Can You Tell Which of These Portraits Was Shot on a High-end Camera?

The age-old question of whether great images are made by the photographer or the camera is a boring one. However, a more interesting topic is the gap between high-end cameras and entry-level cameras and whether most people can tell the difference.

The answer to whether gear matters is generally, "yes a bit, but it depends what you're shooting." Some shots, particularly beauty with front-to-back focus and proper lighting like in this video, have negligible gains from increasing the quality and price of the gear used. That's not to say there's no difference, I — like many of the people who will watch this — could instantly tell which camera took which image, but the difference is patently not large. This is exacerbated by viewing the images on YouTube or social media which goes through compression.

What is interesting about comparisons like this, to me at least, is how narrow the gap is getting between expensive and cheap cameras. The higher-end is experiencing diminishing returns, whilst the lower end is replicating high-spec features at a lower cost. What cannot be replicated, however, at least currently, is the versatility of the best gear. For example, the Sony ZV-1 (the cheap camera in this video) isn't going to perform as well as the Sony a7R IV (the expensive camera in this video) in a great many situations (think low light or any scenario that requires a different lens!) Nevertheless, it does show how good the ZV-1 is for the right purposes.

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23 Comments
Yan Pekar's picture

It looks like both photos have been edited before the results were compared. If this is the case then what's the point in comparing edited images?

Timothy Gasper's picture

Yes. It would be nice to know if these photos were edited or not. Wish he would have spoken about that. Also, depending on what type of screen you're looking at this may give you a 'true' look at the images. One could look at these on one device and then they could look different on another.

Timothy Gasper's picture

Yeah...and then there's that. And how was it done??? On a computer. Sad article. Thank you Alexander. What nationality are you sir? Just curious

Yan Pekar's picture

Thank you for your comment and time, appreciate it!

Barry Strawbridges's picture

Photos have been post processed. This isn't a fair comparison.

Mark Sawyer's picture

Aside from the heavy post-processing, internet photo files viewed on cell phones, laptops, and desktop monitors make it virtually impossible to distinguish between images shot on an 8x10 view camera and a cell phone. But yeah, there's a difference...

Ryan Cooper's picture

I swear this same video shows up at least once per quarter and its always the exact same. It compares two low-res, final versions of images made in ideal shooting conditions and then declares that the expensive camera is a waste of money. (Phone vs Pro Camera comparisons generally do the exact same thing)

The pro camera isn't superior because it can create wildly better low-resolution images in perfect conditions. It is superior because it is able to consistently deliver results in outlier situations while generating high quality images in high resolution.

That expensive camera will focus quicker, and more accurately in low light or other extreme lighting situations such as excessive flare.

In post, you will be able to push the exposure settings further without introducing obnoxious grain.

The pro camera will be more resilient and have more advanced features.

It will also operate faster with a larger buffer among other things.

The list goes on.

(yeah, I know he sorta implies this a bit in the video, but just my two cents)

As someone who actually downgraded from a high-end pro body to a mid-range because I couldn't justify the cost anymore, I really felt the pain of the downgrade in the workflow of using the camera more so than the actual final images. The cheaper camera makes everything a bit harder which in turn means you need to compromise when crafting the image in your imagination.

Sam Sims's picture

'I swear this same video shows up at least once per quarter and its always the exact same. It compares two low-res, final versions of images made in ideal shooting conditions and then declares that the expensive camera is a waste of money.'

It must be hard having a photography YouTube channel and having to come up with regular and meaningful content. I do think videos like this are made when YouTubers run out of truly useful information to present in videos. They probably think they will generate enough clicks anyway.

Besides, you are right, there's more to it than just the final edited image. Lots of professionals, who can justify the expense, chose to use the top of the line lenses simply because they are more reliable and have much better focus accuracy which is critical if you are paid to take photos for a client. If higher end equipment can help save time when editing, that is vital when you have hundreds of photos to edit.

Ryan Cooper's picture

Yup completely fair and also, in my experience, often the most useful content doesn't correlate with the best performing content. Content I've created that has garnished the most praise (aka people telling me it was awesome) often has relatively small traffic, while controversial or superficial content like this which inspires people to weigh in and argue tends to perform very well.

barry cash's picture

the orange one is pretty hysterical

STEVEN WEBB's picture

So camera manufacturers are tricking us into buying their expensive cameras and lenses?! Oh geez, I got ripped off AGAIN.

Catherine Bowlene's picture

Since the photos are heavily post-processed, does that mean we get to compare which camera's result looks better with some Photoworks touch? I like the Sony ZV 1 better then lol.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

He says the cheaper one takes more work, but, doesn't elaborate exactly what was done.

As for this comparison, I couldn't tell them apart. I'm actually surprised by the amount of detail from that 1" sensor. Pores and face fuzz galore. Good stuff.

Anthony Cayetano's picture

Too much editing. But the dead giveaway is always looking at the fine hair details or scenes with harsh highlights in some areas. At small screens, not much difference really but when blown up or in large prints, easy catch.

Iulius Stefan's picture

The same is true of cars, so Lewis Hamilton will drive Kia to F1 and win. It's not the car that matters, it's just the man that matters, LOL.

Deleted Account's picture

I read the comments first, and expected the video to be a ridiculous dumpster fire; but everything he said was reasonable. Indeed, he explicitly says the same things as the commenters vis-á-vis new pro spec gear.

In my case, I can't justify the expense of a D850, but I certainly can justify a D810. And if I were 13 years old, and buying my first camera with pocket money, my choice may be something second hand with a 1" sensor.

craig salmon's picture

The obvious answer is they were both lit with a professional lighting setup, who took the time to actually light and pose the subject beyond an overhead fluorescent bathroom fixture. Photography quality is about the lighting

Alex Yakimov's picture

We live in most wonderful times or do we? Cameras are excellent, differences are negligible, cost of entry into photography is vanishing rapidly so does the craft exclusivity - which could be the major emotion the guy in the video might be subtly playing upon - like real pros use right stuff sorts of thing, but again I might be wrong.

Nir Roitman's picture

The main advantage of pro cameras is not just better quality as in perfect condition they could look similar. Pro cameras made for specific purpose – to make the job done. So yes, the quality is superior, and you can push the raw file further. But main things that supposed to drive people into high-end cameras are things as faster and more accurate focus, easier control on settings on the go, better battery, better endurance, larger buffer for the long run and all the small details that are more important for people who use their cameras often and need its reliability for work or for enthusiast photographers that don't want to deal with too many compromises.

Laurence Goldman's picture

The "cheaper" camera shot is better: the pose is more natural, the softer resolution works in favor of the model. The "expensive" camera is more precise and detailed, but the pose is stiff and contrived and the skin detail detracts from the image and draws attention away from the models eyes.The A74R would probably be great for sports, wildlife maybe some landscape but not here Give me Canon DSLR anytime.