Does quality really matter?

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*Warning: the following are my personal thoughts and opinion!

I’m for two weeks back from a trip to Estonia and sitting here sorting and retouching the shots taken there. Normally I’m importing everything to the computer and quickly run through the raw files (I shoot raw only as I think the additional jpeg is only a waste of storage space on the memory card) to check what to expect during the processing of the shots later on. During this phase, I often find myself “seeing” how some specific images will look like after the processing, or at least make some clear ideas to which way I want to go to with this or that photo.

And here comes the dilemma:

Many of the shots look good when they are processed in a way to somehow simulate the film effect, but that means more or less degradation of the image quality, which otherwise we photographers are so desperately chasing and spending good money for. Why we feel more appealing yet to browse photos which are imperfect instead of immaculate?

With the latest cameras it’s possible to shoot at ISO 6400+ without too much worry about noise. With the latest and fastest lenses it is possible to gain tack-sharp results on sensors which are capable to capture our shots with the resolution of 30+ megapixels. Theoretically it makes possible to capture more-than-real photos, where every bits and pieces of visual information is kept, recorded and shown in a super-accurate way. And yet we are looking for imperfection in most of the times when adding noise, vignetting, blur, dodging, burning to an image and we find the result better than a perfectly processed photo. Take a look at the below two photos. Actually they are the same shot, just processed differently. One is in a “traditional” way, to show as much detail as possible, the other is to simulate the film look. I would say, without any previous survey, that at least 7 out of 10 people will like the film-like version more.

So does quality really matter? Or is it just about having the best possible image quality for the sake of enough information, to get rid of noise, fade and vignette? After all, the final image is the one what really counts and nobody will know how many bytes of visual information did it lose during the processing.