How large a print can be made from an uncropped Nikon D700?

Started 5 months ago | Discussions thread
anotherMike Forum Pro • Posts: 10,105
Re: How large a print can be made from an uncropped Nikon D700?

There's a lot of factors that go into it.

The first is to realize that there is a long list of "things" that conspire against us that take away resolution. So there is the maximum resolution potential of the system - the camera/lens (and in cases like the D700 vs considerably higher resolution bodies, the camera itself is clearly (mathematically and subjectively speaking) the limiting factor in this) and we have the maximum *potential* resolution of any given scenario. The two might be quite different, as there are these pesky things that conspire against us.

So, let's think of some:

Say you've got Nancy and Barb shooting the same overlook at some national park, one has 12mp, the other has 24.

  • Both have the same tripod, same ballhead, have focused absolutely precisely.
    • The atmosphere that day is amazingly clear, and both are shooting at, say, F/7.1 on very good lenses.
      • The 24mp will win
    • The atmosphere on that day is okay but not amazing, and both are shooting at F/11, on very good lenses.
      • Diffraction is setting in on the 24mp body now (an 'item'), and the atmosphere is not great (an 'item'). Depending on the scene, you might not have such a clear cut preference over one or the other.
  • One has a better ballhead and tripod, the other does not, and it's windy.
    • Now the motion blur - however slight - of the support system comes into play - and might be a strongly influencing factor in reducing the "potential" max resolution. If you did your own test chart tests for lenses and handheld the camera and then went with a tripod, you'd see a substantial difference. Tripod/Ballhead quality matters - a lot - when we're chasing the max in resolution.
  • Both shoot at F/16.
    • Now diffraction is the predominant element that conspires against us. Might not be so easy to tell the prints apart.

It also can get into much finer granularity than that where the lens *does* matter. Say you've got a guy shooting 42mp and a guy shooting 46mp. You'll struggle mightily to see the difference with identical lenses. The magnitude of difference is too small. Now take a guy shooting 46mp and 60mp. The 60mp guy has a zoom, the 46mp guy has the very best prime. Now - in some specific circumstances, it's quite possible that the aberrations of the lens conspire against us (poor corners/edges) and we prefer the print from the 60mp shot, even at fairly large sizes. But now let's go to the next largest size - maybe it doesn't.

At the end of the day, it's complex, but in general, the more data you have that is pristine (not affected by the things that conspire against us), the bigger/better your print will be.


Edit: A few years ago I was putting 4 85mm lenses in Nikon mount through my usual exhaustive, thorough, multi-day real life testing. I had done about 5 comparitive runs on them now, and had reached by then a pretty good idea of what was what. But I kept on. This time, this run, the images, in print and on screen, didn't show the differences I had seen on most of the other runs. Why? The day was slightly hazy and I was shooting at distance across a lake. It wasn't foggy, it just wasn't as good an atmosphere. The conditions themselves were the "filter" that prevented the test from being accurate. I have my old saying: "Nothing can be more potentially misleading than an incorrectly done, or incompletely done, test" and I would ask you think about that seriously with regards to what you've see so far yourself. Evaluating gear properly for comparison is actually a royal PITA, as it's time consuming and you have to try and root out all issues that invalidate your tests.

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