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Business / 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
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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
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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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Old 02-20-2012   #26
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well, camera never mattered that much.
Portraits benefit much more from correct light setup and post-processing than from camera/lens combination.
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Old 02-20-2012   #27
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It is remarkable what some can manage with software. For example the before and after shots attached from Scott Kelby's 7 point system. Photoshop allows you to get what most people would regard as good output from bad input. I feel this particular photo looks a hideous monstrosity, but it would get lots of Facebook "Likes" in this high def, highly saturated digital world.
In some cases a good camera matters but, for web viewing, a good camera/lens isn't necessary for a good photo. However, I would find it much more rewarding to capture a moment than invent one with software.
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Old 02-20-2012   #28
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Hi,

If you are both happy with the picture then nothing else matters...

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Old 02-20-2012   #29
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Sorry Nick but I don't think I could be convinced this had been taken with any quality camera, just to many shortcomings that no amount of pp can overcome. Like all these cameras the detail is created by sharpening, hence the eyes are sharp, but there's very little detail there. Another trait of these cameras is the flash/lens axis, like low grade ring flash.
One thing I've learned when photoshopping skin is go very light when using the blur tool, it very quickly looks photoshopped, much better to clone bad skin with with good skin, and even then I revisit with the history brush and put back some of the imperfection, I find I can get carried away so easily and overwork an image, good skin photoshop is really quite difficult.
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Old 02-20-2012   #30
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I'm more likely to make pictures, and good pictures, with a camera that I really enjoy using. So for me, gear matters. It doesn't necessarily have to be a very good camera, though.
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Old 02-20-2012   #31
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Here's my take...

1. If I told you this was taken with an expensive portrait glass attached to pricey gear I just bought - I'd be getting congrats posts on the gear.

2. Because I took this with a cheap camera, and titled my thread as such, your defenses shot up and you're ready to attack.

In either case you can not look at the picture I posted objectively. AT ALL.

3. I think we overvalue the 100+ year old technology for what they can do.

4. We undervalue (and take for granted) the contemporary technology and what it can do. A technology so amazing that if it appeared on Star Trek in 1966, people would think that they jumped the shark and crosses the line into absurdity.
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Old 02-20-2012   #32
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NickTrop View Post
Here's my take...

1. If I told you this was taken with an expensive portrait glass attached to pricey gear I just bought - I'd be getting congrats posts on the gear.

2. Because I took this with a cheap camera, and titled my thread as such, your defenses shot up and you're ready to attack.

In either case you can not look at the picture I posted objectively. AT ALL.
The reason that people are being defensive is because you have declared it to be a technically perfect portrait, when on the contrary many of us don't see it as a technically perfect portrait. It shows off the shortcomings of using a digital point and shoot and software manipulation to try to imitate a larger format camera very well.

You'll notice the ever popular threads on the GRD series cameras, holga picture threads, yashica GSN threads, etc. There's a big appreciation for small point and shoot/cheap cameras here, we all use and love them. Holgas are under $50 new, grd's can be bought for under $120 (I bought mine for 100). It's been said a few times the grd thread is the best photo thread on RFF. So in essence it's a bit difficult to see what your point is...
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Old 02-20-2012   #33
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NickTrop View Post
Here's my take...

1. If I told you this was taken with an expensive portrait glass attached to pricey gear I just bought - I'd be getting congrats posts on the gear.
You know Nick, criticizing a portrait of someone's SO is setting up yourself between rock and a hard place. Thing is, you will *always* get some amount of praise on the Internet for *any* kind of photo, the law of big numbers in action here. Some people would cheer you from politeness or compassion, others can't tell bad quality even if you hit them with it. Most would rather refrain from comments, precisely to avoid the defensive reaction you show now.

The hair looks like sugar cotton, the lips are oversharpened, the eyes unsharp. The overall deer-in-the-headlights look from the frontal flash. The focal length seems too short for a headshot that tight.

This portrait is not very good, and I couldn't care less about the equipment used for it. Am sure you could do better.
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Old 02-20-2012   #34
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NickTrop View Post
Here's my take...

1. If I told you this was taken with an expensive portrait glass attached to pricey gear I just bought - I'd be getting congrats posts on the gear.

2. Because I took this with a cheap camera, and titled my thread as such, your defenses shot up and you're ready to attack.

[...]

4. We undervalue (and take for granted) the contemporary technology and what it can do. A technology so amazing that if it appeared on Star Trek in 1966, people would think that they jumped the shark and crosses the line into absurdity.
Nick, I don't know if you're doing it for the sake of discussion, but it seems like you're still viewing things in absolutes.

There's a place for Photoshop, and it's not in making P&S snaps look like DSLR shots. When I've seen Photoshop done well, it's in subtle HDR, or giving photos a fantastical feel. Photoshop is used as an effect, not to replace a camera set up. There's also a young girl who takes amazing photos with a Canon Rebel and Photoshops them quite skillfully on Flickr, but I can't find her.

No one here (or in this thread, at least), is undervaluing contemporary technology. Folks were mentioning the 5D in the previous page and that's quite a feat of contemporary technology.

And if I personally saw a crappy shot taken by an expensive set up, I wouldn't call the person out on the photo (if you don't have anything nice to say...), but I wouldn't congratulate him on the gear either because I'm not much of a gearhead myself. I'm aware that other people here might, but there's no harm in letting them enjoy geeking out over (expensive) gear.
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Old 02-20-2012   #35
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The camera could certainly make a huge difference if it is imposing an undesirable point of focus, or other parameters at odds with what the photog wants. In the OP photo, it looks to me like the camera focused on the couch, not the subject.
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Old 02-20-2012   #36
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NickTrop View Post
Here's my take...

1. If I told you this was taken with an expensive portrait glass attached to pricey gear I just bought - I'd be getting congrats posts on the gear.

2. Because I took this with a cheap camera, and titled my thread as such, your defenses shot up and you're ready to attack.

In either case you can not look at the picture I posted objectively. AT ALL.

3. I think we overvalue the 100+ year old technology for what they can do.

4. We undervalue (and take for granted) the contemporary technology and what it can do. A technology so amazing that if it appeared on Star Trek in 1966, people would think that they jumped the shark and crosses the line into absurdity.

I don't think items 1 and 2 hold true for those of us blessed with the gift of sight ...
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Old 02-20-2012   #37
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NickTrop View Post
Here's my take...

1. If I told you this was taken with an expensive portrait glass attached to pricey gear I just bought - I'd be getting congrats posts on the gear.
Entirely possible. Those people would be as wrong as you are.

'Objectively,' it's a bad photograph. You've blinded yourself if you've convinced yourself otherwise. Your Photoshopping served little purpose but to make a bad image worse.

Quote:
2. Because I took this with a cheap camera, and titled my thread as such, your defenses shot up and you're ready to attack.
Can you point to evidence of this being the case?

Quote:
In either case you can not look at the picture I posted objectively. AT ALL.
Here I think you're just taking offense because what you perceived to be an excellent photo and post-processing has been deemed otherwise by the crowd.

Quote:
3. I think we overvalue the 100+ year old technology for what they can do.

4. We undervalue (and take for granted) the contemporary technology and what it can do. A technology so amazing that if it appeared on Star Trek in 1966, people would think that they jumped the shark and crosses the line into absurdity.
Both of these may or may not be true to some extent: both points are irrelevant to the original image posted and its quality/value.
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Old 02-20-2012   #39
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Check out these photos taken on a 4mmx5mm sensor in an android phone using a Kodachrome plug-in.
Pete
I think they were taken with 4"x5" Kodachrome film in 1942.
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Old 02-24-2012   #40
Pete B
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Check out these photos taken on a 4mmx5mm sensor in an android phone using a Kodachrome plug-in.
Pete
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Originally Posted by Crazy Fedya View Post
I think they were taken with 4"x5" Kodachrome film in 1942.
Just my little joke. I was pointing out that it is unlikely anyone would think these are taken with a cheap point and shoot digital i.e. for certain work, quality equipment has its advantages.
Pete
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