Before I get started here I would like to point out that the only experience I have had with the new retina MacBooks are within the confines of a few visits to the Apple store and messing about with Aperture on their demo machines for a good long while. I very much encourage any photographers with personal experience using one of these new pixel dense displays to chime in and share your opinions based on your experience. I trust you guys will keep things civilized, I know opinions run deep with this sort of topic.
I can’t help but dwell heavily on impending high resolution displays that could be entering the market. After reading an article containing some basic projections on the future of high density displays in mac products I cringed to imagine that my 5D images would not be a high enough resolution to fill the screen on an iMac with a retina display. In fact, the 27″ model could potentially use an only slightly smaller resolution than a full raw file from a 5D Mark III. That is pretty insane to imagine.
To edit photos on a display like that it may look good on the surface but zooming in to view details would suddenly become much more difficult. You could argue that it looks good enough to edit accurately without zooming in but sometimes fine tuning takes an enlarged view to accomplish what you need. Even with the current high density Macbook Pros I find editing on photos, even from fully capable raw files from a 5D mark II that editing is in some ways improved and in other ways muddled by the ability to only zoom in slightly on an image to fine tune it before software kicks in and starts filling in information with pixels that don’t really exist. So while photos DO look gorgeous on the display I would hesitate to say that is perfect for editing photos.
And this is just with the high end camera market. The iMac has long been considered a home computer but has quickly replaced the Pro towers Apple makes as they are more than capable of handling the needs of most. So what of the average consumers who have been using modest smaller resolution point and shoots or the ones attached to their iPhones. The resolution of their snapshots has been perfectly fine for sharing online, looking at on their computers, or making prints to share but soon enough these modest images will look worse and worse on larger high density displays. Apple touts its full screen iPhoto as a beautiful way to edit and view photos but what about when the screen resolutions eclipse that of the cameras in use today?
Photographers have been debating “The Megapixel Myth” for years and year now (similar to the “megahertz myth” of old mac marketing). Points are always made in consideration of what resolution a person could honestly need their photos to be. It has been welcoming to see recently how camera makers have been able to comfortably improve and enhance the image quality and low light performance without having to waste as much time reaching for senseless megapixel numbers.
The fact that is bugging me is that I sort of felt as though technology was starting to find level ground in the war of speed and resolution and in this space we started to see some honest evolution again in the world of computing and technology. For example, with computers we found the introduction of the iPad and tablet computing. Within the camera market we seemed to be seeing manufacturers actually focus on the usability, functionality, and performance of their cameras rather than racing for higher resolutions resulting in the booming micro four-thirds market.
Movers and shakers in technology had started to focus on user interface design and creative engineering that felt like it was pushing forward to the future and creating compelling products again rather than suck up time and resources fighting to build the fastest machine with the greatest specs. The only thing that had threatened that stance was a race for cheaper pricing on technology but Apple has shown that one obviously does not have to be the cheapest to succeed in the market, you just have to make honest products and stand behind them.
But in this case, I can’t help but fear that display technology may kick start yet another senseless spec war not only in screen resolution technology but within camera makers as well. It is a slippery slope I feel we are on right now and while I don’t fear the worst I am certainly curious to see what happens over the next couple years in this space.
As photographers it’s time to stand up and stop concentrating so heavily on tech specs and other such nonsense and get back to what makes the history of photography so rich and eclectic. It’s time to focus once again on creating emotional and effective imagery that is able to stand the test of time, not be seen and instantly forgotten. Photography is a place where philosophy and technology mix with art and its ease of entry has diluted its user base to the point of over saturation. While chemistry and technology has always been a central pillar in this space, I fear it could drag it down even further unless we start to greet some of this forward momentum with at least a whisper of skepticism. I guess the best way to break this down is simply to ask, when will we ever be satisfied? When will sharp be sharp enough, or big be big enough? When do we reach the point within some areas of consumer technology where we are making progress simply for the sake of progress?
Just when I thought maybe were starting to come to terms with certain technological advancements and actually enjoy ourselves within our technically enhanced lives I have been quickly reminded that it will never end. I don’t mean to be overly pessimistic but you have got to admit it does feel a big daunting at times does it not? It is a subject I have long explored on these pages and I know I am not alone.
Getting back to the matter at hand, screen resolutions can be beautiful, effective, and amazing at these ultra high resolutions, but I can only hope that we move forward with realistic expectations. On my iPhone a retina display makes perfect sense because the size of the screen is a bit smaller and it aids in its use. On the iPad it is a natural evolution of another device held close to you as you work in a very personal way. Now, on laptops we start to explore the fringe of what may or may not be a relevant need. As we see high density screens get larger and larger I start to question, why? Just because we can?
Let me take a moment here to apologize to all those using a new macbook retina for the 5+ years of posts now containing thumbnail images that are now absurdly awful looking. Of course I will admit WAY back in the day they were even smaller when the average screen size was 800x600px. We evolve as technology evolves, is that right?
While designers are able to adapt to these new technologies by developing new types of scalable designs and techniques (and I will admit it does seem kind of fun and exciting) photographers have little choice but to either continue to use current display technology as long as it is available or continue the frivolous, all too frequent camera upgrades in effort to stay relevant, and people wonder why its so expensive to hire a good photographer. Not everything we use needs to have such short shelf lives does it? At least my 20+ year old film cameras still work. (The image above was shot with my Hasselblad)
I really have no intention of coming across as overly sensitive or hesitant to continue to grow or move forward, I just like to keep things in perspective is all. Here’s to hoping I’m wrong and this display tech transition will be smooth as silk.
Followup: I noticed this post from Marco Arment, as I’m sure a lot of you did as well who follow the mac blogger circles. He seems to be realizing similar things that I have been writing about lately here on 50ft. The benefits of an iPhone as a camera are clear but so are the limitations. It’s interesting that it took the new retina display for some to realize the limitations of shooting with an iPhone weigh just as much as the benefits. I am still fascinated by what kind of an impact these screens may have in the tech industry overall, not just for geeks and designers.
Bitmap image resolutions have seen a slow steady growth over the years but the dawn of dense resolution displays comes as a slap in the face sort of change as many images created or shared in the recent past and in many cases, near future are left in the dust. It will be interesting to see others come to their own conclusions and realizations about this transition as time moves forward and we evolve into the new era of high density resolutions.