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Author Topic: If its not megapixels what is it?  (Read 21403 times)
David Watson
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« on: May 15, 2011, 10:49:41 AM »
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Having read with great interest Mark and Michael's reviews of the new IQ80 I began to wonder how and when I should sell my house to buy one but before I do I would like to understand the benefits a little better.

Both Mark and Michael talk about an almost indefinable quality - "almost liquid colours" - to quote (or perhaps paraphrase) Mark's comments.  If it is not the super abundance of megapixels that does this what is it?  Assuming that they are processing their images in Capture One is it not reasonable to assume that this raw converter will produce a similar look from other sensors albeit in smaller files?  Is there some aspect of the new sensor or the electronics behind it or even some special way C1 handles these files that produces this quality?

I don't generally print larger than 24 x 16 very often so I cannot justify the investment on size alone but if there is a magic ingredient that produces  a better (read much much better at this price) image quality over a 40MP back or a D3X then I would really like to hear about it.  Particularly if this same quality will apply to the IQ40 and IQ60.

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David Watson ARPS
michael
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« Reply #1 on: May 15, 2011, 11:03:43 AM »
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It's a combination of factors. Yes, even on a smaller print the extra megapixels do count. It's a form of oversampling. Similar to making a small print from a large format negative.

Dynamic range is another. Without opening a debate, the DR of the IQ180 is quite something. Just avoid clipping and you can open the shadows to produce increadable images, no matter how deep they are. HDR? We don't need no stinkn' HDR.

Colour is another thing. It isn't about accuracy per se, but rather the subtle variations that are seen in individual colours, that tend to blend together in lesser imagers.

As I've written, the sensors in the IQ160 and 140 are the same as previous P series backs. One gains the IQ's new design, interface and screen. With the IQ180 it's a new sensor that provides (along with the Aptis II 12) the highest available pixel count, but much else has been improved in terms of IQ.

It's about the cumulative effect of these changes. None are earth shaking, but combined they make for a noticeable difference for anyone practicing good shooting technique and who has an eye for image quality.

Michael
« Last Edit: May 15, 2011, 11:42:32 AM by michael » Logged
David Watson
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« Reply #2 on: May 15, 2011, 11:07:35 AM »
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Thanks Michael - I will give the estate agent a call!
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David Watson ARPS
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« Reply #3 on: May 15, 2011, 12:13:25 PM »
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If its not megapixels what is it?

If you're looking for the magic ingredient responsible for any differences between 16 x 24 prints captured with the various 50/60/80 megapixel backs then perhaps you're looking for the wrong thing?
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David Watson
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« Reply #4 on: May 15, 2011, 12:27:17 PM »
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If you're looking for the magic ingredient responsible for any differences between 16 x 24 prints captured with the various 50/60/80 megapixel backs then perhaps you're looking for the wrong thing?

Not at all.  I am just curious about the whole thing.  Why would anyone want spend $40,000 on a piece of equipment that by Michael's reckoning only matters very slightly for images printed larger than 24x16.  My suggestion of selling my house to buy one was a bit of irony.  I am actually quite happy with what I can do with my full frame 35mm equipment.  I have owned a Hasselblad MFD system which I liked a lot but just didn't use enough.  Some of my favourite photographs have been taken with compact cameras or relatively inexpensive DSLR's.  What do they say - "the best camera is the one you have with you"?  My MF equipment was usually in my office or studio.  My M9 is always with me now. Smiley
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« Reply #5 on: May 15, 2011, 12:51:27 PM »
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...
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« Reply #6 on: May 15, 2011, 01:15:41 PM »
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My suggestion of selling my house to buy one was a bit of irony.

...as was my post.

I agree with virtually everything you said.

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ErikKaffehr
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« Reply #7 on: May 16, 2011, 12:50:33 AM »
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Hi,

If you make a really great image it may be possible that you want to print that image big. For that reason it's always nice with more pixels. Landscape can have a lot of fine detail. To really use all the available pixel very good technique is needed.

I have downloaded some demo images from Phase One, taken with the P65+ and they were impressive.

Best regards
Erik


Not at all.  I am just curious about the whole thing.  Why would anyone want spend $40,000 on a piece of equipment that by Michael's reckoning only matters very slightly for images printed larger than 24x16.  My suggestion of selling my house to buy one was a bit of irony.  I am actually quite happy with what I can do with my full frame 35mm equipment.  I have owned a Hasselblad MFD system which I liked a lot but just didn't use enough.  Some of my favourite photographs have been taken with compact cameras or relatively inexpensive DSLR's.  What do they say - "the best camera is the one you have with you"?  My MF equipment was usually in my office or studio.  My M9 is always with me now. Smiley
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Doug Peterson
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« Reply #8 on: May 16, 2011, 01:27:49 AM »
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I am actually quite happy with what I can do with my full frame 35mm equipment.  I have owned a Hasselblad MFD system which I liked a lot but just didn't use enough.  Some of my favourite photographs have been taken with compact cameras or relatively inexpensive DSLR's.  What do they say - "the best camera is the one you have with you"?  My MF equipment was usually in my office or studio.  My M9 is always with me now. Smiley

"The best camera is the one you have with you" is Truth for photo journalists, street photographers, life-documentation/snapshots etc. But, e.g. a commercial fashion shooter is rarely going to pick a camera because it will fit in his/her pocket better. In my opinion this truism is just a shooting-style-specific version of the universal truth: "the best camera is the one best suited for your needs".

As to your question I think it's important to remember that a whole lot of factors go into the look/feel of the images created by a certain camera.

My generic purpose list of the image quality chain:
Lens Hood / Flare > Lens coating > lens > aperture/shutter > body's internal blackness > IR filter > microlenses > AA filter (or lack thereof) > > Bayer RGBG color filters > sensor size > sensor pixel type > readout speed > sensor-to-AD-convertor path, A/D convertor (both bit depth and quality) > heat sinking / cooling > raw file compression > black calibration > in camera raw data manipulation > characteristic curve > ICC profile > demosaic algorithm > deconvolution algorithm > noise reduction type > up-res or down-res algorithm > sharpening

As one specific example the IQ180 uses a new set of RGB filters in the Bayer pattern compared to the P65+. This leads to a slightly different color response and therefore leads to different ICC profiles and would therefore impact the raw data the software team would be referencing when tweaking various raw processing algorithms etc etc.

Trying to determine which factors lead to a particular difference is generally a futile effort. Best to simply evaluate a system as a system and, when possible, do so yourself in your own typical real-world shooting scenario.

But I would somewhat echo Michael's evaluation. I'm not prepared yet to name it (or agree with Michael's terminology) but from my initial review of IQ files there is a difference in the color handling on the IQ180 vs the P65+ and P40+. Subtle, yes, but real. 

Doug Peterson (e-mail Me)
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« Reply #9 on: May 16, 2011, 06:22:43 AM »
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Re. "almost liquid colours" - if there is something special about the colour rendering of MFDBs vs. DSLRs, then the underlying reason which I would pull out of Doug's imaging chain/list is "Bayer RGBG color filters". While DSLRs [like my 5DII] murder MFDBs [like my DCS645M] on luminance sensitivity (ISO), their colour discrimination may be poorer due to stronger spectral overlaps in their Bayer matrix filters. DxOMark correlation tests have proven that these excessive overlaps exist, although they also vary between DSLR models. See e.g. DxOMark analysis.

It is also thus with film. Velvia's famous colours (and slow ISO) arise from narrow-peaked, little-overlapping colour layer responses. Fast film, like the Agfa 1000RS I used a lot of, has lower saturation and discrimination because one way for manufacturers to boost speed is to have broad-peaked, highly overlapping colour layer responses. Broad peaks mean higher overall q.e. (but similar colour hues tend to "block up"), and with overlapping colour layer responses, if a photon of a given wavelength is not absorbed in its primary or expected layer, there is a greater chance of it being absorbed in another layer in the stack, also increasing q.e.

Ray
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michael
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« Reply #10 on: May 16, 2011, 07:36:30 AM »
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Colour Discrimination is a good phrase. I've been searching for a way of describing what we see.

When Kevin showed up in SMA this past February with a pre-production IQ180 it wasn't more than a couple of hours and a few prints before I saw that the back was capable of discerning more colour variations than I was used to seeing. A week later Mark Dubovoy reported the same thing without our having discussed it.

Michael
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Anders_HK
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« Reply #11 on: May 16, 2011, 08:30:43 AM »
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Michael and others,

These and more are things very interesting to hear and find out about the IQ180 vs. Aptus/Afi-II 12 and compared to prior generation sensor backs.

Can possibly more be summarized and compared to those and other backs?

Doug,

Are you guys up for making a comparison of what more than megapixels there is that set these two backs apart from other generation backs, and precisely what differ them or make them similar?

Thank you.

Regards
Anders
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michael
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« Reply #12 on: May 16, 2011, 09:48:29 AM »
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I don't have an Aptus back available for comparison.

In any event, I think it would be a tedious and difficult job finding the differences between these two. Kind of like comparing a Mercedes E Series with a BMW 5 series. No one would be happy in the end regardless of the outcome.

My suggestion is that if this is of real world interest to you so that you can make a purchase decision, (rather than simply curiosity), visit dealers, borrow the gear, and do your own tests. That's the only way for it to make sense.

I wouldn't buy a $40,000 car based on a review or comparisons in a magazine or on a web site, and the same applies to an equally expensive MF back. Even if you have to travel to a city that has dealers for both products, the cost is minor compared to the investment that you'll be making.

Michael
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David Watson
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« Reply #13 on: May 16, 2011, 10:10:58 AM »
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……….My suggestion is that if this is of real world interest to you so that you can make a purchase decision, (rather than simply curiosity), visit dealers, borrow the gear, and do your own tests. That's the only way for it to make sense…………

Michael

Michael - I hold my hands up and accept that my original post wasn't born out of an imminent desire to spend $40k on a new MFDB but of curiosity.  However that does not nullify the fact that the question is still worth asking.  If we exclude those wealthy purchasers who must have the best whatever and the few pro's who genuinely need this size of sensor and perhaps more importantly who can justify the investment what are we left with?  We are left with a very large number of amateurs, pro's and semi-pros who shouldn't be thinking of spending money on something they don't need by some indefinable "something".

So whilst my initial question was born out of curiosity I am still interested in a coherent and fact based answer which, by your own admission, may not be possible. Here's a supplementary question. If I was shown two prints made at 24 x 16 one taken on a $10k camera and one using this back would the difference be so great that I would henceforth be completely unhappy with anything produced on my $10k camera? If the answer was yes I might well, at that point, start crying quietly or start saving to buy one.  Wink
« Last Edit: May 16, 2011, 10:32:58 AM by David Watson » Logged

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« Reply #14 on: May 16, 2011, 10:53:40 AM »
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... Here's a supplementary question. If I was shown two prints made at 24 x 16 one taken on a $10k camera and one using this back would the difference be so great that I would henceforth be completely unhappy with anything produced on my $10k camera? If the answer was yes I might well, at that point, start crying quietly or start saving to buy one.  Wink

How do you quantify happiness?  It seems only you can answer this question because nobody else knows what makes you happy (or unhappy).
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Peter McLennan
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« Reply #15 on: May 16, 2011, 10:58:32 AM »
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Colour Discrimination is a good phrase. I've been searching for a way of describing what we see.

That's a good descriptor.  Now that I read it, it's apparent that it's exactly what I'm now seeing on my new $1600 NEC monitor compared to the $300 business monitors I've been using.

In the world of photography hardware, it's apparent that money CAN buy you love. : )

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David Watson
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« Reply #16 on: May 16, 2011, 11:05:24 AM »
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How do you quantify happiness?  It seems only you can answer this question because nobody else knows what makes you happy (or unhappy).

Good question!  Let's start with an excellent single malt, the smile on a child's face, a dog wagging its tail, a client who pays up promptly, a car that starts every morning, that feeling of delicious weariness after a long walk, getting off a plane (any plane), …. where do I stop? Smiley

What makes me unhappy?  Ask my wife - she will tell you Huh

My more serious point was that I really do not believe that for 99% of situations expenditure on this scale on a piece of photographic equipment is either warranted or justifiable in any real world (sorry Michael) situation.
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David Watson ARPS
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« Reply #17 on: May 16, 2011, 11:59:42 AM »
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... My more serious point was that I really do not believe that for 99% of situations expenditure on this scale on a piece of photographic equipment is either warranted or justifiable in any real world (sorry Michael) situation.

Few could rationally disagree with you.  It's for those 1% situations.  For the other 99% a high-end CaNikon DSLR is overkill most of the time, too.
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hjulenissen
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« Reply #18 on: May 16, 2011, 02:11:16 PM »
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Re. "almost liquid colours" - if there is something special about the colour rendering of MFDBs vs. DSLRs, then the underlying reason which I would pull out of Doug's imaging chain/list is "Bayer RGBG color filters". While DSLRs [like my 5DII] murder MFDBs [like my DCS645M] on luminance sensitivity (ISO), their colour discrimination may be poorer due to stronger spectral overlaps in their Bayer matrix filters. DxOMark correlation tests have proven that these excessive overlaps exist, although they also vary between DSLR models. See e.g. DxOMark analysis.

It is also thus with film. Velvia's famous colours (and slow ISO) arise from narrow-peaked, little-overlapping colour layer responses. Fast film, like the Agfa 1000RS I used a lot of, has lower saturation and discrimination because one way for manufacturers to boost speed is to have broad-peaked, highly overlapping colour layer responses. Broad peaks mean higher overall q.e. (but similar colour hues tend to "block up"), and with overlapping colour layer responses, if a photon of a given wavelength is not absorbed in its primary or expected layer, there is a greater chance of it being absorbed in another layer in the stack, also increasing q.e.

Ray
If narrower bandwidth color filters are something distinguishing common MFDBs from DSLRs, I think that is very interesting.

Inspecting the color correction matrix (see for instance doc for dcraw) may give some insight. Perhaps it is as simple as a trade-off between luminance detail/noise vs chrominance detail/noise? Of course, extremely narrow-band CFAs will produce "color aliasing" that is practically impossible to emulate using wider CFAs.

Just like the lack of AA filters, I cant but help to think that the large asian DSLR manufacturers did what is "right" engineering-wise, and what customer surveys told them most people would want. For whatever reason (lack of funds, need to differentiate, subjective preference,...), the MF guys chose differently, and many (devoted) photographers seems to prefer their choices.

-k
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michael
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« Reply #19 on: May 16, 2011, 03:46:43 PM »
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If I was shown two prints made at 24 x 16 one taken on a $10k camera and one using this back would the difference be so great that I would henceforth be completely unhappy with anything produced on my $10k camera? If the answer was yes I might well, at that point, start crying quietly or start saving to buy one.  Wink

Will you be able to see a difference side-by-side? Yes, no question. Is the difference worth spending $30,000 on. Only you can answer that question.

The main purchasers of MF backs are working pros doing commercial work, architecture, fashion etc. Their clients, sometimes spending upwards of $200,000 for a shoot want the highest possible image quality. That's why these hard nosed businessmen/photographers spend what they do on gear. (Some spend a lot more on lighting equipment than on backs – just to put things in perspective).

Most of the other customers are wealthy individuals who want/need the best that they can buy. Cars, houses, boats, watches, cameras. T'was always thus.

Then there's a very small group of fine art photographers who sell large nature/landscape prints though their own or other galleries. These folks in the past would have used (and many still do) 4X5" and 8X10" cameras, because that's what allows them to make large prints that consequently allows them to charge big bucks. Take Peter Lick for example. He shoots with a P65+. On a less grandiose scale there's Charlie Cramer, in my opinion a better photographer, though not as successful as Peter commercially. He also shoots with a P65+.

Bottom line – yes the difference is visible. Is it enough to make you want to sell a kidney? That's for you to decide.

Michael


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