The amount of heated exchanges in photography chat rooms that people have about sensor size seems to be almost out of control these days. It’s as if some people think that nothing else matters when it comes to the art and craft of photography other than the size of a camera’s sensor. I can’t help but shake my head and think that this entire sensor obsession phenomenon, and related fixation on pixel peeping, are a waste of time.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge. Images have been added to serve as visual breaks.
A camera is an image creating tool. Nothing more. Nothing less. While individual cameras provide various capabilities that may be different than other models, simply owning a particular camera will not automatically make us better photographers.
It doesn’t matter if the sensor in our camera is 1”, M4/3, APS-C, full frame, or even medium format. The only thing that is important is what we can individually create with it. We can be equally proficient, or inept, with larger sensor cameras as we can be with smaller sensor ones.
All of the debate about megapixels is another complete waste of time. At the end of 2019 the renowned wildlife photographer Andy Rouse talked about his biggest payday in a YouTube video. It involved an image that he sold which ended up being used on billboards adjacent to every Jaguar dealership in the United States. What was the size of that digital file? 6 MP. If you scroll ahead to the 2:50 mark you can watch Andy’s comment.
Just for fun I did some web searches for reviews of older, full frame cameras. The general commentary from those old reviews was eerily familiar with modern day camera reviews. The focus was on specifications and assessments of things like ‘world leading frame rates’, ‘incredible dynamic range’, or ‘phenomenal image details’. The fact is that many full frame sensor cameras that reviewers gushed about and heaped mountains of praise on in the mid 2000’s, performed comparably to many M4/3 sensor cameras 10 years later.
Technology keeps advancing, but not much has changed over the past 15 years in terms of how we use photographs. From a commercial standpoint we still enlarge images for billboards, for posters in bus shelters, and for in-store point-of-purchase displays. We don’t need 50 MP files for those enlargements to look really good from the intended viewing distances.
My optometrist has a couple of photographic enlargements of night-time cityscapes in his waiting room. They are probably several metres or more in width. I have no idea what type of camera was used to capture them. Both enlargements are spectacular when viewed from a standard distance of about 1.5 to 2 metres. If I stand in very closely (i.e. less than 0.5 metres away) I can see that some details are a bit pixelated and have lost some sharpness. So what? Those enlargements were never intended to be viewed from a close-in distance.
For some reason many folks have become totally obsessed with pixel peeping. None of us will ever appreciate the beauty and artistry of a photograph by pressing our noses up to a computer screen and pixel peeping. Just like none of us would appreciate the beauty and artistry of the Mona Lisa by visiting the Louvre and examining each of Leonardo da Vinci’s brushstrokes with a magnifying glass.
It’s as if some photographers have become little more than armchair quarterbacks. They’re content to incessantly talk about and debate the most inane differences between cameras. Even taking time to call each other names and hurl insults back and forth. It really makes me wonder how much time some folks spend using their camera gear actually creating images.
I would certainly encourage people to fully assess and understand their photographic needs. They should absolutely use the gear that makes the most sense for them. Regardless of sensor size.
It really is a colossal waste of time to spend hours debating cameras. The odds that anyone’s opinion is going to be changed through these communications is miniscule. That time could be much better spent picking up a camera and actually creating some images with it!
Understanding how each of us can get the most out of our camera gear is paramount. Every camera comes with some kind of trade-off. There is no such thing as a perfect camera, regardless of the size of the sensor inside it. Knowing how to leverage a camera’s strengths, and mitigate its weaknesses as much as possible, helps us become better photographers.
Over the past 5-6 weeks I’ve spent a lot of time updating the html coding for many thousands of photographs that appear on this website. All told, I’ve made well over 10,000 individual html coding changes. While this work was tedious, it was also interesting to go back through the 650 active articles on this website and review each and every photograph. My task would have been even larger had I not deleted over 150 articles last year that were focused on my previous work with full frame cameras.
In some cases I had a somewhat negative “What was I thinking?” reaction to individual photographs. Other images generated a more favourable personal response as I reviewed them.
The key takeaway for me from this exercise was that our approach to photography can, and does, change over time. How we use the capabilities of our camera gear. How we compose images. How we work in post. All can change and improve over time, directly impacting the quality of our work. It is important that we apply ourselves to both the art and craft of our photography. We hold ourselves back when we let a sensor obsession consume us, and waste time pixel peeping.
Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data.
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