Our idea of contemporary image quality depends on mis-remembering how good we already had it just a few years ago...

I'm as big a sucker for faulty memory syndrome as the next photographer. What is FMS? It's a condition that makes us remember the past as being worse, by far, than what we are living with right now. This condition rarely presents itself when thinking about general social history but does make itself felt when comparing different technologies. It is most prevalent when the victim is pondering things like cameras, cellphones and cars. 

In short the condition causes otherwise rational people to start remembering things they bought in the past in a worse way than reality would show was really true. Just as a random example let's look at FMS as it relates to buying and using digital cameras. If one had purchased a Panasonic GH5 camera in 2016 with the idea of using it for both still photography and video production, and had been satisfied with the performance of the camera at the time, that would establish a neutral baseline for effectively evaluating the results of the camera. If no enormous breakthroughs in technology occur (and history shows us that most camera improvements are incremental....very incremental)  then the satisfaction with a unit's performance should be a straight and continuous line. No change in satisfaction as long as the equipment continues to produce results that are equal to, or actually outperform, the limitations of the media for which the gear is intended. In people without FMS the gear in question, if found to be satisfactory (not the weak link in the imaging chain) would continue being used until such a time as it became non-functional. Or unrepairable. 

After all, the cost of the gear has already been amortized and if it continues to produce exactly the same results then nothing in the process of use or evaluation needs to change. In short, it is usually the performance boundaries of the media that are the limiting factor in most photographic situations and not the imaging prowess or lack thereof of the camera or lens.

But in the minds of victims of FMS a different sort of process takes place. When new gear is introduced to replace previous models the "patient" makes a flawed presumption that any newer model is obviously  superior to the old model and (this is where the disconnection takes place...) that the new "improvements" are so spectacular and so obvious that the new camera (or lens) will make visually obvious improvements that will be discernible in all images created for the same use case/media that the previous model was already ably fulfilling. The mind of an FMS victim makes an immediate assumption that any lost "potential" by way of not having immediate access to the new unit's improvements (however incremental; if they exist at all) will degrade the overall quality of their experience. Even if the potential is never realized in actual practice. The victim will "know" that the work "could be better." 

A good example would be the compulsion to replace a 24 megapixel camera with a 48 megapixel camera when the output from either camera is presented as a 6 megapixel image on a 6 bit viewing screen. If the viewing screen isn't capable of at least 25 megapixels of resolution then both cameras would be equally  capable of meeting or exceeding the limitations of the medium. A fact-based evaluation which is lost on the logic circuits of FMS victims. They invariably presume that any specification improvement will add to the potential improvement of the final image. 

This misguided assumption triggers a hormone release that floods certain areas of the brain which in turn compels the victim to immediately pull whatever credit card still has an available credit limit attached and rush to acquire the new model. With the new model in hand a process begins in which the memories stored in the camera comparison area (CCA) of the brain begin to mis-remember the performance of the previous camera as being worse and more "impaired" than it was. This leads to comparison differential enhancement in which the victim is hyper-sensitized to any change or perceived change in imaging capabilities between the models. Like "monsters under the bed" each parameter of the older camera that can be called into question will be, even if there is no objective discrepancy between the old and new model in the determined use cases. 

There is even a law called the imagined emphasis of disappointment which comes into play. Stated simply the law of IED says that the lower the skill set of the victim the more emphatically he or she will blame the difference between the old and new camera when comparing contemporaneous images with images taken in the past. Even if, to all other viewers, the images are identical. The idea of past camera disappointment (PCT) grows as the hormones trigger a buy-or-cry response which drives the victim to make the purchase in order to temporarily stave off feelings of depression and photographic inadequacy. 

For a GH5 user this might mean getting a newer GH6. Or, in the case of someone with a severe case of FMS it could even mean having to buy the interim upgraded model, say ---- a GH5ii ---- as a holding strategy until they are able to buy the aforementioned GH6. There is always a linear drive toward the newest or most fully specced model. 

The only cure is to go back and carefully reexamine work done previously with the older cameras or older lenses to evaluate whether or not the new model rises above the limitations of the existing media (a website? An Instagram post?) and yields observable improvements. If there is no visible change in the quality of presentation in the "target" media then no change really needs to be made. 

In most cases, however, the victim remains in denial even after many observations are made by objective and expert third party investigators. At this point one of two things happen. If the victim is financially able they are consigned to having to buy each new product release or even each new camera system, the marketing of which has even the smallest promise of technical improvement. The other solution is to buy in the same way until the victim is either bankrupted, or both bankrupted and institutionalized...  It's generally incurable by logic or argument. 

With all this laid out in front of me I happened to start looking at images taken back in 2015-2016 with an ancient and primitive Panasonic GH5 camera. FMS victims today would tell you quickly that those cameras had "very limited dynamic range" and "were impossible to use with any sort of autofocusing." 

Since I had recently sold off some GH5s and more recently replaced them with, first a GH5ii and then a GH6, I thought I owed it to my last gasp of rationality to go back and see if the files in the older camera were really as poor and woeful as my brain was trying to convince me was the case. Did the potential improvements justify the buying imperative?

First things first. I was shocked, SHOCKED to find that both images presented here were focused automatically by the ancient camera. Diving into 100% magnification revealed that they were, indeed, in focus!!! Then I looked at dynamic range and tried to see the huge impediments to visual excellence that the now obsolete camera must have certainly introduced. I found that the files were at least the equal of the media we used in order to promote the show we were photographing for. The files had ample DR for web use and, remarkably, they could be well printed at sizes up to 11x17 on a four color press without losing highlight or shadow detail. 

Is the GH6 that much better? Not in those two uses. Not at all. I was shocked. I had to take a tranquilizer and lie down with a cold washrag across my forehead. The shock of objectivity was almost too much to bear.

Sadly, slowly, and with great resignation, I had to admit that I'd been infected with FMS and had been remembering older camera performance in an inaccurate way. Through the smudged and dirty eyeglasses  of self delusion. 

Just a cautionary note to those of us who are constantly on the search for "new and improved" gear. We might be suffering from FMS, as it relates camera tech. The cure? Unknown. A preventative? A strong spouse with control over the credit cards. The damage? Still to be determined. 

I am starting a foundation to help photographers afflicted with FMS. We'll be accepting contributions as soon as the website is set up. Please, though, don't send in cameras as contributions --- it just makes the syndrome worse...

Both images were taken using a GH5 camera and an Olympus 12-100mm lens. Long since made "obsolete" to victims of FMS by the introduction of two newer camera models in that line. But still usable and competitive to non-victims.

( just a note for the obdurate: I am not starting a foundation. The mention of it was an attempt at humor).