An Image I made back in 2009 with a Leaf A7i medium format digital camera. It's time to make a print....

This is Ben ten years ago. 
Leaf sent me an Aptus A7i, 40 Megapixel camera
to test and I started photographing everyone in sight.

Like all other nerds I can't keep from comparing things. In my world some of the most fun and easiest things to compare are the files from various cameras. When I acquired a Nikon D800e and a D800(vanilla) I first shot a bunch of test frames and then I sat down in front of the computer and started to compare the files from the medium format cameras I've shot over the years, wondering how they would stand up to the Nikons. I'm not sure I can see a real difference and I'm not sure that, if I saw a difference, it would be anything more than a visual placebo. Then, of course, I would have to figure out how much difference lenses make in the overall appraisal of image quality in a given set of photos. 

At their lowest ISO settings I think I prefer the older, medium format files but it's a difference that's so minute that even a slight discrepancy in focusing would be enough to massively skew the results. And therein lies the whole problem with hobbyists and professionals who embark on trying to test and judge the differences between cameras. Tony Northrup once did a video in which he talked about this subject and noted that even the give of a wooden floor beneath a solid tripod might me enough to grossly affect the results of any rigorous test. A slight focus shift. Differences in temperatures between tests. And I think it's a fool's errand to do any sort of test of cameras if you must use different lenses for each format or each model. 

Having "tested" and written about three different medium format cameras in the past, and having compared those files with newer files from the D800, D800e and my old D810 convinces me that using any of those cameras without the assistance of tripod, or at least the image freezing aid of a short duration electronic flash, lowers the effective resolution by enough of a percentage that these 36 and 40 megapixel cameras are then reduced to competing with their 24 megapixels competitors when it comes to how the photographs look in various media and how resolution is experienced.

As to lenses I think the only directly comparable testing situation is one where a tester only compares results from two cameras that share the same lens mount. In that way the same lens can be used during each test. If each camera is focus at high magnification, in live view, with all other parameters being tightly controlled then we can tell something about the differences between two models or different generations. 

When it comes to lenses I think the scores and DXOMark are more interesting than the scores they apply to cameras. I was comparing several 50mm lenses on their site with all lenses tested on a D800e. Their lens tests show the actual lens resolution on the sensor, in terms of megapixels, versus what one would expect from the full resolution of the sensor. Using the Nikon D800e as a test base I compared the Nikon 58mm f1.4G lens with the Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art lens. The Nikon lens allows a user to take advantage of only 25 megapixels of actual resolution. The Sigma lens scrapes out 35 of the 36 possible megapixels of resolution that the camera can deliver. 

Now, more than every, it seems that cherry-picking your lenses can make a drastic difference leveraging the image quality and performance you pay for in today's state of the art cameras. And, you can imagine, that if a testing site uses a perfect lens on one brand's camera and a similar but less perfect lens on a competitor's brand, that the stated results in the review would be much, much different. But how much at fault is the sensor and how much degradation is the lens really responsible for?

I remember one site that used the Sigma 70mm f2.8 Macro lens for every camera test. They invested in hand-picked and tested units of the same lens in order to eliminate as many variables as they could. To not test this way is tantamount to just throwing your hands up and declaring, "It's all subjective!"

I wonder if the folks at the bigger test sites think about things like this or whether they interpret the results they get from a myriad of different lenses through the lens of their own preferences. 

But here are my thoughts about the differences between the MF and the Vintage Nikon 36 megapixel full frame bodies: In stringent test I'd probably select the images from the MF cameras as slightly superior, but this would only apply at base ISOs and at optimum apertures, and each test would need to be rigorously vetted and repeated a number of times in order to null out frame by frame anomalies. I do remember that the image of Ben (above) was shot with a $7,500 Schneider 180mm APO lens. I can only assume that was a big "assist" to the file quality. My 85mm Nikons aren't quite in that class but the images I've taken lately with the Sigma Art lens (50mm) seem to rival the pricier glass. 

After looking at a bunch of work, printed and otherwise, I'm going to say I'd be happy with any of the full frame, 24 megapixel cameras. In the sizes most of us actually work in the differences between the 24 and 36 (or even 40) megapixel files will only show up in the most critical and disciplined sort of work. 

A bit of news. I'm leaving tomorrow afternoon for New York to watch my kiddo graduate from college. He texted me this afternoon to let me know how the semester turned out and I'm very happy to say that he is on the Dean's List for the seventh consecutive semester and will be graduating on Saturday Magna Cum Laude. 

We'll have a busy schedule as there are dinners scheduled, as well as many receptions and ..... the ritual clean out and packing up of his apartment. This means I may post fewer blogs than usual and be even slower on moderating comments (which I love to get...). 

Following on this happy news.... I have made my last payment to the college and we are all celebrating Ben earning his degree without anyone taking on debt. I feel like I just got a huge raise!!!
(Let the unfettered camera buying begin!!!).

Studio Dog, the VSL security team, and the house sitter will remain in Austin to prepare for the boy's auspicious return. Some one has to dig the BBQ pit. Right?


  1. Congrats again Kirk, my youngest, Callum, is about to graduate from daycare to school, and I get to stop paying daycare costs :) not quite the same thing, but y'know.

    To throw my 2 cents into this discussion, sites like DPR and DXO have a muddle of information which they then allow users to compare which leads to a lot of mis-understands. '

    Here are two examples:

    DXO allows users to make cross format comparisons between combinations of lenses and camera bodies. When I first got the Olympus 25mm f1.2 I happened to have a Canon 5Dm4 (30mp) plus 50mm f1.2, so I shot a comparison between the two as DXO showed the Canon combo as far superior. Reality was wide open and as far as 2 stops down, the 20mp Olympus plus lens was out resolving the Canon combo. It turns out DXO averages scores across apertures, as many apertures on m43rds show diffraction effects it appears to be a weaker lens.

    With DPR they have a shadow boosting checker, where you can look at a particular sensor lifted by so many stops. Again here the smaller sensor is set at f5.6 and ISO 200 and exposed for say 1/160 and boosted 3 stops. When compared to the larger format shot at f5.6 ISO 100 etc. The larger sensor has a longer exposure at a lower ISO. So when comparing the sensors both boosted 3 stops the smaller sensor is at a real disadvantage.

    Nothing beats really knowing a system these days, really knowing what lenses can and can't do, what sensors can and can't do etc. But the pace we replace our bodies and the tech in sensors changing (from on sensor NR to ISO adjustments to AA free cameras) etc. has an impact on exposure, sharpening, colour reproduction etc. so any comparisons are being made on changing methods, expectations etc.

    Have fun in NY!!

  2. Congratulations to you, Kirk, and especially to Ben. Ben's spectacular performance and your avoiding debt are truly worth celebrating. Thanks for keeping up such a timely, interesting, and useful blog. Tom

  3. Congratulations! Both to Ben on his hard work, and you for getting him through school (in NYC no less!) with no debt.

    Hope you enjoy your time in my town. If you get a chance come uptown to Harlem or Washington Heights it's a different City (for now).

  4. Hi Joel, I wish we were heading to NYC but the college is in Saratoga Springs, NY, up near Albany. We're flying into Albany and heading over in a rental car. I was last in NYC in 2013 for the photo expo. I was doing booth demonstrations for Samsung. I obviously didn't do a very good job since they cancelled all production the very next year. Oh well.....

  5. Tom, I told Belinda we should celebrate with reckless abandon. I suggested a bottle of Dom Pérignon Champagne and she quickly counter-suggested some herbal. And that's how we managed the $.

  6. Have a great trip and give Ben a big slap on the back from his VSL fans. Enquiring minds must know, what camera setup are you taking!!

  7. Congratulations to Ben. And to you and Belinda.

  8. Eric, can't decide between the GH5+ 12-100mm or the D800e+ an old 35-70mm. chime in and suggest!

  9. Congratulations to Ben and his proud parents. Having three grads out of the house and in the real world I can attest to the fact the job is not over. Thankfully so.

    And speaking of the real world.... Shot a group this weekend with my Canon 5DsR and the 100 macro lens. Yes, I was bit far back but wanted to ensure the kids in the back were not appreciably smaller than the ones in front.
    I also shot the same scene with my 5 year old Panasonic GX-7 and it's kit zoom. Using it's full complement of 84mm effective focal length reach and its swaggering 16MP to make a few RAW images for this test.

    When I zoomed in to equalize a child's head to fill my monitor (very far north of 400%) the 5DsR was visibly better. However the Panasonic did not shame itself.
    When I printed the files at the specified size of 8x10 for the job, no one could say which file came from which camera. They could see some slight color and contrast differences but could not say they had a preference.

    So yes, the ultra gear will make a difference but will most likely never be a factor in getting a job or making a client happy.

  10. Congratulations to Ben for his high level of achievement, and to you and Belinda for your high level of support. Both during college and before.

  11. Congratulations to Ben. Now the hard part find a job or go to grad school. I hope his plans are set.
    On the lens camera issue, Absolutely!
    I was testing my Nikon Df as I was expecting more from it and not seeing what I was expecting. High ISO shots for my Panasonic Gm5 are BETTER than the Df!. My 24-85mm vr nikon lens and my Rokinon 85mm f1.4 are most likely the reason. Max usable ISO for me is 6400, on DF. The same max ISO with Panasonic 42.5mm f1.2, or my sharp compact 14-42mm PZ lens can be used for similar high iso sharpness. I was very surprised. I now use the Gm5 when need to go to 6400, or even 12800 iso now.
    I think my Nikon lenses are soft, compared to the Panasonic, that makes the Panasonic images better.
    An other issue with the Dpreview test images, is the default setting on Olympus cameras is noise reduction. This blurres out the image. Set that to off and the files are more comparable to the Panasonic. Basically indicating that the none optimized dpreview test shots are totally useless.

  12. The pixel junkie in me says the Nikon but the practical Eric says the GH5.


  13. Regarding the Nikon 58 mm f/1.4 and the Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art, I think it really doesn't matter if the Sigma resolves 35 megapixels, because the Nikon renders completely differently and so much nicer in my opinion.

    As I recollect from the Sigma ART images I have seen, it renders very sharp images, but not in a very pleasant way. Just shows that sharpness is not always a very interesting parameter.

  14. Congratulations to Ben, I feel I know him from you blog posts.

    On the subject of camera and lens you can also toss in raw processor combinations, just using adobe product for raw conversion potentially benefits Canon/Nikon over results from Sony/Olympus/Fuji/Panasonic etc.

  15. Conkgratulations !

    "can't decide between the GH5+ 12-100mm or the D800e+ an old 35-70mm. chime in and suggest!..."

    It can't be a coincidence that you're talking about having more cash, and discussing medium frame, in the same post. Can it ??

  16. GH5 and a native zoom, and otherwise disconnect from the tech.

    Congrats to Ben for all his hard work, and to you and Belinda for your equally hard work and prudent financial management. (And btw, imho, post-grad should be his responsibility)

    We're having a bunch of wet weather up here in the Mid-Atlantic, pack accordingly. z

  17. Why Nigel, whatever do you mean.....? (Hmmmm.)

  18. Congratulations to all on the graduation. A Major Milestone. Enjoy the day. All the best, Re

  19. On testing cameras. Would really like to see an objective comparison of some of the top performers with the Sigma DP Merrill cameras. Body and lens as a unit with the Sigma DP Merrill's.
    I have pro full frame bodies but I find myself pulling out the Sigma single lens Merrills for many images rather than the "higher rated" bodies. Tripod use, lower ISO settings only. A "look" that the Canon, Nikon and Sony somehow does not match.

  20. Another congrats to the grad and the proud parents. He's got an outstanding academic record to be proud of for sure, but much, much more important, from all indications via a biased source (dear old dad), is that he is a fantastic person who will take the world by storm and leave everyone and everything he touches better off.

    None of that happened by chance, but rather by a happy amalgam of nurture and nature. So claim all the credit y'all deserve.


  21. Congratulations to you and Ben.

  22. Well done Kirk (and Ben, and Belinda) - we had our two overlapping in university studies for more than 3 years, and when they stopped, the "pay raise" was staggeringly welcome. They both went on to do well. Hope that Ben's next phase is rewarding. Murray

  23. Kirk,

    I am a frequent visitor to VSL but only an occasional contributor to the comments you get. But two things spurred me to write to you. First, you are one of the most eloquent and interesting bloggers on photography going. You manage to combine interesting photographic insights with a personal and intelligent touch - a winning formula. So when you said that you had received nasty spam comments I thought you should know - if I am in any way typical of the silent throngs out there who do not write to you - that you are appreciated and valued. So keep going and ignore the spammers.

    Secondly, one of the things that makes you likeable and relatable is that you frequently write about your personal life. So when I heard about Ben being on the Dean's list and graduating Magna Cum Laude I felt compelled to congratulate you and all around you. Clearly you and Belinda have made a difference on the nature front but I'm sure Studio Dog deserves some credit on the nurture front.

    Enjoy the moment. You've had a mixed year (and thanks for sharing that too) so enjoy the triumphs that come along every once in a while.

    Best wishes,

    Jeremy (UK)

  24. Congratulations to Ben and to your family!


Comments. If you disagree do so civilly. Be nice or see your comments fly into the void. Anonymous posters are not given special privileges or dispensation. If technology alone requires you to be anonymous your comments will likely pass through moderation if you "sign" them. A new note: Don't tell me how to write or how to blog!