April 16


Are You A Photographer or a Pixel Peeper?

By Dan

April 16, 2013

Aerial photo, steep snowy Chugach Mountain face, AlaskaI shot this photo above with my new Fujifilm X20 out the open window of an airplane that was going about 80 miles per hour at an at altitude of 7,000 feet. It was zero degrees outside the cockpit and I was wearing thin gloves. I love flying over the Chugach Mountians at sunset and I just think that it’s amazing to live in a place that’s surrounded by such incredible scenery.

When you zoom in to full size on this photo, you can see that there’s a little bit of noise in the shadowed areas. Not tons of noise, but enough that it’s noticeable if you were really looking for it. After all, I shot it with a camera that doesn’t even have an APS-C sized sensor.

Backcountry skiers skinning up New York Mountain, ColoradoI shot this photo above with my old Nikon D200 a few years ago while backcountry skiing with some friends on New York Mountain in Colorado. Good group of guys, all on a hut trip together, making turns in fresh powder. Some people were better skiers than others, including me, who would sometimes fall down in the deep snow. It’s really hard to get up when you wipeout in fourteen inches of snow while going downhill. I remember that it was really windy on the ridge.

If you were to zoom into this photo, you’d see that it’s certainly not as sharp as one that was shot with a brand new D800, or even a D600 or D7100. Looking back now, the D200 almost seems like a relic. Imagine if I could go back in time and re-shoot this photo with a D800E. It would be SO much sharper!

I made this shot above a couple weeks ago with my X20. I was goofing off in the neighborhod park with my friends and their kids. Nice Alaska spring evening, where the sun doesn’t set until after 8:00 PM. It’s funny to watch the little kids play on the jungle gym and on the slide all bundled up in winter clothes.

There’s definitely noise in this photo. I was playing around with shooting in 1:1 square format, which looks fun, but due to the crop factor, is not even close to the highest resolution that the camera is capable of producing.

There we have it. Three pictures. None perfect. All flawed in some way if you were to compare them to photos that were shot with “better” cameras. And I haven’t even mentioned iPhones yet.

My question to you is this: Are you a photographer or a pixel peeper? What really matters to you, noise and ultra high resolution or light, moment and memories? What is photography anyway? Is it about perfection or is it about feel?

Remember the days of film? I know that some of you do, but for those of you who never ran a roll of emulsion covered celluloid through your camera, it wasn’t perfect. It had this thing called “grain,” and there was never any way around it. Film had limitations. Film had imperfections.

Film had character, though, and in fact, people chose different film stocks largely because of the look that it imparted into our imagery. Some people even liked films with more grain because it looked “gritty.”

Ironically, we’re starting to get to a place in digital photography where we’re becoming less obsessed with megapixels and more fascinated with “look.” Camera sensors from different companies each reproduce subjects in a unique way, and to many photographers, that’s starting to matter as much as how many pixels are crammed into their cameras. (Check out this great post by Chase Jarvis called, The Camera Sensor as Emulsion + Why Your Digital Camera is More Like Film Stock Than You Realize.)

So, I’ll ask you one more time. Are you a photographer or a pixel peeper? If you’re a photographer, then get a camera. Any camera, preferably one that feels good in your hands that you like using, and go have fun with it. Make some pictures. Explore your creativity. Live life. Breathe. Be free.

If you’re a pixel peeper, then, sorry, I don’t have any advice for you, except maybe to go buy a bigger monitor.

About the author

Hi, I'm Dan Bailey, a 25+ year pro outdoor and adventure photographer, and official FUJIFILM X-Photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska.

As a top rated blogger and author my goal is to help you become a better, more confident and competent photographer, so that you can have as much fun and creative enjoyment as I do.

  • Great post Dan. Think how some cameras let you try to select a ‘feel’ now or how there are software filters that now take your digital image and mimic some of the ‘old’ films we all used to use. Imagine when some of those ‘film filters’ start getting built into cameras themselves so you can switch between digital Kodachrome and Velvia on an image by image basis…instead of 35 frames later.

  • Mike, they already are. All of the Fujifilm X series cameras have film simulation settings built right in. With the touch of a button, you can choose between Provia, Velvia, Astia and a few other classic Fuji color and BW neg films. They’re pretty fun, I definitely make use of them quite often with the X10 and X20.

    I don’t know of any cameras that offer specific Kodak film simulations, but a few of them are included in DxO Film Pack software.

  • Great article Dan – thank you. I used to be a pixel peeper, big time. After selling more images taken with my little Nikon P6000, I finally came to the realization that light and composition are what makes a great image. As a result I’ve pretty much abandoned my full frame Nikon and have gone with the Olympus OM-D and their awesome lenses. I’m not looking back.

  • You have me on the edge of selling the kayak I built…it’ll either be for an X20 or for the 18-300mm Nikon lens. To vastly different things obviously…but getting both is out of the picture (no pun intended) right now.

    Off topic to this post…but what do you think of those megazooms, like the 18-300mm or 18-200mm?

  • Had the chance to play with an X20 yesterday and was very taken by it. Your review (and a review by Ming Thein) are convincing me to buy one. Your pictures are great.

    On the subject of grain/noise I have been scanning 35 year old negative and transparencies and noise doesn’t bother me one bit compared to the grain in Tri-X and the various transparency films I used then. Don’t pixel peep – take photographs.

  • You’re so right. I find I’m using – and enjoying – my Fuji X100S[1] more than my Canon 5D Mk III. Yes, it’s limited by the fixed lens, but I look at that as more of a challenge than a problem.

    [1] Recent upgrade from the X100, which I sold to a friend

  • I have been an avid photographer since the mid-70’s and agree entirely with your comments here. I am in the midst of digitally archiving some of my favorite photos captured on film and must say it is quite evident that many of the images I thought were superb at the time would not withstand a pixel peeper’s scrutiny today. But these images are emotionally satisfying to me because they are a chronicle of 40 years of living on this awesome planet! I embraced the digital technology over a decade ago and am excited about the future of photography!

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