As his habit, Ken Rockwell exhibits a bad case of selection bias. For example, let’s take this quote from the first article:
All the 35mm rangefinders and DSLRs look pretty much the same, and the point-and-shoot is the worst. I’ve also shown the fallacy of falling for claims of 12-bit, 16-bit or 24-bit image processing in-camera. As those of us who have done this for a living since the 1980s know, the noise level of any of these sensors is much larger than even 12-bit processing. Throwing more real bits at the ADC only serves to quantize the noise more accurately; there isn’t any meaningful image data needing that precision.
Well anyone can see from his sample the 35mm cameras are not the same: the Nikon D3 exhibits tonality better than the Canon 5D Mk II and the Leica M9, as it should. And those aren’t even the right 35mm cameras to be testing against—I will bet you’ll get nearly the same result as the Mamiya DM33 in the Nikon D3X (with a Zeiss ZF optic on it). He does similar manipulations of outcome bias in order to get the result he is wants to get before hand in his high ISO test.
Just because I shoot a Nikon and Leica doesn’t make me biased against the tests—I’ve been hoping to switch to digital medium format for five years now. Comparing them to a $22,000 camera, however, does not make for a fair fight. (FYI, $22k for a camera like this is a good deal.)
If you are wondering how the Nikon D3 manages so well on this test and the ISO test, it’s because the latest Nikons and Canons have gapless microlenses. (The Leica has a CCD instead of CMOS with a very weak anti-alias filter so can’t achieve as high ISOs.) Furthermore, the Nikon D3 and D3s trade off the pixel pitch of the Canons (resolution and sharpness) for higher ISO and a moderately higher dynamic range. Now by cramming technology and tricks like this, the latest 35mm dSLRs seem to be crushing medium format film cameras in the same way that APS-C dSLRs beat film 35mm. By the way, medium format digital is not really “full frame” either— it’s closer to half frame. In terms of sensors, the D3x and the Sony seem to be as good, or better than, the $60k+ digital medium formats of five years ago.
But things get decidedly unfair (in medium format’s favor) when your engineering hits its heads against the laws of physics—when diffraction effects kick in, for instance. Or when the economics of spending 5x on a manual focus prime simply allows the lens to be machined to tighter tolerances.
Ken hovers around being correct. In this series, it is true the Mamiya is going to best any 35mm in sharpness since it has both more megapixels and a less diffracted lens, and you could do a stopped down test that will be even more enlightening. You could even go all Michael Johnston and start talking about bokeh. But when he’s wrong, he’s so wrong as to be misleading. And his influence is a verbal avalanche that spreads across the camera world until everyone is quoting gospel of bullshit—that’s why so many photographers dislike him. (I’m not too sure where I stand on him. He seems to be both helpful and harmful with the seasons, sort of like a glacier in the Arctic. It’ll take a lot of measurements over a number of years before there can be much consensus.) In the meantime, he does amuse.
By the way, examining the quote above pretty much sums Rockwell to a real scientist: “Throwing more real bits at the ADC only serves to quantize the noise more accurately.” No, Ken, it’s “quantizing noise” more precisely, not accurately—big difference! Not only that, but the test that would show what he describes would be if you could somehow have an 8-bit DSP, not RAW file, and that doesn’t exist.
Ken always talks precisely, but never accurately, giving laypeople the illusion he knows what he’s talking about, but ultimately leading many to uninformed decisions. He’s the photographic equivalent to a caliper with its screwed sheered off still dutifully reporting three decimal place accuracy, but you have no idea what it is measuring.