The Measurbators Conundrum

(commentary)

With the release of the Canon 5Ds into the wild, the drums for “more, more, more” in the measurbating crowd are beating all kinds of weird rhythms. 

The implied resolution increase of the new Canon cameras over the current 36mp Sony contenders is something around 18%. That level of increase falls right in the middle of what people can detect visually; some can see a difference, some can’t. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t want any resolution increase, only that I’d expect this particular resolution increase to be nigh-on-invisible to many people.

Meanwhile, the other side of the crowd is still crowing about something like 2 to 3EV more dynamic range in the Sony sensors than in the Canon, while both have more DR than you can actually lay down on paper. 

I can even find fault with myself: I prefer Nikon’s 14-bit lossless compressed data to Sony’s 11-bit lossy compressed data from the same sensor, yet I can only measure significant pixel-level differences at base ISO, and even those aren’t visible to everyone.

In essence, the high-end photography crowd is becoming a bunch of obsessed pixelphiles, much like the high-end audio crowd became measurement obsessed while the audio industry itself was moving to “good enough” consumer with lossy compression, amongst other things. 

I’ll drive a stake in the ground here: if I’m going to pay US$500-1000 for a camera, I’m not so driven by the numbers. I’m expecting that tool to take very nice photos, ones that most people can’t distinguish from ones taken with really great gear. But I’m not expecting perfection, and not by a long shot. 

On the other hand, when you tell me I have to shell out US$3000+ for a camera body, I want the very best that can be achieved. I will compare Nikon’s D810 and its almost three stops greater dynamic range to Canon’s 5Ds and its 18% more resolution. I’m likely to choose based upon which of those two things I value more. For the record, that would be more dynamic range, especially since I like darker, more noir type images and am constantly fiddling with shadow tones. If someone can pick off that I fell short by 18% in terms of resolution because of my choice, so be it. 

Of course, I’d rather have both ;~).

Canon and Nikon (and to a lesser degree Sony) are making problems for themselves here, though. In essence, they’re mimicking the high fidelity companies when the HiFi market started to dry up. Why they expect a different result, I don’t know. The pursuit of the very best tech can deliver is fine, I have no problems with that. Meanwhile most of what the camera makers are doing is putting an ever widening gap between the mass market buying smartphones to take photos and DSLR camera buyers, who are getting fewer and farther between.

The Nikon DX DSLRs are a great case in point. Those 24mp sensors deliver one heck of a lot of punch. Plenty of pixels, and plenty of dynamic range. Enough of both that full frame 24mp cameras are just a very modest step better in only one of those things, yet double the price. Yet Nikon’s having more and more difficulty selling those DX DSLRs in volume. Why?

Because the rest of the camera and the DX ecosystem really isn’t tuned right for a mass audience, basically. In an article I posted on sansmirror this week, I mentioned that Canon and Nikon had missed critical messages: the market for those crop sensor cameras wanted smaller and lighter (but not less capable as in the Canon SL1), and they wanted complete systems (e.g. lenses). 

When all is said and done, it’s not much different than the auto market. Sure, we can measurebate there, too—horsepower, torque, fuel economy, etc.—but when all is said and done if the seats aren’t comfortable, the vehicle is too big for your garage, or any number of other more subjective factors, it isn’t getting bought. And while those numbers that a Ferrari puts up are eye-watering, I can’t afford one, and I don’t need one ;~).  

The camera makers aren’t missing on the technology side. We’re getting incredible iteration that just moves the bar forward and forward. Where they keep missing is on the non-technology side: the subjective and perceptual views of the interchangeable lens camera products they create. 

Which just means that we all keep writing about the numbers and the measurements that are achieved because that’s mostly what we’re given to write about, while more and more potential purchasers just tune out as these differences as mere bragging rights more than anything tangible that’ll truly improve their photography or make it enjoyable.

More people are taking more photos today than ever before. Fewer people are taking fewer photos with DSLRs today than yesterday. See any problem with those two statements?

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