Benefits of a High Resolution Sensor

As camera manufacturers are continuing the megapixel race, with Sony releasing a bunch of 24 MP APS-C (1.5 crop-factor) cameras like Sony A77, A65 and NEX-7, and Nikon releasing a high resolution 36 MP Nikon D800, many of us photographers question the need for such a high resolution sensor. Some of us are happy while others are angry about these latest trends. Just when we thought companies like Nikon abandoned the megapixel race, instead of seeing other companies do the same, we now see Nikon back in the game with a new breed of product with a boatload of pixels. Why did Nikon all of a sudden decide to flip the game? Why does everyone seem to be going for more pixels rather than better low-light / high ISO performance? Does a high resolution sensor make sense? What are the true benefits of a high resolution sensor? In this article, I will provide my thoughts on what I think has happened with Nikon’s camera strategy, along with a few points on benefits of a high resolution sensor.

Nikon D4 Sensor

Pixel Size, Pixel Density, Sensor Size and Image Processing Pipeline

OK, this topic is rather complex if you do not know anything about pixels and sensors. Before you read any further, I highly recommend to read my “FX vs DX” article, where I specifically talk about pixel and sensor sizes and their impact on image quality.

As you may already know, pixel size, pixel density and sensor size all contribute to how well a camera deals with low-light situations (high ISO performance) and how well it sees range of light (dynamic range). Pixel size is a very important attribute of a sensor’s overall performance – typically the larger the pixel, the better the overall performance. Pixel density is closely related to the pixel size – larger pixels equal lower pixel density, smaller pixels equal higher pixel density. That’s because pixel density is measured by the number of pixels per inch. There is a fourth, very important attribute that very few people mention when talking about pixels and sensors that also plays a huge role; it is the software algorithm run by the image processor that analyses the data from the sensor and runs a series of image processing steps to reduce various artifacts, reduce noise, apply sharpening and more. This is commonly called the “image processing pipeline”. All four of these factors significantly impact the overall image quality and are closely related to each other. A good camera should have a good balance of pixel size and pixel density, sensor size and image processing pipeline.

Let me give a few examples to clarify this a little more. If you have two identically sized sensors – one with small pixels (hence higher pixel density), and one with large pixels (lower pixel density), everything else being the same, the former should generally produce lower quality images than the latter, especially when it comes to noise. The Nikon D3s, having much larger pixel size performs much better at high ISOs than the Nikon D3x (when viewed at 100%), which has more pixels / resolution and smaller pixel size. Makes sense, that’s why Nikon makes two different cameras for different needs.

Now let’s take another example. If you take two cameras with different sized sensors, “A” being the one with a larger sensor and “B” being the one with a smaller sensor, which one would perform better? It would depend on pixel size and density and the image processing pipeline – the other important variables I talked about above. If the image processing pipeline is exactly the same and the pixel size on camera “B” is the same as in camera “A” (hence “B” has less total resolution), then we should see very similar pixel-level performance. Now what if camera “B” has the same resolution as camera “A”, but has a much better image processing pipeline? Pixel size on camera “B” is smaller, which technically should make camera “B” produce more noise, but its image processing pipeline is superior and hence it compensates for the difference. When comparing images from both cameras, despite variances in sensor sizes, you might see very similar noise performance (I am obviously excluding depth of field and other differences for simplicity purposes). I explained this in more detail in my Nikon 1 V1 Review. While having a much smaller sensor than the competition, the Nikon 1 V1 shows impressive high ISO performance due to a much better image processing pipeline. When people first saw that the Nikon 1 V1 high ISO images look clean, many claimed that Nikon was “cheating” by adding noise reduction at high ISOs even on RAW files. What they don’t realize is that Nikon has been doing it for a while now and it is by far not the only manufacturer that does it. Everybody is doing it nowadays; otherwise images would look too darn noisy! There is absolutely nothing wrong with this sort of noise reduction, as long as the manufacturer knows how to properly apply noise reduction without losing too much detail.

Lastly, let’s take two different cameras with identical sensors with the same pixel size and density. One might perform better than the other in terms of noise. How? Again, better in-camera image processing. Sony manufactures most of Nikon’s sensors and uses those same sensors in their Sony Alpha DSLRs. And yet due to Nikon’s better image processing pipeline, Nikon cameras show better overall image quality, specifically at high ISOs. Same sensors, different output.

There are other important variables such as overall quality of sensor, bayer and anti-aliasing filters that also contribute to overall image quality, but I am not adding them to the mix for simplicity purposes.

Nikon’s Change in Strategy

So why did Nikon all of a sudden decide to reverse its game and go with a high resolution sensor on a lower-end full-frame body like the Nikon D800? Because it makes sense for Nikon. Canon realized this a while ago, which is why it introduced the Canon 5D Mark II with a 21 MP sensor. Nikon started out with its flagship Nikon D3 line, then came up with a lower-end D700 body that used the same sensor, same AF and other specifications, including the image processing pipeline. As expected, the lower-end Nikon D700 started to heavily cannibalize the D3 sales. Demand for the D700 skyrocketed, while D3 was not selling so well anymore. Then Nikon released the D3x as its flagship “high resolution” camera. With the pricing strategy Nikon chose, it killed the potential D3x sales and made it out of reach for most people out there. By then, Nikon D700 was selling strong and both D3 and D3x were suffering badly. Then came the Nikon D3s, which offered significantly better low-light performance. The flagship product was back in the spotlight and sales figures started to look better – those who needed the best camera would get the D3s, while everybody else that had budget constraints had to live with the D700. D3x continued to suffer, despite the drop in price. Meanwhile, Canon was doing really well with its two cameras – the Canon 5D Mark II sold like crazy, while pros that needed better low-light capabilities got the 1D Mark IV (if only it was not for the plagued AF issues on the 1D series, the camera would have sold even better). What happened with Canon 1Ds sales? That’s right, just like the D3x they also plummeted. Canon 5D Mark II has been the best selling Canon camera among most photo enthusiasts and pros. Differences? Canon 5D Mark II appeals to all kinds of photographers from wedding/events to landscape and fashion photographers, while the D700 mostly appeals to wedding/events and sports/wildlife with the MB-D10 battery pack. The last part is where Nikon made a mistake. With the MB-D10 and the right batteries, the Nikon D700 can be almost as fast as the original D3, sharing mostly identical features and costs much less. Nikon D3s was late in the game – D700 sales were still very strong even after D3s came out. We all anxiously waited for the Nikon D700s with the same D3s sensor, but it never came out. Then we thought we would get a D700x, which also never materialized. If Nikon released a D700s, it would have killed D3s sales. If it released a D700x, it would have buried the D3x forever.

Now we are about to see a significant change in strategy, with a new breed of a lower-end D800 pro line with a high resolution sensor. Do the same thing Canon does – high resolution, low FPS, perhaps less features here and there to differentiate it from the D4 line, so that it does not cannibalize the D4 sales. Sports and wildlife photographers spend tens of thousands of dollars on expensive 600mm lenses, so they clearly can afford to buy the D4. Everyone else that cannot, has to live with a camera that would appeal to a large group of people – from landscape, architecture and studio photographers to event photographers that do not seem to mind a high resolution camera. Canon released the 7D to compete with the D300s and recently introduced the 1DX to compete with the D4, why not bite them back with something that can challenge the 5D Mark II?

But revenge and larger market capture are not the only reasons why Nikon decided to go with a 36 MP sensor on the D800, in my opinion. There are two more key factors here – high resolution sensors are cheaper to make in the long run for Nikon than low-light sensors. Sounds wrong, but Nikon spends a lot of R&D money on its noise reduction algorithms. And after spending all that time and money, it is painful to see something like the D700 cannibalize its flagship line sales. Do you know that both Nikon D3 and D3s have almost identical sensors? The difference between Nikon D3 and D3s is mostly software – the same image processing pipeline changes I have been talking about. That’s why you do not see any improvements at low ISOs – the Nikon D3s only looks better above ISO 800. With Sony making high resolution sensors for Nikon, it is better to just go with the flow than continue the same trend. Put the primary focus on the flagship line, make it super attractive for all that need it and can afford it and introduce a lower-end pro line for everyone else that wants a high-resolution but slow full-frame camera. Increase the price on the latter so that it does not eat up the flagship sales and the problem is solved. Nikon knows that Canon abandoned its 1Ds line, so why bother with two flagship products? Most likely we won’t be seeing a D4x in the future.

This is my analysis of the current Nikon situation. I might be wrong, so we will see – time will show.

The Benefit of a High Resolution Sensor

By now you have probably read about the “megapixel myth” and have probably heard this phrase a number of times: “camera resolution does not matter”. It sure does. Now before rotten tomatoes come flying my way, let me first finish the sentence: depending on what you do with your photos. If you only publish your photos for the web, or print on your small printer at home or provide pictures to your wedding/event clients, then you would rarely need more than 10-12 megapixels. But if you are a landscape or a fashion photographer that wants to sell large prints then you need a high resolution camera. Even many wildlife photographers choose to shoot with a DX camera for the “reach”. If I could get my hands on a 36 MP sensor and have the ability to crop my frame to what I can get with a DX camera today for the same “reach”, I would be a happy camper. There is a reason why there is demand for high-resolution cameras like the Canon 5D Mark II. If digital Medium Format cameras were affordable, those 40-50 MP cameras would be in huge demand. Yes, most of us can easily live with a low-resolution camera. In fact, considering what most of us end up doing with our pictures, even the compact mirror-less cameras would suffice for 90% of our needs. However, there are many photographers out there that would hugely benefit from a higher resolution camera.

The megapixel myth is true, but it works both ways. The need for a high-resolution sensor is as much of a myth as the need for a low-light sensor. I own the Nikon D3s, which has been the king of low-light photography until D4 came out. How many really high ISO images above ISO 1600 do you think I have delivered to my clients, compared to low ISO images? Not that many. Why? Because to get the highest quality images, I avoid shooting at very high ISOs when possible. Except for some extreme situations like shooting wildlife at dusk or dawn and maybe shooting in dim churches, you will find yourself rarely using extremely high ISOs. If you don’t believe me, open up your Lightroom and do a quick count of images below ISO 800 and above ISO 800 for the last year. You will be surprised to see the numbers (unless you have no idea how to shoot your camera and have your D3s permanently set to ISO 3200 :))

My point is this – a good general-purpose camera should have a good balance of sensor resolution and low-light capabilities. So, extremely high resolution is bad, because image processing algorithms won’t be able to cope with that much noise today. And at the same time, you are not getting much out of a low-light sensor if it has too little resolution.

Finally, what is the benefit of a high resolution sensor? The true benefit of a high resolution sensor when compared to a low-resolution / low-light sensor, is that you have the option to down-size/down-sample your images in post-processing. Why would you want to do that? To reduce the amount of noise, of course. With a high resolution sensor, you have the option to shoot really big images and you can down-sample their size in low-light situations to reduce the amount of noise. With a low-resolution low-light camera, you can shoot good quality images right out of the camera, but you can never effectively increase its resolution. You would be surprised how little of a difference you will see when taking an image from the D3 at ISO 3200 and comparing it to an image from the D3x at ISO 3200, down-sampled to 12 MP. Now I am not here to say that D3x and D3 have the same high ISO noise, because it depends on how you look at it. At 100% pixel size view, the Nikon D3 is obviously going to look better. But when both are viewed at 12 MP, meaning the D3x image down-sampled to 12 MP to match the D3 image, then the images will look similar in terms of noise. Don’t believe me? Head on to DxOMark, put D3 and D3x side by side, then look at the SNR chart under “Measurements” in “Print” size:

Nikon D3 vs D3x Print Size

Those noise levels look about the same to me. If Nikon D3x came out after D3s, we would have probably seen similar results in the above chart when comparing the two.

Is 36 MP an overkill on a full-frame sensor? Given what Nikon has been doing with its noise reduction, then no, it is not an overkill. If my projections are right, we should be seeing at least a 1 full stop improvement over the D700 when the D800 image is down-sampled between 12-16 MP. What this means is that at ISO 3200, the Nikon D800 should look about the same or better than Nikon D700 at ISO 1600, when the D800 image is down-sampled to 12-16 MP. And you should end up with a sharper D800 image on top of that (due to resizing). Nikon’s built-in noise reduction, along with Photoshop/Lightroom software image reduction algorithms should make this happen.

Don’t be scared of 36 megapixels. Remember, the pixel size on the D800 will be the same as on the current D7000. If you find your lenses to be working well with the D7000, they will work equally well on the upcoming Nikon D800, with the exception of corners – that’s where you might see differences. That’s because D7000 hides the corners of full-frame lenses due to the smaller sensor, while the D800 will expose them in full. But you can work around those problems in the field. Crop the corners a little more if your lens has bad corner performance – you will have plenty of pixels to work with.

A high resolution sensor would obviously have its own disadvantages as well. More resolution equals bigger files, hence slower FPS (I know some might say slower post-processing as well, but it is debatable, because computers are very fast nowadays and should be able to easily cope with higher processor and storage requirements). On top of that, even a large memory buffer would clog up pretty quickly, so shooting continuously at 4 FPS for more than a few seconds is out of the question. But that’s what the D4 is for. Need to spray and pray? Get a D4. And if buffer or image size are such a problem, shoot away in DX mode. You will have that option on the D800.

What are you thoughts on all this?


  1. 1) GregB
    January 9, 2012 at 4:06 am


    Great analysis. Thank you.
    In one point I think it should be corrected: at ISO 3200, the Nikon D800 should look about the same or better than Nikon D700 at I S O 1 6 0 0

    • January 9, 2012 at 7:32 am

      Greg, why do you say this? It is a newer sensor, but no guarantees until we see the results, right?

      • January 9, 2012 at 10:11 am

        Francois, no, he is right – it was a typo on my side :)

    • January 9, 2012 at 7:33 am

      To clarify – if downsampled to the same resolution I will expect your comment to hold. Since the D3S has about a 1 stop advantage over the D700.

    • January 9, 2012 at 10:11 am

      Greg, you are absolutely right – that’s what happens when I write articles very late at night :)

      I corrected the article, thank you for your feedback!

  2. 2) Bogdan
    January 9, 2012 at 5:11 am

    You mentioned several times about down-sampling from 36Mp to 12 Mp. How is this done in real life? Or is just a theoretical concept? Is there a way for doing this with a picture editing software? If this can be accomplished, then we’ll have two cameras in one body? This would be awesome, but I’ve never heard of it before.

    • 2.1) Murray Foote
      January 9, 2012 at 5:31 am

      In Photoshop: Image/ Image Size …

      … Then in the dialogue box that appears, resample image (probably using bicubic sharper) and half the resolution (e.g. from 300dpi to 150dpi).

      (Later, reduce the size of the image to suit but without resampling, if the resolution is now too low for printing.)

    • January 9, 2012 at 10:14 am

      Bogdan, “down-sampling” is a fancy term for “resizing”, which is a super easy process in Photoshop or Lightroom. Like Murray pointed out below, you just go to Image->Image Size in Photoshop and pick a resampling method, while Lightroom automatically picks a resampling method when you export images at a lower resolution.

      Any picture editing software can down-sample images, including some built-in image editing tools in Windows.

  3. 3) Bandit Phachanda
    January 9, 2012 at 5:11 am

    Best analysis. Thank you.
    for good articles about Nikon I don’t knows

  4. 4) Murray Foote
    January 9, 2012 at 5:22 am

    A very incisive and useful article, Nasim, food for thought.

    However, I took up your challenge for ISO usage:

    “Except for some extreme situations like shooting wildlife at dusk or dawn and maybe shooting in dim churches, you will find yourself rarely using extremely high ISOs. If you don’t believe me, open up your Lightroom and do a quick count of images below ISO 800 and above ISO 800 for the last year. You will be surprised to see the numbers (unless you have no idea how to shoot your camera and have your D3s permanently set to ISO 3200 :))”

    Overall, last year I shot 22,200 images, 40% below ISO800, 15% at ISO800 and 45% above. However, there were marked difference according to type of image.

    In my trip of Patagonia, Antarctica and Easter Island, 54% were below 800ISO and 20% on 800ISO, higher than I would have thought but reflecting use of a tripod where possible. On the other hand, in Antarctica, 50% of my shots were over 800ISO as I took many shots from the ship or zodiacs (requiring both high shutter speeds and high ISOs).

    In a recent trip to New York, solely using a Fujifilm X100, 70% of shots were over ISO800, reflecting street photography, shots inside museums and live music.

    I also took 5,300 shots of live music in 2011 (not counting New York) and 90% of those were over 800ISO including probably 100% of the shots at night.

    So it may not apply to landscapes on land but there can be a case for extensive use of high ISOs. Mind you, I’m probably not arguing against you, just extensively shooting in your exception cases.

    • January 9, 2012 at 10:21 am

      Thank you Murray!

      Great stats, but now take the best images you have from the trip, the ones you would print or deliver to your client. I am sure you will favor sharp images at lower ISO levels – the ones that look the best with the least amount of noise. Also, how high did you go on the ISOs? What is the ratio of images shot above ISO 3200? The D3s/D4 cameras shine at very high ISOs above 3200…

      If you frequently go to Patagonia and Antartica, then you need a pro-level body anyway :) I don’t know about battery life on the D4 in cold though, you would probably need 3-4 of those.

      • 4.1.1) Murray Foote
        January 9, 2012 at 9:51 pm

        On the Patagonia/ Antarctica/ Easter Island trip, I took 54% @ less than 800ISO, 20% @ 800ISO, 17% @ 1600ISO, 7% @ 3200ISO, 0% (71) @ 6400ISO, 0% (48) @ 12800ISO and 0% (44) @ 25600ISO. All the shots @ 25,600ISO and most of those at 12,800ISO were experimental shots at night of the sea as we sailed along the Lemaire Channel, using only the ship’s searchlight as it searched for icebergs.

        That’s 14,500 images. When I look at the 400 rated at 4 stars, there is very little difference in the ISO distribution: 55% @ less than 800ISO, 20% @ 800ISO, 15% @ 1600ISO, 5% @ 3200ISO, 1% @ 6400ISO, 1% @ 12800ISO and 0% @ 25600ISO.

        However, if I look at the 3,600 Antarctic shots alone, there is a significant difference in the ISO distribution of selected shots. Of all taken, there were 29% @ less than 800ISO, 21% @ 800ISO, 41% @ 1600ISO and 9% @ more than 1600ISO; whereas of four star images, there were 40% @ less than 800ISO, 29% @ 800ISO, 23% @ 1600ISO and 8% @ more than 1600ISO. Most of our zodiac cruises were in Antarctica so the larger number of selected images at lower ISOs may simply represent a higher failure rate taking shots from the zodiac than onshore with a tripod.

        Complicating the statistics is my use of multiple-shot modes. I often bracketed for exposure, sometimes also for panoramas, a few times for depth of field and occasionally in burst mode to catch action.

        I took both a D3s and a D3 though 80% of shots were with the D3s. I took a spare battery for each so I had four batteries in total (and all Nikon of course, not 3rd party). I also used a GPS and had seen someone else report heavy battery usage with that. However, I found battery life to be excellent and didn’t really end up needing the 4th battery.

        I made much greater us of high ISOs in my live music shots. 2,400 were of musicians and bands and 2,900 were at Blues Festivals. The shots of musicians and bands were mainly at local venues, usually with poor lighting so I tended to use higher ISOs there. None were below 1600ISO, 5% @ 1600ISO, 28% @ 3200ISO, 60% @ 6400ISO and 7% @ 12,800ISO. For the Blues Festivals, usually with much better lighting, 18% were below 1600 ISO (probably all in daylight), 30% @ 1600ISO, 17% @ 3200ISO, 30% @ 6400ISO and 5% @ 12,800ISO. The ISO distribution was pretty much the same for 4-star images from the Blues Festivals. There was a difference, though, for musicians and bands where the 4-star proportion was higher for 6400ISO and lower for 3200ISO. Why, I’m not sure. Of course the image quality criterion is different for a live music shot than a landscape. 6,400ISO from a D3s can work fine and if well exposed, may not even require noise reduction.

        • Mihai
          February 27, 2012 at 4:38 am

          Thank you Nasim and Murray for bought your post

          Murray I always wandered how high in ISO and how much professional photographers use it.
          And I was thinking to those that really need high ISO.
          But you gave me the answer.
          What I understand from your post is the following:
          if you have a camera that can only do good 12MP images at ISO 6400 you would have lost only
          ~3% of your 4 star photos from your trip to Patagonia and the Antarctic
          ~7% of your live music shots

          Now I wonder how many cameras can fit this description if you were to do some slight noise reduction from raw and then resample it at 12MP.
          Is there something that I missed?

          • Murray Foote
            March 4, 2012 at 1:39 am

            Hi Mihai

            You can take good shots of live music with almost any digital camera. The first thing is that you have to understand the limitation of your camera and then consider the lighting conditions. Some stages are quite brightly lit. However, with a dedicated low-light camera you will have more opportunities and better image quality. Dynamic range will decrease quite markedly with increased ISO and similarly with a less capable camera. Some shots this will make no difference but for many it will.

            Some years ago I was shooting live music with a Panasonic FZ20 and then FZ50 – small sensor digicams not very suited to the task. I learned a lot about noise reduction and sharpening to get good images I could print to A3+, though admittedly not to the quality of a D3s. With the D3s, a well-exposed image at 6400ISO may not need noise reduction.

            With most landscape images you don’t need a camera with much low-light capability because you can generally use a tripod and slow shutter speeds if necessary.

            Where cameras with good low light capabilities become more useful outdoors is for street photography and wildlife in low light – and, for that matter, shooting landscape or seascape images from a ship. With wildlife, especially birds, you might be using a very long telephoto and a gimbal head, trying to capture fleeting opportunities. You often need high shutter speeds and useable high ISO become useful when the light is low.

            So, you are quite right. You may not need ultra-high ISO cameras and super fast lenses and even a little post-processing goes a long way.

            • Mihai
              March 4, 2012 at 10:02 am

              Thank you Murray

              Your inside view on this matter is very valuable to me as I’m trying to put together a cheap set-up that can do reasonable well birds in flight.
              Thank you once more.

            • Murray Foote
              March 4, 2012 at 7:14 pm

              For a cheap setup for birds in flight I’d suggest something like: Nikon D7000; 300mm f4; TC-14E; good tripod; Arca-Swiss compatible ballhead; Wimberly Sidekick. Sometimes a monopod may work well. The 300mm f4 is also light enough to handhold but in that case you’d need good light and very high shutter speeds (perhaps 1/1000sec or more).

              You can pick the 300mm and the TC14E up second-hand, perhaps from KEH. Buying a tripod requires care because it’s a classic thing to buy too cheap and then have to repurchase. For a cheaper good quality ball-head, perhaps the South Korean Photo Clam or maybe the Chinese SunwayFoto. Alternatively, you could get an Acratec GP which can double as a gimbal head (and therefore not need the Sidekick). I don’t recall Nasim writing any guides to tripods and ballheads but you can find useful ones on

      • 4.1.2) Yao Cheng
        January 10, 2012 at 2:59 am

        “Lightroom quick count shows images below ISO800….”
        I believe: Not many good photos shows up at extreme high ISO is because; the price of high ISO capable camera is too high. Not many people own them.
        If I have a camera that could produce HI image quality at ISO 12800 (can match ISO 400 of D90), then it would not stop me from shooting in LOW light condition.
        I would says that 36MP D800 is ridicules. Low light capability of D7000 (even it is one stop better) is not enough for customers that pay at D800′ price.
        Nikon afraid that LowRes-D800 will consume the market of D4; Are they afraid if the cheap pro dslr’s customer swing to Canon? D4 is way too expensive for enthusiast customers.
        Certainly the key for D700 success is HI ISO capability and customers expect for higher and higher ISO capabilities’ camera since then.
        A lot of people will not going to buy D700 because it is too old, nor they would go for D800 because of its price & HI ISO Performance.
        I prefer to enjoy my existing camera. Wait to see until Nikon realize the sales of D800 is not as good as D700, and decide to launch D800s (Lower Pixel Count) in the coming years :)

    • January 9, 2012 at 10:23 am

      But yes, in short, you do seem to belong to the special group that needs a high ISO body :)

  5. 5) Carmelo
    January 9, 2012 at 5:24 am

    I’m a bit sceptical about the implementation of a 36Mp sensor in the Nikon D800 because the step from 12Mp (D700) or 16MP (D4) to 36 MP is too high. I believe that the Nikon D800 will have something between 15MP and 20MP. Is it really possible to down-sampling a 36MP RAW file to a 12MP RAW file and how? Or is it only possible on JPGs?

    • 5.1) Murray Foote
      January 9, 2012 at 5:35 am

      Remember that a 36MP sensor is only 75% larger than a 12MP sensor, not 300%.

      Yes, it’s possible for any file (see my earlier comment).

      • January 9, 2012 at 7:35 am

        What do you mean with “larger”? The sensor is the same size as in the D3S, but the number of pixels are 3 times higher. This means each pixel gets 1/3 the number of photons to work with (roughly).

        • Profile photo of Nasim Mansurov Nasim Mansurov
          January 9, 2012 at 10:34 am

          Francois, he meant to say “36 MP resolution is only 75% larger”, not sensor. The sensor size is the same.

      • January 9, 2012 at 10:28 am

        That’s one thing that people are always mistaken about, thanks for pointing it out :)

    • 5.2) Axel
      January 9, 2012 at 8:24 am

      Initially, I also felt this would just be wild speculation – and it still may be.

      However, take the D7000 with 16MP on a DX-format sensor. Consider identical pixel density, apply the sensor area ratio between FX and DX (2,25)……and bingo: 36MP on an FX sensor. Depending on the in-camera post-processing effort that Nikon spends on a D800, the ISO capability should at least be on D7000 level then.

      • January 9, 2012 at 10:39 am

        Axel, I should have written about that in the article (updating it now). Yes, D800 is roughly going to have about the same pixel pitch as the D7000. See Nikon D4 vs D800 and compare the pixel pitch on the D800 to D7000 – it is about the same at 4.8µm

        • Lukasz
          August 20, 2014 at 9:05 pm

          OK, so I understand the reason for nikon d800 coping better at higher iso than d7000 is just better in-camera software processing, since the pixel size is basically the same. Now, I have a question, does nikon d800 is able to do any pixel bining? For example, if the camera had 2×2 binding mode 4 pixels should merge into 1 pixel four times the size and so the binned sensor would have 9 Mp but iso performance in this mode of d800 would be really a few stops better than in not binned d7000… Does nikon or other camera manufacturers have a bining option like this at all? I sure would use this mode! I do not see why this would not be done for high megapixel cameras….

    • January 9, 2012 at 10:26 am

      Carmelo, don’t be scared of 36 MP :) After-all, it is like the D7000 but with a full-frame sensor.

      You can down-sample any image in post-processing to whatever you want. Remember, a RAW file is no different than a JPEG file when it comes to resizing it in Lightroom/Photoshop.

  6. 6) Bob
    January 9, 2012 at 5:33 am


    Great article identifying the technological, practical usage implications, and business strategy associated with the “megapixel wars”. I was confused a bit by the sentence below however:

    “Let me give a few examples to clarify this a little more. If you have two identically sized sensors – one with small pixels (hence higher pixel density), and one with large pixels (lower pixel density), everything else being the same, the former should generally produce higher quality images than the latter, especially when it comes to noise.”

    All things being equal, shouldn’t the sensor with larger (fewer) pixels produce less noise? Perhaps I don’t understand how you are using the term “down size/sample”. I did a bit of searching and found some references, but came away thinking that downsampling introduced another algorithm (and perhaps processing time?), as described here:

    Can you explain a bit more about the downsampling option within the new cameras? Most of us are familiar with reducing the size of our photos in Photoshop, because it is impractical and unnecessary to upload very large files to sites such as flickr, 500px, etc. However, I am not familiar with the use of downsampling to reduce the noise of an image prior to processing. In the downsampling described, are you literally instructing the camera to use the entire sensor but just give you half the data, so the image is the same dimensions but less dense (and has less noise), or cropping the image by only using a portion of the sensor, producing a photo with approximately the same dimensions/pixel density of the D700?

    As a D7000 owner, do I have some option in my processing workflow to reduce my ~16MP image to, as an example, 12MP, and thus also reduce the effect of noise associated with photos taken at higher ISOs? That seems to be what you are implying here, but perhaps I am misunderstanding the concept:

    “But when both are viewed at 12 MP, meaning the D3x image down-sampled to 12 MP to match the D3 image, then the images will look similar in terms of noise.”

    Thanks in advance. I very much appreciate the time you put into the reviews and other interesting articles.

    • 6.1) Andrea
      January 9, 2012 at 6:34 am

      Downsampling (= Resizing to a small size) photo is recommended only in post-processing, and not with on camera image editing tools. Algorithms used in photoshop for resizing images reduce noise when downsamplig, because a single pixel in the final image comes from a mean of several pixels in the original image. Sorry for my english

      • January 9, 2012 at 12:23 pm

        Excellent explanation, thank you Andrea!

        • Jeremy
          June 4, 2012 at 10:11 pm

          I’m hoping I can still get a response to this follow up question. You mention to not resize with an in-camera editing tool. However, does setting your jpg file size from L to M or even S prod reared the same noise reduction effect? Or only when resizing the RAW or JPG file in photoshop?

          Also, unless viewing at 100% on a monitor, the monitor is effectively downscaling the image for display. Again, do you see a comparable noise reduction effect? The same question holds for submitting original size images for printing at a 4×6 or 8×10 size and having the printer effectively downsize the image. I noise reduction inherent in all “downsizing” actions, or really only done genuinely when resized in a photo editing application?

          • Jeremy
            June 4, 2012 at 10:15 pm

            Sorry for the typos…

            “produced the same noise reduction…”

            “Is noise reduction inherehent..,”

    • January 9, 2012 at 9:05 am

      Darn it, that’s what happens when I write at 2 AM in the morning. The sensor with smaller pixels will produce lower quality images than the sensor with larger pixels, not the other way around :) I fixed the article!

      As for down-sampling, I will provide information on the exact process – it is just resizing the image to a smaller value when saving/exporting.

      • 6.2.1) Bob
        January 9, 2012 at 9:31 am

        No problem. For as complex and comprehensive an article as this, we can allow you to make some minor mistakes due to lack of sleep! :)
        It would seem that for optimal results, the resizing should be done BEFORE any photoshop editing operations in order to have be best effects. This would imply that the resizing be done on the import process into Lightroom or Photoshop, would it not? Otherwise, all your editing operations would be done with the higher noise levels present.
        My current workflow is:
        – Import into Lightroom
        – Apply some presets for my D7000, such as basic white balance and tonal adjustments with very light sharpening and noise reduction
        – Make some minor color tweaks in Lightroom
        – Edit image in Photoshop for full editing & NIK filter usage
        – Imagenomic noise reduction in Photoshop
        – Unsharp mask, High Pass, or Luminosity sharpening process in Photoshop
        – Save original PSD file
        – Export JPG copy at 1500 DPI on the long end of the horizontal or vertical axis for uploading to flickr, 500PX, facebook, etc.
        Thanks again.

        • Profile photo of Nasim Mansurov Nasim Mansurov
          January 9, 2012 at 11:22 am

          Thank you :)

          No, in fact you want to edit your photo before you resize it for the best results. For example, when applying noise-reduction techniques, it is always better to run noise-reduction before you resize the image, because you will clean up the noise better this way. If you resize and then attempt to reduce noise, you might lose some details in the final image. Once again, a tutorial explaining this process in depth is coming up soon, so stay tuned :)

          As for your workflow, here is how I would do it:
          1) Import into Lightroom and apply default preset at import
          2) Make changes to individual images in Lightroom, if necessary
          3) Pick the best ones you will be exporting for the web
          4) Open up the full resolution image in Photoshop
          5) Run your Noise-reduction software first and make sure to preserve the necessary details (selective noise-reduction works best)
          6) Then run selective sharpening afterwards
          7) Save the file, which should save it in TIFF format back into Lightroom
          8) Export the image from Lightroom in much smaller, down-sampled resolution and make sure to run another level of sharpening upon export (I set mine to Medium or High in Lightroom). The reason why you need to do this, is because the sharpening you apply in Photoshop on large image will be lost when the image is down-sampled (unless you applied a very heavy amount of sharpening).

          If you need the ultimate quality, resize and reapply sharpening in Photoshop instead of Lightroom – you will have much better control over the final output.

          Also, exporting JPEG in 1500 DPI achieves absolutely nothing. Our monitors cannot see past 72 DPI, so always export JPEG images in 72 DPI only – doing anything higher is a waste of precious web space.

          • Wilson
            January 10, 2012 at 2:00 am

            Nasim, I notice that you emphasized to do noise reduction before sharpening, is the order important?

            BTW: you often come up with a tutorial if several readers ask the similar questions, I simply love it! Thank you very much for all the efforts!

          • Bob
            January 10, 2012 at 5:05 am


            Thanks for the comprehensive reply, and clarification of the downsampling process. I just realized that I listed DPI, when I meant to indicate that they longest edge was 1500 pixels! Given the resolution of the DX and FX sensors, I am not sure how I would even create a 1500 DPI image, unless I was printing my ~16MP shots on postage stamps! ;)

            I have resisted moving to full-frame primarily because of the loss of the crop factor. The D800 has me questioning this however. I also wondered just how much difference I would see (practically speaking – not pixel peeping with an electron microscope!) between an image taken from a D7000 and a D800 in decent lighting conditions. The crop mode on the D800 seems to imply that if I wanted to get that extra reach out of my lenses, but give up some megapixels, I could switch to DX mode and get my 1.5X crop factor and a quality image. With the available megapixels, I would have the equivalent of my D7000. Thus I would essentially have two cameras for the price of one. Up until now, the limitations of megapixels in DX mode on the Nikon full frame cameras, made this a pretty consideration. With 36MP that could be scaled down to 16MP, the DX mode becomes a much more viable feature and consideration for upgrading to a D800. A camera that can take full frame, high megapixel shots when the light is good and I need detail, a camera that can downsample images and be used in low light conditions, and one that provide quality pictures in cropped DX mode for wildlife shots where the extra reach comes in handy and may save me from having to spend gazillions on very expensive longer lens glass – sounds like an ideal solution.

            Thanks again for the excellent work. Your site continues to be one of the “go to” places to find quality information regarding equipment and techniques. I thought of your site recently when reading an article from Trey Ratcliff regarding why some popular websites are much more effective for advertisers than traditional photo magazines. You may want to consider putting a case together for advertisers to purchase ads on your site in lieu of such evidence.
            Just a thought that might have some $$$ associated with it… ;)

            Best Regards,

            • Murray Foote
              January 11, 2012 at 6:40 pm


              You would have to try it and see whether you would find crop mode viable on a D800. If it works the same as a D3, as well as cropped output, you get a cropped image in the viewfinder. I tried it once and decided that for me it was not viable.


            • Bob
              January 11, 2012 at 10:17 pm

              Thanks for the reply. It does seem to be a solid concept, giving someone both a high quality FX and DX option in one camera. I think I need to explore this one a bit more once it is announced. Being able to shoot a full frame high resolution shot when it is called for and then switch to a DX mode when I want to get that 1.5 crop factor and/or lower noise levels is quite an attractive level of flexibility.

            • Murray Foote
              January 11, 2012 at 10:33 pm

              Perhaps the easiest approach with a D800 would be to leave it in FX mode but expect to crop where appropriate, having already tested how far you would want to go. In any case, the optimal crop is usually going to be either less or more than DX.

            • RVB
              March 30, 2012 at 1:28 pm

              “and one that provide quality pictures in cropped DX mode for wildlife shots where the extra reach comes in handy and may save me from having to spend gazillions on very expensive longer lens glass”…. Correct me if I’m wrong but cropped sensor’s give no extra reach,they are as the name states,simply a crop… true extra reach is only achieved by extra focal length.

    • January 9, 2012 at 11:10 am

      To answer the rest of the questions: “Can you explain a bit more about the downsampling option within the new cameras? Most of us are familiar with reducing the size of our photos in Photoshop, because it is impractical and unnecessary to upload very large files to sites such as flickr, 500px, etc. However, I am not familiar with the use of downsampling to reduce the noise of an image prior to processing. In the downsampling described, are you literally instructing the camera to use the entire sensor but just give you half the data, so the image is the same dimensions but less dense (and has less noise), or cropping the image by only using a portion of the sensor, producing a photo with approximately the same dimensions/pixel density of the D700?”

      Whenever you resize images to a lower resolution (let’s say from D7000’s 4928×3264 resolution to 1024×678 resolution for the web) in Photoshop or Lightroom, a down-sampling/resampling method is always applied to the image using one of the resampling algorithms. In Photoshop you have the choice to select this algorithm (Nearest Neighbor, Bilinear, Bicubic, Bicubic Smoother and Bicubic Sharper), while Lightroom picks one for you automatically. This process results in noise reduction, because large specks of noise get significantly smaller and something that looks harsh due to heavy noise gets smoother. There is no special process to apply – it happens automatically.

      “As a D7000 owner, do I have some option in my processing workflow to reduce my ~16MP image to, as an example, 12MP, and thus also reduce the effect of noise associated with photos taken at higher ISOs? That seems to be what you are implying here, but perhaps I am misunderstanding”.

      Yes, absolutely – just resize the image in Lightroom or Photoshop to a smaller resolution and your noise levels will go down significantly. There is no special technique for this, although I will post my workflow process for resizing images very soon that will give you much better results when down-sampling.

      • 6.3.1) Francois
        January 10, 2012 at 3:59 am

        NB! Dpreview just posted a preview of the (already downloadable) Adobe Lightroom 4.

        Specific feature: “ability to export reduced resolution raw files”

        • Wilson
          January 10, 2012 at 4:30 am

          Nikon might have tipped Adobe about the RAW file size D800 will generate :)

          • RVB
            March 30, 2012 at 1:38 pm

            Lightroom is the factory supplied RAW converter for the Leica S2 and that has been producing files this size for two years already so its unlikely that the D800 files have influenced LR4 in any way..

        • Murray Foote
          January 10, 2012 at 4:48 am

          It’s seems like a strange thing for DPReview to say because Lightroom has always been able to do that, as Nasim pointed out in another comment.

          Perhaps it’s just an interface change to make it seem more obvious.

          • Francois Malan
            January 10, 2012 at 6:32 am

            No, the old versions of Lightroom could only resample the exported JPG files, not raw. Now you will be able to resize your big NEF (or CR2) files to a more manageable DNG file without losing the advantages of RAW.

      • 6.3.2) Francois
        January 10, 2012 at 3:59 am

        NB! Dpreview just posted a preview of the (already downloadable) Adobe Lightroom 4 Beta.

        Specific feature: “ability to export reduced resolution raw files”

  7. 7) richard de lange
    January 9, 2012 at 5:37 am

    I like to second the question of Bogdan. I am using LR and DxO. You suggest that LR automatically downsizes ? I like your articles, well written and balanced. Thank you.


    • January 9, 2012 at 11:23 am

      Richard, yes, both Lightroom and Photoshop automatically down-sample images when you lower the resolution during the export process. A detailed tutorial explaining this process is coming up!

  8. 8) Omar Akram
    January 9, 2012 at 5:51 am


    An excellent read, as always.

    I have the same questions as ‘2) Bogdan’ regarding down-sampling images. Would you be able to provide guidance on how to go about doing this?


  9. 9) Thomas
    January 9, 2012 at 5:59 am

    Hi Nasim

    Great article and analysis. I appreciate that you are familiar with both Nikon and Canon strategy.
    In the comments I see returning question about down/size and noise reduction ratio.
    I would like to ask what is your process for doing down/size of the image.

    Thank you for the answer in advance,

    • January 9, 2012 at 11:24 am

      Thomas, a detailed tutorial is coming up :)

      • 9.1.1) Thomas
        January 11, 2012 at 1:07 am

        It is great news. Thank you very much.

  10. 10) Rix
    January 9, 2012 at 6:01 am

    Yeah if you don’t crop and you won’t use the image for more than small prints & web then even 3MP is more than enough. Otherwise you need much higher resolution and the best thing to do is to go for 18+ MP full frame. Very well written article. Thanks!

    • January 9, 2012 at 11:24 am

      Rix, thank you for your feedback, I appreciate it.

  11. 11) Sam
    January 9, 2012 at 6:38 am


    Impressive article. Thanks for the effort and time spent.

  12. 12) Andy
    January 9, 2012 at 7:07 am

    Have to say I disagree with your statement:

    “If you take two cameras with different sized sensors, “A” being the one with a larger sensor and “B” being the one with a smaller sensor, which one would perform better? That’s right, it would depend on pixel size and density and the image processing pipeline”

    Assuming the pictures are well exposed, it’s generally accepted that pixel size has little to do with perceived image quality. Generally sensor size is the most important determinant as when you are printing the image to a given size, the larger the sensor, the less it has to be magnified to get to that print size so the less you see any image noise. Clearly, the results may be different if you are printing so large that pixel size is visible (e.g. 100% pixel peeping on a screen).

    Also, are you sure you have the pixel size the right way. You say that smaller pixels will produce better images for identical sized sensors, yet your example (D3s vs D3x) is the other way around.

    Interesting read nonetheless…

    • January 9, 2012 at 11:55 am

      Andy, it depends on how you look at it. If we are comparing 100% pixel level performance, then larger pixels always win (given the same image processing pipeline). If we are optimizing an image for print and down-sizing, then the largest sensor with more pixels wins. To put this in a different perspective, if I have two sensors, one APS-C and one Medium Format that have exactly the same pixel size and image processing pipeline, then extract a 100×100 pixel crop out of each one, both images will look exactly the same (pixel-level performance). Medium format will obviously have a lot more pixels, due to the same pixel size and much larger sensor area and hence is capable of producing much larger prints. That’s where size matters. However, if I have a medium format sensor with poor pixel level performance and a smaller sensor with a much better pixel level performance, when both are put side by side, the large sensor advantage of medium format might not be there anymore. I could work with a 100% image from the smaller sensor and would need to down-sample the medium format image to a lower resolution to combat noise and other artifacts.

      Today, the physical size of the sensor has very little to do with the final image quality. Take a look at DxOMark sensor ratings – you will be surprised to see Sony NEX-7 standing at #8, above many many medium format cameras. Why do you think it is the case? Because there are a number of factors that impact the overall image quality – dynamic range, low and high ISO performance, color reproduction, etc.

      The size of the pixel and how you interpret the data from that pixel to produce the final image is extremely important. Aside from other technological advancements in sensor manufacturing process, how you interpret the data (image pipeline) seems to have a bigger impact on the final image quality nowadays. The latest generation APC-S sensors from Nikon, specifically the Nikon D7000 sensor, have outstanding overall image quality when compared to the first generation full-frame cameras. They are not quite there yet, but not too far apart either when the 16 MP is down-sampled to 12 MP. And yet the difference is more than twice in sensor size. It is expected that smaller sensors in the future will perform better than larger sensors today. It is not always about just the size of the sensor – there are too many other variables involved when looking at overall image quality :)

      As for the pixel size in the article – it was a typo on my side, I fixed it this morning. Sorry for the confusion!

      • 12.1.1) Andy
        January 9, 2012 at 12:21 pm

        But what you’re doing in most of the examples you have given is pixel peeping. Unless you crop images heavily or print huge images to be viewed closely, the human eye cannot detect pixel level detail in a printed image – looking at a DSLR image at 100% on a 24″ screen from 2 feet away isn’t representative of viewing a print! This is why the Circle of Confusion (which is a measure of sensor size and ultimately perceived sharpness) is very large compared to the size of the pixel – you just can’t detect the level of detail you can see on a screen at 100% when you print the image out.

        DxOmark measures the sensor, not the final output image – in fact, I don’t believe any print process has either the colour gamut or the dynamic range to enable the images we capture to be displayed as the camera is capable of capturing.

        It’s these issues that mean, for a given print size, the larger the sensor the better quality it will be – irrespective of pixel size.

        • Profile photo of Nasim Mansurov Nasim Mansurov
          January 9, 2012 at 12:53 pm

          Andy, you are correct – I am pixel peeping. You said it right “unless you crop your images heavily or print huge images to be viewed closely”. The latter is super important for those that need high resolution. Why else would I need more pixels? Most people cannot afford medium format digital, because the price is too steep. So more resolution on a smaller sensor makes sense.

          Let’s talk about prints for a second. With a 12 MP sensor I can print 14″ x 9″ at 300 DPI. With a 36 MP sensor I can print 24″ x 16″ at the same 300 DPI. Sure I can print at 150 DPI with 12 MP and get a much larger print, but don’t forget that I also have that same option with the 36 MP image and get a massive print size. A 12 MP print won’t look the same as a 36 MP print when printed large. Do a billboard-size print with a 12 MP camera and then with a 36 MP camera. I can assure you that you will quickly see the difference. There is a reason why people go crazy for panoramic equipment that can create very high resolution images. But this is a completely different topic and could turn into a very heated debate, especially if you add circle of confusion and perceived sharpness to the mix.

          DxOMark can only measure sensor performance. Measuring the final output image in print would be impossible, because we would be adding many other variables to the mix.

          The point I am trying to make is, image quality is not solely an attribute of sensor size. Smaller sensors 5 years from now will be making better images and prints than larger sensors today. Again, take a look at the first generation digital cameras and compare them with the modern cameras. Cameras with smaller size sensors produce better quality images today.

          Again, lots of variables come into play when talking about overall image quality. Sensor size is only one of them.

          • Andy
            January 9, 2012 at 1:30 pm

            And what I’m saying is that unless you do pixel peep or print the size of a billboard where size of pixel IS visible, sensor size the determinant for for quality of a correctly exposed image once printed. For MOST prints (12×18 for example) and viewed at a normal distance, the number of pixels is pretty much immaterial as the human eye cannot normally resolve 150dpi let alone 300dpi. The traditional measure is 5 line pairs per mm printed, or ~125 dpi.

            If you take a 36Mpixel sensor and a 12Mpixel sensor of the same size, print them to the same size and view it from a “normal” distance, you will be very hard pushed to tell which is which.

            • Profile photo of Nasim Mansurov Nasim Mansurov
              January 9, 2012 at 1:49 pm

              Aghh….please let’s not go into prints! Heheh :)

              You are right, for most smaller prints, the number of pixels is not important. But in that case, the size of the sensor is not important either! For a 12″ size print, I could use the Nikon 1 V1 with a much smaller sensor than the Nikon D80 and have about the same print quality :)

              High resolution makes a lot of sense for large print. That’s why landscape, architecture and fashion photographers want it so bad. Again, if I am sitting at home and making prints for my home use, I do not need a high resolution camera. That’s why those mirrorless cameras are getting so popular, because they are good enough for most of our normal everyday needs…

  13. January 9, 2012 at 7:40 am


    An interesting point to add is that the new D800 will have almost exactly the same pixel density as the D7000. having about equally new sensors the per-pixel performance of the D800 should therefore be about the same as the D7000.

    What I would like to see is a pixel-binning mode where the camera can record full-frame images at, say, 9 megapixel (if they do 2×2 binning). If it is implemented in hardware it can even push the frame rate up. But I don’t see it in any spec sheet, so I guess it will remain on my wish-list. Post-processing downsampling is okay, but then you still have to live with huge RAW files and slow write times.

    • 13.1) Axel
      January 9, 2012 at 8:28 am

      Aahh. Should have read this before posting under #8. Great minds think alike!

    • January 9, 2012 at 12:01 pm

      Francois, you are correct. Take a look at the Nikon D4 vs D800 article I posted earlier – the pixel pitch of the Nikon D800 will be the same as on the Nikon D7000.

      It would be phenomenal if Nikon allowed higher FPS at a lower resolution. If I could shoot 36 MP images at 4 MP and 12 MP images at 8 MP, I would never need another camera :) But then Nikon won’t do it, because it would certainly cannibalize D4 sales :)

    • January 9, 2012 at 12:03 pm

      One more thing – given the cheap storage today, huge RAW files are not a problem. Slow write times are also becoming less of a problem with all the super fast cards out there. The latest generation CF and SD cards can do close to 100 MB/sec speeds, which is plenty. Need faster speeds? Wait till XQD matures in a year or two…

  14. 14) Jason
    January 9, 2012 at 7:45 am

    Missing link: glass. Does Nikon even make lenses able to dance with 36mp??? Crap glass will look worse and good stuff will look OK with that much detail being recorded. I’m thinking that the D700 is an epic camera that I should buy now before it’s too late! Thanks for the article, very informative and eye opening!

    • January 9, 2012 at 8:19 am

      Jason – the pixel density of the D800 is the same as that of the D7000. I own a D7000, and there are lenses that are sharp at per-pixel level, even with 16MP on a DX sensor. Usually you have to stop them down a bit to get there though. I also think it is extra difficult to have the same performance across the whole FX frame, but it should be possible (The 14-24mm and 70-200mm II should be alble to manage, for example)

      But sure, the optical flaws of existing lenses will be magnified. You probably won’t gain any real resolution above the D700 if you use the 28-300mm or most older lenses.

      • January 9, 2012 at 12:09 pm

        Francois, I agree, good pro glass will work perfectly well at 36 MP. We have not reached the point where glass is worse than the sensor yet.

    • January 9, 2012 at 12:07 pm

      Jason, all Nikon lenses produced today will be able to cope with the 36 MP resolution, because the pixel pitch of the D800 sensor is the same as D7000, like Francois and others have already pointed out. Crap glass will surely look worse, but the latest AF-S lenses should perform well. The biggest concern is going to be corner performance on lower-end lenses. Those corners are not visible in DX cameras, but will surely be visible on the new D800 FX.

  15. 15) Jorge Balarin
    January 9, 2012 at 7:58 am

    Thank you Nasim, you are producing reviews and explanations at a crazy pace. Now we need an easy to understand “Photoshop/Lightroom software image reduction ” tutorial, specially oriented for the future D800 users.

  16. 16) Carmelo
    January 9, 2012 at 8:08 am

    Much more pixels on a fullframe body means much more processing power of the hardware and much more buffer memory than now. And we need better lenses which should be able to resolve much more details than now. I’m not very sure if Nikon is willing to give us all this high end technologies at this moment. Perhaps this will be the case during the next generation of high end full frame cameras (e.g. Nikon D5 or D6) and lenses.

    • January 9, 2012 at 1:03 pm

      Carmelo, that’s why Nikon ships a dual-core EXPEED 3 processor and has more buffer memory :) Given how cheap memory is today (my home PC has 16 GB of RAM that cost me less than $100), camera manufacturers should be packing huge buffers into cameras. But they are not, because it is another way for them to make some money. The camera industry always lags behind the current technology. Given how things are today, we should be seeing quad-core processors with huge buffers and SSD storage in these high-end D4 cameras. But it won’t happen, because camera manufacturers need to keep refreshing their products with more bells and whistles and a boatload of accessories to make extra money. It is all marketing…

      • 16.1.1) Francois
        January 9, 2012 at 1:52 pm

        Nasim, my guess is that this is not the reason they are not doing it – the profit margins at the D4 / 1DX level is so large (compared to hardware cost) that it would be good business for a manufacturer to invest $200 of hardware to win the performance crown from competitors.

        I think a quad core high-speed processor with 16GB of working memory will kill the battery and be a overheating menace. A laptop needs a massive battery to keep going for a few hours. There is no space for that even on a big DSLR like the D4. And the chips that they do use are probably 32-bit
        Not to mention what cooling vents will do to the weather sealing… Better to invest in the XQD bus for super-fast writing (like they have done) than build massive stores of RAM into the camera.

        But like I said, just guessing

        • Francois
          January 9, 2012 at 1:55 pm

          Sorry for the half-written sentence (getting late this part of the world too). If the chips are 32-bit or less then they can’t even address such huge amounts of memory. But seeing that the Apple iphone4 has a 64-bit memory bus (even though it only has 512MB RAM) I guess Nikon and Canon are also going 64-bit.

          • Profile photo of Nasim Mansurov Nasim Mansurov
            January 9, 2012 at 2:37 pm

            Oh, and how long did it take Nikon to support 64-bit OS? Their NEF viewing software was not compatible with 64-bit until a few months ago. I do not have a single 32-bit machine anymore, for about 2 years now…

            It is all about profit margins. All about selling us stuff we don’t need…

        • Profile photo of Nasim Mansurov Nasim Mansurov
          January 9, 2012 at 2:36 pm

          Francois, everything is possible! Look at the new tablets with multiple CPUs, boatload of memory and all kinds of nice features. Battery life does not seem to suffer as much. Even OLED is becoming more or less affordable. GPS is cheap, but we are not seeing it on Nikon and Canon DSLRs either. Sony is now doing it, but how long will it take for Nikon and Canon to follow? After testing the Sony A77 and A65 cameras, I can no longer recommend Nikon or Canon at the same price point. Sony might not be that good with its high ISO performance, but it packs some very impressive features at a low cost to compensate.

          It is all about marketing. If Apple made cameras, we would be shooting with amazing cameras today. Too bad these companies are all just interested in making money. Nikon and Canon accessories are all marketing – they make us buy these expensive toys and then you have to spend more money on remote triggers, LCD covers, GPS, wireless, blah blah blah. Come on! Wireless chips are extremely small. You don’t think there is space inside a DSLR for it? Finally, Nikon D4 allows us to use an infrared remote – before we had to buy expensive wired remotes that are a pain in the ass to hook up.

          Everything is going 64-bit and it should. We should be able to have super fast cameras with lots of memory in them. Even the darn little Nikon 1 V1 has 1 GB of RAM!

      • 16.1.2) alzurzin
        April 16, 2012 at 3:42 am

        “it’s all marketing”. This is the only hard, truthful comment I have ever come across in the past 25 yrs since digital was introduced. Since digital, we consumers are simply hostages. Much better tech is available today, but we do not see it on account of profiteering and marketing. I find digital photographers have eagerly gulped the digital marketing bait entirely: bait, hook, line, and sinker. Still today, my Ilfochrome prints produced by Zeiss lenses on positive film are vastly superior to anything digital can produce: colour, texture, accuracy,depth, sharpness, etc are all superior. The D800 is good, not because of Nikon, but because of Sony (the manufacturer of the imager); yet everyone praises Nikon. The digital prints from the D800 are still limited by the printer and medium, which has not improved. The D800 still has digital’s primary limitations: flatness, lack of depth, and lack of texture. Life is about standards, and which ones you choose to accept and live by. Digital is now good, but still lacks many qualities; which the marketing ensures you are properly educated not to notice and not to question.

  17. 17) Ken Barber
    January 9, 2012 at 9:06 am

    It would seem that to make a shot “the same or better than a D700″ at it’s high native ISO, one must take a D800 36MP file with it’s large storage requirement, then post process it to reduce the size. So in over 3 years between the D700 and the D800, this is how we advanced?

    • January 9, 2012 at 1:05 pm

      Ken, don’t forget that you’ll have a lot more resolution on the D800 than on the D700. Would you rather see the same resolution but a stop of better performance, or a lot more resolution with still a stop better performance when it is down-sampled? I prefer the latter :)

      • 17.1.1) carl
        January 9, 2012 at 1:33 pm

        Hello Nasim:

        Perhaps I’m too focused on the word “down” in “down-sampled” but I feel Ken’s point. As a D700 user, are you saying that the dynamic range of the D800 is going to be noticeably better when down-sampled? Thus, what one really gains (aside from whatever “advances” Nikon might put in the D800) is dynamic range? I tend to not do much cropping, in general, so perhaps this “advantage” is lost of me.

        Great review, by the way.

        • Profile photo of Nasim Mansurov Nasim Mansurov
          January 9, 2012 at 2:42 pm

          Carl, dynamic range does not change when an image is down-sampled – only noise is reduced and sharpness is improved (depending on how you do it in post-processing).

          What you get with more pixels is a choice – to shoot at very high resolution or to down-sample an image to lower resolution and decrease noise/improve sharpness.

  18. 18) Peter
    January 9, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    Excellent comprehensive article.

    However, I think I have discovered Canon’s and Nikon’s business strategy using a phrase we used at work when it came to systems/computers/software at work:
    “If you can’t convince them, confuse them.” I think we have reached that point.

  19. 19) Del-Uks
    January 9, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    Hi Nasim,

    Could you please share your thoughts about the rumored removed anti-aliasing filter option (maybe in a specific article about the Moiré pattern and its consequence on images) ?

    Wich D800 would you take (with or without anti-aliasing filter) ?… and why ?

    Thank you for your attention !

    • January 22, 2012 at 3:32 pm

      Del-Uks, if Nikon indeed plans to release two versions of the camera, I will definitely get the one without the AA filter (I call it the “blur” filter). Moire is generally a problem for portrait/lifestyle photographers, because that’s where you see it the most. For landscape photography, moire is not a problem. It is wise for Nikon to give us two versions of the camera. Otherwise a lot of people will be taking the camera to third party vendors to remove the AA filter…

  20. 20) pragjna
    January 9, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    Thnx for the excellent explanation, Nasim!

    Honestly, I’m (also) not a friend of so much mpx, and I need to become friend with 36. Frankly, I’m curious how the result will be on the D800. I would be fine if NIKON only adds 24mpx or 26…
    But 36 doesn’t make me happy. You gave some good points, and just yesterday I was talking with friend about that issue of down-scaling etc. And yes, we both talked past each other lol :D

  21. 21) Albert Ang
    January 9, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    Will you be able to predict what’s the raw file size will be for 36MP?
    Also, it will be nice if the camera-built in processor is capable to downsample the filesize automatically like what you’ve said. But I guess, it will take ages with EXPEED3 processing power.

    • 21.1) Francois
      January 10, 2012 at 2:17 am

      Albert: The RAW file size for the D800 should be between 28 MB (12-bit, lossy) and 43 MB (14-bit, lossless). Or, roughly speaking, 30 – 40 MB per file. I base this on tests with my D7000 and multiplying by 2.25.

      PS: There is very little advantage to be gained from using 14-bit instead of 12-bit (it is user selectable in modern Nikon DSLRs), and even less so for using lossless instead of lossy (ditto).
      I blogged about this – feel free to click on my avatar to link to my blog, and look for the post titled “12bit vs 14bit RAW and compressed vs uncompressed… Does it matter?”

      • 21.1.1) Murray Foote
        January 10, 2012 at 4:41 am

        Except that (1) the resolution increase from the D7000 to the expected D800 is 50%, not 125% and (2) the compression algorithm may have changed.

        • Francois Malan
          January 10, 2012 at 6:22 am

          Hi Murray

          The increase in linear resolution is 50%, but the total number of pixels increase 125%.
          (50% increase horizontally, as well as vertically = 1.5*1.5 x = 2.25 x) The file size will be proportional to the number of pixels.

          Nikon hardly changed the compression technology used in their NEF files over the years – and even if they update the algorithm in the D4 there would be little change in effective compression rate – you can compress data only so much.

      • 21.1.2) Murray Foote
        January 10, 2012 at 4:55 am

        … although the increased sensor size from the D7000 to the D800 might give another 50% in RAW file size though I suspect it’s not as simple as the difference in sensor size and resolution.

      • January 22, 2012 at 3:34 pm

        I agree with Francois, it should be between 30-40 MB.

  22. 22) Wilson
    January 10, 2012 at 1:46 am

    Nasim, thank you for another great article getting things well explained, not only the technical parts, but the business strategy of Nikon and Canon!

    After quite a bit waiting I’m a bit disappointed on what D800 can offer against D700. As an amateur enthusiast, I don’t need large print and do very much cropping. It seems to me that the only benefit of 36MP for me is the one full stop advantage when down sampling, but with the cost of more storage in memory cards, a bit slower post processing and lower FPS (I shoot everything in RAW). Maybe finally it will get down to the price. If it’s 4,000 USD as you predicted probably I’ll seriously thinking about getting a D700 (local price is around 2,600 USD now) instead.

    Of course, anyway I’ll wait until D800’s official release to make the call, perhaps after reading your review on D800 :).

    • January 22, 2012 at 3:36 pm

      Wilson, I would definitely wait till D800 is released, because I will put my D700 to compare against. We will see what D800 has to offer vs D700…

      I hope D800 will allow to shoot in DX mode at the same speed as current D700.

  23. 23) Nils
    January 10, 2012 at 7:20 am

    Hi Nasim!

    Long time reader, first time poster:)! I love your website and really appreciate the time and effort you put in all of your articles and comments!

    Your comment about Nikon’s pricing strategy and price differentiation got me thinking. If they release the D800 at 3’999 $, there would be a be huge pricing gap between the current top of the line DX model (D7000) and the low-standard FX model (D800). I don’t count the D300s and D700, because they’re both much older and will be phased out in the near future. So, what’s Nikon gonna do? Will they insert a new DX pro model (a D400) or will they add another FX model under the D800 (maybe a D700s with the D4 sensor or the old D3s sensor) into their line-up?

    I’m currently in the process of finally buying a Nikon DSLR. Preferably a FX model, because I got already several lenses for FX from my film days. The D700 is a great camera, but I can’t find a new model in a store. Apparently the D700 is discontinued. The absolute pro cameras are too expensive and too big for my amateur photography. The D800 will also be too expensive for me.
    To make matters worse, the D7000 and the D5100 as possible stopgap solutions are also currently out of stock everywhere here in Switzerland, because of the flooding in Thailand. So the pricing gap I mentioned before frustrates me even more.
    An almost 3’000 $ pricing gap is too much for my taste to justify a D800. What would you advice me to do? Should I hold out for a possible cheaper FX model from Nikon? Or should I try to get a used D700?

    Sorry for my long post, but the current situation frustrates me. I think Nikon should finally produce an affordable FX camera. In my opinion the 5D Mark II wasn’t successful, just because they had video and a higher resolution. No, the 5D Mark II is also an affordable camera for enthusiasts. I wouldn’t be surprised if Canon releases a 5D Mark III that’s considerably cheaper than the D800 and with a little lower MP count. If it’s cheaper and “good enough”, they will outsell Nikon’s competitive model again.

    • 23.1) Peter
      January 10, 2012 at 5:41 pm

      If you live in Swizerland, point your camera in any direction while in the mountains, and you will get gorgeous shots regardless of what camera model you buy. Start with the Splugen Pass, listen for cow bells, and then shoot. Living in a scenic wonderland like Switzerland, I would not worry about which camera I had.

      For me, I’d take my D700 and 17-35, get on the road and shoot away. Shoot HDR and be in heaven.
      Go into Asti, Italy, buy some spumante, and enjoy life.

      After that, go to the dolomites in Italy and repeat the process.

      • 23.1.1) jorge Balarin
        January 10, 2012 at 7:13 pm

        Don’t think that Switzerland is always a photographer’s friendly place. Actually those beautiful cows could be very mean : )

      • 23.1.2) Nils
        January 11, 2012 at 12:07 am

        Thank you Peter for the great advice! I haven’t been to the Splugen Pass in a long time, but a new camera might get me there again;).

        The D700 is still the camera I consider the most and I will try very hard to find one in next couple of weeks. I don’t need video and I think when professional photographers like Nasim show you how much you can do with a D700, I realize there’s still plenty to learn in photography.

        • Profile photo of Nasim Mansurov Nasim Mansurov
          January 22, 2012 at 3:52 pm

          Nils, the D700 is a phenomenal camera. I would wait till D800 comes out so that you could buy a brand new version or a slightly used version at a bargain price!

    • 23.2) Murray Foote
      January 10, 2012 at 6:31 pm

      There will be a D400 later this year, delayed due to floods in Thailand. I have read that it may be a while, though.

      The D7000 is readily available from Hong Kong on EBay. Sellers are usually quite reliable; I bought a D3 that way but you have to be comfortable with going that route. I think the main disadvantage is that you won’t have a Swiss/ European warranty and I don’t know what tax you would expect to pay.

      • 23.2.1) Nils
        January 10, 2012 at 11:56 pm

        I thought about that option. Unfortunately Switzerland has rather high import tariffs. In my case it would add another 25% to the sales price, which would probably make it about equal with pricing in Swiss online stores.
        And you’re right, the warranty would be a great thing to have;)!

    • 23.3) Yao Cheng
      January 10, 2012 at 8:34 pm

      Hi Nils,

      I am also long time reader but 2nd time poster :)
      Surprisingly, I agree with you on Nikon’s pricing strategy.
      Looks like D800 is targeting on pro consumers only.
      By right, Nikon should check on the statistics of D700 buyers. How many enthusiast buyers for the D700?
      If buyers want to have a good HI RES camera, the right camp for buyers should be CANON.
      I am a DX user, and have been prepared to upgrade to FX. My last two new lenses was FX.
      Some of my friends switched to CANON when they upgraded from armature to enthusiast level.
      The only reason that cause me “not to switch” is the thought the coming D700 successor will even shine in HI ISO, but It looks like I made a wrong decision :( .

      • 23.3.1) Nils
        January 11, 2012 at 12:14 am

        Hi Yao,

        If you don’t need video and are fine with the 12MP resolution of the D700, I would buy it.
        I emailed Thom Hogan ( yesterday about the possibility of an affordable FX camera from Nikon. Here’s his reply:

        “The D700 isn’t discontinued, it’s just in very short supply still (and
        probably will remain that way).

        Yes, you are correct. Nikon will have a gap. It’ll eventually get filled.
        The whole quake/flood thing really disrupted their launch plans. They can’t
        launch the D300s replacement until at least March at this point because of
        what happened in Thailand. It was originally scheduled for fall 2011.

        Frankly, if you want to know the full set of options, you wait. Probably
        until April/May before you know what the options really are.”

        So the D700 is still in production and there should be a D400 in Spring like Murray already hinted at.
        I decided to wait maybe another two months and the revaluate my options. But honestly, I still think the D700 for its price and feature set is my best option.

    • January 22, 2012 at 3:50 pm

      Nils, the problem with Nikon is that they cannot keep up with the global demand. Their cameras and lenses are very good, but their manufacturing capability is not. Plus, with all the disasters of 2011, the industry has been hit pretty hard and Nikon is among those that got affected the most. They are trying to get back on track, but their losses were pretty substantial. Price increases are natural in these circumstances, but they cannot push it too hard or Canon/Sony/Pentax will take over their market share with lower prices, so they have to struggle for a while.

      If D800 indeed comes out at $3,999, which I believe it will (at least the version without the AA filter, the normal version might be cheaper), then the D400 will also come out at a higher price later this year. It could be introduced at $2K or a little more, depending on what Nikon will package into it. I honestly do not think that we will be seeing another variant of the D700 with a sensor from D3s/D4. I believe that Nikon strategically decided to keep the high ISO performance sensor for high-end bodies only, so that there is no product cannibalization. It is a fact that Nikon D700 affected the D3 sales, so I do not think Nikon wants to repeat the same mistake twice.

      D700 is not discontinued – it is simply not available due to high demand and low supply. It won’t be officially discontinued until D800 is released…

  24. January 11, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    Great article Nasim,

    There’s a lot of emotional discussion going on about the megapixel count of the rumoured D800. I hope that those that don’t seem to use reason in their arguments read this article, so they can form a more informed opinion.

    • January 22, 2012 at 3:55 pm

      Thank you! I agree – you can see the emotions in some of the comments here too :)

  25. 25) Scott
    January 11, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    Yet another great article, Nasim.

    I recently upgraded from the iconic D70 to a D7000 and have gained substantial benefits. The only downside was having to upgrade some of my glass when the shortcomings on some of my existing glass become apparant on the improved quality of the D7000 images. As an amateur wildlife photographer, I take images predominantly for my own use.

    Futher to your comments in this article and together with the articles on DX vs FX, and D4 vs D800, can you confirm or refute my understanding as to the following:

    1) Given that both the pixel density and pixel size on the D800 is expected to be the same as the density and size on the D7000 sensor, shooting in DX mode on the D800 should produce a similar image quality and size as shooting on the D7000 at the same ISO?

    If this is true, as I believe it will probably be, then there are four potential benefits that I can see for users of the D800 over D7000 users. As I see them, these are:
    a) the ability to downsize an image from the D800 to 16MP, equivalent of reducing the noise substantially;
    b) the ability to shoot at higher ISO in FX mode (read lower light), then reduce to 16MP and thus reduce excessive noise to a level similar to an image taken in DX mode;
    c) the ability to print much larger images, and;
    d) the ability to shoot much wider than currently available on any DX system, given the availability of wide lenses.

    Sure, any these benefits may be deal-breakers for many photographers out there, but they do come at a cost. To achieve a) or b) above, a 50% increase in glass reach is required often at an additional and substantial financial investment. Neither c) nor d) above is an issue for me and as such, the D800 could not be considered a viable upgrade, given my existing needs and glass investment. Other benefits of the D7000 over the D800 include a far superior frame-rate, something that would often be a deal-breaker for a wildlife photographer. A D4 is the only logical upgrade for my needs and the bank manager has already said no to that option.

    Lastly, can you comment on what the differences between the D7000 and a D300s replacement are likely to be?

    • January 22, 2012 at 4:05 pm


      1) Yes, I believe you are correct on your assumption of “DX” mode on the D800 – it should give a similar result as the D7000, except Nikon will probably incorporate a slightly better noise-reduction algorithm into the image processing pipeline (which should result in a little less noise).

      a) Fully agree
      b) Agreed again
      c) Absolutely
      d) Yes, correct

      As for your 50% glass reach statement – I sort of disagree :) The glass problems will only be visible when viewed at 100%. If image is down-scaled, then it will be no different than shooting with a current camera body today. Better glass is needed for those that want to print at full resolution and have all the details. For those cases, yes, better glass is preferred.

      If the rumored specs are indeed true, then it will be disappointing news for sports and wildlife photographers that shoot with a D700 today. Their only proper upgrade path will be to get the D4. For everyone else, the D800 is going to be a phenomenal camera to shoot with.

      As for D7000/D300s replacements, you can rest assured that you will be getting similar or higher FPS, probably slightly higher resolution and lots of video features. I am expecting a D400 to be announced sometime this summer with a bunch of new DX lenses.

      • 25.1.1) John Richardson
        January 23, 2012 at 12:32 am

        Sometimes a hammer is a hammer, but sometimes you need a 16oz. head or an 8 oz. head, or ball peen or a claw or a 5 lb. sledge or a cobbler’s hammer for those little brads, there are a lot of hammers … in essence, the right hammer for the right job. The D800 just may be the box of hammers. (or that Swiss Army Knife of the Nikon World).

        What the proposed D800 amounts to is that it truly might be a game changer for DX users wanting to get into FX. As we collected DX glass and in some cases a combination of DX and FX, we were stuck with the thought “Gee…If I buy FX Camera “A” my DX lenses will work but be less useful in crop mode. Therefore I must repurchase the equivalents…” and little tendrils of smoke float out of our ears as we think “What to do?!”

        But with the D800 giving us better electronics and the slightly better than a D7000 for our DX lenses, should make the D800 a clear choice. Suddenly we haven’t wasted money looking to an upgrade but now benefit from all of our glass purchases (well at least as it applies to me lol).

        Without AA filter, for myself, I would order the D800 sight unseen and more than likely still look for a D700 as a backup knowing that it is an excellent camera (still available here in Ukraine) and not toss my D300s either (there’s my high FPS for the occasional sport shot). We get video if we want it, and an extra frame or two with a battery grip, better processing and electronics. Aside from FPS, it really could be many people’s D300s replacement and upgraded D700.

        So, the D4 may be exactly what some people actually “need” but I am guessing that the D800 may just be what many of us were waiting for. But to be fair, totally fair, each one of us really has to ask ourselves, “Do we NEED a better camera?” I didn’t think I needed that box of hammers I have in the garage, but when I needed that long handle 5 lb. sledge to bust up a huge rock on my property I was glad I had it, when I needed to use a 32 oz. ball peen to round out a chunk of sheet metal for a repair on a tractor, I was glad I had it. We don’t need a better camera to take stellar photos, we need more education, but darn it, I WANT one and all rational thought goes out the door. Right!?

        I want a monkey too, but that ain’t gonna happen, a monkey is unrealistic I guess. But a D800 is just around the corner and that my friends is easier to talk our bankers into than a pet monkey. (Trust me, I have tried that for years, I got two kids and a puppy instead).

        • Profile photo of Nasim Mansurov Nasim Mansurov
          January 23, 2012 at 1:02 am

          John, I bursted out laughing after reading your comment, hahaha! :) Especially this sentence “We don’t need a better camera to take stellar photos, we need more education, but darn it, I WANT one and all rational thought goes out the door. Right!?”. Yes! And it is called “NAS” – Nikon Acquisition Syndrome. We all (including myself) need a good treatment :D

          “I want a monkey too, but that ain’t gonna happen”. LOOOL hahahahah :D

  26. 26) Ding
    January 11, 2012 at 11:04 pm

    Thanks Nasim for a great article. It seems to my interpretation if a user has both DX and FX lenses – e.g. 17-55F2.8 or 24-140F4, D800 would be a good body to accomodate both lenses, without having to sell off the 17-55F2.8 and get a 24-70F2.8, right?

    • January 22, 2012 at 4:06 pm

      Ding, only if you are willing to shoot at less than half the 36MP resolution :)

  27. 27) Jerry Melcher
    January 12, 2012 at 10:41 pm

    Wow what a long long list of comments! I have been reading about all the tech specs for the last couple of years and what makes sense to any photographer is – “does the equipment get the picture that one is looking for?” Nice shots can be had with any tool as long as the user is comfortable with the equipment. I had my D90 heisted after my son left my car unlocked while I was away on a business trip. Thinking that I needed the latest bigger pixel count machine I truly agonized over the D5100 vs the D7000. Lightweight won the day. Once I discovered the Black Rapid strap I thought I ended up in heaven. But you know it might be me, but the D90 has a certain look to the pictures that are different.

    After looking at all of NASIM’s D700 posts I realized I don’t need to get caught up in the “MORE IS BETTER” syndrome. I am really interested in getting a D700. I shoot landscape and nature. If I need more pixels I just pan the shots and throw everything into Photoshop. Al-a-Kazam! I can do large prints as well as any overpriced mega-sensor and for a ton less money. It’s obvious that Nikon sensors with Nikon processing looks different than Canon or Sony. All are great, just what you want the “Look” to be. Sometimes I get out my old Canon G1 original with 3.3 MP and shoot B&W retro style pics for fun. And my Canon S95 keeps humming along and gets most of the pictures I’d never think about. Why? because it’s there! And I take lots of panning shots handheld. Yeah 40 Megapixels for <$300. Go spend the money on decent lenses and the D700.

    Thanks Nazim – you Rock the in Photog World!

    • January 22, 2012 at 4:16 pm

      Thank you for your feedback Jerry!

      At the end of the day, it is all about the vision and skill of the photographer. The Nikon D700 is my favorite camera and I won’t be selling it when the D800 comes out. It is a camera that consistently delivered beautiful images for me and I have no complaints about its performance. Will I be getting the D800? Most likely, because I need it for landscapes. But for all other work, D700 will remain as my primary tool of choice. I do not see a reason to upgrade from D700 to D800 for current D700 owners, unless they truly need the high resolution sensor for their work.

  28. 28) John Richardson
    January 13, 2012 at 2:19 am

    Hello Nasim!

    As always you make things crystal clear (to me at least) even if you write late at night. :-)
    Clearly people who are not complaining about the D7000 and are complaining about the D800 need to read this carefully.

    Thank You 36mp times!
    Looking forward to the D800 in Feb.

  29. 29) David
    January 13, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    Thanks for this very astute analysis. I purchased the D7000 in February to replace my D200, primarily for better low light performance. I have been pretty happy with it, but viewed it as a “placeholder” until the D700 replacement came out. When I hear the specs. for the D800, I was disappointed, saying, “why do I need all those megapixels”. You have changed my mind about the D800 and I am now looking forward to its release. I just recently discovered your website, but as very impressed and will stop back often for you posts.

    • January 22, 2012 at 4:18 pm

      Thank you for your feedback David! I will be putting D800 to test as soon as it becomes available!

  30. 30) Mick Rhodes
    January 14, 2012 at 8:57 am

    Just a quick thanks for the above explanation.

  31. 31) Chuck R
    January 16, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    Hi Nasim
    As usual, this is a great article which has spurred a very useful discussion. I’m new at this DSLR stuff, and have been shooting a D5000 for about 2 years. When I started looking for lenses, I opted for FX lenses, hoping someday to purchase a full frame sensor. Last week, I bit the bullet and bought a D700 and so far it is everything I hoped for. Now I’m praying I didn’t make a mistake with 3 year old technology.

    Thanks for all of your work on this blog. Your efforts are much appreciated.

    • January 22, 2012 at 4:20 pm

      Chuck, you did not make a mistake – D700 is a phenomenal camera that will serve you for many years. I have been enjoying my D700 for 3 years now and I am planning to use it till it dies. I have over 350,000 actuations on it and I am planning to squeeze every drop out of it before it ends up in trash :)

  32. 32) William Jones
    January 16, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    Thank you for the above information, and the other articles about the D4 and D800. First some data about my shooting, followed by some questions.

    I currently own both a D3X and a D700, and am following the D4 vs D800 debate closely (ordered a D4 the day it was released). As a sports protog (mostly polo), I shot the D3X in DX mode with a Nikon 80-400 lens (wish they made an AF-S version of it!). The 1,600 standard ISO limit of the D3X is a problem, due to the speed of the sport (have to use a high shutter speed), and the sometimes poor light. I shoot close to 200,000 photos a year, and have used my D3X in this way for two years (still going strong).

    A quick check of some files shows approx 25% are shot above ISO 800 (some as high as 3,200), so both the D4 and D800 would be an improvement in ISO range. The frame rate of a D3X in DX mode is about 7 FPS, while the estimated DX mode for a D800 is 6 FPS. Don’t know if the DX mode of a D4 will be higher than the 10 FPS currently listed (can’t use the fixed focus option). Estimated DX size for a D800 is 15.5 MP, almost a 50% increase over the DX size of a D3X.

    So the question, would it be better to get a D800 and shot it in DX mode or get a D4? I don’t need or use video (wish Nikon would offer a non-video cheaper version). Also, if get D800, should it be the version with or without the anti-alias filter? (Do you have an article that explains this filter?)

    Lastly, any estimates on buffer limit comparisons between the D4 and the D800? Especially at 14-bit NEF (can’t shoot sports at 14-bit NEF with the D3X, as the FPS drops to about 2.8 FPS in DX mode). That could be the main factor that decides the issue, as need a decent size buffer (the new Lexar 1000X CF cards may help).

    Thank you,

    • January 22, 2012 at 4:29 pm

      William, I am really surprised on your use of D3x – why didn’t you get a D3/D3s for your polo shots? Was the intention to use the D3x different when you first bought it? And why don’t you use your D700 for those shots instead?

      For your needs, you definitely need the Nikon D4, so it is a good thing you preordered. I would not get the D800 over the D4, unless I shot landscapes and fashion, where high resolution is really needed. Shooting a high resolution camera in DX mode is not the best use for it, it is like driving a Ferrarri on a 25 MPH street. As for the AA filter – I will be getting the version without the AA filter, because I am not worried about moire for landscapes. Moire is typically problematic for architectural and lifestyle photography (with repeating patterns) – that’s where you see it the most.

      As for the buffer limit, the Nikon D4 will have a much bigger buffer, especially when you consider the fact that its RAW images will be smaller. Again, in your case, D4 would be a lot more appropriate. The 14-bit vs 12-bit issue is a problem of the past – the Nikon D4 won’t slow down when shooting at 14-bit. And if you want even more speed, get a new XQD card and you can shoot pretty much non-stop like a machine gun!

      • 32.1.1) William Jones
        January 23, 2012 at 7:55 am

        Thank you for the detailed reply. The reason to shoot a D3X instead of a D3/D3S is the size of a polo field (nine times that of an American football field). On the D3X, in DX mode, my 80-400 lens is an effective 120-600 lens. Shooting from mid-field, I capture the entire match (over 2K shoots per match). Even so, I must still crop the shots when the players are far away, and a crop of a 10.5MP 600mm picture yields a bigger picture than a crop of a 12MP 400mm picture. D3X DX frame rate is 7 FPS.

        I still use the D3X for other purposes (like landscape; where I will sometimes use the Nikon 16mm Fisheye, and then straighten out in DXO). After your review of the Nikon 24mm f/1.4, I may consider purchasing that one for landscapes also.

        After your explanation on the AA filter, I agree with purchasing the non-AA model (not a problem in sports).

        The D800, if rumored stats are correct, will produce a 15.5MP DX picture. Using the 80-400 lens, I will be able to get bigger pictures (after crops), using the D800 then I could with the D4 (only 16MP). Again, the lens is an effective 600 in DX mode (15.5MP – D800), as opposed to 400 in FX mode (16MP – D4). Frame rate on the D800 in DX mode will be 6 FPS, only 1 slower than the D3X in DX mode. IF they produce a battery pack for the D800, like the one for the D700, then frame rate may get better. On the D800, may also try shooting in FX mode with the 28-300 lens, and seeing what final crop sizes are.

        The real factor is the buffer. If large enough (MUST be better than the D700, if equal to or greater than the limits of the D3X I will be in hog heaven), not a real problem. While I would like to shoot in 14 bit NEF, I can shoot in 12 bit. The new Lexar 1000X CF cards will help with the buffer (about 125MPS, the same as first generation XQD cards). If I shoot a few less total pictures, not a problem, as long as I can get decent burst rates.

        Of course, I could just buy both (Do you happen to know of an easy bank to rob?).

        You have a very informative website, and your featured pictures are great. Thank you again for your advice. WEJ

  33. 33) Bill
    January 18, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    So, what is the best camera for HDR?

    • 33.1) John Richardson
      January 18, 2012 at 10:21 pm

      Any camera. Or rather any camera that you can bracket photos on. PLUS a tripod for those bracketed exposures.

      HDR is performed in the software stages of your post processing. You can do a good tone map with a single exposure. Software like NIK’s “HDR Efx Pro” or ” Photomatix Pro” will do the tricks you need.

      A good source of information would be Trey Ratciff’s “Stuck In Customs website”.

    • January 22, 2012 at 1:25 pm

      Bill, I agree 100% with John’s response.

    • 33.3) Bob
      January 30, 2012 at 2:52 am

      There are cameras that can shoot in-cam HDR. My A77 does just that perfectly so it saves time in post.

      • 33.3.1) John Richardson
        January 30, 2012 at 3:48 am

        Yes, it is a cute trick and a nice marketing point. However, it does not give you the precise control over the final image as bracketing photos and your own hand in the processing. Your hand, your interpretation, your control, your vision … not the vision of some technicians and marketing committee. The key and allure of true HDR processing is “your vision through your control, via the software YOU select to process in” (even if you make bad Clown Vomit HDR is is still yours).

        Remember we are more than photographers, we are artists.

        • Bob
          January 31, 2012 at 12:47 am

          Having SOOC HDR works for an amateur like me who does not sit long hours in a computer just to edit my shot. I really do admire artists like yourself, but it will be a long way before I will ever get to where you are now. Cheers John! :)

          • John Richardson
            January 31, 2012 at 1:02 am

            Bob! You are an artist also! I am also an amateur, meaning I make no discernible income from photography. I have done some work for locals but have always declined money in favor of pizza and beer.

            Sometimes sitting at the computer for hours does get to be more than a pain in the rear (cough), but fortunately for ALL of us there are some really inexpensive shortcuts that will yield more than pleasing results for everyone, Pro’s included. At the risk of a plug (I do not work for anyone nor compensated by anyone for this) I would have you look at Nik Software’s Color Efx 4. Everything we like and will most likely need is in there for photo enhancement. It is a plug-in, and plug-in’s make everyones work easier and actually much more fun.

            So, really, since we are taking digital pics and must by necessity do our own processing, or do it for fun, even if it only takes 1 minute to fix a photo to our desire, makes us artists. Too bad our hobby is so dang expensive, colored chalk and a piece of paper is much cheaper, but heck, I can’t draw a stick man to save my life, so I opted for spending untold dollars on mechanical stuff to reproduce my eyeball’s view. Wife, however is not THAT thrilled about it….

            • Bob
              January 31, 2012 at 9:04 pm

              Thanks John for taking the time to educate a beginner like me. I used ‘beginner’ this time because I just come to realize that being an amateur has certain levels! LOL
              You may be an amateur as you see it but definitely your knowledge in photography is up on a hill compared to mine which is still on sea level.
              I appreciate your enlightenment on post processing and will certainly look into the Nik software. Good luck with the wifey! hehe

              BTW, thanks for dropping by my website and giving me the much needed encouragement to pursue this expensive hobby. Cheers to you my friend! All the best…

  34. 34) Matthew Sands
    January 19, 2012 at 10:50 am

    I want to revisit pixel binning because it sure seems like the answer to toting around a high res camera but having a mode to handle low light is a valuable option. If Nikon won’t do it for the sake of D4 sales, what are they going to do when Sony decides to go ahead and do it in the next Sony full frame using the 36MP sensor? seriously, all this post processing, down sampling stuff is giving me a head ache. too much trouble, when the ability of the camera to do it for you is out there. I like versatility, and if a camera can be created to shift processing technique to handle both high res or low light, that is the camera I would buy.

    • January 22, 2012 at 1:23 pm

      Matthew, on average, when comparing a result from sensor performing the pixel binning process or Photoshop/Lightroom down-sampling the image, the differences are not worth the implementation – that’s why we are not seeing this feature on modern DSLRs, although the concept is pretty old.

      The point of this article was to try to explain to our readers not to be scared of a high resolution sensor. Down-sampling is an automated process in Lightroom (exporting an image at a certain resolution is built into the Export tool) and is a one-step process in Photoshop as well. Many online forums and articles make a big deal out of a high resolution sensor and try to push the thought that noise will be higher, sensor will require better lenses, will need more storage, etc. In reality, it is only true (except for the storage part, but storage is cheap) for people that look at pixels at 100% view…

    • January 22, 2012 at 1:25 pm

      Matthew, one more thing, just like the Nikon D3/D3s/D3x/D700, you can choose to shoot in DX mode, which will give you less than half the resolution and less than half the file size. But it is not the same thing as pixel binning, because it is simply cropping the frame – you will be better off down-sampling the images in post.

  35. January 22, 2012 at 10:27 am

    Wow Nasim! I was just waiting to read an article like this! Really loved your analysis about Nikons market strategy. Loved your article on the best lenses for wildlife photography too. Had purchased a 70-300 after reading your review a month back :) Great website but I somehow find the new ‘ Sociable’ sidebar on the left little annoying while browsing. I think it would be better off somewhere in towards the right corner or below.

    • January 22, 2012 at 1:07 pm

      Agreed, I also found it quite annoying (it was an automatic updated). I removed it :)

  36. 36) Yao Cheng
    January 23, 2012 at 6:25 am

    The high pixel count sensor produces smaller noise grain.
    New design sensor and image processor suppress noise further.
    Image downsampling suppress the noise even further.
    Etc… etc… etc. …….
    FACT: If you read HIGH ISO comparison of D700 and D7000 in internet, you could conclude that D700 is about half or one stop better than D7000 at 12,800.
    Let’s say that I could produce a camera with a following:
    1. 16MP FX sensor with a technology that is similar to D7000.
    2. An image processor that could match or better than D7000
    3. Could produce picture with a good noise level. At 25,600 could match 12,800 of D700 (Not D7000).
    4. The rest of the technology (video, metering, etc…) same as D7000.
    5. The price is between D700 and D800.
    Do you still consider that 36MP D800 is right for you?
    Let’s say you are going to buy D800:
    1. Expect to get a similar picture quality comparable to 4 years old D700 (at HI ISO) after downsampling process….
    2. Want to shoot in DX mode, because you do not need HI pixel count image in most of situation. You are glad and tell to yourself that you have 2 cams (DX and FX) in a single D800….
    I damn sure that you should reconsider your decision.

  37. 37) Charlie Ricker
    January 27, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    I have a D7000 and intend to get a D800 when it is available. My question is, will the D800 in DX mode produce essentially the same IQ as the D7000, assuming the same lens is used?

  38. 38) Bob
    January 30, 2012 at 4:25 am

    Rumors has it that Sony will be manufacturing the 36MP sensor for Nikon… is it true?

  39. 39) chris
    January 31, 2012 at 12:32 am

    rather than seeing an increase in MP, i would prefer to see improvement in other IQ areas like:-
    1) increase in focus points in the viewfinder – to widen the variety of compostion,
    2) types of focus points area – spot ( for macro), wide, etc – in terms of precise focus
    3) touch screen liveview (including to focus and snap a pic)
    4) option to focus with the eye through the viewfinder
    5) option to change sensor (i.e. interchangeable sensor) body.

    These I would called a sincere product improvement. Rather than just a so called “marketing” improvemnt by increasing Mega Pixels. Dslr companies, wake up, please. That is not the way to go. It hurts sometimes when you see them keep doing this “increase MP” thing and called it new improvement from the previous model without any other value added improvement, just because the previous model is hot selling and customers are asking for a new model. When they have nothing new to offer, an increase in MP is an improvement.

  40. 40) Fomeo
    February 8, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    All DSLRs allow the user to choose one of several resolutions to use for shooting. So let’s say you have a DSLR that has a max resolution of 6000×4000 and you set it to shoot at 3000×2000. Will your photos look any different than if you had shot at 6000×4000 and then later resized it to 3000×2000 on your computer? If so, exactly what will the difference be and why?

  41. 41) Antony
    February 23, 2012 at 11:30 pm

    Dear Nasim,

    A couple of queries on your article:
    1. Capture NX2 only allows a single method (algoritm) for re-sizing. Is this a problem? Reason for question is that I’ve been holding off going to LR for a few reasons but this might sway the balance.
    2. On down-sampling I don’t really understand why it should reduce noise. For example if one considers noise as ‘variances’ similar to say a sign wave then one would expect both destructive and constructive interference (as between 2 superimposed waves) – hence some noise will go up whilst other noise is eliminated – together with other ‘in between’ results.
    3. There have been widespread comments on the Net that higher resolution sensors are more demanding of photo technique as slight lens movements will be accentuated. Is this true?

    I have a D90 but require better low light ISO performance for sunrise/sunset wildlife photography. As a result I’ve been considering the D700 – but lose the 1.5 multiplication factor on the FX. As the D800 will not be that much more expensive than the D700 it’s becomes a viable alternative as it can shoot in FX and DX mode (and FX can be cropped anyway) but will the resulting (cropped/DX) images have the same low ISO as the D700… Maybe the ‘deal breaker’ though would be point (3) above, if true.
    I’m definately in the ‘amateur’ class as far as my usage requirements are concerned but I do want the best image quality (within economic reason).

    Lastly, I stumbled across your site a few months ago. Where I have been impressed is that your articles/comments are well researched, knowledgable, well written and appear to be totally unbiased for which I would like to personnaly thank you. It’s a really good resource.
    I think it’s also true that because of the above the site also seems to attract many of a similar attitude (not including myself here LOL)

  42. 42) Egami
    February 26, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    dear Nasim
    i apologize if my question looks stupid ,..I’m D7000 owner and planning to upgrade to FX arena for long time .. you have mentioned that ( the pixel size on the D800 will be the same as on the current D7000. ) and we know that D800 has a bigger sensor with higher resolution ( 36mp compared to 16mp for D7000) can i conclude that the have the same pixel density?? if so does this mean they will have the same performance in term of sharpness for small print and website .. does it worth to upgrade to D800 with losing the advantage of cropped sensor u have mentioned, it was clearer before why to upgrade from d7000 to d700 (for better low light performance and bitter noise handling and even sharper images pluse others things )…but know I’m not sure , i will appreciate if you can enlightened me

  43. 43) Matt M
    April 6, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Fantastic article! Thanks for the informative post (really for all of the info on your blog).

    Is the below statement in the article an error? Shouldn’t you be stating camera “B” as having a higher resolution (same size sensor)?

    “Now what if camera “B” has the same resolution as camera “A”, but has a much better image processing pipeline? Pixel size on camera “B” is smaller, which technically should make camera “B” produce more noise, but its image processing pipeline is superior and hence it compensates for the difference.”

  44. May 10, 2012 at 5:31 am

    I struggled a bit with the concept in deciding on a D4 or a D800. The D800 won and has been delivered – now the big test begins. Thank you for the insight.

  45. 45) António Alfaiate
    June 1, 2012 at 9:24 am

    Dear Nasim,
    Do you think that it is possible to isolate the sensor analysis from the type of lens that you are using to take those photos and the software (on-camera and post production) that produces the final result. Seams one needs a very good combination of factors rather than just a good sensor or lens, correct? I would love to ear you about a good combination for D800 regarding software, specially for post-production where a lot is been added lately . The ones that reinterpreter the information from a specific lens and change it and the software beyond photoshop or apps for it that introduce visible changes to the quality of your work like for example HDR or others that you might recommend. Thanks a lot.

    • 45.1) John Richardson
      June 1, 2012 at 10:34 am

      Do you actually take photos? Or just obsess over useless specs that mean nothing at screen output and little more on print unless you are printing bill boards? Just asking … because as a optical physicist and someone who has used Photoshop since PS1, I simply do not see any real world applications in your question. Dude seriously, just shoot and process in PS or LR or Aperture, get over the little tiny camera sensor specs that you aren’t gonna see in the first place. Nothing is worse (or more useless) than a technically perfect pic of a cat.

      • 45.1.1) Scorpius
        June 1, 2012 at 10:42 am

        +1 for this John.. Too much time is wasted on pedantic’s,the Camera is very good,we all know this,now people should just get out and shoot.Its well known in the business that 95% of all snappers are limited only by their own ability..
        I see this camera in the simplest way possible,it’s very high res,use the top primes if you want the highest Rez images and process them in NX2 or LR4 (or even capture on pro)… then print them or upload them and move on to the next shot,people should concentrate more on learning lighting and other technique’s…

      • 45.1.2) António Alfaiate
        June 1, 2012 at 8:18 pm

        Yes, I love photography and for a long time now. I have been taken photos for a little more than 30 years. From kodachrome to velvia from Ilford to digital backs from 35mm 6×6, 6×7 etc.etc. During that fun time I was lucky enough to be recognized for my work that includes in between others a national prize awarded in 1989 and photos published in more than a dozen publications, from art to news.
        My question has all the relevance, I think, since in the last decades there were not relevant changes made on parts of the equipment like lenses or flashes, for instance, but others aspects of photographic equipment pass by a revolution. It was a digital revolution that change photography and the way we see it, and also use the cameras. The level of “manipulation” allowed in pós-production changed everything, even the way we take photos and send them to be seen on the internet. Now more then ever the final result is the photo itself not when “the camera took it” or when the shot was made- time, object and place are mixed together and transformed (importunately even in the mainstream media).
        Coming from chemical to digital photo we need now the right combination of tools to achieve the best result, and we do need to know what are those tools and how to use them in a articulated fashion. Of course the moment and form of shooting are essential, those can be really interesting and fun but in the end, all the information needs to be processed and broadly transformed. These days we got to the point of creating virtual realities – from small (or big) changes on people faces to totally transform or invent a landscape. If one doesn’t see this is because is not understanding what is happening and have a very narrow perspective on photography. The big changes will come from software and people´s creativity, not from hardware by itself. Not only from sensors or lenses but mainly from the work made over that information on the memory card to create the a final product. Today I can use a 1890 photo or a shot from my iphone and make my own photography simply trough processing and recreate images. More and more if I know about how to process that information I can determine the final result, and only that way. That´s why I am interested on new knowledge in this area and not only about lpm – photography info on wide and broad terms not just about pressing buttons or using zoom lenses, capice ? : -)

        ¨I hope I was clear since English is not my first language, Thanks.

        • John Richardson
          June 1, 2012 at 10:56 pm


          Great answer, and I understood perfectly! Between the two of us we have 70+ years of experience in photography, and obviously share the same “schooling’ background from the old darkroom days. So we both know that it is composition first that makes a great photo and we also know that photography is a subjective art. We also remember the fun in the darkroom watching our photos magically come to life in front of our eyes (with a red tint from the cheap red bulbs), though now that I look back on it, I seriously do not miss the darkroom at all. Alas, those days are all but gone and everything we learned had to be relearned with the advent of digital and electronic post processing. Not only that those days have no real relevance to today other than the basic composing techniques that were drilled into us because not only was film and processing not cheap, but we really did not have the 10fps option of spray and prey with auto ISO auto White Balance … hell auto everything.

          So, you above all know that the equipment changes and the processing have eclipsed our past and we are still rising headlong into a new future were there is little left except to pixel peep or just go out and take photos like we used to. Our initial revulsion and snickering at digital photos in the old days have proven us to be dinosaurs, but dinosaurs who still have the drive to keep with our job/hobby. Eh … enough of that.

          Look we both know that you can get a decent photo with a a camera phone and in many cases that’s about all the Facebook, Flicker crowd needs. But since we spend big bucks on cameras and software we might have different concerns, and I understand yours. But Antonio, we don’t have to over think photography anymore, we have such a range of creative control that at this point in time, we do not have to worry about which lens works best or which sensor which works on a quantum physics level that 99% of the people don’t understand nor even really need to. We are now at the point of which software to select for our post processing. And how it can transform OUR vision to 1) a 72dpi screen, 2) a simple US or International (A4) photo printer or 3) Commercial print. Ahhh the commercial print…a good printing press is only as good a the pressman and the digital commercial print may be only as good at the new output device. We still shoot for pretty much the same physical output, plus a digital screen.

          So, isolating sensor analysis is really useless. Sorry, but it does come down to the final output. So, if you are wondering which software to use, today. Yesterday I had a different answer today I can give a better answer. Software that does lens distortion corrections is about the last little thing left and it appears that LR4 and Photoshop have taken care of that, not only do they have presets but you can tweak it by hand. Noise reduction in PS and even LR4 have all but eliminated the the need for a third party plug-in. The D800 uses larger files, not a real problem since as a photographer you should be cramming as much RAM and HD space as you can get, and if you popped just 3k for a camera body and you haven’t kept upgrading your PP software and hardware then you are missing a few things in the work path.

          So the “right” combination of tools depends on the look you want to achieve for the final output. There is no magic bullet since it is all subjective in the end. One man’s kitten is another man’s landscape. But I do have a hard and fast answer of software and after that it is up to you to tweak to your heart’s content …

          Photoshop CS6 Extended, LightRoom 4 … add NIk Software’s HDR Efx, Silver EfxPro 2 (for us B&W freaks), Nik’s Color Efx Pro 4. and Nik’s Viveza 2. Done deal. You might want Topaz Stars also. I happen to be a huge fan of Nik’s U-Point technology so the Viveza is there just for me. But plug in’s like art are subjective right? There are other companies out there. Apple’s Aperture does a fine job, and maybe a little easier to use that LightRoom 4, but after three years on Aperture (which I love) I am back on LR, I will not look back much like I will not look back on the chemical days. Technology has taken a huge leap, CS6. No, I don’t get paid for endorsing anything.

          That’s it, you can do anything you want with the above combo of software, ANYTHING. I no longer care about the camera, like always we have had to select or lenses and that will never change. Antonio, photography is fun again, like it used to be when we were filled with wonder in the darkroom, pleased with our hard work, except today the options of how we handle that photo in PP is beyond anything we could have ever thought of when I started over 40 yeas ago. Screw the sensor to lens data. If we screw up in the darkroom, we had to go back and do it all over, or send it back to the lab, today we press a button, move a slider or twoor three and we are done, on to the next.

          Don’t over think the science, we don’t need to anymore, we have better things to do. I can’t say that advancement will get any better, hell, it can’t and won’t get any worse. I can’t even guess what’s next in PP, I am already thrilled to no end at what I can do and so are my clients.

          So if you are holding a point and shoot or a D800 or Mark III , PP software and imagination are the kings.

          It was nice meeting you!

  46. 46) Chai
    September 19, 2012 at 2:07 am

    Dear Nasim,
    I have a question regarding the re-sizing the files, what is your recommended workflow for shooting raw files for event photography? I usually shoot mraw when I was using Canon (for event that is), but now I use D800 and now I’m feeling like I’m running into a brick wall processing these 36 mp files : ) Is converting them to 12 or 16mp DNG files before processing a good move? Is there any penalty in doing that? I could not afford to upgrade my PC at the moment.

    I have been a fan of your website, and I appreciate the work you do here very much.
    Please excuse my English, it is not my first language.

    Thank you in advance for your help.

  47. 47) Ted
    September 20, 2012 at 10:13 am

    Hey Nasim,

    For starters, love your site, great info and very entertaining!

    I wanted to know, I shoot in RAW and JPEG when doing certain things (like shooting models etc…) but there are times where I’m just shooting just JPEG. With that said, you speak of down-sampling with Lightroom and I’m totally on board with you there. My question though is if you set the D800 to the smaller file sizes does it automatically do the down-sampling for you in the camera?

    I ask for lets say I’m shooting a dark scene at night hand-held and I’m pushed to go ISO 6400 to keep my shutter speed acceptable. If I did a full sized L image and used Lightroom to down-sample it to a 12 MP photo I know it will clean up the photo some since I’m down-sampling. If the D800 was set to lets say M size or S size does it do the same down-sampling in the camera and clean up the image like it would in Lightroom? For if I’m out taking pictures of things to post up on a forum or facebook I for surely would not need the 36 MP but still would like to get clean images. If it’s needed I could just down-sample the 36 MP picture post but curious if it could save me a step in post was all.



    • 47.1) John Richardson
      September 20, 2012 at 11:32 am

      I really hate to say this but:
      Ya know, you could go outside and shoot some shots and do a quick look in LR yourself right? Because as nice as Nasim is, you are asking him to do the legwork for you.

      • 47.1.1) Ted
        September 20, 2012 at 12:31 pm

        Hey John,

        I would do that if I could but I don’t have a D800 or D600 yet for that matter. I was asking him that question for he may already know the answer to it since he knows a lot of how Nikons work and the such. I know in the past the older Nikons did not down-sample like post processing Lightroom and such did but the older Nikons also didn’t have 36 MP sensors in them and I didn’t know if Nikon changed how they processed the newer D800 and D600 smaller sized JPEG’s.

        I do apologize for posting it up though for I see it’s already been spoke of above and has been answered by Nasim. That will teach me to skim through the comments very quickly before asking my question. Thanks for the answer Nasim!


        PS – John, while I see your point about testing, it doesn’t explain the why. In Nasim’s “January 9, 2012 at 11:10 am” comment above he explains what I was asking about. So if this hadn’t been posted before and I asked him this question and he gave me the response he did above I would have, as I have, learned a lot from it. That to me is what photography is about, always learning new things and doing my best to try and improve. Leg work wasn’t what I was intending by my question and I’m sorry if it came across that way. I was wanting to know what was ‘under the hood’ type details and he gave them.

        • John Richardson
          September 20, 2012 at 12:34 pm

          I apologize.

          • Ted
            September 20, 2012 at 12:48 pm

            It’s all cool John, you did teach me to make sure I read all the comments first for there is a lot of technical information not only in the article but also in the comments as well.

  48. 48) antonio
    September 20, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    Dear all,
    The ideal seams to be to choose the camera and sensor based on each one necessity and not on raw numbers of pixels, pixels size, or even max. definition.
    Maybe starting with an idea about what is going to be your workflow and determine what is your average final size copy and the level of quality necessary to serve that purpose. Based on this one can choose the sensor size and the subjective quality they need. Other than that is only academic discussion about if 36MP is better than 22 MP, that feeds curiosity but do not serve a purpose. The question needs to be what is better for you and for the type of work you are doing, correct?

    • 48.1) Chai
      September 21, 2012 at 4:06 am

      Dear John and Antonio

      You are right of course though I have already done the legwork : ) ) I have with me 36 mp Raw and I re-sized them into a 16 mp DNG before I processed them and it has made my life a lot easier however I view my files and I am not really sure about the benefit or downside I get from this workflow and the “If you don’t see it, it doesn’t really matter” mode of thinking is not working out for me since If I’m creating artifacts in my photo, not seeing it today might not mean I won’t see it in the future! I’ve read the comments above about workflow which involves exporting back and forth (Lightroom and Photoshop) in TIFF which brings me to my question about the re-sizing Raw to DNG before starting to process them and export them in Jpeg as final results. If suggested workflow involves photoshop? It must mean there could be penalty in the workflow I mentioned? or did I misunderstand something? (must be from my terrible skimming skill ; 0)

      And sure thing, using D800 for events is not really a stellar idea (If not shooting in JPEG) but it is the only camera I have and I can’t exactly choose the assignment I’ve got in hand : ) Antonio of course stated the golden rules there, choose what is best for you but then what is? if one day I’m shooting events, the week after I shoot cityscape? (which just might be the case for this month) It is a bit tricky isn’t it since not all of us can buy two bodies! : )


    • 48.2) Jorge Balarin
      September 21, 2012 at 6:40 pm

      Correct : )

  49. 49) Favio
    October 13, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    What is the effect of reduce the resolution in camera, shooting for example at 12MP in a 16 MP camera? I mean, we get some advantage in noise control or something?

  50. 50) Chai
    October 14, 2012 at 10:18 am

    Unfortunately not T-T, the camera software just do not use all the information when you choose the lower settings, it doesn’t perform what re-sizing in Photoshop and Lightroom does. I really wish there is a mode where it actually does even with the expense of write speed. Maybe in the future models : )

  51. 51) sudheer
    November 2, 2012 at 7:58 am

    dear sir,

    I have 11µm pixel size camera but some one asking that they want 20µm pixel size how can I convey them to 11µm pixel size is best than 20µm pixel size..
    some body told me that if we have more pixel size it will cut the corners of images

  52. 52) marcus
    November 10, 2012 at 3:42 am

    Actually I think there is a mistake in the article. it says in the article: quote:

    “If you have two identically sized sensors – one with small pixels (hence higher pixel density), and one with large pixels (lower pixel density), everything else being the same, the former should generally produce lower quality images than the latter, especially when it comes to noise. The Nikon D3s, having much larger pixel size performs much better at high ISOs than the Nikon D3x (when viewed at 100%)

    For the noise it does not matter how many pixels you put on a sensor. It is all about sensor size not pixel size when it comes to catching light. Nikon D800 and Nikon D600 both have different pixel size (33% difference, 24 vs 36 megapixel) but there iso noise performance is the same.

    Another example D7000 and D800 have almost the same pixel size. D800 has much better noise performance, it is just because the sensor is bigger, that all there is to it.

    If you put a tiny hand tower and a large beach towel outside in the rain, which one catches the most rain (or sunlight), the bigger towel of course…

    For many other thing pixel size can be important but not for noise.

    • November 10, 2012 at 6:34 am

      I don’t think that’s right. As Nasim says, the D3x has a much larger sensor than the D3s but has smaller pixels and is much less capable with noise. My understanding is that it’s quite correct that pixel size is a significant determinant of noise but with the qualification “at the same level of technology”. For example, the reason the D800 handles noise much better them the D3x is because the processing engine is greatly improved.

      • 52.1.1) Marcus
        August 24, 2013 at 3:20 am

        I still dont agree. Put a big towel opn the grass and a small towel and wqait til it rains. which towel gets more rain? The big towel of course. Has nothing to do with the size of the raindrops. Just the size of the towel.

        Same for sensors. Pixels have nothing to do with amount of light. Just the sensor size counts. See for example D600 or D800 from Nikon. one is 24MP, other 36MP. sensor size is about the same size. Hence the noise quality is the same too. I contribute this to different Exceed proccesor used, not pixel size.

        • Ted
          August 26, 2013 at 8:58 am

          Hey Marcus,

          I think what the towel example leaves out is the factor of time and also you need to look at what amount of light each pixel can get in a set amount of time.

          Lets say you put marble sized circles down in a set area (lets say 4′ x 3′ to scale it a little bigger for the circle sizes I speak of) and then in another area you put bb pellet gun size circles into the same area.

          Now take both of those areas and flash a bright light evenly over them for 1/2000’s of a second. Looking at just each circle (pixel) which would gather more light in that short period of time then? The marble sized ones would be able to absorb more light per marble (pixel in this example) in that set amount of time and that in turn means it would get more light going into it and that is why I think the bigger pixels are better for lower light and less noise for the engineers have more light to work with in a set amount of time when tuning the processing of the sensor etc…

          As you mentioned though, the processing and also improvements in sensor technology I feel helps improve noise performance while still having the pixel size get smaller and that I hope keeps on continuing as they push forward. Example of that is the D3 vs D3s, both have the same pixel size yet if you look up the high ISO difference between the two the results speak for themselves. Gotta love the advancements in technology.

    • September 30, 2013 at 6:15 am

      Forget about towels; put a 5 gallon bucket and a martini glass outside and let’s have 2 inches of rainfall; when it’s stopped raining both the glass and the bucket have 2 inches of water depth in them, but the 5 gallon bucket has a larger volume of water due to its larger surface area.

      Similarly, for any given iso, exposure time and intensity combination a D3 photosite at 8.4µm yields a far higher S/N ratio than a photosite from a D3X at 5.9µm

      • October 1, 2013 at 12:22 pm

        Yes, but you are forgetting one simple fact – the number of pixels is significantly increased. On a pixel level, the D3 will outperform the D3X. However, once you downsample the D3X to the same resolution, both will yield very similar noise levels. This has been proven a number of times.

      • October 1, 2013 at 12:29 pm

        Andy, there is a fundamental flaw in your example. Why take a 5 gallon bucket and a single martini glass? That is not the same as comparing a low resolution sensor vs high. If you are taking a single 5 gallon bucket, you need to take many martini glasses that match the volume of the bucket. We are not comparing a single pixel on a D3 vs a D3X – we are comparing a single pixel vs many pixels. That’s the point of downsampling.

    • 52.3) AJ
      September 30, 2013 at 8:03 am

      Actually the D800 has a higher noise level than the D600. This has been discussed elsewhere more than enough times.
      The noise performance of the D800 approaches or exceeds that of the D600 only when the image of the D800 is re-sampled from 36 down to 24 MP (one can compare the sensor noise at DXO). On a pixel by pixel basis the noise floor is always a constant for a given topography (i.e. same generation sensor from same manufacturer and thus the same quantum efficiency) but the amount of light (signal) received will always be higher with the greater surface area photosite – hence the S/N will be lower on larger photosites.
      Andy’s explanation below is pretty much spot on IRO envisioning the process.

      • October 1, 2013 at 12:27 pm

        Of course – on a pixel level, a sensor with larger pixels will always yield cleaner images (assuming both utilize the same pipeline and processing technology). However, the advantage of a higher resolution sensor is the fact that you can downsample images to reduce noise and improve sharpness. That’s specifically what I am talking about in this article. Take another look at the SNR chart above – the D3X and D3 both yield about the same level of noise, once the former is downsampled. It makes no sense to compare two sensors at pixel level.

  53. 53) Joshua Kleveter
    January 3, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    In the article you mentioned that the differences between the flagship cameras and mid-pro level cameras are mostly in the software and a few other minor features, and the pricing is simply to prevent a lower-end camera from cannibalizing the flagship sales. What do you think would happen is a company (say, Sigma) came out with a camera that had features and capabilities similar to a 1DX or D4, but a price bracket of about $1,500 – $2,000? It seems to me that this could be pretty powerful if the were to combine it with an interchangeable lens mount (e.g. RED Scalet & Epic).

  54. 54) antonio
    January 3, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    Beyond commercial strategies to sell more or less pixels, the broader challenge is to maintain people expectations fulfilled and to generate the next object of desire. If we like pixels, they will give us more…If a bigger frame, that will happen to. The objective quality is something very far from quality perceived by consumers and the latter is far more important.
    On the production side, the industrial price of this kind of products is getting lower and faster to achieve each time, but better at lower prices is a difficult battle to fight in high technologies department. Only the big producers, like Canon for instance, are able to continue the research and production of competitive products that are sustainable, meaning payed for themselves. Small producers will be always in a difficult position of having to use other people´s investigation to make their cameras or sensors. The, let´s say Sigma ” quantum leap” , is not very viable under this circumstances.
    One day, not so far from now, video cameras and photographic cameras will fuse just because image processing is getting so fast that one single frame of video will have photographic definition. At this point (2012) the speed of microchips doubles every 6 months. By 2015, only, that time will arrive, and the way we think photography will change also. We will come very fast to the point were the machine (the camera) will be more powerful that our sight to see and that time will be in the next decade. Are we prepared?

  55. 55) Alessio
    July 16, 2014 at 3:56 am

    Hi everyone!
    Sorry for posting to this old threath, but I discovered it only today and I found it very interesting.

    Nobody answered this interesting question posed by Jeremy: “However, does setting your jpg file size from L to M or even S produced a noise reduction effect?”.

    I have the same issue and would like to get a response by you the experts.

    Many thanks in advance.

    • August 21, 2014 at 12:57 am

      Alessio, an old thread indeed! Yes, reducing JPEG file size to M or S does reduce in lower noise due to in-camera down-sampling.

  56. 56) Jim
    October 14, 2014 at 10:19 pm

    I have a question that is related to down sampling. When you take a picture and down size it – the software does the calculations and either throws some out or averages them in or a combination of each. What happens when you take a 16 megapixel camera and set the camera to 5 megapixels. Does the camera still take a 16 megapixel picture and use software to down sample it or does it still use the entire sensor but make the pixel size larger ( I heard that pixels have no physical size, that it is a unit of measure derived from division ).


  57. 57) duott
    November 30, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    Very useful, thanks.

  58. 58) Matt
    January 15, 2015 at 1:33 am

    Very useful article, thanks.

    Do you think the D7100 24MP (roughly equivalent to 50+ MP full frame) ‘outresolves’ the 300mm f4D ED IF?


  59. 59) wallybrooks
    February 4, 2015 at 5:59 am

    Wonderful article thanks for bringing up downsizing. I will look into downsizing my Sigma Merrill images. More time in front of the computer!!

  60. 60) MD
    March 5, 2015 at 11:22 pm

    Thanks for the insight and education.

    Sincerely appreciate your opinion amongst the spectrum..


  61. 61) tom rose
    March 27, 2015 at 10:00 am

    “What are you (sic) thoughts on this?”

    a) I don’t care about Nikon’s marketing strategy.

    b) If your technique is not already impeccable, then a Tripod will do more for your sharpness and REAL resolution than any number of extra megapixels. Hand-held, in bright light with very short exposures and a good IS/VR/OS lens you might get away with it. Following the old rule of (exposure inseconds) = 1/(focal length in mm) … not a chance.

    With a full frame sensor the linear pixel density of the likes of the Nikon D800 and the Canon 5DS is in the region of 200 sensor elements per milimetre, or even more. It means that if the sensor moves so much as 1/50mm during the exposure you’ll have effectively reduced the TRUE resolution of your 36Mp or 50Mp sensor to less than you can capture with a 6Mp sensor on a sturdy tripod. 1/50 mm is a hardly perceptible movement.

    In other words a photographer that takes the trouble to get the most out of their equipment will still capture more real detail, and capture it more sharply, with something like an EOS 10D (6Mp) than most amateurs (and more than a few professionals) can capture with the latest and greatest equipment.

  62. 62) Binh
    June 13, 2015 at 8:24 am

    Based on this logic, would a high density sensor in ASPC model would have same quality image than the low density full frame sensor? Thanks

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