Every reviewer seems to have a different criteria for evaluating camera performance. Lenses can be measured in absolute sharpness and of course sensors can be measured for a whole range of things in terms of megapixel size, the clarity of the image and the ever present concern about noise. In addition sometimes it’s necessary to work on photographs that haven’t come out as clearly as you would like them to or perhaps there are shadows of highlights that need to be altered and therefore the dynamic range of the sensor is also something that needs to be taken into account.
Don’t forget it’s about photos. Not about pixels at full size on a screen.
There is a simple approach
One of the problems with some of the evaluation criteria is that it seems to forget that the whole purpose of the camera is to produce a photograph. When you view images at 100% on the screen in order to try and evaluate the performance of the camera you are looking way beyond the size of image that the camera was designed to produce. You see things that would never show up on a photograph. Think about the various applications where you would use a photograph. For example it could be a full-colour spread on the inside of a glossy magazine or a single page feature. In paper size A3 or A4. That is considerably smaller than the image that you see when you zoom in on a computer screen. Losing sight of what you’re trying to accomplish with a camera can cause you to literally almost go to fanatical lengths to try to achieve images on screen where you zoom in beyond any reasonable concept or any reasonable idea of what you are trying to accomplish. Keep it simple. It doesn’t need to be complicated.
I’ve known people who post their images onto social media sites such as Instagram who are obsessed about detail which in turn can never be reproduced on the Instagram website. This disconnect makes you vulnerable to all sorts of ideas and can cause you to spend vast amounts of money in the pursuit of something that you will never (in most cases) ever benefit from in real terms.
Prints are the better way to evaluate camera performance. Prints make you focus on what really matters.
The simple approach – look at the prints
It is for this reason that when we evaluate quality we print out an A2 prints taken by the camera. We are then are able to evaluate the result by looking at it closely and also from a standard viewing distance. 10 years ago we were able to use sensor technology (in 2008) to print images 2 m wide from a 10 megapixel sensor. As I’m writing this I’m actually looking behind my office desk at a wide poster which shows the harbor in the City of Sydney. On the left-hand side I can see the National Maritime Museum fronted by a submarine a frigate and the Endeavor Replica. In the middle I can see a motorboat with boats beyond heading out and on the right-hand side I can see wildlife world and the underwater aquarium as well as some of the skyline and the centre tower. People walk into the office and they are amazed at the quality of the image because they are so used to looking at digital images that they forget that prints can convey so much detail. Today using my mobile phone I could produce the same picture and print it to a higher quality.
Using real prints for evaluation is an outstanding way to know what a camera can do.
Printing the images gives you a true sense of what is needed and what you achieve.
The point of this is that some of the quibbling about image quality of sensors completely divorces itself from the reality of the way and the places that images are used and their intended purpose. We can already print an A3 print from the sensors that are used in an Apple iPhone and we expect that they will get even better in the very near future. This being the case it’s time to start thinking about other areas like getting rid of colour casts and actually improving the features of cameras. It would be great to see much lighter lenses that are able to deliver clear precise quality images like for example Leica are able to do. Companies like Olympus are leading the way by producing amazing camera built around sensible sensors and with the fastest frame rates and processing to capture better result. People forget the clarity built into some of the lenses that are used in that field. We are getting some great images and even taking pictures that we have never previously been able to get using the Olympus MFT cameras. And without lugging heavy kit around with us.
In any event our testing procedure for evaluating cameras is based around producing prints at 300 dpi and printing them to A2 which is twice the size that most images would ever be printed to. This procedure gives us a much more accurate understanding of what a camera can do.
When we comment on equipment in these pages the comments are based on use in the field. They are never based on a single use or just a couple of days using the equipment. We try the equipment with at least two disciplines in photography and determine how it performs from there. Lenscraft Photography is a website devoted to photography and sharing experiences with equipment. We are not affiliated with any manufacturer. We have used equipment professionally from Canon, Nikon, Ricoh, Minolta, Sony, Leica, Olympus, Hasselblad, Zeiss, Sigma, Pentax, Zenit, Bronica, Rollei & Kodak.
Some of these companies have been absorbed into others. Currently we regularly use equipment from Olympus, Canon, Lumix, Nikon, Sony, & Hasselblad. [Plus lenses from Zeiss and Sigma]