So how many megapixels do we NEED ??

In technical by lisa@lisabeaney.co.uk

Well, this is a slightly different blog post… one to discuss a question that has been bugging me for a while… Quite how many megapixels do we actually need in our cameras ?

Let’s take a look through the “history” of some of the cameras I have been working with..

Nikon D70 Р6.1 Megapixels РThis was my first digital SLR and the one that made me realise that digital was definitely here to stay !

Nikon D200 – 10.2 Megapixels – This was the first camera that I had when I started photographing weddings professionally. It was fine in good light but had real noise issues at ISO1600 (the best way of dealing with it was to stick to black and white 🙂 )

Nikon D300 – 12.3 Megapixels – The low light performance was so much better and the images were useable up to ISO3200 if properly exposed

Nikon D700 – 12.1 Megapixels – The main improvement was this was a full frame camera meaning that you had more sensor space for the number of pixels, the photosites became larger and the result was far better low light performance…

Canon 5dMkII – 21.1 Megapixels – I switched because we wanted the video functionality… not because I wanted more pixels !

Canon 5dMkIII – 22.3 Megapixels – These are the cameras I’m currently using……. wonderful low light performance; ISO6400 on a double page album spread without any problems….

From the Nikon D200 on I have been having 30×40″ display prints produced… I have been providing clients with single image double page spreads in 14×14″ albums and to be honest it is VERY hard to tell the difference between a print from a good 12 Megapixel camera and one from a 22 Megapixel camera. So, do we need as many megapixels as we are being given and what does this all mean ??

We have seen manufacturers racing to increase the number of megapixels on the sensor because in the general publics view the more you have the better the camera has to be but this is not always true. If you squeeze lots of photosites on to a sensor they will be smaller and closer together. If they are smaller they won’t be able to “collect” as much light and this will have an impact on low light performance and if they are very close together then electrical interference (producing noise) between them becomes more of an issue.

You will notice that all the cameras I have listed are digital SLR’s and from the D700 onwards they are all full frame. Where things become really interesting are the current versions of the mirrorless cameras. Up until recently these have all had sensors smaller than a full frame digital SLR and subsequently less megapixels but as you can see from my camera listing and history I don’t think this actually matters for what I do. I photograph people. Quite often in the studio and quite often at weddings. Yes, we sell large wall prints but nothing that a good 12 Megapixel camera can’t produce and that file size looks fabulous in a large wedding album. What has stopped me moving over to one of the mirrorless systems has been the speed of focus and low light¬†capabilities¬†but I do think that this is about to change over the next 12 months. The first very interesting announcement has been from Sony with their A7s camera. This has 12 Megapixels on¬†a full frame sensor in a mirrorless body. I know people will say that if you have a full frame sensor you still need big lenses and therefore lose the size/weight advantage of things like the OMD or Fuji but this isn’t necessarily true. Because you don’t have the mirror/prism bit in the camera the distance from the last lens element to the sensor can be much less and this results in smaller, lighter lenses. The initial reviews of its low light performance are amazing; it may be aimed at the video market but for social photographers this could be that “get out of jail free” card in a very dark church !

I must admit I’m looking forward to them being released in the UK and hope to get a hands on “play” with one when they do arrive….. But, the story doesn’t end there… in Sony’s A7 range they have the A7R a 36 Megapixel full frame mirrorless camera so if you do want lots of pixels then this could be the one for you.

As photographers we can get hung up on the “numbers” in camera specs but for some of them bigger isn’t always better; don’t discount ANY of the current mirrorless cameras just because they have less megapixels than your current dSLR, bigger isn’t always better and I for one look forward to the day when I can leave a 3kg camer/lens/flash combination at home….

I really would be interested to hear your views on this….