/***********************************************/ /* HEADER */

It's a fine line between living for the moment and being a sociopath.

Patricia B McConnell: For The Love Of A Dog.

Pema Chodron: The Places That Scare You

Daniel Wallace: Mr Sebastian & the Negro Magician

All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. --Pablo Neruda

Friday, November 24, 2006

New digital camera? The megapixels don't matter.

Since high school, I've spent more of my disposable income on camera equipment than many people have spent on cars. And I've spent almost as much time fantasizing about new photo gear as I have fantasizing about women. As a result, I know way more about photo tech specs than about female specs. I have, however, spent considerable time combining these two favorite pastimes.

As a result of all this indepth research and profligate spending, I'm the guy friends come to for advice when they're buying a new camera. Sometimes they're disappointed to find I'm also the guy who tries to convince them to spend less money than they were planning to. The reason is simple: most people will never use half the camera they've got their eyes on. The camera is important, but most of the best photos in the history of photography were made with machines that were, frankly, primitive compared to every camera over 100 bucks that's for sale, today.

The difference isn't features. The difference is that those old cameras required dedication, expertise and monstrous investment of time and money to use well and deliver decent pictures. You can get a similar result from modern cameras by pointing them generally in the right direction and absent-mindedly pressing the shutter button.

This is depressing for photography boffins, whose arcane knowledge used to predictably put the quality of their pictures several levels above all but the very luckiest snapshooters. Today, you've got to be pretty inattentive to take a technically bad photograph. (The value of the subjects you choose is, of course, another matter.) For that very reason, what's been bad for boffins has been wonderful for photography. People are taking better pictures because of the technology built into modern cameras, and they're taking way, way, way more shots, because the incremental cost of each one is essentially zilch. Moreover, people are sharing their photos much more widely than ever before on the web.

Now, sure, I could go on about the decline in "serious photography" that a lot of photogs complain has accompanied the great democratizing force of digital. But I won't, for two reasons. First, the medium used to be relatively exclusionary for all the reasons I mentioned above. Excluding people from a medium I'm so passionate about is something I could never embrace. Second, I think it's bullshit. Either more people are taking better pictures, or they're not. And it's clearly the former.

But the silliness of camera marketing is the same as ever. The mantra is "Sell people more camera than they need." Indeed, more camera than they'll ever use.

So, it's delightful to see the debunking begin. (Hat tip to LifeHacker.)

We blew up a photograph to 16 x 24 inches at a professional photo lab. One print had 13-megapixel resolution; one had 8; the third had 5. Same exact photo, down-rezzed twice, all three printed at the same poster size. I [hung] them all on a wall in Times Square and challenge[d] passersby to see if they could tell the difference.

Even the technician at the photo lab told me that I was crazy, that there’d be a huge difference between 5 megapixels and 13.

I’m prepared to give away the punch line...

...We ran the test for about 45 minutes. Dozens of people stopped to take the test; a little crowd gathered. About 95 percent of the volunteers gave up, announcing that there was no possible way to tell the difference, even when mashing their faces right up against the prints. A handful of them attempted guesses—but were wrong. Only one person correctly ranked the prints in megapixel order, although (a) she was a photography professor, and (b) I believe she just got lucky.


Comments on "New digital camera? The megapixels don't matter."


Blogger Robert said ... (12:02 AM) : 

Damn right!

however, the beauty of the extra res is the post-photo-taking zoomability. I love it when you take a shot of a landscape or cityscape, and can then zoom in to read a street-sign or somebody's watch. actually, my brother takes awesome shots of the moon, using this feature. an 8Mpix shot of the night sky means you can get a fully sized shot of the surface of the moon without a tripod or long exposure.


post a comment