My Ode to Multi-megapixels

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My Ode to Multi-megapixels
7 months ago

As camera technology marches ever forward, one of the most obvious advances is the number of megapixels in the resulting images. In summary: I'll take all the megapixels I can afford!

Please note this is my ode extolling the virtues of multi-megapixels, I do not claim that my preferences, techniques, or gear are correct, perfect, or better than anyone else's. And let's be clear about the downsides to multi-megapixels, all stemming from the larger size of the resultant files:

  • Less fit on a given memory card
  • Extraction to computer is slower
  • More CPU horsepower is necessary to process the files
  • More expense is necessary for storage of the files
  • Exporting, even at a smaller size, takes more time
  • Other stuff surely mentioned in the replies below

Anyone such as myself resigned to using multi-megapixels has (hopefully) already taken these issues into account, and purchased an appropriate computer, backup devices, extra cards, etc. Note that missing from the above list is high ISO noise, and that was omitted because it not worth considering. Given two sensors of roughly the same generation but of different resolution, once the resulting images are scaled to the same size there is no "noise gap".

So once the expense is behind you, what are the benefits?

The one benefit always mentioned is larger print sizes. This leads to the question "Why would I need more than 8MP since everything I print already looks fine?" We have all read that mantra, and of course it is true. Once you reach the maximum output size you will ever use, additional megapixels are not necessary strictly for output resolution. The maximum I have ever printed is 20"x30" at 150dpi (12MP) or 12"x18" at 300dpi (20MP), meaning that in theory anything beyond that is wasted.

However, it is not all about printing! Even shots that will never exist beyond Facebook posts benefit from a larger resolution to begin with. The freedom I gain from multi-megapixels images in post processing is extreme. Let's start with cropping. If you use primarily primes, and shoot in environments where "sneaker zoom" is not feasible, then cropping is often desirable to get a well framed shot. People primarily using zooms often find this concept hard to fathom, but I humbly submit that nobody is obligated to adhere to another person's concept of PPP (purity of photographic process). Indeed, I wear their scorn like a badge of honor. Even using a zoom I see no problem cropping in post— provided of course you have the megapixels to spare!

Closely related to cropping are other "pixel movement" tasks. Perspective correction, skewing, rotating, and distortion correction all result in small digital artifacts when used. These artifacts are smaller if you have more megapixels to start with.

Almost all post processing filters yield better results if done on a larger image first. Sharpening, edge detection, and noise reduction performed on a larger image before scaling down, look much better than the same filters applied after scaling down. The more information the filter has to work with, the more precise it can be.

So, there we have it. If you have a camera with sufficient megapixels for your needs, congratulations! If other people have a camera with more resolution, you may take some solace in knowing how much quicker your workflow is. If you wonder "why would anyone need more megapixels?", I hope this post explains why. And of course, if you have multi-megapixels, take advantage of all that the resolution has to offer; manipulate, crop, filter, de-skew, and distort away!

Vive le mégapixels!

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