|, Opinion, Photography|Do Megapixels Matter?

Do Megapixels Matter?

By | 2017-07-20T13:54:24+00:00 July 20th, 2017|17 Comments

Back in 2009, when I made my living licensing stock imagery, the size (in megapixels) of the images we could license made a difference in our potential for sales. Photos were sold based on how big the file was (in megapixels), so photographers with large-megapixel cameras had a more competitive edge over those of us who did not. At the time, I was using a Nikon D200, a 12-megapixel camera, and felt pressured to upgrade. When it was obvious that Nikon (at the time) was not going to come out with anything with more than 12-megapixels, I decided to make the move to Canon, which already had a hefty 21-megapixel 5DMarkII in their inventory.

My career now has slightly shifted. I still photograph for stock (you can see my growing portfolio on Stocksy), but it is not my main focus. In fact, a very large percentage of my income is derived from sales through photography training I create for my online shop, the Nicolesy Store. The photos I create and share online are typically consumed by other people on a screen (phone, laptop, tablet), so technically I don’t really need a camera that creates 20+ megapixels. I just need something that makes images that are large enough for the content I create.

Over the past few years I have made the switch to Fujifilm X Series system for 99% of my work (aside from a one-camera-one-lens Canon setup for underwater images). My current camera is a Fujifilm X-T2, and while I have also had the opportunity to test out the Sony full-frame systems, I prefer the Fujifilm cameras. The Fujfilm crop-frame sensors make both the camera bodies and lenses smaller and lighter, and they also have a dial/knob and menu system that I prefer. And while there is no denying that the quality of the Sony full-frame sensors is amazing (especially the brand-new 42.4-megapixel Sony a7RII), is that more than we need? Sure, everyone has their own uses and preferences, but when does the amount of megapixels start to become overkill … or does it?


Here are some points to ponder, both for and against the need for a large megapixel camera:

For:

  • Printing is probably one of the biggest reason to have a huge sensor. As the print sizes get larger and larger, a higher-megapixel camera is more desirable.
  • A higher-megapixel image allows you to get more aggressive with your cropping and still have a decent-sized image.
  • Large-profile and commercial projects may need results with larger megapixel for image manipulation or extreme forms of printing.

Against:

  • These days, most of what we share is online, and people rarely post full resolution images (and if they do, a user would need to zoom in to see it up-close). When I share to Instagram from my Fujifilm X-T2, they are resized down to 1024×1024 pixels. That’s tiny compared to the size the image started with! And most other images on any website can only be viewed as large as the screen they are on.
  • The more megapixels, the greater the need for memory card and hard-drive storage. In fact, my husband has given me some of his older 32GB SD cards that he was planning on getting rid of because they were too small for his 42-megapixel Sony a7RII! (Score!)
  • Large Raw files require very fast and updated computer processors to make edits. Older computers or antiquated versions of software may have a difficult time working with extremely large files.

I’m not saying that high-megapixel cameras don’t have their place, and when Fujifilm released the X-T2 I was extremely happy for the upgrade. There is no denying that having extra wiggle-room for editing, cropping, or just to create more detail is ideal. However the megapixel number in a camera is one feature out of many, and I don’t see the need to base an entire purchasing decision around the number of megapixels a camera can create.

The camera you use will ultimately boil down to personal preference. If you need a lot of megapixels, then by all means get the camera that works for you. But a larger sensor will also equate to larger lenses, and a heavier system overall. I in fact prefer a smaller camera and lens system to a full-frame high-megapixel body; that is one of the main reasons I switched to mirrorless and chose Fujifilm as my camera system of choice.

About the Author:

My name is Nicole and I'm a photographer, author, & educator living in Lincoln, Nebraska, USA. When I'm not making photos I'm writing books and tutorials for my online store, Learn more about me and my story here.

17 Comments

  1. Randy Pollock July 20, 2017 at 10:20 pm - Reply

    Nice article and I agree that having G.A.S leads to buying things we don’t need or will ever use to it’s capacity.

  2. Robert August 3, 2017 at 11:28 am - Reply

    Against: more pixels mean a smaller cell size, which results in more noise.
    With mobile users overtaking desktop more pixels to start with just means more downsizing to fit to the screen. Though I can’t understand why people would want to view (good quality) photos on phones ;)

  3. David Court August 3, 2017 at 11:34 am - Reply

    I agree with you if your photos are for showing on the internet but it’s the dynamic range and mirrorless shutter that really puts a Sony A7Rll ahead of the competition. The downside is the more Megapixels the more prone pictures are to camera shake.

    • Nicole S. Young August 3, 2017 at 2:27 pm - Reply

      In terms of sensor size and dynamic range, that might be possible. However a camera is more than just the sensor. I tried out the Sony cameras, but found them too clunky for my taste. I also don’t like that the lenses for those cameras are huge, and a smaller camera system is why I moved to the Fujifilm X Series mirrorless system to begin with.

    • Myron Gochnauer August 5, 2017 at 8:55 am - Reply

      Indeed! When I first bought my Nikon D800 (36MP) I was astonished at how many blurred images I was getting (with a 50mm lens) compared with my results from a Leica M4P + Summicron + TMY film or with a Canon 5DII (23MP?) and 50mm lens. It took a few months before the necessary adjustments to shutter speed and bracing/holding technique became natural or “the default”.

  4. sheldonboles August 3, 2017 at 12:37 pm - Reply

    Good point and one to consider for all new photographer. Camera manufacturer always push buyers to be the biggest camera available when one is not required.

  5. Fred Langley August 3, 2017 at 1:41 pm - Reply

    I listened to an On1 webinar today by your husband and he indicated he didn’t use pre-sets. He later realized his error and edited a photo using pre-sets. Better have a talk with him😁

  6. John Bartley August 3, 2017 at 2:14 pm - Reply

    What about lens resolution?

    • Nicole S. Young August 3, 2017 at 2:29 pm - Reply

      Lens quality does make a difference in the overall look of a photo. I guess my line of thinking here is more with the pixel quality of an image, rather than the optical quality that the lens contributes.

  7. Rick Mili August 3, 2017 at 3:36 pm - Reply

    Interesting comparison, but you left out what for me is a major consideration and that is size and weight of a multi-multi-megapixel camera. For years, I toted around a full-frame Nikon camera and associated lenses. I loved the cropping latitude and the low-light performance, but I am now finding that the “system” is just too heavy to carry around for several hours. I am considering trading down and my shoulders can’t wait!

    • Nicole S. Young August 4, 2017 at 9:13 am - Reply

      I did mention that I prefer the Fujifilm X Series cameras because the “…crop-frame sensors make both the camera bodies and lenses smaller and lighter…”. Whenever I pick up my Canon 5D3 (which I still use for underwater images from time to time) I can’t believe how heavy it is! In fact I’m trying out the Fujifilm X-T20 right now as a backup to my X-T2 and LOVE that it is so small and light, with nearly all of the same settings and quality.

  8. Ray Laskowitz August 3, 2017 at 4:28 pm - Reply

    I have to agree with you, especially about the downstream considerations — file size, storage and computing power. I also think most stock agencies have given up on biggest and best. I’m a Getty legacy photographer, among other things. They don’t care anymore as long as image quality fits certain basic parameters. My corporate and advtersing clients used to get nervous when the saw me work with mirrorless Sonys. Now that they seen the results they don’t care either. To the point, I think 18-24 megapixels are about right for most work. Especially with newer processors and good glass.

  9. Myron Gochnauer August 5, 2017 at 9:44 am - Reply

    “Putting it on the wall” is still my ultimate choice, and since I never know when a wall-worthy image will enter my camera by the grace of Nature, I prefer my carry-around camera to have enough resolution and dynamic range to support that outcome. At the same time, though, I do not aspire to making big, gaudy, decorative-art prints. My aesthetic was formed in the 1970’s when a 16’x20″ print from 35mm was considered HUGE, and 5×7, 8×10 and 11×14 prints could be unapologetic art from any format.

    The Fuji X-Pro2 or X-T2 strike me as the ideal compromise for my desired outcomes. (I could still hope for better dynamic range and lower noise in the shadows… I photograph a lot of black dogs, sometimes in snow!) The X-T1 / X100T generation are good, too, although they leave less room for error or change-of-mind.

    I wonder whether the 24MP X100F hasn’t surpassed the abilities of its lens, originally designed for the 12MP X100. ?? (I owned the X100 and now the X100T.)

    …and a final thought. The big-gun cameras have required a new generation of lenses to take advantage of their resolution. There is no doubt that these new lenses optically surpass their film-days ancestors. But they can be huge, heavy and psychologically off-putting. Look at the Sigma Art 50mm for Nikon or Canon. (Yes, I own it. I’m not in the Zeiss snack bracket.) It is bigger and heavier than the first 135mm/2.8 telephoto I owned in 1970! And the new 35mm/f-whatever’s just don’t *look* or *feel* like a 35mm “street lens” on a Nikon-F. Yes, I use the new lenses and like the quality, but I’m never happier photographing than when I have the little Fuji XF 27mm/f2.8 on the X-T1. (I like the flip-up screen of the X-T1 or X-T2 because I liked TLR’s. Bowing your head shows respect for your subject, don’t you think?)

    Of course, it goes without saying that I am a pure, old-fashioned amateur… with a darkroom in the basement just in case. :-)

  10. dick ranes August 5, 2017 at 3:43 pm - Reply

    you’re overlooking the capabilities of RIP software for people who want/need very large images. I have routinely blown up 6mp images into 48×72 display prints with the assistance of Genuine Fractals (now on1) and postershop software.

  11. Harold Lippold August 13, 2017 at 3:48 pm - Reply

    All very good info. It certainly has me thinking beyond Canon or Nikon

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