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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 09-07-2011   #121
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One can always post-process to degrade quality.
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Old 09-08-2011   #122
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Image quality matters when it adds to the photograph.
It is not worth discussing otherwise.
I understand your point, Will, but what would a bit more sharpness add to a great Frank or Atget photograph? Or to any image by Newton or HCB or Winogrand?

To me it wouldn't add anything...

I have the feeling "IQ" is just two things: kind of a consolation when an image is not good, or, a sales interest related to low culture public...

Cheers,

Juan
You and I are in agreement, Juan.

It's pointless to talk about sharpness when the dominating quality of the photograph is really something else. For example in a lot of famous photos by Dorothy Lange, Ruth Gruber, Eugene Smith, the dominating quality of the photographs are mood and expression.

Another example, as you said, on a lot of Winograd or HCB's photos, nitpicking about focus point is kinda pointless.

But when you talking about still-life/wildlife/bird/macro/sport action/commercial photography, sharpness, resolution and focus are mightily important.

Why? because they "add" to the impact of the photographs.
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Old 09-11-2011   #123
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If the only thing you have to speak about when looking at an image is the technical quality, either it is really terrible, or there is not much else to talk about?

Regards, John
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Old 09-13-2011   #124
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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.
Have you seen the Kobal collection at the National Portrait Gallery.
I was impressed. As regards to quality the early stuff is far from sharp, Lillian Gish and Clara Bow look decidedly out of focus and or not sharp. It mattered not one jot to me, great pictures sharp or soft.
What I did not like was the big enlargements claiming they were new silver bromide prints from the original negatives. I think they looked like copies, Johnny Weissmuller looked like a inkjet, it had fine banding over the entire image and looked flat. Charlie Chaplin was very contrasty and shadow on the stipple paper at the top gave the game away.
So quality does matter for some things.
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Old 09-13-2011   #125
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In my experience there are three types of people with cameras. Gearheads, photographers and holiday/family snappers. As with most things there is always the middle gray area as well. All the really creative people I have meet, the ones that produce outstanding images that have impact and feeling, are not that interested in "gear". The main thing they want from their equipment is that it doesn't crap out under whatever conditions they are working in.

Image quality (or lack thereof) only comes up when it is an integral part of the creative process for that project.

So in answer to the OP I would say in my opinion "good enough" pretty much covers it for me.
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Old 09-13-2011   #126
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If the only thing you have to speak about when looking at an image is the technical quality, either it is really terrible, or there is not much else to talk about?

Regards, John
Very well said!

That's why even if fields like fashion (say a meters big advertisement by Chanel) are supposed -as other commercial photography- to show high sharpness, sometimes we see in top brands campaigns 35mm shots, and even now and then some of those are a bit blurry or could have been focused with more precision...

The reason is, those picked photographs have higher IQ than others that came out sharper. Sharpness has no relation with IQ, and obviously doesn't help for sales...

Unless you're hoping your photographs will improve with a current line Leica lens.

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Juan
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Old 09-13-2011   #127
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Have you seen the Kobal collection at the National Portrait Gallery.
I was impressed. As regards to quality the early stuff is far from sharp, Lillian Gish and Clara Bow look decidedly out of focus and or not sharp. It mattered not one jot to me, great pictures sharp or soft.
What I did not like was the big enlargements claiming they were new silver bromide prints from the original negatives. I think they looked like copies, Johnny Weissmuller looked like a inkjet, it had fine banding over the entire image and looked flat. Charlie Chaplin was very contrasty and shadow on the stipple paper at the top gave the game away.
So quality does matter for some things.
No, I went one better. I had access to the whole Kobal collection for the book I did with Chris Nisperos on Hollywood portraiture -- and yes, I know that technical quality was, one might say, variable, and that often, they didn't throw out their 'seconds'. I mean, a series of Jean Harlow with a 'lazy' eye giving her a wall-eyed effect? I also saw a hell of a lot of retouching.

Those pictures were however normally contact printed, and sloppy printing is really a separate question. We're back to the 'quality threshold', below which quality is not acceptable.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 09-13-2011   #128
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No, I went one better. I had access to the whole Kobal collection for the book I did with Chris Nisperos on Hollywood portraiture -- and yes, I know that technical quality was, one might say, variable, and that often, they didn't throw out their 'seconds'. I mean, a series of Jean Harlow with a 'lazy' eye giving her a wall-eyed effect? I also saw a hell of a lot of retouching.

Those pictures were however normally contact printed, and sloppy printing is really a separate question. We're back to the 'quality threshold', below which quality is not acceptable.

Cheers,

R.
I have the book, it's well thumbed.
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Old 09-13-2011   #129
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I think Image Quality is one of those things that leads people on a wild goose chase (figuratively speaking of course).

Excepting things like microphotography, and other technical work - in the end all that matters is whether or not the image is interesting.

It's better then to think in terms of qualities rather than "quality".
Many perfectly sharp images are also perfectly boring. On the other hand there are also lots of grainy, blurry, whatever else could be "wrong" with it photos out there that are incredibly interesting.

Sometimes the presence of certain qualities makes up for the lack of others.
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Old 09-13-2011   #130
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Sharpness is just one quality to jude an image by. There are many other qualities that also come into play.
First the image has to be interesting. A perfectly sharp well exposed image of a boring brick wall is not that interesting for most people, well maybe for some people as a test image it may have some interest.
A dreadfully out of focus image of an interesting compelling subject may not by much use either, neither would a sharp but severely overexposed image of an interesting subject be of much use.

There usually has to be a good balance of qualities for an image to be of much use.
The sharpness has to be good enough, the exposure has to be good enough, the contrast has to be good enough and so does the color balance for a color image. The image also needs to be interesting enough that someone may actually want to look at it.
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Old 12-13-2011   #131
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Rodger I tend to agree with you but I have a question. If the "enjoyment" factor of the sv and the M with the 75 were reversed for you, which would you be more likely to pick up?
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Old 12-13-2011   #132
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Proof that one can love collecting equipment and eloquently admit to it without confusing it with a photographic pursuit and needing to justify it in those terms. They are independent and can be enjoyed on their own terms. And as for that darker side, now you are talking my language...

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I remain, however, totally and irrationally obsessed with equipment and collecting it - not so much as a search for the best image quality - but for no doubt the darker psychological reasons that are at he root of all obsessions and urges to collect stuff, and which disproportionately appear to blight the male part of the species (along with many far worse vices).
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Old 12-13-2011   #133
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Couldn't agree more.

As an analogy, Jackson Pollock used cheap Latex house paint.
I think it was oil based house paint which makes conservation even tougher. But he used it not because it was "good enough" but because it did what he needed it to do. You can't get artists' oils or acrylics to pour like that. Of course it helped that it was cheap.
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Old 12-14-2011   #134
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Rodger I tend to agree with you but I have a question. If the "enjoyment" factor of the sv and the M with the 75 were reversed for you, which would you be more likely to pick up?
Probably the SV, except for the fact that now, for colour, I use mostly digital. Alas there is no digital equivalent to the SV.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 12-14-2011   #135
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At the moment, I've taken a liking to printing quite big, about 50cm x 50cm from my Hasselblad. I don't feel that 35mm would quite provide the quality I'm after for prints that big and bigger. In that regard, I do value image quality, the point that I've given a little though to only shooting medium format, and not bothering with 35mm so much.
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Old 12-14-2011   #136
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But once again, it depends on the look you are after. If you want visible, sharp grain with a gritty feel to the image, you'd be better off cropping to a square 35mm for a 50x50cm print because you will likely have too little grain with MF. I have a number of images that would lose 'quality' if they had finer grain/better resolution/a more 'real' look.


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At the moment, I've taken a liking to printing quite big, about 50cm x 50cm from my Hasselblad. I don't feel that 35mm would quite provide the quality I'm after for prints that big and bigger. In that regard, I do value image quality, the point that I've given a little though to only shooting medium format, and not bothering with 35mm so much.
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Old 12-14-2011   #137
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How important is ink permanence to writing? How important is paper quality to a cold sufferer?

How important is anything to anyone depends on their parameters. Invisible ink is great for amateur spies, aloe vera paper tissue is not a concern to garage mechanics...rarity is extremely important to collectors...reliability is relevant to commercial photographers.

Quality benefits those who seek it, and those who understand what they're seeking.
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Old 12-14-2011   #138
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Phaedrus's head is exploding.

(Actually, Robert Pirsig's positing of Quality as some sort of Platonic abstraction has always bothered me tremendously, especially when paired with Buddhism.)
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Nikon 1 small sensor - and pro users ?
Old 03-04-2012   #139
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Nikon 1 small sensor - and pro users ?

In respect of this thread , I am interested in the prospective market for small sensor interchangeable lens cameras .

Obviously , those compact users looking for greater flexibility , without the need for bigger lenses as evinced by the current mirrorless 4/3rds / apsc offerings which are effectively downsized DSLRs , rather than an enhanced compact .

However , I wonder if picture quality is sufficient for some pro users for , say newspaper etc , where a compact with quality lens - echoes of Leica II in the 30s , would be of more use than a bulky multi-pixel DSLR ?
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Old 03-04-2012   #140
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I think the Pentax Q pretty muc answers that. Despite some OK reviews it doesn't seem to be selling that well in Europe. I've not tried one myself, though I have tried a Nikon 1, which is only just bigger than a compact sensor, and the image quality from that was OK.

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Old 03-04-2012   #141
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In respect of this thread , I am interested in the prospective market for small sensor interchangeable lens cameras .

Obviously , those compact users looking for greater flexibility , without the need for bigger lenses as evinced by the current mirrorless 4/3rds / apsc offerings which are effectively downsized DSLRs , rather than an enhanced compact .

However , I wonder if picture quality is sufficient for some pro users for , say newspaper etc , where a compact with quality lens - echoes of Leica II in the 30s , would be of more use than a bulky multi-pixel DSLR ?
Because newsprint reproduction is probably the lowest fidelity printing method known, I'm sure small sensor IQ is sufficient. Many news organizations only rely on amateur photos these days anyway.
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Old 03-04-2012   #142
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I've had several Leica kits over the years, but at the Last Great Purge, about four years ago, I decided to choose based on the company with the best long-term vision, and chose Nikon. I looked at the price of Leica gear, and realized I could buy ten good old Nikon lenses for the cost of one new Leica one, and that was the end of Leica for me. I have better things to do with my money. Every brand has good stuff these days, so image quality wasn't even a consideration, as much as history and future.

It SHOULD be all about the picture, right? Unless camera-fondling is your main thing.
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Old 03-04-2012   #143
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Better gear and image quality actually revived my 25 year old interest in photography. When scanning film negatives from older trips, I was often disappointed about that particular girl not being in focus, or the blur in another shot. My first digital camera was an Olympus point and shoot with a shutter lag of at least a second, and I never got the picture I intended and framed, like kids playing and dancing. Most travel shots had to be converted to black and white to be even acceptable to present to anyone with all the chromatic noice in them when shot indoors somewhere. I just never cared for dslr's, and it's only been since compact high IQ cameras became available (Leica X1) that I became truly interested again in shooting every day and everywhere. Subjects that I wanted to be sharp, were sharp now. Better IQ, as said, can be stimulating and now with my M8 with its immediate response I can't wait to make another trip or take it into the streets. IQ in itself doesn't matter without narrative or without the poetry of photography's grammar, but it certainly does help to make what's good a little better.
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Old 03-08-2012   #144
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Image "quality" i.e. sharpness, resolution etc is the musplaced concern of those who havent yet mastered the medium as a means of communicating a disrinct vision.

Go look at Atget, Robert Capa, Kertez, HCB, Robert Frank,Winogrand, Davidson, Arbus, etc. They couldnt care less about "Image Quality."
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Old 03-08-2012   #145
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Go look at Atget, Robert Capa, Kertez, HCB, Robert Frank,Winogrand, Davidson, Arbus, etc. They couldnt care less about "Image Quality."
Huh? This is such BS.
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Old 03-08-2012   #146
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Huh? This is such BS.
Please explain
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Old 03-08-2012   #147
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Please explain
Well, each one of the photographers mentioned have photos that could be used as an example of great IQ. Sure, perhaps they were not fixated on this element, but we do not know that for sure. In the book Diane Arbus: A Chronology, she most definitely talks of cameras and what it'll mean to the quality of her images (specifically moving from a Rolleiflex to a Pentax 6x7 just prior to her death). Each one of these photographers chose to use high quality equipment of the time. They could have chosen to use a cheaper consumer camera, but they did not. To me that is indicative of caring about IQ.

I concede that each one of them have used blurry or unsharp photos, but most photographers have as well. If the feeling is there, why not?

Don't forget that HCB and Robert Capa (and many others) were bottlenecked by film speeds of the time (early on). This lead to some "poorer" image quality (but not worse photos) due to handholding at longer shutter speeds. More of a product of the time in the infancy of high quality handheld cameras. I would argue that most photographers care about sharpness to a degree and there is nothing wrong with that. It's just not healthy to obsess over.
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Old 03-08-2012   #148
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Well, each one of the photographers mentioned have photos that could be used as an example of great IQ. Sure, perhaps they were not fixated on this element, but we do not know that for sure. In the book Diane Arbus: A Chronology, she most definitely talks of cameras and what it'll mean to the quality of her images (specifically moving from a Rolleiflex to a Pentax 6x7 just prior to her death). Each one of these photographers chose to use high quality equipment of the time. They could have chosen to use a cheaper consumer camera, but they did not. To me that is indicative of caring about IQ.

I concede that each one of them have used blurry or unsharp photos, but most photographers have as well. If the feeling is there, why not?

Don't forget that HCB and Robert Capa (and many others) were bottlenecked by film speeds of the time (early on). This lead to some "poorer" image quality (but not worse photos) due to handholding at longer shutter speeds. More of a product of the time in the infancy of high quality handheld cameras. I would argue that most photographers care about sharpness to a degree and there is nothing wrong with that. It's just not healthy to obsess over.

I certainly agree with you to the extent that all photographers would 'prefer' good image quality over poor image quality. My point is that it really wasnt an issue for them the way it seems to be a fetish in the digital age now that we have the means for such precise rendering. In the film age, and certainly for those documentarians who shot B&W 35mm or even 120, it simply wasnt a concern. the image was, and much of the iconic photography of the 20th century would fail the pixel peeping standards of most digital fanatics today.

Maybe Ansel Adams and his ilk wouldn't, but they are uninteresting in the larger history of the medium, as they really didnt have much to say except to showcase their tevhnical virtousity, which now can me matched by anyone with a d700 and some rudimentary photoshopping skills.
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Old 03-08-2012   #149
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I certainly agree with you to the extent that all photographers would 'prefer' good image quality over poor image quality. My point is that it really wasnt an issue for them the way it seems to be a fetish in the digital age now that we have the means for such precise rendering.
I think we may be saying the same thing from two perspectives. I agree that pixel peeping is ridiculous and that poor IQ can still result in a great photo. I guess I just took offense to the thinking that none of the photographers cared about image quality. Perhaps it would be better stated as they didn't believe in grain (pixel) peeping and technical crap just for the sake of technical crap?

Also, a good point to think about is that print sizes then and now are different. People print huge nowadays and that could be why more people are concerned with IQ and pixel peeping.
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Old 03-08-2012   #150
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Also, a good point to think about is that print sizes then and now are different. People print huge nowadays and that could be why more people are concerned with IQ and pixel peeping.

Yes. I think you are correct. Its rare that I see vintage film prints exhibited larger than 11x14. In my experience, most arent exhibited even that large.

When I taught photographic aesthetics I about 10 years ago I made it a point of taking students to as many museums and exhibits as I coulod. Great training for the eye.

The general consensus about was they saw was this: If you cant make an interesting photograph, make it REALLY BIG. If that doesnt work, make ir BIG and COLORFUL.

The most arresting images I've ever seen rarely if ever have anything to do with size or image quality. I recently saw a Walker Evans exhibit at the Getty which showed his Cuba pictures from the 30s. a 5x7 contact print of a havana stevedore was more visually striking that all of the large prints from contemporary photographers.
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Old 03-08-2012   #151
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If you cant make an interesting photograph, make it REALLY BIG. If that doesnt work, make ir BIG and COLORFUL.
Haha, true... I've seen this many times. I too enjoy the smaller prints. It allows me to get close and really look at them... and love walker evans.
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Old 03-08-2012   #152
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Haha, true... I've seen this many times. I too enjoy the smaller prints. It allows me to get close and really look at them... and love walker evans.
Evans is amazing. No artifice. Just beautiful objectivity. Or at least thats what it appears. Read Errol Morris's recent book for an alternative opinion.
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Old 03-08-2012   #153
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Print sizes and image quality, past and present:

I had seen Ansel Adams photos reproduced in magazines and books for several years before I had the chance to attend an exhibit of his work. The photos were printed big and they looked great from across the gallery. But, when viewed up close (like the viewer often must be when in a crowded gallery), they were soft and the grain was like chunky oatmeal. Led me to the conclusion that Ansel should have printed smaller. I was much more impressed with the jewel-like 8x10 inch contacts prints of Edward Weston or the tiny 2x3 inch contacts of Man Ray.

Today, quantity impresses more than quality so photos get printed too damn big.

I've read Walker Evans would scold his darkroom assistants when they used too many sheets of paper to print his work. He was said to feel it unnecessary to pursue perfection in printing. He would crop his pictures by trimming down the negatives to the composition he preferred. Didn't seem to harm the final results. His work remains awesome, in my opinion.
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Old 03-09-2012   #154
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I had seen Ansel Adams photos reproduced in magazines and books for several years before I had the chance to attend an exhibit of his work. The photos were printed big and they looked great from across the gallery. But, when viewed up close (like the viewer often must be when in a crowded gallery), they were soft and the grain was like chunky oatmeal. Led me to the conclusion that Ansel should have printed smaller.
Really? I could have sworn the ones I've seen look great up close. Not reqally a fan, but I can understand why people are.
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Old 03-09-2012   #155
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Optically, this image has no quality whatsoever:



How could it be otherwise? There was a nasty, dirty, scratched-up train window in the optical path (a reflection in the window of a train). No matter the qualities of the camera and lens I was using.

You may not like it, but I think it has something. "Image Quality" however defined isn't part of that "something". But is it a bad photo?

...Mike
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Old 03-19-2012   #156
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I think it is true that Ansel Adams prints are not as sharp as you imagine they should be. I have seen plenty that are 'mellow' in terms of outright sharpness.

But that doesn't matter, anybody who has used a large format camera outdoors knows that stuff happens beyond your control that can just take the edge off an image. Maybe it is only something somebody that has used a field camera can see. But it doesn't make the photograph any less good if it was good in the first place, like the Bresson example posted earlier. In fact with that we are so used to seeing it blurry it wouldn't look right if/when Adobe come up with their software to make it sharp.

The tricky thing nowadays is that people default to pixel peeping. If Bresson posted 'the leaping man' on most photo forums today he would be told he should go and buy a Canon with faster AF, and he should have used a higher ISO, and a longer and faster lens, all of which could have saved an otherwise interesting image. Unfortunately for many people it is only history that makes it a great image, made in the context of its day with slow film and slow lenses. It really is becoming a dire state of affairs when the only people who have the collective guts to rebel against the 'sharp' and 'large' mantra's are Lomographers, and they often have no choice anyway due to their crappy, but expressive, choice of camera.

Steve
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Old 03-19-2012   #157
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Surely the only real answer is "it depends"? Some of us want grainless large prints, some of us don't. Personally, I love that I can blow up my MF shots as big as I like, but also I've got some nice 35mm prints at 8x10 which I'm happy with.
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Old 03-19-2012   #158
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I find that my lenses from the 40's - 70's do the job. Compact and good lenses.
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Old 03-19-2012   #159
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Resolution isn't just about lenses, sensors and printing. I've been a photographer for 40 years yet nothing ever comes close to what I see with my own eyes.

So why do so many people walk around wearing shades!

Think of those images that you know you could never capture on film/ sensor - even if you had your camera to hand. I consider my self a photographer for seeing them, not necessarily capturing them. After all, I do not set out to capture absolutely every potential photographic image that I see.

I'm not talking about print size, which is both a technical and subjective decision - what the image needs.

I'm kicking a bit of sand. Since the greatest resolution you'll ever get is with your own eyes, I find it funny that so many people stagger about in shades and then worry about the image quality they get from the second- or third-hand recreation of that image.

Back on topic, I think resolution has little to do with a the quality of a photograph. Scale, which resolution allows, is impressive for its own sake.
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Old 03-23-2012   #160
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jsrockit View Post
Well, each one of the photographers mentioned have photos that could be used as an example of great IQ. Sure, perhaps they were not fixated on this element, but we do not know that for sure. In the book Diane Arbus: A Chronology, she most definitely talks of cameras and what it'll mean to the quality of her images (specifically moving from a Rolleiflex to a Pentax 6x7 just prior to her death). Each one of these photographers chose to use high quality equipment of the time. They could have chosen to use a cheaper consumer camera, but they did not. To me that is indicative of caring about IQ.
Maybe, or maybe they wanted gear that would last and not break down in action.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jsrockit View Post
I concede that each one of them have used blurry or unsharp photos, but most photographers have as well. If the feeling is there, why not?
I say thats exactly the point. If the feeling is there, if the pic is just right and comunicate the emotions the photog wants to snow IQ does not matter.
In fact some pics wouldn't work if they were of high technical quality.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jsrockit View Post
Don't forget that HCB and Robert Capa (and many others) were bottlenecked by film speeds of the time (early on). This lead to some "poorer" image quality (but not worse photos) due to handholding at longer shutter speeds. More of a product of the time in the infancy of high quality handheld cameras. I would argue that most photographers care about sharpness to a degree and there is nothing wrong with that. It's just not healthy to obsess over.
Ansel Adams images strikes me as high quality even by todays standards and even so I think Kirsten Klein does a better job comunicating the feel and emotions in her subjects though her pics show a lot more grain, unsharpness, lack of tones etc. But she uses those imperfections to bring forth the feeling of rain in your face, the cold or the mist.
Best regards
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