Tag Archives: pixel peeping

Analog cameras and pixel peepers

An advertisement on the back of the November 1989 issue of National Geographic talks up Kodak’s new (at the time) EKTAR film. “You’re looking at a 2500% blowup with detail never before possible in a 35mm color print film,” it says. There’s close-up picture of a defeated football player. Inset is the original, uncropped photograph.

In fact, I found the image on Google:

What I find remarkable is that while Kodak boasts “detail never before possible”, the blow-up is actually quite soft. It is far from “tack sharp,” as they say. I read this and remembered several years back when I researched dSLR cameras, read lens reviews, followed the forums. What photogs seem to do these days is called “pixel peep”. They take a photograph, view it at maximum resolution and beyond, and then evaluate the lens or camera responsible based on how crisp the photograph is. I found this odd, as did others, since nobody ever looks that closely at a photograph. At normal viewing size, these photographs could be brilliant, but at the ultra-zoom level, they show flaws.

I remember, too, that the Pentax K10D, which I ended up buying, lost some marks from reviewers because its out-of-the-box settings didn’t produce a desirable quality of photrograph. The problem? The photographs were too soft. They weren’t “tack sharp”.

I’ve never been able to take a “tack-sharp” photograph. Partially because I don’t often use a tripod, partially because that particular Pentax model was design to produce film-like photographs. This is just fine by me. Surely there are other features in a photograph that are more important for judging its quality.

All this to say that that 1989 Kodak advertisement would not make the grade today. The never before possible “detail” in the blow-up would make the pixel-peepers scoff.

I wonder, have we lost something in our age of “tack-sharp” photographs and pixels in the millions? Do digital photographs have the same warmth and “personality” as analog photographs did? I suspect not. That’s not to say that I’m not thankful in many ways for digital cameras–mostly for their instant and forgiving output–or that there aren’t many brilliant and beautiful digital photographs taken. Yet I find that my dad’s old Minolta XG-1 (it’s older than I am) consistently yields better photographic results. And–sometimes–I crank up the ISO on my Pentax to add some of that “noise” and grain that is so hated these days. It may not show detail like cameras can these days, but I kind of like it.