Techniques, Reviews and Commentary

How much quality to we really need?

But in the world of consumer photography and even personal work by professional photographers, ultimate image quality is probably not that big a deal. We have, I feel, reached a point with modern digital cameras where even a basic 10 meg camera
produces more than sufficient quality for almost all consumer needs and the fact remains that most folk only print postcards or look at their images on a computer or TV screen which is hardly a stretch for even a 3 megapixel camera.

Of course the marketing of camera gear by camera makers is going to continue to focus on the finer abilities of their equipment, after all the manufacturer needs to convince you to keep buying otherwise they will go out of business. Ultimately better/more expensive gear will only mean that a badly composed image shot with little creative flair will simply look a bit better in terms of the raw technicalities of noise/detail/colour but it will still be a bad image, that can maybe be enlarged a little bigger.

I see it in advertising, I read it on internet forums, the idea that somehow the artistic merit of an image is determined by the gear used to capture the shot. This kind of attitude really annoys me, for two main reasons, one it belittles the artistic efforts of those who are simply not on a gear trip and two, leads to a situation where those with more money than others somehow think they are superior photographers just because they can afford to own the best gear.

Let me state my firm belief is that a great image is a great image because it was taken by someone who saw the possibility and did what they needed to do to get the end result. An iPhone or a Kodak Pocket camera are just as capable as a Canon EOS1D at creating great images, oh sure they all have their limitations (yes even the 1D) but the creative image maker works their way around those limitations, or perhaps even uses them for creative purposes.

Professional photographers have a little bit to answer for in terms of consumer bamboozlment as many (and I have heard this more times than I can count) will say "You need a professional photographer because they have better equipment (read More expensive) and therefore take better photos”. Such photographers are of course selling themselves and the profession very short, professional photographers are needed because they generally have much higher skill levels and can take good photos more consistently under pressure as a result, and of course many are very talented in terms of working with light and creative composition.

Pro photographers normally have good gear for reasons of, long term reliability under demanding conditions, ease of use, the desire to look professional and perhapsbecause they just appreciate nice equipment. It is true some pros need very specific and expensive gear for specialized areas of photography but this is not the norm. Frankly any decent pro will produce great work even with the camera you are using now regardless of what it is.

My bottom line is this, a great image is a great image, regardless of what was used to create it. If an image is really strong then it will transcend the technical limitations, it may not be able to printed to say 60 cm wide but then who is to say a great image has to be big, even a small postcard can be a great image and trust me you will have no problems producing postcards even from an iPhone.

A great image can carry a little less resolution, higher image noise, slight colour issues without falling apart, but a poor image no matter how technically perfect will never leap beyond the limits of its lack of impact, emotional content, poor composition and all the other factors that come together to make an image great.

Here is the thing, these days we are producing images of amazing technical perfection with ease because of gear which even in its most basic form is highly capable, yet looking through the history of photography I cannot say that the images of today are
artisitcally better images than say those of 20 years ago. Adding more megapixels, more modes, more ISO options etc is not going to change that.

It is a bit like cars and drivers in a way. Today a driver can safely drive faster than we did say 30 years ago, but does that make todays drivers better, safer and more skilled than in the past and does that actually make driving more fun. Clearly todays drivers are not better, in fact they may be worse and less skilled and despite the great improvements in cars,I don’t think I derive more joy behind the wheel today than I did 30 years ago.

So why have I said all of this, well simple really, I want to see folks freed from the marketing hype and internet fanboy camera clubs and just get out there and concentrate on enjoying taking photos instead of worrying about gear. I once used to be a president of a camera club, but in the end I just lost interest, honestly I got sick of hearing people prattle on about the gear they owned and how much it cost and yet not even bother to turn up at meetings with images for the monthly competition. Meanwhile we had other less financially advantaged members who had basic gear not even try to compete because they were convinced that with their basic pocket camera they could not possibly get a look in. Probably we got it wrong right from the start, the groups should have been called “photography clubs” not camera clubs because most people seemed to take the title a little too seriously.

Trust me you already have all you need equipment wise and the quality of the images it produces are fine. In fact I would go as far as saying those using more limiting gear may in the end come out with the best images as they will, if they are keen enough, find ways to work around the gear where as the equipment junkies and fanboys will still be arguing over which lens has the highest resolution and trying to one up on each other, hell they may not take any photos at all.

Spending your money on printing, travelling around and learning more about photography is going to make a far greater difference to your photographic success. If you really feel the need to spend money to get better results, buy a few good books and do some workshops on the subject first and if someone wants to make judgements upon your photographic worth on the basis of the gear you’re using, just tell them to “go take a picture”!

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