Monday, September 12, 2005

The Pixel-Pushers' Agenda: The Continuing Saga

Anyone reading this blog will very quickly realize that I am a huge fan of analog photography. I've been interested in photography for more than 30 years, since I picked up my first SLR (an Exakta VX 35mm camera) and started taking photography seriously in 1973. I've been a professional photographer for more than 20 years.

You may get the impression that I am anti-digital photography. I am not. Far from it. I use digital camera as well as analog. There definitely is a place for digital photography. However, I do not think it will every fully replace analog photography. Film will be with us for a long time to come.

One of the major problems with digital photography though, are some of the people who practice it. At every turn they try to push their agenda, which seems to be that analog photography is outdated and should be allowed to die a slow death at the hands of digital. To this end they publish web sites and forum posts that masquerade as "expert advice" about digital and how it is superior to analog.

I'm all for people having their own opinions and offering advice to others. The only problem I have is that many of these so-called experts have no clue what they are talking about. They know nothing about analog photography and little about digital. To bolster their arguments they offer scientific sounding mumbo-jumbo about pixels and wavelengths and CMOS and CCDs. But they have no clue what any of this means and how it relates to digital photography. They show digital photographs that are poorly composed, exposed and scanned and try to convince you they are better than film.

They also publish equipment reviews about highly sophisticated digital equipment and try to show you how it is better than analog equipment. Invariably, they'll compare equipment A to a high end Canon digital camera. For some reason, the "digital elite" think Canon is the be-all and end-all of digital photography.

The only problem is that when they realize that their argument doesn't hold, they resort to manipulating the data, doctoring the photos and outright lying about the superiority of the piece of equipment they are reviewing.

Case in point: A recent review of Better Light's Super 6K-HS digital scanning large format back on The Luminous Landscape site.

The piece, written by New Orleans photographer Richard Sexton, entitled "A Visit with Better Light: 4x5 Film, A Digital Scanning Back, and a DSLR vie for Honours," basically concludes that the Better Light scanning back does a great job capturing detail, better than 4x5 film in some cases. It also throws in a plug for Canon's top-of-the-line DSLR the 1DS Mark II.

...I think I can speak for all of the stating that the [Canon] 1DsII performed at a level that surprised everyone in the sense that the results were closer than expected. Image comparisons between the Canon and Better Light files are predominantly one of nuance.

That's all well and good, until you read Better Light's rebuttal piece on their web site. The piece, written by Better Light president Mike Collette, notes that Sexton's conclusions are based on only part of the picture -- literally.

Unfortunately, what isn't stated anywhere is that the image details displayed are not from the full resolution files described in the article. These detail images have all been REDUCED IN RESOLUTION by amounts varying from 50% to 33% of their original size (one-quarter to one-ninth of their original data). Most readers will understand that if we interpolate an image up to several times its initial size, we haven't added any real information, and if we subsequently reduce it by several times, we are pretty much back where we started. However, if we reduce a uninterpolatedolated image by several times, three-quarters or more of its original image information is discarded. This puts the scanning back at a significant disadvantage by eliminating its most desirable feature-- much higher resolution. After examining the reduced-resolution detail images in Mr. Sexton's article, some readers might conclude that the Canon DSLR is capable of producing images nearly as good as those from a Better Light scanning back, regardless of what the article says.

Basically, the images used in The Luminous Landscape piece have been manipulated tSexton'sr Sexton's and the web site's biases toward Canon equipment. Instead of providing a fair comparison of the equipment, the author and the web site use small sections of images that have been reduced and are of lower quality to "show" that a Canon DSLR can hold it's own with a large format scanning Colette
Collette says that while he agrees with Sexton's general conclusions, the images presented were unfairly manipulated and to make Canon look better than it is and to give Better Light's scanning backs only a slight advantage.

IN CONCLUSION, I agree with everything that Mr. Sexton has to say, but if his article is going to let the images speak for themselves, they should be allowed to tell their entire story. I definitely agree that any comparison like this should be done with more than one type of subject, and we look forward to presenting landscape and architecture comparisons before long. These comparisons are not particularly intended to have a winner, in my opinion, but they do benchmark the relative capabilities of two rather different image capture technologies.

This is the problem with many digital photography web sites and so-called experts these days. Instead of doing legitimate, honest comparisons, they resort to trickery and forgery to prove their points. Instead of letting the results speak for themselves, they resort to manipulation to bolster their biased views that digital is better than analog. In the end, this hurts digital photography more than it hurts analog.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then they should be allowed to speak for themselves.

No comments: