The disconnection between an online portfolio and the amazing detail and resolution of contemporary cameras and lenses.

If you are a photographer who came to photography in the film days or the early days of digital cameras your intention on most jobs was to deliver high resolution, high dynamic range files. Since my career started around 1980 I came into this profession expected to deliver images from 4x5 inch cameras and medium format (real medium format = 6x6 cm and larger....) cameras that could easily be used across a "double-truck spread" in the four color print process. The minimum target for use in most brochures and magazine spreads was 11 by 17 inches. Since film didn't have a set DPI we just aimed for as much quality as we could. The color separators were the ones who converted our analog film to measurable CMYK files. 

But the clients and the color separators were always happier with the biggest pieces of film you could deliver. And to get the jobs that required this; and paid the best, you had to show portfolios that were creative, beautiful and also technically as good as they could be. Clients reviewed portfolios by calling in actual enlarger printed "books" or portfolios. Another way of presenting work was to have black matted 4x5 or 8x10 inch color transparencies to show... because....everyone had a light table and a loupe back then. Splash twenty or so rich and detailed 8x10 inch transparencies down on a light table, watch an art director dive into the detail and technical achievements and you were well on your way to booking your next job. 

It feels like it was around 2006 or 2007 that the creative community collectively decided that calling in portfolios and shipping heavy collections of transparencies or big selections of prints around the country via Federal Express was too expensive and had become unnecessary. As budgets tightened and art directors started getting spread thinner and thinner fewer of them took actual phone calls from creative freelancers and more and more of them started looking at websites when they were considering hiring photographers. 

All of a sudden big, beautiful physical presentations went out the window ---- like typesetters. At that juncture clients started relying on what they saw via email promotions, and websites that were always a compromise between speed of loading and quality. The photographers at the top suffered most because the presentation formats killed the ability to show off the richness of a beautifully made, large format image by rendering it a fraction of its actual size and also at a diminished bit depth. The web became locked into Jpeg files, rendered to about 1600 pixels, distilled down to 8 bit and then represented, compressed, onto a 6 bit (if you were lucky) monitor. It's a huge difference when compared to viewing a pristine print or transparency presentation firsthand. In person. Right there in front of you. 

Now things are even worse when it comes to presentation. A lot of younger art directors and designers are getting by using laptops for work. The images they see are even further diminished. A lot of creative professionals are scrolling through Instagram or even Flickr to find photographic talent. And while broadband has improved the load times and sizes of webpage images the viewing restrictions and monitor capabilities are still depreciation funnels for good photography. What clients see on various screens, viewed in mixed light conditions, is nothing like what prior portfolios used to be. And on the social media sites your work, which may have started life as something beautifully lit and gorged full of delicate and wonderful detail will now sit next to other peoples' work, some of which is edited down to be more adaptable and easier to digest on phone screens. Incredibly detailed work next to work customized for quick consumption on a small screen. 

Which begs the question in 2023... why in the heck are we endlessly pursuing "better" cameras and lenses? Unless you are routinely printing large or delivering files to people who will use them to print large it's mostly a waste of money and then there's all that time lost "researching" new gear. To be honest, while I bought and use a Leica SL2 if I'd had more time and experience with the 24 megapixels SL I would have stopped right there. Perfect camera and perfect image size for so much of what we do all the time. For one or two jobs a year that require more quality and resolution than 24 megapixels it makes a tremendous amount more sense to just rent the needed gear. 

Same with the Leica Q2. I would love the weather tight Q2 body and nicer button configuration but wrapped around a 24 megapixel sensor instead of the current 47+ megapixel sensor. True...you can crop more. But do you really need to? And how much quality is diminished by cropping if your final target destination is something 1600 pixels max on Instagram? Really? More? You need more?

For those few clients who really do want to see how much quality they can expect we put up galleries at full res on Smugmug.com. They are still 8 bit files but at least we can show them with all the detail that's contained within. And I still send out printed mailers from time to time. But we are now at the point where the final targets on most jobs actually are the websites and social media sites that are related to the client business. So, where do we go from here?  Is it time to sell everything before everyone else realizes how bizarre the market has become? Can we do it all with our phones? More importantly = will anyone actually want to pay us to make photographs with our phones? The jury is still out. I guess we'll wait and see....
Overkill? Wasted resources? How many phones could we have bought instead....?

this was a huge file. Not anymore....

OT: Survived the early morning appt. with my dermatologist. No issues. Even made it to swim practice on time. Actually, early. Good start to a cloudy, gray day. Now the dentist appointment looms large. ("looms" = for JC).


crsantin said...

I stopped looking for gear a while back. Anywhere from 12-24 megapixels is plenty for me. I have enough lenses to do what I want to do. I like all formats and don't have a preference for any specific one or any specific manufacturer. All my video needs are handled by my new iPhone 13 Pro or whatever it is, they seem to release a new one every six months. Leicas are nice but don't seem worth the money. If I ever went back to shooting film I wouldn't mind a film Leica and a single 50mm lens but I doubt I will be doing that. Maybe I'll treat myself to a new camera when I retire...or maybe I'll use the money and take a trip instead and use one of my old cameras. I need to stop buying shit, not just camera gear. All of us need to stop buying shit. It's a sickness that permeates our entire culture.

Roger Jones said...

After I started a fire in the wood stove, cleaned the house, moped all the dark bamboo floors, fixed my wife breakfast so she could go to work, did a fast workout with weights, a 10 minute mile, 10 minutes on the cross trainer, some yoga, I decided to sit down with my coffee and see what was up in Austin Texas. Low, and behold, praised the all mighty, Kirk Tuck was talking about how we have more than enough camera gear to do any job that may come our way. I gathered up all cameras, lenses, and flashes, then hid them. I told them, no worries, Mr Tuck was just having a weak moment, a senior moment, and this to would pass. Or, he has had a version, and listened in on a conversion a friend and I had about a week, about having to much gear, we don't need what we had. We can make 20x24 prints if we need to, and how film was just better. Film looks more Organic. A well exposed 5x5 positive from my old Rollie looks wonderful. It's all I need, and of course, my FP with the 45 f2.8. Oh ya, my S1, and my CL...........hahahahahaha ya.

How's the Ice Box doing? Fixed?

Once again your spot on, less is better, and the old stuff works just fine.

Have an Excellent Day

James Weekes said...

I am retired. Was a wedding/portrait photographer for twenty something years. Did product shots and craft shots. Now in the rear view mirror. Just photograph for me. Hate the phone. For God’s sake, cameras, however many you have, one or ten, are more fun! And 24mp is more than fine.

Mel said...

I was fortunate to be visiting an art museum where there was a display of the rare Edward Weston 8x10" Kodochromes of Pt. Lobos, all evenly and brightly backlit. Amazing color depth, sharp enough to count leaves on distant trees and a great dynamic range. Pity the new world you're describing can't deliver that experience online. If people could see side-by-side what they are missing I wonder how the expectations for viewing images would change?

Re Welch said...

I agree that 24mp (even 16mp files) are sufficient.

But I did succumb to the siren song of more megapixels by buying the Sigma fp L (61mp). I already had the Sigma fp (24mp) and was very pleased with that.

I sold my Leica Q2 because of the 47mp that yielded files sizes in the 90s for the dng files.

In working with the Sigma fp L, I've happened upon something that works for me and keeps file sizes reasonable.

I heard HB (not to be confused with HCB), say something along the lines of more megapixels means less glass to carry. Use the extra megapixels to gain more focal lengths without carrying more lenses via in-camera crops.

With the Sigma fp L's in-camera crops, your EVF or LCD shows the frame you will capture.

For all but scenes that cry out for 61mp, I regularly use the in-camera crops of 1.53x (APS-C), 2x, 2.5x, and even 5x (though rarely).

For example with a 35mm Full Frame lens on the Sigma fp L, see the table below for the 35mm equivalent (mm-e) focal lengths and file sizes.

-------------------- -------------------- ----------
1; 35mm-e; dng/jpg 97.1mb/30.4mb; very large DNG files;

1.53; 53mm-e; dng/jpg 42.7mb/13.9mb; very usable DNG files;

2; 70mm-e; dng/jpg 25.8mb/8.7mb; still usable DNG files;

2.5; 86mm-e; dng/jpg 16.6mb/5.5mb; still usable DNG files;

5; 173mm-e; dng/jpg 4.6mb/1.6mb; barely usable DNG files;

Edward Richards said...

From 4x5 to Pixel 7pro - what a long strange trip it has been. The photography version of "no one knows you are a dog on the Internet."

Anonymous said...

Thank you Kirk, reading your blog is always a pleasure. I'm a hobbyist photographer, and I print (at most) A3; for me every modern camera is more than good enough, the problem is if I love shooting with it. At present my favored camera is a Fuji xe3 and I have no reason to change; but I also have an Oly omd-em10ii that I love because of its ibis. Both produce better prints than I could ever obtain with my medium format Fuji gs645. Clearly, a professional photographer may have much more stringent requirements than I have. Yet, many great photographers used 24x36 mm Leicas or Nikon's and got extraordinary images, in spite of obvious limitations, notably grain. Thus, I would say that technology in many cases is the less relevant component of the final image.

Andrea Bellelli said...

Sorry, I forgot logging in with my Google account! Cheers, Andrea Bellelli

Derek S said...

Mmm.. I was having similar thoughts yesterday when I was updating my website yesterday. You articulate the irony very well Kirk.

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Thanks Derek and Andrea. I sure enjoy thinking about and writing about this stuff...

JC said...

I agree with all of that. 24 is plenty. I enjoy shooting with my Z's, but they're really too big; I prefer the M4/3 GX8s from Panasonic. But they're getting old -- I think mine date to 2016 and have seen some hard use -- and nothing new, of the same size and quality, is being produced. I'm beginning to think that Panasonic is not going to come out with another M/43, so I started looking at other cameras. I want something small, with small interchangeable lenses, the more-or-less equivalent of my GX8s. I also want IBIS and auto-focus, because I'm old and slow. I know all this can be done, because the GX8 did it, almost a decade ago. Is anyone doing anything like it?

Eric Rose said...

I am quite happy with my (bought used) GH5. The files are all I "need" for what I am doing. Which primarily are images to be used on the web and videos. I'm a Scottish Taurus so spending hard earned money on more tool than what's required is anathema to me.

I use to drive big beautiful Mercedes Benz cars. Top of the line, but they were a business expense that I could justify. Now that I am retired I drive a KIA Soul or Toyota Tundra. Neither of them bought new.

Having the biggest, bestest, shiniest anything just to stroke my ego or impress others has never been part of my psyche. However if it was required for a job that couldn't be done to the clients satisfaction with what I already had I wouldn't hesitate to buy whatever was required. As long as it made good business sense in the long term.

For the last couple of months I have been having a blast shooting with an old Nikon D70s equipped with an old Nikkor 28mm AF lens. I have posted the images to Instagram and made 8x10 prints to show my friends. The prints are outstanding on every measure technically. I know the cameras limitations so working around them can be fun as well. Now if the images are interesting or not, well that's up for debate.

I love the m4/3 format, it ticks all the boxes for me. But hey that's why they make chocolate and vanilla, each to their own. No judgement from me. Well maybe a little bit lol.


Chris Kern said...

Kirk: For those few clients who really do want to see how much quality they can expect we put up galleries at full res on Smugmug.com. They are still 8 bit files but at least we can show them with all the detail that's contained within.

I don't shoot professionally and maybe I'm missing something, but you might want to look into the PNG 24-bit-depth format to get better color fidelity from online images than is possible with JPEGs. That, along with an image that can be zoomed to high resolution, ought to be enough to satisfy the most fastidious art director.

Anonymous said...

I have been printing with my Epson photo printers and now the Epson 3800 from digital files since the early 2000's. Anyone in a blind test would be hard pressed to be able to tell the difference in quality from 11 x 14 prints made with my 5 megapixel Olympus E-1, and my 16 megapixel fujifilm or 24 megapixel Sony A7ii cameras. The most notable difference is the 'film like' colors or look from the E-1's Kodak ccd sensor. The E-1 still produces some of the most beautiful files. It makes me laugh when I read comments about how 10 megapixels or even 20 megapixels are not enough. These comments are usually made by photographers who just post online with their phones and laptops.

Cheers Kirk
from Cantley, Qu├ębec

Biro said...

24mp? Heck, even 10mp works just fine on the web and for prints up to 8x10 - probably bigger. That's why I stopped at the Panasonic S5 with interchangeable-lens cameras, even though I have a Leica Q2 on the way. I'll probably use it cropped to 35mm and 50mm quite often.

Anonymous said...

I once took a portrait of a local political candidate with my 16 mp Panasonic G3. He put it on a billboard! You know what, it worked just fine.