The Emperor's New Clothes
Believing Ones Own Eyes
Every now and then I write something that gets people's hackles up. Usually it's when I make a statement that at first appears to be contrary to common wisdom. The most recent example was my review of the Canon D30, both online and in the March / April 2001 issue of Photo Techniques magazine.
In it I made the statement that prints made from the D30 were as good as the best that I could make from high-quality scans of 35mm film. The core of the issue is found on this page. This statement has caused a firestorm on the Net that months later has still not died down. And, though I'm aware of the discussions (to use the term politely) that have taken place on various boards and forums I have almost never responded online. Life is too short to engage in debates over opinion. Facts, yes. Test results, yes. Opinion, no.
What are my credentials? I've been writing articles for technical publications for about 20 years. Currently I'm contributing editor to a major U.S. photographic magazine. I write product reviews and how-to articles on traditional as well as digital image processing techniques. This web site also contains a wide range of additional material which I've written on the art and techniques of photography. More on my background
Photographed with Canon D30 at ISO 400. 1/180th sec @ f/4 with a Canon 300mm f/2.8L IS and 1.4X Extender. RAW Mode.
Test It — Believe It
I won't rehash the argument over the D30. My position stands — firm as ever. Read what I've written if you're interested. But what I want to shed some light on with these comments are two related issues; trusting ones own eyes and uncritically believing dogma.
I receive a great many emails each week with questions such as....
— Are prints at 360 dpi better than at 240 dpi?
— Should I res-up images with Photoshop in increments, or all at once?
These are reasonable questions and I'm happy to answer them. (Answers: Usually not and No). But, they can easily be answered with a quick test of ones own. Why don't people do this?
I don't think it's laziness. I think it's because people don't believe the evidence of their own eyes. They don't trust their own observations and conclusions. I'm not sure why this is the case. Maybe it's a flaw in our education system. Do they still teach the scientific method in schools?
The second, and related issue regards people that hold uncritically to dogma, or so-called common wisdom. In the case of my D30 Vs. film comparison there were many who jumped into the fray saying, "There's no way a 10MB file can contain as much information as a 35MB file" — therefore Reichmann is full of it.
Well, while it's true that there's more data in a 35MB file than in a 10MB file this doesn't mean that moderately sized prints from the larger file necessarily look better! How do I know this? Because I've done the tests myself. I believe the evidence of my own eyes. Since I have some moderate experience and credibility as a teacher and observer many of my readers accept my observations. But many don't — and that's fine. But they should then do their own experiments and base their opinions on the results of these — not opinions — experiments!
What is True?
So, to readers who want to know what I think of various procedures and techniques, please don't hesitate to ask — by email, or better yet via the Discussion Forum so that others can contribute answers as well. I'll respond as best I can. But, do try to do your own tests and see what you think.
And to those that read a review or comment that flies in the face of closely held beliefs — do doubt what you read. But before turning your opinion into dogma, do your own tests, and base your eventual conclusion on empirical evidence, not previously held opinion or some theoretical bias.
A couple of days after first publishing this essay I received an email from a reader pointing out that I was forgetting that not everyone has the opportunity to test equipment, and therefore my comments were somewhat harsh. This made me realize that I should explain how it is implicit in what I've written that one needs to know the credibility of the person doing the tests or making an objection to them.
For this reason I mentioned something about my experience and credentials at the beginning of the essay and again below. At issue here are the observations and conclusions of someone that has actually done a comparison, and who has some basis from which to draw conclusions, and those who base their positions solely on theory, or worse yet on dogma alone. (Remember, bumble bees can't fly. Their wings are too small and beat too slowly to support their mass).
The bottom line? When you read something written by someone who takes an uncommon or controversial position, find out what their credentials are before giving credence to their opinions.
The credibility of an observer can often be determined by that persons background and experience. Here's a little more about mine.
I've been involved in photography since I was a teenager some 40 years ago. I made my living for many years as a photojournalist, medical photographer, and commercial photographer. I've taught view camera technique as well as colour printing at the community college level. Currently I teach field workshops in landscape photography. I am co-inventor of eight primary U.S. and international patents in the field of telecommunications. My bio is located here.