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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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Old 09-05-2011   #26
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Quote:
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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.
I agree within a format to an extent. It's true that if I took a generic image from my ZM Ikon and Nikon F100 and put them (negative/scan/print) side-by-side, I wouldn't be able to point to a superiority between one or the other. Or, for that matter, my $20 Yashica GSN.

But the exception is in the details. I can absolutely tell the difference between images from my Nikon 35mm f/2 and my Zeiss 35mm f/2. For the kind of photos that I like to take, one has characteristics that make it essentially unusable, while the other is near-permanently attached to its camera. For another focal length, my Nikon/Ikon preference is reversed. I'm not concerned with LP/mm, but there is absolutely a quality difference that guides my equipment choices over and above how much I like using each individual machine.

But yes, if image quality really matters, then I'll use my Fujifilm GX680III. There are very few IQ problems that ten pounds of SLR can't solve.
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Old 09-05-2011   #27
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I have no idea what you are saying about a straw man. My statement is perfectly reasonable in that IQ as defined in a previous post would exclude millions of photographs prior to the current definition.
It's a straw man because the only one in this thread who proposed that IQ defined this way might be used to exclude these pictures in the first place. You are saying that something should be incomprehensible where you yourself are the person who brought it up. Hence the straw man.
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Old 09-05-2011   #28
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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.
I love this! That is an outstanding analogy.

It implies that some people stress over capabilities in their equipment that they will probably never need. Also the other group just makes things work within the limitations of what they have.
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Old 09-05-2011   #29
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In discussions such as this you can only make generalisations, by my saying IQ was important I was not saying that photographs had to be sharp and detailed to be good, there are a great many photographs I love that are neither sharp or detailed, but if IQ wasn't important to you why would you by an expensive camera, what makes you buy a Leica rather than a Holga. It's one of those subjects that allows serious photographers to run to the high ground with the frankly patronising assertion it's all about the photographer not the gear, you don't say, you mean I can't buy talent! Who'd a thunk it.
With one or two exceptions, one being one of the current Magnum guys that uses P&S, who of the greats past and present have not used the best equipment available to them in their format of choice.
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Old 09-05-2011   #30
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When talking about the technical IQ a lens is capable of in a lab bench test then most are good enough in everyday handheld use. In everyday use I see little difference between my Nikon and Leica glass. At lest not enough for me to get excited about but ymmv. If you are talking about the IQ of the final image then there are far more things to consider and explains why I can produce equally crappy images with expensive or cheap glass. The two should not be confused.

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Old 09-05-2011   #31
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Tools that make it easy to record high-quality photographs offer the photographer a tremendous advantage because they increase the likelihood of recording a technically competent image. But making excellent photographs that say nothing to one's intended audience is as pointless as making photographs that can't impact the audience at all due to profound technical flaws.

People who view/enjoy your photographs don't care about IQ. They care about content. If the IQ does not interfere with what the photograph communicates to the viewer, the IQ is satisfactory. In other words, there is a minimum technical threshold required for a given photograph and once that threshold is exceeded, the technical aspects of photography can be ignored. Great light is much more important than resolution. A photograph's emotional impact is the only thing that trumps great light.

Think of a person who's word made a profound impact on your life. If you heard those words from a decent 1960's tape recorder, would their impact be diminished compared to a state-of-the art audio system?

Photographers who make photographers solely for themselves are different. Some would spend $10,000 on travel to make photographs with a $500 kit. Others prefer to spend $10,000 on equipment and never travel. Either way, they are responsible only to themselves because how their work impacts other is of no importance whatsoever.
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Old 09-05-2011   #32
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I would say that the term 'image quality' is oft used and rarely understood. Of course an image has to be fit for purpose, and a camera/lens system has to be usable, but for me one of the attractions of the Leica dRF is its reliability in terms of the predictability of the images produced. I use just a few lenses, some of which are fairly old, and to me the predictability of knowing what the image is going to look like from a particular lens is something which I really appreciate. Whether you can describe this in 'image quality' terms I don't know, but when I shoot on my M8 with my 1964 21mm f/3.4 S/A for B&W, I can usually foretell to a great extent, just how the image will appear (certainly not like an image from a modern 28mm).

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Old 09-05-2011   #33
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I like to use whatever I am using "proficiently", whether it's a cell phone or 8x10. The end results can be equally valuable to me, but when it's a choice between equally interesting pictures I'll side with craftsmanship over auto-sloth.
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Old 09-05-2011   #34
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I agree.

The better a photographer the less technical quality matters unless working in a field where technical quality is an absolute requirement (in the minority).

Some people use technical quality as a crutch for poor images... seeking a technical 'wow' of 'look how much detail there is in this huge image.' Its so much more easily achieved than good vision or concept. You can buy it.

A lot of my strongest images lack the best technical quality and the reason is that they were shot under very challenging circumstances, hence their interest in the first place!

With a lot of images that I love, technical quality does not matter too much, especially if one is happy with smaller images. I guess the other aspects to quality matter a lot more, like tonality, print quality and balance etc. Those I consider orgnanic to the image shown, perhaps more so that absolute resolution which might only impact display size.

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Old 09-05-2011   #35
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bobbyrab View Post
In discussions such as this you can only make generalisations, by my saying IQ was important I was not saying that photographs had to be sharp and detailed to be good, there are a great many photographs I love that are neither sharp or detailed, but if IQ wasn't important to you why would you by an expensive camera, what makes you buy a Leica rather than a Holga. It's one of those subjects that allows serious photographers to run to the high ground with the frankly patronising assertion it's all about the photographer not the gear, you don't say, you mean I can't buy talent! Who'd a thunk it.
With one or two exceptions, one being one of the current Magnum guys that uses P&S, who of the greats past and present have not used the best equipment available to them in their format of choice.
That's my point, really. Once you're above your personal interpretation of a quality threshold (and a Holga is way below it for the sort of pictures I want to take), you don't base your choice on image quality: you base it on how much you like using the camera.

The main reasons my Leica MP may give me 'better' pictures than my Pentax SV (free), both with 50mm f/1.4 and f/1.5 lenses, are that I'm happier using the Leica because it's smaller, lighter and easier to focus, and I've had more practice.

Yes, I really like the 50/1.5 C-Sonnar but I seriously doubt that many people would see much of a difference between that and the Super-Takumar: certainly, less difference than composition and tonality would make, and they're independent of the lens.

When it comes to 35/1.4 lenses, the Leica choices are so much smaller than any lens for a reflex, even though the 35/1.4 I had (on loan) for Contax reflexes may in some ways have been a 'better' lens than my pre-aspheric Summilux. And I prefer the Summilux to the 35/1.7 Ultron because it has a focusing tab instead of a focusing collar, though the extra half stop is nice too.

In other words, once IQ is adequate (and 'adequacy' is a personal judgement), an awful lot of other factors come into play. Factors, I suggest, that are seldom acknowledged.

Cheers,

R.
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Last edited by Roger Hicks : 09-05-2011 at 08:35. Reason: Added: Factors, I suggest, that are seldom acknowledged.
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Old 09-05-2011   #36
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For street photography, image quality is at the bottom of the list.

For product photography, 35mm Leica lenses give less image quality than I have on my LF product slides. I mean, it's not possible to say such brand has great IQ, but we can say such brand has great IQ for this kind of photography compared to that brand... The truth is, when you shoot handheld, most lenses from most brands won't stop your marvelous photograph from being marvelous, and your marvelous gear won't help you a bit in that...

So, image quality is a too ethereal concept... I've seen great images -for fashion- done without tripod on a 35mm camera, being preferred as final pick to other MF & tripod shots just because the photograph on 35mm was better, even though it was not only less sharp, but even a bit blurry... People don't say "hey, what a sharp image", but "beautiful photograph"...

The answer IMO is image quality doesn't matter 99% of the times. In the other 1% is Ansel Adams and other people who prefer to make technical aspects of photography and even printing the vital part of their photography. And even of the word photography!

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Old 09-05-2011   #37
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I love pulling up images in lightroom from my M8 on a fairly large monitor and going "wow"

I think that feeling is worth the time/money invested in investigating cameras and lenses.

As you state, there are dozens of other cameras that can produce images that would wow me IQwise. I don't think any of those could beg to be used as much as the M8 does, though
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Old 09-05-2011   #38
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There's a huge difference between seeing our own images on a PC and saying wow I love my gear, and making great photographs. This thread is about the latter concept, and about how important very high IQ is for that. It isn't at all. We can check which great photographs in photography history have more IQ than that of any M8 or M9...

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Old 09-05-2011   #39
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Cameras are like guns, most of them shoot better than I.

However, some do not. If the camera/lens at hand produces a handsome decent size print, it may well be good enough.

As having been caught with the wrong or no equipment, by all means carry what you will.

As to P&S, there are some that will catch an image I would not otherwise catch as I just cannot, or will not, carry my proper camera kit everywhere at all times. At one time, that meant MF, several bodies loaded with color and B&W.

Question has been, how many do I have to buy to find one that produces images, "good enough".

Some seem to have some awful sensors/lenses.


I find the Canon G9 or 10 good enough often, with the result of some good prints.

I also try to have a newer Sony with a decent hunk of glass, as total pocket camera, I really like a viewfinder though, but at this point it is what it is.

In a few years, the P&S's will all be in cell phones, are there any with Leitz or Zeiss glass? Must be by now. ;-)

Regards, John
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Old 09-05-2011   #40
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Quote:
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Cameras are like guns, most of them shoot better than I.
Dear John,

An intriguing analogy, as I have a 1930s Colt National Match. I can shoot a lot straighter with that than I can with a 'cooking' Colt .45, but how much is that (a) expectation/'comfort'/sentimental value (we inherited it from my late father-in-law) and (b) the fact that it's factory blueprinted?

Perhaps still more relevantly, how close is the analogy between 'shooting straight' (which is pretty much all there is with a gun) and technical/ aesthetic qualities in photography?

Cheers,

R.
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Old 09-05-2011   #41
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To loosely quote one Roger Hicks (as I remember it from a magazine article): while a truly great image would shine through even with mediocre technical quality, good quality would never hurt
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Old 09-05-2011   #42
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Quote:
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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.
Roger

I realized that I get 'better' photos (not necessariy in terms of just IQ) with cameras I enjoy using.

I have a couple of cameras - Nikon SLRs, Hasselblad 6x6 and Pentax 67II - and pick one depending on my mood for that day. On some days, I can pick up the same camera and shoot roll after roll. On some days, I get sick of it and won't even want to see or touch it (to be honest, to the extent of wanting to sell it for something else).

No matter which one ended up in my hands I had always gotten the shots I like. Who cares what others think since I do not shoot for them but for myself. Yet my family enjoyed my photos tremendously even for shots I thought were crap.
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Old 09-05-2011   #43
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Dear John,

An intriguing analogy, as I have a 1930s Colt National Match. I can shoot a lot straighter with that than I can with a 'cooking' Colt .45, but how much is that (a) expectation/'comfort'/sentimental value (we inherited it from my late father-in-law) and (b) the fact that it's factory blueprinted?

Perhaps still more relevantly, how close is the analogy between 'shooting straight' (which is pretty much all there is with a gun) and technical/ aesthetic qualities in photography?

Cheers,

R.
Roger,
I believe it is having an expectation that you, when you do your part, will not be disappointed in the results by the performance of your equipment. It is also in how well you know your tools.

I would like to concentrate with the composition, expression of the subject, and the light with the tools appropriately following my lead.

I have pictures in my mind that I failed to capture due to the wrong equipment, and often, just timing-- you cannot stop the car, the subject is gone, expression, and perhaps the worse is some technical difficulty.

As to Colt's Factory standards, I can tell you have not toured them, as my late gunsmith had, there were some surprises. My 1873 shot much better when they changed the barrel from one marked 44 to one was was 44. Glad they got it that way around, would not care to try to force a 45 down a 44 barrel.

Regards, John
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Old 09-05-2011   #44
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Image quality is not the same as technical quality or quality of technique.
Even a Leica photo can sometimes be improved with a tripod and a bit of patience.
I you argue that it's not what the machine was made for, That's a very limited viewpoint.
Many use a Graphic for both street and tripod use. So. Image or technical quality?
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Old 09-05-2011   #45
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I agree with you, and it's there, precisely, where the problem is: image quality is not what most people call image quality: that should be (and is by some people) called technical quality.

Image quality, as its name includes image, talks about the image and its qualities as image, and that includes several fields... Those things that make an image valuable: ALL of them decided by the photographer, not by the lens... Real IQ indeed includes the quality (skills) of the technical use of materials and gear by the photographer, and the way the photographer composes and handles a given situation... And some concepts or personal comments we can perceive while seeing that image... And beauty, art... That's what IQ means... It's "technical quality of an image" what talks just about how much of what the lens could have done, was finally done -again by the photographer- while hitting the shutter... By the way, that optimal, resolution tests (& others) quality, present in a great lens, isn't on real photographs most of the times, even if we talk about great photographers...

If we can't put that optimal, top technical quality in our images while handholding, and we say Leica lenses are far better than other brands, but we don't place a tripod and close our lenses 4 stops, why do some people prefer to own Leica lenses no matter if their photographs are crap? Because marketing is there, telling people about IQ: the great quality you'll see in your images... A delicate lie... They don't say the great technical design of the expensive lens you pay but can't use as well as others use cheaper lenses... It's what a previous member wrote: "I love to see on my screen the great technical capabilities of the gear I own"... Sometimes I wonder if people buying expensive gear only, really believe that gear can help for better photographs, or if what's happened is that they do know it can't help a single bit, but they're sure they can't get great photographs and then accept to play the great lenses game... Criticizing them for being great lenses collectors would be as absurd as if they decided to criticize great photographs done with cheaper equipment or decided to say those photographs would have been better with a more expensive lens...

And if we talk about a Leica symbol as HCB (or most others), very few of his photographs shot with Leica have superb technical quality: they are clearly below what his lenses could have done, and below ANY present day Voigtländer lens, and most of his images have wonderful IQ no matter if they're way below his lenses' technical capabilities... Yet people dream of "a better lens in my hands"... I guess photography is not what most gear buyers like or want or care about... Why do people confuse sharp with good that much?

As Roger said, small size of RFs are what counts out there... And low sound. Honestly if I could buy a line of smaller, half frame Bessas just as wonderful as the full frame ones I use, I'd go that way without hesitation... A sharper image is not better, as a bigger painting isn't either... The value of creation is in other place. ALL OF ITS VALUE.

Cheers,

Juan
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Old 09-05-2011   #46
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I think the term 'image quality' is a bit misleading. I prefer to speak/think of the 'technical quality' of an image.

[EDIT: please see Juan's lines above, posted 6 minutes before mine -- he also distinguishes between image quality and technical quality.]

That aside, I agree with apparently most of you that some photographs are very good despite being of mediocre or even poor technical quality. I still want my own images to be as sharp as possible (under the circumstances), have a contrast as nice as possible, etc... I'm pleased with my own stuff only in those rather rare occurrences when I manage to make a photograph strong in content and well done technically.

My good but technically poor images I consider failures. I didn't make it right. Even if it's good anyway.
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Old 09-05-2011   #47
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I think the term 'image quality' is a bit misleading. I prefer to speak/think of the 'technical quality' of an image.

That aside, I agree with apparently most of you that some photographs are very good despite being of mediocre or even poor technical quality. I still want my own images to be as sharp as possible (under the circumstances), have a contrast as nice as possible, etc... I'm pleased with my own stuff only in those rather rare occurences when I manage to make a photograph strong in content and well done technically.

My good but technically poor images I consider failures. I didn't make it right. Even if it's good anyway.
Most great photographers don't.

Maybe some of them you've done and just talked about, are good, and nothing else. No failure, and no poorness.

Cheers,

Juan
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Old 09-05-2011   #48
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Lack of technical quality is for the most part, unintentional, albeit there are many ways to fail in the aesthetics. There is a line where lack of technical quality can interfere with an image, perhaps not the same line in every case.

Handsome images are rarely unintentional or accidental.

The HCB image of the man jumping is often cited, but there are elements in focus and unblurred in the frame, making the blurring of the man seem intentional.

I have to say, yet again I am sure, that a display of three floors of his work in Paris years ago was most impressive and the technical quality was much more than good enough. All were framed alike, all were 11x14. I have rarely seen an exhibit in which I admired equally almost all of the images.


Regards, John
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Old 09-05-2011   #49
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
Dear John,

An intriguing analogy, as I have a 1930s Colt National Match. I can shoot a lot straighter with that than I can with a 'cooking' Colt .45, but how much is that (a) expectation/'comfort'/sentimental value (we inherited it from my late father-in-law) and (b) the fact that it's factory blueprinted?

Perhaps still more relevantly, how close is the analogy between 'shooting straight' (which is pretty much all there is with a gun) and technical/ aesthetic qualities in photography?

Cheers,

R.
A Colt National Match is a factory tuned target pistol and should not be compared to standard production line models for the potential to shoot accurately. Similar to comparing a Sweenifed Jupiter lens to a bog standard version.

Bob
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Old 09-05-2011   #50
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The more I think about this issue of image "quality" the less well defined it seems to become for me. I suspect that quality isn't easily defined through the typical Boolean judgements of sharp/blurry, grainy/smooth, tonally smooth/high contrast, one/zero, yes/no, good/bad, acceptable/unacceptable.

Although we can discuss images in terms of their technical merit (like image sharpness, granularity, tonal quality, etc.), I doubt the validity of any conclusion that presumes sharp, grain-free, tonally smooth images are intrinsically "better quality" images than otherwise.

My experience has shown that, just as often as not, those images most likely to appeal to my emotions (that being a strong personal decider in my judgement of an image's overall effectiveness) are often replete with artifacts such as granularity, camera/subject movement or severe tonal range, especially street/documentary photography where the subject of people, or the built environment, is central to the theme.

I also think that there are other issues of quality besides the adequacy of one's technical proficiency with, and choice of, gear. What about the quality of one's photographic vision, or ability to see past the minutia of the viewfinder's perspective and into the heart of what the image is trying to convey to the viewer? I see the issue of the quality of the photographer's intent to be at least as important as the quality of his lens' MTF charts or film's H&D curves.

~Joe
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