Each week, we get a dozen or emails saying how great the image quality is from such an such camera we reviewed. Thank you! One would think this normal of large-sensor cameras such as DSLRs and most mirrorless models, but we even get a similar number of emails for ultra-compacts and ultra-zooms which use relatively small sensors.
Frankly, most small cameras do not deliver great image quality. They cannot but they can produce great images. People often confuse great images with great quality. These are completely different and unrelated things.
Image Quality encompasses all aspects of how a camera and lens capture a scene. There several aspect which comprise image quality and they may be attributed to the camera or lens:
- Image-Noise – The amount of speckles and random variation in an image.
- Dynamic-Range – The range of contrast from a scene which can be captured.
- Color-Depth – The richness and gradations of colors.
- Color-Accuracy – The accuracy of colors relative to our perception.
- Sharpness – The definition of edges and details.
- Resolution – The size of details than can be captured.
- Distortion – The faithfulness of shapes.
- Vignetting – The uniformity of illumination.
- Aberrations – The appearance of colors and light which is not present in the scene.
- Flare – The reflection of light within a lens.
These apply differently depending on the camera and some, such as color-accuracy, only apply to an image processed in-camera rather than a RAW file. Image quality is a property of the camera and lens at a certain setting. Using a different ISO, shutter-speed, image-parameters (JPEG), aperture or focal-length can result in different image quality from the same camera and lens combination.
Greatness has to do with success as an image. It is much more difficult to quantify and resides in how a viewer relates to an image as realized by the photographer which decides and controls some of the following aspects:
- Subject – What the photographer wants in the image.
- Framing – How subjects fir within the image.
- Light – The light illuminating and reflecting of objects in a scene.
- Color – Colors present in an image.
- Moment – The time when a photo is taken.
- Exposure – How a scene is captured.
- Rendition – How an image is rendered.
With success, there are far less absolutes than with image quality. Something which may for work for one subject can easily fail for another. Plus, a photograph may appear successful to one viewer while appearing a complete failure to another.
The only way to improve success is to hone photography skills through learning, experimenting and a critical eye.