You Don’t Need Big Megapixels

How many have you heard or read “you don’t need big megapixels” or “only professionals need big megapixels”?*

Essentially, this is a half truth. Like Obi Wan said, “what I told you was true… from a certain point of view.”

First of all, I agree that you don’t need 100MP for everyday photography (yet**). My Fuji and iPhone both shoot 16MP which can be strongly cropped and still come up with enough resolution to print decent 4×6 prints or display well enough on monitors, smartphones and tablets. For example:

I can take this 16MP photo and drop it down all the way to 2MP and still be able to:

  • print a great 4×6 or 5×7
  • or print an ok 8×10
  • or fill a screen* easily (2MP is 1200×1800)

*Yes, those super high resolution tablets can show more pixels. I have one of these and unless you are zooming in beyond 100% crops, it looks fine.

Moreover, because larger prints are seen farther away, you could print this on a banner or billboard and few people would see any issues (especially with today’s excellent print diffusion methods).

And, moreover, higher resolution doesn’t always carry with it the same level of sharpness and clarity. Some very expensive sensors have been tested to be blurrier than their lower resolution counterpart.

But…

This argument has been used like a sledge hammer to draw people away from dedicated cameras and to smartphones which are very profitable since they are often replaced every few years (or every year). It is used to keep you from asking the right questions some of which are:

.

Is this camera and lens able to deal with the situations that I want to shoot?

Nearly everything shoots selfies and posed group shots fine, but (ignoring the lying ads) would a smartphone be able to shoot a play or soccer game well compared to a dedicated camera with fast, accurate focus and a 300mm lens (300mm full frame equivalent)?

Both are 16MP (plenty of megapixels), but the smartphone:

  • Is slow to focus
  • Has poor ISO performance in low light / fast shutter speeds
  • Is often limited to about a 35mm full frame equivalent lens
  • Often has limited dynamic range

(And just try to crop the smartphone photo above into something useful.)

 

.

Are the resulting images not only good for the present, but also the future?

Remember 110 film? Remember Polaroid instant film?

The above photo:

  • Looks great in Instagram or Facebook now (these services are low resolution),
  • But what will it look like in the future when people want to see Aunt Suzy’s face when she was a teenager on the high def TV, projected in life size 3D, or shown on the 8ft x 20ft digital wallpaper?
  • Will that cheap smartphone photo be fantastic or be like the 110 film?

And not all sensors (and lenses) are sharp. Do your research. More expensive doesn’t mean better. My cheaper Fuji bodies+lens beats the pants off my more expensive Canon bodies+lens, so much so that I’m tired of shooting comparison shots. It’s no contest.

.

There are plenty of other questions to ask depending on what, where, how you shoot, etc, but don’t be blinded by the drama behind “megapixels don’t matter.” This is the same effect made by whatever politician say. Check the facts. Decide for yourself.


*I know technically the “?” should be inside the quotation marks, but that’s always seemed wrong to me.

**I remember when expensive hard drives were 1GB in size and we deleted 2MP/1MB photos to save room. We now save hundreds of 20MB RAW files per shoot onto 2TB portable hard drives that cost a fraction of the price. Never say never.

 

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