I would say that up until recently cameras would be simply summed up by megapixels (MP). Often image quality and usability was swept aside by the MP count. I think that the megapixel war seems to have dissipated somewhat. Yes, the latest bunch of DSLR’s have bumped up the MP count, but some seem to be concentrating improvements on low-noise high ISO and better focusing as well.
I am lucky to have two extreme examples of cameras. I have a PhaseOne digital medium format system. This camera has a 80MP back!! Arguably the best camera currently available. Owners of other brands would no doubt beg to differ. I also own an iPhone4s with its 8MP camera and use a bunch of cool apps including Snapseed (my favourite), AutoStitch, ProHDR, ProCamera, and ScratchCam.
Apart from the obvious MP count these two cameras could not be more different. For starters the vast difference in sensor size has an interesting side-effect. The iPhone has a huge depth of field, so objects both near and far are all in focus. On the other hand the medium format with its large sensor has the opposite, a shallow depth of field.
For landscape work it is generally accepted that you want everything in focus, so this presents interesting challenges in itself. For portrait work this can be advantageous. Further, to optimise image quality normally you shoot at f8 or f11 (higher f-stops increase depth of field, but also diminish image quality through diffraction of the small opening). Using these apertures also contributes to a shallower depth of field. You have two creative choices:
1. Go with the shallow depth of field and use it to to separate your subject from the background. For example treat a tree or a rock as if it were a portrait.
2. Focus stack. This involves taking multiple images, but focusing at different points in the scene, from close to far. All these images are then combined into a single image. (this will probably be a subject of a future blog)
The other difference is shooting technique. Most people would be familiar with taking images on an iPhone (or similar smart phone). Pretty much just whip it out and click away. The Phase on the other hand is a very regimented approach (especially for landscape work). Setup camera on a very substantial tripod, plug in cable release, turn camera on to mirror lock-up, turn digital back on, compose, focus, trigger mirror lock-up, wait 4-5sec for any possible vibrations to subside, take image, double-click on digital back to zoom in at 100% to check focus.
This beast is not a point and shoot camera! Its awesome amount of MP is a two-edged sword. The amount of detail it can capture from a scene is simply staggering. However it will also highlight any deficiencies in shooting technique.
“Pixel-peeping” on the internet is not really a true test of image quality. The Phase can be fiddly to shoot with, but when technical aspects come together, the printed image quality really has to been seen to be believed. I have been pleasantly surprised with printing from the iPhone, however it pales into insignificance when compared to a 1.5m wide print. (Mind you this is not even at the limit of the size print you can create.)
In the end each camera is best at what it does best. Ultimately it depends on your purpose for your final image. The advantage of the iPhone is that I nearly always have it on me. However, both are fantastic to create images with. I hope you enjoy the images in this blog.