How many megapixels do you need?

How many megapixels do you need in your digital camera? What MTF charts will be enough to satisfy your expectations? What type of photography do you practice, to justify the number of megapixels you just said to yourself (at least) you need, to do the job better, the best? Are you more a tech guy, than the art maker? Is the long list of your camera specs more important than the rules of composition?

More megapixels will come with more troubles, or better said, more processing / storing power. You need more hard-drives, bigger, faster hard-drives to handle the size of those files (especially when working with RAW files), you will also need faster processors to handle their tasks, more RAM memory; you might even change your actual PC with a more expensive one, only because you’ve changed your camera. I know you might say that today, technology progressed a lot and became really affordable. True. But I’m just saying, it’s the “growing” phenomenon that you need to be aware of. At the end, there might be some other supplementary costs that you couldn’t predict.

I see people moving from cameras with APS-C sensor to Full Frame or even Medium Format, only to believe they are on the right track of improving their photography. And here, I want to talk about the non-professional photographers. Those people who do not have to deliver paid work for clients; the passionate people who have almost unlimited budget and make this upgrade purely for the sake of “the bigger, the better” principle; somehow hopping that “the bigger the better” gear they just purchased will truly make their photography “better” and will lead them to a deeper and more valuable recognition from their public. This article is for them.

The more photography vernissages I attend to, the more interesting and talented photographers we invite to our Photography Club of Brussels to present their portfolios and artistic vision, the more I deepen my understanding that their success, their international recognition, their precious message through artistic expression and their value as artist photographers are owed not so much to the size of the sensor in their cameras, the number of megapixels and the clinical sharpness of their lenses. But to something else, far beyond their camera specs. Believe me, it’s true!

When we see posters, fashion magazine covers and billboard prints made with pictures from an iPhone, I start to wonder if the classical excuse “I print my work in large formats” is still a valid one, in order to justify the jump to a, let’s say, 50 megapixel camera.

It’s only natural that everyone would do whatever they want with their money. But I’ve seen a photographer making the switch to a digital Medium Format camera, only to take the same pictures of his children, family, dogs, cats and farm, but with a significant higher resolution. Where is the meaning in that? I don’t want to discourage anyone from getting as many megapixels as possible (take Phase One with 100 MP, for instance, which is close to 50.000 dollars), but if you think your photography will make a huge jump in its artistic value, you’re wrong. Tell it to the classic worldwide famous photographers that impressed the whole world with small 35mm film cameras.

At the end, this matter could be concluded in simple terms of what you want versus what you really need. If you look at it from a higher point of view, with the best objectivity you could get, you know it’s the things you need that are essential for your progress and not necessarily the things you want. It is something like that:

What do you want: A bigger camera with a bigger sensor and a higher value in megapixels.

What do you need: If we stick to photo gear, you may need some high quality lenses for the camera that you already have. The glass is essential for the high quality images. The camera bodies go obsolete in 2 years, the lens are there for more than 20. If we get away from the photo gear, what we all need is new experiences, new places to be discovered, where we could get the inspiration for better photography and more interesting subjects. We need photography education (photography courses, books, tutorials, workshops) more that the latest model of camera from our favorite brand.

Stay at home and shoot the dog, the flowers in the garden and the kids playing in the backyard with a 50 megapixel camera, or use that budget to visit Indonesia and have what could be the best photographic experience of your life? Just a thought.

If your budget is unlimited and it just doesn’t matter, forget what I’ve said. It might be useful for you to understand this, but it doesn’t matter, right? But if you dream of that 50 megapixels Medium Format camera and you need to sacrifice something, anything, to get it, then hear me! Until you make up your mind, go outside and practice, practice, practice. May the Light be with you! Stay inspired!

All photos and text Р© Sebastian Boatca 2017 / www.sebastianboatca.com

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7 Comments

  1. I was with you all the way up to this …

    “the kids playing in the backyard with a 50 megapixel camera, or use that budget to visit Indonesia and have what could be the best photographic experience of your life?”

    What I’ve learned in nearly 4 decades behind the camera is that it’s not the images of some far away place that most resonate with the soul, long term. It’s documenting our own lives that ultimately brings the deepest rewards. A photo of some other guy’s hometown simply won’t mean as much to you in two or three decades, as will that well composed moment with your own child in your own yard.

    When you’re young, you may need to call it documentary in order to feel OK with yourself. Later in life, family snapshot will become a phrase most of us no longer shy from — images that we’ll treasure.

    But back to the gear, the main theme of your article, I could not agree more.

    1. Thanks, Kent! Just an arbitrary example, I could use a better one, for sure. I guess I wanted to create a clear separation between the needs in professional work and the ones for the (very personal and valuable) snapshots with family.

  2. Nice article and I thoroughly agree. To be honest though, I do dream of buying a Fujifilm GFX50 one day, but I know my skills aren’t anywhere that of what is required to give such a camera justice.

    1. Rohan, our desires are free and unimpeded. If you feel that getting the GFX will force you to be more responsible and you will put all its performance to good use, that’s already something!

  3. I have many lovely photos of the Eiffel Tower, the Pont du Gard, the Byzantine mosaics of the Kariye Djami in Istanbul, and so forth. The most precious photos for me are those of people, especially family and friends, but also e.g. people in regional dress that no longer exist today.

  4. More! (Megapixels) why? Because I have a picture of my mother and father done with a Brownie of some sort from 1942. While I can recognize them I can’t really “see” them. A better lens would have helped but people buy cameras then they might think about lenses.

  5. I do agree that more MP’s won’t by any means improve one’s photography. A lot of people may understand that, but simply want an increase in the image quality. As for seeing billboards shot with iPhones, no one will argue that just because you CAN shoot a billboard with an iPhone (or a DSLR from 2005 for that matter) doesn’t mean the image quality can compete with what we have available in today’s DSLR’s and mirrorless cameras. I get your point though. In this day and age where image quality will be excellent with just about any camera, upgrading for me has less to do about image quality and more about usability and better functions and features.

    I recently upgraded from the X-T1 to the X-T2, but not because I got a bump in resolution. Better AF, duel card slots, joystick for selecting AF points, ISO dial that isn’t permanently locked, better auto bracketing options, etc. are the top reasons for me to upgrade. For me, I want features that will make life easier and provide me with better functionality. My images will essentially look the same (I’m using the same lenses and editing my shots in my same style).

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