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Author Topic: Eyes vs Numbers  (Read 21876 times)
BernardLanguillier
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« on: February 03, 2009, 05:37:28 AM »
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Hello Michael,

Interesting essay, thanks for posting it.

Resolution should indeed clearly be taken into account when rating cameras/backs. But even so, a number will indeed clearly never have the same meaning for different people with different needs and ends up being pretty useless (ideally the rating should be taking into account the print size).

The DxO mark is basically a measurement of sensor quality. Sensor quality doesn't tell the full story, but it is nonetheless relevant. I understand your point about the comparions being perhaps not 100% fair, but the superiority of the A900 along the metrics selected by DxO seems pretty logical when you consider that:

- The photosite size is about the same between 20+ MP DSLRs and 39MP backs (the D3/D700 photosites being significantly larger),
- The DSLRs use micro-lenses which contributes to better light efficiency,
- The DSLR technology is 3 years younger (nearly as long as a whole Bush mandate),
- Sony/Canon are much more talented semi-conductor companies than Kodak with a much longer history, a much more diverse range of application and a much higher number of knowledgeable engineers (and they work more...),
- They probably invest at least an order of magnitude more in fundamental semi-conductor research and tend to pool their resources between companies for activities of common interest.

So there are pretty good reasons to think that the DxO results provide a realistic view of what we have at hand.

As far as trusting one's eyes instead of measurement results, when a G10 is hard to disthinguish from a P45+ in a small print, wouldn't you say on the contrary that the DxO results are a pretty good match to what one actually sees?

Cheers,
Bernard
« Last Edit: February 03, 2009, 05:38:11 AM by BernardLanguillier » Logged

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michael
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« Reply #1 on: February 03, 2009, 07:56:56 AM »
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You've hit the nail on the head Bernard, but not likely in the way that you think.

My little experiment with G10 and P45+ files last year showed the core of the issue. On smallish prints the difference between good and very good becomes essentially invisible. That's one of DxO's flaws. They "normalize" to an 8X10" print. What's that about?

If all I did were 8X10" prints shot at low ISO I'd likely sell all of my gear for something like a G10. But I don't. For me a small print is 13X19", and my normal prints for exhibition and sale are about 24 X 32". Many are larger. That's why I'm buying a P65+. That's why I was ultimately unhappy shooting with the 12MP Nikon D3 in Botswana last year. The high ISO shots were wonderful, but essentially too small for exhibition prints. I'd have likely been happier with a somewhat noisier but higher res cameras (the D3x, for example, if it had been available). I'm limited in the size of print that I can make with cameras much under 20MP.

And before someone jumps in to say how they once made a wonderfull billboard from a Minox negative, let's just stipulate that acceptability of image quality is a personal and subjective matter. My standards may simply be different (higher?) that someone else's.

Michael

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« Reply #2 on: February 03, 2009, 08:08:29 AM »
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Michael,

When DxO 'normalize' they do it to take into consideration the benefits stemming from increased resolution (they explain this quite succintly in their site) It is a mathematical calculation not an actual production of a print nor a 'downsizing' of the higher resolution files.

They reason they use the 8x10 size (at 300ppi I believe) is because they need to use the least common denominator WITHOUT requiring to interpolate (upsample) the data. The interpolation process itself (I'm not sure if this is even possible at the raw data level) would introduce another variable in the comparison.

They do 'fail' to take the very real benefits of increased useability of the larger resolution files into account, but this is not a directly measurable quantity.

What this really means in effect is that their results are supposed to be directly applicable for comparing cameras operating WITHIN THE LIMITS of their resolution. It is for the photographer to interprete this data and use it into his decision making taking ALSO into consideration what the increased resolution means to HIM in terms of intended use.
« Last Edit: February 03, 2009, 08:09:25 AM by NikosR » Logged

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« Reply #3 on: February 03, 2009, 08:16:15 AM »
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Quote from: BernardLanguillier
Hello Michael,

Interesting essay, thanks for posting it.

Resolution should indeed clearly be taken into account when rating cameras/backs. But even so, a number will indeed clearly never have the same meaning for different people with different needs and ends up being pretty useless (ideally the rating should be taking into account the print size).

The DxO mark is basically a measurement of sensor quality. Sensor quality doesn't tell the full story, but it is nonetheless relevant. I understand your point about the comparions being perhaps not 100% fair, but the superiority of the A900 along the metrics selected by DxO seems pretty logical when you consider that:

- The photosite size is about the same between 20+ MP DSLRs and 39MP backs (the D3/D700 photosites being significantly larger),
- The DSLRs use micro-lenses which contributes to better light efficiency,
- The DSLR technology is 3 years younger (nearly as long as a whole Bush mandate),
- Sony/Canon are much more talented semi-conductor companies than Kodak with a much longer history, a much more diverse range of application and a much higher number of knowledgeable engineers (and they work more...),
- They probably invest at least an order of magnitude more in fundamental semi-conductor research and tend to pool their resources between companies for activities of common interest.

So there are pretty good reasons to think that the DxO results provide a realistic view of what we have at hand.

As far as trusting one's eyes instead of measurement results, when a G10 is hard to disthinguish from a P45+ in a small print, wouldn't you say on the contrary that the DxO results are a pretty good match to what one actually sees?

Cheers,
Bernard

This is another stimulating article from Michael and once again we have two threads going. But what a surprise that the DB results, that have just appeared on the DXOMark website, look worse than those for the D3X. But they don't look worse than those of the A900 at base ISO for all cameras.

It seems that once again the D3X is the stellar performer. I'm considering here the individual charts for SNR, DR and Tonal Range, rather than the combined, weighted overall figures, which I agree can be misleading.

What I would like to see, from people who are skeptical about the validity of the DXO results, are test images processed with the best converter for each camera, demonstrating how and to what degree the DXO figures are wrong or misleading.
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« Reply #4 on: February 03, 2009, 08:33:28 AM »
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Hi,
I would like to see added to the numerical and engineering measures the human perception element in the equation. That is, present to a panel of judges the captured images(don't reveal how they were captured and, no, I don't have an easy way to calibrate the judges for accuracy).  Have the panel members independently rate the images on a variety of dimensions. Throw that info up on the screen along with the more "objective" measures. Correlations may show up, or not. Methods of presentation and judging may need to be arbitrarily adjusted as a result of preliminary attempts. Keep all the data obtained and give it to someone who likes to do that sort of analysis. Personally speaking, I'd rather be out on the open seas with a few good cameras and a month of days to shoot and capture images.

Best regards to all,

Rudy Ternbach
Western Masstts., USA
--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Quote from: NikosR
Michael,

When DxO 'normalize' they do it to take into consideration the benefits stemming from increased resolution (they explain this quite succintly in their site) It is a mathematical calculation not an actual production of a print nor a 'downsizing' of the higher resolution files.

They reason they use the 8x10 size (at 300ppi I believe) is because they need to use the least common denominator WITHOUT requiring to interpolate (upsample) the data. The interpolation process itself (I'm not sure if this is even possible at the raw data level) would introduce another variable in the comparison.

They do 'fail' to take the very real benefits of increased useability of the larger resolution files into account, but this is not a directly measurable quantity.

What this really means in effect is that their results are supposed to be directly applicable for comparing cameras operating WITHIN THE LIMITS of their resolution. It is for the photographer to interprete this data and use it into his decision making taking ALSO into consideration what the increased resolution means to HIM in terms of intended use.
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BernardLanguillier
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« Reply #5 on: February 03, 2009, 08:39:59 AM »
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Quote from: John Schweikert
As a quickie, I compared the Leaf Aptus 75s, Nikon D3x and Canon 5DII, and DXO numbers make the Leaf inferior at low ISOs to the both DSLRs. No offense but that is just hogwash. I have a Leaf Aptus 22 and its dynamic range is far superior to the Canon 5DII which I have as well. An A75 is even better than an A22.

What is your assessement of Leaf vs D3x then?

Cheers,
Bernard
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BernardLanguillier
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« Reply #6 on: February 03, 2009, 08:54:31 AM »
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Quote from: michael
You've hit the nail on the head Bernard, but not likely in the way that you think.

No, I think we agree perfectly Michael.

Most of my images have been in the 100+MP range this past year through stitching, and I perfectly understand the need for more resolution. I am not surprised the least bit by your interest for the P65+.

A recent 180 megapixel pano to prove the point.



Cheers,
Bernard

« Last Edit: February 03, 2009, 09:05:01 AM by BernardLanguillier » Logged

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michael
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« Reply #7 on: February 03, 2009, 09:20:05 AM »
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A lovely image Bernard!

I'd live to see a big print. The web hardly does it justice.

Michael

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rdonson
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« Reply #8 on: February 03, 2009, 09:45:59 AM »
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Michael,

I think your essay was timely and greatly needed.  We've witnessed the megapixel wars and are probably starting into the lens resolving wars as we seek the ultimate in image quality.  As you point out it comes down to when do the measurements mean something in the real world.

It's probably time to extend your essay to include inkjet printers.  As you've said previously, the high end large format Epson, Canon and HP printers can all deliver stunning prints.  Yet we argue endlessly over minute details looking for which one is best.

Wisdom may be when we discover when good enough is good enough.
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[span style='font-size:14pt;line-height:100%'][span style='font-family:Arial'][span style='font-family:Geneva'][span style='font-size:8pt;line-height:100%']Regards,
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Ray
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« Reply #9 on: February 03, 2009, 10:02:58 AM »
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Quote from: John Schweikert
No offense but that is just hogwash. I have a Leaf Aptus 22 and its dynamic range is far superior to the Canon 5DII which I have as well. An A75 is even better than an A22.


Can you show us your results, or must we take your word for it?

Anyone can get almost any result they want (within reason) if they choose their comparison subject well, to reduce the differences. For example, Michael has demonstrated with a particular subject at an A3+ size, that there's no discernible difference in image quality between the Canon G10 and the P45+, yet DXO test results indicates there's a wide gap between these two cameras in respect of SNR, DR and Tonal Range at a normalised 8x12" size.

Do we therfore claim that DXO results are wrong or misleading, or do we examine why the subject photographed might not be ideal to reveal such differences?

The limited size of the image or print clearly knocks out the resolution advantage of the P45+, which DXO doesn't address in any case, except in as far as it impacts upon SNR, DR etc when the image is downsampled.

The lack of extremes of subject brightness range, in Michael's comparison, makes it difficult to appreciate the additional DR of the P45+, which it surely has, and the heavily textured nature of the subject (twigs, leaves and bark) make it difficult to appreciate the smoother tonality and lower noise of the P45+ shot, which it surely has.

Such factors should be taken into consideration.
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ErikKaffehr
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« Reply #10 on: February 03, 2009, 10:07:28 AM »
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Hi,

One of the interesting aspects is that we now accept the need for megapixels. A while ago everyone was stressing large pixels and low noise, now we take a more balanced view where both noise and resolution are important.

My guess is from a very limited experience is that 12 MPixels are good enough for A2 prints, so 24 Mpixels should be good enough for A1. With good technique and taking some liberties with image quality a size larger would be possible.

In my view the DxO data are still worthwhile but combining them into a single figure of merit is to oversimplify. I would also say that there is little utility to quality you don't need. If your subject doesn't have a high DR you don't need high DR in your sensor. Prints have much less DR than screen or sensor. Having excess DR, resolution or whatever is of little utility, but can be nice the day you photograph black cats in a coal cellar or need to print really big.

Best regards
Erik

Quote from: rdonson
Michael,

I think your essay was timely and greatly needed.  We've witnessed the megapixel wars and are probably starting into the lens resolving wars as we seek the ultimate in image quality.  As you point out it comes down to when do the measurements mean something in the real world.

It's probably time to extend your essay to include inkjet printers.  As you've said previously, the high end large format Epson, Canon and HP printers can all deliver stunning prints.  Yet we argue endlessly over minute details looking for which one is best.

Wisdom may be when we discover when good enough is good enough.
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« Reply #11 on: February 03, 2009, 10:19:09 AM »
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Quote from: michael
If all I did were 8X10" prints shot at low ISO I'd likely sell all of my gear for something like a G10. But I don't. For me a small print is 13X19", and my normal prints for exhibition and sale are about 24 X 32". Many are larger. That's why I'm buying a P65+. That's why I was ultimately unhappy shooting with the 12MP Nikon D3 in Botswana last year. The high ISO shots were wonderful, but essentially too small for exhibition prints. I'd have likely been happier with a somewhat noisier but higher res cameras (the D3x, for example, if it had been available). I'm limited in the size of print that I can make with cameras much under 20MP.
Michael

I do find it interesting that Phase One itself, when asked why someone should consider upgrading from a P45 to a P65, states  that the resolution advantage is relatively minor and the "real" advantages with the P65 are cleaner higher ISO files of 15mp and the POSSIBILITY of future upgrades(no indication of what upgrades or when). Well, for about 1/3 the price of the upgrade you could buy a D3X with 24mp files at 1600 ISO that will probably blow away those 15mp 1600 ISO P65 files. Plus, you get world class AF and a gorgeous LCD with the D3X.
I could afford to upgrade from a 39mp back to a 60mp back, but there is no way I am going for it unless I was convinced that, aside from the relatively minor resolution advantage and vague promises about good  things in the future, the new back offered significant improvements in dynamic range, a world class LCD and the ability to quickly and easily pull 20 different "looks" from a file like I could get by loading 20 different films into my old Pentax 67.
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« Reply #12 on: February 03, 2009, 10:25:29 AM »
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Michael is dead-on with his assessment in this essay, but is perhaps a bit too kind to DxO.

Let me "put the cat amongst the pigeons" as much as DxO did with their MF chart, by asserting fairly baldly that their camera-measuring site and numbers are as close to useless nonsense as we need bother going. I'm not saying their data is wrong or that their intentions are anything but good, far from it.  

While I understand, and even struggle with myself, the measurbatory instinct which drives DxO Mark, and so much of the camera-chatter online, they are producing a template for discussion which is so fatally divorced from the creative process that it is functionally valueless.

There is one, and only one, meaningful measure of any digital camera's quality, and that is how the finished product looks in its finished form.  (Indeed, that form will itself in many instances alter the outcome of the evaluation).  

And that's the rub. A properly exposed (to the right) file looks awful out of the camera most of the time. The real road to finished image quality leads through the issue is how that data 'stretches' (my word again) over the tonal range in post.  The real finished quality can only be truly assessed in the finished product, which requires the extensive intercession of subjective human choices of creation, which cannot be quantified.

Files from certain cameras are vastly 'deeper' (my word) in the sense that, with equivalent exposures, they offer far greater maleability of the image in post-processing.  From recent experience in Antartica, I can say with certainty that files from a Phase back render tonal subtlety and richness at a level unachievable any 35mm dslr I have ever used. That same relationship appears to translate downwards, viz-a-vis even superior point and shoot cameras.  This is likely due to bit-depth, but the actual effect of it on finished image quality is only visible after the craft *not science* of post-processing has been applied, subjectively, by the artist in question.

The DxO model is somewhat akin to rating paintings based on a chemical analysis of the paints used. Interesting, but just not that useful in any serious conversation about aesthetics.  If we all photographed test targets for a living/hobby, such measures would mean more.  If we are trying to use technology to acheive self-expression, the serve little purpose at all.

- N.
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« Reply #13 on: February 03, 2009, 11:05:27 AM »
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Could someone explain to me why having a high end dSLR measuring equal to or better in some respect to an MFDB should cause such a stir?

What's the inherent technical or engineering quality (apart from resolution and lack of AA) that would preclude a dSLR from measuring AND being actually better than an MFDB in things like DR?

Bit depth? Better analogue circuits? Better ADCs? American / European engineers being cleverer than Japanese ones? Access to resources? Being ridicoulously more expensive?

In the 'old' days we used to talk about pixel size. But nowdays this argument is gone and forgotten.

Just wondering...
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« Reply #14 on: February 03, 2009, 11:25:52 AM »
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Bravo, Michael.  

I agree with earlier poster who said you were a bit too kind to DXO.  It is not that these measurements are worthless, but they can skew our perceptions.

Whenever you use metrics to measure quality of any sort, the result over time is that the product will mutate to meet the numerical goals--usually sacrificing some other important quality to get there.  One great example of this is when we allowed the megapixel to be the digital photo metric of quality, we got cameras that sacrificed many other attributes (noise, sharpness, file-sizes, speed of operation) to increase megapixels.

I will make one very strong statement that I believe must be accepted.  QUALITY is by DEFINITION SUBJECTIVE.

Things go wrong when metrics mean more than subjective quality...

like quality of service at a grocery store. They measure items scanned per minute.  If the cashier falls below a rate threshold, they are deficient.  So, to keep up, the cashier bags your groceries poorly, crushing your bread.  That wasn't the desired quality outcome, but the numbers don't lie do they?

The risk that we take as educated photographic consumers is to avoid another technology race like the megapixel race that has obsessed manufacturers recently.  They have pursued increased resolution often to the exclusion of more important qualities like ergonomics, features, color rendition, high ISO, etc...  I don't want DXO Mark to become the new bottom line of camera quality.  Then we will be stuck in a new purgatory of camera evolution.
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« Reply #15 on: February 03, 2009, 11:32:05 AM »
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I wonder how a scanning back would rank on DXO tests?  Those things are a real bear to operate in the field, but their resolutions are insane.
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« Reply #16 on: February 03, 2009, 11:50:04 AM »
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Quote from: NikosR
Could someone explain to me why having a high end dSLR measuring equal to or better in some respect to an MFDB should cause such a stir?

What's the inherent technical or engineering quality (apart from resolution and lack of AA) that would preclude a dSLR from measuring AND being actually better than an MFDB in things like DR?

Bit depth? Better analogue circuits? Better ADCs? American / European engineers being cleverer than Japanese ones? Access to resources? Being ridicoulously more expensive?

  I think bit depth and component quality are in the mix, as well as lens quality.
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« Reply #17 on: February 03, 2009, 11:55:06 AM »
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Quote from: ndevlin
Michael is dead-on with his assessment in this essay, but is perhaps a bit too kind to DxO.

Let me "put the cat amongst the pigeons" as much as DxO did with their MF chart, by asserting fairly baldly that their camera-measuring site and numbers are as close to useless nonsense as we need bother going. I'm not saying their data is wrong or that their intentions are anything but good, far from it.  

While I understand, and even struggle with myself, the measurbatory instinct which drives DxO Mark, and so much of the camera-chatter online, they are producing a template for discussion which is so fatally divorced from the creative process that it is functionally valueless.

There is one, and only one, meaningful measure of any digital camera's quality, and that is how the finished product looks in its finished form.  (Indeed, that form will itself in many instances alter the outcome of the evaluation).  

And that's the rub. A properly exposed (to the right) file looks awful out of the camera most of the time. The real road to finished image quality leads through the issue is how that data 'stretches' (my word again) over the tonal range in post.  The real finished quality can only be truly assessed in the finished product, which requires the extensive intercession of subjective human choices of creation, which cannot be quantified.

Files from certain cameras are vastly 'deeper' (my word) in the sense that, with equivalent exposures, they offer far greater maleability of the image in post-processing.  From recent experience in Antartica, I can say with certainty that files from a Phase back render tonal subtlety and richness at a level unachievable any 35mm dslr I have ever used. That same relationship appears to translate downwards, viz-a-vis even superior point and shoot cameras.  This is likely due to bit-depth, but the actual effect of it on finished image quality is only visible after the craft *not science* of post-processing has been applied, subjectively, by the artist in question.

The DxO model is somewhat akin to rating paintings based on a chemical analysis of the paints used. Interesting, but just not that useful in any serious conversation about aesthetics.  If we all photographed test targets for a living/hobby, such measures would mean more.  If we are trying to use technology to acheive self-expression, the serve little purpose at all.

- N.

It seems to me that DxO does not claim that their ranking shows which camera is best, or better than others, or which files are more malleable or "deeper." They are posting results of measurements they have made, award points on the basis of their measurements, and rank the cameras accordingly. They are open about their assumptions and limitations.

You claim that the results are "functionally useless" for the creative process, which I take to say: "Don't decide on a camera based on DxO marks alone!" Fair enough, good advice. But does that make the marks useless? And what do you have to offer instead, as measurement of "better" (and you ARE saying that the Phase gives better files)? You are introducing a number of variables into your assessement, which make that assessment deeply subjective, and therefore, in a sense, functionally useless for anyone who is not you. I am NOT saying that you are wrong, yours is the way to find what camera, or rather, ther files from which camera, suit your personal needs and preferences best. But I think there is room for both approaches, the subjective one, and the objective one. They are not mutually exclusive.

Let me be honest: To me, your post, and Michael's essay, come across as if you were offended by the DxO marks. Would Michael have produced the essay, would you have written your post if the results had been different, if they had ranked the medium format sensors ahead of the 35mm SLRs? Have you have worked on D3X files in the same manner as you have with the Phase One files? Have you done blind tests, working on files without knowing from which camera they came? If the answer is "yes" to these questions, that would make your assessment more valuable to me (who has worked with neither type of file).

Karsten
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« Reply #18 on: February 03, 2009, 12:00:48 PM »
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Quote from: michael
You've hit the nail on the head Bernard, but not likely in the way that you think.

My little experiment with G10 and P45+ files last year showed the core of the issue. On smallish prints the difference between good and very good becomes essentially invisible. That's one of DxO's flaws. They "normalize" to an 8X10" print. What's that about?
Michael

But OTOH when you look at the individual results (for example dynamic range) you can see the 'normalized' and non-normalized results and all the MFDBs they tested compare badly to the top DSLRs in both versions.  And as pointed out prominently on the DxO site elsewhere resolution compensates for noise in a way.  How much of this disadvantage is owed to internal raw processing is of course unclear.  Since the only way for DSLR makers to reduce noise by internal processing beyond good sensor design is by trading resolution the only 'fair' approach would be to measure actual resolution (not only pixel pitch) and to 'punish' the DSLR rating for lower resolutions (and also microcontrast).  The exact metrics of this would of course be a subjective decision.

From the engineering standpoint one also has to say that the design tricks used by the DSLR sensor makers are surely much harder to implement in a larger sensor even if the makers had equal expertise.
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« Reply #19 on: February 03, 2009, 12:07:45 PM »
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Quote from: KSH
Have you have worked on D3X files in the same manner as you have with the Phase One files? Have you done blind tests, working on files without knowing from which camera they came? If the answer is "yes" to these questions, that would make your assessment more valuable to me (who has worked with neither type of file).

Karsten

  From the sounds of it, Michael has.  It'll be interesting what he says.
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