Now that we are getting rumors of an updated Canon R5 with 100 megapixels (mp), I think we are officially in the megapixel craze age. And why not? Storage is cheaper than it has ever been, right? Even our Adobe software has started offering terabytes of cloud storage as part of just using Lightroom or Photoshop. It’s a great time to be a digital photographer. But at what point are more megapixels better for you, and when is it too much. What is the most megapixels you really need in a camera?
Taking pictures that take up 80-100 megabytes or more each seems a little excessive, doesn’t it? We are going to discuss the benefits and headaches that come with the rise of the megapixel craze. Beyond that, we will show you how to best use what you already have to meet your exact needs. And to take it a step further, Seven11 will provide our go to breakdown to make sure you know how big you can print with the camera you have right now. So read on, this is bound to help!
The Megapixel Craze
When in doubt, more is better right? Well, actually sometimes it really is. As an example, if you are a wildlife photographer and want lots of high-resolution close-ups but do not have the money to drop on $20,000 glass, it might save you some hard-earned cash to shoot with the highest resolution possible. Why? Because of crop-ability. By the time you start cropping with a 12mp camera, you are seriously losing some resolution. But it might be worth spending the extra money on an expensive body to get 60+ megapixels per shot and heavily cropping your images. The image itself might be a much smaller size, but it may end up being the equivalent of a 20-30mp camera with a final product that looks like it was taken with a telephoto lens with longer reach.
Now, will that $20,000 lens get you a better picture than relying on the higher megapixel camera body? Probably. Megapixel count is all about quantity, not quality. The quality is heavily limited by the lens you are using and the sensor of your camera. So, if you are happy with the picture quality of the camera you are currently using, keep that camera! Buy quality glass and reduce the amount of cropping on your images. There are typically more technique issues than equipment issues at play with most photographers. If you want to flip through a 10-year-old National Geographic magazine for proof, you can rest assured they were not using 100mp cameras. They were, however, using high quality glass and a very high level of talent to capture those picture-perfect moments.
Getting Past Pixel Peeping
The extreme pixel counts are for those folks using a magnifying glass to look at an image and see the fine resolution. But for the typical photographer, we are producing images that we want to either print at a certain size or place on the internet for social media use. If you have above a 12mp camera, you are able to take professional quality photos that can be printed in most popular sizes. However, you may need to refine your technique.
If you are doing the “spray and pray” method and relying on your Photoshop skills and heavy cropping later, you are missing the point. Photography is about creating balance, seeing the picture in your mind. You have to compose your images then take the shot. If you don’t have the reach or you find the picture looks better in a certain format, sure, crop a bit. But cropping down 50% or more of your image is massively affecting your resolution, can’t blame the camera for that. Those situations either call for a longer lens or for you to walk up closer to your subject.
Required Megapixels for Print sizes
To illustrate my point, below I listed different megapixel counts and the size you can print with high quality, acceptable quality, and poor quality.
- 4-6mp: We are talking uncompressed phone cameras JPEG files here. But if your image was cropped down to this size, this information may be useful. It can definitely be used on social media and easily printed with high quality at 4×6; however, 8×10 is the largest I would go. 8×10 could have acceptable quality depending on the picture but I wouldn’t count on 8×10 images coming out perfectly every time
- 8-10mp: Easily print 8x10s with high resolution, 11×14 is as high as I would attempt and you may see issues at that size depending on the grain, etc. in the image.
- 12-16mp: Easily print 11x14s all day with high detail and resolution. After that, most larger pictures are meant to view from further distances. Like a mosaic, up close it doesn’t look like much but back away and the image appears to be high detail. With that said, you can print up to 30×40 but expect your pixel peepers to get pompous.
- 18-24mp: From here on out, you are pretty much okay with about any size print, considering the focal distance needed to view that size. The sweet spot for this range is probably around 16×20, going larger than that and your pixel peepers start getting excited, but 16×20 is more than large enough. Most gallery exhibits you do won’t be larger than a 16×20, and these file sizes are more than manageable.
- 26+mp: This is the area that gives you room for more cropping, editing, refining, etc.
- Bonus! Billboards– When considering the viewing distance away from a billboard, you can take these images with surprising low resolution. If you are asking me what the lowest megapixel count I would consider submitting for a billboard job, I would say 16mp. But remember, these things are viewed from 100 yards away or more; it’s the mosaic effect and I wouldn’t worry about pixel peeping.
That’s a Wrap Up on “More Megapixels”
By simply filling your frame more you can reduce the number of pixels you actually need. If you have a tendency to always leave open room in the frame, a higher megapixel count is for you, but probably not as high as you thought. Even for photographers, most of us aren’t regularly printing images larger than a 16×20; probably even more never produce images larger than an 8×10. Always leave yourself a little room for minor cropping but 100mp is a massive file that is just beyond my comprehension.
I truly hope this helps and feel free to ask questions if you have any. Until next time, God bless and happy shooting everyone!
Written by Jon Frederick, Lead Photographer and Writer with Seven11. Co-Author of “Immersion: An Inspirational Christian Photography Collection“