Monday, June 20, 2011

Image quality: How much quality do you need?

Had to run a little Lowbanks art before running the boring shot below.
Having worked for many years in the newspaper business, I've learned to set the bar pretty low when it comes to image quality. When pictures are translated into halftones with 100 dots to the inch, a lot of quality is lost. Also, when images are at the mercy of a backshop pressed for time and forced to cut corners to save time and money, those halftones may be of poor quality. And we have yet to consider the newsprint on which the pictures appear: yellow, thin, blotter paper.

Now, I am shooting for the Internet and my images must be reduced to 7-inches at 72 dpi and saved as jpgs in order to ensure they load quickly. I'm still kissing off quality.

Iron arches in the blocks to the right of the centre marten house are not visible.
The above shot of the beach at Lowbanks, Ontario, is 156 KB sized jpg file. If I wanted to make a large print, the enhanced file, from which the Internet file was created, is a massive 28.5 MB TIFF file. It was created from a RAW file captured by my Fuji FinePix HS10. Look at the flag in the middle of the picture and then run your eyes down the flag pole to the breakwall.

Iron arches in blocks are visible.
Do you see some small, steel arches sunk into the concrete blocks just over to the right? No? That's because detail easily seen in the large file has been lost in the small. Pictures destined for the Internet lose a lot of detail.

The image in which the iron arches are visible is a jpg cropped from the full-sized TIFF file. Unfortunately, in order to show you this cropped image I had to jpg it in order for blogger to accept it. The actual file has much more detail, even in the grass.

Recently, I read some posts on the Nothing Special photo blog. I found them inspiring. The author's writing made me think about quality in a way that I haven't thought about quality since art school.

At the newspaper, only one photographer shot RAW. One other photographer experimented with RAW but soon rejoined the jpg shooting group. Because of the image quality loss inherent in the newspaper business, most of us figured there was nothing to be gained by shooting RAW. I believe we were right.

I no longer work for a newspaper. Maybe it is time I started paying a bit more attention to quality. I am experimenting with shooting RAW. I cannot afford a different camera but that will be part of the challenge: How to squeeze the most quality from a bridge camera like a Fuji FinePix HS10 or a true point-and-shoot like my Canon S90?

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