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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   #76
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Originally Posted by semilog View Post
That's not quite what I'm saying.

I don't think it matters particularly that it was a (brand-name) Leica, but I DO think it matters that HC-B used a camera with specific technical characteristics that were well suited to what he was trying to accomplish in an expressive sense. Yes, there were a few other comparable cameras that he could have used in the same way.
I agree that he probably had good reasons for making his gear choices. It probably was about the camera being compact and well-suited to immersive photography (which made it popular with photojournalists in general).

But this is, after all, a thread about image quality, not about camera properties. I don't think it makes much sense to discuss HCB's photography in terms of image quality (at least if we discuss image quality in terms of technical parameters like light falloff, spherical aberrations or curvature of field, which was, I think, the kind of discussion Roger had in mind when he started the thread).
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Old 09-05-2011   #77
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Originally Posted by Juan Valdenebro View Post
So, what are you referring to when you say -in photography- technique?
Technique is any body of knowledge that can be applied in a systematic and reproducible way to alter the outcome of a process.

Technique includes sharpness or tonal range or MTF. It includes understanding lens distortion and classical perspective. It includes understanding diffraction, and how to obtain or suppress shadow detail, and having at least a good intuitive idea of your film's or sensor's dynamic range.

Technique also encompasses knowing how to hand-hold the camera steadily at slow shutter speeds, knowing in advance how much flare your lens is going to give you when you point it into the sun, and knowing without thinking how to meter for that situation. Technique includes being able to estimate distances by eye, setting focus by touch, and knowing what a 65 field of view encompasses without looking through the finder.

Technique includes training your finger to compensate for shutter lag, if your camera has a long lag. Technique includes knowing what your own finger's lag time is, and being able to compensate. Technique includes knowing when a yellow filter would be useful. Technique includes being able to follow-focus on a moving person on the street, using an SLR or a rangefinder or a mirrorless camera. Technique includes knowing when your meter is lying to you, and it includes looking for lint in your camera's film gate.

Technique includes understanding the relationship between exposure and development, and (if you shoot color) a tremendous amount about film and sensor responses, white balance, and color spaces. Technique is using motion blur. Technique is learning to walk through the street and point the camera straight into someone's face without him even noticing or reacting.

Again: Technique is any body of knowledge that can be applied in a systematic and reproducible way to alter the outcome of a process. Technique is not orthodoxy. Rather, it's any reliable and re-usable information about process that can help you get where you're trying to go.

Generally, what technique cannot do is tell you where you're trying to go.

Any given photographer need not know all aspects of photographic technique. But (almost) every really good photographer relies on a tremendous amount of practical knowledge (technique) to get from what they see in the world to what's on display.
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Old 09-05-2011   #78
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Im about to find out my position on this issue.

I lugged around a 6x6 camera for 5 days and shot slides with it. Used a tripod and everything (let me tell you this is a different experience from an OM user who will gladly handhold at 1/30th with a 50mm on neopan pushed 2 stops).

I took some digital shots with an slr as exposure tests, if the 6x6 slides dont blow me in comparison away Im selling the camera. ultimate test? maybe...

I never know what I want. maybe Im too locked into the OM gear to ever use anything else. I have been using an mx518 for the last 5 or 6 years and can hardly use the deathadder I finally replaced it with even with it's technical advancements.

someone mentioned gamers, well there are different kinds of gamers, lol. I belong to the strange and largely extinct race of pc gamers who play one game a very, very long time. usually it's quake, dota, starcraft or in my case counterstrike. we use crts, optical mice, 18" mousepads and wear headphones all day. I wore out 4 keyboards in highschool alone and went through 3 mx518s. for us it is ALWAYS about comfort since we exist only to win (read: play the best I can, not have the best potential). no one who I am friends with solely for gaming has any fun playing them, neither do I. the fun is in winning.

I have fun both in the process of and the result of photography though. so Im not sure it's really a comparable issue.

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Old 09-05-2011   #79
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Quote:
Originally Posted by semilog View Post
Technique is any body of knowledge that can be applied in a systematic and reproducible way to alter the outcome of a process.

Technique includes sharpness or tonal range or MTF. It includes understanding lens distortion and classical perspective. It includes understanding diffraction, and how to obtain or suppress shadow detail, and having at least a good intuitive idea of your film's or sensor's dynamic range.

Technique also encompasses knowing how to hand-hold the camera steadily at slow shutter speeds, how much flare your lens is going to give you when you point it into the sun, and knowing without thinking how to meter for that situation. Technique includes being able to estimate distances by eye, and knowing what a 65 field of view encompasses without looking through the finder.

Technique includes training your finger to compensate for shutter lag, if your camera has a long lag. Technique includes knowing when a yellow filter would be useful. Technique includes being able to follow-focus on a moving person on the street, using an SLR or a rangefinder or a mirrorless camera. Technique includes knowing when your meter is lying to you, and it includes looking for lint in your camera's film gate.

Technique includes understanding the relationship between exposure and development, and (if you shoot color) a tremendous amount about film and sensor responses, white balance, and color spaces. Technique is using motion blur. Technique is learning to walk through the street and point the camera straight into someone's face without him even noticing or reacting.

Again: Technique is any body of knowledge that can be applied in a systematic and reproducible way to alter the outcome of a process. Technique is not orthodoxy. Rather, it's any reliable and re-usable information about process that can help you get where you're trying to go.

Any given photographer need not know all aspects of photographic technique. But (almost) every really good photographer relies on a tremendous amount of practical knowledge (technique) to get from what they see in the world to what's on display.
That's an interesting definition, thank you.

If we phrase this thread's initial statement in terms of this definition, I think what Roger is proposing is that if we compare the relative weights of various aspects of knowledge in the overall process of producing a picture, the more technical aspects relating to technical or imaging properties of the particular gear combination are usually relatively less important than other, for example compositional aspects.
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Old 09-05-2011   #80
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One last point about technique for its own sake: even among technically-minded people, a too-great obsession with technique can be destructive.

Engineers call it: paralysis through analysis. It's even worse on some photography forums (such as those with URLs containing the letters d, p, and r) where the paralysis is total and the analysis is typically lousy!

But the point stands. To take things a bit further, if you look at my flickr you'll find plenty of technically imperfect frames that I really like (ymmv), and if you look at Juan's flickr, you'll find at least a couple of focus tests (this despite HC-B's admonition that sharpness is a bourgeois concept). It's all good.

You gotta have technique, and you gotta have heart!

Finally: The root of "technique" is tekhnē (Greek) – literally, art.
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Old 09-05-2011   #81
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I've been thinking about this thread (it struck a chord) and wanted to add a couple more thoughts.

When I think about it, image 'quality' is of course extremely important, but as someone has already stated it has to be differentiated from technical 'quality'.

Why would advertisers spend vast amount of money achieving particular 'looks' to images if we, the target audience, were not highly sophisticated in our appreciation of such images? I suspect that we are actually very aware (albeit subconsciously) of subtle nuances within photographic images, although defining these might be almost impossible.

And, whilst it may not be possible to deduce the equipment used to produce an image, there are undoubtedly combinations of equipment which will produce an image with a certain, if subtle, look far easier than others might do so. For example, shooting with an old lens will produce images characterised by that lens's optical flaws far easier than trying to use a modern lens and introduce the effect of those flaws later on. By modern standards of course such images would not be as technically accurate as unadjusted images from a modern lens.

So I'd say that, depending on what you are trying to achieve, image 'quality' and therefore equipment used, can be important. As music has been used as an analogy already, its a bit like the difference between the sound produced by an orchestra who's players are allowed to choose their own instrument and one who's players are all given the latest instruments available. I'm sure that both would produce a good sound, but I'm equally sure that it would be different and I suspect that I know which performance I would prefer.
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Old 09-05-2011   #82
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rxmd View Post
That's an interesting definition, thank you.

If we phrase this thread's initial statement in terms of this definition, I think what Roger is proposing is that if we compare the relative weights of various aspects of knowledge in the overall process of producing a picture, the more technical aspects relating to technical or imaging properties of the particular gear combination are usually relatively less important than other, for example compositional aspects.
Almost, except that composition, decisive moment, etc., flow from using a camera you're comfortable with.

'Comfortable with' is multidimensional, including such criteria (for most of the photography I do outside the studio) as 'small enough to carry', 'reliable', 'easy to use without thinking', and in some cases 'unobtrusive.'

These are indeed forms of Semilog's "technique" in the sense of "any body of knowledge that can be applied in a systematic and reproducible way to alter the outcome of a process." What I'm suggesting is that 'being able to predict what the picture will look like' involves a lot more than any conventional definition of 'image quality' (sharpness, distortion, that sort of thing) and that these other considerations are often grossly underrated, especially by the pseudo-utilitarians who say "a good photographer can produce good pictures with any camera."

As an aside (not addressing your point) Leicas didn't have rangefinders when HCB started using them in 1931, and indeed, there wasn't much choice in 35mm cameras. It wasn't 'one of the better ones': it was arguably 'the only good one'.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 09-06-2011   #83
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Originally Posted by literiter View Post
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.
Brilliant. Thanks for making my day.
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Old 09-06-2011   #84
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There are plenty of those times Bob! When the day comes that I can cover ten metres in half a second with the grace of a floating swan then....
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Old 09-06-2011   #85
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Originally Posted by Nikon Bob View Post
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
Browning did improve the design, it is the P35, or Hi Power.

The arsenals also improved and rebuilt an awful lot of 1911's, I found one from WWI that was rebuilt for WWII, rebuilt after and sold via the Civilian Marksmanship program. I also saw and fired a new condition Singer from that program, I generally kept the hits on the paper, but the Hi Power generally keep them in the black.

Some cameras keep more shots "in the black", but many keep them on the paper, I believe Roger is casting a wide loop to include those as "good enough", the question is when ?

Regards, John
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Old 09-06-2011   #86
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
Almost, except that composition, decisive moment, etc., flow from using a camera you're comfortable with.

'Comfortable with' is multidimensional, including such criteria (for most of the photography I do outside the studio) as 'small enough to carry', 'reliable', 'easy to use without thinking', and in some cases 'unobtrusive.'

These are indeed forms of Semilog's "technique" in the sense of "any body of knowledge that can be applied in a systematic and reproducible way to alter the outcome of a process." What I'm suggesting is that 'being able to predict what the picture will look like' involves a lot more than any conventional definition of 'image quality' (sharpness, distortion, that sort of thing) and that these other considerations are often grossly underrated, especially by the pseudo-utilitarians who say "a good photographer can produce good pictures with any camera."

As an aside (not addressing your point) Leicas didn't have rangefinders when HCB started using them in 1931, and indeed, there wasn't much choice in 35mm cameras. It wasn't 'one of the better ones': it was arguably 'the only good one'.

Cheers,

R.
I am again reminded of a friend's letter from Ansel Adams regarding a print he had sent, AA said it was the finest technical quality he had seen, but that he knew little about photography.

My friend was not insulted, he merely was proceeding along a path where he felt the technical quality should come first, having spent a year photographing gray cards, etc. He was a bit obsessed, he was looking for perfectly even agitation to the point of developing sheet film with a paint brush in a tray--

The line is between reasonable selection and attention and obsession?

It's OK to step over now and again, I have shot a few scales and gray cards. I like to know what is behind the Wizard's curtain.

Perhaps less easy with newer technology, but I have found some that produce more of what I was envisioning, and some less.


Regards, John
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Old 09-06-2011   #87
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Image quality matters when it adds to the photograph.
It is not worth discussing otherwise.
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Old 09-06-2011   #88
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I thought this thread was about how important obtaining the highest possible technical image was, to be able to consider that image good or great... Clearly, as history of photography shows us, it is not important. Almost never or never...

I didn't say photographers should avoid technique while shooting, or should avoid knowing about technique before shooting....

I understood Roger's point was "is technical perfection really needed to consider a photograph valuable? Isn't his original point vanishing? All of us need some technique at least to get decent images, but, are most of the greatest images of the last 100 years close to best lenses' tripod tests and all that? Or are they close to clean, emotive and intelligent expression?

Cheers,

Juan
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Old 09-06-2011   #89
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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,

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Old 09-06-2011   #90
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Juan Valdenebro View Post


The same: it depends on what you mean with "technically". Bach was better at conducting voices (counterpoint) both with groups or solo instruments in arpeggios, and Mozart better from his ear and for melody and harmony IMO... As I told you before, they had their technique, but for some of their surrounding musical world, their technique should have been improved with the practice of more scales, cleaner counterpoint rules (like Buxtehude) or any other raw technical exercise, which in their case was not necessary, obviously... In the same way a photographer doesn't need a sharper lens. Any lens does it... So, what are you referring to when you say -in photography- technique?

Cheers,

Juan
That's funny (most of it, but especially the part about the technique and practice). I don't understand how you compare this and photographer who needs a sharper lens
I dare you to try playing "La campanella" Liszt/Paganini on piano "Riga"
With bad instruments Bach and Mozart won't be able to play their wonderful music with the right expression and technique. The photography is something different, where the IQ is changing with technological progress, so people's and clients taste are changing as well. I learn from the masters, but play and shoot as much as I can (when I do it for money) with modern quality.
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Old 09-06-2011   #91
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Going back to Roger's original post, the 75 Summicron is an interesting example. I've chosen not to buy a short tele in M mount, instead having a dedicated Nikon FE2 ($100, used) with an 85/2 AIS that I purchased new over 20 years ago. For what I use that lens for, there's just no reason to get a "better" one, and the RF has few advantages. It's compact, it has fantastic ergos, and it was paid for long, log ago. From f/2 -2.8 it's a fast and extremely pleasing portrait lens. From f/4 to f/8 it becomes bitingly sharp.

On the other hand, when I went from the 35/2 AIS to the 35/1.4 Summilux ASPH, the jump in image quality (both contrast and resolution) at wide apertures was a revelation for landscape and similar work – particularly on slow slide film. For an image like this one, the additional contrast and clarity make a real difference in the image's impact, especially when it's printed large (16 x 20). Some frames on the same roll are compromised by camera movement and have nowhere near as much visual impact in big prints. And this is a picture that definitely works better when printed large.

Different pictures are taken for different reasons, and are consequently shot to different technical standards. When I shoot on the street, the technical aspects of a lens that really matter are ergonomics, compactness, flare suppression, inoffensive (boring, neutral) bokeh, and (rarely) lack of geometric distortion. Since resolution under those conditions is almost always limited by focus error and camera movement, "sharpness" is rarely important.
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Old 09-06-2011   #92
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Originally Posted by semilog View Post
Going back to Roger's original post, the 75 Summicron is an interesting example. I've chosen not to buy a short tele in M mount, instead having a dedicated Nikon FE2 ($100, used) with an 85/2 AIS that I purchased new over 20 years ago. For what I use that lens for, there's just no reason to get a "better" one. It's compact, and it was paid for long, log ago. From f/2 -2.8 it's an extremely pleasing portrait lens. From f/4 to f/8 it becomes bitingly sharp.

On the other hand, when I went from the 35/2 AIS to the 35/1.4 Summilux ASPH, the jump in image quality (both contrast and resolution) at wide apertures was a revelation for landscape and similar work particularly on slow slide film. For an image like this one, the additional contrast and clarity make a real difference in the image's impact, especially when it's printed large (16 x 20). Other frames on the same roll are compromised by camera movement and have nowhere near as much visual impact in big prints. And this is a picture that definitely works better when printed large.

Different pictures are taken for different reasons, and are consequently shot to different technical standards. When I shoot on the street, the technical aspects of a lens that really matter are ergonomics, compactness, flare suppression, inoffensive bokeh, and (rarely) lack of geometric distortion. Since resolution under those conditions is almost always limited by focus error and camera movement, "sharpness" is not really a consideration at all.
Exactly. This is why I get slightly exasperated with those who start trying to define 'image quality', or to separate it from 'technical quality'. LOTS of things matter, and many of them are all but ignored by most people. I especially liked 'inoffensive bokeh'. I don't believe there is any such thing as 'good bokeh' but I do believe that there is such a thing as 'bad bokeh'. As soon as you notice the bokeh, it's bad. Which is, of course, why there are so many awful 'good bokeh' shots on the web.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 09-06-2011   #93
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Some of the things commented by semilog and Roger are obviously a lot more important than higher sharpness...

As years pass by, what I consider technique (and the most important part of it) has to do with two fields: one is knowing about light... It is not only the amount (the metered one to us) but the quality and direction or directions... And the other one -the one I think is over the rest- is the way we handle situations: behavior while street shooting, interacting with models / family / children... That's what we learn after the rest, and I believe that's what in a much higher degree helps for better photographs.

Cheers,

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Old 09-06-2011   #94
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without any quality, of some sort, an image is crap! and who wants a crap picture? image quality is therefore everything isn't it? you just have to quantify quality and then you get into a discussion as long and difficult as time itself
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Old 09-06-2011   #95
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I do however agree with you Roger, which is why I have never ever bought a Leica! my old Konica IIIa does the job good enough whenever I want to shoot 35 mm rangefinder, it's sharp small quiet and I like to use it, all of which add up to results that I'm happy with. too many people believe sharpness etc is quality, quality is what the viewer see's when they look at a picture, not the lens that got the picture to their eyes.

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Old 09-06-2011   #96
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You're right... The first things in the list of those that help for real quality on a photograph, don't include "very high sharpness"... All that's necessary, if we talk about sharpness, is the sharpness of any lens on a still camera. Other things -usually related to the photographer, not to gear- are the ones that define results and the value of a photograph.

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Old 09-06-2011   #97
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That's funny (most of it, but especially the part about the technique and practice). I don't understand how you compare this and photographer who needs a sharper lens

Regards,
Boris
Hi Boris,

I'll explain:

Some people pretend, for great music (playing or composing) it's absolutely necessary a very high degree of technique, so I used the examples of what some of those people consider "a law": repetitive ultrafast scales many hours a day starting on every half tone, or "respecting" the most strict rules of counterpoint, both "technical" practices in music (again for playing or composing)... I think there are lots of interesting players and composers dead and alive who have produced and produce interesting music not only to me but to millions of people, who don't practice those scales and don't respect those counterpoint strict rules (no parallel fifths, etc...)

Then I compared, that situation on music, to the same situation on photography: I said some people pretend, for great photography, it's absolutely necessary a very high degree of technique, so I used the example of a sharper lens to talk about one of the most ridiculous things a photographer can obsess with, as any of them can check all lenses in general can be sharper than we need for making a moving photograph, and even more, any of them can check if most of the successful photographs both for common public and critics show amazing technical results or highest sharpness, and they can see that's not the case...

So, what you did not understand, was a simple, direct comparison on how empty can some people's results be both in music and in photography, to the point of -after getting no real creation or art- trying to make real creators or artists act just like them, recommending "for making better music, practice more fast scales" or "for making better photographs, buy a sharper lens...

I compared both of them because both are related to recommendations that don't help for better music or better photography. And in general those won't be the advices given by masters.

Cheers,

Juan
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Old 09-07-2011   #98
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I do however agree with you Roger, which is why I have never ever bought a Leica! my old Konica IIIa does the job good enough whenever I want to shoot 35 mm rangefinder, it's sharp small quiet and I like to use it, all of which add up to results that I'm happy with. too many people believe sharpness etc is quality, quality is what the viewer see's when they look at a picture, not the lens that got the picture to their eyes.
Dear Doug,

Precisely. It's a lovely little camera, and a joy to use. The only thing I have against it is the focal length: I like 35mm. But referring to your other post I don't think you have to (or can) quantify image quality, nor do I think it has an great relevance to which camera we choose. Being happy with the camera (an equally indefinable collection of attributes) is central to my thesis.

@ Juan, "As years pass by, what I consider technique (and the most important part of it) has to do with two fields: one is knowing about light... It is not only the amount (the metered one to us) but the quality and direction or directions... And the other one -the one I think is over the rest- is the way we handle situations: behavior while street shooting, interacting with models / family / children... That's what we learn after the rest, and I believe that's what in a much higher degree helps for better photographs."

I couldn't agree more.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 09-07-2011   #99
Lilserenity
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Lilserenity is offline
Join Date: Aug 2008
Location: Worthing, W Sx
Age: 31
Posts: 1,036
I'm suffering from a raging cold this week and so excuse my spelling, my eyes aren't too good either, but I just have to do something such as reply to this, I'm going out of my mind with boredom and I'm most certainly not letting myself stoop to the horror that is daytime telly.... If you couldn't tell, I hate being ill...

But yes I'm with the original statement, good enough is good enough for me.

I have come to the opinion that if the picture isn't good then it's not the camera or lenses fault, or indeed the choice of film, that I fluffed it myself (mis-focus, shaky hands, wasted opportunity -- e.g. rushing or failing to capitalise on something that could have been great if I got closer etc.) I also no longer blame it on my choice of film, I have worked with pretty much everything that is on the market from the cheap stuff (Kodak ColorPlus 200 at 1 a roll) to the more pricy stuff (Provia 400X and Portra 800) so I know now what suits me on that part, and when each works best, what to expose them at etc.

I'm sure the pictures could always be that little bit closer to perfect, e.g. a slightly more straight horizon on the frame itself, or a slightly wider or closer perspective (step back or forward), or the grain could be a little bit smaller (e.g slower film or digital photo -- if I had a digital camera) but actually it's the overall thing and generally speaking if I have done my job my pictures are always to my eye good enough.

Mind you I have never been one to say "Oh well it looks out of focus because the lens is a bad copy" or something like that, I'm quite hard on myself truth be told but I have to be, I want to be good at this thing.

Finally in putting together this book of mine (see signature) I have been arranging a few hundred pictures and whilst I am sure I could pick out something in each and every photo that I would have slightly tweaked, overall it works out really well (even if I do say so myself) because it appears that I can be sometimes a little myopic (i.e. fixated on one picture at a time) but when you put it all together and see the bigger picture (groan) those little imperfections somehow get lost, and actually even though there are now pictures in there which are a bit grainy, or the eyes are ever so slightly not as in focus as they could be, it all doesn't matter any more, as the whole thing is good enough.

Good enough may have connotations with compromise or perhaps being slapdash, but not in my book. I'm just convinced that camera equipment has on the whole been a lot better than my abilities for a lot longer than I've been around so if the picture's not good enough, that's my fault not the camera+lens+film.

Vicky
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Old 09-07-2011   #100
pgk
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Join Date: May 2011
Posts: 118
Perhaps this thread should be retitled along the lines of 'when are photographs fit for purpose?'. An image that serves its intended purpose effectively is to me one which is of sufficient 'image quality' and even better, this way of looking at an image requires no definition of 'image quality'. Of course there can be discussions about whether an image is actually fit for purpose, but at least the purpose can be defined to a certain extent.

Last edited by pgk : 09-07-2011 at 02:33.
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