Friday, August 2, 2013

Top Five Fridays: Silliest Photography Forum Arguments

Top 5 Friday is being brought back from the dead, or at least this edition (which I started back in February). This one's a little more editorialized that usual, so have those grains of salt prepped and ready. forums can be a great place to learn, but in reading them, certain hot topics will just bring out the worst in people. Some of those topics tend to be recurring, and some are so dubious and repetitive in nature that they play out the same way just about every time, leading to endless bickering between users. Forum arguments and flamewars are of course best enjoyed from the sidelines, though reading them can occasionally brain damage, depending on who's involved in the discussion. Top 5 are below, in order of how trivial they are.

5. Format Wars
Though bickering over formats is certainly nothing new to the photography world, it's picked up the pace ever since the 5D launched in 2005 and made full-frame digital affordable. Because of the fractured userbase of various digital formats, mere mention of things like noise, focal length, and 'reach' will send a discussion into a downward spiral. Most of the time, the arguments are started by users who make it their mission to put down every non-FF format, who so eloquently point out that there are absolutely no advantages whatsoever to smaller sensors. Presumably they type their posts while sitting in their money tree.

According to the full-frame zealots, full-frame is some kind of master format that is superior in every way to all others. Nevermind that they ignore the existence of medium and large formats . It's what some of them spent decades using, and undoing their romance with film isn't exactly a quick process. It's a classic case of 'people think differently than I do, therefore I must convert them'. While larger sensors are nice, and having your lenses behave as they were designed is a plus in most situations, attacking people because they're content with APS-C or Four Thirds is just silly.

4. Real life vs lab tests
Once the first reviews of a new camera or lens get published, the public tends to get their knickers in a knot over the testing and sample methods of each review. Almost invariably, commenters break into two camps: those who claim the results are rubbish because tests charts don't represent their intended 'real world' use, and those who claim real-world samples are pointless because of the number of variables involved. These discussions boil down to countless comments like 'I don't shoot test charts for a living so this doesn't apply to me' and 'these samples are too subjective to be useful'.According to the logic of either side, the type of subject in front of a lens will somehow change its optical characteristics.

This really just turns out to be a form of argument between fanboys and haters, with each criticizing the review's testing methods as an excuse to remain either blindly optimistic or pessimistic about a new product. Any mention of DxO in a thread is all but guaranteed to send it in this direction.

3. Ansel Adams didn't have X
This one comes up far more often than it should, typically when there's a lengthy and 'passionate' gear-based discussion on a gear-specific forum. Some philosophical do-gooder will come along, quote part of the discussion, and make dismissive remarks like about how people are focusing too much on the technical aspects and tell them to 'just go out and take pictures', followed by something along the lines of 'Ansel Adams didn't need a D4 to be a great photographer'. These tend to be the same people who storm in pointing out that 'a camera is just a light-proof box' (or a 5D3 - ZING!); which while true for film, doesn't hold much water when it comes to digital technology - you can't just change sensors like your could change film.

This is essentially the photographer's version of Godwin's Law, where as an online discussion about camera gear grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Ansel Adams approaches 1. While some people really do get caught up in the minutiae of gear, the use of any Ansel Adams analogy that involves making his equipment seem primitive and irrelevant to his success is inherently flawed.

His works were renowned not just for composition, but for their sharpness and resolution as well. Those last two were a result of large format film cameras and very good lenses. Not to mention his pioneering processing techniques, which were used to control the tones, shadows, and highlights in his images. If you think his work would be exhibited in the Smithsonian if he used a Kodak Brownie and got it developed at the drug store, you may want to think again. Composition would be intact regardless of which equipment he used, but all of the rest would be drastically altered.

2. UV filters
While I only put a UV filter on one lens (70-200L) due to it being regularly subjected to objects getting flung at the front element, others put them on every lens they own in order to have some peace of mind with their glass. Yes, the protective value of filters is certainly debatable, and good filter won't cause any noticeable degradation, but few topics cause such bitter debate. Even in threads that are about something completely unrelated, posting a pic of gear with a filter visible will have the same result as wearing John McClane's sandwich board in Harlem.

While it's one thing to tell somebody to remove a $10 filter from a $500 lens, if you're doing the same to somebody with a higher-end B+W or Hoya filter (then being inflammatory about it), that's a bit like complaining that somebody else put ketchup on their steak. We get it, hoods are better protectors and filters increase the chance of flare, move on. Some people value their peace of mind more that losing a slight amount of IQ from each shot, even if that peace may be a bit misguided.

1. CF vs SD cards
Every once in a while a new camera will be announced whose spec sheet includes a minor change in the form of using Secure Digital cards instead of Compact Flash, and almost invariably people start moaning about it as if it were the only change that mattered.

Proponents of CF cards bring up the same arguments over and over, including the always popular 'CF cards are faster' argument. While it's true that the highest speed CF card will be faster than the highest speed SD card at any given point in time, this is almost irrelevant at the consumer level. Last I checked, a Sandisk extreme 30mb/s (fast enough for HD video and raw still bursts) CF card will be just as fast as a 30mb/s SD card...except the latter will cost 30-50% less. There's also the laughable 'SD cards are easier to lose' point that some like to make.

What this really boils down to is veteran digital photographers having to justify their vast collection of CF cards that they've built up over the years...even if getting an equal amount of equivalent SD cards will cost a negligible amount.

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