I have been looking at slightly newer cameras than my ancient Canon 1DS III. There are two big things that have happened since I last took a serious look at cameras :-
- Serious cameras are increasingly going mirror-less; last time I looked, electronic viewfinders were too low in resolution and suffered too much lag to really replace optical view finders.
- So-called “medium format” digital cameras are becoming slightly less expensive.
Funny thing is that whilst the “film vs digital” argument has gotten a bit quieter, it is still bubbling away. And as a solely digital photographer, my position on “film vs digital” is simply: it is the final print that counts however you got there.
Back in the days when film was the only viable choice the quality difference between 35mm film and medium format film was dramatic. And similarly between medium format film and large format film.
In the digital world, the difference is more nuanced, and there is more choice in the size of the sensor (“film”) – Micro 4/3 (which is equivalent to the old 110 film format), APC, “full frame”, and “medium format”.
The least honest phrase is of course “medium format” – medium format film came in a variety of different sizes; all of which are actually larger than the medium format digital sensors. The largest “medium format” sensor is approximately 54mm x 40mm; the smallest film medium format is 60mm x 45mm.
Comparing digital and film sizes is pretty irrelevant; with film, quality is directly proportional to size whereas with digital many factors contribute to quality; sensor size being just one.
Part of that quality increase in size is simply down to the increased cost – if you have to make a digital sensor expensive because it is big (fewer sensors per wafer and a higher proportion of them won’t meet the quality standard), then you need to make it better in quality or nobody will buy it. Of course there are also scientific reasons why a bigger sensor is better – or the fancy car priced Phase One cameras wouldn’t have big sensors.
But back to digital sensor size – let us stop calling so-called medium format sensors “medium format” and come up with a new phrase – perhaps “super-frame” and give the crop-factor – 1.67 or whatever it is.
To use a phrase I’m known for: Well yes and no.
There is no doubt that nothing quite beats a huge (A3+ or bigger) print of a really good quality landscape photo. But what proportion of all the world’s photographic images are available as such a print?
Probably a tiny minority; in the past when everyone shot film, most photographs were developed as prints 5″ x 7″ (or similar) which is tiny. At an estimate of 200dpi (which is probably an overestimate of the average print), that is a resolution of 1000×1400.
Now if I compare this with pictures shown on the web on my laptop screen (a rather titchy display), it compares rather favourably – a Facebook photo capture was around 850×850, and an EyeEm photo capture was 1212×900. Of course it is also shown somewhat larger – the laptop screen is 13″.
And on my main desktop screen (a very elderly 30″ screen), the same two pictures are far bigger and in a higher resolution – 1028×1300 for the Facebook picture and 1200×1800 for the EyeEm photo.
And finally, on my 4K TV, the photos are shown at only 2/3 (very roughly) the resolution of the original files, and far, far bigger.
Yes the display pitch is less, but the size is far larger and unless you have spectacular close vision you will be able to see far more detail with a screen image than an average print.
Again I say that this is not intended to bash prints – in many ways a photographic image isn’t finalised until it has been printed, and a really good print at 300dpi and printed large is far better than the screen. Even before you consider the permanence of the print.
This is aimed at those who snootily dismiss low-end photographic equipment as being “only suitable for the web” – they may be surprised that even relatively modest screens can compare favourably with 5×7 prints and it won’t be long before even larger prints are surpassed.
In the penguin enclosure yet not a penguin!
What seems like a long time ago (2006), I picked up a cheap Canon DSLR for a bit of fun, and surprisingly enough found it fun. What was even more surprising was that this picture was the first that indicated that perhaps some of the images I made were not entirely bad. And I have just heard that Getty have picked this image up (via EyeEm) to sell.