The Human Eye Vs. The Camera

One of my biggest frustrations with photography is the simple fact that the camera cannot match the human eye in what it can see and capture. Even the most advanced modern camera is incapable of recording images that accurately match what you can see with your own two eyes.

Pretty much every camera manufacturer seems obsessed with pursuing the megapixel wars, striving to offer more and more image resolution. That or other features that are simply gimmicks to make their products stand out from the competition. However, some are useful to certain customers. No one seems to be interested in trying to match the human eye and our visual acuity.

It may simply be that it is an impossible pipe dream, not least because the way a camera and our eyes focus is so vastly different. While a camera can only focus on a single point (the plane of focus), our eyes constantly scan the scene and focus on multiple points in succession, like a TV, scanning line by line to build up the finished image. This difference can be really seen by comparing a photo shot at, say, f2 and another at f22, then comparing both to what you can physically see from the same location. Even with the added depth of field in the f22 image, it still pales in comparison to your eyes. The depth of field we can perceive is way more than can be portrayed in a photograph.

The simple act of pushing the shutter button renders the resulting image as an interpretation of the scene…

Now, most will say, “but that is where our artistic license comes into play.” And yes, I have to agree that it can be fun and creative to experiment with various levels of depth of field, from very shallow to very deep, depending on how I want to represent or interpret the finished image; it is still a limitation that at times frustrates me.

So, where am I going with this? Well, for a start, the old adage that “the camera never lies” is fatally flawed because there is absolutely no way that a camera, any camera, can faithfully reproduce a scene as it occurred. The simple act of pushing the shutter button renders the resulting image as an interpretation of the scene, NOT an accurate and precise snapshot of time. At its most simplistic, by picking a shutter speed and aperture combination, you manipulate how the image is captured. A fast shutter speed and large aperture will freeze motion and give a shallow depth of field, while a slow shutter speed and small aperture will give a more blurred motion and deeper depth of field. Neither is truly accurate of the scene before you. They are a few of your options for interpretation and artistic expression.

Not that any of this will stop me from being a photographer and artist or from taking/making photos. It just means that I am not automatically enamored of the latest and “greatest” cameras because, while technology marches ever forward, they are not always that big a step forward. Instead, I’m finding I am much more inclined to be selective of tools and techniques in creating my images. Because when it comes down to basics, photography is an artistic pursuit open to interpretation on a large scale.


Originally published November 27, 2017

Ian Mildon

Ian Mildon spends his days working as a software application developer. When not doing this he is a keen photographer, working with various formats; digital (full frame, APS-C), film (35mm, 6x4.5, 6x7), mobile (phone), instant. Ian is also a fairly prolific writer, mainly on subjects pertaining to photography, although he does not limit himself to just this subject matter.

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