How many pixels is enough?

Only 10 years ago, Nikon’s new D100 DSLR had 6.1 megapixels and Canon’s new Ixus 330 point-and-shoot camera had 2 megapixels.

It was fashionable wisdom to argue that 6 megapixels was more than enough for anyone – and that 3 or 4 megapixels was perfectly adequate.

In 2012, Nikon have “raised the bar” with their new 36 megapixel D800 camera. Canon however appear to be taking a different route with their new 5D Mk III with only 22 megapixels.

So how many pixels is “enough”?

We spend our time happily viewing (and editing) our images on a computer screen that will display at best only 3.7 megapixels (the 27” iMac screen) and often much less. So every image must be downsized in the computer before it can be displayed in full.

Do we despair at this loss of pixel quality? Or do we marvel at the on screen quality of our 12-18 megapixel image – oblivious to the fact that it’s reduced to a fraction of it’s original size.

And what about printing? At 300dpi (although many argue that 200-250dpi is fine) we need 8.7 megapixels for an A4 print and 17.4 megapixels for an A3 size print. So even here, we will “discard” at least half of the pixels captured in our shiny new Nikon D800.

I can’t get my head round this! More pixels  should surely mean better resolution. But it also means more noise in the image and hence some image degradation especially at higher ISO settings. So Canon may have opted for fewer pixels in the 5D MkIII to achieve a superior image quality in terms of noise and high ISO settings. And the early reviews of the 5D MkIII suggest outstanding high ISO RAW quality.

And have they also decided that most of us simply don’t need more pixels?

So how important is pixel count for you? Maybe quite important if you plan to produce lots of A2 poster size prints.  But if most of your viewing is on screen…………?

What do you think?                                                                Gary

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