Digital Photography – Dumbed Down And Dirty

One of my reservations about using digital cameras – especially higher spec’d ones – is the images can be too clean, too clinical looking.

Coming from shooting film for five years – and enjoying the natural grain inherent in film, especially with expired or cross processed or redscaled treatments – this contrast was exacerbated further.

This is a significant reason why I’ve generally favoured older, lower resolution digital cameras in recent times.

Their lower res, CCD sensors give, in my eyes, a less digital, less perfect, more organic look.

When it comes to using a digital camera that is almost too high spec for my needs, there are a few things I tend to do to take that potentially too sharp and sterile edge off the final images.

Lower the resolution

A camera like my Pentax Q with its 12MP sensor, or K30 with a 16MP sensor are more than I need. So I generally lower the resolution (MP) in camera. The Q I have at 4:3 9MP images by default, and my new K30 I’m starting out with 3:2 8MP images.

In practice, you only notice a difference in image quality if you blow them up or zoom in vastly, something I don’t do, or need to do (I’m no pixel peeper).

An added bonus is much smaller file sizes, so they’re quicker to download and back up, and take less storage space.

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Increase the ISO

Again using the Q and K30 as examples, I go with ISO400 by default.

Both cameras still make very usable images at ISO800, 1600 and beyond (see my recent high ISO experiments with the Q), but I find when shooting wide apertures I max out the shutter speed too often, so ISO400 is a great compromise between adding a little more texture and character to the final images, without adversely impacting the flow of the shooting experience.

Add contrast

With the Q and K30, I have them set up in camera to shoot in black and white, and add contrast. This just gives me a more atmospheric and again less sharp and clinical final image compared with shooting at low ISOs and default contrast.

For cameras where I can’t get this look in camera, I run the JPEGs output through my simple 13 second Snapseed process to achieve the same kind of result.

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Use vintage lenses

This only applies to the K30 of course. I do have a Pentax-DA 35/2.4, a lens specifically designed for APC-S sensor DSLRs, but even so the images aren’t super clinical.

Most of the time though, I’ve been using an older lens, either an F, A or M series Pentax K mount lens.

It is a slight generalisation, to which their are exceptions, but on the whole, these older lenses designed for 35mm film I feel tend to have more character and charm than modern digital AF lenses.

Then of course if I want images that are really dumbed down and dirty, I just grab the Ricoh GRD III, stick on High Contrast Mono and shoot…

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Do you find digital images too clean sometimes? Is there anything you do to dirty them up?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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8 thoughts on “Digital Photography – Dumbed Down And Dirty”

    1. I think that imperfection gives us something to get hold of or latch on to emotionally.

      My wife has a picture of herself when she was around two years old perhaps sitting with the family’s Golden Retriever. So it must have been taken in the late 80s.

      The photo was colour but it’s faded drastically over the years so it’s almost sepia like.

      Also it looks like at some point the photo was in a frame or album with a covering over it, and some of it has not peeled of entirely, like when you remove a piece of sellotape from a book it’s been attached to for a decade and it leaves partial residue.

      So overall the image is long past its best, very faded and damaged, but I absolutely love it. The imperfections made it all the more beautiful.

  1. I had a similar reaction to yours concerning overly clinical digital photographs but my solution was more drastic. I went back to film. I do use my iPhone camera for visual memos and for that I appreciate all of its sharpness and accurate colors.

    1. I think I may have followed a similar approach as you if I’d have been into film before digital arrived. Tried digital for a while, perhaps become a bit disillusioned and returned to film, taken it back to basics.

  2. During my final year at school I got my first car… a little black Copper S Mk 1 mini. It was great to spend weekends dropping the engine just for the hell of it. Marvelling over drive coupling kits… how perfect they were designed and worked. Learning the intricacies of the ignition sequence and timing from me ol’ dad. I knew that little car like the back of my hand. I loved driving that little car… it virtually hugged the road. Of course I never took it down into the sand dunes. Or through the mud of the local woods. It has designed for one thing and I loved it for that. Sorry, I degrees.

    Today my toys are smaller! Each of my (now) 8 cameras covers the range from pinhole to a DSLR. I do not have anything that is duplicate technology. Each tool has a specific feel and produces a specific look. I actually don’t mind the clean look of a digital file. For years I was ‘THAT film guy’ for poo-pooed the visual aesthetic of digital images. That was until I actually decided to shoot for that specific look. As I’ve mentioned to you Dan, I have an idea for a project that will need a good digital camera. I know have one 🙂 and it is needed for a specific job!

    I have a question for you mate… Are you able to look at any give image in you library, and know which camera you used to create it?

    1. I really like the sound of that mini! An old girlfriend of mine had one (just a pretty standard 1000cc from the late 80s) but even that was plenty of fun. My mum had one in the early 80s which was great, I remember it as a child. My brother is very into cars and he restored one a couple of years ago which he still has, but rarely uses. Too many other cars to choose from!

      I’m intrigued about your digital project! How is the Helios 44 working out with the Nikon DSLR?

      Thanks for the question, I think I know what your point is! With some, yes I do know, because I remember the particular photo walk and/or can tell from the image what kind of camera was used, and deduce from the date what it was most likely to be. But if you just plucked a random image and asked, more often than not I wouldn’t know, no… : )

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