Excursions through the world of photography and related matters: art, science, fantasy, and occasionally philosophy.
Monday, August 19, 2013
Talpidalpinism, or, which is more important: lens resolution or camera pixel density? What is that word?! Don't bother looking it up, I coined it from the mole family (talpida) and mountaineering (alpinism). Definition (according to me): making mountains out of molehills. Perhaps because digital photography only began to appear in affordable form generations after film photography had matured and set "standards" for technical quality, and perhaps also because viewers of photo prints could judge the "sharpness" and detail of a print in what was thought to be an objective manner, those characteristics were treated differently (by many, perhaps most of us) from others like color and tonality (which could be considered matters of artistic taste, even though they could be measured just as objectively as resolution of detail). At any rate, when digital cameras began to proliferate around the turn of the millennium, advertisers latched onto the number of pixels as a selling point, and the general consuming public readily accepted "how many megapixels?" as the measure of a camera's goodness. It's true that an image formed of, let's say, only a few thousand pixels will make its digital origins obvious to the naked eye, and until you get to the level of a few million pixels, a print of wall hanging size cannot have the clarity and detail that we expect from a photograph. By the time you are in megapixel range, though, all of the other characteristics of an imaging device become just as important as pixel count, in my opinion. Which is more important, the lens or the imaging sensor? Both are necessary to make a photograph, and the technical quality of the result will depend on their interaction. If they are leagues apart in their capability, the quality of one may be wasted by the shortcomings of the other, but in the case of most "serious" cameras and their interchangeable lenses, it would be foolish to decide that a given lens is too good for a certain camera, or that a certain camera has too much resolution for its lens. It's a partnership, and the skill and care of the photographer also has to be maximized to get the most from the equipment. And when you come down to an actual image, what matters most is content, composition, lighting, and the emotional communication that can result. Film, digital, paint, all influence how we craft things and the decisions we make along the way, but it always starts with seeing.