The ‘good enough’ era in photography


The highly interesting DPReview article „Does sensor size still make a difference?” has got me thinking. The author is dealing with the question whether sensor size is still important. We all know that large sensors will always offer better image quality than small ones. The more interesting question therefore is when will we reach the “good enough” point so that such differences will become meaningless?

For some ambitious photographer the answer is surely “never”. However, one shouldn’t overestimate their numbers. The development of computational photography and sensor technologies such as BSI marches on extremely quickly. This is how smartphone makers – and it is them who have been pushing innovation in the realm of photographic technology for years now – are trying to eliminate three blatant disadvantages of small sensors: low dynamic range, practically no control over depth of field and bad noise performance. And as you can observe going from one smartphone generation to the next, significant progress is being made in unbelievably short time periods. For example two years ago taking a portrait shot with a blurry background with a smartphone was unthinkable. With the first iteration of “fake bokeh” technology the deception was immediately apparent. With the now second iteration even experienced photographers have to look closely, in order to not be deceived. How long will it take until it is no longer possible to distinguish fake bokeh from real one? Five years, maybe ten? I imagine that that is how long it will take for most photographers who are currently using a DSLR or a mirrorless camera to no longer see any benefit in lugging such big and heavy equipment. The camera of a photography enthusiast will look similarly to a Pentax Q – body like current compact cameras and lenses no larger than an apricot. Is this realistic or am I watching too much SciFi? What do you think? 😉

  1. You pose an interesting question, and you suggest that there will be a need (desire) for large sensors for many years to come, but a couple of things come to mind. First, we also shouldn’t underestimate the number of people (photographers) out there who believe that sensor size truly does no longer matter (mostly at least). As a fortunate owner of a recent Apple iPhone camera, I am often tempted to just use that camera for my photography. It can shoot RAW, has the all important 2x optical “zoom” lens, and it will shoot decent HDR (dynamic range) photos. Image quality is pretty good, even in low light. For a lot of shots, it is plenty good enough.

    But the area where it fails me is usability. There are lots of photographic characteristics that can be controlled, but I don’t care how good the designer is that created the software camera, he (or she) will never be able to equal the usability of having actual buttons and knobs of an actual camera to control the selection of the multitude of settings that make up a modern camera. If we look at the physical cameras that support a touch screen, we see that the screen is only used in a limited way by those of us that require creative control over image creation. As anyone who calls themselves a photographer will tell you, you learn your camera, and your fingers just go where they need to go to select the setting that you brain wants to adjust for the particular scene and subject you are shooting. On my iPhone, just about the only control I use is the 1x or 2x touch selection. That’s pretty limited control.

    As aside note, I remember that a few times, companies have tried to make camera attachments for cell phone cameras, to some extent for the reasons I mention above, but they haven’t been successful. In part because phone form factors change almost every year, making camera attachments obsolete.

    Thank for the article, and keep up the good work!

    Just my thoughts, Tom

    Reply

    1. “You pose an interesting question, and you suggest that there will be a need (desire) for large sensors for many years to come, but a couple of things come to mind.”

      There is an undeniable “arms race” in the high-end space of photography. Some things are only possible with cutting edge technology. That is why I think that there will be a need for large sensors for years to come. But for everyone else small sensors with computational photography magic will be more than good enough.

      “There are lots of photographic characteristics that can be controlled, but I don’t care how good the designer is that created the software camera, he (or she) will never be able to equal the usability of having actual buttons and knobs of an actual camera to control the selection of the multitude of settings that make up a modern camera.”

      Yes, you are absolutely right. Phones have poor usability as cameras, because they are phones first and foremost. They are designed with looks in mind. They are intended to be good at scrolling through FB/Instagram/etc, not for extended shooting. Adding a comfortable camera grip and physical buttons to a phone would make it a better camera but also a far worse phone. People wouldn’t buy it, because it wouldn’t look good and fit into a jeans pocket.

      “On my iPhone, just about the only control I use is the 1x or 2x touch selection. That’s pretty limited control.”

      The only other controls that make sense on a phone are pretty much exposure correction and ISO. Aperture is fixed after all.

      “As aside note, I remember that a few times, companies have tried to make camera attachments for cell phone cameras, to some extent for the reasons I mention above, but they haven’t been successful. In part because phone form factors change almost every year, making camera attachments obsolete.”

      In many cases those attachments aren’t cheep. No one with half a brain will invest the money every time they buy a new phone. Without a standardized mount those attachments will never become popular.

      “Thank for the article, and keep up the good work!”

      Thank you for visiting and taking the time to comment.

      Cheers
      Lars

      Reply

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