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Roger Hicks -- Author of The Rangefinder Book

Roger Hicks is a well known photographic writer, author of The Rangefinder Book, over three dozen other photographic books, and a frequent contributor to Shutterbug and Amateur Photographer. Unusually in today's photographic world, most of his camera reviews are film cameras, especially rangefinders. See www.rogerandfrances.com for further background (Frances is his wife Frances Schultz, acknowledged darkroom addict and fellow Shutterbug contributor) .


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How important is image quality?
Old 09-05-2011   #1
Roger Hicks
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How important is image quality?

A lot of the time, I suggest, the answer is "Not very". Only very, very rarely do I need the kind of quality I can get from (say) my 75 Summicron on my M9.

To me, it's a lot more important that my Leicas are (relatively) small and light and (for me) extremely easy and pleasant to use. Conversely, I get no pleasure at all from trying to use a camera the size of a cigarette packet with a screen on the back.

It comes back yet again to the 'quality threshold'. Once a camera delivers results that are 'good enough', then they're, well, good enough. My old Pentax SV with its 50/1.4 is 'good enough'. After that, for me, it's usually down to how happy I am using the camera: to how easily I can use it to get the pictures I want. If I want the ultimate in quality, after all, I can always switch to a bigger format. All the stuff about 'Leica glass' is usually irrelevant.

Who else feels the same way?

Cheers,

R.
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Old 09-05-2011   #2
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Well, in general I agree. There have been a few instances where afterwards I was happy that I could print something very large or make a good-quality crop from a small section, though.
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Old 09-05-2011   #3
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As you say, once it is "good enough"... but good enough for one purpose may not be good enough for another; for example the difference between candid street shooting, portraiture and stitching shots for a huge panoramic landscape. But there is quite a (huge) gulf between a low-ISO shot from an M9 with the 75 Summicron and, say... a great many other cameras!

Lighting, composition, timing, all the technical parameters must be in place for a harmonious image, but what if you stumble across a scene that deserves your best camera, but you only have your P&S backup on hand, and there is no question of coming back later with your heavy-hitting gear? Then image quality may suddenly be the one thing you no longer have "up your sleeve", as you might with the M9/75mm. And so you have to take your best shot (so to speak) and hope it's going to capture what you see. So people should decide what their own "quality threshold" (I like that!) is for the sort of photography they intend to do at that time and place, and select the gear accordingly.

The photographer is always more important than the camera/lens but inadequate or poorly selected gear can make the difference between getting the shot, getting a really good shot, or leaving the camera in the bag!

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Old 09-05-2011   #4
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There have been a few instances where afterwards I was happy that I could print something very large or make a good-quality crop from a small section, though.

Sure. But, as you say, "a few instances". Which is the mirror image of my "most of the time."

inadequate or poorly selected gear can make the difference between getting the shot, getting a really good shot,

Absolutely, which is why it makes sense to go for the best image quality you can get, even though it very rarely matters. But most of the time, unless we have a very specific shot in mind, we have to guess at what we're going to shoot and where it will end up. This is why I don't see the point of a P&S except as a backup in the event of loss or failure of the 'good' camera. Yesterday II went to a vide-grenier (a sort of village-wide swap meet). Why wouldn't I take the M9 (or an MP if I was planning on shooting film)?

Define "image quality" first, then the answer will follow

Only 'sort of'. Most people have no difficulty in defining image quality for most purposes -- sharpness, contrast, distortion, etc -- and there are times when you want other qualities (or I wouldn't own a Thambar, or have a weakness or 85/2 Jupiters), but otherwise, see my response above: "most of the time . . . we have to guess at what we're going to shoot and where it will end up."

Cheers,

R.
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Old 09-05-2011   #5
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Yes mostly I feel the same but it really depends on the purpose. I am amateur to semi-professional. What kind of photography are we talking about?
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Old 09-05-2011   #6
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Couldn't agree more.

As an analogy, Jackson Pollock used cheap Latex house paint.
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Old 09-05-2011   #7
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For me IQ is important, even if I don' t really need it.
I can just not enjoy a photo with mediocre IQ.
I use Leica;s because they give me this IQ not because they're small. The LTM's are okay but the M's, and especially the M7 are too big for my liking.
I just bought an Olympus XA and XA4. i hope their IQ is very good. If so I can ditch my Leica's. Well , I probably won't but you get the dea.

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Old 09-05-2011   #8
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I very often wonder about this issue, the threshold being the jump to medium format.
Even if I enjoy the negatives, I find 35mm to be so easier to use in comparison, that I really think I could do with a good 35mm camera loaded with Delta 100.
The thing making me think so is these two landscapes from HCB that I simply love and that were probably taken with lesser means than today's film and lenses.
As Keith would say, long live 35mm!
Maybe I'll change my mind when as I plan I come back to wet printing again..

Now I have the hardest time to decide myself to sell that nice MF kit it took so long to put together
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Old 09-05-2011   #9
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My only 35mm RF with interchangeable lenses is a Kiev. Quite often it is indeed good enough. But the camera isn't as easy for me to use as my Fujica. And the Fujinon lenses are absolutely "good enough." Assuming we are only discussing lenses and the camera they are attached too, there are indeed a lot of combinations that most would consider good enough. I think you are correct it must be a combination of both the lens and camera where usage is concerned, but not always camera dependent on results.

I think you have mentioned this before, and I don't think anyone could disagree unless their photography is narrowly defined. Of course, the definition of good enough is going to be somewhat subjective and personal.
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Old 09-05-2011   #10
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Surely it's hugely important, otherwise why would you spend so much of your hard earned on cameras and lenses such as your M9 and 75, it's not a point that can be argued by the owners of such expensive cameras and lenses, anymore than cars being a seat in a box that takes you form A to B by Ferrari owners. I fully accept that great photographs can be taken with crap gear, and a great meal can be had with good bread, butter and olives, but ideally you want your chef to have access to a few more ingredients. Although I'm not a big fan of landscape photography, it is usually is very reliant on the IQ to be worthwhile, street photography it's not such a big issue, still life it probably is. Perhaps a better question would be to ask for nominations of well known photographs that would be improved by lowering the quality.
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Old 09-05-2011   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bobbyrab View Post
Perhaps a better question would be to ask for nominations of well known photographs that would be improved by lowering the quality.
All reportage/documentary/street pictures that have NOT been taken because the photog was using a 4x5 camera to get the ultimate sharpness.

[edit] well obviously these can't be famous, right?
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Old 09-05-2011   #12
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With regards to sharpness, resolution and so on, yes, absolutely. The M9 has way more of that than I need 99% of the time.

But, when it comes to dynamic range, sensitivity, flare resistance and so on it's a different matter. They can ruin otherwise good photos, even when printed at small sizes.

Of course they can also be used to artistic effect, and many times those issues aren't visible in real photos, but when they are it can make a big difference.
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Old 09-05-2011   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
... to how easily I can use it to get the pictures I want. If I want the ultimate in quality, after all, I can always switch to a bigger format. All the stuff about 'Leica glass' is usually irrelevant.
I agree.
In my eyes the Leica M is a reportage-camera.
And for reportage I would set content over IQ.

If IQ is the need, I would choose MF for people or LF for land- or cityscapes.

And... to get the IQ of high end glass to the picture, there is always also needed high end processing or (for digital) high end PP. There is lack often...
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Old 09-05-2011   #14
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As for IQ, for my purposes M4/3 is good enough for anything I shoot for the newspaper. So, that's my "good enough" standard. I carry a 1DMkIV, though, for reasons that have nothing to do with IQ (like durability, killer fast AF, 10 FPS, 12,000 ISO, 300mm 2.8 lenses...blah, blah, blah).

So, for me professionally, ultimate image quality is less a factor than versatility. Personally, I love extremely sharp, noiseless (grainless) photos. You take your choice and you pay your price.
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Old 09-05-2011   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
A lot of the time, I suggest, the answer is "Not very". ............................................. Who else feels the same way?
Cheers,
R.
Roger: I feel as you. BUT, I also recognize that IQ or the "look" of a photo rather than the content is primary to many here. There are RFF'ers who have multiple lenses of identical focal lengths simply because they look different.

While you and I say "not very", I still have 35mm and 6x7 cameras. You have 35mm, MF, 5x4, and 8x10 (do you say 10x8 over there?)

To each his own.
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Old 09-05-2011   #16
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Couldn't give a rats ass about IQ Roger. I started photography about... a year and a half ago? Took me about a year I'd say to complete get over "sharpness" in photos, that is past me. One look at HCB, W Eugene Smith and it hit me that sharpness in pictures is last of my concerns.

I think most, if not all people who obsess over sharpness is mentally and psychologically making up for lack of content and emotional punch, i.e "the thing that matters". Probably because they can physically buy and acquire sharpness, but not "the decisive moment", and that gives them a mental relief.

Borin but sharp pictures... yea thats good. Like trying to perfume a turd :-)

Unless you're thing is still life and landscape of course, then sharpness is very important, but then you'd use a 8x10 wouldn't you?

Enchanté.
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Old 09-05-2011   #17
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We had good enough image quality long ago. The weak link in the chain is me, the photographer.

I just got back a roll of Ektar 100 that I took in Colorado with my 1929 Leica 1a. Several of the shots will get enlarged to 8 x 12 and hung on my wall. I'm amazed at what that old camera will do. I mostly use Leica M's but they are way better than my ability. They are also much easier to use than the old 1a. Joe
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Old 09-05-2011   #18
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As I get older I feel the need to have a camera that I can carry comfortably.
As I get older I feel the need for a camera that I am as one with.
As I get older I am happy to have 'seen' the photogaph and taken it!
But then I think of myself as a picture taker not as a photographer, I would rather make a picture than take a photograph.

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Old 09-05-2011   #19
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Pretty much any camera made after 1970 (and many made before) is capable of delivering excellent image quality. The limits to quality are usually not a result of the equipment, but of the user.

If I were to lean on my equipment more, I would rely on something like a D700 and an AFS lens, and not even begin to consider a manual focus rangefinder camera, even the twice-as-expensive M9.

But, even a simple and inexpensive camera like a Yashica Electro is capable of capturing excellent images. Too many people obsess over the details, while seemingly missing the main point. HCBs pictures were not so much about image quality, but image substance.
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Old 09-05-2011   #20
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At one time I would have argued "good enough" was just that, good enough ... but then I started to put a book together and found that photos that had been OK previously were now not quite good enough, so I suspect it's a bit of a moveable feast
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Old 09-05-2011   #21
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I think it's very simple..

A picture doesn't have to be sharp, but it needs to be properly focused..
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Old 09-05-2011   #22
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For my own photographs I agree with you completely Roger. Rarely has image quality been a limiting factor for me. I have equally (un)satisfying photographs taken with a cosina 50mm, olympus zoom, various canon fd lenses, and my current lenses (sonnar ZM and 35mm biogon c). Using "objective" criteria, the image quality maybe vastly different, but I couldn't care less. I really enjoy using my current camera and lenses, and this really my photographs. This is something I believe no quality enhancement could achieve.

As for photographs taken by others, image quality is a non-issue for me. Either I am drawn to the photograph or I am indifferent.
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Old 09-05-2011   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dave lackey View Post
With millions of fine photographs in the past, including many Pulitzer prize winners, it is incomprehensible that only sharpness, contrast, etc. define the quality of an image, IMO.
Does that even make sense? You're the first to suggest, even in the negative, that only these might be defining qualities. This thread seems not to be about whether they're the only defining qualities, rather about how important they are at all. You're making up a straw man.
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Old 09-05-2011   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hunghang View Post
Define "image quality" first, then the answer will follow.
Image quality is impossible to define in an all-encompassing way. It's too subjective for that.

If we absolutely can't discuss a subjective thing without having an objective definition of it, then it means we can't apparently have a discussion. Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must pass over in silence.
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Old 09-05-2011   #25
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Back in the old days, I lived in a very rural area of Canada. People would shoot the occasional moose for dinner.

Some hunters would preface every hunt by rhapsodizing over the accuracy and efficiency of their guns and ammunition then spend days sighting the things in. Occasionally they would get a moose.

Some hunters would simply take a gun, go to where they knew they would find a moose and shoot it.
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