Challenge #1b 

Lesson/Challenge/Puzzle Number One Plus : A Small Deal

Let's revisit this with a special eye toward making the most out of a compromised situation.

Here's the deal. In response to a question raised on DPReview, I shot a contrasty scene with a prime lens (50mm f/1.8 Canon) while the ISO, shutter and aperture were controlled manually.

A tripod furneshed stability and a string of shots were made at Large and Medium size with both Fine and Normal compression on each. No other changes to the camera were made other than the image size and compression.

The smaller, Medium frame images were expanded to 150% of their file size and laid on top of the full frame, Large shots, registered and blinked on and off to see what the actual degree of image loss was from each to the other three.

Actual file sizes were this (bytes):

     Compression >
Size v


Large (3072 x 2048)


Medium (2048 x 1364)



No surprise: the Large / Fine image is the best in terms of detail and lack of compression artifacts.

Next came Large / Normal with its more aggressive compression but dead equal degree of detail.

The Medium frames suffered from the fact that they were only 66.67% of the linear dimensions of the Large frames, and when blown up to 3072 x 2048 and viewed at 100% scale on the computer screen, they revealed their heritage as smaller file sizes.

The Medium / Fine shot was nearly the same file size as the Large / Normal image, making the slightly more detailed Large / Normal a better choice for improving the CF card's storage space.

Which brings us to the Ultimate Test. Here are two shots in the familiar rollover comparison format. One of them is the Large / Fine slice and the other one was made at Medium / Normal. Just to mess with your head, the Medium / Normal image was touched by Photoshop with a sub-pixel "improvement" of 0.3 pixel x 100% Unsharp Masking to put back a smidge of extra apparent detail.

Two questions:

  • Which is which?
  • How long did it take you to form this opinion?

  • Perhaps a third question: did you get the first one right? You should have, since the compression artifacts are so visible. Look for a slightly grainy effect that seems to hug areas of one flat tonality against lighter or darker flat tonal areas.

    My feeling is that you could probably see the difference. But perhaps not within 5 to 10 seconds. And if that were true, then what does it say about the usefulness of the smaller file? Remember, both of these would print the exact same size picture. But the Medium / Normal image only consumed 37.5% of the memory space the big one ate.

    -iNova (May 30, 2004)

    You may have to increase the font size of your browser on your computer screen to read this, but here's the answer:

    *The one with a nearby out of focus bug visible against the mortar between the bricks in the chimney is the shot taken at Medium/Normal.

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