Monday, June 22, 2015

Megapixel Mania. How many megapixels do I really need?

Do photographers need 50 megapixel cameras?  

Canon came out with the 50 MP EOS 5ds so what are the main benefits of shooting with this super resolution camera versus shooting at 24 MP?

1. Super large out of camera sized images.  Canon generally exports images from the camera at 240 Pixels per Inch. That means at 240 PPI---it puts out a 24 x 36 inch image natively from the camera!
A photographer knowing that printers only print at 150 DPI ( Dots per Inch)---you can lower the resolution to 215 ppi with no noticeable difference.  I've lowered the print resolution without resampling from 240 ppi to as 180 ppi. in Photoshop to create crisp 32 x 48 inch images!  This camera can produce absolutely huge images!  No problem.

In comparison-- A Sony full framed sensored camera produces at 240 PPI out of camera image size of 16.667 x 25 inches--that is still very large!  I can easily set the resolution at 180 PPI and get a 22x 33 image that looks tact sharp with lots of detail--thats not resampling the image.

2. The resolution is so high--there are details that you can't see with the naked eye in the photographs this size unless you zoom in at 100 Percent using a loupe or stick your face into the photograph closer than normal viewing distance. However at normal viewing distance---this level of detail remains hidden in the photograph, so the camera is capturing details that most likely, will never be noticed in the photograph when printed at 13x19 or smaller, unless your break out a magnifying glass to actually visually see the extra details in the photographs.  I was startled when I shot across Biscayne Bay Fireworks last July 4th--shooting 2.4 mile across the water with a 300mm lens.  I used a loupe at 100 percent to look at the images and could see into people's windows in high rises 2.3 miles away!--(you could clearly see individuals in the windows watching the fireworks from across the bay)---that is crazy resolution already at 24 Megapixels of information captured by the camera's sensor already.  When you shoot with a 50 MP camera--expect more surprises---hidden details captured in image that you will never know are there-unless you look at the images at 100 percent on screen enlargement or in the case of a print--pull out a magnifying glass to look.

3. The large size of the image out of 50MP Canon camera means that the image can be cropped significantly. You have a larger image, so you can crop the image more and not lose so much quality in the crop.  Try shooting a 11x17 inch magazine spread with an 20 Megapixel Canon 7D mk II and you'll soon find that you can't crop that image very much--- to make it work. You can shoot a two page spread with a Canon 7D mk II--but you will crop as you shoot--not afterwards. That why myself and other pro photographers soon learn to crop our photos during the shoot process instead cropping images in post production.  Even shooting with a 24 MP sensor, there is still very little leeway for cropping images for magazine spreads. This is why some photographers choose to shoot with a full frame sensored camera but I argue that if you shoot at 24 MP or higher, shooting a magazine two page spread is not a problem whether shooting with a full frame camera of cropped sensored camera--the key is the 24 MP " goldilocks range of resolution" in photography--where image details are captured that you can't see unless you look at the image at 100 percent or stick you face into the photo. You won't have the luxury of cropping afterwards as much in post production, but I argue that the approach of shoot first and crop later is just lazyness on the part of the photographer---I crop images as I shoot without even thinking about it that it has become second nature for me.  Cropping afterwards just doesn't work with my shooting style but if I had all that extra real estate of a full frame 50 MP sensor---maybe my shooting style would evolve and adapt to all that extra real estate and megapixels.

4.  Bragging rights.  I bet if you walk down the street with a Canon 5ds 50MP camera--you have some serious bragging rights---Just look at the Canon Ads---headlined, "50 Megapixels!) with just a highlighted photo of a 5Ds in the background of the ad!  Canon's marketing is all about its class leading huge 50 MP images the camera produces.
One can argue that compelling images are much more important than bragging rights but if owning the biggest, best and newest camera technology at 50 MP gives your bragging rights or impresses a client so much that you get hired for the job---good for you.  As for me,  I want a camera that meets my many needs as a photographer and luckily I discovered early on that I could save a bunch of money by shooting with a cropped sensor, high resolution camera in the 24 MP range and exited the camera upgrade treadmill awhile back.  For me, if the camera does everything I need it to do and meets my needs---I don't need the biggest and best camera to shoot with---I need a " good enough" camera that has all the bells and whistles that I need to complete assignments. In fact, I shoot with a cropped sensored Sony A77mk II professionally. Whats to not like?  $900 dollar camera competes with cameras thousands of dollars more expensive, saves me lots of money and performs like a champ.

Below are commercial images I shot that have been enlarged to billboard size from my Sony A77
( 24 MP) camera and my Sigma DP2M ( Approximately 28 MP) camera for a client in Miami Beach. In the first image, I stitched 4 images together from my Sony A77 producing a fence sized image. Not bad for a 24 MP cropped sensored camera---right? I keep reading articles where photographers claim that you can't really stitch images together because of moving element in the photo etc--but that is a bunch of nonsense. Fast moving objects will appear blurred in a panorama, so care should be taken in the subject, time of day and weather conditions. You may have to clone out some movement blur, but I rarely find a landscape where I can't stitch together the images afterwards and make it appear as a perfect panorama!

Sony A77 panorama ( Stitched image)
This next image was shot with a Sigma DP2M---which outputs an approximate 25-29 MP image. I know Sigma advertises it as a 40MP camera---but that is referencing the number of photo sites on the camera's sensor--not the actual resolution..but I'm not going to argue about the resolution of the DP2M---Just want to show you how large the images out of camera can be enlarges without serious degradation from an affordable APS-C crop sensored camera!  Remember--this is NOT a 42-50 MP camera---it is less than 30 MP--approximately.  The level of detail in this huge billboard sized image is hard not to notice.

Sigma DP2M APS-C cropped sensored image.( Approximate 25-28 MP)
So the argument that you can't shoot large images with an APS-C crop sensored camera is just not a trip down reality lane.   In my humble opinion---ANY camera that shoots at over 24 MP in resolution or higher, whether Full framed or APS-C  Cropped sensor in today's camera market, will probably meet the needs of the majority of camera users. In addition, those on the fence about buying full frame vs APS-C sensored camera can save some money shooting with a less expensive cropped camera versus buying a full frame model.  If you want to go really cheap-- You can buy a Sony A6000, 24 MP camera for $599 with a decent kit lens and shoot such a wide range of subjects, under so many different conditions, low light, high ISO with few limitations.  Shoot above ISO 3600 and you start to see some noise in the resulting image, but luckily, the noise pattern from Sony Sensors tends to resemble film grain, so the effect can actually be used to add drama to an image. But please remember--24 MP is the "goldilocks range of resolution" in my opinion. Anything 24MP resolution or higher will probably do just fine---full frame or cropped sensor.

So are there any advantages to shooting at lower resolution 24 MP versus buying a 50 megapixel sensored camera?

1. Cost!  A Sony A77MK II with 24 MP sensor costs $899.00 and includes a battery grip, whereas the super sensored  42 MP cameras like the Sony A7rII--costs $3200 for the that extra image real estate and the Canon 5Ds comes in at around $3600 range. So the 50 MP camera is more expensive to own.  I can own three Sony A77 mk II for the price of one Sony A7RII. However, you can also purchase full frame 24 MP cameras from Sony and Nikon for around $1200 or more or spend around $2000 for a full frame 22 megapixel Canon 5D MK III. Thats some serious savings over the hugely expensive Canon $3600 EOS 5Ds 50 MP camera by choosing a 24 MP full frame camera---about 1/3 to 1/2 the cost.

2.  Higher speed shooting. Shooting at 24 MP means for more frames per second---for example, the Sony A77 MK II 24 MP camera can shoot at 12 Frame per second The Canon 5Ds shoots at 5 frames per second. These large sensored camera require large buffers and don't shoot as fast as full frame 24 MP camera which can achieve 7 frames per second versus the 5 frames per second of the 50MP Canon.  I suspect that the Canon could shoot at higher frame rates, in cropped modes, but apparently when you shoot cropped sensored with the 5ds---it still captures all the image information--50 MPs of information---anyway----yes---it is processing all the information from the chip, then discarding the extra information afterwards. It would make better sense to me that if I set the camera on a 1.6 cropped mode-only the information in the masked area will be processed by the camera, with less data captured, faster frame rates could be achieved. this would dig into cropped sensor sales of the Canon 7D MK II which is sadly still languishing at 20 megapixels.

3.  You might need to upgrade your computer.  Those 50 MP files from the Canon are huge to process! Older computer models from just a few years ago, may need memory upgrades, added storage space or even a processor upgrade.  Upgrading your camera to 42 MP or 50 MP may force some users to have to upgrade their computers to handle the large files an you will fill up your hardrives much faster meaning more disk storage will be needed.  Having to upgrade your computer equipment because you bought a new camera is a hidden cost of a new camera purchase.  If I stick with a full frame or cropped frame camera in the 24 MP range--what I call the" goldilocks" range of resolution, I don't have to upgrade my computers and I capture loads of detail in my images already that can't be seen anyway under normal viewing conditions.

So do you want bragging rights of a 50 Megapixel camera, need that extra real estate of huge 24x36 image out of camera natively or  just need a practical affordable camera that meets your needs as a photographer and doesn't break your bank or force you to upgrade your computer?
Any camera full frame or cropped sensored  camera in the goldilocks range of resolution will most likely meet the majority of users needs.  Do we need 50 MP cameras?  As long as companies produce higher resolution sensors with more megapixels, there will be buyers. Marketing departments love megapixels even if the average consumer doesn't have a clue as to what a megapixel is.

You get better price/performance from shooting in the 24 MP" goldilocks" range of resolution. The brand of camera that you shoot with is a personal choice, but  24 MP is 24 MP and produces very large images. so shooting with the Canon 5ds really comes down to how big you need to shoot your images and I suspect many landscape photographers with dreams of large 5x7 foot photographs and murals like I shoot will really lust after the Canon, but I suspect it is overkill for today's camera market but only time will tell.

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