When a Fake Sky is Ignored

A couple of days ago, I shared this image on my Instagram account.

Blackpool Beach and Pier

I shot it using a Panasonic G9 with Leica 12-60 lens at 12mm. It’s a handheld exposure of 1/125” at f/7.1 and ISO200. Personally, I like this and find it an improvement on the original image below.

Yes, I swapped the sky. Whilst experimenting with Luminar Neo I decided to try a replacement sky and was surprised by the result and prefered it.

But the point of this post isn’t to discuss the merits of replacing the sky or even if it’s acceptable. Instead, I want to highlight an exchange I had about this image with someone on Instagram. It’s in French but you can read it using the “Translate” feature if like me you don’t speak French.

There’s one comment in the exchange though which sums it up perfectly.

“micro 4/3 sensors are amateur formats… Far too small to achieve expo size zooms… 60×90 cm, 80×120 cm!”

I don’t know, because I have more important and interesting things to do, if this individual has even tried a Micro 43 camera. I’m guessing not. Interestingly they never thought to ask if the sky had been replaced.

Limiting beliefs like these are everywhere in photography. It seems that the older we get, the more we succumb to them. This is a real shame. Not because people are missing out on Micro 43 but because they are limiting their photographic experience.

The greatest photographers of our time have always experimented and explored new development. Ansel Adams switched to colour despite his brilliant black and white work. More recently, Don McCullin has begun photographing landscapes.

The answer to everything is not better equipment and a full frame digital camera. If it were, then how can plastic Holgas’ produce wonderful images on out-of-date film?

Now ask yourself, how are your preferences and biases limiting your work?

I hope you have a great weekend and find some time to think about this.

31 thoughts on “When a Fake Sky is Ignored

  1. Of course it is nonsense. I gave my son for his wedding an enlargement (Panasonic GX9) of 200×150 cm and I couldnot see any grain in the print. Moreover, a print this size, you are usually looking at a distance of at least a meter and1/2.

    Of course full frame cameras have some advantages, but the disadvantages of its weight are much larger.

    But many people prefer these, because it showes their wealth. And that is much more important than producing good photographs. If you cannot boast about your equipment, you cannot be a real photographer. (Says a man who has been a professional photographer (ABIPP, ARPS, QEP) for almost half a century and loves his M4/3 equipment)

    If you are a landscape photographer, the most important thing is the weight of your lenses. Unless you can make your images within a few yards from your car, of course.

    (I am sorry for any mistakes in my use of my language, I am Dutch.)

    1. Thank you. Your English is perfect (much better than my French) and so is the point you are making. Unfortunately, some people do like to show their wealth with large and expensive cameras. I have also owned several Full Frame Nikon, Sony and Canon Cameras, all of which were excellent. But even though I had these, I would often return to Micro 43 for travel and longer hikes. I would much rather be able to capture a shot than be so tired that I missed it. Much more important (and where I would rather spend my money) are the lenses.

      That’s one hell of an enlargement that you made with the GX9 though.

      1. Moreover, the use of a M4/3 camera has another advantage: because the camera is much lighter you can use a much lighter tripod. In combination with good image stabilisation, you often need a tripod of less than one kg.

  2. Dear Robin, excellent image, as usual. I began my photographic adventure many years ago with a Pentax K1000 film camera and when I switched to digital I was surprised by the enormous technical improvement in the images: even very small sensors can produce images that are far better than we obtained with film! I can obtain 40×60 cm prints from an old micro 4/3 camera, that are far better than those I obtained with 35 mm films. I think that what matters most is good autofocus, image stabilization, improved lens design, and digital editing. It is very possible that a full frame digital camera can produce better images than my Olympuses, but I do not think to switch because the quality of the images I already obtain is more than enough for my usage.

    1. Yes, a good enough camera is what is required. The lens quality does play a large part in the results though. Whilst for a while I also thought that my film results weren’t as good as my digital, I tried running some film scans through Topaz Sharpen AI and was amazed at the quality.

  3. I enjoy your newsletters and appreciate to thoughts on the variety of issues. Creativity and innovation in the art of photography has moved on since the “mine’s bigger than yours” days when the larger format cameras were important to get top quality images. Software is increasingly a critical component of the toolbox.
    To reinforce the point, a pro that I know has gone from full frame Canon to an Olympus and still wins national and international awards and has a successful business. I am not a pro and feel the Fujifilm system I have just started to use will be more than adequate and get more use than my full frame Nikon.

    Getting to the sky replacement, nice job but what about the shadows!

    1. Thanks for sharing your thought. I have access to a lot of cameras and have used many systems over the years. I’ve found that the ones that I take out most are the ones that are easy to use in the expected conditions. I’m glad you like the Sky Replacement and yes shadows can be a problem. Even though they aren’t right with this image most people don’t seem to recognise that. Odd.

  4. Trolls sometimes introduce interesting questions. When I had a cropped sensor Nikon with a kit lens, and it was a bad lens, I must tell you, I worked really hard to be able to buy professional lenses and a full frame. And I worked selling stock photography, although they used to be picky, my set up was adequate to have images accepted. Now that I have a full frame camera and professional lenses, I often find myself degrading my files to give them some character. I have also reverted to using a kit lens when I do portraits of middle aged people, because these lenses naturally don’t catch every pore, pimple and wrinkle, so I don’t need to go over the file to smooth the skin. No, the public does not zoom in the eye to see if the eye ashes are 100% sharp and they prefer a softer appearance that makes them look younger. The world of photography is full with crap, but I am glad that there are still some honest folks out there like yourself trying to teach real world stuff. And I don’t carry the full frame anymore when I need to hike, because if I’m uncomfortable after dragging weight for six hours on my feel, my photos suffer. Keep up the good work.

    1. Thanks for the great comment. I think you hit the nail on the head. What matters is the image and not what it was taken with. I would much rather produce something that I feel proud of and that people like. That does though mean using a camera and lens that’s suited to the task. What it doesn’t mean is discounting a system because it’s “for amateurs”.

  5. Well… I don’t really feel like my D700 is that boastful. But the 16MP images handle enlargement, low light and dynamic range way better than my GX8’s 20MP images, not to mention Panasonic’s achilles heel, the autofocus. granted, my FF glass is way more expensive because it’s my pro tool but the GX8 just runs out of resolving power way before the D700, I’m not getting defined hair in wide shots. Yes, my gear is ancient by today’s standards, but Panasonic used the same sensor for 7 years, so why pay them lots of money when my existing gear gets it done just as well. And I just like the D700, it fits my style perfectly after all these years.

    So the pro stuff, mostly editorial, still gets the FF treatment. I carry lights, so I might as well take the big bag, and I carry the GX8 around anywhere else I want because it doesn’t weigh anything. Image quality has always been ”good enough” in M43 and that’s not going to change anytime soon. You can get great images from M43 sensors but you get that little bit more from a larger sensor, like the hair I mentioned. Thankfully, my next Panasonic body will come with phase detect AF because I love both formats and the AF on the GX8 is just not good.

    As for the sky, I prefer the original. I find Luminar’s skies a little generic and they draw too much attention to themselves. But if you hadn’t said anything, I doubt I would have noticed. Both are great images and I’m an old dog 🐶 so don’t mind me.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think there are two important points that are often overlooked or which become confused with technicalities.

      Firstly, the camera you use needs to be well suited to the job at hand. As an example, I used to have and use a 16Mpixel Olympus EM5 and a Nikon D800. For travel and trekking I much preferred the Olympus because it was small, light, compact and had great IBIS. When I used it, I knew I would get a great shot. The Nikon D800 was also a great camera and I could push the ISO high without worrying. Unfortunately whenever I removed it from a tripod about 50% of the shots were blurred. Also when I used it on a Tripod I needed to remember to use mirror lock. It was great for landscapes but I hated carrying it up mountains or taking it abroad.

      Secondly, lens quality is extremely important. When I used the Olympus, most of the time it was with the 12-45 Pro lens which was superb for resolving detail and was extremely sharp. But I have used the camera with some poor micro 43 lenses and the images were terrible. The same goes for lenses on the D800.

      I also used to take a series of A2 prints with me to camera club talks. Some where captured using the Nikon and some the Olympus. At A2 people could never determine which image was shot with which camera.

      1. Yes, lens quality is important, but in my example I’m using several lenses on both cameras. My second most used lens on the D700 is the 50mm 1.4, which is very soft fully open and not very expensive at all. It still out-resolves anything I have on MFT, which are mid range lenses, including primes, not kit stuff. I’ve seen the same performance difference in all the sample images I have looked at from tests with more recent models and pro glass.

        Going from GX7 16MP to GX8 20MP was the kind of difference you could barely see, but the difference between the GX8 and D700 is obvious. I’m not denying that you can make A2 prints and not be able to see which is which but the difference comes in post when I’m digging out detail, usually in the hair or animal fur in full shots because it’s a pet peeve and I get it with he D700 and the GX8 has blobs or noise where there should be detail even when I add light and stop down. Lens softness looks different. Doesn’t matter if the readers see the difference when I can see it in the printed magazine.

        I don’t have a problem with people claiming to get good results from MFT, I get good results from MFT, but I do think it’s a problem when people claim sensor size does not matter. Because it objectively does.

        I also don’t have any experience with Olympus but from what I’ve read, the brand difference is not huge.

        I fully agree that I would never lug the FF up a mountain, though. I would expect that the requirements for landscapes and editorial are very different. The GX8 is a perfect travel camera for me, no need to pixel peep those shots!

      2. Hi Sam, Please don’t get me wrong. I totally agree that a full fram sensor with a good lens will out resolve a Micro 43 with a great lens. But I’m not trying to claim that. What is interesting is that my experience with the G9 and the EM5 before it, is not like your experience of M43. If I shoot hair or animal fur I see the individual hairs and loats of detail – I can’t explain why. I also know that in my A2 prints, you can’t see a difference between systems. What is much easier with the full frame camera is opening shadows and the RAW files seem to respond more easily to adjustments.

  6. Hi Robin:

    I’m a fan of the sky replacement, though I rarely use it. I do very little landscape photography.
    Meanwhile, I am learning about “astrophotography” and there is a steep learning curve with both the “hardware” and the “software” aspects. I can appreciate that I “don’t know what I don’t know” but am shrinking that circle somewhat from all sorts of angles…

    what I wanted to share that might be apropos to your discussion here… someone just told me, “The best way to learn is not to know what is impossible.”

  7. You could put all sensor sizes together and the average person could never pick out which one is which. No one would ever know you replaced the sky it’s done an amazing job, great photo

  8. Great image.

    As to the comment it makes little sense to me; the limiting factor in printing large prints is the pixel count not the sensor size. I wonder what the poster considers “professional”. If they want extremely large prints then use a 5×4 inch (or larger) film camera loaded with slow film and learn what full frame really means. Good luck with the running costs though.

    Personally I’ll stick with my Lumix G9, Ricoh GrIII and, very occasionally, my Mamiya C220 (6 x 6 c.m.).

    The photographic industry wants all of us to keep buying new cameras so at the moment the advertising is all about how “full frame” is so much better. In a few years it will be the same storey about medium format and so on. The truth is that in recent years the improvements are, in my opinion, minor.

    1. Great comment. I have made a 45 inch print from an old Canon 300D image shot. That’s a 6Mpixel camera and I used Topaz Gigapixel AI to make the enlargement. At 45 inches it looks amazing even when you press your face into it. Yes, a full frame camera will produce a RAW file that has greater dynamic range, more pixels and probably better resolution. Does that mean you can see the difference in a print v’s the 6Mpixel resed-up image? Probably not.

  9. This attitude is not limited to photography. I am a model railroader and frequently see the “Prototype railroads never did it that way.” comments. These folk are generally known as ‘rivet counters’. Of course, the ‘prototype railroads’ never ran in their basement or spare room either.

    Feel free to share the comment.

    Best regards, Duncan


    1. Great stuff so “rivet counters ≡ pixel peepers” !

      Continuing from my first comment I find the following old video, from a “professional photographer” sums it up in quite a fun way and is worth a watch : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHYidejT3KY

      I rewatch it whenever I suffer from GAS.

      best wishes

      1. Loved it, LOL!! My first camera was a British Boy Scout Brownie Folder in 1947, my Dad’s camera and I’ve gone through 35mm film developing and printing my own, had a Bronica for a while on to very basic digital and then to DSLRs, lugging heavy lenses. I’ll be 80 in a few weeks and am tired of lugging stuff around. Current cameras are a Canon A12000 picked up at Goodwill for $5.00, a Casio EX-P505 that fits in a pocket and takes incredible macros – I’ve had the lens in the flower of a tulip – and a multi lens Olympus Pen E-PL2 – MF3 – because it was inexpensive to buy the whole kit and all fits in a light weight, cross body pack. Loved the video!

      2. Thanks for sharing hte video – it made me laugh.

        The only thing that wasn’t mentioned is that back in the day, Pros liked to use Medium Format because they could work fast and sell more. Editors would often look at a bunch of images on a lightbox and the 6×7 would jump out over the 35mm. I know several Pros who would shoot with 35mm and go to the expense of having shots reproduced as 6×7 negs or slides. They did this because they sold better. No one ever realised they were shot on a 35mm camera. In the book “Galen Rowell’s Inner Game of Outdoor Photography” he talks about do exactly this. The reason he chose to use a 35mm camera is because it was practical and well suited to the job. I can’t imagine him dangling from a rope half way up El Capitan and trying to use a Medium Format camera.

  10. “several Pros who would shoot with 35mm and go to the expense of having shots reproduced as 6×7 negs or slides. ”

    Brings to mind Bailey shooting Jean Shrimpton in Manhatten in 1962 using a Pentax 35mm at a time when Vogue only printed from 6by6 negs or larger and the Rolleiflex was king in the fashion world.

  11. The “M43 is for amateurs” comment is in the same league as a comment I saw on a Topaz Labs Facebook group where someone felt the need to inform us that he doesn’t need software hacks because his skill level is such that his photos need no editing. After years of using full frame cameras, last year I bought a Panasonic G9 along with a couple of their better lenses and I couldn’t be happier with the results. I still have my full frame gear, but the G9 gets used for about 50% of my work now.

      1. I enjoy photo editing, although I typically try for an “unedited” look even if a lot of editing has been done. I started out as a painter and commercial artist in the pre-digital age, so my mindset is that everything is subject to manipulation 🙂

  12. I use everything from m4/3 to small medium format Fuji GFX. My favourite and primary camera is the G9 with the 14-140 superzoom. I use my GFX primarily for long exposure work. The g9 with one lens is a marvel as a walk around all day outfit.

    The medium format has an advantage for huge prints but at A3 there is no real difference and the G9 is more than good enough for A2. I wonder how many people who insist only the biggest and best gear is good enough for them, actually stress the files enough to see any practical difference? I suspect very few.

    1. Thank you for confirming your experience and backing up my points. I also suspect many of the people who have poor results use poor lenses or they use features of tools like Lightroom that can turn good G9 RAW files into a mess. I’m thinking about Clarity adjustments and poor sharpening technique.

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