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  • Michael Outlines the battle between Quality & Convenience using real world examples – 0:18
  • Speed usually beats perfection – 13:42

Good morning everyone. Michael the Maven here. Today we are going to be talking about Quality vs. Convenience. This is another chapter that’s painfully removed from “Efficiency Playbook” simply because I didn’t feel it really fit into the tactics that I was giving. It’s more of an observation in something I wanted my readers to be aware of but it was something definitely I wanted to do a follow up with.

The easiest example I can give you is because I’m a photographer; in the photography world over the past few years, we have seen just this huge uprising of the smartphone. The smartphones have essentially killed off the point and shoot cameras that we used to buy; those little cameras that we put in our pockets or purses, maybe the size of a wallet or something like that. They’ve pretty much killed those off because we have cameras built into our smartphones and we don’t need to carry this little camera around anymore; that market essentially died.

The question then becomes, how is the quality of a smartphone photo? If you go and you ask a professional photographer or Michael the Maven, what would he tell you? I will tell right off the bat, the quality is nothing like a full frame camera. It’s because of the sensor size. There are physical limits of a small sensor; that’s not to say that the small sensor hasn’t improved, it definitely has improved in quality. If you were to take that same technology and put it in the big sensor, the physical size of a large sensor plays a very important role in the creation of a digital image. Right off the bat, something you probably notice is that, if you try to use your smartphone or a cellphone to take a picture in a very dark environment, it really struggles with something we call noise. This is the grime that you see where everything is kind of pixelated and muddy. It just doesn’t look very good. This is a physical limit of a small sensor. It is not absorbing as much light as something that a large full frame sensor would to the physical surface area. It runs into problems with the interpolations of colors and noise reduction. The more light that you have coming into your sensor; the higher signal to noise ratio. Therefore, right off the bat, small sensors struggle in low light and probably always will. That’s the first thing.

The second thing is something that we refer to as bokeh. This is a background blur in our images; very small sensors have a much deeper depth of fields. If you have large sensor your relative depth of field for the same type of lens in terms of the aperture of bokeh length are going to be a lot more blurry. This is something artistic that most photographers want in their portraits and it gives a very pleasing optical blurred to the background.

What’s happening now, these companies like Apple are putting software into the smartphones to create this fake blur; the digital blur to soften up the image. I don’t think it looks very good, it will probably improve over time. I do think that software wise eventually it will be figured out. I think that is something that solvable. I don’t think that the low light thing is very solvable as the small sensor, not anytime soon at least because of the limited physics but the software stuff; I think they’re going to figure that out to make it look really pleasing.

The third thing we run into; the third problem is the lens issues. There’s certain defect in lenses and there are certain problems with constructing very small lenses such as continuance that you see the size like a green pea or smaller; that is typically a wide angle lens. Anywhere from twenty-two to thirty millimeters in terms of the focal length and that is not the focal length you want to use to take a portrait.

What’s happened; everybody is taking selfies. The selfie phenomenon wasn’t even around seven to eight years ago. This is something that has become more and more popular. When I first heard of selfies, I thought it was kind of narcissistic arrogant kind of thing; it was like to take a picture of yourself but now it’s an accepted norm. It’s very normal to see people taking pictures of themselves. Society has changed in that way for the sake of selfies; it’s accepted.

Photographically speaking, taking a selfie of yourself with a wide angle lens is probably one of the most unflattering focal lengths you can use because it stretches your face in ways that are not pleasing. If you take a look at the forehead and watch how it stretches and the chin is in the body or compressed it almost becomes cartoonish but because we are using smartphones so much, what’s happen is, our society become conditioned into believing that smartphones selfies are high quality. A lot of this has happened on Instagram because everybody’s taking pictures of themselves, posting them on Instagram or whatnot.

Society, I believe has become conditioned through social media; through the invention of the selfie, to believe that a really poor quality image is actually good. If you talked to a portrait photographer or somebody who really knows what they’re doing, a lot of the top and experts; they’re shooting at minimal fifty-millimeter focal length, maybe seventy. I like to shoot around a hundred and up. If I’m shooting a person, a hundred millimeters, it makes them look far more flattering. It looks like they’ve lost ten, twenty pounds when you shoot somebody with a hundred or two hundred millimeter lens.

I have a video on YouTube about lens perspective.  I’ll put it in a description here if you are listening to the podcast and you can watch that video and you can see with your own eyes what happens when you take a portrait of individuals with wide angle lenses. Something that we’re starting to see now is smartphones companies. They’re starting to put multiple lenses in the device. You have wide angle lens maybe like a thirty or twenty-five millimeters and then you’re going to have like a normal lens; fifty millimeters. Fifty millimeter is far more flattering than a thirty millimeter because they are aware of the limits of a wide angle lens in a smartphone; the prospective gets messed up. You kind of limited.

There are some other problems with a very small lens; it depends on the manufacturer with things like a chromatic aberration, probably also cleaedn up by software, lens distortion to warping of the image when you shoot very wide. It’s probably also clean up by software. Then you run into this thing called sharpness; another thing that can be fixed by software. What happens is, if you have all these software fixes, we’re not looking at the optical quality of an image anymore. We are looking at something that’s been processed. It’s something that I thought was very interesting was I think, two years ago, it was Reuters; the news agency said they are no longer accepting raw files from a photo journalist. I thought that was fascinating. The reason why they decided to do that in my understanding is that raw files are too flexible in post processing. It wouldn’t be the original image as it was captured so they were asking for jpegs. I thought that was really insightful because they are aware of what is happening with software processing on to digital images.

This is what’s happening in society right now, the visual arts in terms of social media, especially, it’s degrading. I believe it’s gotten the worse already. I think there are some things that we can do. If we look at the very high-end artists, all of them are shooting a film on super thirty five which is about APS size sensor. The top world class portrait photographers are shooting on full frame. Some of them are shooting on medium formats. The very high-end magazine photographers are shooting on Hasselblads. We are talking about fifty thousand dollars digital cameras. You got a sporting event, by far the vast majority of them are shooting on full frame. When you look at what the professionals are doing versus the individual; everyday person, there is still a very distinct advantage in terms of quality to the professional who is aware of the gear that he’s using.

Why in the world would I go through that whole description to outline something called Quality versus Convenience? The truth of the matter is all of those photographers who use those high-end cameras, pretty much all of them have a smartphone. They also use their smartphone for convenient images. There are a time and a place to use it for convenience.

For example, when I go on to a disaster aid trip, I bring my iPhone.  I don’t bring a big camera anymore simply because it’s too heavy to extra batteries, the lenses and that space and weight I could dedicate to gear. I bring an iPhone in a way to keep it charged.  I might have solar panels that I can recharge my battery pack. It’s very light. It’s very convenient. It’s a tremendous tool that both for stills, GPS positioning, the video recording. I’d do my email on it obviously and it is extremely convenient.  I think the point that I’m trying to get to here is that in the “Efficiency Playbook “I’m always talking about saving time, saving time, becoming more free. You have to be aware of the distinction of what should be a quality interaction with somebody versus what should be a quick, fast, efficient interaction with somebody. Those are not the same things. It does make a difference to have quality.

Let me get more specific. When I was a kid, we will go outside and we will play with each other. We would build fords, we would play tags and we would run around.  This is what we did. We didn’t have computers. I was a kid when Nintendo came out, to give you some perspective of how old I am but we played outside with our friends most of the time. What I am seeing now is our kids are locked into their smartphones, in their Ipads, in their computers and this has become the new social mean of interaction. I’m not saying that kids don’t play. Obviously, they do. Some parents who are aware of this and making sure that their kids are having a normal social life growing up interacting. I think if we limit or have most of the social interactions to online: Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. This is not a real world. I also know some stories of children who had been devastated, who would post something online, they didn’t get enough likes and it hurts their self-esteem. Some of them as you read in the news do terrible things to themselves. There is something that has been lost through social media in terms of quality of relationship with other individuals.

Another example that I can give you is fast-food. We are all hungry and sometimes we just want to get a quick bite to eat so if you look at something like McDonald’s. McDonald’s is not known for its quality of food. There are lots of activists got working against McDonald’s because of the ingredients in the food. That has not stopped or slowed McDonald’s down at all. They’re all over the world. The funny thing is when I go overseas and I see McDonald’s it seems like my favorite restaurant for some reason. As soon as I come back to the US, I don’t go to McDonald’s. I go when I’m overseas because it’s something that I know and I can relate to and I want to taste American food.

The reason why I’m going through all this is to make you aware that there is a battle going on between convenience and quality. Right now, quality is losing when you look at the numbers. We’re degrading the quality of our life for the sake of convenience. So, in the “Efficiency Playbook,” there are definitely things that you should do just for the sake of efficiency, to be quick, to be fast, to be easy. I definitely do not believe that convenience is greater than quality. When I talked about this spark when I talked about speed, it is better than perfection, that is really a measure of convenience versus quality. Speed usually does beat perfection. In so many things that I can think of, It’s better to have it fast turnaround than a perfect turnaround. If you are able to produce and get that content even for podcast or what not, the ability to get it out quickly is super important at the same time I don’t want to put out content that is not meaningful or quality. I have a list of topics that I have to go through and it’s literary hundreds of items long. I’ll sit down and I’ll outline exactly what I want to cover in each podcast. I don’t want to skimp on quality but there’s also this speed consideration. This is dynamic that you’re always going to be struggling with for the sake of freedom to improve the quality of your life, not to make it faster, not to do things that are going to diminish your relationship with others, to give you more free time so you can spend it the way that you want. If you have a family and kids or close friends or a loved one, that is what is real, that is what quality is, not getting likes on Instagram or Facebook. You shouldn’t be measuring especially your kids should not be measuring their self-esteem based on the number of likes they get. That is not a relationship but it happens all the time. There are some children who are not popular than others and therefore self-esteem could be damaged.

That’s the thought that I want to give. Definitely be aware of the quality versus convenience.