Answering the Trolls



It seems that they just keep coming out from under the bridges of the Internet, so perhaps maybe we should just answer their questions.

What are the best settings to use?

The ones that make your photograph look best.

Come on. There must be secret settings.

Those of us in the Guild of Secret Holdings (GOSH) are sworn to silence or we lose our guild status. If you’d like to apply to the guild and get access to the Book of All Photographic Knowledge, I suggest you go to

That didn’t lead to a Web site.

You didn’t have the secret access code. We practice Catch 22 and be there.

Seriously, how do I make my photos look better?

Hire a pro photographer, either to train you, or to just take your photos. 

You’re not being very helpful.

If you have a recent Nikon DSLR, my help is available in the form of a book, most of which are over 800 pages long. What makes you think I can reduce all that information and advice into one paragraph on the Internet?

But other people publish charts with all their settings.

Yes, and you either tried them and discovered that there are no secret settings that cover every case, or you didn’t try them and you’re just asking questions here to be annoying. 

Okay, let me try my question a different way: which camera takes the best photos?

The one in the best photographer’s hands at the moment. 

And that would be?

Well, if you think I’m the best photographer (I don’t), that would right at this moment be a D810, because that’s what’s sitting on my desk as I write this. Indeed, I’ve written that I believe that the D810 is the best all-around DSLR you can buy at the moment, and as long as you’re trying to optimize output and learn how to use the camera, I actually believe that. 

So I should buy a D810?

Probably not. It’s far more camera than most people need. 

What do I need?

What do you do? What do your photos look like? How much experience do you have? What do you like? Do you have size, weight, style, and any other preferences? What’s your typical output? How often do you shoot? Where do you shoot? I can keep going if you’d like...

Uh, no. Okay, how about this: what’s the best sensor available?

Next year’s.

There you go being glib again.

Yes, but it’s true. If your goal is to own the product with the best possible imaging sensor, you’re going to be constantly buying a new camera. Constantly. 

Okay, so are Sony sensors better than Canon sensors?

Right now, yes with some significant caveats. In terms of low-level performance, Sony (and a few others, such as Nikon), does a few things technology-wise that give them small edges in a number of areas. Fill factor, read noise, things like that. One caveat that a lot of folk don’t understand, though, is that Adobe raw converters use an underlying color model that better matches Canon’s than Sony’s. We could nit small details to death and add up the wins and losses in columns if you’d like, but this has very little to do with good photography. It’s really tech masturbation. Would you like to masturbate?

No thanks. That’s creepy. So it doesn’t matter which sensor is in my camera?

Well, it does and it doesn’t. It depends upon what you’re trying to accomplish. You can pick a camera and sensor that’s not suited to what you want to do, and you can pick a sensor that is. I recommend that you do the latter. In other words, if you want to make lemonade, start with lemons. If you want orange juice, start with oranges.

DxO says that Sensor X is better than Sensor Y.

Yes, they do. Next year Sensor Z will be better than Sensor X in the things they measure the way they measure and subjectify them. Last time I looked, though, DxO sensor rankings aren’t actually photographs, but numbers. Are you interested in outputting numbers from your camera?

Don’t be silly. Don’t DxO’s numbers indicate a camera’s ability?

That’s certainly what they’d like you to believe. However, note that this is the same organization that produces software that attempts to simply correct all “errors” the camera and lens make. In other words, they attempt to make all photos look the same in the same situation, regardless of camera or lens used, and what its sensor score might be. It’s also the same organization that changed their rules for determining those numbers when they came out with their own camera ;~). Hey, that gives me an idea. This Web site rates 95.6 overall. The Web site you were reading just prior to this is only an 85.2 overall, though they have a higher font score. 

But numbers sometimes do have meaning, right? Like equivalence? Don’t I need to consider that?

Maybe. Equivalence gives us a method of determining limitations a piece of gear might have compared to another. For instance, a really small sensor is going to have difficulty isolating depth of field compared to a large sensor, all else equal. That may or may not be important to your photography. Wildlife photographers like the flexibility of isolating subjects from backgrounds, for example. Are you a wildlife photographer?

Sort of. The party at my dorm was pretty wild last night. 

Different kind of wildlife, I think. Moreover, you almost certainly needed a waterproof (actually beerproof) camera. 

Wait, my DSLR won’t survive a beer pong splash?

It might, depending upon both the splash and the DSLR in question. I’d be mostly concerned about the residual effects of control, dial, and ring “stickiness,” though. Remember, there is no secret setting, so you need to use those controls to find the optimal setting for any situation. I wouldn’t be jamming them up with dried beer crud if I were you.

Can’t I just shoot raw to deal with settings later?

Sure. Try that. 

That doesn’t sound convincing. What am I missing?

The big reason to shoot raw is to get optimal data for later optimal processing. That’s what Ansel Adams used to do with film. But if your camera is set poorly, you won’t record optimal data. Yes, you have more flexibility to correct mistakes with raw data than JPEG data (more bits, no compression, no camera encodings), but that’s “flexibility” and not “guaranteed mistake fixing.” Miss the exposure, miss the focus, miss the moment, miss the light, mishandle the camera and you still have crud you can’t fix. 

That’s why I started asking questions: I’ve got a lot of cruddy shots. 

If you have a reasonably recent camera, it’s not the camera that’s causing that problem. It’s your understanding of the camera and your understanding of photography, coupled with your actual practices while shooting. More knowledge and more shot discipline make better photographs, not better cameras. 

My smartphone doesn’t take terrible shots.

Your smartphone doesn’t require you to do much other than press you thumb on the screen (or on a button). You’re using the phone's output on small, mobile screens, which don’t require much detail or shot discipline to look good. In essence you’re driving on a straight stretch of the Autobahn with no traffic and a car that makes most of the decisions for you. Care to try the Nurburgring with a tricky car? 

So I should stick with the smartphone?

Maybe. As you might have noticed, many of my answers are variations on “what do you want and need to do?” Until I know that, I can’t necessarily help you. 

Okay. Thanks. You’re not so bad after all.

Glad to be of help. 

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