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Megapixels Matter

Why do we need more pixels—higher resolution—in a camera today? After all most photos aren’t printed at all much less on a billboard and even the biggest, most beautiful monitor doesn’t come close to the resolution of today’s higher resolution cameras. So why do megapixels matter today?

Sony Artisan Matt Kloskowski addressed this question recently. He gives three key reasons why he has gravitated to higher resolution cameras over the last few years. Kloskowski is a landscape photographer and Photoshop/Lightroom educator who recently switched from Nikon DSLRs to the Sony α7R II (one of the highest resolution cameras on the market today). He cites some of the usual reasons for needing higher resolution—making big prints, future-proofing, latitude to crop, etc.—but these weren’t at the top of his list. The number one reason came down to “The Experience”.

As much as photography is both science and art, everything about using the camera from its industrial design to the images it produces is also both science and art. You might call the experience of using a camera the “X-factor” (Ex-factor?).

Here’s how Matt puts it:

Here are my thoughts on why I’ve gravitated toward those cameras over the last few years.

Reason #1 – It’s Really Satisfying to Edit

I’m just being honest with this one. If you’re a photographer, then you’re a visual person. I don’t know how to put this so I’ll just say it – sometimes it’s just fun to edit an image that size. To be able to appreciate the detail in a tack sharp photo is kind of cool. There I said it. It has absolutely no bearing on how good the actual photo is. It’s just fun to edit. To zoom in. To pixel peep. And to appreciate a huge photo, all of its detail – in all of its glory – on a giant 30-inch screen.

I always hear people talk about the darkroom “experience” back in the film days. And I think that’s a good word to describe it. Experience. I’m really not even talking to pros here. I think there’s a lot of people (like me), that love shooting and just shoot on their own time because they enjoy it. And we also enjoy editing and the experience of crafting the photo on screen that we feel it should be. We’re not on a time crunch and we don’t have clients or deadlines. We just like certain parts of post-processing. That’s where that larger image comes in for me. I enjoy seeing that detail and working with it afterwards in post.

Reason #2 – Cropping

I shoot mostly landscapes and being able to crop in helps a ton. What it lets me do is shoot wider in the field, knowing that if I want to have a tighter shot later I’ll have the resolution to do it. The alternative would be to take off my 16-35mm lens and put the 24-70 on to get the same shot, just tighter. Now, I’m not going to take a 16mm photo, and crop in to a tiny bird that may be off in the distance. I’m really just talking about maybe shooting a lake with some rocks in front and a mountain off in the distance. Then, if I want, I can easily crop in and just have the mountain as part of the photo and not the rocks in the foreground. Or maybe I shoot wider to capture some clouds, but then crop in later to show off another part of the photo like below.

Reason #3 – I Teach Lightroom and Photoshop for a Living

Okay, there’s a back story to this and it’s party what got me to write this post. I was teaching at the Out of Chicago Conference a couple of weeks ago. I was asked to be part of a panel on mirrorless cameras and Fredrick Van Johnson was the panel moderator. The topic of why I shoot with the Sony α7R II (with its whopping 42 Megapixel images) came up. Earlier in the panel discussion, I said it was because it’s very satisfying to edit (the reason above). But when it came back around, I had also mentioned the fact that not everyone needs that megapixel count, and that I also like it because I teach. It’s useful to be able to zoom in and show people what I’m doing to the photo.

Well, there’s a few things to know about Fredrick. First off, he’s an awesome guy and one of my favorites in the industry. He’s also a professional host. He hosts a great photography show, TWIP, and he’s been doing this for years. Being the good host he is, he has to stir the pot a little from time to time – just to keep things interesting. In stirring the pot, Fredrick mentioned that I was contradicting myself from what I said earlier, about it just being very satisfying to edit a photo like that.

After the session, it got me thinking. Did I contradict myself? Then it hit me. Why can’t it be all of the reasons mentioned here? Why can’t I love the fact that my photos look great when I edit them on a large screen. Why can’t I like having the ability to crop in. And why can’t I also like the fact that it’s helpful when teaching, because it let’s me zoom in on areas in the photo, and really show people what I’m doing when I edit?

One Final Reason – You Just Never Know

Sometimes you just never know when you’ll need that huge megapixel sized photo. I’d say that 99% of my photos will never get printed at a size large enough to take advantage of the 36 or 42 Megapixels these cameras put out. But that doesn’t mean the 1% isn’t really important.

When I couple that with the reasons above, it makes shooting with the large-megapixel cameras worth it for me.

The Downsides?

Of course there’s a couple of downsides. First is the obvious one – file size. I fill up my drives really fast. It’s forced me to become more picky about the photos I keep and I delete more. But I still keep a lot. Luckily drive space is cheap so it hasn’t been much of a problem.

The other downside is that editing is slower. Every app has to churn through these larger files and it takes more time. Luckily, I’ve been using these cameras for 4 years. So at this point I’m conditioned to it.

Anyway, I hope that helps a little if you’ve considered shooting with one of these high megapixel cameras. For what it’s worth, I love my Sony α7R II.

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