Tuesday 3 November 2020

Photographic Thoughts: Replacement Skies, Megapixels, Sensor Size & More

Sometimes skies are grey.....

The last few weeks a Facebook post by photographer Jon Sparks, editing software ads, and Alex Roddie's Wanderlust Europe book have all had me thinking about my photography and the subject in general.

To begin with Jon Sparks post (scroll down to October 29) and the software ads. Before reading Jon's post I'd been seeing an increasing number of ads promising you could create masterpieces using their software. You can change skies, add sunsets and sunrises and huge full moons and far more. Photo manipulation has been around since photography began of course but it is now much, much easier. And suggesting that technology can turn you into a top photographer isn't new either. It used to just be 'buy this camera and you can shoot pictures like a pro'. That's still around but now joined by 'buy this software and you can create pictures like a pro'. What's not mentioned is any idea that there's skill or craft involved. Instant gratification. Buy this and your photos will be superb. No effort required.

Creating good images with software on a computer screen requires some skill and time itself of course and there is a place for computer art, whether based on photographs or not. However I don't think such images should be presented as actual scenes captured in the camera, as they sometimes are. If skies, moons, sunsets are added this should be stated. I'd never do this myself as I want my pictures to approximate the scene as I saw it. I like to think that if someone went there in similar conditions the view would be much the same. To quote Jon Sparks: "For me, being a photographer is about being there. It’s about the whole experience of a place and the effort to capture an image that says this is what it was like. It’s why the time spent walking around, looking, touching, listening, even smelling, are as important as time spent looking through the viewfinder. And ultimately, photography is about those moments when everything comes together: when the light and the weather conspire to make magic." That's it. That's exactly it.

Early in the year when I submitted some photos for Wanderlust Europe I wondered if the ones of Corsica would be acceptable as they were taken on a 6 megapixel (mp) APS-C camera. There are 50mp + full frame cameras around now and 24mp is the norm - my cameras have been 24mp for several years. Would 6mp images hold up? They did. I shouldn't have worried and should have remembered this piece called Photography: How Many Megapixels Do You Need that I wrote three years ago when I had some 6mp photos used in another glossy outdoor book called Great Hiking Trails of The World. My 6mp pictures looked good then and they still do. And no editor has still ever asked what camera I use or how many megapixels it has.

Mentioning APS-C and full frame brings up a bugbear of mine - the unhelpful, intimidating and confusing terms used for digital cameras. What is APS-C? Is full frame, as the name suggests, the biggest image size? 

APS stands for Advanced Photo System, a film format in the 1990s that never really caught on. It came in three sizes, one them dubbed C for Classic. The digital APS-C sensor is the same size as an APS-C film image. But even so why call it by the abbreviation for the long obsolete film format?

A full frame sensor is the same size as 35mm film. It's not the largest digital sensor size though, medium format sensors are bigger. So in sensors 'full' is smaller than 'medium'. The latter must be overflowing. 

And there's micro four-thirds, which is bit smaller than APS-C, and the fact that APS-C sensors aren't the same size in all makes of cameras. Some coherence please!

Then there's the name for cameras with electronic view finders - mirrorless. Why name something for what it hasn't got? And mirrorless is short for mirrorless interchangeable lens camera or MILC. Alternatively your camera could be EVIL (electronic viewfinder, interchangeable lens). Cameras without fixed lenses, which also don't have mirrors, are called compact cameras, though some of them are bigger than mirrorless cameras. And there are bridge cameras, which have fixed lenses but are huge. It's all very disorientating!

My cameras are APS-C MILCs or maybe APS-C EVILs. I think I'll just call them cameras.

One of my APS-C MILCs


  1. Love it! Back in the day I was sometimes asked to recommend "The best camera" My standard reply - "A Manfrotto" - was always met with puzzlement.