Why does photograph quality not seem better than it used to be?

Question by Weston Carr: Why does photograph quality not seem better than it used to be?
It seems like older photographs I see were sharper and more defined than a lot of the non professional digital photographs of today. I’m talking about ordinary everyday non professional photos. It seems like there are more light problems. Why is that and is it just me? Even some of the old black and white photos seem to have softer light.

Best answer:

Answer by Hannes
Yes, you are right!
Old photographs were sharper and were in a lot better quality! This is main reasons for this is because old photographs were taken with a film camera, in general, film photos has got a better image quality. These days most people use digital cameras that can take 500 photos within a short period of time, and then when they have the photos, they can delete the ones they don’t want or take 500 new ones whenever they want, at in general no cost, but when you didn’t have digital cameras you couldn’t just take 500 bad photos and then delete/edit them, you could most times only take 1 or 2 photos, and you would be very careful with the settings (aperture, shutter speed, iso, etc.), and you could’t just look at a display after the picture was taken, you would have to go to someone who had a dark room and all those stuff to get the actual picture for you, and this wasn’t cheap, so you would have to be certain that the shot you got was good. You also mentioned that older pictures were sharper, yes they were, if you take a picture with for example with an iPhone 5 you would have a very noisy image and only like 8 megapixels (I think), 8 mp is quite much, but film cameras doesn’t have pixels, so there is no pixels to count. If you want a digital camera today that would be able to take pictures with the same quality as a film camera today, you will be looking for a mid, high end DSLR.
Hope this answered your question, sorry for the bad grammar and misspellings. 😛

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5 thoughts on “Why does photograph quality not seem better than it used to be?”

  1. The reason may well be that those who jump into digital photography do not take the time to learn the fundamentals of photography, but instead depend upon the camera to do all the work.

    Those photographers, both pro and amateur, who learned their skills using film, learned how to nail their exposures and compose brilliant shots one shot at a time

    Too many new photographers who know only digital cameras, seem to depend upon the cameras automatic feature and machine gunning their subjects hoping that one of the twenty or thirty shots will be a good one.

  2. In many ways it was. Old manual film SLRs, TLRs and rangefinders FORCED you to learn about aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. If you didn’t know how the camera worked, your photos didn’t come out. Because people had to understand their cameras, it made amateur photographers better. Nowadays most people rely on automatic settings and the camera to do all the work. A computer can never compete with the artistic eye of a human, or respond to different situations and adjust the camera accordingly to get the best result.

    There is also the fact that the bigger the film or image sensor, the better the photo quality. Standard film cameras used 35mm film, which is much larger than the tiny image sensors used in the phones and digital cameras most people use today. The result is that older film photos taken by an average person on a standard camera are of higher quality than those taken by an average user with a standard digital camera of today. The cheapest digital cameras with a full format (35mm) image sensor are $ 2,000 (although there are a lot of crop sensor dslr’s capable of taking great images).

    That’s not to say everything was better in the days of film. The Instamatic type cameras, Brownies, 126 and 110 format film, Polaroid cameras etc. were all popular at one time, and all produced pretty bad quality images. The advantages? They were cheaper and/or more immediate and convenient. To an extent, people have always preferred cost and convenience to ultimate quality (case in point: the cheaper VHS beat out the superior quality, but more expensive Betamax. Or the more expensive and less efficient automatic transmission). Today’s camera phones and point and shoots are really just the next generation of those cheap, convenient every-man’s camera.

  3. I agree with everyone else in saying we have traded skill and knowledge for technical convenience in the transition from film to digital. When we had to purchase rolls of film and (for those who didn’t do it themselves) then pay someone else to develop and print we had no choice but to make every shot count. Everything had to be perfect the first time, every time. But now, a memory card can hold hundreds of shots, if not more, cameras can do all the work if we want them to and ink jet printers are on sale for a hundred bucks at WalMart. So why learn how to create photographs when you can take hundreds of pictures in the hope that one will look like what you wanted and delete the rest?

  4. Oh, take my word for it, there were PLENTY of horrible photos taken before digital existed. The big difference is now there are a bi-zillion of those horrible digital photos plastered all over the internet, which did not exist in “the old days”. We SEE lots more bad photos now than we did in the past, and many of the reasons for all the bad photos taken today have already been discussed. Just don’t give TOO much credit to photos taken in the past. There have always been plenty of bad, unskilled “photographers”, …. they just were not all in your face like now.


  5. You have some great answers already, seems I am late to this party!

    I agree that we see all the awful stuff we would not have seen even 10 or 12 years ago. While you might be subjected to Uncle Fred’s vacation slide show, you did not usually see thousands of mediocre snaps every day plastered everywhere. (I have been seeing bad photography for over 17 years as a photo lab manager, first film, then mostly digital.) In addition to relying on the camera to do the job, many people then obliterate the image even more by inflicting asinine and horrible post processing upon the poor picture.

    The fact is anyone can make a crisply detailed and vibrant image using the auto setting and image working software, especially if they can snap a few dozen in the hopes that one will be OK. It doesn’t seem to matter that the composition or lighting are bad, blown highlights are rampant. or the pose is convoluted or any other of the many typical beginner errors seen from the new crop of photographers every day. Youngsters are coming along now who have never seen any good work and rely only on the feedback they get from other beginners. That’s why so much mediocre stuff is passed off as professional photography in places like Facebook.

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