Shaking up the geography of personal existence. Thinking about the sweet spot of cameras. Belaboring the obvious. Planning the next trip.


I posted this image two days ago. For some reason readers could see the image "inline" in the post but couldn't see it in the windowed gallery. I dug down to see why. Because of the detailed grain the actual size of the Jpeg file was 25 megabytes. That's a lot for a 4000 x 6000 pixel file! But the devil is in the details. 

Have you ever noticed that very grainy files can be much more detailed  (in appearance) than smoother files? The requirement to resolve and represent accurately a very fine grain structure allows for much less Jpeg compression. Smooth files are a breeze. Noisy files require machines to exercise a higher level of finesse. I dropped the resolution of this file down to about 12 megapixels and, when I look at the files at 100% I can see an obvious difference in how convincing the larger files is, as a "real" photograph, than the smaller version. Something to think about as you consider the level of compression at which you save Jpeg files. No wonder some raw files can look so much better...

Painters are coming on Monday. I need to denude the studio of delicate and breakable things and also remove heavy stuff that impedes moving filing cabinets and six foot high shelving around. The painters need access to all four walls and while they will move heavy furniture they are allergic to handling things like computers, cameras, lighting gear, rare books, etc. 

I started my part of the prep process by shutting down my main computer, disconnecting all the hard drives I had connected to it. Disconnecting the big, wide carriage, Canon inkjet printer and clearing out all of the power strips that had been multiplying under the desk I've been using for the past 24 years, without a break. It was an oddly emotional process since I've been sitting in that corner writing and doing image post processing for more than two decades. I got acclimated to the certainty of that spot and never expected to have an emotional response to the physical disruption. 

When I woke up this morning I felt unmoored. Adrift. A bit lost. I now have my computer (with no drives attached) sitting on a mid-century desk in an unused bedroom in the house. It feels weird. There is a window in front of me and that's weird. The desk is smaller, and that's weird. I can hear B. typing away in a room down the long hall from me, paying bills online and answering email. I miss the sense of absolute privacy of action. After all, my studio/office is mine alone and I can go out at anytime and feel nicely isolated from....everything else. Working in the house I suddenly feel guilt for going to the Boston Leica Store website to take another look at a very nice condition, chrome M 240... That's a new feeling.

The painting in the office, and the rest of the house, will be completed by Wednesday evening but that seems like such a long time away. I guess I'm just remembering the cadence of work life in years past when the idea of shutting down business resources for any length of time seemed perilous. 

I worry about "workspace creep." The idea that it might be nice, after restoring my "work" computer to its rightful place back in the office, if I might be tempted to enjoy still having computer in the far off bedroom for all those days when it's too cold or hot to venture into the studio. Or I become too lazy to walk the twelve extra steps from the house to the office. Maybe a nice, 16 inch MacBook Pro for the smaller desk. A complement to the 13 inch laptop I already keep on the kitchen table to catch up on stocks and news over breakfast and coffee. But I remind myself that the studio shelves already look like a laptop graveyard with older, now obsolete units stacked chronologically from Powerbook to Blueberry iBook (which was Ben's first computer ---- nostalgia alert!!!) to more recent models in a tower of eclipsed tech, a few feet high. 

Interesting how, at the beginning of the career there were no computers, no cellphones, and no internet and we spent our time optimizing the dark room and the studio lighting instead. When the phone rang it rang on the office desk and if I was in the darkroom and slow to repond an answering machine recorded incoming messages for me on magnetic tape.

I'm sure I'll get everything back into order but I'm noticing, as a I clean up the studio space that it's almost like an archeological dig; layers upon layers of stuff once deemed absolutely necessary now gathering dust under newer stuff now considered...obsolete. I haven't hit "hoarder" status just yet and B. doesn't tolerate the clutter of redundant stuff in the house but still....it's a visual indicator of the waste one can generate with a changing industry.

Camera Sweet Spots. There are any number of experts on the web who can make decent arguments leading one to believe that every advancement in camera technology is a welcome, vital and necessary one. I suspected all was not temporally linear when, after having much imaging joy with "old" used Leica SL cameras (24 megapixels, non-BSI, non-stacked sensors and 2015 tech all the way) I picked up a much newer SL2 complete with, at the time, a state of the art 47+ megapixel sensor and, ostensibly,  a more advanced imaging pipeline. Why then, over time and with quantities of experience, have I always liked the images I get out of the older models better? The simple answer is: The Sweet Spot. Which is also "the Ultimate Compromise Theory." 

The bigger geometry of the individual pixel wells on the older camera was a sweet spot for making a certain kind of file which just happens to align with my taste in how photographic images should look. Crispy and detailed as opposed to endless resolution and a certain, cloying smoothness. I felt the same when I compared the older Nikon D700 (12 megapixels with enormous pixel wells) versus the Nikon D800 with its much higher resolution. Sure, each of the files from the more modern and higher resolution cameras could be enlarged to a much greater extent without visible stair stepping and disintegration but did they look better when viewed in normal circumstances? Sadly, no. 

I recently had the same experience when I compared my recently purchased, decade old, 24 megapixel Leica M 240 with a much more recent Leica M10R camera that has 40 megapixels. The difference is not as obvious as the SL versus SL2 comparison or the Nikon comparison but it still holds true. The less pixel engorged sensor of the M 240 makes files I like the look of better than the M10R's 40 megapixels. Both are very good. And I'm sure the M10R has more dynamic range and --- maybe --- less noise but it lacks a certain crispy detail look that I can get easily from the older camera. Which pushes me to look for at least one more clean iteration of the older technology before it disappears altogether from the marketplace. 

What am I talking about? Think of this example when thinking about super high resolution. You know how good an iPhone photo can look when you see it on an iPhone screen? How the electronics multisample and interpolate and "enhance" the look of the photographic images? Now, take that phone image and blow it up big. Or take an image in low light and then look at that on a big monitor. The images start to fall apart, the colors look thin. And using a shadow slider not only generates noise but almost instantly generates banding. The size of the pixel wells still matters. It's physics even if software provides at convincing image when viewed in undemanding media. Or in less rigorous sizing. 

A few of my friends have purchased Leica M11 cameras and those cameras are interesting. I'd conjecture that about 30-40% of the final image quality is mostly dependent on in-camera software manipulation. Don't get me wrong. I think everyone else's high res cameras are largely beholden to software for their final appearance as well. Not just Leica. But it's a crapshoot to be too dependent on software engineering for ultimate quality. At this point anyway. And just think, the real power in software enhancement is doing it at speed. If you are doing any file processing in camera you are always weighing the quality of results against the speed of the process. Otherwise you lose the P.R. wars around operational responsiveness and frame rate. The bigger the file the faster processing you need in order to get good results. In order to just match the quality of smaller files.

Imagine instead if we took the same ultra fast processors and, instead of applying their power and speed to enormous 61+ megapixel files we applied those resources to a 12, 18 or 24 megapixel file instead. If we kept the frame rates the same we could apply four to eight times as much processing to overall image quality instead of compromising between high frame rates AND large files. How much better the images from the less crowded sensors would be done that way. Which inevitably reminds one of the engineering matrix Sony landed on when they came out with the A7S camera line, downshifting from a "standard" 24 megapixel sensor to a 12 megapixel sensor, and delivering a low noise champion in the process. But it's not just noise that can be affected; you could make different compromises that might entail things pickier traditional photographers value such as color discrimination and high bit depths. 

So ----- hey Leica! Give me a 24 megapixel, new M camera with all the cool stuff like USB charging and .....USB charging. And use all that hard won software expertise not to make the sensors more densely populated but capable of delivering discernibly higher image quality for real world use. 

Belaboring the obvious. I've been taking advantage of the new A.I. stuff in Lightroom and PhotoShop. I'm not using it to create wholly new photographs but rather I use it in the fine tuning of my usual photographs that I deliver to clients, or to the blog. Things like "depth blur" filters which create a 3D map of an image and can selectively blur the images from back to front. It's much more realistic for projects on which you have a separate background image (like an architectural interior) and you need to realistically composite an image (portrait of a CEO?) on top of it. Another wonderful filter which is mostly non-intrusive is the use of A.I. in noise reduction via the DeNoise filter in Lightroom. The tools are here and now and if you use them to create something you were able to visualize before but didn't have the tools to perfect then these features are more of a step forward that a complete re-imagining of photography. 

The same cohort of "you kids get off my lawn" photographers who thought digital imaging would never displace analog/film photography are now grousing and posturing their discontent for anything A.I. But they are missing the distinction between "generative" A.I. and more basic enhancement A.I. which, in many forms, can be nothing more than convenience calculations aimed at allowing one to do something they already do in their workflow but with more speed and better overall results. Not a "deal-killer" by any stretch of the imagination. 

So, put down your Speed Graphic cameras, change out of your Lands End shearling slippers and into some walking shoes, fire up that Buick sedan, put down your paper copy of USA Today, and takes some time to make some test new and improved test photographs, and then use them to try out some of the new tools. Life in the photography world is not completely about printing long scale landscapes on double weight printing paper in your chemical darkroom. Broadening one's horizons is a good thing. At least that's what I'm trying to convince myself in my new, temporary office. 

Planning the next trip. I like to travel. The weeklong adventure a month ago in Montreal whetted my appetite for it. So now I'm trying to balance the weather, the season, the flight availabilities and whatever obligations I have locally in order to plan the next one. My friend, Andy, just got back from a couple weeks in Japan. He wrote about it and it sounded wonderful. Ben is currently hopscotching across Japan for two weeks and I can hardly wait to hear his stories and recommendations. But a silly part of my brain is bent on seeing Montreal again but this time in the dead of Winter. I'm thinking of a quick re-trip in January to see what a "brutal and savage" Winter really looks like. And how the city operates when everyone heads indoors; into the subterranean city. 

And why not give it a try? The off season rates for hotels and even flights are so low for that time frame that it seems like they are paying you to come up for a chilly visit. 

It's not like I need to choose only one place to go. But it's so rare I've been north in the Winter months that it's almost like science fiction to me.... Well, except for that blizzard in Toronto in 2017....

I guess I should wrap this up and head back out to the studio to keep the pre-paint process rolling. Monday morning will be here before I know it.... Oh, and there is a nice, noon swim practice available today. Might be good to store up some extra, natural vitamin D.


Chuck Albertson said...

Why hold back? Head to Iceland during winter. Cold weather, and auroras to boot.

CWM said...

Your comments regarding megapixels and the overall color and tonality of the 12mp sensors vs. higher mp sensors mirror my findings …seldom discussed on the web. I also find the 16mp sensors found in the D4s, DF and Pentax K5IIs to offer a very special rendering. I recently picked up the Hasselblad X1D2 and found the same sort of “magic” in the 50mp medium format files that it produces. In these cases, the “magic” simply means a bit less digital with a more natural and pleasing rendering, at least to my eyes.

The so-called reviewers rarely understand or articulate any of these differences and simply see dynamic range and resolution as the advantage of medium format. If there was a 24mp medium format sensor, I would surely hope to try it out …have no real interest in the 100mp versions.

JC said...

Two comments, really.
1. I lived in the Twin Cities for more than thirty years. St. Paul and Montreal are almost the game longitude, Montreal only a bit further north (St. Paul's northern suburbs are probably as far north as Montreal's southern suburbs.) Both places are quite livable in the winter if you simply observe the local clothing habits. I was talking to a car driver in Phoenix in October, who came from the Twin Cities, and he said in many ways, living in Phoenix wasn't much different than living in the Twin Cities -- in Phoenix, you tended to limit your outdoor exposure in the summer, and in the Twin Cities, you limited it in the winter. In both places, when you go outside, you dress for the temps. You won't have to spend a fortune to be relatively comfortable in Montreal -- some long underwear from REI, a good sweater, and a decent jacket should do it, along with gloves, boots and and a ski hat. You won't be trekking across the arctic; you get cold, you stop in a coffee shop.

2. I once took a statistical sampling course, and though I'm not sure how exactly it relates to photography, I never understood why, when thousands of photons hit even small pixel wells, that's not enough to extrapolate the number to anything you need. If ten thousand photons hit a small pixel well, and fifty thousand hit a larger one, you should be able to extrapolate the 10k to the 50k with a high degree of accuracy, shouldn't you? In fact, you should be able to do that with anything more than a couple of thousand pixels per well. Shouldn't you?

jimhttp://thirstysouls.blogspot.com/ said...

I recently got back from a three plus week trip centered on the Capitol Reef Area of Utah! It was my first "real photo excursion" with a 40mp + digital sensor. I was very impressed by the fine detail it got from my older lenses and viewed on the monitor as I'm editing there is a huge difference between them and the 24mp cameras i have been using. However when I print I doubt I will see any difference between the 24vs 40 mp file, taken on the same trip. I just dont print images Big! I like to view them at arms length and for most thats printed on 8.5x11 paper.

Gordon R. Brown said...

Go buy chrome M Typ 240.

Robert Roaldi said...

I grew up and lived in Montreal till I was 22. The day of a blizzard and the day after can be beautiful. And if you're not driving yourself, watching automobiles trying to fight nature can be entertaining. After the first day, the snow turns to slush on city streets because of all the salt they use, but parks and some neighbourhoods/streets can still be "picturesque". If it's windy and minus 10 or less (Celsius) it can be nasty walking outside because of the way wind gets funnelled around buildings, but Montreal has a vast underground network to walk around in.

Keep your ears covered outside in the wind.

Keep extra batteries in inner pockets closer to the warmth of you body.

It will quite dark outside by 4:00 pm or so.

Cold is good, I don't know how anyone can live in a hot place. :)

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Hi Chuck, I did a ten day stint in Iceland in late October/early November of 2018. Wasn't that bad. We got out a lot. It's the wet rain mixed with the cold that's the worst. If you can stay dry you are way ahead of the game. I liked Iceland. I'll go again when the North shore is drivable.

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Gordon R. Brown said...
"Go buy chrome M Typ 240."

Working on it.

Travis said...

I have to echo your comments on the usefulness of the new “AI” (more accurately ML) features in Lightroom. I’ve been toying with a bargain A7 II I picked up recently, not known as a high ISO champion. I’m absolutely floored with what denoise can do, while preserving a very natural look to the picture. As you say, a very natural extension to what we were already doing.

Robert Roaldi said...

There may be a danger that if AI removes too much noise from dark shadows for long enough then people will eventually forget what the dark really looks like.

Eventually there might emerge a photography sub-genre that embraces noise. Maybe that already exists. I'll check out the Art Filters on my Olympus. I forget what's there.

What if they make a chip implant one day that makes you think you just drank a good cup of coffee.

Jeffry Hula said...

Interesting comments about about "The bigger geometry of the individual pixel wells on the older camera was a sweet spot for making a certain kind of file which just happens to align with my taste in how photographic images should look." Do you think that carries over to the Fujifilm GFX 50S II? Just heard it has been discontinued, by the way.

I wonder if you compared the GFX 50S II to the new GFX 100II if you would have the same conclusion? "Just Thinking".

TMJ said...

The 'sweet spot' for me is my Nex-7 with the 24mm f1.8 Zeiss lens: new from 2012. Used the combo yesterday at Flamborough Head, North Yorkshire. Nothing is significantly better for most of what I do. Okay, my 5DSR and TSE lenses are better at architecture, on an excellent tripod: but I am very fortunate to have a few choices.....

karmagroovy said...

What about Oslo, Norway as a candidate for a Winter trip? In January, February the average high temperature is right at freezing. Embrace the cold! ;-)

Michael Ferron said...

My new(old) camera is a Fuji XT2. Sure it has three successors in the line but still it is a fine performer (as have most decent cameras for the last 10 years.) I only have 2 Fuji mount lenses a Sigma 30. 1.4 and a Fuji 16 2.8. If one really needs the latest and greatest be the reason professional needs or ego desire than go for it. I am not a pro, don’t need latest and quite frankly am getting cheap in my old age and not willing to shell thousands on a new camera. Love Leica cameras but that is someone else’s turf not mine.