I’ve recently been looking at some of the oldest pictures I have of my kids, and while doing so, I’ve many times had the actual conscious thought, “Why are these images so small? They’re like thumbnails!” In fact, many (most?) of the cropped and processed images – edited in Photoshop 3.0, 4.0, or 5.0 (notice the lack of a “CS” in front of those version numbers) – are literally thumbnail size.
So I took a few minutes last night to figure out what was happening. It turns out that the images were always that small; it’s just that how I use my images has changed drastically, that the monitors I use today are significantly larger in terms of resolution as compared to what I was using in 1996, and that, by extension, my definitions for “large image” and “small image” have changed dramatically.
My first digital camera, which I used from late 1996 until mid 2001 (when it stopped working), was a Kodak DC20 which I’d won at an office party (which is fortunate beyond imagination, because I could have never afforded to actually buy the thing). The camera made images which measured (just!) 493 x 373. The math works out to just .17 megapixels…
At that size, images consumed a significant portion of the desktop afforded by the 800 x 600 and 1024 x 768 monitors through which I cycled in that same timeframe. Heck, at 493 x 373, those images were even too large to embed in a web page! When you start cropping a 493 x 373 image, it’s easy to arrive at an image that’s 248 x 188 (or smaller) – and when you start to crop and/or resize for posting to a web page that’s supposed load in just a few seconds over a 56k dial-up connection, it’s easy to arrive at a picture that’s smaller than 100 x 100.
By comparison, in Windows 7 the default “large” icon – the smallest size at which image thumbnails become usable in Explorer – has a width of 94 pixels. Put another way, the smallest thumbnails we’re willing to use today are comparable to the full-size images we saw embedded in web pages 15 years ago!
Put yet another way, when you load a 493 x 373 image today, it covers only a small amount of real estate on a 1920 x 1020 HD monitor – and on a 4K monitor, it’s absolutely tiny.
It’s no wonder that my images from 1998 looked huge to me at the time, and it’s also no wonder that those same images look so small today.
How big are your oldest digital images?