Professional Photographer editor lends expertise to The New York Times

Professional Photographer Technical Editor Ellis Vener helps The New York Times' David Pogue bust the megapixel myth

Pro photographers have known for years that megapixels alone do not make the image, but most casual consumers and many enthusiasts make the assumption that more is always better. Still, it's difficult to explain to a client or friend that not only the number of pixels, but the sensor quality and construction, the size of the sensor pixels, the camera's image processor, lens optics and other contributing factors all work together to construct the technical quality of a digital image.

David Pogue, the technology columnist for The New York Times and host of an upcoming TV series "It's All Geek to Me" [beginning in April on Discovery HD and Science Channel], had attempted to  bust the myth for his show. But when he described how he conducted the test on his New York Times blog, many readers pointed out the flaw of his methodology. He had used Adobe Photoshop to down-res the images that he used for the lower-resolution comparison. The test effectively said more about Photoshop than camera sensors.

Ellis Vener, who along with Andrew Rodney serves as a technical editor for Professional Photographer magazine, wrote to Pogue with his suggestion for a test that could isolate the variables to only the number of pixels in the file. Pogue describes Vener's proposed test in the February 8 column: "Using a professional camera (the 16.7-megapixel Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II) in his studio, he would take three photos of the same subject, zooming out each time. Then, by cropping out the background until the subject filled the same amount of the frame in each shot, he would wind up with nearly identical photos at three different resolutions: 7 megapixels, 10 and 16.7."

"Coming up with a testing protocol that eliminated as many variables as possible  was only a set of technical challenges here," said Vener. "Making three good portraits that closely matched each other in emotional intensity while zooming to specific focal lengths was important too. I didn't want people looking at the prints to choose one over the others because they liked one expression best."   

You can read Pogue's column "Breaking the Myth of Megapixels" to learn the test results.

"I'm not surprised at all that Ellis took the initiative to tackle a problem like this. His enthusiasm for testing things out, finding the why and the how, and then sharing that information is one of the reasons we asked him to be a technical editor for the magazine," said Joan Sherwood, senior editor of Professional Photographer. "This topic is undoubtedly one that a lot of people are interested in. The article was already in the online newspaper's top 10 of Most Popular E-mailed stories on the morning after it was published."

"It is a real pleasure to get this information out there, as better-informed consumers make for better clients,"  Vener said.


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Comments (4)

Ronnie Clayton:

Is there a comparable test for differing film speeds? For example, take almost identical pictures of a subject with films of speeds 100, 200, 400, 800 etc., and then test to see if the viewers can discern the differences in speed. This probably has been done and I just don't know about it. Anyway, it is just a thought.

Sorry, but Ellis Vener's method makes no sense at all. That too falls on the shoulders of Photoshop's algothritms to re-res the pictures. Why do that when all that's necessary to prove this point, is capture the same identical scene by simply changing the in-camera resolution. The answer will still be that the MP count does not matter as much as people say it does (you can make a perfectly usable 20 inch print even from 1 MP, just view it at the proper distance). But then you're getting a real MP comparison, not a fake mathematical one.

Ellis Vener:

I didn't use Photoshop to change the resolution, only zoomed out and then cropped. Any change in resolution to take all versions up to 16x24 was done by the lab David Pogue used to make the prints.

Ellis Vener:

"Why do that when all that's necessary to prove this point, is capture the same identical scene by simply changing the in-camera resolution."

I wasn't interested in seeing how a specific camera's built in and very lossy JPEG compression and resolution interpolation algorithms work or don't work , which is what Mr. Bubenko's idea would rely on.


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