back to article Snapper's decisions: Whatever happened to real photography?

Gradually and quietly, there has been a revolution in photography which has seen traditional film eclipsed by digital techniques. John Watkinson argues that the results of the revolution are not all beneficial, not least because the evolutionary path from amateur to professional has been economically closed off by marketing. …

Re: Many good points - however

A Mamiya 7 or a Fuji 670 are comparable in weight to a premium 35mm SLR.

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Re: Many good points - however

Good point.

For personal vacation snaps I use a Canon Powershot G15 compact camera: small enough to pocket, image quality good enough to print.

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Re: Many good points - however

The Canon G-series have lots of physical manual controls, but consider also the smaller Canon S95, S100 etc. They compete with the Lumix LX-5, LX-7 etc. More recently, the Sony RX100 MK2 - a similar size but bigger sensor - is said to trounce them for image quality but Sony's user interface is supposedly awkard at times. Its existance has caused Panasonic to up their game, and their LX-100 looks very interesting.

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Re: Many good points - however

>A moderate camera that you have with you is better than a superb camera that has been left at home.

This. And the best way to learn photography isn't to dick around with medium format, which most prosumer users don't know how to use creatively anyway (sorry John...), but to start with a phone cam or maybe a compact and learn the basics of composition and lighting on that.

You can worry about focus, shutter speed and aperture later, after you know how to frame a good-looking shot.

Also

1. Take lots and lots of photos and learn what works and what doesn't.

2. Look at the work of the best photographers - not just the well-known ones like Cartier-Bresson and Adams, but the more obscure ones like the remarkable Vivian Maier.

3. Look at art and learn some art history. (Learning to draw will help, even if you never get very good at it.)

Bottom line is that any £300 DSLR is so good now that you can take semi-pro photos with it. Any £3000 DSLR is good enough for professional use - and you'll see photos taken on this kind of kit daily in high-end print outlets and on the web.

So the idea that 'there is no progression for photographers' is nonsense.

The only people using medium format are geek hobbyists who obsess about the technology but have no clue about visual framing, fashion/food/product photogs who actually need the quality, and a few slightly crazed landscape photographers.

No one else cares. And high end DSLRs are so good now most professionals have absolutely no need to drag a Leaf back around with them.

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Happy

Re: Many good points - however

Re Canon G15

Ditto, lovely camera and it has a viewfinder great for us four-eyes :-)

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Re: Many good points - however

I so agree with the Canon S compacts they are lovely I hope they are making them as tough as they used to my old one took hell of a beating, although tempted by the Sony more recently....

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Geek hobbyists

@ TheOtherHobbes - some of us prefer 4*5 or larger simply for the lens movements - and some of us build our own cameras... don't know if that counts as geekish or merely points out that we can't afford to splash a couple of grand on what is essentially a box with a bendy bit in the middle and a hole at each end!

I don't *care* whether or what others care about my photography; I don't do it for them.

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Re: Many good points - however

Agreed: A medium format camera is a foolish waste of cash unless you work your way up.

If buying a complex DSLR as an amateur snapper is a waste of cash because you don't understand the principles, doing the same thing with medium format is twice the folly.

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Re: Many good points - however

"The only people using medium format are [..] and a few slightly crazed landscape photographers."

Apparently, the *really* serious landscape photographers use large format (i.e. 4 x 5" negative(!) and larger) cameras that look like they came from the Victorian era, but supposedly deliver quality that knocks spots off any DSLR:-

http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/4x5.htm

Surprisingly, it appears that the cameras themselves *aren't* eye-wateringly expensive; new ones are less than $2000, and secondhand ones start in the low-hundreds. Don't know how much the film is though (bet it's not cheap) and if such things even exist, I don't even want to imagine what a digital back with a full-4x5"-frame sensor would cost (i.e. these would definitely be film-only for mortals).

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Re: Many good points - however

i.e. 4 x 5" negative

When I was living in Switzerland the lab of the company I was working for had all manner of whizzzo cameras. So in order to look like Edward Wymper I took a Linhof Technika ice climbing. Not as difficult as you might think, but the negatives it created were off the scale. Grey scales even with intense lighting changes, sharpness that you could not break, even projecting on the walls of the canteen.

Majorly impressive. But as one film sheet at a time you needed something running at glacial speed if you wanted to do more than one shot

If you are photog - you need to use one just once to enjoy the myriad of adjustments and the contact sheets.

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Re: Many good points - however

The only sort of back there is for large format are digital scanning backs, which work rather like a flat-bed scanner in that there's a linear array which physically move across the focusing plane. If you want, one model produces a 1.1GB files with 48 bit output.

Of course, they are useless for moving subjects.

http://www.betterlight.com/products4X5.html

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Re: Many good points - however

It's the combination of a lot of things that produce a great shot...

Opportunity, Creative vision, luck, location, gear, light, time of day, timing, patience and skill...

My observation over the last years is that most want to skip: Getting up at dawn for the best light, learning the skill and patience

What most tend to do nowadays is believe that Canon or Nikon provide the technology for making up for all of the above

In the main, to start of with (besides creative vision), you need great light, and if you don't have great light, you need to add it yourself. If you cant change this, you are pushing the water uphill before you started. You then need a great composition... that can mean working that extra bit harder to climb the mountain to get things right.

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Happy

The key to happiness?

A very thought provoking article. I think the key to photographic happiness (and therefore camera choice) is "are you happy with the results you get?" and that probably depends on what you are trying to do. I started out wanting a record of the airshows I went to in the 80s and 90s, which meant an SLR and a powerful lens, When I looked at my results they were OK, but I decided I wanted to take GOOD pictures, and that not only expanded my camera bag but also the kind of pictures I took. It also meant going out with a 36 exposure, 35mm roll of film and shooting the same subject 35 times in 10 minutes, making notes of the speed and aperture used, and using that to inform myself when out taking pictures I wanted to. Similarly with filters. I learned techniques from those days that still stand me in good stead today

I started out with a Praktica SLR from Argos, then moved up to a secondhand Olympus OM-1 and added a selection of mid-price (mostly secondhand) lenses (both fixed and zoom) and a motor-drive, which worked very well for the pictures I wanted to take. On the whole I was happy with the results, particularly as the motor-drive allowed me to take, step up (or down) an f-number, take, step again, so quite often I could get a range of exposures without taking my hand off the lens or the lens off the subject.

In the mid-2000s I made the foray into DSLRs with an entry level secondhand Canon (having been using digital P&S cameras as backups for some time). I didn't go with Olympus as all my lenses were manual focus so there was nothing to be gained there (and at that point I was carrying both cameras). I started using photo-editing programs and started learning about improving a shot through digital techniques; I especially learned how framing can sometimes turn a good picture into a great picture; reframing a shot after it was taken was something I'd never had the chance to do as I wasn't ever in a position to have a darkroom.

However sensors improved and prices came down and./or you got more features for the price. The one thing I really missed from my 35mm days was spot metering, so earlier this year I invested in a newer (but still secondhand) Canon 550D. Absolutely love it but it did expose some weaknesses in resolution at high-magnification with the Sigma zoom I was using. So I bit the bullet and bought a Canon 100-400 UM IS lens (secondhand, naturally).

And now I'm really happy; I can take pictures that I think are really good (and I am my own worst critic) and quite a lot of them even make my friends go "wow" so that's why I'm happy. I don't feel the need to add to the bag, or upgrade, or even refine my technique. I can look at pictures in magazines and go "you know what, my pictures are nearly (or sometimes even just) as good as that".

I will never be exhibited, it's quite likely I will never be published (partly because I'm not that bothered about it), but I can open one of my old photo albums, or browse my hard drive, and go "wow, I'd forgotten I'd taken that - that's GOOD!" and I'm happy.

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An interesting technical history of photography from the point of view of a relative purist but I don't subscribe to all of the opinion parts of the article.

To use an IT angle, back in the day WordPerfect 5.1 was a much better wordprocessor than early versions of Word but it was aimed at trained secretaries and skilled IT people. Microsoft understood the need for the software to be easy to use if wide adoption was ever to happen and produced a technically inferior product that was much easier to use. The rest is history. Consumerism DOES reduce technical ability because mostly in life advanced equals complex and most people don't need have the understanding to use advanced or sufficient interest to learn.

I have no argument with the idea that a good photographer will get better results with cell phone than a beginner with an SLR - of course that is the case. I also have no argument with the idea that marketing, and in particular pixel count, has caused both consumers and manufacturers to focus on the wrong things as the technology has matured. Where I differ is that there is no middle ground, no development opportunities. That assertion, IMHO, is nonsense.

Yes the lack of skill needed to operate a cellphone camera means that no learning is done, but the reality is that majority of those who aren't learning are those who don't have the inclination to do so anyway, and without the easy to use cellphone cameras would simply not be taking pictures at all or, 25 years ago, would have had a cheap plastic settings less P&S from the Argos catalogue. Those that have higher standards and greater interest will still make the effort and will still develop their skills to the point at which they are happy with what they have achieved. And to help them on their way there is a world of resource on the internet, a large range of manufacturers producing reasonable compacts at many levels, a full spread of entry level, improver and enthusiast APS-C based DSLR's from Canon & Nikon and DSLT's from Sony (or 4/3 from Olympus etc), with an increasing range of FF options from the same sitting above them. For all those who bought a DSLR thinking it would turn them into a pro overnight but who never developed their skill to use their equipment I think we should be thankful - even if their kit now sits in a drawer gathering dust the money they spent has help fund the boom years and accelerate the pace of development / maturity of the technology. And if this market is now contracting meaning model ranges will thin and product cycles slow then we should be all the more grateful that it got as far as it did before the steam ran out.

To me, it is a very exciting time to be a photographer.

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Before Microsoft, Nokia got clever and produced the 808 Pureview which has a low megapixel output still unsurpassed by other phones after 2 years, in the same way that there has been no successor to Concorde, or the NASA Apollo program. (Lumia have one or two that do good low light shots but otherwise are inferior).

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I'm a techno luddite

One advantage of the digital revolution is that it is possible to pick up used film cameras and lenses that I never would have been able to afford in the past. I have a Nikon FM2 and selection of Nikkor lenses. I use Fuji film, long may they keep making it. I stopped using a darkroom a long time ago though. I can still get one hour film processing where I live. But then I have my own dedicated negative scanner (good resolution but not much image correction) and finally PhotoShop. I'm happy with this setup and the results I get. And it didn't cost me a fortune as I was a student when I bought my copy of PhotoShop.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I'm a techno luddite

What scanner do you use for your slides? I have two Epson flatbed units (1200 and 1600) with dedicated heads for films. Neither seem to be able to get the full resolution and contrast that is inherent in my Ilford Pan-F negatives and Agfachrome 50asa slides. The better unit seems to throw up points of "sparkle" from the surface of the film - even though any dust has been blown away.

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Re: I'm a techno luddite

One of the best scanners I've come across was recommended to me by a production staffer working for one of the biggest magazine publishers in Europe. The Epson 4990 is a flatbed and negative scanner and, before anyone says anything, the results of negative scanning outperform most dedicated film scanners (other that those costing thousands of course). It has a Dmax of 4.

I bought mine on ebay - complete with the original box and all the film masks. Apparently there's quite a trade in buying them to scan in whole negative collections then selling it back on ebay for the same money!

Really really easy to use. If you can find one you should seriously consider it.

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Re: I'm a techno luddite

The one I have is an old model. This is the current model. http://www.jessops.com/online.store/products/84531/show.html

It can handle negs and slides and the software has settings for different film types. The reason it is cheaper than equivalent scanners from Nikon is that it doesn't include a powerful computer for image correction. But it will scan at a higher resolution than a flatbed and I find PhotoShop is a perfectly adequate substitute for the image correction engine. It just takes longer.

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Re: I'm a techno luddite

The PlusTek is a pretty decent it of kit - that's what a mate of mine uses for his - and they seem to be about the only people still making real film scanners as well. The main reason I went for a secondhand Canon FS-4000 instead was largely laziness, as the PlusTek is a manual advance, which the Canon can batch scan the whole tray of negs, so I can get on with other stuff and just put a new strip in from time to time.

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Good points mixed with some arrogance, IMHO

There are horses for courses, and what fits the author will not always be the best solution. I agree that a church that has been standing there for centuries will not go away in the next hour, so one has time for choosing point-of-view, lens, filter, etc..

My wife specialises in live photography of bands. This means that she has several zoom lenses that allow her to choose her point-of-view without having to change lenses. The equipment has to be very portable, so a tripod is out of question; at best it will be a monopod. And those guys on stage are constantly moving, so time is critical (especially the time between pressing the shutter button and the actual picture being taken ...). Furthermore, to capture the mood of what's happening on stage, sometimes a specific amount of motion blurring is an indispensable ingredient for a photo with a message.

So what suits the author of this article doesn't suit everybody, and the remark of there being a void between crap and too expensive cameras is just plain nonsense.

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Re: Good points mixed with some arrogance, IMHO

I have enjoyed reading John Watkinson's technical articles for some time, and often because of his insistence on defending and promoting enginering excellence (in the 'do things at the limit of physical possibility' sense, not the 'good enough and one tenth the price' sense).

In real life of course, you try to get the best tools you can to do the job you want to do. That means making choices that have nothing to do with engineering excellence (of either sort) and all to do with getting the results you want.

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Re: Good points mixed with some arrogance, IMHO

I use a humble, bottom of the range 7 yr old APS-C Sony with a raft of 2nd hand 80s A mount Minolta lenses, I have contmplated upgrading as I think it might benefit my photography, but honestly - I can't see myself getting more pleasure out of it - and it is one hell of an investment to change to FF now.

I like to capture fast aircraft, ballroom dancers, steam engines and, above all, human emotion.

The latter is all about response. Everything is secondary to speed, everything. The prep is having the right lens on with the right settings, but other than that, my tactic is 600 photos an hour, with the expectation that 2-5 will be outstanding. The rest - well, who cares? it's digital. i.e. not hard to delete 99.9% of them. Film would never have suited my style - I'm not so bothered by photography that I am prepared to be patient, but thanks to terabytes of test footage, I have a pretty good idea now of what works where.

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Anonymous Coward

Blind shutters

"At fast shutter speeds, the second curtain would set off before the first had completed its journey, meaning that a moving slit of light traversed the film. That was fine for naturally illuminated shots,"

The important constraint of the blind shutter was that it distorted moving objects. Effectively it was taking many slices of the picture at different times sequentially. A horizontal shot compressed or expanded an object moving horizontally across the view. In a vertical shot then any vertical movement was similarly affected. Whether it was noticeable depended on how fast the object was moving.

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Re-learning Photography

I started out with 35mm with a Praktika LTL + 50mm Lens in the Early 1970's.

It was stolen in Venice in 1978 so I bought a Nikkormat FT3. Been with nikon ever since.

moved to Digital with a D100 in 2004.

My last big move up was from a D700 (great camera) to a D800E.

going from 12Mp to 36Mp was a real shock. For the first month or so, almost nothing I shot was any good.

I went back to basics with Manual everything and started again. Camera Shake was a big problem at first but VR lenses really helped. It was probably there in the D700 pictures but was invisible. no so with 36Mp shots. I also use a monopod far more than a Tripod.

At the last count I've taken some 35,000 pictures with the D800E. My only gripe is the shutter noise compared to the D750 I tried out last weekend.

The majority of pictures only need a couple of tweaks in Photoshop (all done by an action) as I deliberately shoot almost everything underexposed by 0.7 of a stop to reduce burnout on the whites.

Yes, my gear is heavy. My backpack with 2 bodies + 4 lenses including a 200-400F4 zoom is heavy but I generally carry a daypack as well.

I still have the Nikkormat. If I could still get B/W slide film I'd use it more. Agfa dia-direct was a wonderful film even if it was 25 ASA. The tonal qualities of it was just mindblowing.

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Re: Re-learning Photography

+1 for having a Nikkormat *that still works* - though this might be because you don't use it much!?

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10 x 8

Back then, I shot food and still lives on a 10 x 8 Sinar. Because of the long bellows extension and small aperture (f64), there would be up to thirty flashes from different flash and tungsten heads placed around the subject - some with a stocking over the lens to give a halo. I would have to use 10 x 8 Polaroid film to balance the lights and then take bracket shots +- 1/3 stops. The film would be sent off to the lab but a couple of sheets held back to be pushed or pulled by the lab for the final tweak. Depending on the subject, we could do one or two shots in a day like this. I always considered this approach to be 'painting with light' rather than photography.

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Re: 10 x 8

I used to do this too, but we used tungsten lighting/film. The heat meant you had to work quite fast once the set was dressed but the results could be spectacular. <>30 second exposures rather than 30 flashes!

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Anonymous Coward

Sprocket holes

"Whilst cinema film must have sprocket holes, they are not necessary in still photography."

The problem with advancing film is that the obvious mechanism of winding it between two spools gives a non-linear travel - as the take-up spool diameter increases with used film.

The old roll film cameras required the user to watch carefully for a frame number to appear in a little window as they wound the film on.

Sprocket holes meant that the amount of film passing could be accurately measured by clicks as it passed over a toothed wheel with a ratchet. The camera would automatically stop the film when the next frame was aligned. It would also only cock the shutter when that point was reached. Deliberate multiple exposures were permitted by disengaging the film travel whilst still priming the shutter.

That reliable automatic registration mechanism also enabled bulk film magazines, motor drives, and remote/unattended operation.

How the large format professional cameras solved that automatic registration problem for roll films without slippage is probably more complex and expensive.

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Anonymous Coward

Interchangeable viewfinders

"One of the great boons of medium format is the interchangeable viewfinder."

More expensive SLRs had interchangeable viewfinders too. The affordable Edixa 35mm cameras had that feature. The standard display was a ground glass screen viewed from above - with a magnifying glass that could be moved into place. I seem to remember there were also additional ground glass screens with various focusing range-finder style centres. The eye-level solid prism was expensive. I once made my own hollow prism with half-silvered mirrors in an attempt to produce an automatic zone exposure system of some sophistication.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edixa_Reflex

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Thumb Up

Re: Interchangeable viewfinders - on cheap Canon dslr

Ac,

When i bought my dslr a while ago, it was the cheapest (canon 350d) with a "Viewfinder C" (~£140)- which can rotate 360 degrees and had a setting for macro, plus one L-series lens.

It was all I could afford, i like architectural shots and live bands, my range of styles isn't wide, but some of shots have stunned professional photographers that I know.

Even with a modest setup and cheap flash triggering kit it is amazing what you can achieve if you put the effort in (sometimes hours per shot)...

Havr fun all!!!

J.

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Re: Interchangeable viewfinders

Our standard 35mm was Nikon F1 with a photomic head, which could be swapped out for a regular finder, and allowed for interchangeable screens too.

The overriding reason for this was true 1-1 WYSIWYG -ness.

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Anonymous Coward

Digital backs

"Hasselblad actually sell a digital back that will fit on their old cameras, but the sensor size is about half the area of the original film frame and the images will be heavily cropped, so it’s not a real solution."

Every time my digital cameras show barrel and pin-cushion distortion I reflect on my hibernating 35mm kit. The removable back was probably proprietary to that model - so no chance of a digital upgrade. A DSLR might be the answer - but not worth the investment for the snapshot subjects that now present themselves.

Many years ago there was a proposed product that would convert any 35mm camera into a digital one by using an insert modelled on a film container. Technology must now be close to making that feasible - possibly with crowd funding?

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Black Helicopters

Re: Digital backs

The rumour of a CCD that fits into an existing SLR has been around since at least the mid-1990s. I can't help feeling that there's a vested interest somewhere ensuring this never comes out!

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Re: Digital backs

I'd like one for my OM10 kit. I have a lot of nice lenses.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Digital backs

"The rumour of a CCD that fits into an existing SLR has been around since at least the mid-1990s. I can't help feeling that there's a vested interest somewhere ensuring this never comes out!"

ISTR a back for a Minolta 7000/9000 that had one.

Yep, search yields:

http://www.mhohner.de/sony-minolta/onebody/sb-90

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Re: Digital backs

There have been one or two for specific bodies; this is/was supposed to be a CCD that looked like a 35mm film roll with a piece of film sticking out (possibly with a second "roll" to fit into the takeup slot) The idea is that the "film" is a CCD and the "canister/s" is/are the circuitry + rechargeable battery & USB connection. So it will fit any film SLR, simply by inserting it into the back.

Obviously once a photographer had one or two, there'd be no repeat business. But I was never sure whether it was a concept (or a pipe dream), whether anyone had actually made one, or if whichever company had proposed it had decided maybe it wasn't such a good idea after all.

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CCDs on DSLRs

Why the CCD obsession? They were used on early DSLRs, but CMOS technology has long overtaken CCD performance for the size of sensors used in SLRs. Indeed, even in the MF world CMOS sensors have started appearing (all utilising a recently released Sony sensor). Also, Leica have no adopted a CMOS sensor for their M9. For comparable cameras, current CMOS sensors (size for size) beat CCD on frame rate, high ISO performance, dynamic range and colour sensitivity. Yes, there are some exceptional specialist CCD sensors for scientific work, but not for still photography.

For example, here's a DXOmark comparison of the Leica M 240 (CMOS) vs a couple of Leica M9 (CCD) models. On all the objective criteria, the CMOS model wins out all through the ISO range.

http://www.dxomark.com/Cameras/Compare/Side-by-side/Leica-M-Typ-240-versus-Leica-M9-P-versus-Leica-M9___844_721_640

Some people claim there's such a thing as CCD "colour". However, both CMOS and CCDs are (close to) colour blind, and what gives them the ability to distinguish colour is the filter matrix. (There is an exception, the Foveon sensor, which distinguishes colour by difference in the silicon depth penetration by different wavelength photons. To be ultra-picky, some video cameras use prismatic separation using multiple sensors, but not any current still cameras).

If you want an CCD DSLR, then there are plenty of second hand ones around. Here's a list of Nikon models with the sensor type listed. There's also the Leica S MF DSLR if you have very deep pockets and don't care about frame rates or performance at anything much above base ISO.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_Nikon_DSLR_cameras

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Re: CCDs on DSLRs

I tend to use CCD as an all-encompassing term for the image sensor; I don't know (and don't particularly care) what the actual electronics underneath is! So you could read CMOS in all my posts where I've put CCD...

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Re: CCDs on DSLRs

I see. I do remember the proposal. It also would have been CCD at the time. It hit all sorts of technical issue and, in retrospect, was a dead-end as there were all sorts of integration issues and a DSLR designed from the ground-up would have lots of advantages.

The "system camera" approach is actually returning. If you take something like the Sony A7 series, they have a full-frame sensor and, because of the very short sensor-flange distance, can mount almost every 35mm (or MF) lens made via adapters, excepting only some of those which are fully "fly by wire". OK, it's not quite the same as a film back, as it includes all viewfinder and a lens mount, but it's not so much different in principle to using a digital back on an MF camera.

nb. the CCD vs CMOS argument is one of those "religious war" issues which comes up from time to time.

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Anonymous Coward

Picture data

The nice thing about even relatively cheap digital cameras is that each image also records aperture and exposure details. No more keeping notes for each shot.

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Re: Picture data

The EXIF information also contains a lot of other stuff as well.

Some of it might prove embarrassing if left in an image that gets uploaded.

Try explaining to the wife that when you were supposed to be at a footie match, you were in a studio a 100 miles away shooting a few buxom blonde models in various states of undress....

If you have GPS on your camera then beware!

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Total light?

Interesting stuff.

One thing I didn't really pick up on was lens diameter.

I assume one benefit of larger format cameras is that the total amount of light - photons per pixel - should be larger with larger lenses.

I assume that this makes a difference?

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Re: Total light?

You are right in that image quality is ultimately limited by the total number of photos detected, but that's over the whole image area (and, for a common output resolution, that's per-pixel). In principle that's purely a function of the lens alone. A smaller sensor requires a proportionately shorter focal length in order to get the same field of view. However, to collect the same number of photons, it will need an aperture proportionately wider. Take the example of a 35mm so-called "full frame" sensor 24x36mm and imagine you mount a 50mm lens with an aperture of f4. Now imagine a sensor of half the dimension, 12 x 18mm (not a usual sensor size, but it makes the arithmetic easier). You will now need a 25mm lens to get the same field of view, and to collect the same total number of photons in a given exposure time, it will now have to be f2 (and get the same depth of field characteristics). This is all part of what's called "the principle of equivalence". As the f-stop is simply the focal length divided by the aperture diameter, then you can see the physical diameter of the aperture will be exactly the same in both cases. As the maximum (physical) diameter of the aperture is the primary factor that dictates the lens diameter, you can see that for the same light gathering power the two lenses will (broadly) be similar diameter (although not length).

So the question might be asked, why do we need large sensors, if we can just use smaller sensors with wider lenses. Leaving aside the issue that lenses with very small f-stops become increasingly difficult and expensive to design (only partly ameliorated by the smaller image circle), there is a major sensor limitation. That is the ability of a sensor to detect photons before saturating. Broadly speaking, a sensor with 4 times the surface area can detect 4 times the number of photons before saturating (or blowing highlights). Note that this is not just sensors it applies to, but also film. Slide film, especially, "blows" highlights and to collect more light in total, you need bigger films.

Of course there is another issue, that for any given output resolution, the smaller sensor will have to have smaller photosites (clearly half the dimensions in this case) and that, in turn, means the 25mm lens would have to be able to resolve twice as well.

As the ultimate dynamic range of the sensor is defined by the ratio between the saturation level and what's called the "noise floor", there is an advantage to the larger sensor. It has the potential for four times the number of detected photons before saturation which means, all other things being equal, it can achieve a couple more EV of dynamic range.

There's a lot more to it than that of course but, essentially, the reason "big is better" just comes down to that ability to detect more photons by dint of the greater surface area.

Try this.

http://theory.uchicago.edu/~ejm/pix/20d/tests/noise/index.html

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Re: Total light?

@ Steven Jones

I certainly can confirm that my 550D ( love it as I do) isn't a match for my full-frame 6D esp. in noise performance even though the pixel count is ~ the same. Shooting a starry sky, for example, I was seeing far, far more stars without any noise artifacts.

(BTW though some of the finest slides I've ever seen where 21/4 inch Hasselblad photos)

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Re: Total light?

Yes, your 6D collects about 2.6 x the amount of light in total (as Canon APS-C has a crop factor of about 1.6). That translates to about 1.5 stops better performance across the ISO range.

For some things, bigger is better.

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Digital photography isn't dead yet

This is a very odd article.

Claiming that there's a void between the iPhone and Medium Format digital is plain wrong. Sales may have been falling, but a Canon 5D Mark III or Nikon D800 paired with decent lenses is a general-purpose imaging power-house far more versatile than the author's franken-rig Medium Format bodge.

Can you get specialised kit with higher real resolution? Sure, if that's all you care about. But try taking a shot of a humming-bird in flight or the moment the wicket falls or the racing car crosses the line with a frankenrig MF or a tech camera. You'll struggle a LOT more than a 5DIII photographer will struggle to get a decent landscape shot.

The author is also clearly not interested in the main development in digital cameras in the last decade, which is the ability to read out the systems fast enough to shoot moving pictures. The imaging quality of a RED Epic is getting up towards that of a top-end dSLR. It can create 19 megapixel images at 100 frames per second.

Even a cheap Panasonic GH4 can read out fast enough to do 4K at cinema frame rates, and also delivers perfectly acceptable stills for a lot of purposes.

It may not suit the sort of photography the author does- slowly considered landscape and architectural photography- but for those of us shooting people and stuff that moves, it's a damn good time to be alive and working.

He's also apparently ignorant of the current state of MF digital, being unaware of the exciting Pentax 645Z (low cost, 50 megapixel sensors) or the very well thought of Leica S series.

There's also reasons for preferring modern lenses designed for digital sensors rather than film- for example, most digital sensors are much more sensitive to the angle of light rays incoming than film was- you can't get away with such steep incoming angles towards the edges of the sensor without bad vignetting. The Hasselblad and Leica digital MF lenses have been redesigned accordingly. Sure, they are compromised, but they are a compromise suited to the sensors behind them, rather than film.

And although I do use and enjoy a Hasselblad MF digital system for most of my commercial work, I could do most of it perfectly well with a 5Diii and still get paid.

I'm glad the author has found a system which works for him, but the state of digital cameras is nothing like as bad as he is painting.

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Re: Digital photography isn't dead yet

>Claiming that there's a void between the iPhone and Medium Format digital is plain wrong.

There does seem to be more interest in the 'premium compact' market these days, with Sony and Fuji joining Panasonic and Canon in the fray. I'm talking about cameras that will just about fit in the inside pocket of a jacket, and have sensors larger than those normally found on compacts, large apertures and have an option of full manual control.

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Re: Digital photography isn't dead yet

"There does seem to be more interest in the 'premium compact' market these days,"

Quite right. £500 quid will get you a CSC or compact that leaves the DSLRs of 6 years ago standing in the dust.

There is no void between mobile phones and high end DSLRs. I really don't know where the author gets that idea.

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Re: Digital photography isn't dead yet

Agree.. I was wondering where a mid/top line Nikon / Canon fell into tall of this. A D3s is pretty perfect for nearly all work out of a studio, and a D3x for nrarly all work in a studio.

... And as you mentioned, the Pentax 645 digital sits in the middle ground,

Yes there is a place for large and medium format, but practicality and usability also need to be flung in the mix.

In the real world, we do want cameras we can get mucky, use in the rain, snow, climb mountains with, put in a underwater housing etc. etc. Or even, just take a snap for a text message with..

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