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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

"Never ever confuse sharp with good, or you will end up shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor blade."  

 

Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 

 

Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."

 

I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!

 


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What do we do?
Old 01-07-2018   #1
Bill Pierce
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What do we do?

I was recently looking at some digital images taken a few years back with a camera with, by today’s standards, a ridiculously low megapixel count - 8 to be exact. The camera was the Canon PowerShot Pro1. And to add insult to injury, it had a 2/3inch sensor, far, far from full frame. And yet the pictures looked, detailed, sharp and technically excellent on my 27 inch computer screen.

When the camera was reviewed in early 2004 by Dpreview they said, “Just when we had hoped that manufacturers were moving on from the megapixel race we caught news of Sony's ICX456 eight megapixel CCD sensor which was leaked onto the Internet in June last year.”

They had a point if you primarily look at pictures on a computer screen. It’s not just your family snapshots (which are important photographs) and pictures emailed to you by friends. It’s news and ads (often shot on micro 4/3 in still or motion) and websites like the Rangefinder Forum (and, sorry, Facebook). A lot of photography, personal and professional, is seen on the screen, not in print.

I’m looking at these 8 megapixel images from from a 2/3 inch sensor, and, on screen, they are technically excellent. And yet I yearn for a 50 megapixel camera with a medium format sensor and 3 lenses which would cost $11,650 because someday I might like to make a big, sharp print of a tree from a frame that might benefit from a little cropping.

What do I do? Do you have this problem, too? What do we do?
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Old 01-07-2018   #2
Timmyjoe
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I'm probably the odd duck, but I've pretty much settled at 16-20MP and am not longing for anything more. We've all heard how "What's in the picture is more important than how big the picture is." and as I have no desire to print any bigger than 20 x 30, and probably rarely that, I think I'll just keep working on making the pictures better, not bigger.

Best,
-Tim

PS: I did notice that on the submission guidelines for many of the different POTY contests this year, they want more megapixels than I'm currently shooting, but I think I can just up-res my images. It looks like the POTY folks might be pushing camera sales for the big MegaPixel cameras.
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Old 01-07-2018   #3
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Nope. No such problem here. I'm happy with the 16 mp sensors in my Fuji, Ricoh and Olympus cameras. They look great on a screen and make great prints up to 12x18 with some decent cropping included.

Don't need no more stinkin' megapixels.

...at least for the time being.
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Old 01-07-2018   #4
ptpdprinter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
What do we do?
Act rationally. The MF camera you have in mind will allow you to print (roughly) 20x30 prints at 300dpi. So if you print that large, run, don't walk, to you nearest camera store and buy it. If, like me, you don't print that large, you can "make do" with FF or APS-C.
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Old 01-07-2018   #5
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I print on 8x10 or Letter maximum. And it goes on walls. And on computer screens. Or TV screen. I do it from 2800 pixels at long side and 200 dpi JPEG1 files. No problems.

I'm not sure how those pixels are counted. I did not find 20MP Canon DSLR to be as sharp as M9 files. On pixels level. Same for 16 MP Canon P&S and Panasonic 8MP P&S. Canon has not pixels, but gooble. And many other digital cameras from many other manufacturers. Some gooble instead of pixels.
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Old 01-07-2018   #6
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I feel the 24mp APSC Fuji cameras that I use give me everything... I can print large enough if necessary, but the files aren't crazy large. The extra DOF vs. FF come in handy at times while still allowing for OOF backgrounds when needed. I'm afraid the march forward will mean large MP sensors... but of course, you don't have to march forward as well. If you make great photos, people will enjoy them without wondering what you used and will look at them even if printed small. Two of the most popular ways of looking at photos are on the computer / phone / tablet or in book form. Both are generally small formats.
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Old 01-07-2018   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post

... And yet I yearn for a 50 megapixel camera with a medium format sensor and 3 lenses which would cost $11,650 because someday I might like to make a big, sharp print of a tree from a frame that might benefit from a little cropping.

What do I do? Do you have this problem, too? What do we do?
Hi Bill,

I take it this is a little tongue in cheek to get the thread going.
Maximizing focus, exposure and minimizing any shake of lens&camera will easier result in higher IQ than just higher mp count. With 50MP you get forget about handheld photography if max IQ is the goal. Get a solid heavy Gitzo or whatever your favorite tripod brand.

I have printed 17x22 of a half frame (horizontal crop from an originally vertical shot) taken with a Monochrome. That's half of 18MP, so pretty close to your 8MP. And there is no degradation because of too few pixels. Obviously an example of extreme cropping.

So in reality this problem does not exist. Of course camera marketing and "test" magazines spin the numbers and convince everyone that you NEED more MP's.
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Old 01-07-2018   #8
Bill Clark
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If you want a sharp print of a tree put the camera on a tripod!

As you probably know there are other ingredients besides sensor size, megapixels to be able to make a large print.

My two cents!

Smiles.
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Old 01-07-2018   #9
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I don't even remember what the MP count is on my D300s, so it's not something I fret over. I was more concerned in getting a camera with a better track record as far as performance, and lack of faults was concerned, as compared to my older digicams.

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Old 01-07-2018   #10
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Quote:
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I don't even remember what the MP count is on my D300s, so it's not something I fret over. I was more concerned in getting a camera with a better track record as far as performance, and lack of faults was concerned, as compared to my older digicams.

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i think it's 12...
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Old 01-08-2018   #11
JoeLopez
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
I was recently looking at some digital images taken a few years back with a camera with, by today’s standards, a ridiculously low megapixel count - 8 to be exact. The camera was the Canon PowerShot Pro1. And to add insult to injury, it had a 2/3inch sensor, far, far from full frame. And yet the pictures looked, detailed, sharp and technically excellent on my 27 inch computer screen.

When the camera was reviewed in early 2004 by Dpreview they said, “Just when we had hoped that manufacturers were moving on from the megapixel race we caught news of Sony's ICX456 eight megapixel CCD sensor which was leaked onto the Internet in June last year.”

They had a point if you primarily look at pictures on a computer screen. It’s not just your family snapshots (which are important photographs) and pictures emailed to you by friends. It’s news and ads (often shot on micro 4/3 in still or motion) and websites like the Rangefinder Forum (and, sorry, Facebook). A lot of photography, personal and professional, is seen on the screen, not in print.

I’m looking at these 8 megapixel images from from a 2/3 inch sensor, and, on screen, they are technically excellent. And yet I yearn for a 50 megapixel camera with a medium format sensor and 3 lenses which would cost $11,650 because someday I might like to make a big, sharp print of a tree from a frame that might benefit from a little cropping.

What do I do? Do you have this problem, too? What do we do?
A great point. I do not chase MP personally, then again I do not shoot commercial work which may require such large files. I have no reason to wan to clog my work flow or hard drives with mega huge files either. I've shoot a D7100 (24MP) DSLR since 2013 or so and that was because I wanted better ISO performance and frame rate than my D40 and did not want the expense of going to a Full Frame camera at the time. I'll likely purchase a used D700 later this year now that prices are within my range.

Camera manufacturers count on people wanting the 'latest and greatest' and there are certainly enough people chasing specs to warrant their business model.
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Old 01-08-2018   #12
Larry Cloetta
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" A lot of photography, personal and professional, is seen on the screen, not in print."

It's more than a lot, it's the vast majority. Yet, even for those, the majority of photographers who never have any need or desire to print larger than 16 x 20 for lack of exhibition wall space at home if nothing else, the lure of ever newer high MP count cameras remains. A triumph of marketing over rational thinking.
One of the guidelines of the advertising world is that consumers will always fall for the bigger number. An effect illustrated by the race for ever lower THD numbers in the 70's among amplifier manufacturers, with total harmonic distortion numbers becoming the main selling point in every ad. The result was some of the worst sounding amps ever made, because THD was not the indicator of sound quality consumers were led to believe, it was just a usable number which indicated something other than sound quality, as it turned out.

Camera mfgs. are caught in the bind of needing to sell bodies to stay in business, selling them to people who already have cameras which are more than good enough to answer every actual photographic need they will ever have. Enticing them with bigger numbers is about all they really have left. Or, at least it seems it is the only idea they have.

All other things being equal, a bigger, fatter pixel will give you better photographic results than pixels made smaller just to squeeze more of them into a given sensor size to yield a higher pixel count. It's a fact that people realize and acknowledge when talking about medium format sensors, but forget about otherwise. That's a measure of the sway advertising holds on us. "It's got more resolution" has come to be an this-answers-all-your-needs phrase uncomfortably like "it's got electrolytes" from "Idiocracy".
(https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=3boy_tLWeqA)

Photographers who make very large prints can make good use of large MP counts, undoubtedly, but that's a tiny number of photographers, a number not large enough to keep camera companies alive. For the rest of us, the lure of ever newer bodies with ever higher MP counts remains seductive because, as every marketing executive knows, bigger MP numbers, just like bigger horsepower numbers, or bigger mpg numbers have always been the shortcut to getting the public to open their wallets.
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Old 01-08-2018   #13
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As stated by others above, there's more to think about when using the high MP cameras than just the overall resolution increase. There's the disc space, memory and processing speed needed to get those MPs into the computer and making them into a picture. Having a medium format digital Hasselblad to play with sounds great until you consider the peripheral expense in computing power is more than most of us need or want for our home art-making.

I'm happy with my home iMac printing 6x9 and 12x18. I can't foresee a time I would ever want to print huge and deal with more complexity.
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Old 01-08-2018   #14
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It's a challenge to judge what is 'good enough' ™.

In my case, no – I don't have that problem.
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Old 01-08-2018   #15
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Still shoot film.
But.
If I were to get a digital with interchangeable lenses it would probably be at least 3 generations old. Maybe more.
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Old 01-08-2018   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
I was recently looking at some digital images taken a few years back with a camera with, by today’s standards, a ridiculously low megapixel count - 8 to be exact. The camera was the Canon PowerShot Pro1. And to add insult to injury, it had a 2/3inch sensor, far, far from full frame. And yet the pictures looked, detailed, sharp and technically excellent on my 27 inch computer screen.

When the camera was reviewed in early 2004 by Dpreview they said, “Just when we had hoped that manufacturers were moving on from the megapixel race we caught news of Sony's ICX456 eight megapixel CCD sensor which was leaked onto the Internet in June last year.”

They had a point if you primarily look at pictures on a computer screen. It’s not just your family snapshots (which are important photographs) and pictures emailed to you by friends. It’s news and ads (often shot on micro 4/3 in still or motion) and websites like the Rangefinder Forum (and, sorry, Facebook). A lot of photography, personal and professional, is seen on the screen, not in print.

I’m looking at these 8 megapixel images from from a 2/3 inch sensor, and, on screen, they are technically excellent. And yet I yearn for a 50 megapixel camera with a medium format sensor and 3 lenses which would cost $11,650 because someday I might like to make a big, sharp print of a tree from a frame that might benefit from a little cropping.

What do I do? Do you have this problem, too? What do we do?
Nothing wrong with more resolution... 40-50mp you can print Billboard size no problem that 11K if you just went back 5 years or so you would had to pay like 20-30k for a 50 mp camera.... prices have come down ALOT so 11k body and lenses is a pretty good deal... Depends on how much longer you want to wait.. it will get cheaper...
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Old 01-08-2018   #17
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I made the switch to digital in 2003 with the Canon 10D and worked it into my wedding workflow over several months, finally doing my first all-digital wedding on June 28, 2003. In those days, photographers on the old Digital Wedding Forum were bragging about making and selling excellent 30x40 prints from four-megapixel cameras such as the Nikon D2H and the original Canon 1D.

My very first gig after acquiring the 10D was a bridal portrait. I packed my usual equipment – a Pentax 6x7 loaded with Fuji NPH color negative film, and just for fun, decided to take along the new 10D and do a few shots with it as well. I wound up shooting every pose with both cameras, and because I didn’t yet know about the advantages of RAW, I shot jpegs in the 10D.

After looking at the files, I said to myself “Hummmh!” I selected a file and a 6x7 negative from similar poses and took them to my local, very good, professional lab and had a 16x20 print made from each. When the lab owner gave me the prints, he said “Hummmh!” Another commercial photographer friend, a Mamiya RZ67 shooter, walked in just then and when he saw the prints and was told what they were, he also said “Hummmh!”

Then he said “I was saving some money for a trip to Europe this summer, but maybe I need to look into this digital thing!”

To shorten the story, I showed the prints to a number of my experienced commercial photographer friends and some of the art directors I worked with and asked them to tell me which was which. Only one could tell them apart, and that was because, as I later learned, the digital file
had more depth of field.

The fact is that a group of experienced professional photographers and art directors couldn’t tell the difference between a 16x20 printed from a jpeg from a six-megapixel digital camera and one printed from a 6x7 film negative!


And now we have cameras offering 16 -- 18 -- 24 megapixels and beyond. How much image quality do we need, anyway? We have way more than enough to do anything we want to do.
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Old 01-08-2018   #18
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I print. Mostly I shoot medium format because of my professional climbing & skiing activities. But I bought a Leica M again because I tired of all the nice iPhone shots that were a dead end for me. I also shoot landscapes and the occasional portrait in 5x7. If I did not print in a darkroom, I'd stop taking photographs and devote that time to playing music which is my other lifetime pastime. Photography without printing is incomplete for me.
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Old 01-08-2018   #19
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I just bought a Canon Dial 35-2 half frame film camera, 50 rolls of Tri-X, and a bottle of Rodinal. Printing 12x16 inches, will be showing 3x4 foot murals later this year.

Something tells me that I will look at pixel count a bit differently after this run and I go back to digital. Until then, it's nice to see grain again.
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Old 01-08-2018   #20
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The biggest prints that I have ever done we're 24 by 36 at a Ritz camera from jpegs from a Kodak DX7630 at 5.1 MP. They came out fine.
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Old 01-08-2018   #21
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Yesss!!! I want a big sensor 50mp rig with 3 lenses too! Only issue I have is the lack of funds for it. But if I had the wheelbase...

*last few nights I've been looking into camera models that shoot 1080 with < 16 mp...yep Im getting into video...lol
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Old 01-09-2018   #22
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I have some very precious photos of my son when he was born shot with a then cutting edge digital camera that saved files directly onto floppy discs. They are fine printed out in 3x5" but all I care is that the images even exist.
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Old 01-09-2018   #23
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Quote:
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I just bought a Canon Dial 35-2 half frame film camera, 50 rolls of Tri-X, and a bottle of Rodinal. Printing 12x16 inches, will be showing 3x4 foot murals later this year.

Something tells me that I will look at pixel count a bit differently after this run and I go back to digital. Until then, it's nice to see grain again.
Interesting.
Scan and output via ink jet or traditional wet darkroom for the prints?
(That's 3600 negatives if shooting 36exp rolls.)
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Old 01-09-2018   #24
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Old 01-09-2018   #25
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Interesting.
Scan and output via ink jet or traditional wet darkroom for the prints?
(That's 3600 negatives if shooting 36exp rolls.)
Scan and inkjet printing. 24 exposure rolls (they fit in my 120 film drying cabinet!) so ~2500 shots. The one-handed spring drive operation of the Dial encourages lots of shots. Well, lots for film shooting. A couple of days digital for many people.
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