What really makes big sensors produce more appealing images? *Serious*

Started Mar 13, 2014 | Discussions thread
knickerhawk Veteran Member • Posts: 5,648

Pasmia wrote:

I've been using point and shoot cameras for a number of years and I've finally migrated on over to ILCs with M43 cameras about three years ago. My IQ dramatically increased, but I'm still not getting images that other people are capable of with their full frame monster cameras. Before the obvious answers roll in, please read further.

At first, I figured it was depth of field. M43, with is 1/4 size sensor, in comparison to FF, doesn't isolate its subjects with respective focal lengths nearly as much and therefore, it can create a really different feel for equivalent framing (ie: 25mm on M43 @ 1.4 is nothing like 50mm on FF @ 1.4). So, I went out and bought the Panasonic/Leica 25mm/f1.4 and the Olympus 45mm/f1.8. I was able to mimic multiple shallow DoF styled photos and even bought some diopters for some ridiculously "bokehlicious" macro shots. This brought my IQ up even more but it was still not quite there.

My next theory was dynamic range. My Lumix G3 camera was lacking this department, in comparison to the Canon 5D II which has become my reference point for IQ (just due to popularity, not bias against Nikon or anything). My Lumix G3 scored a 10.6Evs vs the 5Dii's 11.9Evs on DXO. At this point, I start shooting HDRs to make up for this inadequacy and immediately noticed an improvement in IQ, yet again. I try not to overdue the post processing of HDRs, and simply use it as a tool to expand the DR of my camera. Well, fast forward to the present and I am now with an Olympus E-P5, which has a score of 12.4Evs, and still, I feel like my camera is lacking in comparison to the 5Dii.

Whenever I find myself trying to shoot with my camera's greatest potential, I only shoot at a fixed base ISO. I set my aperture, almost always at f4.0/f5.6 (M43 sweet spot). I'm still using multiple exposures and blending in post (HDR'ish). But I still find IQ lacking.

What I'm finding is that images from cameras like the 5D ii/iii, 6D, Leica M, Sony A7/r, D800/D600 are BOLD. Images seem to be wet, even on my computer screen. Images from M43 cameras seem to have a white sheen over them. It's like there's a certain "fill" that's lacking. Highlights are blown, shadows are muddy, colors are lacking, and there is no "POP" in the images.

I'm beginning to think that the IQ differences I'm looking at is simply a post processing technique that I'm somehow overlooking. If I'm on 500PX, I can find about one in 50 shots from an Olympus camera that actually looks great and is practically indistinguishable from a D800 or other FF camera. However, when I look at something like 5DII images in 500px, practically every other image exudes jaw dropping IQ.

Of my personal collection, I think I literally have a dozen shots, if that, from the past three years, that are indistinguishable from a full frame camera's IQ. My issue, or my concern, is in my snapshots. The shots that I don't spend time calculating exposure and setting up lighting or a tripod. These shots suck. The only snapshots I have that I like are only good because they were composed well or I caught a great moment, but these shots look good with any camera, even my iPhone. I want these shots to be nice in IQ as well, not just the shots I spend hours calculating and post processing and composing and touching up and going back repeating my touch ups.

I do find it possible that maybe it really is just the photographer. I do find it possible that maybe better photographers just so happen to have these cameras that make images that I'm comparing my images to. Maybe, these cameras just so happen to be just another camera model, but happen to attract the people that are capable of producing these types of pictures. I do find it possible that this is true, I just don't believe that it is.

This is the first casual shot I could find from a 5DII on 500PX. It has a lot of what I find is great IQ. The image itself is ok. But the color, the boldness, the gradient, it's just so... perfect.


This is the third time in the last couple of months that I've stumbled across somebody referencing Shuminova's images as evidence of the advantages of FF, when all it really is is evidence of how a skilled photographer who knows how to use Photoshop can create pleasing images. Let's look carefully at the shot linked above and consider your theory and then consider what she really did...

1. DOF. This shot was taken with the excellent Canon 135mm f/2 L at f/2.5. "Ahah!" You say. "It's the shallow depth of field that makes all the difference. You can't do that with m4/3..." However, if you assume she's approximately 8 feet from the subjects, then the DOFMaster DOF calculator shows a DOF of about .15 feet. Indeed, that's shallow, but what if we increased the f-stop to f/5.6? Surely, that creates WAY too much DOF, right? Well, in fact the calculator shows a DOF of .34 feet. Hmmm. Not much difference after all and certainly not a difference that would have impacted this image.

But what about m4/3? Well, the Oly 75mm f/1.8 is by any standard an outstanding lens and comparable to the Canon here in terms of sharpness, contrast and close in terms of DOF and AOF equivalence. Even the Sigma 60mm f/2.8, which gets rave reviews for sharpness has more than adequate DOF shallowness for this image (well within the 1/2 foot range we're seeing here).

Bottom line: DOF differences between FF and m4/3 don't explain why this image is "special".

2. DYNAMIC RANGE. Well, DR is certainly not a relevant differentiator in this shot. The DR of this shot is quite low. It was taken on obviously overcast day. Virtually no shadows or deep blacks to worry about and certainly no highlight issues to contend with. Virtually any digital camera (including an iPhone) could easily handle the DR of this scene. Note also that this is not a high ISO shot. It was taken at ISO 320 with a shutter speed of 1/320. Not much of an exposure challenge there.

Bottom line: DR differences between FF and m4/3 don't explain why this image is "special".

3. "BOLDNESS". This supposed differentiation is rather vague but seems to relate to color saturation and contrast (we've already addressed DR). But looking at this particular image, I fail to see anything bold or particularly colorful or intensely saturated/vibrant. It's all rather subdued. What I do see is lots of local contrast in the dog and boy and lots of (related) sharpening. If you start with a good image rendered by a sharp/contrasty lens (and there are plenty of lenses in the m4/3 line-up that meet these criteria, two of which I mentioned above), then getting sharp, contrasty images like this at this display size are rather easy to do. Remember, we're looking at an image that's only 950x650 pixels. That's massively downsized for any 16mp m4/3 camera just like it is for the Canon 5D II and covers up all sorts of limitations that might be a practical concerns at much larger display sizes.

Bottom line: "Boldness" differences between FF and m4/3 don't explain why this image is "special".

So, then, what explains the "specialness" of this image? First and foremost, it's a well composed, well lit rendering of a "precious" scene, but of course that's all about the photographer and has nothing to do with the equipment used. Most of what's not attributable to the photographer's vision when taking the shot has to do with careful RAW processing and extensive Photoshop manipulation. This is a SIGNIFICANTLY PHOTOSHOPPED image. Most of Shumilova's shots show a lot of PS manipulation in them. Often they're quite obvious and not particularly well done.

For instance, in this shot you can see that she has applied local sharpening to the dog and boy and what looks like additional blurring to isolate them further from the background and foreground. Look to the leftmost edge of the dog's tail and the ground next to it. See how the sharpened detail extens a couple of millimeters beyond the tail and into the gravel? See the blurring distortion that occurs as you work your way up behind the dog? The ground somehow seems to magically sink down toward the tail. That's all PS manipulation.

Now look at the ground around the boy's front boot. Notice the sudden shift from sharpness to blur as you both move forward and to the right of the boots. That's not lens blurring, that's PS blurring. Also notice the telltale haloing around the boots especially. More evidence of some form of localized brightness adjustment going on. Clearly, there is deliberate/accentuated vignetting as well to help bring out the subjects from the background. These are all rather typical PS tricks, which I have no problem with (I use them too). What I DO have a problem with is false attribution of the reasons for the success of a skilled photographer like Shumilova.

Bottom line: Equipment isn't going to make you a better photographer. Don't believe me? Then go buy that FF camera and start creating your "Bold" and "wet" shots.. Good luck.

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