Repost: Points of sufficiency: do you really know how much is enough?

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39-MP medium format overkill? For most things, most definitely. But if you’re making 40×50″ fine art prints for close range viewing, no.

I’m reposting this article from 2012 for the simple reason that I’m still getting far too many emails from people obsessing over equipment with bigger numbers or higher specs solving compositional and creative deficiencies. I think I’ll continue to do this on a regular basis so long as those communiques keep coming in…

The never-ending photographic arms race got me thinking recently about sufficiency: how many pixels, fps, AF points, ISO settings, etc. are enough? The troubling thing is that I thought I used to know the answer: I’m no longer sure it’s quite as clear cut. See, the thing is that if you’re viewing images online, in theory, anything close to your screen resolution (leaving space for UI elements, text, menus etc.) should be sufficient – 1000px wide is more than enough for most purposes. The images on this site are mostly 800px wide, for reference. In theory, that should mean an iPhone is overkill. Yes and no; just because resolution sufficient, it doesn’t mean that we’re going to have enough dynamic range, or color depth (or accuracy).

This raises a hypothetical question: suppose we could have say a ‘perfect’ 3MP – in a compact camera, with a reasonably good zoom lens; if we put those 3MP into a 2/3″ or 1/1.7″ sized sensor, we could probably get a fast-sh 24-120mm f2-4 equivalent into something that would be reasonably pocketable. The relatively low pixel density would mean several things – good acuity, low noise, good color accuracy, and much higher forgiveness of the lens quality. With today’s technology, I don’t see why you couldn’t get a clean ISO 6400 and useable ISO 12800. Even with a lens of moderate speed, that’s a more than sufficient shooting envelope for most photographic purposes. Add a good optical stabilizer, fast AF, 14 bit RAW, responsive buffering and controls, and most people would be set. And with raw files that small, you could probably get 10,000 of them onto a 32GB card.

But, nobody would buy it and it would be a commercial failure. Only 3MP? Really?

That’s the kicker. If you’ve ever had a really high quality, but small-ish file, then you’ll know that you can actually do quite a lot with it; I remember seeing some images from the 2005 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition – prints, at 40×60″ or so – which were shot with a Nikon D1H: that’s right, all of 2.7MP. Did they sing? You bet. Did they look grainy, or pixellated? Not especially so, but I’m sure you’d see the difference if you shot the exact same scene with a D800E. The shot that won would no doubt still be a great capture even twenty years from now. A hundred years from now. Does the equipment matter? Insofar as it didn’t get in the way of the capture, no.

In a more realistic scenario, a proper 300dpi print (actual pixels, not printer ink dots) looks extremely sharp. 200dpi is still acceptable; do you know what most computer screens are? Closer to 110. Sharp images still look sharp, don’t they? And the reason things appear pixellated is because the pixel mask of the screen gives each pixel a hard edge. If the edges of each dot were just a tiny bit fuzzy and overlapped the next dot, like in a print, then things would look just fine. The reality is that short of sticking yourself a few inches away from the display, you’re not really going to see the individual pixels. I have to be honest; the Macbook Pro’s 220dpi ‘retina’ display doesn’t look all that different to my 27″ Thunderbolt Display from healthy viewing distances. But it requires four times the amount of graphics power to run, because guess what: every graphical element requires four times the pixels.

Most people print no larger than 6×4″, or perhaps out to 8×12″ for special images; survey a group of enthusiasts on the largest print they’ve made, and you’ll probably find 13×19″ a good end point. There are two reasons why: cost, and lack of display space. Enormous prints are great, and actually printing work is important, but you’d also better have enormous walls to hold them.

So what does a 1500×2000 pixel, 3MP file get you? At 110dpi, 13.6×18.2″ – lo and behold, that’s pretty darn close to 13×19″! The one problem with this scenario is that it assumes that all photographers using the ‘sufficient’ camera have the shot discipline to get things perfect at the pixel level, and that they’re really getting the full resolution of the sensor. Sigma/ Foveon shooters will know what I mean by this – the files may be small, but the real resolving power is pretty darned high. Higher than the sensor’s pixel count would lead you to believe (but not as high as Sigma’s marketing department would like you to believe).

Even for use on a next generation ‘retina’ display, you could still get a 7×9″ image out – comfortably fitting the display size. You could probably interpolate it a little too, and not see too much degradation in quality.

Let’s put this all into context. A decent 20MP file has a whopping 5500×3600 or so pixels, or enough for a 50×33″ print – I don’t have enough space in my house to hang more than one or two of those, and at that size, I’d struggle to think what image I wouldn’t mind looking at for hours on end. 20MP is available in ultracompacts (not very good pixels); large-sensor compacts like the RX100/II (much better pixels); we’re not far off for M4/3, have exceeded it in APS-C and any larger format. Yet there are still people crying ‘not enough resolution!’. At that sensor size, pixel density is so high that critical focusing and shooting discipline become very important; I notice that the stabilizer seems a lot less effective than lower-pixel count cameras, but I’m now starting to suspect it’s because it’s got to work quite a lot harder to maintain perfection at the pixel level.

Take the argument a notch further: okay, so there are still reasons to have something with interchangeable lenses. And those things always come with bigger sensors (okay, so not the Nikon 1 cameras or Pentax Q, but they haven’t exactly been a commercial success – expensive, small sensor, low pixel count; even if the pixel quality is reasonably high and the cameras are extremely responsive). Bigger sensors mean more expected resolution. I’m going to bypass M4/3 and APS-C for the time being, because they all top out at reasonably similar resolutions; there isn’t that much linear difference between 16 and 24MP – remember, area scales with the square of length. Let’s go to full frame – one of the most common questions I’ve received via email in the last few months is ‘what do you think of the A7/A7R?’ The fact that that question is even being asked signals that the marketing department has done a good job. They’ve sold you on the lure of the enormous number of pixels and the necessity of full frame to make a ‘proper’ image; you haven’t bothered to do a bit more reading to find out that a) you’re going to need much better lenses; b) shot discipline once again becomes critical; c) stability is a hot topic; d) the back end file handling becomes very time consuming indeed. Frankly, if you’re not making 20×30″ or larger landscapes (for the fine detail) on a regular basis – do you really need the heartache that comes from having to revaluate all of your lenses, and shunt around 50MB RAW files? Probably not. But, the bragging rights are a different matter altogether.

One of the reasons why the photographic industry is still growing despite passing saturation point some time ago is because of the photographers themselves: they don’t know when to stop. Canon will happily sell you a 50/1.2 for three or four times the price of the 50/1.4, which itself is three times the price of the 50/1.8 – simply because there are people who will pay for that extra half a stop. (And it may be an extra half a stop of aperture, but it’s almost certainly less than half a stop of transmission. Let’s not even talk about Leica’s 2.8-2.5-2.0-2.0 APO-1.4-0.95 lineup.) Nikon recently followed suit with it’s 58/1.4, which is three times the price of the 50/1.4 – but it’s still f1.4! Let’s be realistic: the camera’s metering doesn’t gauge scenes that accurately; I routinely make adjustments of +/- 1 stop, and with smaller sensor cameras, I’ve got to use the spot meter or risk an unsalvageable image. With the degree of adjustment latitude our modern sensors give us, whole stops changes are what you have to be making before you see any appreciable differences in image quality.

Here’s another curious thing: equipment with more conservative specifications often performs better than more extreme gear, even though the extreme gear frequently costs several times more. This is because we’re dealing with known technology, with greater tolerance for error; it’s a Swiss Army Knife rather than a scalpel. This is why there are many superb 50/2s or 50/2.8s that perform excellently wide open, but few 50/1.4s and faster that do – the Zeiss Otus is one of the exceptional few. It’s also why lenses with higher resolving power – take the macros for instance – have modest apertures. It’s easier to correct for smaller apertures. Same thing with sensors – it’s easier to get good dynamic range and a high signal-to-noise ratio out of a sensor with a larger pixel pitch; the supporting electronics for each photosite has to be of a certain size, and if there isn’t much area to go around in the first place, that circuitry starts to make a significant and noticeable difference to the light-collecting ability of the sensor.

The bottom line is very Delphic: Know thyself. Specifically, think carefully about which pictorial limitations are due to the photographer, and which are because of the camera. Low light performance? It’s probably your gear. Poor composition? More pixels isn’t going to help you. Blurry images? More pixels definitely aren’t going to help you; examine your technique first.

The recent posts illustrated with images from a phone and compact respectively were posted specifically to illustrate this point: just because a camera is old, it doesn’t mean that it’s no longer capable of producing good images. If somebody could use it to get the shot when they had no other choice, it means that you can still do that. The important thing to remember is that most of the time, the limitation is in the user, not the equipment. So next time, before buying more gear, think about spending money on improving your skill level first. I guarantee that you’ll see a much bigger improvement in your images. MT


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  1. Hey … stop it!

    This is the Internet. You are supposed to write inflammatory nonsense … not solid good sense.

  2. Struggling mightily with this choice right now. I’m shooting for a large school newspaper, interning at a large local web news outlet as a photographer/photo editor, and doing lots of personal street/documentary work. I need a new camera – I’ve been shooting on a variety of bodies owned by my various places of employment, and my current D700 is coming up on the life of it’s shutter (pushing more than 300,000 clicks). The problem I’m running into is one of competing desires/needs. On the one hand, I spend a lot of time up close, in crowds, at parties, and for that kind of work, the smaller and quieter, the better. Something like the E-M5 II would be perfect. On the other hand, I shoot a lot in low light, and although I use flash in 90% of circumstances, having PDAF and better low light would be … significant.

    If I bought the EM5II, I could afford two bodies, and/or a Ricoh GR to supplement for the personal stuff. If I go bigger, though, it’s probably only the one body, which makes me nervous as I branch out and leave the safety of a room full of company owned 5D2’s should my camera go down. I’m also worried about M43 IQ to a certain extent … but then I think, several of the World Press Photos of the Year were shot on the E-M1. So is it really worth worrying about too much?

    Overall, I just feel in a really tough spot. Worried about making a bad purchase, you know? I want “sufficient” gear, but is that M43? Is it a 7D2? Is it a D750? Am I overthinking it, and should I just save as much money and go with the least costly choice, using the rest to invest in other beneficial things like more education, books, travel, etc.?

    Sorry for rambling, I’m just feeling a little overwhelmed by all the options/things that could potentially go wrong.

    • Frankly, you could probably go with a very basic entry level DSLR, a couple of f1.8 primes and do better than the D700. And have lower replacement costs. We’re way past sufficiency at this point for your intended uses.

      • Why do you use a Hasselblad with 100MP? (I’m convinced there are very sound reasons 😉 ) I disagree with the sufficiency concept to some lengths.
        I print maximum 50x75cm (20×30 inches). I wasn’t happy with the resolution of cameras below 20MP before the Sigma DP3Ms came along. Most of my pictures hang in corridors at home. Viewing distance around 20-30 inches. Resolution sucks in 20×30 inch prints at that viewing distance if the image contains less than 30MP (Bayer pattern). I do agree, I have reached some sufficiency with 36MP, but find that 36MP + Pixelshift still gives a better print at 20×30 inches. This brings me closer to 70 MP for a sufficient print.
        I do agree, that I love “Wimmelbilder”: A picture that attracts attention at two yards distance and yields additional detail when viewed from 6 inches distance fascinates me. (I’m enthralled by your ultraprints).
        The output medium is the real problem: I would love a couple of 20×30 inch screens with 30-40 MP resolution. It would allow me to share more images at home. I imagine slowly changing slide shows 🙂 . In addition a screen would allow a much more brilliant presentation of images than the presently hung prints (in addition to the elimination of reflections and uneven illumination).

        Some thoughts. To give some idea of my background: I shoot only private and share pictures with friends that visit my home. Often avid photographers themself, but not typical sharers of 2×3 inch pictures on social media.

        • Much larger prints than that with much higher print density, plus clients who like to crop aggressively (despite my attempts to educate otherwise). Also: because I can, and because I can deploy the difference most of the time, and because my aim has always been to push what’s possible. However: it doesn’t always mean the display medium supports it…

  3. Tord S Eriksson says:

    I use a Nikon V1 for my everyday shots, and when on vacation, but the high resolution and/or low light shots I take with my D600.

    I doubt I’ll buy another APS-C camera in my life, but maybe an MFT, as I have access to a lot of lenses ;-)!

    • Tord S Eriksson says:

      With age, weight becomes an issue, and I can’t just imagine carrying my full format gear when out walking; I’ve just got four lenses: one macro, a tele zoom, a fast 85/1.8, and a 35/1.4′ that’s all, plus the camera. In total about eight pounds, or about four kilograms. Then you need a rigid tripod, a nice ball, or video, head. Easily seven kilos, 15 lbs., and then the bag itself, and possibly some flashes, a LED array, maybe an umbrella, and …

      A RIcoh GR would be a nice replacement for my old APS-C cameras, which mostly gather dust!

  4. Reblogged this on Duke_Let.

  5. Hi Ming – Spot on indeed. Being a pure amateur and having less and less time to shoot, these are the questions I am asking myself for some time now. I have been buying, buying, using great cameras and lenses but yes, it never helped me to make better pictures, although being a huge pleasure it never was better than my first film cameras. I am looking backwards, looking at old film cameras, remembering the pleasure of lab, the patience, the slow process and the IQ that was more than enough to me. I am thinking about how fast my digital gear is losing value and thinking why did I need that? Did I really need that? What’s the point? And I am about to change that, take the time, go back to the basics, get a M3 that I will still be able to use in 10 years with consistent results. Thanks, your post is just helping me on that route.

  6. thanks for your smart thoughts. you perfectly described what i think camera’s improvements – 99% is just marketing.

  7. Being a archive fotographer wanting to take decent readable pictures of my handwritten pieces of parchment – I would kill for a camera with a square sensor coming close to the specs you mention – 3MP into a 2/3″ or 1/1.7″ sized sensor, + a fast-sh 24-120mm f2-4 equivalent. Make it 1.7/1.7 for a thing. Perfect to read at home on my computerscreen. The damn thing would be perfectly small too. Dream along!

  8. Ming, I think you’re too sensible for your own good.
    Negating the ‘key selling points’ from the camera manufacturers be careful of the ‘hitmen’ 🙂
    Thanks for ‘the refresher course’ – sometimes we all forget.
    Maybe I’m a reincarnation of Quasimodo – I hate (sensor) noise 😉
    I’d be happy (for my ‘casual snaps’) if they kept the MP’s at around 16 or so and just kept on lowering the noise whilst increasing the DR.
    Have you any thoughts on which is ‘the best sensor’ in this regard?
    Or do you feel I’m being overly simplistic?

    Great article – as usual 😉

    Best regards,

    • Probably so; the camera companies hate me as a result because they’ll never sell anything new that way 🙂

      Low noise? Df, D4, D3s. None of those are ‘casual snap’ cameras though, and the Df is an ergonomic disaster.

      • Thanks for the reply Ming.
        There lies the rub. There’s no ‘affordable’ camera (< $2,000) with a very low noise sensor.
        Don't know why Nikon 'upped' the D7000 resolution to 24 MP rather than keep them at 16MP and improved the S/N and DR etc. – other than 'mega pixels sell'.
        My D600 is great (IQ wise) but I'd have preferred a smaller body (and lenses) for casual carrying around.

        • There is – a second hand D700 or D3.

          Manufacturers up pixel counts because marketing people are lazy, and consumers are willing to be duped into believing that bigger numbers are better.

          • Except the D700 and D3 are too big – D600 is as big as I’m happy with but would appreciate smaller – like an OMD with 16MP and S/N and DR equivalent to the 24 MP FF camera. Or are we fast approaching the S/N and DR performance limitations with given photosite size and require to downsample more pixels to get some (if any) improvements in this area (and I have my doubts that DR, in particular, is improved by downsampling)?

            On a different tack (and as you mention the D3/D700), I see many ‘need’ a pro body because they’re ‘tougher bodies’ (rather than enhanced performance in other areas) – but once one hangs a lens on said ‘tougher’ bodies I guess the lens would be more susceptible to damage before the body anyway, so is having a ‘tough’ body actually a valid consideration? – Just something I’ve been pondering as lenses can be as, or more, valuable than the body itself so one should take due care of the ‘system’ as a whole (i.e. the weakest link).

  9. Hi Ming Thein, i have a Nikon D5100 and i plan to get a used Nikon 17-55mm lens and 85mm 1.8G lens, but i am tempted to buy nikon d600 and 28-300mm or 28-70mm 2.8, the cost is obviously higher. Which route will get me better image quality and performance? Thanks 🙂

    • You have better lenses with the DX solution but a better sensor with the FX one. Both are compromises for different reasons. It all ultimately depends on your shot discipline and skill anyway.

      • Thanks for the advice, do you recommend nikon 24-70mm over 17-55mm? I heard 17-55mm is almost on par with the 24-70mm. I forgot to mention that i have tokina 11-16mm as well, which was bought months ago.

  10. Hi Ming, Glad to speak with you again. I have to agree wholeheartedly with you. As a point of reference, one of my finest images was taken years ago in Nevada with a disposable Kodak camera. Could it have been improved with better (more expensive) equipment and a more skilled photographer? The answer is an unequivocal, maybe. As an amateur who only has to satisfy himself my project this year was to use one camera and one lens. Not easy for those of us who lust over ever possible new and improved technological gadget. I was given a Panasonic GM-1 as a holiday present and have been getting up to speed with it. It certainly isn’t a MFDB but it sure is more is producing amazing results. The most enjoyable camera since my Leica IIIf of 50 years ago. And, as an amateur, isn’t that what a hobby is all about? As a side note, the ability to hold the camera steady is not necessarily improved by holding it against your face, due to your own breathing, pulse, etc. Just ask a competition firearms expert. Thanks for the time. I’d love to see what the GM-1 could produce in our hands. Alan

    • Breathing technique matters, but generally coupling a heavier weight to your lower frequency body motion is better than at arms’ length. I’m no competition firearms expert but I do know my keeper rate with camera to face is much higher than at arms length.

      • When it comes to matters of photographic final output I yield to you. If you get a chance, please comment on the little jewel that is the GM-1. Interestingly enough, it handles quite nicely with larger lenses by cupping the lens in your left hand and releasing the shutter traditionally or with the touch screen. I was wondering how the left handlers of the world feel about this.

        • As interesting as it may be, somebody is going to have to send me one before I even think about reviewing it…I don’t buy things just to review, and I don’t review everything simply because of the time required to do it properly. (And if you’re not going to do it properly, why do it at all? There are plenty of other sites that already do that.)

        • Just saw this… As a left hand person with a GM-1, it’s no problem. Not aware of any camera designed for left hand use. All have shutter release on the right. LH people learn to adapt at an early age to a RH world for most things.

  11. I particularly love that essential accessory on your MF back………………..the adhesive tape fastening the cable release to the L bracket.
    As for 4″ x 5″ cameras, it may not all be about massive enlargement capacity for the amateur photographer. There seems to be a DIY ethic in some of the large format community, as judged by forum activity. I, a very average amateur, am attracted to LF by the sheer deliberateness required, the thinking that goes into finding and fine-tuning your image composition, making the various choices of movements, film, exposure, processing – all the PITA stuff that digital was supposed to deliver us from. Plus, to be entirely honest, I harbor a certain amount of size envy from my long-ago days of shooting and home-developing/printing 35mm B&W. There are some decent used “beater” to “nice” no-frills 4″ x 5″ cameras and lenses out there, making it feasible for an amateur to give it a try for about the same price as a starter DSLR and lens.

    • I don’t use the cable release most of the time; this was just for the shot.

      I’m moving away from super-large prints for the simple reason that they’re very difficult to handle; contact printing might well be the way to go. Given the way I shoot in the studio most of the time, it’s not really that far off my digital process 🙂

  12. Great article Ming. Totally agree. One small academic error, however: Know Thyself is a “Delphic” dictum, not “Socratic”. Take it from a Greek. Keep up the good work.

  13. paul witzig says:

    Thanks Ming, I loved this piece.
    I think you have nailed the dilemma. For me it was much, much easier to navigate a clear path in the film era. Now, in this digital world the avalanche of claims & counter-claims about cameras, lenses, megapixels & video just becomes totally confusing, and I suspect counter-productive, if the real objective is simply to capture wonderful images – for whatever use or purpose.
    So yes, analyse your real needs and keep it simple. Then focus on the art because that is where the creative satisfaction lies.

  14. Hasselblad makes a great pistol grip for it’s cameras! Or are you afraid that it might look too much like a gun in our crazy society.

  15. Ian Christie says:

    An excellent piece – thanks for this.
    I use three digital cameras, all with low pixel counts: Epson R-D1 (6mp); Sigma DP2s (5Mp Foveon); Leica Digilux 2 (5mp). They all make lovely-looking images and prints when I get the exposure, composition and steadiness right. The pixel counts might even be advantageous – is there a sweet spot for pixel pitch relative to sensor size? I keep hold of these cameras because a) they work; b) the designs of the R-D1 and D2 are so good; c) the images look fine. When things go wrong with a photo, it is not often because these ‘old’ cameras can’t cope – it’s because I’ve not made a good job of using them.

  16. GREGORIO Donikian says:

    If i tell You not to think in a red elephant, guess what, The first think You think is a red elephant, this is why Manu photographers can stop , Just all Thierry blogers and matazones, tal kong about en ítems, we all want to try. If people start taking about photography, fine art, etc ,etc we will start moviendo in that direction …


  17. Ming, I really like you articles. I read most of them. I noticed you don’t talk much about Fuji. I am not a Fuji shooter, but the system has me intrigued. You think it’s a lot of hype, or is it really punching above it’s weight in IQ?


    • I reviewed the X-E2, X20 and XF1 previously. Frankly, I find them to be extremely disappointing in terms of image quality; they definitely do not punch above their weight at all. If anything, substantially below. I initially tested the X system out of curiosity, but have decided not to waste any more time on it. A proper evaluation takes at least four to five full days of work – this is time which I can’t shoot commercially, and reviews only seem to bring out argumentative fanboys. Certainly not worthwhile financially or stress-wise.

      • I have to say that the leaked pictures of their upcoming SLR-lookalike camera show a pretty ideal camera from a controls POV. It’s what the Df should have been.

        • Meh – it depends on ergonomics and workflow. Right now, the Fujis are pretty terrible at both.

          • Still, interesting >>

            I’m honestly surprised that your experiences with the X-Trans sensor were largely negative.

            I agree that the RAW workflow issue is a royal PITA and responsiveness of the cameras leaves a lot to be desired (though it’s getting better with each hardware iteration and incrementally better with each firmware update to existing hardware).

            Yet there are a great many photographers (pro and amateur alike) producing some outstanding results with these cameras, and swearing by them. From what I’ve seen, IQ does appear to rival full-frame in many respects, particularly with regard to richness and depth.

            Having shot with the X-Pro 1, I’m still inclined to feel that its IQ output exceeds M4/3, particularly when using excellent glass like the XF35mm f/1.4 R. In fact, I’d planned to sell mine after acquiring the OM-D, but I’m now struggling a bit with the decision, actually.

            When the X-Pro 1 nailed it, I was impressed with the output >>

            • At the pixel level, the X trans sensors leave a lot to be desired. Maybe it’s the demosaicing, but there are a LOT of artefacts I simply don’t see with other cameras. If you’re going for overall global feel only, the X system might be viable. But if you also have clients that pixel peep, they simply don’t work. Workflow matters – especially when you’re processing hundreds or thousands of images a week.

              Handling is very much a personal thing. And hey, if it works for you – why not? The Hassy V cameras are a pain to most, but I find them pretty fluid. Choice is good and all that…

              • Thanks for the response. I find myself in an small minority with you. I purchased an X-Pro 1 near release, but I found the experience terribly clunky with the EF, MF, AF, write speed, raw issues, etc. I do not find the IQ to be (substantially) better, as often claimed. I much prefer the color output and lack of artifacts from the non x-trans sensors. I too noticed artifacts upon sharpening. I find the output of Fuji colors not to my taste–but this is subjective. Too bad though: I baldy want to keep liking this system because of Fuji’s commitment to firmware updates, fast quality relatively cheap primes lenses, increasing responsiveness of their cameras, and price points. I was hoping I wasn’t doing something right. Thanks for answering.

                • You can’t sharpen without getting artefacts around diagonal corners. And colour tends to be shifted very cyan; skies require considerable correction. The lenses make a lot of sense, but the camera bodies…no.

  18. Tangentially related to sufficiency: gah, Ming, I’m having all the same issues as you with the 24/85 1.4Gs not playing nicely with my D800. I remembered you switched to the 1.8s for good reason (actually, that’s one of my earliest memories of this site), but a quick refresher of your reviews this evening after the latest frustrating day with the 85 reminded me exactly why: inaccurate focus–check; softness–check; buckets of longitudinal CA–check; calibration for close distance = off at infinity (and vice versa)–check. I’m glad it wasn’t just me…

    The 50mm 1.8G, meanwhile, has been a peach.

    I’ve been putting off doing something about this since I made the D700 to 800 switch four months ago, but it might just be time to “downgrade” 🙂

    • It’s annoying, isn’t it? I remember those two lenses being an incredibly good pair on the D700/D3. But they left me seriously disappointed with my D800s, and yes, I switched to the 28/1.8G and 85/1.8G – which are adequate, but really not very exciting. And they have other deficiencies such as flare and field curvature. The good news is that by selling both of the 1.4Gs and buying 1.8Gs, you’ll save enough money to add another interesting lens, like perhaps a Zeiss of some description…

      • The 1.8s are hard lenses to get excited about, that’s for sure. And something doesn’t seem quite right about having to mess about selling premium-priced lenses and buying cheaper ones because the cheaper ones work better…

        I can see why you started using the OM-D/EM-1/GR for reportage; I’m just not finding the D800 fun or rewarding for that kind of shooting*. I pretty much knew what I was getting into (I read this site every day!), but all the things I read have certainly been borne out in use. The A7R must be a real delight…! :s

        * No gripes with it for stationary subject matter, or when you have a tripod.

        • Agreed: they’re very pedestrian optics, but they get the job done.

          I had to use the D800Es for reportage on my last corporate documentary job because of the client’s resolution requirements – very, very demanding to shoot; however the results with the Otus and 21 Distagon were pretty darn impressive 🙂

          • Wow. Hope the client’s intending on printing big…

            The Zeiss-es are beautiful lenses in every way. Were you using your new split screen finder (assuming you got one in the end)? I was going to say focusing must be challenging, but I’d probably rather manual focus than rely on native lenses and the D800’s weird AF tbh…

            • Who knows. Right now I’m just trying to get the client to reply to email – after delivery of images they’ve been very silent on things like licensing and payment.

              Yes, I did get the split screen/ micro prism screens in the end – a lot of work to fit and align properly, but they do the job quite well. Can’t decide if I like the split or micro prism better; unfortunately there is no screen with both that fits the D800E, it seems.

              • Ha! Well, they have the images now, why sweat the small stuff eh? 😉 Sounds like par for the [invoicing] course in photography these days…

                I really do find it odd that Nikon don’t have official screens available, at least on the high-end cameras. Surely there’s a market for them? As you’ve pointed out before, the F6’s screen is a fine candidate and has been in production for 10 years… I’d get one, and I’d even pay Nikon to fit it.

                Just seen your comment above “I’ve found myself actually going back to AF-S on the D800Es simply because the AF-C algorithms seem to be a bit too sensitive”–yes! With the 85mm 1.4 wide open, AF-C might as well be a random number generator 😦

                • Sigh. One more reason why photography as a business is really for the masochistic.

                  I did suggest to my contacts at Zeiss that they might want to look into focusing screens, which they appeared to take quite seriously…

                  • That’d be cool. Makes sense for them to do something that’s a bridge into lens ownership… I wonder if the next generation of FF DSLRs will ease off on the MP. From a technical standpoint I think 36MP is really pushing what one can get away with; from a marketing one, however…

                    Side note: are you still using 11-point AF à la D700 (outside the studio), or did you find the switch to D800 necessitated using all 51?

                    • I doubt it. If the rumours are true…48MP is the next high watermark. I really wonder what the point is as we’ll be hitting diffraction limits by f8 and have to stack or use tilt shifts for adequate depth of field.

                      I’m still using 11 points – actually just the middle 9 most of the time. The outermost two aren’t really accurate enough; it seems there’s quite a noticeable difference between cross type and line type sensors.

                    • Agreed on both counts. Actually, if we do get 48MP, an AF module that (finally) fills the frame in the D900 et al will be a necessity…

                    • I’m starting to think there’s a good reason why we don’t have greater frame coverage for the AF modules, and why MF only usually has one point: it has to do with parallax and optical component (specifically mirrors and AF module) alignment. The simplest and most accurate solution would be PDAF on sensor, and a pellicle mirror. It would also solve the problem of mirror slap…but that would make too much sense!

                    • And maybe they’ll come in tripod kits as well as lens kits? 😉

                    • I hope not. The Nikon branded tripods are a disaster. That said, I think the importance of tripods is grossly underestimated these days.

                    • Yes, it was a genuine pleasure to see one being used throughout How To See Ep2. And before anyone else jumps in, I realise this is a sad and pathetic thing for a 28-year-old to derive genuine pleasure from! D:

                    • I’d have gone with the 5-series systematic and Cube, but that significantly exceeded my weight allowance. The Traveller/ P0 is quite a handy combo – rigid and light. I still think a good tripod/head is the most underrated piece of equipment ever. And I don’t for a moment regret buying the Cube.

                      Hey, I’m also 28!

                    • Yeah, while you might not regret *buying* the Cube, *carrying* it is a different matter 😉 The more you shoot, the more you realise a sensible weight allowance significantly enhances your enjoyment of the experience–which is the whole point (when you’re not on assiangment, anyway).

                      On a related note, finally tried a few Billinghams on your recommendation; ended up with a 207 ( Upsetting how large a bag is needed just to accomodate the D800/1.4Gs and a flash, but damn it’s handsome…

                      When’s your birthday? …Actually, never mind, searched the site. Everything has been answered already here, not just the photographic stuff 😉 17 days between us!

                    • That’s also very true. The Cube itself isn’t anywhere near as heavy as it looks, though.

                      I’m using a 307 – I needed a bit more space for laptop and ancillaries – and yes, it’s a very nice bag 🙂 That said, I can get a D800E, the Otus and two small primes (Zeiss 28 and either a battery grip or a GR) into a Hadley Small…

                    • Didn’t know you had a 307 🙂

                      Yeah, I also tried a 107, and technically everything fit in there, but I like a little bit of breathing room personally…

                    • I needed a bit more breathing room over the Hadley Pros – plus there were too many people carrying them 😛

                    • Haha yeah, I actually found a “Which Billingham would you most like to own?” poll on a forum somewhere–the Hadley Pro was ahead by about 45% :p Promptly went out and brought something else 😉

                      Still might pick up a Hadley Digital as a lens bag, though. The 207’s a bit of a heffer when you’re just wandering about with your camera on.

                    • Agreed with that, though these days I’m using the Hadley Small as I can get three lenses into it instead of two (or an extra camera, like a GR or E-M1 or even Hassy and 80mm.

                    • It’s tough being a minimalist! 🙂

                    • Tell me about it. It just seems like an excuse for companies to charge more for less: “we removed stuff and had to think about it, so you’re going to have to fork out another $XXX…”

                    • How’d you manage to fit all of that in a Hadley Small?! I have one (sage green — no one else buy that color!) and I can barely get the E-M1 with the 12-40 in there with a small compartment to hold the 75/1.8 and another small lens stacked on the 75. The bag is split along its length with about 2/3 for the camera and 1/3 for the lens compartment. The M1 lies on its side with the 12-40’s hood reversed. I can’t even imagine trying to fit a D800 and Otus in there!

                    • Reverse the hoods, put the D800 in the middle and divide the rest into thirds. I can also get a hassy, an extra lens and an iPad into a Hadley digital 🙂

                    • Right, the challenge is laid down for when I take delivery of my Hadley Digital later. It’s like one of those ‘How many people can you fit in a Mini?’ contests…

                    • Oddly I find the 307 and 555 quite hard to pack because of their verticality. Easy to stuff, difficult to do it in such a way that you can still access the stuff inside.

                    • Yes, the 207 is surprisingly tall. And of course, the supplied divider has no chance of dealing with the chubby 85 1.4G.

                    • I find lens pouches work well, or the tall silos that come with some Lowepro bags – put two lenses end to end.

                    • Clearly, my packing skills need work, or I need to find a used tardis … I was trying to pack my 500C/M the other day into the Small, and could barely get the whole camera (and its PME finder mounted) and the 80 and hood, with no room for another lens. I can’t imagine how that giant finder Ming uses fits easily into a bag.

                      BTW, the Billingham PDF catalog on their website has nice shots of the internal dividers without a bag showing how they pack each bag. A V-series ‘Blad shows up a few times, albeit only with the waist level finder.

                    • I use the WLF when I’m going to pack it. 🙂

                    • Thanks for the PDF tip Andre, will check that out now!

                      Love the Hadley Digital, seems like a much more pleasant size for long days with the camera. The 24 and 85 1.4Gs only just fit in there side by side, though–and that’s without the internal dividers. By contrast, it could probably take about ten of the old 1.4 AI-Ss!

                    • Stack them on top of each other, back cap to back cap. If you’ve always got one or the other on the camera anyway, it isn’t a problem 🙂

                    • I actually take three: the two 1.4Gs, and the 50 1.8G. The latter is so small it scarcely warranted a mention 🙂 May replace it with something bigger and chubbier down the line though… Speaking of which, loving the Otus stuff you’ve been Flickr-ing recently. You can tell that’s a nice lens even at web sizes.

                    • Thank you – it’s the color/ clarity that comes through at web sizes; not the resolution of course…

                    • (No, I can’t afford one!)

  19. theclickingdame says:

    Hi Ming Thein, interesting article! Can you please enlighten me on this: I get the local labs (in Singapore) to process & scan my negatives at 16 base. They use Noritsu scanners that result in 3000 x 2000 pixels jpgs at 72 dpi. They told me it’s the dimensions that matter at print and not the dpi. I thought the resolution matters for printing? I would like to print larger than 8 x 12. Many thanks for your advice!

    • It matters but not all pixels are created equal. Does the output look perfectly sharp at 100%? Is there single pixel detail? How much grain is it resolving vs. actual detail? It’s hard to say whether that size is adequate or not without seeing the output and knowing your threshold for ‘acceptable’ in print. For some subjects/ purposes you can get away with 6MP and 40×60″; for an experimental technique I’m trying now, I need a clean 36MP just for an 8×12″. And you can actually see the difference between 16 and 36MP even at that size.

  20. Greg Donikian says:

    Ok if you found something bigger, please let me know !!


    • No, that’s probably about the largest there is. I’m curious how he a) creates the film; b) develops the negs; c) focuses the damn thing because it’s going to be pretty dark; d) why use a format that large for a person’s face when it’s probably going to be extremely unflattering? It smacks a bit of a PR stunt more than a genuine reason why, to be honest. Life size 1:1 with output as contact prints would have made more sense.

    • Taildraggin says:


  21. Taildraggin says:

    The D4 and 1DX are 16-18mp for good reasons.

    The D800e is a fast medium format camera disguised as a DSLR, without he DOF ‘advantage’ of MF. Bigger is better (you are going to revel in your 4×5 negs).

    “100% view” has turned everyone into “loupe people” from the film days. Seeing into the window at the other end of the block is technically impressive, but has little or nothing to do with a good image.

    Smaller cameras *should* be good now, but they all still have problems (for fast shooting): slow AF, DoF not as easily controlled (only fast lenses help, here), inconsistent lens line/selection, menu feature hell. But, sensors are more than adequate now… Most reviews gloss over these shortcomings. Oddly, all the pieces are there, but no one has yet put together an adequate lens line or a good enough AF. I’m patient.

    Ming: I’d get a chunk of mahogany and create an ergonomic grip for your ‘blad that includes the release. A woodworker could make it easily, something like the Lunar’s grip isn’t hard to do. The shape of your bracket is perfect for ‘sandwiching’ 2 slabs of wood, clamping the release and shaping to suit your hand. It would be pretty trick.

    Have a great Cohiba day. – Charlie

    • Actually, how difficult would it be to carve one yourself? 🙂

      • Taildraggin says:

        Send me a bracket like yours and I’ll make up 2….


        • Easily done, if you’re serious 🙂 They’re about $30 off ebay. In fact, there’s probably a market for these things…

          • Taildraggin says:

            Wouldn’t mind it at all. EBay? Are they worth using as a basis? I’ll get the bracket if you think it will last; please send a link to the right one. (Can you see my email address?)

            I do woodworking, as I do photography, to get away from my day job. I don’t want to ruin either by turning pro… I’m sure you know what I mean.

  22. Greg Donikian says:

    I agree Just relax, people is taking hardware very serious and in fact there is something in the medium format or large format photograpy that is no there yet, i’m not talking about Mega pixels, just the angle of view and the bookeh is much different. I have the same problem with digital, I love Digital pictures but a proper job done on Black and White film Is so much nicer !.

    There is something else there is a a special feeling and a special way of taking pictures with every camera, every format and every medium , is good to know how you react to them !!


    • For medium and large format film it’s tonal reproduction. You still see that even at small sizes; B&W film has significantly more dynamic range than digital, and a very nonlinear way of recording it that matches the way our human eyes work quite closely.

  23. Fantastic write up!

    Couldn’t agree more on every point.

    Its often easy to lay the blame on the equipment.

    • I think we’re all guilty of that at some point or other. Reality is we can almost always ‘make do’, but sometimes we want better…there’s nothing wrong with that – we must just remember not to confuse the two!

  24. Excellent post.

    As a point of practicality, what might also benefit folks here is if you tell them specifically under what sort of circumstances you would put [for example] your OM-D E-M1 away and pick up a full-frame camera, or indeed, the medium format beast? Put another way: under what sort of shooting circumstances does the smaller sensor become insufficient for your requirements and necessitate that you move to the larger frame?

    There’s also another trend that I’m not sure if folks are aware of, but it concerns the manufacturing technology used to make sensors. You may have noticed over the past 24 months that the IQ gap between the average APS-C sensor and the average 4/3 sensor has narrowed nearly to the point of being indistinguishable. The E-M1 for example, largely outperforms everything APS-C from Canon at the moment in noise performance, dynamic range, and color rendition. Meanwhile, medium format loses much of its edge in dynamic range and colors, only retaining a resolution advantage.

    As I understand it [and perhaps you can comment on this], the reason for this is the fact that the larger a sensor is, the more space is chewed up by routing, and the less space is available to photodiodes. Small sensor designs have been taking advantage of advances made in semiconductor fabrication to cram larger photodiodes into the same space and to reduce the routing area. Of course, this drops the yield of the sensor, meaning more defective parts and a higher cost, but nowhere near as much as it would for larger sensors.

    Ten years ago the sweet spot for routing area vs. photodiode size on image parameters was medium format. That’s actually come down to full frame (Nikon/Sony … Canon still lags). But 4/3’s has moved up into the territory previously occupied by APS-C.

    Basically, the sweet spot for sensor size vs. image quality with digital isn’t “as large as possible”. It depends on the capabilities of the fabrication processes, and those processes are working better and better for smaller sensors relative to larger ones.

    • Short answer: when the client demands a certain file size or I know I’m going to be making prints of a certain size, or I need certain lenses that might not be available on the smaller format (tilt shifts, for example). Otherwise, I’ll pick the smallest format that will do the job adequately.

      Medium format still beats smaller formats for color accuracy. Those two extra bits are meaningful – but only if your output medium can handle them. That said, we are comparing 5-6 year old CCD technology in MF sensors to the very latest CMOS sensors which are probably 2-3 generations ahead – so it’s not exactly fair.

      As for M4/3 vs APSC – I fully agree. And that’s why I don’t run APSC anything except for the GR; that is one of the few examples of outstanding optical synergy where the lens is perfectly matched to the sensor and the processing back end. The sweet spot is when all of this is balanced – be it the GR or the Otus on the D800E or the 75/1.8 on the E-M1; there are certain lens-sensor-processor combinations that work very, very well. I agree: bigger isn’t always better. Especially if it also increases the ancillaries required – tripods, for instance.

      I don’t have enough experience with the technical details of sensor architecture to comment on your other points, sorry.

      • My personal interpretation is that the E-M1 is ideally suited to reportage, editorial, and travel photography. I think it’s probably capable of playing to sufficiency outside those categories, but I haven’t had a chance to really test that yet.

        And you’re so right about the 75mm f/1.8. Picked that lens up last week and it is every bit the lens everyone says it is. IQ is excellent and it’s marvelous for candid street work. I’m curious about that new Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron…

        Not getting rid of the D3s and accompanying Nikon kit just yet, however. There’s something about the lovely tonality and depth that the D3s offers that I find hard to ignore (not sure I’ll ever get rid of it, if I’m honest). Would NOT want to travel with that camera, however, unless it was a specific paid assignment where I was convinced the OM-D couldn’t handle it. I think those circumstances are getting fewer, though.

        • The D3S sensor is something else, granted. Some time back, I shot the D700/ E-M5 side by side and was surprised by just how small the gap was; in fact there were images that the E-M5 got which the D700 couldn’t have done because of the stabiliser. 1/90 might be enough to freeze a musician, but not to freeze camera shake at 400mm equivalent…

          • The image stabilization is a great advantage, I agree.

            Was reading somewhere in a forum last week, however, that it’s no substitute for a steady hand, proper bracing…or a tripod. The theory was that the smaller sensors, in particular, require one to really nail focus and steadiness to wring the most out of them and attain the kind of tack sharpness you’ll need to make bigger prints (if one so chooses).

            The discussion went on to talk about a need to take the usual reciprocal of the focal length in question (or its magnified factor) with M4/3 and double it to really ensure proper steadiness (according to the discussion, IBIS notwithstanding). So, for the 75mm f/1.8, for example, it was argued that it really should not be shot below 1/300s to ensure tack sharpness (again, IBIS notwithstanding).

            Not sure I agree with the second part of that, but that was the argument being postulated, anyway.

            btw: My understanding of the IBIS is that it’s effective up to about 300mm native, but beyond that it ceases to be effective and that in-lens stabilization works much better.

            • It’s of comparable or slightly better effectiveness than the lens-based IS in the Panasonic 100-300, even at 300 (600 equivalent) – which really surprised me. 1/300s for the 75/1.8? I think 1/200 with IS off is about right; with IS on you’re good as low as 1/25.

            • mosswings says:

              The “small sensor-steadier hand” hypothesis sounds like a discussion on a recent post in which I proposed the same thing. Ming noted that it’s not sensor size nor even pixel size that affects sensitivity to handholding shake, but resolution and inertial factors – essentially, how many pixels populate a given angle of view, coupled with the reduced inertia of the smaller format camera systems, and even in certain shutter speed regimes IBIS itself (shutter shake, a consequence of the full 3 axis suspension of the sensor). Inertial factors being equal, a 24MP u4/3 sensor shouldn’t be more sensitive that a 24MP FF sensor.

              Overall, however, I’m in agreement that image stabilization is a mixed bag. I appreciate it for framing stabilization during tracking and composition, but pretty much never push shutter speeds down into the sub 1/125 second range for middling FLs – this is especially true for the higher resolution bodies. The reason is that subjects, unless they’re truly dead, are always moving, and that high resolution reveals all sorts of subject and operator micromotions that were not evident previously. As a consequence, the old rule of thumb about SS=1/(35mm FL) is kind of moot…it’s relative subject motion that rules the day, and that means 1/250-1/500 most of the time.

              A third aspect of high sensor resolution is the practical death of AF-S (single shot focus before capture) when hand holding, again because of those micromotions. Whereas I used to be fine with AF-S almost all the time, I now never move off of continuous tracking AF with Focus priority when handholding unless on tripod. I attribute a lot of apparent misfocusing complaints, to fore/aft micromotion of the operator under AF-S, especially when composing and tracking for a while before capture, and I’ve seen improvements in my handheld captures by practicing AF-C protocol.

              Bottom line, there are so many factors that go into the realization of a peak-quality capture that we really need to step back and assess ALL aspects of the tool when comparing. Something like super-light tripods – we need them to be light and compact for transport, but stiff, heavy, and tall for proper stability and damping when supporting equipment. These two desirable states are mutually exclusive. Thank heavens for tripod hanging hooks and photo bags with lots of stuff in them…

              • A note on AF-S: I’ve found myself actually going back to AF-S on the D800Es simply because the AF-C algorithms seem to be a bit too sensitive. Yes, we definitely need to compensate for the micromotions – but I don’t think the camera does a very good job at it; in fact, it seems to usually overreact…

                A heavy tripod, geared head and MF is definitely the way to go for anything critical.

    • Robert,

      If you want to dig into the sensor technical detail, see, a three piece analysis of imaging sensors and as much info as you probably can get without being in the industry. Basically it explains that Canon is using fairly old (0.5 micrometer) chip technology compared to Nikon and Sony (down to 0.18 micrometer; note that this is still huge compared to modern computer chips, where 0.024 is not unheard of). The larger (read older) the technology, the cheaper the masks and the more forgiving the process (yield) but the more space occupied by circuitry as you already noted.

      Of course it is never as simple as one parameter: the micro lenses and the read-out circuitry also have an impact, as well as where you place the AD (analogue to digital) converters and probably a lot more.

      • mosswings says:

        Up until the introduction of the 70D, Canon was using older technology in its sensors. The 70D is, I believe, the first to be fabbed on Canon’s new 0.18um fab, mentioned in the Chipworks reports. However, it’s interesting to note that Canon went a different direction than Nikon and to a certain extent Sony in utilizing the better fill factor afforded by the tighter geometries…it split each pixel in two and created full-area on-sensor PDAF, giving much better video focusing performance at roughly the same performance level as its older sensors. At this point in time. it appears that all sensor manufacturers are at the 0.18um technology node.

        Oly u4/3 has crept up to close to the raw performance of APS-C, but not beyond that of current manufacture APS-C, because it is using the same basic architecture and process technology (Sony EXMOR), and because it is utilizing some interesting tricks in the response curve and well fill reference levels to minimize perceived deficiencies arising from reduced sensor area.

        u4/3’s promise was that sensor tech was so good that one could shrink APS-C by a stop and still meet most photographic needs; however, it required the adoption of the latest EXMOR architecture sensors to realize it.

        • Wouldn’t splitting each pixel in two reduce light collection area and compromise image quality?

          • mosswings says:

            Absolutely. That’s one of the reasons why Canon’s stills performance doesn’t rise to the level of the Sony EXMOR architectures – the fill factor is lower because the readout circuity is increased in area.

      • That makes sense. The larger the circuitry, the less light-gathering area there is. Which also begs the question: why isn’t the same (presumably tiny, due to photosite size) circuitry fitted to the much larger pixels of larger sensors for even better results? Or am I missing something?

        • It has been…The 24MP D610 sensor, I believe, is an 0.18um EXMOR design. But what seems to be happening in the latest generation of sensors is that some of that very fine feature size is being used to intersperse PDAF sensing sites throughout the chip.. Sony is, according to the latest patents, using dedicated AF sites every few imaging pixels; some diagrams show them jammed into the chamfered corners of 4 adjacent imaging pixels. Canon is using pixel-splitting to achieve the highest possible density of AF sites and thereby the maximum potential for low-light AF performance and focus zone positioning with minimal interpolation.

          In short, manufacturers are now pushing those architectural features that permit easy migration to full mirrorless (already there with Sony) or better video-stills convergence (Canon)…except Nikon, which has only done this in the Series 1 line. That makes sense, though; it has zero presence in commercial video, so it lives and dies by its image quality…as long as buyers are willing to buy flippy mirror cameras.

  25. Very true. There’s no substitute for knowing your camera, and having some technique. I enjoy Digital Rev’s videos where they hand pros crummy equipment, and the pros still come up with some terrific shots. Not that I’m in that league by any stretch, but I’m quite proud of the shots of the Monterey Concours d’Elegance that I got years ago with a 2003 vintage Minolta XT ( ) with 3.2 megapixels and a postage stamp size rear screen. I wouldn’t want to print these large, but on the web they look pretty good:

  26. Thanks again for yr most informative post and conversation… soaking it up : ) Trees

  27. mosswings says:

    Ming, spot on, and in concert with so many seasoned photobloggers are saying.
    As I may have mentioned here before, the added workload of a high resolution camera was directly demonstrated to me on a recent 3-month trip. Very few of the images I made – all handheld – with a 24MP D7100 were critically sharp, whereas many more images from previous trips using a 12MP D90 were. Admittedly, if you’re observing at 100%, the comparison isn’t fair, but there is a difference, and it can be frustrating. The results at 1080P viewing resolutions are fortunately more acceptable, but the question remains: is it worth the 3x increase in file size and processing load to obtain the better noise signature and therefore higher ISO capabilities of the more modern sensor? The answer is my case, and perhaps for many who do primarily travel snapshotting with an appreciation for IQ, is a wobbly maybe, maybe not. Perhaps the “all I want is a quality 6MP sensor camera” Luddites are on to something, after all – as long as they’re members of the no-crop club. Or they pull a trick like the Nokia 1020 does, and use all those pixels to compute a better 6 or 3 or 1 MP image that they might with that older 6MP sensor camera.

    • You could try downsampling the 24MP files to 12MP in the raw converter – I’m certain these will look better at the pixel level than 12MP simply because there’s more information to begin with. It will speed up your processing time, but that doesn’t solve the problem of what to do with the enormous files to begin with…

      • mosswings says:

        True! Instant super-D90. The downsampled files do look better, and having 24MP is handy for framing errors even if you downsample heavily. The penalty is huge files and more backend workload, but I’ve been told that storage is free and computers are fast…alas, we live life one second per second no matter what…

  28. Yes and … yes. I remember those endless discussions from few years back when people were fighting to death whether digital is already ‘better’ than 35mm film. Since then the development of imaging technology made a huge leap. I am not going to argue whether one needs 3 or 16 Mpixels to make a great A3 (approx 12×16″) print as that depends on several factors and in particular on the subject. One way or another – the todays ‘average’ cameras can deliver more than most of us are capable to make use of.

    I am about to make first prints from my Nikon V1 … only 10 Mpix … let’s see whether it is any good 😉

  29. Ming, in reposts…you are just as brilliant as your original thoughts! And your answers to questions brings us into a classroom setting of you becoming the Socrates of our century, i.e. making us question our (Sony A7 Marketing Department generated) basic beliefs. In viewing Pixel-peeper photos for the latest D800(E) pics, there’s a noticable decrease in GREAT SHOTS…given that there will be a normal distribution of photo qualities based upon the distribution of who bought the camera. You wrote here and have written elsewhere of the inherent difficulties that D800 type users must compensate for…but the outputs in general seem to be of lower quality. I am not speaking about pros like yourself. I guess that I am saying that the average Joe thinks he is better off with a D800 type camera (and he may indeed have increased his photo taking enjoyment) but the learning curve, by looking at the photographic evidence, is too, too high… with the results being that on the whole, the end product photos are below the mean. Is Nikon afraid that a D800 model with only one difference being a 24Mp sensor would crush the D800 market share and profit margin because people (non-pros) would discover that…well, they’d discover the truth behind your article here?

    • Thanks. There was a bit of rewriting, but I keep getting asked the same question so often I felt it had to be done…

      I think the reason why more demanding gear often produces poor results is something to do with the psychology of experimentation and expectation: if you’re not expecting much, you’re willing to accept compromises and try new things. If you are, then you tend to play it safe – think about how people behave in critical or important situations. In my own experience, and watching my students shoot, less demanding cameras really seem to encourage experimentation; I’ll try shots with a GR or E-M1 that I simply won’t do with a Hasselblad. This of course results in creative development…

      Wait a moment, wasn’t Socrates sentenced to death by poison?

      • Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

        Wow, what an interesting thought…i.e., you are more likely to successfully experiment with a camera that’s below or near your limits than with a camera that is well beyond your limits (of photographic skill). Hmmm, what a concept. Now, you really have me thinking. I know that you have written that there’s not enough profit in book writing but perhaps its true value is similar to US Presidential candidates who ALL write a mandatory book before running for President. You could pen a book entitled, ” A Beginner’s Guide For Professionals or how to hone true greatness.”


        • That would assume I’ve achieved greatness, otherwise the contents of the book would be completely meaningless…and they probably still will be!

  30. johanna spoelstra says:

    I red your blogpost with a toyed feeling, are you honest or do you want me to be honest. Satisfaction is a valuable asset and comes cheap if you accept it as a possible way of life.
    I have a pentax q7 with 01 and 06 and, it is yellow, which gives me great satisfaction. I think it is a perfect camera, as it is able to give me visually back what it was I saw and felt, when we, q and me, get home together after our long walks. No mean feat. But then, q doesn’t have to make my living nor does it have to fill the walls of my mansion. I have, quite old-fashioned, dusty books for that.

  31. One of the reasons why the photographic industry is still growing despite passing saturation point some time ago is because of the photographers themselves: they don’t know when to stop. Canon will happily sell you a 50/1.2 for three or four times the price of the 50/1.4, [. . .] Nikon recently followed suit with it’s 58/1.4, which is three times the price of the 50/1.4 – but it’s still f1.

    At least Sigma is doing some nice stuff in this domain: the much-loved 35mm f 1.4 is less expensive than its peers and the new 50mm is likely to be cheaper than its peers as well.

    Incidentally, the lens cost drew me to an EM-5: I got three classic-length primes (17 1.8, 25 1.4, and 45 1.8), none for more than $500, and all are quite nice.

    • Smaller glass means smaller prices 🙂 I have no doubt one of the reasons why the Otus is so expensive is because the front element is about 70mm in diameter…

  32. Hi Ming,

    please can you write an article about „Pixel and Subpixel“?

    If a camera manufacturer is stating 20 mega pixels it is in reality 20 mega SUBpixels. A subpixel has either information about green, red or blue. And with the usual Bayer filter the information from 2 green subpixels, 1 red subpixel and 1 blue subpixel is used to calculate 1 pixel. So the 20 mega subpixels results in 5 mega pixels.

    However when a display manufacturer is saying that a display has 2 mega pixels (e.g. a HD display with1.920 x 1.080 pixels) it has really 2 mega pixels.

    Sigma’s Foveon sensor has 15 mega pixels (4.800 x 3.200 pixels).

    Nikon’s D800 has 36 mega subpixels. This results in 9 mega pixels (2x green, 1x red and 1x blue subpixel = 1 pixel) or 12 mega pixels (1x green, 1x red and 1x blue subpixel = 1 pixel). I have no information which type of Bayer filter Nikon is using.

    • mosswings says:

      Marty, then why does a 24MP D7100 produce a RAW file with 24MP images?

      My understanding of Bayer filtering is, while it is true that 4 pixels are used to calculate the information for a single pixel of output, the same 4-1-1 pattern of color filters is present for EACH pixel in the sensor array, but in differing orientations. The demosaicing algorithm takes note of the arrangement of colors in its calculation. There is a loss of resolution and accuracy in the process, but it is quite minor, and differs for chrominance and luminance (the eye can tolerate significantly reduced chrominance information – check out the encoding in your digital TV signal).

      Fuji’s X-Trans does something a little different, but is very similar to Bayer in operation. Foveon is the only sensor that doesn’t do this spatial “averaging” to discern color – because of the stacked sensing wells – but suffers filtration losses just like the spatially averaging sensors.

      With regards to a display manufacturer’s pixel count, study the display closely. It DOES have pixels and subpixels. Every pixel claimed by a 1080P display comprises 3 subpixels – R, G, and B. Sharp’s Quattron displays add a 4th yellow subpixel. In the camera world, manufacturers count subpixels. Nikon’s D7100 is an example of this…It claims a 1,228,800 pixel display, But that’s just a good ol’ 640 by 480 VGA display that uses R,G,B, and W subpixels.

    • I think you’ve pretty much explained it for me, except interpolation algorithms don’t quite work the way you’ve described – for a three colour sensor, you’re not seeing 1/3rd of the actual resolution. In practice, it’s somewhere closer to 60-70%, assuming you’re using a Foveon or Monochrome camera as your baseline – this means a DPM/ M-Monochrom and D800E all resolve in the same ballpark; I’d put the DPM at the bottom, the D800E in the middle and the M-Monochrom at the top – but it’s pretty close, and is still heavily affected by technique.

      • mosswings says:

        Thanks for the correction, and I apologized if I stepped in inappropriately, Ming…not sure if the comment section is for Q and A to you or for general discussion. In any case I’ve observed that the comments here are of as high a quality as the posts.

        • Not at all – it’s for both Q&A and general discussion and learning from both sides – please continue! 🙂

          • I think there is a lot of confusion.

            And an article about „Pixel and Subpixel or What is the resolution of the Nikon D7100?“ would be great 🙂

  33. Steve Austin says:

    Was in Venice, Italy recently where one of the hotel staff showed me one of his “photos”. It was a very small b/w photo of the Bridge Of Sighs. It was the most beautiful and artistic photograph that I have ever seen. It might have been digital or film, made with a Hasselblad or a child’s plastic camera..I do not know. It did not matter. The photographer’s composition skills and technique were paramount. I left thinking that if I could ever create something similar, that I would have reached the pinnacle of my photographic and artistic skills.

    Ming, your blog is very inspirational to me. Thank you for your time and effort.

    Cheers from Texas.

  34. Yorkshire Mike says:

    Having just taken delivery of this years bundle of 120 film. I’m pretty sure that my Fuji 645 GS is going to more than cover my needs.

    My best digital files are the ones that I have from when I owned a D700. Everyone has deferent requirements, but I honestly believe that the sensor in Nikon’s D700 is more than adequate for 99% of photographers most of the time.

    I sold my D700 in 2010 because it had a shutter count of just over 18000 and I’d printed only three A3 prints. For me, that wasn’t photography but that’s another debate………

    36MP files. No thanks.

    • Iskabibble says:

      Fuji’s 645 cameras are amazing. Small, very light, with tack sharp optics. The fact that they are great fun to shoot as well is an added bonus.

      • Not a 645, but I’ve always wanted to try the GF670 folder…

        • iskabibble says:

          I am so close to buying that camera. I bought the sister camera to the folder, the GF670W and it is by far, by miles, the most fun camera I have ever owned. I am just in love with it. The idea of a second camera with a different focal length is just too much to resist!!!

          • Aargh stop tempting me. I just bought a 4×5″!

          • I am seriously jonesing for the GF670W, but it costs an arm and a leg in the US, and is available only grey-market. It would also seem irresponsible to have 3 MF film cameras …

            • I’m not sure I agree with the irresponsible bit, but the odd thing is that it seems the used ones are no cheaper than new ones…

              • Probably not for you since you seem to use your film cameras often, but I have to make a point to use them at least once a month to keep the mechanical bits lubricated, and then I manage just a couple of rolls.

                The folder, normal FOV version shows up used here every so often for fairly okay prices (I saw one on Craigslist for a bit over a thousand not too long ago). The wide version seems to sell new or used for well over $2000, and is quite rare.

                • Actually, I do the same – the Titan doesn’t get that much exercise, so I will take it out occasionally just to fire the shutter a few times and keep things moving. The Hassies are okay, of course. $1000 for the regular GF670 seems reasonable, I think…I wonder about the longevity of any bellows however.

      • Friend of mine had a Zenza Bronica ETRsi. Man that thing delivered some lovely results! Can pick them up now for a song.

    • Agreed – the D700/D3 represented a sweet spot of sufficiency, forgivingness in technique and lenses. I sold mine because my clients did demand 36MP for some of their larger output…if they aren’t, I’m using the E-M1 and GR.

  35. Christopher says:

    Enjoyed re-reading this post, and it’s convinced me to work harder on getting better shots from my v1. Although, the ergonomics of the ricoh gr look so good…how do people find shooting it without a viewfinder? Maybe I’m just shaky, but I have trouble getting steady shots from cameras with no vf. Maybe I need less coffee.

    • Shooting without a VF is definitely less stable as you cannot brace the camera against your face; tucking your elbows in and raising the shutter speed is about all you can do. I’d probably be okay at 1/30 with the GR if it had a viewfinder; as it stands, 1/60 is my lower limit.

  36. Ming, although I just upgraded from my trustworthy D300 to a D800 (including going from the 16-85 Dx to the 24-70 lens) I do largely agree with you. But I think you overlook two things: availability of choice and the across the board improvements in newer cameras. My preference would have been to buy the D800 body + electronics with the 16 M pixel sensor from the D4 or, preferably, the 24 M pixel sensor from the D600/610. Unfortunately that choice was not made available by Nikon. I did not buy, as I could have, the D600 because I prefer the ergonomics of the pro bodies (as well as their improved robustness) and also wanted the better focussing system. Indeed I have to work harder at shot discipline, but there is nothing inherently wrong with that ;-). All in all I believe the better camera forces me, at least morally, to grow as photographer and make better photos, both from a technical and a composition point of view. Next to more pixels I got a lot of other niceties, a.o. larger viewfinder, better pixels and low-light performance, less depth of field for the same angle & aperture, better metering, better focussing, etcetera. Those gains at some point in time start to add up, making a new camera at least very desirable and worthwhile, the extra pixels just come with the package. By the way, if there had been a D400, the choice would have been very difficult, not sure what I would have done, but since Nikon is not very well supplied with Dx lenses it could have resulted in the same outcome: D800.

    Incidentally I did try a workshop with a pro photographer, but that was only partly successful as he felt he could not teach me much (which was not true imho). I will try workshops again, but also will buy gear (lenses) again.

    • Also true; but I feel that’s as much because it’s is not in the manufacturer’s interests to sell sufficiency – they either build in obsolescence or try to market new product by quantitatively higher numbers. It’s much easier to say ’36 is more than 24 and must therefore be better’ then explain why you might not want 36 to begin with. Education has never been high on the list of priorities for camera companies, which is a shame – educated markets are much easier to sell higher value product to.

  37. Fully agree. Over the last year my D800E and RX1 have kept me completely happy and have not been interested in any new gear except for the Otus 55 and maybe a 4×5 camera. Composition, seeing the light, and post processing skills are the main things which can most improve ones images. The IQ of the latest FF cameras far surpasses the average photographers skill level.
    If everyone was shooting with the best high res MFDB camera, you would just have a lot of high resolution crappily composed shots with boring light.
    Very interested in your new 4×5 exploits. Hope you have future articles on it.

    • “If everyone was shooting with the best high res MFDB camera, you would just have a lot of high resolution crappily composed shots with boring light.”

      We’d also have a lot fewer images because people wouldn’t want to carry the things around! 🙂

      You can be sure I’ll write about the 4×5 experience once I have a chance to use it properly…

  38. I’m still obsessing about that piece of scotch tape on the shutter release cable…Eeech not on a Hassy! Please get some tiny black zip ties and retake that photo so I can get some sleep 🙂 Fantastic article Ming.

  39. Technique and composition is paramount. I’ve seen images taken with “crappy” cameras that actually were breathtaking. Why? Because of a good use of technique and composition, plus post-proccesing and the art embebed in the image itself. What those images transmited to me was far more a matter of pixels, technical (not technique) availability within the medium used, between other things. I only check EFIX in flickr just to try to understand how the photographer was “seeing” the image, what focal length did he used more specifically.
    Lots of people (I’m sure lots of readers have undergone this torturous question) ask me about what camera do I have when they really like a photograph and they think that the camera does the job for us. Yes, IT DOES help, but I’m sure any talented photographer can beat my D800 with an Iphone any day.

    • There’s also the final output medium to consider – if it’s for web use, then you really don’t need much at all. Even a well-shot iPhone image will get you up to 18×24″ or thereabouts for subjects without too much high frequency detail, or 10×15″ for those with. Beyond that, you’ll start seeing quite a significant difference.

    • Reminds me of that fictional anecdote that gets so often quoted on the web:

      Once upon a time a photographer was invited to have dinner at the home of a nice couple. During dinner the wife commented to the photographer, “Your pictures are beautiful. You must have a great camera.” The photographer nodded politely. After finishing dinner, the photographer commented to the wife, “That was a fine meal. You must have a great stove!”

      On the flip side of this, one can always argue, “Well, camera xyz enabled me to better attain certain creative choices that helped me make this photograph the way I envisioned it. Here’s what I did, and how I did it.”

      That provides an opportunity for a teachable moment without running the risk of being awarded the epithet, “snobbish”.

  40. Andy Gemmell says:

    Ergonomics is my number 1 priority before resolution and other technical aspects. If I don’t enjoy handling the camera, I won’t pick it up often enough and it will then become a waste of money…….!

    • Absolutely agreed – and that’s why the Df didn’t do it for me, no matter how good the sensor and how many F-mount lenses I’ve got.

  41. Word. I’ve been using the Ricoh GR V for most of my fashion shoots lately (when using a wide-angle fits, of course), and I have had absolutely no problem with it. The APS-C sensor is amazing, can’t believe I almost bought a full-frame DSLR.

    • The GR is one of the rare examples of a perfect synergy between lens and sensor – the whole thing just delivers, in spades. It outshoots cameras many times its size and price (I’m looking at you, Leica) whilst being ergonomically spot on and pocketable. And the prices somehow keep falling…

      • theclickingdame says:

        I’ve got the GR and it’s really good for its class. But the Contax T3 wins hands down – image quality wise – at a smaller form factor.

        • No, it doesn’t, at least not on a technical level. The resolution limits of even the best 35mm films don’t match a good 16MP APSC sensor. And there’s no way you’re going to get results even close above ISO 400.

          • That confuses me! After an article about the sufficiency of 3 MP the resolution argument seems odd when comparing compact cameras. The resolving power of a 35mm velvia 50 and provia 100f is good enough for jaw dropping moments when projected on the largest wall of your appartment… Yes, you need some light while taking the photos but in return you get something that the ricoh won’t give you: amazing colours. I’d really love to like this little camera but colour output does not seem to be great.

  42. Ron Scubadiver says:

    My D800 must be total overkill at 36 MP. It doesn’t bother me, I like the camera. Would I buy another one if it fell in the ocean? Well, I would look at a D610 and honestly, I don’t know the answer. What I can say is that I don’t obsess over gear and I haven’t bought a lens or a body in over a year. Thanks for the sanity check, well though out as always, Ming.

    • On the other end of the scale, I bought an additional D800E. Sufficiency, but for times when failure or compromise is not an excuse – i.e. if you’re being paid…

  43. Wonderful read Ming! Skill is the key. Had to chuckle when I saw the CFV-39 juxtaposed with the title.

    • Well, if you’re printing 60″ wide and of a subject with a lot of fine detail intended for a very short viewing distance, that’s about sufficient… 🙂

  44. Thanks for the excellent repost Ming! You have an uncanny ability to slice to the core of the point of the educational message with the precision of that scalpel, yet mix in a diversity of learning tools and aphorisms with the practical functionality of that swiss army knife. If only someone where to make a Ming model camera in the spirit of your sufficiency insights?

    Alas, then we’d all see the technological emperor has no hardware clothes and its always been about the software (all human sensory during the analog film era and now both human and algorithmic during the digital sensor era)! For those of us enthusiasts who want to learn more about getting pixel perfect and nailing the exposure in the field and not through bandaids in the digital darkroom, which of your courses is the most applicable?

    I feel like I am moving in a positive direction on composition (though still so much to learn), but I really want to improve my understanding of managing the light and shadow while minimizing operator error from a shot discipline standpoint. As always thanks for all you offer your readers. your blog is a true revelation!

    • I think the GR is probably the closest thing to it at the moment; failing that, the iPhone is there in spirit, too. It’s not so much what it doesn’t have, as what it does have – and what’s easiest to access. Frankly, if they just put a 6×6 sensor with decent high ISO and nice large pixels into a Hasselblad V, I’m there…

      Pixel perfection: this article, and this article.

      Exposure and technique: partially covered in Outstanding Images Ep. 1, and covered by observing the way I shoot – How To See Ep. 2 Tokyo has a good mix of technique.

      • Thanks for the speedy reply and the links to your relevant posts and training courses. I look forward to digging into them! While I find some value in the convenience of my Android phone for composition and archiving a moment, I must admit I find it artistically unfulfilling. The camera UI is abysmal on my Samsung Galaxy 3. Either the iPhones are better or I just don’t yet have that ninja mojo and steady hands that you and others seem to have with their phones. The GR looks to be an amazing camera but for now I am sticking with my Panasonic GX1 and 20mm pancake combo for my daily shooter.

        There is a piece of me that intuitively knows how to get my body and mind to work with the camera for optimal image quality. I grew up deer and dove hunting which both require good seeing, sound breathing, and mindful shot discipline. I think I sometimes lose that same mindfulness and get lazy or careless when shooting with a camera instead of a rifle or shotgun. Maybe I need to imagine my camera being as dangerous and consequential as my hunting tools?

        • The iPhone is a bit more responsive than the other camera phones. As for shot discipline – both hunting and photography are fairly similar…


  1. […] and pointing in the right direction these days. I tried to get him to buy the Z7, but he knows his sufficiency […]

  2. […] and effortless recorder that occupies the least mental bandwidth possible. All that said (and sufficiency threshold for personal consumption noted), I still haven’t quite been able to bring myself to […]

  3. […] getting both cheaper and better. Plus, who wants to admit to being behind the curve? Of course, sufficiency was passed a long time ago – but I think most consumers have not really noticed until fairly […]

  4. […] getting both cheaper and better. Plus, who wants to admit to being behind the curve? Of course, sufficiency was passed a long time ago – but I think most consumers have not really noticed until fairly […]

  5. […] has become only a very relevant question because I feel things are changing: we have long past the point of sufficiency and are sitting in emotional territory. This is all well and good – we each make our choices […]

  6. […] readers will also know that I’ve said a lot about sufficiency and matching your output intent; we don’t all need medium format, but as good as […]

  7. […] for attention on multiple fronts. In short, whilst access to opportunity (with cheap travel), sufficiently good hardware and a much larger audience than ever before has made it easier to gain notoriety and make […]

  8. […] of innovation in the camera market, though: more pixels, yet again. We were already long past the point of sufficiency and more pixels aren’t necessarily better; they often bring more frustration than improvement in […]

  9. […] need to take a step back first: I talk a lot about sufficiency. Firstly, what is sufficient for web or even screen viewing is not sufficient for really high […]

  10. […] and isn’t too large or intimidating. In fact, I’d venture to say that it blows way past sufficiency, but then again, the whole idea of sufficiency is relative anyway. In many ways, this purchase is […]

  11. […] output for the vast majority of photographers, I think it’s a solid demonstration of both sufficiency and the fact that ultimately, it’s the photographer that makes the difference (or […]

  12. […] have the time these days to review something that isn’t interesting; if the RX100 series isn’t sufficiency with a capital S in something barely larger than a couple of packs of playing cards, I’m not sure […]

  13. […] objetivos con buena resolución no sirvan para nada. Lo que pienso realmente es que en fotografía hemos pasado el punto de suficiencia hace mucho y que es mejor preocuparse por el contenido que por la parte técnica (ver primera foto […]

  14. […] Originally Posted by Godfrey From these three photos, I see very little difference in actual resolution. The Canon shot seems to have a bit more exposure and a bit more sharpening applied, based on the haloing around the larger elements of the test chart. The Nikon 400 @ f/5.6 seems to produce slightly sharper results than the 50-200+EC-14@283@f/5.6 too. (I'd probably want to stop the zoom+extender down another stop for optimum performance anyway, it's a much more complex optical system than the Nikon 400 prime.) Far as I'm concerned, this set demonstrates a draw on performance. All three images could stand some improvement in exposure and processing. G What Godfrey said, it just appears to be contrast and sharpening that is the main difference here not resolution. I think this blog post by Ming Thein puts it into perspective. Repost: Points of sufficiency: do you really know how much is enough? – Ming Thein | Photographer […]

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