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« civilized ku # 92 ~ the big picture | Main | civilized ku # 91 ~ 18 hrs in New Jersey & 24 hrs with a Landscapist reader/contributor »

man & nature # 27 ~ superior idiots

Port Kent Amtrak "station"
click to embiggen
Sometime last week there was "without doubt the most exciting digital photography announcement this year" - Phil Askey,

The announcement was compliments of Olympus and Panasonic, co-conspirators in the development of the 4/3rds standard /format (along with Leica) of which I am an avid user. I bought into the Olympus 4/3rds format because it is an open standard - all lenses made any manufacturer are completely compatible with any other manufacturer's camera bodies. With the top 2 makers of optics - Olympus and Leica - involved in the standard, it was a no-brainer for me to get on board.

There was also the promise of tidy compact cameras with the 4/3rds standard and my first Olys - a E-500 and then an E-510 - were indeed rather tidy and compact. But after using them for a while, I came to long for something with a bit more substance and heft. They just seemed too compact and far too light in weight. This was especially true when fitted with something like my Zuiko 50-250mm f2.8/3.5 lens - it was like the tail was wagging the dog.

So, I eventually became the owner of the Oly flagship, an E-3, which seems to have careened to the opposite end of the spectrum, tidy/heft-wise. It truly is a flagship, with extreme emphasis on the word "ship". It's BIG and hernia-inducing hefty, especially with the battery grip attached. And tidy it's not - I've saw fewer buttons on all the tux adorned men at last weekend's wedding than there are on an E-3 body.

That said, after using the E-3 (and my Pentax K20D) for a while, I find myself longing for something with a lot less substance and heft. That's where the "most exciting digital photography announcement this year" comes into play. Oly/Panasonic are developing mirror-less compact camera bodies with full size 4/3rds sensors. The mirror-less part allows for the making of a small body and small lenses that should produce a 35mm rangefinder-like digital camera with dslr image quality. Exactly the kind of camera I would like to have had at this past weekend's wedding.

That said, this announcement has been greeted by the techno crowd with cries of "inferior image quality" - based on the "inferior image quality" of the 4/3rds sensor. IMO, these morons need to get a life. Or, more accurately, they need to get a life that has at least a small hint of what constitutes true image quality.

Now, I am not here to defend the 4/3rds standard because there is simply nothing to defend. It's particular image quality is just that - one of many flavors of image quality in the digital picture making domain. It is neither "inferior" nor "superior". It just is what it is.

Here is how I have come to look at the differences in techno image quality (IQ). There are, in fact, lots of differences in the results obtained from various sensors - most notably differences in resolution, noise, and dynamic range. In most cases these differences are a matter of relatively subtle degree, especially so when viewing a print from a "normal" viewing distance. Those who judge such matters at pixel level - 100% view on a monitor - are involved in something other than and very different from looking at photographs.

Looking at photographs is an emotional and intellectual experience - not a technical exercise - especially so if one wishes to see the real image quality - what a picture says. When will these equipnojerks understand that all their fetishistic caterwauling is nothing but an onerous distraction that gets in the way of seeing a photograph's true image quality?

To be clear, I am NOT saying that matters of resolution, noise, or dynamic range have no bearing upon the meaning / message that a photograph conveys. If your heart's desire is to capture every little detail and tonal/color nuance of, as an example, the forest floor and seeing every little detail and tonal/color nuance in the print thereof is important to what you have to say, then, by all means, save (as in "horde") your money and buy a Hassey with a 50mp back.

On the other hand, if you are more about capturing and conveying impressions about what it means to be human, you might be better served by saving (as in "conserving") your money and buying an Oly 420 or, for that matter, a Canon G9. Because, guess what? They are both perfect instruments for the task at hand.

Reader Comments (9)

Hear, hear! You write as well as you photograph Mark. I too am just waiting for a small and light camera with dSLR quality images (The Sigma DP1 promised but failed miserably to deliver). Not because megapixels are important, but using high ISO is - I hate tripods! For the pixelpeepers I sleep comfortably knowing that most of them can't make a decent photograph...

August 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSvein-Frode

Yeeehaw! You said it brother! I am now officially head over heels in love with a Canon G9. So much so that I am on the precipice of chucking my dslr. I feel so unburdened and free to roam, observe (stealthily as I like) and shoot away. I added a very nice third party finger grip that makes the process even more fun. As I type, I am giving the camera googly eyes of love as it sits perched next to me on my desk.... It is a perfect instrument for my task at hand.

August 12, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermary dennis

Well said. I use a Nikon D300, thus I have no immediate reason to long for another camera, especially given the fact that by now I have eleven lenses, but if we are about to get a reasonably silent camera, I'd be very tempted.

Some weeks ago I saw an opera performance in an old Roman quarry (Roman as in "used first by the Romans", not as "being in Rome"), a performance under open sky with thousands of visitors, and unfortunately I had to stop photographing. The camera was simply too loud. I know, there are sound blimps, but they are unwieldy at the least, and for the price of a Jacobson Sound Blimp, I should be able to get one of these new MFT cams plus a decent lens. OK, the mirror is not the only source of noise, but I am hopeful.

Even autofocus performance is not of utmost concern. Imagine such a concert situation: you are at a largely constant distance from what happens at the stage. Focusing manually like in Live View Tripod mode on the D300, where I can zoom on the display to 100%, makes manual focus much more accurate than it would ever be possible through a viewfinder, and once focused, I wouldn't have to adjust focus through most of the performance. Seems VERY interesting indeed, and imagining small, fast, long lenses makes this even more interesting.

Great image, btw. As always :)

August 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAndreas Manessinger

Well said! I was amazed at what the commentary has been over on, and it made it very clear to me that there are photographers and there are gadgeteers. One is an artist and one is an engineer. However, even as an artist I love the micro four thirds idea and I hope it is done well, and at least some aspect of it is aimed at true photographers with a good selection of quality lenses. The lenses will be key.

And I hope the speculation fades away until we see some real product!

August 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

What can I add? The voice of reason has struck again. Thanks!

August 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDennis Allshouse

Someone already said it. The G9 speaks to me and responds to my vision quite well. I haven't used my D80 since.

August 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMike Cannone

I'd have to agree completely. The M43 standard seems to be an excellent way of taking advantages of 4/3rds strengths to produce the sort of camera we haven't seen since the days of the Leica CL, a small and compact interchangable lens camera with IQ comparable to a full-size SLR. While I have my issues with the regular 4/3rds system (mostly to do with it not having any real world advantages over the larger sensor cameras) M43 looks to me to be a real winner.

As Mike Johnston notes over at TOP, an even bigger change is the removal of the requirement that all 4/3rds lenses be telecentric. Telecentricity was an important requirement with the sensors used in the early 4/3rds bodies as they could not cope well with light hitting them at non-perpendicular angles, but the modern CMOS and NMOS sensors are much less sensitive to this. And the Telecentricity requirement was one reason why 4/3rds lenses were so similar in size to those intended for the larger formats.

Now if Oly or Leica just makes a 15-20mm f2 for the upcoming M43 cameras, I'll be interested.

August 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Maas

Mark, that's some sky. Even when it was raining on us upon arrival at Pt. Kent it wasn't that dramatic. Go here to see another view of Port Kent - not Pt. Kent.

August 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKent

Is this blog for or about "superior idiots", "super idiots" or "IYO morons (who) need to get a life"?

October 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMirna

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