Over on dpr, there was a response to yesterday’s post that was interesting to me:
Regarding your wine comparison, I would say that to be able to distinguish different top quality wines… requires training, experience, and talent. Same with lenses.
Well, you made me think, and I have two responses.
The first is that people who are serious about wine are quite conscious of the idiosyncrasies of the human sensory system, and go to great lengths to deal with such things as confirmation bias. I’ve been tasting wine since the late 60s, and any serious tasting is done double-blind: someone bags, and someone else labels. In addition, there are component tastings, where wine is adulterated with minuscule amounts of important constituents, and the taster learns her threshold for each. This is sometimes combined with triangle tastings, where the taster is presented with three glasses, two of which have the same wine, and challenged to pick out the outlier. There are library tastings where wine made from grapes in the same vineyard are evaluated throughout a period of years, and horizontal tastings, where a single vintage of an appellation are tasted together; in my main group it was de rigueur to sneak a ringer into the tasting and see who could find it.
The point is that serious wine drinkers have a healthy skepticism for the conclusions that they draw, and they continually test their ability to make those conclusions accurately.
It is not so with photographers and lens character, at least in my experience. In fact, almost always the singing of praise for a particular lens is not accompanied by a photograph at all. If it is, there is hardly ever a comparison shot of the same subject shot with another lens. If there is, the viewer is not usually asked to make a blind choice.
It should be possible to devise protocols for photographers to easily test their abilities to discern subtle differences between lenses. It would help photographers learn the limits of their ability to make such discriminations, and possibly save them a great deal of money. I myself have often done single-blind comparisons, and the results have often not been as expected.
That’s my first reaction. The second has to do with the audience. I make my photographs for myself, but part of the reason that I make them is to communicate with others. A quality of the photograph that only I can see is not particularly valuable to me. Although I admit to being obsessive about removing defects from my images that probably only I will notice, I don’t consider that psychosis to make me a better photographer. A better artist, maybe; but that’s something else entirely.
So what is the use of having some quality in my photographs that will require that my audience have to have “training, experience, and talent” to appreciate? It’s worth something, but not much.