Each year camera manufacturers are pushing the limits of sensor technology and the latest trend has been to increase sensor resolution to numbers that were considered unfathomable before. With full-frame cameras reaching 50 megapixels (MP) and medium format cameras pushing beyond 80 MP, we now know that the megapixel race won’t stop there and we will most likely be seeing cameras with even more resolution in the future. But the big question remains – how much resolution does one truly need today? Is 12 MP too little? Is 50 MP too much? While it is a subject that can be open to endless debates, I have been working on a methodology to determine the ideal megapixel range for one’s needs. In this article, I will share what I came up with and it will hopefully serve as a good guide for our readers in deciding how to address the megapixel quench. I highly recommend to read my camera resolution explained article as a pre-requisite to understand the relationship of resolution to printing, cropping, display size and to understand such terms as down-sampling in more detail.
Although the megapixel race has been going on since digital cameras had been invented, the last few years in particular have seen a huge increase in resolution – we have seen everything from 41 megapixel camera phones to now 50.6 megapixel full-frame DSLR cameras. It seems like we have already reached the theoretical maximum for handling noise at high ISOs with the current generation sensor technology, so the manufacturers are now focusing their efforts in packing more resolution, while keeping sensor sizes the same in order to lure more customers to upgrade to the latest and greatest. In this article, I will try to explain some basic terminology in regards to resolution and hopefully help our readers in understanding camera resolution better.
If you are wondering about how images look from the newly announced Canon 5DS and 5DS R DSLR cameras, below you will find the official image samples from Canon USA for both cameras. Let’s take a look at the 5DS images first (apologies for wrong orientation on vertical images – our system could not properly handle orientation on such large files):
The ever-raging Canon vs Nikon debate might have you believing users of those particular systems are the most loyal to their brands. From what I’ve seen, though, neither Canon nor Nikon shooters have anything on those who shoot Pentax and swear by it. It’s a very niche system, that. No other DSLR manufacturer has such an array of competitive products priced so aggressively, that are also so compact and, when it comes to high-end models, so brilliantly rugged. No other DSLR manufacturer has such a great lineup of tiny, high quality autofocus prime lenses. And no other DSLR manufacturer has had so much trouble trying to find its identity. For a while now, Pentax has been experimenting with the narrowest of niches, launching boldly styled cameras, or boldly tiny interchangeable lens cameras with even smaller sensors. And yet those loyal to the brand always stuck by it. How happy they must be now that those who always ridiculed the brand will have their most valuable argument brushed away – “Pentax has no FF camera”. It’s true, there is no full-frame Pentax camera. But there will be, and rather soon. And for those who would rather avoid the pointless which-system-is-better debates, it means a new alternative to the best DSLR cameras on the market is soon to present itself.
When Canon announced the 7D Mark II in September of 2014, I got quite intrigued by the camera and really wanted to try it out. Like many others, I have been getting pretty tired of waiting for Nikon’s “Pro DX” refresh to replace the D300S, which came out back in 2009 (almost 6 years ago!), so I wanted to see whether such a tool would still make sense for Nikon to release based on specifications, performance and price. Sporting a high-end autofocus system with 65 cross-type focus points, insanely fast 10 fps continuous shooting speed, dual image processors, -3 EV light sensitivity, magnesium alloy construction and weather sealing, the Canon 7D Mark II is specifically tailored at sports and wildlife photographers. And with its price tag of $1799 MSRP, the 7D Mark II sounds much more appealing to budget-conscious photographers who do not want to pay close to 4x more for the much heavier and bulkier EOS-1D X.
DSLR customers have had a nagging sense that manufacturers were far more interested in having them upgrade their cameras than providing additional capabilities to the customers that already purchased DSLRs. Back in the days of mechanical film cameras, it would have been a challenge for OEMs to deliver upgraded capabilities to existing customers. Customers would have had to bring their equipment into a local shop or send it to the camera manufacturer to be retrofitted with new capabilities – a prospect not very practical or financially attractive for manufacturers or customers. In a digital world, however, enhancing just about any product has become a simple software download and installation process. Thus the idea that any digital product (particularly a sophisticated and expensive one) should remain relatively static over its lifetime has become obsolete. It appears that Nikon may be ready to acknowledge and address this growing concern.
In September of 2014, my wife and I had the great fortune to take the trip of a lifetime to South Africa, Botswana and Zambia. The trip was more than a year in the planning which gave me the chance to think about what camera equipment I wanted to take along. Our itinerary was not one of the ones designed specifically for photographers however I had no doubt we would have plenty of opportunity to take pictures!
Along with the exciting Nikkor 300mm f/4E PF ED VR, Nikon also announced a boring entry-level camera. After skipping the D5400 for no reason (Nikon marketing at its best), the D5500 was revealed at the CES with very similar specs as the D5300, except it gains a touchscreen and drops the GPS module. Same resolution, same processor, same fps, WiFi, same menu and features for the most part, except for slightly different design that resulted in a smaller and lighter camera. It seems like Nikon has no clue what else to add to the D5x00 line to make it more interesting and this release is one of those “announce to announce” series, yet another camera to add to the camera pollution just to keep the line fresh. Instead of doing something innovative (mirrorless design, EVF, focus peaking, electronic shutter, etc), Nikon adds a pointless touchscreen feature and gets rid of the far more important GPS component. With all this, Nikon increases the price of the D5500 by $100, pushing it towards $900 MSRP.
One of our readers, who is a very busy professional wedding photographer, asked me if proactive maintenance with the manufacturer is worth the money or not. After a busy wedding season, she sent one of her Canon 5D Mark III cameras to Canon service center for cleaning. Shortly after the service center received the camera, she was told that her 5D Mark III had over 200,000 images, which was way above the shutter life of the camera, which is rated at 150,000. For a $600 fee, the Canon service center suggested to replace the shutter mechanism with a brand new one, promising that the camera would keep on clicking. Since $600 sounded better than paying $3K for a replacement camera, the reader asked advice from me, to see if it was indeed worth paying for the shutter replacement as proactive maintenance. I recommended not to do it for the following reason: shutter mechanism failures are completely random and it is best to replace the shutter when it actually fails.
It reminds me of Goldoni’s “Servant of Two Masters“; only masters are now more than two and quite often they are not only capricious but they do not know what they want. First, any comparison is open to critics because even in a well-equipped lab it is impossible to repeat the shooting conditions from a year ago, or even from a day before while shooting to compare a newer model to an older one; the criteria for necessary accuracy is not set, or not made public, or not recognized by the community. Second, one single body in the testing opens the door for sample variation questions; and once again tolerances are not brought to the light. Third, using different lenses for different mounts does not help leveling the field. Using lens adapters to shoot with the same lens is often suggested, but it opens another can of worms: adapter alignment problems and different amounts of internal flare added by different adapters skew the results.