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Philosophy of Photography Taking pics is one thing, but understanding why we take them, what they mean, what they are best used for, how they effect our reality -- all of these and more are important issues of the Philosophy of Photography. One of the best authors on the subject is Susan Sontag in her book "On Photography."

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Does the Camera Even Matter Anymore? Or is it about software/software skills?
Old 02-19-2012   #1
NickTrop
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Does the Camera Even Matter Anymore? Or is it about software/software skills?

This is a portrait I took of the Mrs last year. (Yeah, yeah - she's pretty - blah, blah, blah... that's not what this is about.) I took it with a 5 year old cheap, used, technically somewhat dated Fuji Finepix compact digicam. Lens? Nothin' special - the usual 3X optical zoom that comes with these things. Small sensor.

Technically - this is a perfect portrait. Not shot with a fancy/pricey portrait lens. The bokeh is fake. Exposure corrected - bang on. No tungsten color cast. Contrast reduced a tad for portraiture. Curves messed with a bit. Some retouching, some softening. Photoshop. Took about 10 minutes using a routine I like for this kind of stuff. Using the pen tool to make the selection around her face is what took most of the time.

Question.

Does gear - bodies, lenses even matter anymore? Or are we kidding ourselves? This is a cheap 5-6 year old banged up average, consumer digicam - think I paid $80 bucks for it.

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Old 02-19-2012   #2
EdwardKaraa
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It's still about the gear, even if PP skills are compulsory these days.
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Old 02-19-2012   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by EdwardKaraa View Post
It's still about the gear, even if PP skills are compulsory these days.
Why? Would this portrait have looked any better if taken with a $3,000 75mm Cron? How? If taken with said lens - would we "project" that it looks good for that reason - because I took it with a 3 thousand dollar Leica portrait lens? Could I control as many aspects as precisely as I can with sliders?
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Using appropriate gear, neither expensive nor cheap
Old 02-19-2012   #4
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Using appropriate gear, neither expensive nor cheap

Quote:
Originally Posted by NickTrop View Post
Why? Would this portrait have looked any better if taken with a $3,000 75mm Cron? How? If taken with said lens - would we "project" that it looks good for that reason - because I took it with a 3 thousand dollar Leica portrait lens? Could I control as many aspects as precisely as I can with sliders?
Let me first thank the OP for this irritating image which allows this debate.

In my opinion, this portrait would have looked a lot better using suitable equipment, because the need for post processing would have been much lesser. I don't call for a $xx000 equipment. I only say: better than what have been used.


The transition from sharp to blurred hair/background is definitly not looking natural at all. If the idea behind this shot was to emphasize the model's head blurring the background, the very simple way is using gear allowing small DoF. The result would look natural and not so flat. And you needn't the partly failed DoF post processing at all.
Do I say gear matters? To a certain extent, yes. It should be appropriate for the photo job you want accomplish. As well as all the other factors matters, like lighting, composition, location, posing, post processing, film or ISO used. All of this should be used in a balanced way. If you don't follow this rule, you will have an irritating or uninteresting result.
This image is irritating.
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Old 02-19-2012   #5
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To me, any photograph that hasn't been masterfully re-touched in terms of softening and blurring looks odd. So again, to me, this looks like a digicam snap that's been mildly tortured with software to try to get it to look like a photograph, rather than just a snap, which is what it really is (and there's nothing wrong with that.)
The pretty lady's hair is over sharpened (which is probably like that out of camera - such is life with digital point and shoots), but the face is soft - almost out of focus looking, yet they are on the same plane of focus. She looks like she has really lovely skin, which shouldn't need softening (I'd debate no one's skin should ever be softened), and probably the crunchy jpeg processing from the little camera is what made you soften it in the first place. A 5d (for instance) is renown for being very very kind to skin, which is why it's so popular with wedding photographers.

The same picture shot with an m9 or a 5d or a d700 with a 50mm lens, straight out of camera with no post processing would look far, far better IMO. The lighting would still be all frontal and completely flat (which isn't flattering at all), and the surroundings would still be a brown/beige couch, but at least the skin, hair, and perspective/compression would be more natural.
So yep, cameras definitely matter.
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Old 02-19-2012   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gavinlg View Post
To me, any photograph that hasn't been masterfully re-touched in terms of softening and blurring looks odd. So again, to me, this looks like a digicam snap that's been mildly tortured with software to try to get it to look like a photograph, rather than just a snap, which is what it really is (and there's nothing wrong with that.)
The pretty lady's hair is over sharpened (which is probably like that out of camera - such is life with digital point and shoots), but the face is soft - almost out of focus looking, yet they are on the same plane of focus. She looks like she has really lovely skin, which shouldn't need softening (I'd debate no one's skin should ever be softened), and probably the crunchy jpeg processing from the little camera is what made you soften it in the first place. A 5d (for instance) is renown for being very very kind to skin, which is why it's so popular with wedding photographers.

The same picture shot with an m9 or a 5d or a d700 with a 50mm lens, straight out of camera with no post processing would look far, far better IMO.

So yep, cameras definitely matter.
Disagree - what is "unkind" is RGB computer monitors vs print, mainly. I really believe it's all psychological and projection. If taken with an expensive portrait lens, many would marvel at the "sharpness" of the hair and impart mojo to the glow. This is a large image viewed on an RGB. I wouldn't, but I bet I could embarrass many Leicaphiles (and I'm not bashing Leica - at all...) if I lied and said this was taken with a 75mm Summicron f/2 APO M or some such. And what you say is "tortured", they'd say is "signature".
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Old 02-19-2012   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NickTrop View Post
Disagree - what is "unkind" is RGB computer monitors vs print, mainly. I really believe it's all psychological and projection. If taken with an expensive portrait lens, many would marvel at the "sharpness" of the hair and impart mojo to the glow. This is a large image viewed on an RGB. I wouldn't, but I bet I could embarrass many Leicaphiles (and I'm not bashing Leica - at all...) if I lied and said this was taken with a 75mm Summicron f/2 APO M or some such. And what you say is "tortured", they'd say is "signature".
No, not really - because the soft face and the sharp hair is on the the same focal plane.
Honestly if you had said this was from a 75mm leica, I'd still think you cropped the hell out of it and then tortured the file in processing anyway.
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Old 02-19-2012   #8
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I think the camera itself matters little.

Plastic box, Decent lens, Good film:

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Old 02-19-2012   #9
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I think the camera you're using only matters to a certain point. Assuming your toning abilities are top notch and your images are well exposed, whether you're using say a $40k Hasselblad vs a Canon Rebel with decent glass it's not going to make that big of a difference when you're looking at it on a computer screen. However, when you start using really cheap optics, or point and shoots that have soft or poor focusing, then yes you start to notice.

I work as a photo editor for a newspaper and many times I'll have to work on cell phone pics or pics taken with cheap (read as $100-level) point and shoots. Often times the pictures are so low quality, they are barely printable, and almost always too low quality for online. But just about any picture reasonably exposed with an SLR, and I can work wonders with it.
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Old 02-19-2012   #10
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I am a contents guy so I would say neither software nor hardware matters. If a photo is interesting enough, it's interesting regardless.
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Old 02-19-2012   #11
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Looking again at the original thread question, I can't tell if this is a joke or some sort of troll attempt, or honest ignorance.

Obviously, artistic photographic skill matters the most. Far before anything. The camera and lens will have a bearing on the output, and a good photographer will use the camera that suits the intended output. Software skills matter the least - unless you venture out of photography and more into digital manipulation. No matter how good at tweaking you are, an uninteresting photograph is still an uninteresting photograph.
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Old 02-19-2012   #12
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It was NEVER about the gear. Period. Let's move on, shall we?
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Old 02-19-2012   #13
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Of course the photographer is the key piece here.
But the camera matters much more today than ever before.
It used to just be a light-tight box that held our lenses - the most important piece of our gear. An image shot with a 50 summicron on an M7 would look no different from one shot with the same lens on a much older M3 (or any other rangefinder).

But stick a 50 summicron on an Epson RD-1, M8 or M9....Each of those cameras has different rendering capabilities.
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Old 02-19-2012   #14
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The one part of this image that really did need to be sharp and clear was the eyes ... and they ain't sorry! Whatever post processing was involved is irrelevant because of this IMO.

No offence meant here Nick because I always enjoy your posts!
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Old 02-19-2012   #15
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Nick,

it' s always risky to evaluate a picture of someone you love, the brain inserts a filter and does it's own post processing.

I think this picture proves gear does matter.

Wim
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Old 02-19-2012   #16
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Nope, the equipment matters not, neither does the PP.
You should have shot from higher, got rid of that ugly couch, and put her smaller eye in front of the bigger eye
My point is, nothing replaces the brain of the camera operator.
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Old 02-19-2012   #17
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Neither gear nor post production ability matter anymore.
It's all camera phones now.
Hopefully we go to full on real-time animation soon, to capture moments in life.

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Old 02-19-2012   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Phil_F_NM View Post
Neither gear nor post production ability matter anymore.
It's all camera phones now.
Hopefully we go to full on real-time animation soon, to capture moments in life.

Phil Forrest
So, if these guys had turned towards me and taken their pictures would they be better or worse? Right? Ummm - the moment in the right hands, right camera settings etc makes a world of difference, yes. Oh, and the camera Nikon Fe2: 85mm: TMax 100

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Old 02-19-2012   #19
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No offense meant, I'd say nothing if it hadn't been offered up for criticism - but we're seeing a completely generic snapshot with bad Photoshopping. The light is bad, the blur is distractingly fake, the subject even has a fake "oh, the family camera is out at Christmas" look on her face. Which is perfectly fine for what it is - sometimes we just need photos of our loved ones to remind us of them at a certain moment in their lives.

Being taken by an iPhone or a prototype M10 would not make it a great photo, nor would handing off the file to the World's greatest retoucher.

As others have said, camera and software are of minuscule importance to the brain behind the viewfinder.
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Old 02-19-2012   #20
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Also, before digital, your thread could easily have been titled "Does the Camera Even Matter Anymore? Or is it about *darkroom* skills?"

Photography's always been far more than pressing the shutter button.
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Old 02-20-2012   #21
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Everything matters to varying degrees and to make statements like "the camera doesn't matter" is just the flipside of "the camera is everything."

With digital cameras, you have the issue of varying sensor-sizes, similar to 35mm vs. 120 vs. 4x5. It's faulty to say that you could get the same result from a cheap cameraphone as you could from a full-frame digital with fast glass. You can get great photos from both, but there's an optimal tool for the result you're looking for.
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Old 02-20-2012   #22
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I think about it as information capture. If you don't have the information there, photoshop doesn't have anything to recover.

Getting that information is primarily skill but is limited by camera given a particular desired shot. A Holga isn't going to get a crisp shot of fast moving object in low light. The vignetting and softness of the Holga could be added later however in post process (darkroom or digitally). The amount of detail captured in a 4x5 opens doors a small sensor point and shoot isn't going to compete with - there just isn't enough information there to resolve the same detail. The depth of field of a large format camera may be approximated by a point and shoot - and may be more so in the future as depth information is captured - but isn't there yet. A 4x5 isn't going to get into that music venue where only small, fixed lens/non professional looking cameras go.

Photoshop can do wonders to salvage an image but even it has its limits unless you take it to the extreme of realist painting.
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Old 02-20-2012   #23
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To rephrase it - does it really matters which environment and equipment we use to split hairs? Results are same
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Old 02-20-2012   #24
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I don't think it's ever truly mattered except at the extremes. A $5000 Leica MP + $6000 'lux basically takes shots which 99% of us could not discern from one taken with a $50 Pentax ME Super. Obviously if you want a mural sized print, then it matters, you need to shoot LF or at least MF. At the other end, Nick's shot looks fine, but it probably wouldn't if if he used the camera on a 5 year old BlackBerry.

I think the gear can be noticeably good at the very high end, and it's noticeably bad at at the low end. But the gear we talk about here (Leica) does not make any difference. We get this gear because we like it, not for the results.
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Old 02-20-2012   #25
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poor camera + good software skills = good photo

good camera + good software skills = better photo

... yes of course it matters
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