Just as the market is once again graced with higher resolution cameras, so too is the Internet awash with salivating consumers desperate to lap them up. Surely having a 50-megapixel camera will make them all much better photographers than they were 44 megapixels ago? The extra resolution must be the push they needed to take them from mediocrity to greatness.
Well, were it only so. Alas, quite simply, no. Perhaps we all need a rational counterbalance to the frenzy. It never ceases to amaze me how many comments are left on review sites by amateur photographers desperate to acquire the latest gadget, believing that it’s the Holy Grail they were looking for. Give it a few months; a new grail will be along.
There is no doubt that many professionals benefit from high-resolution devices. And limiting our definition of professionals to just photographers may incur an entirely valid rebuke from astronauts, defence contractors, medical technologists and the clandestine services. There are many instances when more resolution is better.
But for the vast majority of us we have to wonder what we will do with all that extra resolution. Do we have the patience to execute the appropriate shot discipline to make use of those extra pixels? Did we have that discipline at 24 and 36MP? Are we doing critical work that demands medium format levels of resolution? I wonder how many new exponents of these 50MP cameras will think carefully about their composition, while ensuring they have a tripod and the finest glass to make use of all those pixels.
And there’s the other consideration; the extra infrastructure you’ll need, especially the lenses capable of using such resolution. I suspect many people balk at the cost of the lenses appropriate to such high resolution, to say nothing of the cameras themselves. Extra batteries and perhaps new screen protectors for the rear LCD; more lenses will probably mean more filters, perhaps more cleaning aids, etc. It just goes on.
Companies are very good at making us feel insecure. Their marketing material has carefully selected verbiage and phraseology to evoke a sense of awe and promote the superiority of their product. They know that when we take the bait, we will eventually reason that we’ll need more gear to go with it, especially big, expensive glass. And, unfortunately, many people act on this insecurity to feel better about themselves and in relation to others. I personally know of one guy who loves having the latest camera but knows very little about how to take a decent photograph. He’ll take one simple portrait shot a hundred times going through every conceivable setting on his expensive gear without a decent result by the end of it. He’s all about the gadgets and he believes it makes him authentic and credible in the eyes of his friends. Sad, really.
Conversely, a colleague of mine just recently purchased her first DSLR, second hand on eBay. A perfectly capable machine, she’s absolutely thrilled with it, but wonders if she needs to buy more gear and lenses to compliment it. The self-doubt is slowing creeping up on her. I told her just to get a decent camera bag to carry it and keep it safe; her kit lens will cover 99% of everything she will shoot (which is mostly her little girl scurrying about).
There’s a reason that I used the 44MP figure in the first paragraph. All the shots on this page were taken with a mere 6MP camera (50 minus 6). I know I’ve made this point before and several times, but it bears repeating, especially when you feel the urge to upgrade to something that won’t necessarily make you a better photographer.
Think about why you need to upgrade. Is it really for the benefit of your photography? Or because you think your peers, many of whom are internet strangers, will be impressed? Does your eye frame better shots when you have a 50MP device in your hand compared to 20MP? Will you understand form and light or appreciate juxtaposition of colour with more megapixels?
I doubt it, and I say this in all humility, because having seen some of the preview example shots put out by other review sites recently it’s clear to me that they appreciate the gadget more than the art. Supposedly ‘leaders’ in the review sector, many of their photos have no imagination, no clear composition, poor exposure and processing. There are a few exceptions, of course, (Photography Life being a notable one), but only a few. The vast majority, and again just my humble opinion, only fuel the mediocre output but with ever more megapixels to help them.
Buy whatever you want and whatever makes you happy. If you have a need to collect material things to feel better about yourself then that is your prerogative. But for those of you who are interested in photography (and I suspect most visitors to this site are) please spend a little less time stressing over megapixels and a little more time appreciating the amazing contributions from people like Nasim and Thomas. Understand what makes an image work and the discipline required to capture it. I am not for one moment professing that I fully understand; that’s what makes photography so interesting and enjoyable to me. I invest my energies in this constant learning process and the contributors to this site provide excellent inspiration.
I may not have the most pixels available to me and you will forgive my random selection of images here, but hopefully they demonstrate that my pursuit of photography is far more rewarding to me than the camera makers will have you believe.
Sometimes I read these articles and think, “Maybe I didn’t need to spend car-like money on my new D750.” Then I think, “Nah, you’ve been pushing the heck out of your D60 for 6 years and you more than deserve the upgrade.”
How many times can the SAME thing be said?!
Quite simply put, 50MP allows you to do two things:
– Print Large
– Crop and print large
If you don’t need to do either, then 50MP isn’t necessary.
That should have been the length of the article. Anything beyond that was superfluous “content” meant to fatten this blog. [Edit] And showcase the photographer’s work, of course.
Nobody listens – they are all too engaged in a vainglorious pixel war.
Relax, man. You seemed to have missed (badly) Mr. Whiskey’s other excellent points…
Your edit should have read as follows: “[Edit] And showcase the photographer’s work made with a 6 MP camera, of course.”
The advantage of having a camera with few MP is that almost any lens will do good work.
The disadvantage of having a camera with so many MP is that the vast majority of lens will not do good work. And that is the problem with cameras like nikon d800, d800e, canon 5ds, 5dsr…
But wait, this is really the same problem that have any 20 MP aps-c camera. You can’t get a lens with the sharpness you need for the resolution that sensor has. (You can check this it at dxomark.com lens compare tool).
Then there is, of course, the issue of how many MP you need be satisfied. And sometimes it’s better to have appropriate than to have too many.
Beautiful photos :)
Generally yes, but it is also true that
with higher MP sensor you still effectively get more MP out of your
lens-sensor combo, even though you utilize less of a sensor resolution
of high MP beast. For example when you couple quite a good lens to D700
you may effectively get 11MP out of 12MP, but when you use this same
lens with D600 you may get 19MP out of 24MP and with D800, you may get
26MP out of 36MP. One thing you need to remember with DxO though, they
rate average performance of a lens (i.e. over the full aperture range)
and so you can actually better utilize sensor resolution when you use it
at its ‘sweet spot’ (your shooting technique is equally important when
using high MP cameras). That is why those cameras are primarily for
people that know what they are doing, while others may be disappointment
with the results when comparing to lower MP cameras.
The point is another. Perhaps you have a d800 with 36 MP, but in most cases and with most lens you will be only at 50% of it’s full resolution. Although you know what are you doing… The same can be applied to 5ds.
I feel like you did not read or understand my comment…yes, on average you utilize higher MP sensors less, but by using a particular aperture setting and photographing technique you can significantly improve on that average…
Can you put an example? take the d800. 36 MP.
Sigma 35 mm f1.4 gets 23 MP on it. It’s 64% of sensor MP.
So, as you are a person who know what you are doing, can you say a lens in that configuration where you can get 80% of sensor MP? Perhaps in its ‘sweet spot’ you get 90% of sensor MP?
It is a bit artificial to talk about effective use of a senor resolution anyway. That is because most digital cameras out there (with bayer filters) filter out 2/3 of available information and then mathematically reconstruct you a final image with this lacking 2/3. I do not think I need to tell you how this affects final resolution…But when you stick to DxO numbers, they give you an average as I said. So when you avoid aberrations (shooting with big/open apertures) and diffraction (shooting with small/close apertures) then you can do better then that (providing you get focus, exposure and everything else right)
If you use a 8 MP sensor and a 8 MP lens, you will see what is sharpness, even in a bayer sensor. If you have a 20 MP sensor and a 8 MP lens, you will see no sharpness. It’s easy to try. It’s a fact, not a belief.
Perhaps DxO numbers are an average, but that average it’s far away from sensor MP. And perhaps you can do it a bit better, but I think that you can’t do it a lot better. That’s the question. I think that today the lens have fallen short with respect to the sensors.
This is “sort of true” on its face, but it kind of misses the point that many photographers buy higher level gear to test themselves and develop their own technique. Taking this argument to an extreme, I know that I can actually take a really great photo with a smartphone as well as my D810 (though I’ve had to become good with smartphones and Canon DSLRs because of the number of tourists who ask for you to take their picture around central London with one or the other…but I digress), so why do I ever use my D810 for photography?
To get back to the point for a second, I did the same thing a few years back in switching from a Sony A700 to a Sony A900. Shooting with a higher resolution sensor made me improve my shooting technique to get better results and I’m glad I did it. A similar thing happened more recently when I switched from a D600 to a D800E. It made me curse the D800E, but I’m incredibly glad that I made the move because it improved my technique. I’m certain that when I do get great results with my Df, it’s as least part because of the fact I exercise the technique and discipline that shooting with a higher MP camera has taught me. Aside from all the megapixels there are things (at least on cameras that use Sony sensors) that go with them, like improved dynamic range that are valuable to a photographer.
Now, of course, I’m glad I shot so much with 24mp plus cameras because it looks much better on the 5k display I’ve just acquired. Which is itself a reason that technology moves on, because other technology also moves on too – I can’t say I enjoy the feeling of looking at landscape shots taken with my first DSLR and having them look ordinary solely because of the display technology I choose to use.
None of this means shooting with a 6 or 12mp camera is wrong, backward or silly. A photographer can easily produce staggering results with a D40 or D700. But equally, what is intrinsically wrong with higher MP cameras if they offer some advantages in use?
I don’t think I can ever get very high with the MP, as I’m finding some difficulties getting the focus right with a 16MP camera. I’m only a high school freshman and I’ve only been shooting for about 6 months, and I’ve looked at all the proper handholding techniques, but it’s the focus is almost always placed just slightly off. I’m not sure what exactly I’m doing wrong…can anyone help?
DSLRs use a different sensor to adjust autofocus than to record the image. If you get good focus through live view but not through ordinary autofocus, this may be the problem. Many DSLRs allow you to adjust for this in the camera but not if you have one of the cheapest models. Nasim has written several articles about this.
Normally I use the viewfinder though. I haven’t seen those articles, can you send me the link?
If you search on this site for “Calibrating Lenses”, three of the results are relevant: How to quickly test your DSLR for autofocus issues; Autofocus Issues and Lens Calibration explained. I suggest you read them in that order because that’s the order they appeared in.
Steven Li, Murray’s comment is right on. Although most cameras will give you what you want sometimes it is the equipment. One suggestion I can give you is be gentile with the shutter. Many new photographers, once they have composed and focused their cameras, often push too hard on the shutter button. Like shooting a pistol or rifle, it takes time to learn to squeeze not jerk the shutter.
Another example I will give you. Recently, I was helping a class from my camera club with night photography. One of the club members was complaining about not getting images in focus. She had what I believed to be a good Canon lens, however, another photographer had the same lens but an L series. A pro lens. We mounted it on her camera and she saw the difference right away. Sometimes, as I said before, it is the equipment.
If you have a tripod try this experiment. Mount the camera, use the AF, set the on camera timer for a time delay shot and press the shutter…gently. If the picture comes out sharper than what you are getting hand held you will know it is your technique that need to be practiced.
Ok thanks. I’m pretty sure I haven’t made the habit of squeezing the shutter button, as I normally depress it halfway down first anyways despite whether I’m on auto or manual focus. I’ll see whether it works or not. Thanks again
Steven, another tip I might offer. If your camera allows the feature of assigning the AE-L/AF-L button to focus, you may find this helpful. I never personally liked having to half depress the shutter button. Also, breathing is important. When you are about to depress the shutter, don’t hold your breath in as the additional air in your lungs will cause your heart to beat faster. Instead, breath out until it is just comfortable, wait a second, then depress the shutter.
Thanks for the advice, I never heard of the breathing technique and I’ve only used the AE-L/AF-L for exposure so I’ll try them both. Thanks again.
Stephen, I think if you can set your AE-L/AF-L to lock focus and use the shutter button for release only, you will find this much easier. Another technique I would mention for you to practice is your stance. If you are standing straight up on both feet just spread apart you are not as steady as you could be if you put one foot slightly in front of the other about 10 inches apart. When taking that step forward, you should still be able to lift either foot and stand.
I couldn’t do that when I last tried – but I was being breathalysed at the time.
Where are my 3 comments from yesterday? Why they were deleted?
Waldemar, we normally don’t delete any comments, unless you were swearing your guts out :)
I see a few comments from you, but you need to click “Load More Comments” to see them.
I’m pretty sure the point of these new generation sensors isn’t that they will make you a better photographer, but that the photos you make using them will be highly resolved detail, and hopefully, dynamic range wise. Why would someone resist a better product.
Because the benefits of a better sensor may not justify the costs of upgrade. If upgrading to a D810, that may include costs of upgrading cards, RAM and storage. If only outputting to the web, the increased resolution may be irrelevant. Depending on what you start from, increases in dynamic range may be modest.
I made the assumption that a photographer wants to produce something in an upgrade, which is superior technically, and within the confines of what we’re talking about here, than what he or she was producing before. And ultimately one makes a decision to upgrade or not for a variety of reasons, a couple of which you’ve mentioned. Personally speaking, I wouldn’t hesitate. Ram is cheap, storage is very cheap, and cpu’s are cheap. But, what’s good and right for one person may not be good and right for someone else.
If a photographer wants to “produce something superior techincally than he or she was producing”, then the next step is for the photographer to upgrade himself/herself, not the gear.
I retract everything. Thank you for this revelation
You didn’t specify any assumptions, you merely asked “Why would someone resist a better product?” and I answered that. I forgot to mention they may also need to upgrade their lenses. In any case, for most people, upgrading to a D810 is not likely to improve the qualities of their photographs because the resolution of the camera is so far in excess of the capacities of web display.
Many thanks for this article, which is so very true… Among other things it made me dig my own D40 pics in my archives… And you know what ? To my nostalgic eyetThey looked better than the ones I’m taking with X-T1 these days… Unbelievable… Or maybe this is because the way back then I was just 8 years younger ?
Thanks Nikita. You know, when I was searching through my archives for some D40 pics to illustrate this article, I was impressed by the quality of the images and how well they hold up even now. But even so, for me personally the image as a whole has to be worthy of viewing, not just the quality of the pixels :)
Sharif, great article and of course you knew you were going to obtain opinions from both sides. The other day I finally found and am going to purchase a D-40. It was my first entry level experimental camera when my publishers would no longer use film. I didn’t know if I would continue in photography since I didn’t understand digital. However, after using the D-40 for about 6 months I switched to the D-90 and then the D-7100. Now I have added D800e and D750 to that assortment. Not for MP but for features which make my work easier. Currently I am experimenting with LED lighting to replace on and off camera strobes and flash. I work every day as a photographer in my business and practice with the new lighting to enhance the ease with which I can accomplish my assignments. As Betty, writes below, nothing we buy in gear will ever replace “learning and practice”.
Thanks Mike. I mainly use my Olympus EM-5 for my photography these days, mainly because it’s lighter and has great features regardless of its sensor. I used the D40 pics from my archives to illustrate this article and help make my point. :) But I still keep it as it is a terrific little machine and never ceases to impress me.
My motivation is a bit more selfish. First, I loved the images that camera produced in jpeg. Second, my wife has not been able to easily hand hold some of the larger DSLR in my kits. I’m thinking with a kit lens and the D40 she might just want to take a walk with our grand daughter and make some of her own photos. But then it is a great little party camera too.
Thank You! Sharing this today with my Digital Photography One class in Denver. Many of them have found great deals on great dslrs in the 6-12mp range and should go forth with confidence! Keep up the ‘sanity’ message;)
Thank you! I’ll try! Hope your class enjoys it :)