Don’t let the title fool you, I promise it won’t be another one of ‘those’ sensationalist articles. The following are just some personal thoughts based on a recent experience I had printing, and setting up a gallery exhibition of my work a few months ago.
In 2013, I decided to start publishing my photo work. Now, why print in a digital age?. Well, I am a designer during the day, and I simply love the smell of ink on paper. Don’t get me wrong, I love instagram, tumblr and all that, but something happens when you take the image out of the screen. In fact, I do believe in ‘is not a photo, until is printed’ more or less.
So, I embarked myself into self-publishing through the ‘zine’ format, which I called “Øbservations”. As the name suggests, this were my own visual journals documenting my wanderings in Auckland, NZ. I was printing and ‘using’ images from different sensors: Micro four thirds(Olympus OMD EM-10), APS-C (Ricoh GR) and Full Frame (Sony A7).
I knew that printing those zines at an A5 (148 x 210mm/5.8 x 8.3in) size wouldn’t give me any problems, in fact, I would have no problems with printing smartphone photos at those sizes either. Technology right now, is simply impressive. I have to be honest though. At one point I knew that if I was going to do any bigger prints, I might get all those differences that people kept writing on the internet about how cropped sensors ‘struggle to keep up’ with full frame.
A year after I started my ‘Øbservations’ project, I received an invitation to exhibit my work:
I decided to make each print as big as possible, which in this case, they were A3+ (330x482mm / 13x19in), which is a pretty big size for a gallery show. In fact, anything bigger than that and you really need a big room, with enough space to view each print from a distance, light them up properly, etc.
When I started to print my work for the exhibition (from the three different sensors, m43, APS-C and FF), the first test prints I did, were from the m43 sensor. And I was blown, I was actually seeing way more details than I saw on lightroom in my retina macbook pro. The prints kept coming out of the printer, of course the other two sensors (APS-C and FF) were outstanding as well. But here’s where things get interesting.
From all the people that came to the show,9 out of 10 times no one could really tell the difference in between sensors. No one cared really, because quality is simply outstanding from all three sensors nowadays. That 1 out of 10 time someone could actually tell the difference, was when they noticed the thinner depth of field of the FF sensor over the other two. Which, for some it might be a flaw, truth is, depth of field has nothing to do with the image quality of the sensor. right?
I prefer smaller cameras, because when I first started in photography, I started with film, and most 35mm cameras were (are) in fact, smaller than most digital cameras. But that’s another story. Technology, today, in 2015, has gone far. More than necessary for 98% of the users out there.
Lets not forget that one of the first, if not the first consumer digital full frame camera, came out in 2006, the canon 5d (a huge step for digital photography, no doubt!).
That is not even 10 years ago! and technology has gone so far that its safe to say that even APS-C sensors from 2 years ago or so, would run circles around those first Full frame sensor cameras. But we still care, and read endless blogs about the new and the latest megapixel/sensor-size. I know, I do and probably you do too.
I want to be clear though and say, No, I am not trying to ditch FF at all guys. I love it, and I own a FF sensor camera. But I do believe and insist that technology has gone so far, that I believe, cropped sensor do have an advantage compared to most FF sensor cameras. And that is… you guessed it, size and weight.
In fact is not a surprise that real master photographers, are right now shooting professional assignments with smaller and cropped sensor cameras. Why is that?, well, the quality is as good as 35mm sensor cameras, and the convenience of a smaller kit allows them to carry the camera anytime and anywhere more easily.
David Alan Harvey (National Geographic / Magnum Photographer) shoots m43, iphone, DSLR, and rangefinder cameras. Saul Leiter, considered one of the masters of color photography of the 20th century, was shooting m43 cameras before he passed away one and a half years ago (Watch his documentary, its a must). Daido Moriyama, the japanese master photographer, has made a career shooting compact cameras, even shooting very small sensor cameras and making huge prints out of it.
On the other hand, there’s guys like Michael Kenna, that have shot landscape photography with nothing less than Medium format, but then again, he is also known for using Holga cameras (cheap plastic, fixed lens, 120mm cameras) which one thing they lack the most is, sharpness and perfection.
Having said all that, I was thinking, why would a simple amateur like myself or yourself perhaps, demand more and more from the manufacturers than we currently have.
Every Time I surf through photo blogs or forums were I used to share my photos, now most of them, seem to be delusional with edge to edge sharpness and resolution as if it were almost the only conversation to have when talking about cameras or photography. What else do we need from our digital cameras? Because if you are not going to print any of the photos (which a lot of people don’t), this whole article is muted and there’s nothing more to say.
Also, you might well not know, but if you think you need a 36 or 50 megapixel sensor camera, heck, even a 24 megapixel camera to fill and share photos through your retina, 2k or even 4k dedicated screens, I can only tell you, that they ‘only’ resolve an equivalent of an 8 megapixel photo, which in fact is, what your iphone shoots.
For me, photography does not need to be perfect, it is about moments, personal expressions, reality, and lots of trial and error, and personally I’ve been experimenting with other ways of printing my work: screenprint, risographs, etc. Because what is cool about photography, is that timeless feel, a slice of time frozen in a piece of paper, which might be slightly blurred, textured or color saturated, just like your memories about that moment.
I guess what I wanted to share with you guys, is that there’s no camera on the face of the planet that will take ‘those’ photos you dream of, it is you behind it that will. And any sensor will capture an amazing or crap photo. A good photo is a good photo regardless of the sensor, camera or format you shoot at. Again, I’m not trying to say, cropped sensors are better than full frame ones or trying to ditch full frames for cropped ones. It’s more like, if you are trying to buy a camera in 2015, go with whatever you can buy within your budget (except those $100 dollar point and shoot, stick to your cellphone if that's the case).
Instead of spending days and weeks reading reviews of this vs that (been there done that), try going to your local shop and play with all the cameras. Now, when it comes to Sensor quality, meaning, image quality, right now, today, is better than what most people need.imho.
Again this are just some personal thoughts after publishing and setting up a fine art gallery show in the last year and half. Sensor size, really don't matter to me anymore.
PS: By the time I finished this article, I received some test prints I'm doing for some other publications in the future. I printed two large formats photos, and when I say large i do mean it, 841 x 1189mm (46.8 x 33in). One from a 16 megapixel APS-C camera and the other one from a 24megapixel FF camera. To be honest, you’d be hard pressed telling which one has more details in the very top corner near the tree branches. Also, look at the amount of crop sensors that won awards!
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