re-thinking what cameras are worth

I bought a full frame DSLR in 2007 and held onto it even though it was supplemented by a Mk II which I bought and sold after three years. It’s a 12megapixel, but full frame, and I thought it was great even when comparing it with the 22megapixel MkII version, but I realise now that I didn’t see much difference because I wasn’t printing any larger than A3, and most comparisons took place on a laptop that I’ve been moaning about on other posts.

Recently I’ve been inspired by prints around 100cm x 100cm seen in various galleries, and I thought I’d like to try the same thing. I didn’t think I’d get the detail that I’d aspire to with a DSLR so I started reading up on medium format cameras, thinking I’d buy an old 6×7 and try to be Edward Burtynsky or Luis Gispert, but before buying anything I thought I’d run a mini-test and compare all my cameras resolution and potential for large enlargements. So last weekend I set out for London and after a visit to the Photographer’s Gallery I ended up under the Millenium Bridge, to both test the cameras and take another image for an OCA assignment. I wanted quite a wide shot that included the Shard, and either the Globe Theatre  or the Tate Modern. I shot using an extreme wide angle on the full frame DSLR, the wide end of a compact, and a frames on a Lubitel 6×6 that I haven’t yet developed, but when I reviewed the digital shots at home I thought there was something seriously wrong, because if anything the compact out-performed the DSLR, not only at the bridge but at other locations too.

Have a look – which was taken full frame and which on a compact?

perhaps not so easy when re-sized for the web, so I chopped a 1000px chunk out of each at the taken resolution and RAW-


This time it’s obvious which is the better image, but it was a surprise for me to see that the compact was streets ahead of the full frame DSLR, even with a crop taken into account, but I suppose this illustrates what I already knew, that in the digital world the next version is always better, and cheaper. The DSLR is full frame, but still “only” 12 megapixels, while the compact is close to APS-C, and 18 megapixels. Despite the sensor size and the difference in sensors and size and placement of the pixels, the compact of 2012 is much better in resolution terms that the seven year old 5D. It was still a shock, but a worthwhile exercise, and pending the results from the 6×6 film camera I think I have to accept that paying thousands for a new full frame camera that isn’t used in a professional way is a waste of money, for me at least.

So while I do want a DSLR for its speed of handling and control, (as well as the compact for its portability) I believe I may make do with an entry level APS-C DSLR such as the new Canon 650D rather than a 5D Mk III. I looked into the coming Canon M-series CSC body, but I can’t take that seriously, for reasons discussed on another blog. Before taking the plunge I will run this test again with an equivalent focal length lens on the DSLR. I will thoroughly compare the settings and make that as accurate as possible, because I still don’t want to believe that my beloved 5D has been outperformed by a little compact.


About watlvry

Flaneur for my own ailments; government and corporate hypocrisy; guitar stuff; the music business; home made videos featuring home made tunes played at home; a bit of golf; and of course photography. Specifically "art" photography (doesn't exist) and contemporary photography ( sadly does exist in all its grotesque reality).
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One Response to re-thinking what cameras are worth

  1. Mike Riley says:

    Interestingly , for me at least, the difference between your two images isn’t in the resolution but rather in the dynamic range – it appears that the point and shoot has a better range / more detail and depth to colour than the dslr which given sensor / pixel size shouldn’t be the case. I’ve also been looking at resolution of my camera a crop frame nikon 300 and comparing it with a similar crop frame nikon d7000 it doesn’t appear to have the same clarity at all. With that in mind I have started thinking about upgrading to full frame – the D800 was in my sights – but now I’m reconsidering. It isn’t the resolution that’s important to me theres some other intangible quality missing – to do with range of colour and light – Im now looking at medium format digital as the upgrade path because that’s where I do see the quality of images Im looking for. A different dilemma from your own slightly but the point being that resolution isnt everything. Looking forward to your 6 x 6 results – I expect that those results will outshine all the others.

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