Cameras Shouldn't Dictate Self-Esteem

One thing that becomes obvious very quickly when reading various comments across the Internet (or in my In Box), is that there's a very large proportion of active participants that have linked their self-esteem to their camera brand (or model, or type).

Indicators of this are comments about how well a product is (or isn't selling) relative to others, the superiority of one approach to another, minor differences in some measurement, and so on.

We've been in a land of plenty for quite some time. I first wrote the "if you can't get good prints the maximum size of a desktop inkjet with any current camera it's not the camera that's at fault" comment over a decade ago. It's absolutely true today. 

More often than not the "X is best" type of comments I see have nothing to do with actual picture results. Instead, they're attempts to justify a purchase, or a choice of model, or a brand choice. 

I've been spending a lot of time lately working through my older images, trying to get my file system cleaned up and realigned, partly because I need to make it easier to find specific example images for a project I'm working on. In looking at all these older images—many from cameras whose output won't fill my 5K Retina iMac screen at 100%—I'm finding that my basic assessment of most older models was pretty much right on the money with the benefit of hindsight. I can see small differences that could impact how I use an image, particularly in the pre-2007 or so cameras.

For example, in the D70 line of Nikon's—D70, D70s, D80, D90, D7000, D7100, D7200, D7500—I can now clearly see that the D80 and the D7000 were the weak links (because of sensor and focus, respectively), while the D70, D90, and D7200 were the strongest contenders. (The D7500 is the current model, so almost by definition the strongest contender.)

Overall, though, I keep finding that many images I thought might not hold up because of lack of pixels or older sensor technologies actually do. Sure, I have to use noise reduction more aggressively on the old D80 images, and I have to find nuanced ways to sharpen the D1x images (the pixels weren't square), but I keep coming up with usable results. 

But here's a doozy for you: running old Coolpix 995 JPEG images from 2001 through Topax JPEG to RAW AI and AI Gigapixel, I find that I can create really good looking images that fill that iMac 5K display from my original 3mp files (I've processed this image to look dark and gloomy, because on that early February day it was exactly that):

France Paris 2-7-2001 4075-edit-1

The biggest issue with the original pixels I used from that Coolpix was that there was significant chromatic aberration, which I've had to address in post processing. But surprisingly, the noise was easy to deal with, and even the near highlight blowout on the fountains was able to be pulled back. Acuity from that old built-in lens seems good once addressed with a deconvolution sharpener.

Do I want more pixels now that I have 45mp? Yes. I'd like to see us get another 15-20% step up, which would put us somewhere near 70mp in full frame. 

Do I want more dynamic range? Yes. I'd love to have something near the theoretical limit (with non-spillover wells), which would put me near a two-stop gain from where my cameras currently are.

Do I want more acuity away from the center of my lenses? Absolutely. Working on an image that has excellent acuity corner to corner as opposed to only in a central region means that I don't tend to snip a bit of a crop here and there to avoid noticeable corner smear.

Do I want better ergonomics? Yes. Particularly with some brands, but I can find UX issues with virtually all the products these days.

But none of these things I just mentioned have anything at all to do with my own personal self-esteem. I actually don't care which camera or brand you purchase (or I use) as long as it's the correct decision for you (or me). I'm well aware that my choice may not be your choice, and vice versa. All those folk arguing on the Internet about "X is best" tend to not only ignore that, but most of the time they're making that argument to defend their choice. In other words, they don't hold their choice in high esteem in the first place.

We're in a world of excellent photographic tools these days. Proper technique and care in composing with virtually all the mid-range and up gear should net you fantastic photos. Never forget that.

text and images © 2019 Thom Hogan
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