This week I learned something. I know it is common to duplicate a word and change something about the copy to make it slang. Wishy-washy, chit-chat, and kitty-cat are all examples. Another common change is to add “sch” in front of the duplicate, giving us “fancy-schmancy.” What I didn’t know was that this latter technique arose from Yiddish, probably starting in New York. I employed it to create my post title: Megapixels-Schmegapixels. It just seemed to work.

I also learned that linguists call this process “reduplication.” Let’s see…for me “duplication” means to make a copy and the prefix “re-” means again, so reduplication would mean make another copy. But I only see one copy. The result is that I want to channel Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride saying, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Now that the preliminary remarks are out of the way it’s time to get to the real post.

A few years ago the company I work for held a photography contest limited to the employees in that building. I don’t know for sure, but there’s between 2,000 and 3,000 folks that work in the facility. Since many of them are visually-oriented–we have several large studios–there were a sizable number of entries, and the winners had their work printed for display in one of the main hallways. I did have a friend that called it the “Get Corporate Wall Art For Free Contest,” but that didn’t deter me. In fact, I had two entries that were “winners.” The image above was taken just after the work was hung, and below is one of the images I submitted.

I don’t know the exact size; I think that the short dimension as printed is about four feet. It certainly is bigger than anything I would hang in my house. Even a 17×22 inch print, the largest I can make at home, gets to be a bit overwhelming in a normally sized room.

But here come the dirty secrets: I took that photograph with a Nikon D7000 using an 18-105mm lens. I shot it hand-held, and the image is cropped.

Why is this shameful? It’s because I violated every tenet about image quality as preached on the web. I used a consumer DSLR, although admittedly it was the top of the consumer line. I not only used a zoom lens, but–horror of horrors–it was a kit zoom, meaning the lens that came with the camera. Plus, it’s a consumer lens, not a gold-banded professional optic. I didn’t use a tripod, which means I had no way of preventing camera movement.

And this is the worst sin of all: the sensor was only sixteen megapixels. Actually it ended up being slightly less than that because the image is cropped.

When I did a quick Google search for the largest acceptable print possible from a sixteen megapixel sensor, the answers ranged all over the place. This I expected because the term “acceptable” is open to many interpretations. The most common answer was “don’t print larger than a 13×19 inch,” but I did find one site that suggested for a good quality print–not a perfect print–I could go as large as 30×40 inches. To print as large as they did for the hall should have resulted in an image that fell apart, a sort of comic book representation.

But it didn’t. It ended up looking pretty damned good, even when you stepped up to look at details. Now you know why I shout megapixels-schmegapixels. It’s really about the image you start with. You don’t always need a 36 megapixel sensor, a $5,000 Zeiss Otus 28mm manual focus prime, and a 15 pound tripod to get a good image, even if you print big. It doesn’t hurt to have fancy-schmancy gear, but sometimes it isn’t a necessity.

The photographs are no longer in that hall. They did an update, replacing the small ceiling-mounted spots with large, daylight-balanced LED squares, giving the hall the ambience of a hospital corridor, and put up some custom-printed vinyl wallpaper. I admit the hall needed more light; contrary to the impression of the image above the only light was what bounced off the walls from those small spots. But that wall paper? It is composed of large swirling lines in some parts and rows upon rows of broadcast-oriented words in others. A few of the words, to offer some sort of texture, are emphasized by sticking on half-inch thick plastic letters matching the underlying word. It’s all very graphic and modern and somehow corporate-looking.

The newly decorated wall hasn’t fared well. Some of those plastic letters have been damaged, and it seems ironic that the word NEWS has been reduced to a crippled NEV. I didn’t get the print after the re-do–it’s hanging next to an elevator on a different floor, but at least it survived intact.


This entry was posted in Photography, Technical.

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