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How many is enough?

Discussion in 'General Equipment Chat & Advice' started by Barney, Jul 27, 2014.

  1. Barney

    Barney Well-Known Member

    AP's former editor Damien Demolder has posted this piece about how 6MP is all we really need:

    Personally I think 12MP is a more realistic number as there are occasions when you do want to crop in. All my main cameras, a D3, D300 and a GF1 are 12MP. My D3 is all the still camera I could wish for and the only reason I would 'upgrade' it would be for video capability. 12MP on my GF1 is fine too, the restrictions are with the poor IQ at higher ISO and poor handling in respect to the AF. The D300 is a great camera that only suffers in comparison to the D3. In other words, I certainly don't need and in most cases don't want any more pixels.
  2. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Well-Known Member

    Dear Barney,

    Depends on what you're shooting; what the reproduction medium will be; and how big it's going to be run. A double page spread in a book or magazine, off 6 megapixels, will in many cases look a bit sick next to 16-20 megapixels, especially if the subject relies heavily on texture and fine detail: anything from macro shots to landscaspes. In fact, for a DPS or an A3 print, you'll probably see the difference between 16-20 and 30-50. On a computer screen, yes, 6 is plenty.


  3. Barney

    Barney Well-Known Member

    Indeed, does't it always? As a general rule though, for most enthusiasts and many pros the every increasing number of pixels in sensors is a tale of diminishing returns over and above quite a modest amount.
  4. 0lybacker

    0lybacker In the Stop Bath

    Interesting question, Barney, and I was noting just the other day how on some high end compacts, manufacturers appear to have wound sensor size back down to 10mp.

    My Nikon using mate is paranoid about diffraction, Airy discs, noise, etc., etc., but he's very happy with his D800E. :) In his case, his desire for high resolution capability is down to the difficulty of get Art Directors to make up their mind about images these days. :rolleyes:

    I think I'm more interested in the contrast handling capabilities of sensors, now that 10+ is universal.

  5. Barney

    Barney Well-Known Member

    I've heard it said that some pros state that the extra detail shows up camera shake to such an extent that you have to increase shutter speed accordingly and they equate the extra resolution of the D800 to be the equivalent to a loss of a stop.

    Indeed, increased dynamic range would be far more useful, as would development in the low end of ISO performance.
  6. Zou

    Zou Well-Known Member

    Depends on the aspect ratio. For 3:2 I want 16MP or so, as I will crop to 2:1, 5:4 or 1:1. For a natively squarer sensor then 12MP is generally enough for me.

    Lightroom 5 has made me appreciate that my 6MP files from the K100D are very good, cleaning up the high ISO noise nicely. When cropping square though it is only really decent for web sizes.
  7. Barney

    Barney Well-Known Member

    Sorry, I don't follow the logic Zou. A square image would work just as well as any other aspect ratio - the shortest side is being maintained after all.
  8. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Well-Known Member

    Dear Barney,

    Indeed, if you're not using a tripod (as most people except perhaps fashion photographers would in the studio), the fall-off in technical quality from camera shake is such that even 18 megapixels may be no more use than 6. On the tripod, however...

    And of course controlled lighting (in a studio) removes all concerns about dynamic range. So there are certainly arguments on both sides.


  9. daft_biker

    daft_biker Action Man!

    In practice the extra megapixels usually are potentially useful though. Camera shake would have to be pretty bad for 18MP not to resolve more than 6MP in my experience.

    Not that I'm a fan of pushing my luck with slow shutter speeds but I wouldn't have wasted my time upgrading from 6MP to 18MP if I only saw the benefit when using a tripod. I doubt so many others would have wasted their time upgrading either.
  10. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Well-Known Member

    Dear Andrew,

    Indeed! But that's why I said "may". I certainly see the difference with the M8/M9 -- more or less doubled megapixels -- even hand held; but I also saw far more difference than I expected with Zeiss primes on the Nikon D70 as compared with the thoroughly mediocre standard zoom. But even 6 megapixels and a thoroughly mediocre standard zoom can provide publishable pics.

    All I meant was that hand-held, there might not be a difference, but on a camera stand, there WILL be. Sorry for the lack of clarity.


  11. Sejanus.Aelianus

    Sejanus.Aelianus In the Stop Bath

    The big advantage of extra pixels is that they're like finer grain; all else being equal, they give you the reserve to yank up more data if you can't get closer. If it's the only way to get the image I want, I'm quite happy to use the actual pixels. How else do you get a grab picture of a Robin singing with a pocket camera?

  12. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    I discussed this subject with Damo when the D800 was launched. I certainly did see a huge improvement from 6MP APS-C to 12MP full frame, and another improvement from 12 to around 20. That has largely hit my quality threshold - I have produced prints at any size I've wanted to that I've been happy with. Would more MP sometimes be useful? Perhaps, yes, but not enough to cause me sleepless nights.

    Would I be happy with 6? No, definitely not. 12? Not really, at least for my bigger prints. Around 20 seems about right to me.
  13. PhotoEcosse

    PhotoEcosse Well-Known Member

    As a generalisation, there is a modicum of truth in that.

    As has already been said, it depends upon what you want to do with your photographs.

    Normally, I only print mine to A3+ so, if I was printing straight from the full frame or a reasonably modest crop, then 12Mp certainly would be enough (as I got from my D300 and D3s)

    But ..... and it is a HUGE but for me........ I want to have the maximum scope for creatively processing my images once I get them out of the camera. More and more, these days, I go out photographing "elements" which will then be used to create original "art".

    For this purpose, a Raw file from my D800 or D800E contains about three times as much data as those from the D3s. And, as photo-processing is essentially data processing, the more data I have to start with, the more I can do with it.

    But that is not for everyone. For some, more data just means bigger files which means greater storage requirements and slower processing (all other things being equal).

    Certainly the quality of a straight A3+ print from the 36Mp of my D800 is no better than one from the 12Mp of my D3s. (if you ignore other improvements in camera technology such as the much greater dynamic range of the later camera).

    Let's not forget that it is not so many years since the cover photos for Vogue and such were being taken with 6Mp sensors (as were the 8-metre wide photographs used in much cinema advertising at the time).

    But, as soon as Nikon bring out a dSLR (or preferably a mirrorless full frame) with a 60Mp sensor, I will be near the front of the queue.
  14. Gogster

    Gogster Well-Known Member

    Future proofing, you never know what you are going to do with the images, same reason for shooting in RAW.
  15. El_Sid

    El_Sid Well-Known Member

    Currently I max out at 10Mp and frequently still use 6Mp and 3Mp sensors as well. For what I do I don't currently need any more pixels which is probably why neither Canon nor Nikon have persuaded me to upgrade for some time.

    If. or should that be when?, I upgrade it'll be for better high ISO performance and range than for megapixie population...;)
  16. Barney

    Barney Well-Known Member

    In terms of video I'd agree which is why I can see the point in 4K video capture even though most people don;t have the capability of showing 4K yet.

    Stills are different though. You're not going to change what you do with them, which is look at them. The larger you print an image the further back you tend to need to be to view it, typically far enough back so as it's the same apparent size as a print would be in the hand. You only have to look at a billboard poster up close to see how the number of pixels over and above a certain number is pretty irrelevant.
  17. daft_biker

    daft_biker Action Man!

    Whist I agree that higher resolution sensors can warrant the use of faster shutter speeds to freeze movement a nice lens and a solid shooting platform still doesn't guarantee there will be a difference as diffraction softening can reduce how much detail is resolved. (I have an example of that online using 18MP and 6MP cameras if you'd like to see for yourself?)

    Perhaps diffraction is not so much of an issue in portraiture as it is in macro though....or in astrophotography where there are also other issues that effect how clearly a distant object can be viewed. I appreciate the point you are making is largely true but it isn't always that black and white.

    PS. Is there such a thing as a zoom that isn't thoroughly mediocre? ;) :D
  18. Sejanus.Aelianus

    Sejanus.Aelianus In the Stop Bath

    Relativity rules, OK! (Depending on where you're standing.)

    Your mediocre might be my bitingly sharp.

  19. ChrisNewman

    ChrisNewman Well-Known Member

    “Diminishing returns” sums it up pretty well for me; there are always returns from more pixels, provided my computer can cope, and I have a lens that can resolve at least some of the additional detail I can capture.

    My photography is mostly for my interest and pleasure, and most shots stay on the computer, so the print resolutions that must be key to many professionals have little relevance. The detail shown on screen for a complete picture is very limited, but it is trivially easy to dive in by enlarging an area. If I see something interesting or beautiful enough to want to take a photograph of it, usually I would like to capture as much detail as possible.

    I value the 36 MPx of my D800. It is a clear improvement over the 12 MPx of my D90, and fortunately seems to have come with improvements rather than trade-offs in areas such as dynamic range. It doesn’t make camera shake worse; only easier to identify. If I want, I can consolidate a 36 MPx shot into a 9 MPx image with very low noise, hiding minor camera shake!

    But the improvement from 12 MPx to 36 MPx is much less than I assume the improvement from 4 MPx to 12 MPx would have been. At that level I would have seen little point in switching from film to digital.


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