Why Megapixels Really Do Matter

When I teach my workshops or speak in front of groups of serious amateur photographers, I love to shake things up a little bit, just to get folks thinking “outside the box”. I’ll often start out with a statement like “there is only one reason for someone other than a working professional to own a 21 megapixel camera and it’s because size really does matter”. It’s fun to see the men in the class sit up just a bit straighter after making a statement like that and the women blush slightly.

Of course I’m talking about megapixels here. Quite honestly, any camera with a 10 megapixel can take shots that can be printed up to 24″ x 36″ without any special processing and still look great. What you get with the very high megapixel sensors like that found in the Canon 5D Mark II or the Nikon D3X is incredible flexibility in cropping your image in a number of different ways without loosing significant resolution.

5D2 Cropped Image

Take the shot above for example. The original capture was a normal 2 x 3 ratio landscape orientation shot with the crescent moon in the far left of the scene. The evening I took this image the light was fading fast and I wasn’t able to recompose for a vertical shot as I would have liked. Upon reviewing the image in Lightroom, I felt that a tight vertical crop balancing the crescent moon and the “wave” of the land would look better in print and the 21 megapixel sensor in the Canon 5D2 allowed me to create the final image with plenty of resolution to spare.

A few years ago, only the high-end professional sports or fashion shooter could afford a 18 or 21 MP camera. Today, this technology has become very affordable in the Canon 1D Mark IV (16MP – $5000), the Canon 5D Mark II (21MP – $2500), the Canon 7D (18MP – $1500) and the Canon 60D (18MP – $1000) cameras. Everyone from a working pro to the advanced amateur or serious hobbyist can benefit from the continuing megapixel race and don’t let anyone tell you different. It is a race that both Canon and Nikon aim to win.

And before you start flaming me on this issue remember this; as technology continues to advance we can look forward to even higher resolution sensors that not only produce less digital noise but which also extend the dynamic range they are capable of capturing. These advances in technology are fueled in no small part by the megapixel race we all write about with such disdain. Advances in new technology often come directly from a competitive marketplace where companies “race” to gain market share. I for one, hope the “race” for a better sensor continues for years to come.

Crescent Moon

Crescent Moon – Kingsland, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 97mm, f/8 for 8 seconds at ISO 100. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

View Location on Panoramio & Google Earth: Crescent Moon – Kingsland, Texas

6 thoughts on “Why Megapixels Really Do Matter

  1. Agree in principle that more is better but more also comes with a tradeoff. More noise, more storage , more bandwidth needed to shuffle images around and slower post processing.
    I do like the high Megapixel of the Canon 7D but it is awfully noisy. I only use it in MRaw mode at this point which amounts to an interpolated (less noisy) 10Mpixels image. That puts it behind Nikon’s native and cleaner 12Mpix sensors.

    Don’t fully buy the Megapixel kool-aid and know full well that marketing is THE factor here. The average Joe can easily be sold that a bigger number is better than a smaller number.

    • Marcelo,

      Thanks for reading and for your comments. I find the 5D2’s 21 MP to be just about right but I agree that 18 MP in an APS-C size sensor is getting a bit much.

      Jeff

  2. Just a reminder that there really are other manufacturers out there besides Canon and Nikon. The Sony A850, for $1999 or less, gets you 24 MP of full frame awesomeness combined with stunning Zeiss lenses.

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