Reducing Quality for the Sake of Convenience

Library Stairs, Wide - Austin, Texas

Library Stairs, Wide – Austin, Texas

Yesterday, I featured a short photo essay around a staircase at the new Austin Central Library. On a whim, I processed a similar photo that I also captured with my Olympus PEN-F. The results were surprising and dramatic.

While I happily showcased photos that I shot with the Canon G7X Mark II for this recent downtown series, I also brought along my Olympus with a wide-angle lens. I shot more with the Canon, partially because I’m enamored by my wide-angle Cinematics, but also because the small camera is so convenient to use. It was also a test, to see what kind of quality I can achieve.

For the most part, I was satisfied. Until I looked at the results from the Olympus.

I shot today’s photo with the PEN-F and the Olympus 9-18mm f4-5.6 lens. I amped up the colors to achieve this golden look for the stairs, with an equally contrasting blue. If you look at yesterday’s photos, you’ll notice a similarly framed shot with the Canon G7X Mark II. While the focal lengths and aspect ratios are different, they are close enough to make comparisons.

The Olympus is sharper, and not only because of its deeper depth of field. There is also more dimension to the photo. The biggest difference however, is the richness of the colors. I can easily dial down the Olympus photo to mach the Canon’s muted color, but I couldn’t process the Canon photo to match the richness of the Olympus.

The sensor size, optics and image processor all matter. By using a smaller camera, was I limiting my image quality? Well Yes, but the considerations are more complicated. Where is the photo going to be viewed? With Instagram on a smartphone, image quality is not going to matter as much. How about on a 27″ computer monitor or printed large on metal? Also, how much gear are you willing to carry?

Want higher image quality than a PEN-F? Use a full frame camera or better still, medium format. But in addition to the larger body and correspondingly large lens, you will also need a beefy tripod. The amount of gear you’ll need to haul around will be considerable.

Which goes to show, there are always tradeoffs. For me, the Olympus works well for my serious photos, both around town and during travel. As a bring anywhere, pocketable camera, the Canon G7X Mark II does a good job. Using both together, I have an extremely versatile kit.

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2 thoughts on “Reducing Quality for the Sake of Convenience

  1. It really comes down to the intended use of the images. In the smallish sizes that you post online, my eyes can’t tell a difference. I don’t doubt that pixel peeping will reveal obvious differences. Does that matter? Only you can answer that.

    I favor the aspect ratio of Canon and it seems to be bringing out sparks of creativity in your work above and beyond your typical shots with the m43 gear. Like the Pentax Q work you did, the compact Canon seems to make something click for you. Maybe tiny and convenient cameras help keep the gear out of the way of vision.

    1. You may be right. Perhaps it’s the freedom and flexibility of compact cameras. For me, not having a viewfinder allows for more flexibility.

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