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:
- 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.
- 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.