It's not just big print media that can use high resolution; editors can use it to more accurately mask unsightly backgrounds, redefine out of focus elements, or crop awkwardly composed images. I do far too much of that on my own work, but then I don't have to deliver it to anyone with commercial expectations.

    I am amazed that soundimageplus would shoot stock images on a compact. Most compact camera lenses barely resolve 10MP on a 1/2.3" or 1/1.7" sensor. Resolution in the 10s of megapixels usually requires a DSLR sized system. Why tens of megapixels? An extra megapixel on a 10MP camera disappears into the rounding error in terms of actual resolution (line pairs per mm). Indeed, even a substantially higher resolution advantage can be erased by anti-aliasing, noise control and compression artefacts, not to mention optical limitations and poor focussing. It wasn't specified, but from soundimageplus' description of the advantages, I presume we are talking about something in the order of 50%,100% or more additional pixels.

    I don't know of any compacts able to offer the resolution of a 5DII or 645D, but personally, I'd rather shoot with a simple pocket camera anyway. I find it more fun, and I focus more on content, composition and capturing the moment than on technical precision. I love art, contrast, colour, light and texture; creating the illusion of detail that the eye cannot see. I'm not up to professional technical standards and I know it. I'll take enjoyment instead of money.

    In summary, I agree we should always shoot in the highest available resolution, unless caught short on memory. All things being equal, I'd pick the higher resolution camera over the lower. High resolution is useful even beyond the level at which you need to print it (say 7.2MP for 8"x10"). In a small sensor camera it's marginally more useful than the extra noise you'll get from the higher pixel density; this is less of a factor in an APS-C or full frame camera. It's not the only metric though and there are many more important factors when an amateur like me picks a camera: low shutter latency, control simplicity, the degree of manual control, compactness, robustness, optical quality, white balance and metering accuracy, focus speed in poor light, and so on. As my camera doesn't make me money, cost is a more important consideration for me as well.
     
  8. soundimageplus

    soundimageplus SC Top Veteran

    578
    Jul 6, 2010
    I've always been surprised at the difference between looking at the printed result as compared to viewing on a monitor. Your example of the wedding books is a good one. When I was shooting weddings we always provided a story book rather than an album with prints and images shot on a 7D at 3200 looked terrible on the screen but printed up very nicely. In the same way that scanned film doesn't look great on a screen but can reproduce very well in print.

    Again as you say, a smaller sensor image can look "better" on a screen at 100% and in order to compare with some accuracy, I'll usually enlarge the smaller image to the same size to get a good idea. One of the first things I did when I got my X100 was to blow an image up to the same size as a Leica M9 one and then compare them. I was certainly pleased at how well the X100 held up but the Leica still showed greater clarity and sharpness.

    In fact I sold a Nikon D3X when I blew a Leica M9 shot up to the same size and realised that even interpolated the Leica looked sharper.

    Finally on interpolation and printing, I once did a very high quality A3 calendar which I sent out to clients. I used shots from cameras ranging from 6MP to 16MP and made them all the same size before sending them off to the printers, which obviously meant a high level of enlargement for some shots. It was interesting to see how difficult it was to tell the difference.

    The problem I have is that I know what will print well, but many clients don't. They work to formulas rather than rely on experience, consequently I have to provide them with what they want otherwise they will just reject my images out of hand. Consequently when I "pixel peep" I'm much more concerned about sharpness and colour clarity and always try to make an assessment based on imagining the largest size and highest resolution that an image will be printed at. Again going back to the wedding book example, the m4/3 images that I and my colleague shot on backup cameras always looked stunning in print compared to the Canon images we took, and we would think apart from the low light stuff why aren't we shooting everything on m4/3?

    One of the reasons I'm so enthusiastic about m4/3 and Panasonic in particular is just how good the files look when "pixel-peeped". I have the confidence in them being able to be used at pretty high levels of enlargement.

    Its a difficult thing to assess overall and there's no easy answer for judging what a camera is capable of when looking at samples at 100% Particularly when printed results can differ so much because of who prints them. Experience is helpful, but there are still too many people, including the people who pay my wages, who just assume that 18MP is "better" than 12MP under all circumstances. We know that isn't the case, but try telling them that.
     
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  9. soundimageplus

    soundimageplus SC Top Veteran

    578
    Jul 6, 2010
    Errrm... I don't. I shoot stock images on m4/3 or APS-C cameras, and you might describe an X100 or E-PL2 as a compact, but to me thats more about construction than image quality. I certainly don't shoot anything on a 1/2.3 or 1/1.7 sensor.
     
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  10. Andrewteee

    Andrewteee SC All-Pro

    Jul 8, 2010
    This is always an interesting topic. As I think about it a different perspective comes to mind. I am both a taker of pictures and a buyer of pictures. What I do for myself is different than what I might buy from others. When I buy a photograph I never ever pixel peep. I am drawn to the image itself, the composition, the mood, the form, the content. When I buy a photograph I am buying art and to me art relies more on the gestalt of the image than the technical details. I want to enjoy it on an emotional level.

    Some of my favorite most recent personal images, ones I actually framed, are Polaroid shots. They are dark B&W images purposely underexposed, shot on a 40 year old cheap Polaroid camera. Unless I pull out a loupe I simply cannot pixel peep, and that is refreshing. I can simply enjoy the image for what it is.

    Fortunately, I don't make money with my pictures and therefore I don't have to please clients. I do it purely for my own pleasure and enjoyment. But in my day job as an interaction designer I absolutely do and we pay strict attention to detail in our design work and we do pixel peep our work. Our custom software is crafted with precision for clients.

    In the realm of commercial work the quality of our tools matters. But in the realm of the personal and artistic, and in the realm of the serious compact cameras, we might be looking for something else instead of technical precision.
     
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  11. soundimageplus

    soundimageplus SC Top Veteran

    578
    Jul 6, 2010
    Interesting comment. Does that mean unfortunately I do?
     
  12. Andrewteee

    Andrewteee SC All-Pro

    Jul 8, 2010
    No, sorry, not at all. I just mean that I don't have clients to appease. I do that 8+ hours a day at work (and then at home for the family). I mean that my photography is my own time, the time I get to do what I enjoy most, that I get to sink into the zone of creativity and do it for myself and no one else. By fortunately, I mean that I'm happy to have an interest or hobby that I'm deeply passionate about. If I were to do photography as a business on top of what I do for a living as a designer then it would not be as much fun, since it would not really be the relaxing down time I need every day.

    But fortunately, I also love my day job as I'm sure that you love photography as a career. You stumbled on to it earlier in life than I did. It was not until I was nearly 40 that I got serious about photography. Had I gotten serious about it when I was 20 then I would probably be a professional photographer today. I'll get more serious about it when I get a bit older and time frees up, but right now free time is about the last thing that I have.
     
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  13. soundimageplus

    soundimageplus SC Top Veteran

    578
    Jul 6, 2010
    This is getting worse!!

    ap·pease/əˈpēz/Verb
    1. Pacify or placate (someone) by acceding to their demands.
    2. Relieve or satisfy (a demand or a feeling): "we give to charity because it appeases our guilt".

    Personally I've never "appeased" anyone in my life.
     
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  14. soundimageplus

    soundimageplus SC Top Veteran

    578
    Jul 6, 2010
    I do understand what you mean by the way. Appeasement just has unfortunate connotations here in the UK. 1939 and all that.
     
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  15. Andrewteee

    Andrewteee SC All-Pro

    Jul 8, 2010
    Relax... it's just a term I often use regarding clients. But there are indeed times when we have to in fact give in to clients. We have time, money and scope to work with and scope is the toughest of the three to manage since most clients today, because of the economy, work under fixed fee projects. We have a strong point of view and we back up our recommendations with solid evidence and compelling arguments, but every now and then some clients simply must have something, so we acquiesce. It's just part of the consulting life.

    Appease, please, do work for, whatever... the client pays the bills and they own the products so the work is for them. But we try and do 10% for ourselves.
     
  16. soundimageplus

    soundimageplus SC Top Veteran

    578
    Jul 6, 2010
    See above

     
  17. Andrewteee

    Andrewteee SC All-Pro

    Jul 8, 2010
    Yes, I saw that after I posted :smile: I used to work with a guy from England and he made fun of our bastardization of proper English.
     
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  18. soundimageplus

    soundimageplus SC Top Veteran

    578
    Jul 6, 2010
    Yes, appeasement is associated over here as capitulating unconditionally to a lying, psychotic, dictatorial, brutal madman.

    On second thoughts that sounds like a few of my ex-clients!
     
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  19. Lili

    Lili SC Hall of Famer

    Oct 17, 2010
    Dallas, TX
    Lili
    Even with smaller sensors more pixels can be of use.
    I saw this at work when all I had with me was my Nokia N8
    5714978907_05ec7f7089_b.
    The N8 has superb lens and with CameraPro installed a great deal of control.
    Because it is 12mp I was able to use digital zoom with minimal loss of quality.
     
  20. Bron

    Bron New to SC

    4
    May 5, 2011
    Great thread; cultural divides, language disconnects, and pixel peeping. And. it is the classic conundrum; what will you carry, and for how far. Wasn't it Weston, who muttered that there was nothing photogenic more than a 100 yards from the car?

    Most of the time, the iPhone is my main camera, because it's there, but sometimes, I need to drag out the heavy stuff, my much battered Canon G9. When I document fine art, MP, and all else, are well within the needs of my customers, and the LCD makes the machine into a pocket view camera, making it far easier for me to be efficient.

    As a painter, gilder, carver, etc., the conversations about gear have been minimal, or non-existent, but as a photographer, gear talk sometimes seems the main conversation. My point being, choose the gear that works for you, and ignore the barking dogs at the side of the road; there is no profit in them.
     
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