Lower & upper limits of acceptable image quality

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Bill Burk, Sep 15, 2012.

  1. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    Watching "Bunny" Hanson pull a Disc camera from his shirt pocket... And recalling my own fascination with the Pocket Instamatic when it was first released (I craved the Model 60 but bought the Model 20 and studied the manual cover to cover so I knew to change shutter speed with a matchstick when shooting in the rain)...

    Got me to thinking about the lower limits of acceptable image quality. And the upper limits. And what beginners should shoot. And what standards you might wish you had upheld from the get-go.

    I wasn't concerned with image quality when I first started out. I was satisfied with the 110 Pocket Instamatic for a few years. I shot smaller cameras (mom had a "Hit" camera) and larger (she also had a Ricohflex). I didn't even respect the negatives. In the darkroom I'd cut the 6x6 negative with scissors to fit the American Science Club kit of the month enlarger.

    I got hooked on 35mm when dad got the Spotmatic II and for dozens of years I didn't see a need to shoot 120 or 4x5 (though I dabbled in these). 35mm did all I wanted and it was professionally accepted.

    Something flipped a few years after I got married. My wife showed me her parents wedding album and asked me to make copies for the family. Sure I knew how to do this... Just as when I was 14, I got the 35mm, macro, copystand, clip bulbs and Panatomic-X and made terrific copies of the prints. I made the prints on Galerie and the family all have them now... But I could immediately see a generation loss of quality, and it got my goat.

    Approaching my 50th birthday (few years ago now...) asked if I could have any camera in the world... I knew digital was overtaking 35mm, but wasn't there yet (my opinion), so the last camera I'd ever need, had to be 4x5. (Left out the fact that my career gave me access to tools to work with 300mb files, but I was only able to make 30mb fuzzy files from my 35mm slides - the only way to get better digital files was scanning backs... and a local photographer already was making his reputation on that path).

    So to be different and better, I picked 4x5. I decided all the shots I take from now on, that might be done as well on a Pocket Instamatic, I'm going to do on 4x5 whether it needs it or not. If I nail a shot, then I really have something. If I get just a snapshot, that's fine.

    I'd found out, that the converse really isn't a good place to be... Nailing a shot with a Minox... Not really going to be up on the wall... Maybe I'll post an example.
     
  2. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    [​IMG]

    West Fork Work Crew

    Pocket Instamatic 20, Verichrome Pan

    L-R, Rob Griffith, Rick Wright, Gene Griffith, Bill Burk, Dean Bender, Pat Bender

    Section of the Pacific Crest Trail, Angeles Forest. We wrapped the rocks in gabeons and I can still remember how sore my wrists were from twisting the wire ties with a hook hundreds of times.
     
  3. EASmithV

    EASmithV Member

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    Sounds like someone needs a Graflex.
     
  4. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Interesting thoughts Bill.

    For me the threshold is more about content than, to put it simplistically, resolution and perfect sharpness.

    For the shot you present, the formality & setup would have lent itself nicely to a 4x5 negative. That said, the shot works for me as is, simply because of the content and fuzzy presentation.

    The best way I think I can put this is that memory isn't always sharp and the fuzziness places a marker in your life's timeline. The photo "fits" the story.

    I think this is one example of why I lean "Pictorialist" rather than f/64.

    Even with new work where I want sharp subject matter, I don't want the context that the subject matter sits in overly defined. Life isn't that well defined and I want to let the viewer fill in the blanks from their history.

    Too much clarity makes me ask myself technical questions (Where? What film? ...) instead of connecting emotionally.
     
  5. Diapositivo

    Diapositivo Subscriber

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    4x5 will not allow you to take pictures with the same speed, simplicity and "readiness" (which, as we know, "is all") allowed by a Pocket Instamatic. Size is the result of a balance between technical quality and readiness.

    My tought:
    The minimum quality is the one below which one wouldn't gain any operative gain (in "readiness") for the pictures he's going to take.
    The maximum quality is the one above which one wouldn't gain any visible quality gain for the final use he's going to make of the picture.

    The quality of a Microfilm Minox was not low for the intended purpose so "Cicero"*, the Turk spy, was right in using it.
    On the other hand taking pictures for news with a LF camera pays a price in "readiness" and does not give any advantage in marketability.

    In the stock photography milieu there is, it seems by reading some forum, a tendency to favour APS-C or Micro Four-Thirds mirrorless cameras to gain "readiness". The little amount of quality one has to let on the table is a little price to pay as in stock photography good enough is good enough (more than that is very rarely leading to a sale, subject prevails by a large margin over technical quality).

    * Elias Bazna, or Elyesa Bazna, or Iliaz Bazna in Albanian as he was an Albanian of Kosovo.
     
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  6. MaximusM3

    MaximusM3 Member

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    Quality and size of negative are simply a choice of the photographer but intrinsically they are meaningless. I have stopped worrying about such trivia a long time ago. I shoot 35mm, medium format, and now a Leica Monochrom as well. I worry about content and finding moments, light, things worth photographing, not whether a 4x5 or 8x10 negative would give me an edge in any respect. It doesn't. Viewers don't care, buyers don't care. Mostly, I don't. We can all use any of the tools we chose to use, but at the end of the day, it is the print of an interesting image that matters, regardless of the medium used. As an example, I just paid $3,000 for these prints, taken by Vivian in 1955 with her Contax and Tri-X, on the 3rd avenue El train and during the dismantling. Could not have been taken with a 4x5, 8x10 (fleeting moments, not posed shots), it would not make a difference, and no one really cares. http://www.thelionheartgallery.com/Artwork-Detail.cfm?ArtistsID=694&NewID=3488, http://www.thelionheartgallery.com/Artwork-Detail.cfm?ArtistsID=694&NewID=3495
     
  7. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Good thoughts Fabrizio.

    I have a buddy that used to shoot stock car racing on 4x5, don't remember what camera but it used a system something like grafmatic holders and was self cocking. As I remember, he said he could shoot off all six sheets in a 10-second pit stop.

    Weegee and others did a fair amount of news reporting on 4x5 too.

    My point is simply that photographic opportunities are typically made, not taken.

    The old adage of f/8 and be there comes to mind. This fits with your thought on stock photography, content rules.

    I'm not advocating a pure 4x5 approach, the operative gain you speak of is real.
     
  8. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Subscriber

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    ansel adams, a fanatic about sharpnessnailed it when he said :there is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.
     
  9. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    nice story and great photograph bill :smile:
    i think there are different tools for different situations ..
    and there are situations regarding display and presentation as well.
    a lot of photographs made on smaller format cameras look great when not enlarged
    extremely large ( and some look great enlarged to 16x20, but viewing distance is "back a few feet" )
    and a lot of photographs made with a 4x5 or larger camera .. well they are technically nice to look at
    but don't have the magic moment effect that can be had with a smaller camera.
    a lot of photography that 99% of what people do is to capture a memory they don't want to forget ..
    a place, the way the sun hit the hills behind their house, a tornado, friends, family, workmates &c ( sorry to sound cheezy but "kodak moments" )
    and to me at least, any level of image quality is acceptable. ...
    in a photo album small is nice, and if the same 110 image is enlarged to 20x24 ... it probably has a beautiful impressionistic feel to it :smile:

    john
     
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  10. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    Exactly! I passed on one at a garage sale, which I regret...

    But I did go back later and buy the guy's 6-foot stainless steel darkroom sink.
     
  11. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    It's quite a quote, and applied to oneself it's a reminder to put more into your work. But as soon as I turn the thoughts outwards and imagine a typical camera club show where hopeful amateurs show their best (which by definition is worse than ansel adams')... This quote becomes terribly mean.

    To counterbalance this thought, Byron Dobell said "There is no such thing as a bad picture that's over 40 years old".
     
  12. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Nice quote.
     
  13. eddie

    eddie Subscriber

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    So... I was good, eventually?:D:
     
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  15. batwister

    batwister Member

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    Today he might say - "There's nothing worse than a Photoshopped picture of the Rhein."
     
  16. Brian C. Miller

    Brian C. Miller Member

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    (The following is an approximation of someone's remembrances)
    "When I started working for Adams, I looked through the folders of prints he had under a table. I thought I would be in for a treat, savoring delights unseen by the public. There were a lot of very ordinary photographs. Adams came up behind me and said, 'Well, I only get a good one maybe once or twice a month.'"

    I don't think that Adams meant the quote for photoclub amateurs, but for the professional creators of "fine art." Those guys, that lot there.

    Now, back to the original thread premise. Photography was never pursued in my family, and many years down the road I bought a not-so-bad Pentax WR90 P&S after something I bought in a blister pack died. Was the P&S good? For the most part, it was excellent. It only failed when the subject was backlit by the sun (major flare) or if I wanted to not do something point-and-shootey. So the next camera was a Pentax 6x7. I figured that if I was going to step up, it was going to be something larger. It was a good choice, and I still have that camera. I went up to 4x5 when I kept having to stop down way too much for things to get into reasonable focus. Yes, I wanted movements. Later on I bought an 8x10 Cambo SC. Yep, Big Film Syndrome!

    I also have a Pen-F half-frame camera, which is my smallest. The lenses are sharp, and I enjoy the camera imensely. I like the way photographs look both sharp and soft at the same time, with ISO400 film. But is that the limit? No, not really. I have attached two crops. These are from an 8x10 Ilford Delta 100 negative, and the crop area is about the size of a Minox negative. The lens used was a Wollensak 6-1/4" (159mm), stopped all the way down to f/45 for grins and giggles. The final crop (my avatar image here) is about 2mm x 2mm. From a lens manufactured about 1935.

    So: what's the lower limit of image quality? You can recognize something in it, and that's good enough. What's the upper limit? You recognize far too much.
     

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  17. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    A Pentax 6x7 sounds like a good camera to pick up early on...

    What really got me into this line of thinking... I'm shooting 4x5 mostly now. And I enjoy printing from 4x5 negatives. Earlier this summer I shot some 35mm and some 6x9 as a diversion (and to check my commitment to 4x5).

    I didn't find out what I expected. I found I can take pretty decent pictures with anything. I thought I was going to discover 4x5 was really special and everything else was rot.

    Now I still like the 4x5 prints better, and plan to go forward with that. But the earlier negatives still make me happy too. I'm relieved that I don't have to renounce my earlier work.

    But instead of locking down the enlarger, now I find myself doing a bit more juggling in the darkroom as I switch lenses and negative carriers.
     
  18. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

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    Photographers, especially amateurs to my mind and in my experience are too obsessed by the quality of their equipment and not obsessed enough about the meaning of the images they take with it if any. Camera manufacturers and photographic magazines are all the time trying to persuade them that spending more money is the pathway to photographic excellence, and attempting to create dissatisfaction with what they already have to such a degree that most newbie photographers with their first S.L.R. would pour scorn on the equipment that many great photographers became legends with, and produced images that have become icons of the 20th Century as being technically inadequate because it couldn't shoot 10 frames a second or have TTL metering, or TTL flash.
    I notice on most photographic forums these days the majority discussions are about equipment not pictures, and I often wonder that when painters discuss painting if all they talk about is brushes and easels.
     
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  19. Mainecoonmaniac

    Mainecoonmaniac Subscriber

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    For me, snaps shots should have recognizable faces. I think shots done with a low quality camera with less than professional quality results gives an air of sincerity. Some people even collect vernacular photography.
     
  20. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    Vernacular encompasses a very wide range of technical execution - most of the Mathew Brady images I own would absolutely be considered vernacular. As Jeremy Moore explained vernacular to me, it is "images of indigenous people created for indigenous consupmtion". It doesn't have to be limited to low-fi images of anonymous people by anonymous photographers. 99% of studio portraiture would qualify as vernacular, as would 99% of amateur photography. But there's that 1% of each that escapes that category (I was going to say 'rise above' but that would be assuming vernacular photography is somehow 'lesser' than non-vernacular photography. The marketplace values it less, to be sure, but I have found in my collecting a number of vernacular images which are exceptionally beautiful and worthy of framing and hanging on my wall; images I would hang before 'fine art' images that would cost exponentially more).
     
  21. AlbertZeroK

    AlbertZeroK Member

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    Content over Quality. I keep telling friends of mine that. At the end of the day, being a photographer now is about marketing and brand rather than quality results (and I know many photographers who do lots of crappy work), but oddly, I see very, very, very few who are passionate about their craft as a medium and prefer to be a set designer and costume artist. I prefer to focus on expression and the face, after all, I don't want my child to be 20% of an image consumed by some printed backdrop and fake floor - but others eat that stuff up.

    I prefer to be passionate, I shoot everything I can get my hands on, in every weird way I can. I prefer my passion which is hands on, rather than the passion of photoshop. So to me, I shoot with everything from 4x5 and Mamiya 7's to box cameras and Hawkeye Brownie cameras (one with the lens reversed of course) and I use the strengths and weaknesses of each camera to give me what I want.
     
  22. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    I think the important observation here is not just Content over Quality. Yes, Content should be king and Quality should be subservient to Content, but the true craft of an art is to know how to match Quality to Content so that Quality enhances content, rather than stands aside from Content. There's no reason not to shoot with a box Brownie, so long as you're consciously aware of the properties of the tool and how it will shape the image you're making so that those properties add to rather than detract from the image. A Mamiya 7 might well be too sharp and clinical for certain portraits and the box Brownie the better tool... and so on.

    Conversely, don't let Content override Quality to the point that it is used as an excuse for lack of quality, especially when you know better. It's fine when Aunt Sally who has never used anything better than a disposable camera sends you a haphazardly composed, precariously exposed snapshot of the family get-together last Christmas, but from someone who has real photographic skill and knows how to compose and light a picture, it's almost an insult, as if they didn't care enough to try.
     
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  23. AlbertZeroK

    AlbertZeroK Member

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    Exactly, I attached the two extremes from a recent shoot I did. For me, both have an amazing feel and quality to them because of the camera used :smile: But trying to get new photographers who have only ever shot digital get this, it's nearly impossible.
     

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  24. Mainecoonmaniac

    Mainecoonmaniac Subscriber

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    Adams was a trail blazer in that regard

    During Adam's time, didn't photographers tried to imitate painters ie Pictorialism? But 15 years ago, blurry was the new again.
     
  25. Prof_Pixel

    Prof_Pixel Member

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    There is an interesting effect noted by researchers in the '40s. The eye (and visual system) is much more willing to accept out of focus closeup photos of the human face as acceptable than other out of focus content.

    It has something to do with the face that as babies, with eyes that won't focus, we see close up human faces and the visual system learns to supply the missing detail. Kodak used that in the Near/Far two focus position cameras. The assumption was that closeup photos were faces and therefor a larger blur circle would be tolerated. If you were taking photos of flowers, I guess you were out of luck.
     
  26. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    Pictorialism began 40 years before Ansel Adams started formulating his ideas that culminated in the Modernist/f64 school of thought about sharpness. In various ways and forms, Pictorialism lasted into the 1940s, but it peaked in the first decade of the 20th century and was on its way out by the 1920s. Edward Weston began his career as a semi-pictorialist, printing in platinum. And there are platinum prints by St. Ansel out there as well, but they're rare birds. Not that printing in platinum per se makes an image pictorialist. Adams, Weston, the f64 school and the Modernists were all reactions against Pictorialism because they felt photography should revel in its own inherent qualities instead of rejecting them to try and be more like another medium.