It is interesting to contemplate how technology can redefine what is possible with photography. We all know how cell phone imaging has been decimating the camera market for the past decade or so. With all of the hype about full frame cameras these days, we seem to forget that cell phones have become globally dominant while using tiny sensors. Imaging technology like computational photography has been driving much of the success of cell phones.
I find the current fixation on full frame cameras quite fascinating. From a camera manufacturer’s standpoint I can understand why they would want to keep pushing the ‘more is better’ mantra. After all, there are physical limitations with the size of sensor that can be put into a cell phone. So, producing gear that uses larger sensors is a point of potential differentiation to some degree.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
By convincing photographers that they ‘need’ larger sensors in their cameras, it is possible that camera manufacturers can keep some of us buying their products for another gear replacement cycle. I fear that pushing full frame sensors does not provide photographers with the innovation they want, and the innovation that may actually stimulate camera sales.
Regardless of the camera make and model I may have in my hands, I want to explore with it. Push my creativity with it. And, have fun with it. When I press the shutter release on a camera I want to be truly amazed with what happens.
Hearing it go ‘click’ and having a camera spit out a photograph that pretty much anyone can create isn’t enough… regardless of the camera’s sensor size. More megapixels of something relatively easy to capture doesn’t redefine what is possible. Or magically make an image better. It’s more of the same… just a bit larger.
Whether that photograph is 20 MP, 36 MP or 100 MP doesn’t matter much to me. Just like the dynamic range or colour depth ratings of a sensor are minor considerations. For the most part these things are insignificant factors to the photography that excites me, and to the images that I want to create.
DxOMark evaluates any sensor that rates 12 EV or higher as ‘excellent’ in terms of dynamic range. 22-bits of colour depth are also deemed to be ‘excellent’. Cameras with good performing 1″ sensors (e.g. Nikon 1 J5) or larger can meet the 12EV and 22-bit thresholds.
Fixating on a sensor’s dynamic range or colour depth measurement is doing little but splitting hairs. Quite frankly there’s not that much of a difference between full frame, APS-C and M4/3 formats, especially when we move away from low base ISO values. Once we compare test data of various cameras at ISO-200 and ISO-400 the differences can tighten quite a bit.
Depending on what a photographer does with their images, the practical differences between the output of various camera formats and models are often minimal… and sometimes barely even noticeable. A photographer can pixel peep all they want… but it makes no difference at all if they missed getting their shot. Or, if they didn’t even bother trying to capture it in the first place. Cameras that help us take advantage of lost photographic opportunities provide real value.
So what do I want from my camera? I want my camera to redefine what is possible. When I pick it up I want it to challenge me with its capabilities. I want it to push my porous, old brain into new realms of creative potential.
I want to be able to recognize photographic opportunities that were inconceivable to me in the past. Then have my camera redefine what is possible for me at those precise moments.
I want to be liberated from restrictions that slowed me down and held me back in the past. My interest is piqued when I hear photographers say something isn’t possible with their equipment. It’s music to my ears when I look down at my camera as it whispers back to me, “Yes we can!”
Being satisfied with the status quo has never advanced the skill set or creative instincts of any photographer. It is critical that we redefine what is possible with photography. But, it’s important that we not base those assessments on relatively unimportant things like megapixels or sensor size.
Cameras that truly provide unique and innovative image capturing capabilities and technology are the tools that will help redefine what is possible. Regardless of the brand, model or format. Redefining what is possible will determine the future of cameras. Let’s hope the manufacturers are up to the task.
Notes about the images in this article.
The 12 images of a Red Winged Blackbird taking flight were captured handheld using the Olympus OM-D E-M1X’s Pro Capture H mode. This utilizes a frame rate of 60 fps. It took a total of 1/5 of a second to capture all 12 images. The subject bird was perched approximately 17.7 metres (~58 feet) away.
Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. Photographs were cropped to 3800 pixels on the width, then resized for web use.
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