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Reader Comment: How Much Resolution is Enough?

Chris R writes:

Good work with the recent Zeiss Otus images along with some of your other favorites too, loving all the recent Zeiss lens tests you doing on the Panasonic S1R, it’s certainly giving you some resolution to play with.

I’m really pleased to see you shooting the likes of the Zeiss Milvus 135mm f/2 with the S1R also, just shows how damn good it is and more than assures me that it will never let me down quality wise, not on my mediocre Canon 5DM4 sensor!

But out of all of it, Zeiss seem to have the upper hand on the colour fidelity compared to the likes of Sigma etc, colours just seem richer, I’ve seen other online testers and images can sometimes look cold, magenta or both, Canon are particularly cool with a pinkish look to their lenses, but think we’ve spoken of this previously.

But I ask at the end of the day, how much resolution his enough for real world everyday publications, indeed an A4 front cover only needs a 24mb file and I often get asked to just supply images for web and press release at around 11 MB, I know you love the detail along with the resolution for landscapes which is key, but realistically if you were using imaging on a Billboard, Rip software generally takes an image of 50% up to size.

Yes, I know the extra resolution is handy for cropping if needed and gives you more freedom and less restrictions, but as iv’e said, for most commercial applications I maybe using only about 70% of my 5Dmk4’s full resolution and picture libraries require around a 50mb file minimum.

DIGLLOYD: heck, iPhone images look good on billboards from distance! If the job is magazines, I recommend using 42/45/47 megapixels at least, if only to avoid digital artifacts like moiré and color aliasing and staircasing and noise. It’s about far more than resolution, as the Panasonic S1R so persuasively demonstrates with its Multi-Shot High-Res mode.

The golden age of photography is upon us, but on top of that, the golden age of high visual impact photo-realistic visual immersion is coming soon to a wall near you. 8K displays (7680 X 4320) are not far off, and the new VESA display standard incorporates 16K display support.

Print is irrelevant to me and to most camera users these days. While nothing beats a strong composition, presbyopia means that 8 X 10 magazines are increasingly not enjoyable—National geographic is just too damn small. Even 11 X 14 sucks, since type size is apparently for those under the age of 40. It will only get worse, and close-up glasses don’t really solve the core issue.

I love seeing details in my images that I didn’t even notice firsthand. I love photorealism, I love the unexpected find in an image, and I can’t stand mushy details, as I am so attuned and attentive to the world out there. Faces too interest me that way, well just about everything. Just the way I am wired.

I for one intend to shoot for future enjoyment with 10K (up to 10240 X 6820) an intermediate goal, and 16K (15360 X 8460) perhaps 5-8 years out. That’s my target as I shoot here in 2019. For now, the iMac 5K is the best thing going for viewing, excepting the coming Apple Pro Display XDR.

See also: Photographic Film Really Was Not Much of a Performer.

Eric B writes:

Something you said today alarmed me though, “print is irrelevant to me and to most photographers.”

In my world, here in the Portland, Oregon area, my circle of photographic friends do not consider an image to be finished until it is on paper. As you know there are many wonderful papers available to us now and excellent printers. I do not sit at my computer all day and try to use my phone less. My home and that of most of my friends is adorned with prints, some are mine, some are by colleagues. I am fortunate to have picture molding in my home and can change out images relatively easily with no holes in the wall.

I am well aware that people print less. My monthly group now has more people projecting images than showing prints but often there’s some problem with the projector or computer, delaying the showing; one needs to reduce the ambient lighting, and the images frequently look just awful, even decent ones

With projected images, one is limited to a few moments of viewing, viewing is at a distance, details are not often visible, and a critique is all but impossible. When we show prints, one can linger over a nice one, look at it carefully and closely; critiques have meaning.

I’m not giving up the print, I hope many others agree. I often wonder why we worry about high resolution cameras when the images will be seen only at significantly lower resolution on a screen, or horrors, a phone.

DIGLLOYD: prints will endure of course, and I do enjoy some large prints in my small home—but I have nowhere to store/swap them, nor the money, time or inclination to do so. Each to his own, as it ought to be.

The operative word is "most", as in probably 99% of people shooting a real camera, even ignoring camera phones, which are used for more than 99% of the images made today. Eric’s own words capture that: “my circle of photographic friends...” is surely a tiny circle compared to the millions of people buying cameras today. It’s just not a thing that people make prints anymore, let alone high quality ones or large sizes. I do, my readers most likely do, but I don’t plan to print much anymore, maybe never again. It’s a cost and space issue, and the accumulation of crap over time as I age along with a lousy user experience (unpack a print from storage to view it? Ugghhh).

Images are worthless if they cannot be viewed. There is a ton of pleasure in viewing images which are far too numerous to print and display. There is a ton of pleasure in a photo realistic viewing experience, which prints do not do as well as the best electronic medium already does.

my circle of photographic friends do not consider an image to be finished until it is on paper”: Isn’t this at least a personal preference, if not an outright conceit which has no factual or logical basis? Tradition is not an argument. Preferences are not an argument.

If viewing images electronically looks bad, that's bad execution and/or bad technology. Bad prints look bad also! Neither is a fact of reality or a constant. The dynamic range of prints is inherently inferior to to a good display, because prints are a reflective medium (backlit 'chrome' type prints could improve upon that), while displays are a transmissive medium. I know that some new print techniques on metal and such and/or ultra high gloss paper can be eye popping, but they still cannot compete on dynamic range, and in any home environment like mine, there are always reflections that further diminish print viewing. Still, I do like my coated canvas prints. But a 10K display at six feet wide would be awesomely better and can deal with ambient light by adjusting color and brightness.

I like my large prints (six feet wide preferred, but at least 3 feet wide). IMO, prints under 3 feet wide suffer from “ageism”—smaller ones are a physical hassle (presbyopia) to view for me—I am not interested in reading glasses for enjoying a print in my house, so nothing less than 3 feet will do. Nor do I have the money to make large high quality canvas prints I prefer!

As for detail, I’ll put the visual impact of an iMac 5K up against any similar-size print. The fact is that the human eye responds primarily to contrast, and the iMac 5K kicks the crap out of prints for that. The 32-inch Apple Pro Display XDR arrives this fall, and it will surely be the finest viewing experience ever seen, particularly for black and white and its larger size is just about perfect for general viewing. It offers 6016 X 3384 pixels (20MP) at 218 DPI and I challenge anyone but the youngest people with 20/20 vision to care about higher DPI—the eye responds to contrast down the pixel level on such a display, which a print simply cannot compete with, end of story.

Then there is damage—having kids, all my prints in the hallway have dings.

Of course I understand that physical media have appeal and always will—me too. But that has a limited role to play.

Point is, we will have 8K/10K/16K displays up to 8 feet wide or larger, with 16K within a decade. The possibilities for viewing my images when I want at up to huge sizes I could never print well with full detail and contrast will make prints look like dusty artifacts.

Meanwhile, the iMac 5K is a terrific display that comes with a free computer.

Emil B writes:

Your points about the overall decrease in need for photographic prints and increase in viewing images on a monitor are well taken.

As a photorealist painter, a few years back I have given up on using photographic prints as references for my painting and have switched to the use of an iPad.

The only time I resort to printing is if a gallery requests to view my print portfolio. At a local society of artists I exhibit along with photographers who continue to show prints as their end product. In world class galleries in San Francisco and Carmel photographic prints continue to be offered for sale. Cultural, technological and economic factors seem to have dramatically reduced interest in purchases of both photographic prints and paintings.

In view of your statement about the irrelevance of prints, how do see the future of photography as a fine art?

DIGLLOYD: the medium does not take away the art, at least for photography. That would confuse vision and persuasion and insight of the artist with the means of presentation.

While certain photographers have for historical reasons become associated with the physical aspects of their work (e.g., Ansel Adams lengendary printing skills), that is not an essential attribute of a fine composition. I was unimpressed (actually disapponted) with Adam's prints I saw in the Adams family house when I visited— an iMac 5K with the contrast and tonal range that Adams could ony dream about woud be better—maybe his work can be retargeted for modern digital displays? Displays will only get larger/better with more pixels for more photorealism? See iMac 5K for Stunning Black and White Images.

Unlike inherently 3D art (e.g. sculpture), photography is 3D rendered as 2D with perceptual tricks to imply 3D. The medium matters little for photography except insofar as it adds some particular characteristic unobtainable otherwise (e.g., platinum printing) or some other sense like touch or smell or hearing—but I don’t touch or smell or hear my prints, and most everyone smothers prints under glass (adding a veil if not outright reflections). The wonderful physically sensual texture of a very fine rag paper is... not touchable upon display! Bastions of art (museums and such) disallow direct contact. Of what merit then is anything but the presentation that best persuades the visual cortex?

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