Megapixel Wars Resurrected

Back when digital photography was in its infancy, people were after the camera that had the most megapixel. Resolution was king. And rightly so. Digital photos looked crap when printed large especially when compared to the enlargements made from film. It wasn’t until sensors hit the 6Mp mark that digital photography became a viable alternative to 35mm film photography.

But it didn’t stop there. Megapixels kept climbing. Even point-and-shoot cameras with their tiny sensors reached a whooping 14Mp and that trend continued until the present. Megapixels were the easiest way to trick customers into buying the latest model. People upgraded their 8Mp camera to 10Mp!!!

Now photographers have learned that megapixel isn’t everything. Even some camera manufacturers have learned their lesson. The Canon G10 with 14Mp was upgraded (or downgraded) to 10Mp with the release of the G11 and G12. The megapixel wars are slowly dying…up to a certain point (the latest Nikon D800 has 36Mp!!!).

You’d think that would silence the gear whores. Unfortunately, there’s a new kind of war that’s raging in the “photography” forums and it goes with the initials of “I.Q.”. I’m not talking about intelligence quotient but in fact, it’s actually a dumb war. IQ stands for “Image Quality”.

Image Quality. What exactly are they looking for? Let’s have a look at the “requirements”:

1) High ISO performance. If your new camera can’t produce clean images at ISO 6400 then it’s not good enough.

2) Sharpness. If it looks blurry at 200% zoom then it isn’t sharp enough.

3) Bokeh. Anything slower than f2.8 for zoom lenses or f1.4 for primes isn’t good enough.

4) Add more stupid requirements here.

The war has become uncontrollable and has grown n times!

Seriously, WTF people?!

Let’s tackle those 3 items one by one.

High ISO performance. This is my favorite. Back when real photographers shot with film, people didn’t complain about grain the size of boulders. Grain actually added character to the photograph. Weddings were at times shot with ISO 1600 film when the light dropped considerably. The unfortunate ones who brought only ISO 400 film had to push them during development which made the photos look more “interesting”.

Sharpness. I went to an exhibit of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photographs and let me tell you that a lot of his photos were really blurry. But they were so awesome that you would never even pick on the picture quality. I was there dragging my jaw on the floor.

Bokeh. People buy these outrageously expensive, fast, heavy lenses. For what?! So you can shoot wide open at f1.4 and complain that you can’t get your focus right? They say it’s for shooting in low light. Yeah, that’s why you want that ISO 6400 as well right? Let me see, where can I find a place that “requires” f1.4 at ISO 6400? Hmmmm…. Uh, none?! Of course somebody out there will always manage to trap himself in a dark cave…everyday…and that makes the purchase fully and truly justifiable. If you really need to shoot in very dim light then use a tripod. You know, that cheap thing with three legs. But I’m sure a tripod isn’t good enough for them so let’s stop right there.

Measurebators will always find a reason to justify their purchase. Go find a pulitzer photograph and see if there’s any that meets the IQ requirements. I actually proposed this challenge to a measurebator and he gave me the photograph of the Afghan Girl that was captured by Steve McCurry. I had to stop myself from laughing inside the train. This guy probably thought that the photograph was captured by a digital Hassy or a Nikon D3s 🙂 I had to explain to him about 135 Kodachrome and told him to go get himself a 6Mp point-and-shoot camera if that was his reference for image quality.

Just for laughs, somebody posted HCB’s photo of the cyclist and winding stairs in a critique forum in Flickr and people started bashing the photograph like it was captured by a n00b who can’t even take a sharp image.

I have to be honest and I am not afraid to tell you that I have been there. How do you think I ended up with a Nikon D700?! I thought that my photographs will become so much better if I upgraded my Canon 40D to a Nikon D700 that was three times more expensive. To my disappointment, the D700 produced exactly the same photographs. My photos still looked like they were captured by me. Actually, I have grown a hatred for my D700 because it sucks big time in landscape photography. I’m not talking about IQ. This darn camera gets in the way of how I work (please refer to my comparison of the D700 and K5).

Been there, to some degree, and done that. Image quality has very little to do with capturing a jaw-dropping photograph.Take it from me, your camera is not to blame if your photos are crap. I own two cameras that others dream of having. My D700 and K5 still have not saved me from taking crap photographs.


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