What technical points are important to you?
Elsewhere on this forum, a great to-do is being made of the relative sharpness of different lenses. Some people get very excited about the quality of the out-of-focus image (bokeh). Many loved Kodak Technical Pan because it was extremely fine grained. Each of these factors seems to be much more important to some than to others.
My theory is that each of us is sensitive to different things, as a result of historical accident including our 'brain wiring' as babies.
So what's important to you? Or perhaps to be more precise, AFTER content and composition -- which I think we have to take for granted -- what do you notice first? Or alternatively, what is most conspicuous when it is absent?. For me, it's tonality above all, followed by microcontrast which is a large component of sharpness.
Grain is something I'll happily live with as long as the tonality is good, which is why I loathed Tech Pan: I never saw a Tech Pan print with tonality to compete with, well, anything really.
And I'm almost totally insensitive to bokeh. If it's really, really nasty (a Thambar with the centre spot in) then I'll notice, but otherwise I don't see it. Ctein, for what it is worth, feels the same way, or did, the last time we corresponded (a good while back).
Last edited by Roger Hicks; 09-03-2006 at 08:07 AM. Click to view previous post history.
Tonality all the way.
Grain, bokeh, sharpness..... well it all depends on the subject matter. Some things just work for me and others dont. Good thread idea.
It's hard to rate the elements of picture quality in isolation, but for me probably the most important factors are medium contrast (otherwise I have to downrate b+w too far to get the negs I want), flatness of field (can't stand lenses that are razor sharp in the center at full aperture but need f16 to get the corners in) and above all best possible freedom from flare (I like to take shots into the light). My favorite on the basis of these criteria is possibly my Pentax 43 mm f1.9, closely followed by an SMC-A 24 mm f2.8 and an SMC-M 200 mm f4. Among Nikon lenses I like my 50 mm f1.4 AIS and 24 mm f2.8 AIS (got rid of a new 50 mm f1.8 AIS because of flare). Similarly, I sold on a new-model 50 mm f2 Summicron M because of excess contrast and flare but have great hopes of the 1972 Summcron I have just bought.
What's important to me is the power of the image and I have to say this supercedes everything and makes a bit of a nonsense of these sorts of discussions (IMO).
Sharpness is sometimes crucial to the image, or part of it, sometimes it isn't. I do get very tired on an obsession with sharpness above everything, and also find narrow dof (which I know a lot of people don't like in work I do, not that I've posted that sort of stuff here yet) can be gentle, expressive, and approachable. Because I like narrow dof I am quite interested in good bokeh, that isn't intrusive and therefore have benefited in the past from such discussions before buying lenses.
But really - it depends what you want to achieve which can be very different at different times, and as for looking at other work, as I say, the message and impact comes first. Technical considerations very secondary if at all. Except that I do get bored eventually with everything pin sharp and perfect tonality
Originally Posted by Stargazer
I fully take your point, but I think this has to be taken for granted. Unless the image is utterly stunning, though, we do tend to notice technical points -- and the less stunning the image, the more important the technique.
We are often most critical of our own images, and can be surprised both at what some people love and what some people hate. I was amazed, for example, at Dave Bebbington's 'all-over-resolution' point, as I can't think of many pictures where this would even enter my mind as a consideration. It's usually even less important than bokeh to me, but it's clearly important to Dave.
And, as you say, a lot must depend on what you want to photograph.
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What is important to me?
The subject being photographed and how it is composed.
What is important to me?
A photograph that can interest me. A photograph that 'speaks' to me causing me to pause and look longer. This is generally something that brings up connections of multiple memories and past experiences. Also, something that is close to my personal outlook or vision of the world..
What is not important to me?
sharpness, bokeh, blur, full tonal range, grain size, scratches on film, dust in film emulsion, rips, tears, stains, holes, broken plates, other-technical-mumbo-jumbo.
Sometimes, I want to see a mistake or technical error.. Sometimes for my eye something that is technically perfect can be really dull and lack any sort of interest.
edit: in other words, subject above all, technical considerations only are there to make the subject stronger. For me, I am more intested in the less than perfect character posessed by a photograph that is not super sharp/super-duper-bokeh-etc.. I know I am seeing or creating something that is somewhat unique, rather than seeing something with the same exact sharpness-bokeh-technical-whatever that everyone else is getting/wanting..
"Where is beauty? Where I must will with my whole Will; where I will love and perish, that an image may not remain merely an image."
In fact, from your post, to be fair nothing was 'taken for granted'. You must know as an experienced writer that ideas cannot be 'taken as read', and need to be spelt out in your intro. Otherwise all sorts of assumptions are made and wrong tracks followed.
Part of the danger, anyway, in following these discussions is you miss the point and throw the baby out with the bathwater. Technique by itself does not supercede anything, and therefore discussion always has to be qualified, and is therefore severely limited. Where will it lead, apart from 'I like this, I like that'?
It's just that I don't believe in your theory of 'historical accident' or brain-wiring. Influences that are brought to bear are much more complex, individual, and indefinable than that I think.
Also, I hope it doesn't turn into just another excuse for a 'gear' /techo discussion in disguise.
best wishes, I'm not really grumpy,
For me, photography is an activity emotionally driven, all is fine if the result triggers a emotion, and then comes the other qualities.
I can live without all the state-of-art technical stuff [to a certain extent, looking my gear], but I like my images as sharp as I see them, and no disturbing OOF zones if they have to be there. Tonality is important, but it's so variable depending the image; if the picture itself doesn't tell you nothing, it's just another technically perfect image.
Originally Posted by Stargazer
For your first point, how very true.
For the second, I think we are saying the same thing. What you call 'influences', I call 'historical accident'. The brain-wiring thing I find intriguing because a baby does lose some of its potential, especially with language, as witness the difficulty of a Japanese distinguishing 'l' and 'r' in some spoken English, or an English-speaker 'da' and 'dha' in Sanskrit -- or even 'ka' and 'kha' in Tibetan.
For the third, it is indeed to some extent techno, and undisguised. What has often surprised me is that someone will show me a picture of which they are clearly very proud, but which for me is spoiled to a greater or lesser extent by what looks (again, to me) like a glaring technical fault. The leading example for me is the appalling tonality of Tech Pan, which is why I mentioned it in the first post. Yet some people apparently don't think it's bad. Someone else may wince at the rotten bokeh in a picture, and I don't even notice it.
To dismiss discussion of this sort of thing is, I think, unwise in the extreme. Photography is both an art and a craft. I have no time for he who, wrist to brow, exclaims "None of this ever matters! I am an Artist!" And I have equally little time for he who endlessly 'tests' films, cameras, lenses, whatever, in a search for a technical perfection that is worthless without artistic vision.
Balancing the two is essential unless you are such a genius that equipment and technique really don't matter, ever, at all. Few if any photographers throughout history have reached that peak. Even Julia Margaret's pictures are not, for me, enhanced by her cavalier attitude to focus. As for dirt, tears, stains, holes, etc., all are for me evidence of either carelessness or bad luck. Yes, a great image (even a good image) may rise above them or conceivably be enhanced by them - but anyone who produces more than a few such images in a lifetime is either a sloppy genius; or very lucky; or working with an Arts Council grant.
Incidentally, I had no intention of getting into a 'gear' discussion about specific lenses, or even, really, about materials; but there are times when it is easier to illustrate a point with an example, again hence Tech Pan.
The way I interpreted the question (and the way I believe Roger meant it) is "What is important to you when selecting a lens?" This is what I described in my reply. The factors I mentioned are very important to me at this time, since they govern the flexibility of a lens and the range of image types it will be able to deliver (in particular, the degree of enlargement which negatives will stand, which in the case of 35 mm ranges from a mediocre 5x7" with a poor lens to a more than respectable 16x20" or larger with a good lens and spot-on technique).
Originally Posted by Stargazer
AFTER I have selected a lens, I don't give its technical specification another thought, but the "Ignorance is bliss" approach simply unnecessarily restricts the means of creative expression at your disposal.