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Sunday, 06 December 2009


I have to say I've always considered it a major curiosity that you shot for eons with 6x7 cm for film but then chose a miniature sensor for digital...not that either one is not a defensible choice, just that it seems, well, inconsistent. I'd think you'd be shooting with something like the Sony A850, as being more consistent with your established aesthetic.

You can ignore me, "I'm just sayin'"....


Good points. My vote is for full-frame sensors. After 30 years as a medium format film user, I have been skeptical about digital quality until I got my third digital camera a few months back. It is a full-frame Nikon and after my first trip with it, I finally understood that it was time to actually put my medium format systems up for sale. I just couldn't say that about the results from my cropped-sensor cameras.

Well there are other considerations apart from image quality. One is depth of field, sometimes you need as thin as possible (and you cant beat medium/large format for that), sometimes you need as much as you can get (and you cant beat a digicam like the LX3 or the s90 with their 5-6mm lenses). But as far as image quality goes, I dont think a miniature sensor is worse. It is different. Large cameras record everything faithfully, medium cameras draw/paint, small cameras sketch. You can use each to your benefit if it suits your artistic statement.

This is something that's been on my mind a bit the past while.

I suppose the crux of the matter is what, exactly, you mean by "serious" photography.

All the truly serious photography I've seen in the past few years (and I'm talking here about fine art photography and no I'm not talking about nudes and landscapes that everyone's seen about a billion times I'm talking about Contemporary Fine Art Photography) has been big. REALLY BIG. Almost always shot with a large format camera.

My hypothesis is that, as original subject in photography has become scarce, the only way to go was up. This situation has been greatly exacerbated by digital. Because now any idiot can do it and they, and their dog, usually do.

So you have to go big. And you have to go technical. That's how you separate yourself from the pretenders and make a place for yourself in photography's history. And that, in short, is why, to some extent, you have someone like Gregory Crewdson.

Not only is it impossible to what he does with micro 4/3rds camera, but good luck getting close with an A850 (or such).

But you can go back some time to find the start. Jeff Wall probably? 35mm has been on the downward curve for sometime now. And small format digital isn't going to bring small formats back IMO.

So, again, I'm not entirely sure what you mean when you say "serious." It's an awfully dangerous word in this context.

There's another problem lurking in the background, here, and that's *print* size. If you look generally paintings produced for home viewing and the art market, relatively few "masterpieces" are as small you typically see in photographic prints -- 8x10 or 11x14 or 16x20.

Generally, 16x20 would be at the very lower end of the range of the painted masterpiece. This is of interest because artists could (and did) easily vary the sizes of their works, and I think empirically discovered over the centuries that the small pieces simply didn't work as well. You have to stand quite close to small works to fully appreciate them, and a lot of homes (especially) which are filled with furniture, don't have much prime display space in which one can stand that close. Usually, paintings and other artworks are looked at *over* furniture.

The rise of relatively small, handy cameras, like the top-end Nikon and Canons (which seem large to people not interested in exceptional resolution) make it possible to do all kinds of 35mm style work, but with resolution good enough to make very large prints...prints that were only possible before (with good quality) with medium format.

I think a new standard for art prints is developing, no pun intended, in which the default "most-desired* sizes probably will be ~36x24 or 30x24, and larger, which gives you a substantial decorating factor when framed. It's a size which suggests that the art work inside the frame can be anything from a favorite snapshot to a photographic masterpiece, and does not automatically relegate it to "minor" status. At the same time, because they are photos, and not paintings, there are photo expectations involved -- that is, the photos will also have to stand up to close inspection, and that means good resolution.

I have the feeling that we will eventually see the same kind of four-tier system we had with film: 1) snapshot cameras, many as cell phones, which will function like Instamatics once did, 2) smaller format cameras, like the 4/3 offerings, which will become journalistic and web workhorses, because they are small, light, cheap and everything needed for the work, and which will function like 35mm film did, 3) FF cameras for high-end art work, equivalent to MF/4x5 in film, and 4) The exotics, being specialized art cameras and so on, equivalent of the older 4x5, 5x7 and 8x10 cameras.

The vast majority of consumers has no need for anything above micro 4/3. Proof? They have survived just fine until now with p&s microscopic sensors! They are also the vast majority of clients of the local print shop.

That takes care of 80% of the market. End of story.

The "serious amateur" - whatever that means nowadays - might consider something larger at some stage. Although I dispute upfront that most amateurs have such a finely developed workflow that justifies using anything larger.

In fact, I put forward that within that same group, the ones that regularly produce a real life sizeprint - as in something one could hold in the hands - are the vast minority.

Like it or not, the current vast majority of "photographers" who claim to need more are of the pixel-peping variety. Or in other words: the furthest removed from photography one can get!

And the "pros", of course. Those legitimately *might* need larger sensors, in some cases. Not all.

As for re-use of legacy 35mm equipment:
ever heard of lens adapters? Try using some of the old lenses with your micro 4/3 sensor. It'll be a pleasant surprise.

And that's the stark reality of photography, nowadays. The rest is marketing.

Come to think of it: it was always like this. That's why MF was never a mass market and 35mm p&s cameras were so popular. Nothing changed other than the media.

Where did you get that 80% figure and why is that the end of the story? DSLRs are projected to sell about 8 million units this year. That's a lot of serious amateurs even if they are greatly outnumbered by digicam and cameraphone sales.


nikon is rumored to be making a new camera system based on a 17mm image circle. there are several patents for a good range of prime lenses (zooms, too). i think it's a great idea. it stands apart from both p&s cameras and dslrs. for many people, the former is not versatile enough, and the latter is too big.

It's not the size; it's how you use it. Seriously.

Paddy, nice one :)
Making art for dummies: if you cant make it good, make it red, if you cant make it red, make it big! Seriously, yes there is a lot of truth in what you're saying. Stephen Shore said that "photography compresses time. In 1/250th of a second you can record, and observe as a viewer a far greater amount of detail from a scene than you would if you were present. It's like a hightened state of awareness". This hightened state of awareness is what he likes to explore with his photography, and he uses a view camera to convey it, which makes sense. But there's a lot more than this in his work, there is context, content and aesthetic to name but a few things.

Because now any idiot can do it and they, and their dog, usually do.

Well don't forget the cat cam:


There may be 8 million DSLRs sold this year, but how many are used seriously? My impression is that most of those 8 million cameras will never shoot in anything but auto JPEG mode and are used by casual photographers who wanted to buy a camera that takes "good pictures." Nothing wrong with it, it keeps the industry going, but there are a lot of people using DSLRs at the point and shoot level.

Mike, cameraphones are expected to sell in the hundreds of millions each QUARTER. For the majority of consumers, that's what passes for the camera nowadays. At any major place where consumer photography is common (tourist spots etc) I see camera phones take up about 50% of the photographing done, if not more. The rest are mostly compact cameras. DSLRs are at about 10%.

So Noons isn't quite wrong that 80% of the market will be happy with tiny sensor cameras.

What's your point?

One of the issues is handling. I love that I can carry my little Canon compact without noticing I have it on me. At the same time, the superior handling, of, say the GF1 makes it a better instrument. So I'm torn.

Also, like Ctein has told us about, there is lots of new technology coming up in cameras. Ten years ago I could certainly not have predicted the price/quality ratio of today's compacts, and in ten years, who knows what will have developed.

And if you can get perfect pictures from a camera the size of a credit card, what will then be the "perfect" or dominant size of a camera?

Come to think of it: it was always like this. That's why MF was never a mass market and 35mm p&s cameras were so popular. Nothing changed other than the media.

Right, then. Many thanks for clearing that up.

Film size became standardized partly because it was easier to use the one size that was sold and developed by the corner drug store.

With digital, there is no compelling reason why we would want to use the same size sensor all the time. There are times when we want a pocket camera and there are times when a DSLR is better. There's no reason why they have to use the same sensor.

Paddy C, you got it right as to why the photo art market went so damn "big" (as far as print and format)- 35mm became so successfully ubiquitous, "serious" artists had to reset the "art" boundaries.

Another way of maintaining those very boundaries is also by assuring that next level remains more expensive...

Dear Mike,

Well, it's never about size. It's what the size gets you. I don't like 35mm film, as opposed to medium format, because the grain and the gradation are too coarse and crude for my eye. A lot, lot less today than when I started with medium format 40 (eek!) years ago, but still true for me.

And here's the thing. I found that even that quarter-scale sensor camera I bought outrates 35mm in both of those regards. On the "grain" level, it's not even a close comparison. I get "medium format grain" from that Fuji. In fact, I just compared some 11 x 14 prints I made with it versus some prints I made from scans of medium format film, and I'd say that in overall "look" it's a good match for 645 format, maybe even better. Not quite up to the level of 6 x 7 format. But solidly in the "medium format" camp. The tonal gradation is lovely, the color accuracy is better than I ever got with film. And it's sharp enough.

Will those files go bigger than 11 x 14 and still look good? I don't know; I haven't tried. But 11 x 14 is big enough to be taken seriously.

Keep in mind, also, that I'm still choosing cameras by price. My "really expensive" Fuji cost me $600.

There's also a way in which size does matter. I never like lugging that Pentax around. I am just willing to do it. In fact, I bought quite a bit of my gear from other photographers who had decided that it was way too big and heavy for them to use as a field camera. Their loss, my gain. That doesn't mean I wouldn't love to be working with a smaller rig.

And, as I wrote in a recent column, I'm still in process. I haven't "chosen" what my long-term format will be. I'm trying different ones on and seeing how they fit.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

If your logic were to hold, the film market should have been dominated by APS, 110 or even (shudder) disc formats.

The question is whether 1/2.5" sensors typical of pocket digicams are the new 35mm or the new 110. Only time will tell. I personally don't use anything under APS-C.

The advantage of small format cameras is the size of the cameras, they are truly compact. When photography was film-based there was always a desire for a quality compact 35mm film camera like the clamshell Olympus Stylus or the Nikon 35ti.

Also, I think it's absurd to group quality small sensor digital cameras with camera phones. It's "sensor-size snobbery" and giving short shrift to the decent small sensor cameras.

And the 4/3 cameras aren't really compact, more along the lines of the Olympus OM series film cameras.

I don't believe that digital photographers are going to be ultimately satisfied without a truly compact digital camera in their arsenal, just as film photographers weren't. Whether digital or film, the physical size of the cameras is still an important variable, and the proliferation of digital photography hasn't changed that.

Dear Paddy,

I think you're looking for too dark a motivation behind the move to larger prints. My take on the situation is much like John's. It's a matter of decor! The aesthetic trend of late has been towards interior designs with large signature pieces of art that define the space, or at least a wall. Where previously the owner or decorator might have put up an assemblage of small works, today they are more likely to hang a single large establishing canvas or photograph. Nothing wrong with that; tastes change. But, yes, it does mean that photographs like the 16" x 20" (image area) dye transfers that I do are now considered "small!"

Small still sells in certain markets; the dye transfers I do for Jim Marshall sell for several times the price of the digital prints that are substantially larger, and they sell well. But, Bill Atkinson mentioned to me a couple of years ago that two thirds of his (considerable) sales were for prints that were larger than 24" x 30". There's a definite pattern there.

But I reject the notion that size is equivalent to serious. It's a matter of how one wants to work and the culture one works in. My friend, Laurie Toby Edison, has a substantial popular and critical following in Japan because she tends to work small, and there is definitely a Japanese aesthetic that appreciates exquisitely done "miniatures."

Nothing wrong with working big, but does my work suddenly become more serious if I take one of my own photographs that I've done as a 8"x10" or 16"x20" dye transfer and redo it as a 40" x 50" digital print? It becomes a very different work, to be sure! I reject the notion that it makes it more serious, though.

As for what that word means, I agree it can mean something different for everybody. But I think you can get a pretty good idea of what it means for me by looking at the body of my work, the technical standards I adhere to, and the level of quality I've espoused in my various books and articles.

It may not be exactly your flavor of "serious" but it's certainly an appropriate use of the word and meets or exceeds most people's standards.

So, no, I don't feel there's anything dangerous about throwing the word about.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

"... somewhere between Micro 4/3 and 35mm is going to wind up as the de facto standard ..."

You mean something like APS-C which is already dominating the DSLR consumer market :)
Well, most of the pros prefer 35mm ...
The good thing about APS-C is primarily:
More depth of field!
Which is quite important ...
So I think you are right. When the sensors are developed to perfection, APS-C will rule the world!

In 2001 I change my canon eos1hs by an aiptek vga then the powershot until today an ixus 980is only I use 1600x1200 and to proof make a copy 30x40 cms like my old copies in agfa record rapid only in 2mp the same quality than with my olys pentax canon there a mistake with the serious photography maybe its about business money sold today thanks the plotter photographer can make giants prints but isn´t painting serious? winogrand friedlander frank not serious or serious is about only for the zone system or serious photography is only about for the fine detail can we obtain? at the moment the 1/1.7" give me very close very close the same as the 35mm the most i use the canon 35mmf2 today with this tiny cameras only the 36mm or 28mm and we are talking about tiny zoom lenses vs a fixed lens ! I´m not a serious photographer since 1976 because a use compact cameras only a serious photographer when in the begining make photographs with a rollei and in the end of the 80s first 90s a mamiya c330 ?

End of story in any computing appliance these days is 5 Billion users, and some way for them to share what they see. That's the cell phone market already. 8 million DSLRs wouldn't populate a small city in China.

The population using MF digital (today's equivalent of the field camera-toters) probably would leave empty standing room at the end of the bar. "Serious" small-format shooters (less than u4/3) are probably a larger club, but not much larger, as they sit in the restaurant section, exchanging examples of great DOF and really retro grain.


Who is most serious?
vermeer girl with pearl earing 17.5x15.4"

goya with
The Third of May, 1808: The Execution of the Defenders of Madrid 266 x 345 cm

or boticelli with The Banquet in the Pine Forest etc etc.

Ctein, it seems to me that small-sensor cameras can be a valid format and a "standard" without having to be the dominant format that 35mm was with film cameras. Certainly small-sensor cameras are not going to be used extensively for landscape photography, but they do have great advantages today for street photography, particularly in terms of their great depth of field and the "looseness" of style that they encourage, which depends on framing with the LCD and which creates an intimacy and immediacy with the subject that is more difficult to achieve with the traditional street camera, the Leica-M.

The question is whether the current advantages of small-sensor cameras will be maintained, when future versions of cameras like the Leica M9 or the future larger sensor modules for the Ricoh GXR have not only Live View but also high enough image quality to allow shooting at 28mm EFOV, currently the classic street shooter's focal length, with f/8 and, say, ISO 3200 with very good image quality to more or less match the desired great depth of field. But f/8 and ISO 3200 on the large camera is about equivalent to f/1.9 and ISO 400 when using the GRD3.

Considering that the GRD3 produces, for me, acceptable results in B&W at f/1.9 and ISO 1600, means that the larger sensor camera would have to produce acceptable image quality at f/8 and ISO 12,800 to match the results using f/8 of the GRD3 at f/1.9. Even assuming that the large sensor cameras will improve high ISO performance to this degree, it is also likely that small sensors will improve somewhat as well. All this makes me think that the serious small-sensor camera format, as opposed to popular P&S cameras will continue for some time to come as a niche format for street photographers.


"8 million units" by itself means nothing, that's just a number. Much bigger is the p&s and phone camera slice of the pie: 70% of this year's cell phones had a camera, that's 350 million right there. Add in the p&s and you got much more than the 80% I claimed. If anything I was being extra conservative.

At this stage, I'm also prepared to claim in another 3-5 years you'll see a large section of the dslr market vanish into the micro4/3 camp.

The ones left will be the pixel peepers and the few genuine "serious" amateurs out there. Plus the pros of course but those are a minority number: always were, always will be.

To put it quite simply: for the vast majority of users, the extra functionality of the dslr is irrelevant.

Notice how many folks buy the modern wide-range zooms with their dslr? Why? the whole point of a slr is to be able to use different lenses when/if needed! Why then buy only a wide range lens?

Because most folks do not *need* the functionality of the dslr! They get one because of the image quality.

From the point in time that IQ - or an acceptable replacement - is available in the micro 4/3 camp, you watch them vanish!

I think the old thinking still rules

- do you use your 8x10 for taking photo, says, of my sons in the swimming gala in his high school

- do you use your m3/4 for landscape

- for people, it is harder as the setting is very different

Ultimately, one takes serious of x format if it fit the bills, take good pictures, feel happy about the process and the results and if one has to carry a message/share a feeling/create an effect/..., get the message/feeling across/effect feel/....

Here's a thought experiment. What would happen if someone created and made available a web site for showing off images to the world and the only rule was that NO camera or EXIF info be available (or that it would be removed by the site moderator before exhibition). Would the site thrive?

Different people will have different ideas of what a serious camera is. For me it means small enough to carry habitually yet with fast handling and adequate optics. I use mostly a DSLR but for my purposes a digicam is often better and a DMD would be ideal. Much of the time ultimate sharpness and enlargeability are secondary to having a camera in your pocket that you can whip out and use, silently, in a second or two. I think we'll see many more small- and medium-sensor cameras with such qualities in the near future.

Bigger is better. That's a common mantra in our society. I marched along to the drum beat hauling 6x7cm, 6x9cm, and 4x5in cameras. My carry around point-n-shoot was 6x6cm.

I started getting over it after visiting the umpteenth exhibition of technically perfect, really boring, huge prints. I noticed that the show reviews and descriptions and artist statements tended to dwell mostly on the prestige of large format cameras and film, and the arcane knowledge and skill required to use them, and the size of the prints. The mind-set of the photographer was rarely explored, nor the work discussed hardly at all except in it's relation to the gear.

I recently visited an exhibition of 8x10 contact prints of landscapes. The artist's statement went on about the wonder of large format, but never mentioned anything about why the photographer chose to photograph landscapes. I guess that's just what you're supposed do with an 8x10 camera. ;) The detail was very fine. The lighting, composition, and subject matter was uninteresting. They looked like typical, middle of the day, sight seer shots. Except for the dedication required to haul the big camera and work in the darkroom, anyone could have taken them, and without the various literature explaining how the gear made the work special, I think they would've been mistaken by most for typical, middle of the day, sight seer shots.

"Anything more than 500 yds from the car just isn't photogenic." -Brett Weston commenting on working with an 8x10 view camera

I think it’s interesting that most of the time people start with technically reviewing the instrument and only in the end consider it’s application. For me “viewing distance” of the final image should be a deciding factor. Also the practicality of just how large a camera one can easily carry around in the specific situation one is involved in is an important factor. When I have a half day free I love to take out my 11x14 view (circa 1910), but taking an image any distance more than 100 feet from my vehicle presents a logistical challenge involving no less than 3 equipment carrying trips and the presents of any wind only complicates the camera operation. For me full frame digital is my every day choice since I already own a legacy of 35mm film lenses and “grew up with” a Pentax Spotmatic back in the 70’s. What worries me about the present digital medium is what will happen 100 years from now when someone wants to vioew one of my images. I have worked extensively with our local museum in cataloguing the photographic work of a local Photographer Charles Harringtion. He photographed our town from 1890 to 1920 using mostly glass plates with his 5x7 view camera. I am amazed to hold up one of his glass plates and instantaneously recognizing his photographic image, then wondering how it will be 100 years from now when CDs and DVDs might go the way of LPs or even more recent 8-tracks. I already have syquest disks and DAT tapes from the early 1990s that I have no way of reading. For the past 20+ years I have made a living and done work for a major nonprofit organization. About 5 years ago we changed from film to digital. Their requirements are final 9x12” images at 300dpi in the JPEG format and this will probably not change for years to come. Using any camera more than say a Nikon D700 would be a total waste of money. In covering a BASS tournament a few years ago, their official photographer was using Nikon D1H’s. I asked him just how large his images could be used… he pointed to the entire side of a semi trailer on which one of his 2.7mp images was displayed… it was all in the image viewing instance.

35mm (film) had a good run as the preeminent format. Remember that it had been around a oouple of decades before it became an acceptable medium for pros. When 35mm finally did become widely acceptable--I'd say starting in the 1950's--there was a huge market in newspaper, magazine, and other forms of publishing. A number of factors came together in favour of 35mm, all of which I won't go into here, but just to mention one, there was the ease with which a 35mm slide could be mounted, edited, projected, and archived. Of course, photo enthusiasts wanted to shoot with the same type of cameras as photographers for National Geographic and Life, and so they did. But none of this happened overnight.

Digital photography is still in its formative stages. Photo markets are, for the most part, in turmoil, and I'm not sure that photo enthusiasts even care these days what pros might be shooting. And I highly doubt that the art market will drive photography's main currents. Though older photographers may look to the print as the ultimate expression, many young people could care less about the print and want to view images electronically. My guess is that questions as to which sensor size/format is "enough" may not be decided in a collective way--as it was with 35mm--for some time. Individuals, of course, will do what they have to.

do you use your m3/4 for landscape

I do. :-) Actually, it was the "normal" 4/3, but it's more or less the same sensor, just a newer generation.

I printed the photos on 30x40cm (12"x16"), on 40x50cm (16"x20") paper. And I printed them on A3+ format, 30x45cm on 33x48cm paper. No objections from the people who bought them or received them as gifts. Plus, the way I see it, more textured the paper, less resolution you need.

I had a couple printed as a test on A2 format (60 x 42 cm, ~24"x17"). One was out of the gamut of the printer and was discarded (as being a muddish brown instead of bright metallic red), while a friend immediately expropriated the other.

I've seen A1 (80x60cm) prints made from E-1 files, 2560x1920. They look perfectly nice to me.

I think we are prone to obsess too much over technicalities.

"I asked him just how large his images could be used… he pointed to the entire side of a semi trailer on which one of his 2.7mp images was displayed…"

This should not be surprising to anyone. A 2.7 Mpx camera with a 2:3 aspect ratio gives you ~900 horizontal lines.

A typical 12 Mpx DSLR is only about twice the linear resolution of that camera. Under laboratory conditions using an immovable support and a superb lens at optimum aperture shooting a test chart it the 12 Mpx camera will resolve 2000 to 2400 horizontal lines. But few people shoot under those conditions. Erwin Puts, a few of the fanatics on this site, and a small subset of pros do so (but most of them are out there shooting sports or weddings with - at most - a monopod for support).

I would be shocked if the typical handheld photograph, regardless of sensor size, had a resolution in excess of 1000 lines. Note also that the high-definitition video standard is -- wait for it -- 1000 horizontal lines.

That's why the 6 Mpx of a Nikon D40 is - as Ken Rockwell has pointed out ad nauseum, and to the jeers of the 0.0001% of the population who own and use heavy tripods - all "anyone" (i.e., anyone typical) will ever need. He's not wrong about that.

I own a heavy tripod (Bogen 3050), and a medium one (3020 or some such legs; I actually use this one sometimes). And I tell everybody who asks that 6mp is plenty for them. (It's not plenty for everybody. The people for whom it's not plenty generally aren't asking me for advice, strangely!)

One of the nicest prints up on my wall is a 30x33 image area print from a 6mp original. Snow scene with lots of bare tree branches. It certainly could be improved with more resolution, but *nobody* complains, and nobody except other photographers even *notices* that. And that's an unusual subject and unusually large print for me.

Print size issues partly relate to room size issues. The people commissioning master paintings back when put them in big rooms, didn't they? And high-end houses today have gotten huge, the people with money to buy serious art have lots of wall space. Unfortunately *I* don't have lots of wall space, which inhibits my urge to grow without limits :-).

Whoops. The 2.7 Mpx camera can resolve at most 700 line pairs. The point still stands. (all assuming that the rated Mpx numbers are real, of course, and we know they are not: pixels = photosites, not Beyer units -- divide by somewhere between 1.5 and 4 (YMMV) to get the true number of pixels instead of photosites).

I would like to pose the argument that the majority of pictures taken seldom end up as real prints, it seems to me when reviewing blogs, forums etc. that the vast majority of images taken daily end up only on a computer. they may migrate to Flikr or other such groups, but mainly stay within this domain. That being the case is there not an argument for actually jumping off the bandwagon that is the megapixel race?

I for one recognise the potential of the GRD 3, as a result it's on my shopping list, hats off to Ricoh, I have and still use the GX100 from which I have sold many images. I also think there is a market for smaller fine art prints, my last exhibition I printed to a max of A4.

The size meant the invited guests were encouraged to step closer and view the image, to actively become involved. The feedback and sales were very positive, so I will definitely repeat it.

I have taken images with the GX100 that would never have materialised but for this camera, I simply did not wish to cart about my D SLR..

Another point worth noting is that should you look back at some of the iconic images taken with the wondrous Leicas of yesteryear, from a qualiative stance one would argue they are pants, but, the recorded image is priceless...

Merry Christmas.

One minor point about the 4/3s format. It is usually treated as a different animal to APS-C/DX format, but it's probably accurate, to first-order approximation, to say that they are the same size. I think (?) it's true to say that the resolution/dynamic-range performance differences between current 4/3s cameras and APS-C cameras have more to do with who makes the sensors that the physical dimensions of the formats. That is, if Canon used their same current sensor technology to make a 4/3s sensor, I'd be surprised if you could pick those images from ones made on an APS-C camera. This is not an original idea of mine, I read it all the time, but it is seems to be always ignored.

Hugo Solo said:

"Who is most serious?
vermeer girl with pearl earing 17.5x15.4"

goya with
The Third of May, 1808: The Execution of the Defenders of Madrid 266 x 345 cm

or boticelli with The Banquet in the Pine Forest etc etc."

Well, since you asked, the Goya is. 8-)

The thing about this is, the "small" "Girl with a Pearl Earring" isn't actually small, perceptually. If you look at yourself in the bathroom mirror, standing across the sink, and reach out and span the size of the image in the mirror, you'll find that it's only ~4 or 5 inches. The head on "The Girl with the Pearl Earring" is larger than, so if you stand at a normal viewing distance (say, across a piece of furniture, or a bathroom sink) it will actually seem as if she is quite close to you...closer than an arm's length.

And as I said, this size tends to be at the low end of painted masterpieces. There are masterpieces that are smaller, of course; but not so many.


Dear folks,

Several people have commented about cell phones. I have to admit that I completely forgot about them! Not that I think it would have changed what I said, but it adds considerably more uncertainty to any efforts to guess exactly what the "final" format will be.

The reason I forgot about them is also the reason I'm not competent to discuss their effect on the market. I am not a phone person. I used them as little as possible. I don't even own an answering machine. If God hadn't wanted people to be able to contact me when I was asleep or wasn't at home, she wouldn't have invented e-mail. That's my philosophy. I'm planning on getting an iPod Touch sometime next year, because it has all the advantages of an iPhone and none of the disadvantages. Runs all the apps; won't accept calls!

Anyway, I have no idea if cell phones will be irrelevant to the development of the "true" camera market, if it will siphon off the bottom feeders and leave more of the "cream" in the camera market, if it will lower overall standards and have the opposite effect, whatever. Not a clue. If there's anyone out there who's really savvy about that culture and the way it impacts the regular camera market, it would be very interesting to hear from them. That person is not me.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Dear Fazal,

Exactly right. The technical logic doesn't hold; there's a more complicated dynamic at work. In the case of film, in very broad terms, it turned out that there were no advantages to the consumer/professional to going smaller than 35mm format. And, the advent of hyper-sophisticated, hyper-small point-and-shoot cameras wiped out most any possible technological or size advantage. 35mm proved to be the durable sticking point.

The $64,000 question is where the sticking point will be for digital. What I'm saying in this column is that *could* be as small as a quarter-scale sensor, based purely on technological issues. But I'm betting that it won't be based purely on technological issues.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Dear Player,

Digital cameras have far fewer constraints on physical size than film cameras. Between shrinking electronics, higher quality displays, projection eyepieces, and better battery technology, a fully-functional digital camera will not have to be much bigger than twice the dimensions of the sensor. But, is there anyone out there who really wants to be handling a full-frame digital camera that only measures 2 x 3" on a side? Not me, not even with my delicate surgeon-like fingers!

This is not going to happen immediately, of course. But when we're talking about where the format settles out, we're talking 10 years down the line, quite possibly longer. Mass-production digital is still pretty young. At which point, I honestly don't see any connection between total camera size and sensor size that matters. It'll be where the engineers and the designers decide is sensible to go, not a format limitation.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Dear Mitch,

I won't even assert that small format cameras won't be used extensively for landscape photography. That's what I've been doing the past year! And the 11 x 14's look damned nice! (Take note, Dennis Ng.)

Also, don't take this wrong, but what you do is very much off the beaten track and off the mainstream. It's not really germane to the question of whether the market as a whole takes small format seriously. Your style of working is in a very distinct minority. Nothing wrong with that! It's just not a good benchmark.

Best analogy I can make is that for your kind of working, the compact 35mm rangefinder camera was ideal. And the number of said rangefinder 35 mms sold to serious photographers, versus SLRs, was insignificant. Truthfully, were it not for Leica keeping the banner flying, that design would've been consigned to the dust heap of eccentrics.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Dear Matt,

Hear, hear. As Bob Nadler very wisely told me many years ago when I was going on at too much length about what I had done to make a photograph, "Nobody looking at your photograph cares how hard you had to work."

Possibly an exaggeration, but much closer to the truth than thinking that most people really care.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Dear Spiny,

True for film, too! Lab tests tell me what the equipment is capable of; realizing that in the field is another matter! With fairly standard film and lens combinations, but exquisite lab technique, I could measure on-film resolutions of 160 line pair per millimeter. Good luck achieving that in real life!

Reality is that even with a plethora of films that resolve well over 100 line pair per millimeter and lenses that peak out over 200 line pair per millimeter, most people consider a really sharp 35mm frame to be one that resolves 50 line pair per millimeter. And well they should.

Lab tests are overrated. [ hypocritical smile ]

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

I just form the fingers of my hands into a rectangular frame and look through them. The frame size and the distance to my eye determines format. When I find a scene I like I remember it. I've always been disappointed whenever I've gone back with a camera to corral that great shot I've found. My fingo-cam is terrific - better than good, cheaper than air, and I can pick my nose with it too.

Whoops, too much information.


Dave Sailer: "I just form the fingers of my hands into a rectangular frame and look through them."

Henri Lartigue recounted how as a young child he used to blink his eyes twice at a chosen moment, and pretend he had taken a photograph of - could remember for ever - whatever filled his vision in the flashed moment. Isolating in time was part of his game, as well as isolating in space.

>>>what you do is very much off the beaten track and off the mainstream. It's not really germane to the question of whether the market as a whole takes small format seriously. Your style of working is in a very distinct minority. Nothing wrong with that! It's just not a good benchmark.<<<

I agree with that, Ctein; but, then, what you write is a good illustration of a niche market. The question is whether there will be a manufacturer that will support the serious small-sensor format the way Leica has supported the 35 RF camera. But, come to think of it, Ricoh did the same thing with their small 35mm GR1 and GR21 cameras...


Great comment by Spyro.

A few sideways comments on the Ricoh GXR posts assumed that the small-sensor, zoom module was just for fun.

To take the Ricoh GXR really seriously, you have to take small sensors seriously, or at least see a place for a range of sensor sizes in your photo kit.

I'm keeping a watch on pixel density. The biggest problem with compact quality is high pixel density. The maximum density at which you have a "quality" image is increasing.

Almost 2 years ago now, the EOS 450D came out. To match its pixel density, a compact would have to be 1.6 MP.

To match the pixel density of the APS-C DSLR Canon EOS 7D, the compact Canon G11 sensor would have to be 2.3 MP.

It was around 4 MP when people started taking digital seriously. Therefore it should only be another 2.5 years before compacts have a chance of being taken seriously again ;)

It's the image not the camera. Trouble with digital is the amount of discussion about technicalities it has engendered, cross over into the world of fine art and that's an even bigger can of worms. I found this blog entry by Colin Pantall a useful panacea for when tech/art obsession troubles me.
Taken with an Olympus p&s.

I used medium format (Mamiya 645) professionally but I constantly carry a tiny Olympus FE-170 (all of 6 megapixels), that cost me around £60.00 trade price as an end of line bargain. I leave it set on the so-called "super high quality" option and even I'm quite taken aback with the quality of the pics. If worked within its limitations and fooling around with the "idiot's" settings (the "fireworks" setting, for instance, seems just right for other types of night shots) it's capable of remarkable results, although I have doubts as to whether it would go up to the cracking 20" x 16" prints I used to get from the Mamiya!

Dear Michael,

Pixel area is a better metric of quality than most of the ones the pixel-peepers use (talk about damning with faint praise), but it's far from perfect.

If it were perfect, sensitivity would be directly proportional to the area of the pixel. In reality, there's at least a +/- 1 stop variation about the mean, looking from camera to camera.

Of course, there's also gradual improvement in the mean, with time, but it's only on the order of a stop of improvement per decade.

In a recent private discussion, I had reason to pull up the stats for both my smaller-format cameras, vs several mid-low-priced DSLRs. Normalized to pixel pitch, my cameras do 1-1.5 stops better than those DSLRs.

In absolute sensitivity, those DSLRs win, 'cause they've got so much bigger pixels. But they win by less (1-1.5 stops less) than they would if all things were equal.

pax / Ctein

John Camp but the idea isn´t bad at all.

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