Friday, January 04, 2008

When there is no Quiet there can be no Loud

A few months ago a couple of chums asked me to recommend a digital camera for general snapping. I reached into my capacious pockets and whipped out one of these babies…

They had just been discontinued and could be had new in the region of £100-110

Actually, I recommended that particular model to quite a few people over the last year and the first reaction from most was why was a camera geek like me recommending such a cheap camera (because I'm a frugal camera geek)

Anyway, one of my chums subsequently picked one up – the other left it for a bit and by the time he started looking for one there were no new ones left and the price of second hand models has crept up to £150 – 200

That’s if you can find one

I’ve just had a peek on ebay and this is all that’s doing

Yup, that particular camera is currently fetching more on the second hand market than a new copy of the model that replaced it (£155)

Strangely enough, the reason why this particular camera was discontinued is exactly the same reason why so many people belatedly want one

You see it’s only a six megapixel model

And even though your average credit card-spanking consumerist Muppet assumes that a bigger number must be better than a smaller number, there are only so many pixels you can pack onto the chips fitted to digital compacts before image quality starts taking a turn for the worst

And because the F31fd only has 6,000,000 pixels crammed onto a chip the size of a small fingernail, the images it produces are less fuzzy than those from the 8, 10 and 12 megapixel models which now dominate the market place

On top of the noise/ fuzziness issue, cameras with more megapixels also have a crappier dynamic range which means that they can only record so much variation between light and dark in a scene before they start recording entire swathes of the picture as being pitch black or completely white

Here’s one I fucked up earlier...

Even though I artfully converted it into a black and white image (an old favourite trick to distract from the fact that large chunks of a picture are terminally blown-out) it should be fairly clear that the digital camera I used just couldn’t cope with the range of light and dark areas in the scene and gave up even trying.


And whilst on the subject of modern manufacturers giving in to their marketing departments and selling shit products to the bulk of their customers who don’t know any better, may I recommend this article and the short Youtube video that goes with it...

The news that music companies are mastering their CDs to sound constantly loud, with little variation between the quiet and loud parts of tracks, doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Producers of TV ads have taken to a similar ‘trick’ by mixing their soundtracks to stick as closely to the peak permissable volume throughout. Which is why everyone now has to jam away at their remotes every time a commercial break starts, for fear of going deaf or scaring their cat

So, spare a thought for the death of dynamic range; in what we look at and what we hear, it’s just another small way, amongst countless others, that cynical fuckers are using to make our daily lives just that little bit more crap. With a little effort you could even use the Death of Dynamic range as an allegory for the times we live in


And never one to pass up on an opportunity to be scatological may I take this opportunity to recommend Amateur Photo-God Ken Rockwell’s website

Ken Rockwell look-alike

Yes, that’s a picture of Ray Liotta, not Ken, but Ken does bear a passing resemblance to Ray and I can’t find any free to use images of the actual man himself

I recommend Ken’s site partly because he says some very amusingly opinionated things about photographic equipment but mostly because I’m shamelessly trying to work in a reference to this paragraph from a page on the site…

‘I do this because I love to share. I dream about what I'm going to write all night, then get up at 6AM and hit the keyboard at 6:30AM and don't stop till my wife pulls me off. I want everyone to be able to enjoy photography as much as I do. My wife thinks I'm crazy spending so many hours a day at this, and she's probably right.’

And if you don’t understand why I find that paragraph so amusing, well, bless you

And if all this talk of photography has stimulated a desire to see, given the right subjects, just what cameras are capable of in skilled, master craftsmen's hands you could do a lot worse than visiting this site for inspiration...



Anonymous said...

People have recently been asking me the same thing. I tend to resort to Mike Johnson's answer: "they're all shit", until I remember you actually found one. Heh.

HNY Stef, it's always a pleasure to read and quote you. I'll link to this post of yours (and Mike's) for my answers, Rockwell et all.

All the best for 2008 - hope to see you later in the month


Stef said...

I'll try to get some sleep the night before this time

ATB to yourgoodself


Merkin said...

If that was Great Mall Photography, I hesitate to think what Dreadful Mall Photography will be like.
I am sure a lot of these photos will probably be fairly recent.
I had an American girlfriend who showed me an official photo of her as Homecoming Queen looking much the same as some of the ladies shown here.
As for the men, statistically there must be a serial killer amongst that lot.

Stef said...


I've spent a lot of time traveling around the States and it's a statistical fact™ that the further South you go the bigger the hair gets

and, yes, thinking that most of those pictures would have been taken in 1970s is definitely a trap for new players

Stef said...


from DPReview's review of the 300 quid Canon G9 compact...

But a camera that seduces you with its indulgent styling and solid build is only half the story; the G9 is a wonderful 'gadget' and a powerful photographic tool, but is it a great camera? The sad truth is that the one area where we'd really like to have seen Canon making significant changes - the image quality - hasn't really changed at all. Not that it's poor - anything but; it's just not outstanding.

It's the biggest irony of the compact digital camera market: since the cameras all use very similar sensors and many even share the same lens assembly, the price difference between the entry-level models and range-toppers such as the G9 simply isn't reflected in a commensurate difference in output quality. And it doesn't matter how much you are prepared to spend; you can't buy your way out of the 'compact camera problem' - a small, noisy sensor is a small noisy sensor no matter what kind of tank you build around it or how many 'professional' features you build into the body.

IQ-wise the G9 is about as good as it gets in a compact camera, and physically it puts virtually everything else to shame. But inside, at the heart of the image capture system, sits the same sensor you'll find in a Casio, Canon or Sony point and shoot camera, in all it's 12 megapixel glory. When I mentioned giving Canon credit for listening to feedback on the G7 I don't remember anyone crying out for even more megapixels. Whatever drove Canon's top brass to look at the G7 and decide 'I know what it needs! More Pixels!' it certainly wasn't consumer demand.

And thus, like the G7 before it, the G9 is a wonderfully built and designed camera, but one that simply cannot really deliver on its promises; it truly is a sheep in wolves' clothing. By all means buy one , but do so in the full knowledge that a lot of what you're paying is for the icing, not the cake

Anonymous said...

As a digicam baffoon, I don't see why the the good things achieved with the 6m pix cam, can't be done with the 10 or 12 m pix cameras. What physical mathematical significance does 6m hold that can't be acheved by other higher definition cams? I read what you said about only a vertain # of things you can pack on a chip, but surely that chip int gonna hang around forever - it'll be replaced by a better chip or/and have improvements built on to it (H and S ware) added which can re-establish the believed 6m package in a 10/12 m pix format?

Yes the industry is just playing on baffoons like me who look at mega pixels first, and I cant argue against knowledgeable photography ppl like your good selves, but I think the Industry will see the demand for the 6m package and tinker products in future.

I think it's likely only the megapix bar has been raised and the quality bar will be raised shoryly afterwards... Let me guess... The G10?

Yrs in baffoonery.

- Geoff Baffoon.

Stef said...

there are several reasons why more pixels degrade image quality, two of the most serious are...

- diffraction effects -

- assuming cameras and their components stay the same size, more pixels means smaller pixels - smaller pixels mean less light is falling on them and so the signal to noise ratio drops - on top of that if you stick, for example, four pixels into a space occupied by one they are going to receive less light than the one because of the borders between them

There are limits to the capacity of the existing technologies which are anchored in physical laws

No doubt someone will one day come up with a different technology to achieve the same purpose - but it hasn't happened yet. The current increase in numbers is driven purely by marketing

On a slightly related subject I noticed a couple of days ago that the latest version of the iPod Classic now comes with a 180Gb hard disk which is capable of holding between 18,000 - 45,000 tracks depending on the compression quality of the audio (18,000 tracks at CD quality),

that's between 12 and 30 days of continuously different music

at a cost of between £14,000 to £36,000 at itunes prices

that's plain f*cking stupid isn't it?

particularly when you consider that sweat-shop produced ipods have a designed life of between 12 and 18 months and are a pig to fit replacement batteries/ parts into

what proportion of the people who will end up owning that machine will use even a fraction of its capacity?

this touches on something we discussed earlier on the subject of how sustainable current global population levels are - the Earth is more than capable of supporting existing or even larger population levels, provided we devote our resources and technical ingenuity to the task and not to making consumerist crap and weapons

what's preferable - more people or more crap?

and if you have so much faith in technology being able to cram quarts into pint pots when it comes to cameras isn't there at least some scope for maintaining similar optimism about humanity's ability to feed and clothe itself in a sustainable way, provided we don't have fuckers directing the effort?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reply. I never considered diffraction. I also forgot about the smaller pixels = less light thingy (digicam idiots like me exist in the binocular/telescope world too, where amount of light is neglected in favour of magnification and hence people zoom in only to see very dim objects), but I can imagine a different dopant could make the pixel grid more sensitive to the lower amount of light falling upon it hence intensity would be re-achieved (??).

Being crap in picture camera knowledge, I don't really know, but I can't imagine such a sophisticated range of s/n techniques are employed, say via Fourier transform, in digicams for power consumption as well as IC cost reasons, which leads me to think that if they WERE to be employed later, then loss of quality seen in current circumstances could be compensated for. I'm using knowledge about photon capture detectors on XRD machines from companies like, would you believe "Kratos" in Manchester {}, but I've forgotten the range of photon scattering so the incident intensity may be many times greater (and probably is) than from a £200 digicam - lol. In fact, now that I've typed it, you call me George Bush If I'm wrong. I don’t think a comparison is all that daft either 'cos who'd have imagined 40 years ago that we'd have the level of computing power at many of our fingertips today? (altho 40 years is a bit of wait for a digicam!)

Re: £xy,000 ipod- yeah that’s a joke, and I saw something spookily similar - a "Military" laptop in a commercial PC store, and for around the same price. Who the hell's gonna but that I said to myself (or words to that effect)

Re: World population: I guess the world could capacitate have more people, but intuitively, isn't there a max threshold. What would the consequences of that be, given that even before saturation, some act like barbarians to others. Why not freeze it at today’s level? 6bn is plenty. Heck, out of the tiny handful of people we get to meet in our young years, we often find a someone that's prepared to put up with you 'till your dying days (well, at least 19 days why have more? I don't think more people are gonna make the world a better or more fair place. From the current situation, it seems like more people will just mean more people to exploit (

Although I believe most people are good people, too many smother that goodness once they reach financial par with the 'have's, or those that 'have not' waste their lives living in the smokescreen billowed upon then, so perhaps more people = more crap?

Anyway, I'll trust your judgement. Given that the F32FD in't available anymore (for my pocket anyway) do you have any other recommendation? I'm looking to buy one u see. I'll try and shut my eyes to the MPx.

In Stef we trust.

Stef said...

Anyway, I'll trust your judgement. Given that the F32FD in't available anymore (for my pocket anyway) do you have any other recommendation? I'm looking to buy one u see. I'll try and shut my eyes to the MPx.

It depends on a) what you want to photograph with it and b) where you're buying it

A couple of clues will yield a few tentative recommendations

Anonymous said...

Ah you see, my dorkness with cams ha already been exposed.
Basically people and scenery, possibly with sound and video.

Stills need to be bright and to be able to cope with a non too steady hand.

As for location, Malaysia is as good as any.

Stef said...

First off, I wouldn't recommend anything made by Nikon, Olympus, Sony, HP, Pentax, Samsung, Kodak or Casio

That leaves Canon, Ricoh, Panasonic and Fuji

The Canon a570is is best if you're on a tight budget

If you've got a little more to spend these are worth looking at

Fuji F40
Panasonic TZ-3
Canon IXUS 860 IS/ ELPH SD870 IS

I'd start with the TZ-3. It is well made, has a fantastic zoom range and a built in anti-shake feature

if you want something smaller look at the Canon

if you want something smaller AND cheaper look at the Fuji

You can look at sample images taken with each camera here

Anonymous said...


My IT budget is a bit slim right now after some didsaters a few months ago.

Thats the bad thing about knowing stuff - people always want free advice. Sorry I wasn't the exception.

Anonymous said...

I also had some disasters too!

Anonymous said...

These corporate pics are quite good (from the point of view of someone who knows nought about such things). Care to give a critique?

(And, er, I suppose they left the best 'til last at the time of writing; but that's not what I mean by critique).

Stef said...

Care to give a critique?

I can't fault the photography - very simple technique but nicely executed

which is more than you can say for the Estonian hairdressing industry