Could you cope with a new Camera?

The launch of the new Nikon D800 signals a step change in image resolution in a DSLR. The D800 has a 36MP sensor and early reviews reveal amazing image detail comparable to medium format digital cameras as well as remarkably low noise, even at high ISO settings.

WOW! So what’s holding you back – apart from the cost of £2600 for the body?

Well one thing to think about before you rush to order, is how your ageing (Windows XP) computer (with its 1Gb of RAM and a 250Gb hard drive) will cope with the file sizes generated by this new beast.

Let’s look at some current files sizes. I capture in RAW, edit in Photoshop format (TIFF would be similar) and only convert to JPG for final output for screen display. I use Layers for many Photoshop adjustments and this increases file sizes.

Take this early morning street shot made a few weeks ago.

My camera has an 18MP sensor (3468 x 5212 pixels in 16 Bit) and here are the file sizes involved in this image:

  1. The original RAW image file out of camera      36Mb
  2. The PSD version of this                                             54Mb
  3. Crop  and add 3 adjustment layers                     123Mb
  4. Flatten Layers and save as PSD                              50Mb
  5. Save this as JPG  (2445 x 3545 pixels)                    5Mb

My 2 year old  iMac computer seems to cope without drawing breath. Even when I resize this image to A3 print size at 300dpi (42cm x 29cm), and the file size increases to 266Mb in PSD  (7.4Mb JPG), the iMac copes OK.

But what about files from  Nikon D800? Increasing the same image file to 7360 x 4912 pixels (the same as a Nikon D800) produces an out of camera PSD file of 100Mb at Stage 2 above but a staggering 555Mb (PSD) when I add the Layers in Stage 3 above.

Now that’s a BIGGGG file and just saving this brings a 15 sec “pause” whilst the iMac (with 8Gb RAM) tries hard to cope. With my previous PC I dread to think……..

When I got the iMac, the 1Tb hard drive seemed huge, but after a couple of years of working with 30-100Mb image files, it’s getting full in spite of regular archiving to an external drive.

So whilst a quantum leap in image resolution seems an enticing option, I guess it would need to come with a necessary upgrade in computing horsepower.

One other thought. Contrast these files with the current NCPF rules for PDI competitions of only 1024 x 768 pixels and 900Kb maximum. Now if these limits are deemed good for high quality projected images, why do we need to capture 50Mb+ and 7360 x 4912 pixels with a new Nikon? Alternatively, if the new Nikon is setting a resolution benchmark for the future, it surely means that existing competition rules are inadequate in terms of quality?

Whilst the Nikon is clearly designed for very high quality landscape print images rather than PDI, I can’t help thinking that it’s high time we had a hard look at PDI standards.

Some may say “who needs 7360 x 4912 pixels anyway?”, but it’s not that long ago that people argued vehemently that a 3MP camera was quite sufficient. So what do you think? Will 30Mp cameras be the norm in 5 years time or  have sensor sizes already reached the limit of what’s needed?   If it’s the former, then we had better upgrade our computers before we even think of buying a new camera.                                                                                           

                                                                                                                  Gary

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