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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Burt Keppler on Megapixels

And Now We Are 10, Megapixels That Is

by Herbert Keppler

It was just a few months ago DSLRs were 6, and now we are 10—Canon Rebel XTi, Nikon D80, Sony (then still Konica Minolta) Alpha 100, Pentax K10D and Olympus E-400 (not to be available in the U.S. for now). And we’re not yet done growing megapixels. Execs of the major camera manufacturers prophesy that as long as buyers go for more pixels as a major consideration in buying DSLRs particularly, the higher the count will grow. Canon, Nikon and Fuji, top pro DSLRs already, are over the 10 megapixel plateau.

In practical terms, do amateur consumers really need more megapixels or is this megapixel increase primarily a marketing strategy to help you coax 6 megapixel owners to dump their cameras for 10?




Blogger jim witkowski said...

200? You divide the width and length by 200? This guy is writing for a photo publication and someone has to tell him the formula for calculating print size. Nobody prints quality images at 200 ppi. Cannon/HP printers use 300 and Epson’s get best results at 360.

As for me, 10 mp isn’t enough. Give me all you got Scotty!

9:15 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

I just happened to be looking at the specs for the Kodak C433:

"4.0 MP means you can make amazing quality prints up to 20 × 30 in. (50 × 76 cm)....."

I guess it all depends on what your expectations are.

10:55 AM  
Blogger Al Benas said...

And what about sensor size? Six-ten MP on a 9X7mm sensor vs. a 24X16mm sensor vs. a 24X36mm sensor is going to make a whale of a difference in print quality. My 6 MP D70 would blow away my son's 8 MP Coolpix 8700 everytime (he finally bought a D80 to go against my D200):) I'm disappointed in this over-simplistic explanation in a photo publication. It just feeds the industry hype, and, as usual, the consumer is the loser.

11:38 AM  
Blogger Just Plain Hugh said...

Herbert Keppler writes for Popular Photography, and used to publish Modern Photography, and 200 dpi is probably more than enough for magazine reproduction.

One of the things I have found is that 10 megapixels is about as much as is practical for hand held photography. Additionaly, if you use a circle of confusion that is as small as is practical with 10 megapixels, and a lens that is sharp enough to take advantage of those 10 megapixels, the the tradeoff between DOF and diffraction becomes a majorly big deal.

I'd rather see some advances in dynamic range, higher sensitivity, and perhaps a rethinking of the "one lens, one sensor, one exposure" limitation that we have inherited from film.

Some company is going to come out of nowhere with a compound lens, synthetic aperture, integrated (multiple) exposure camera, and obsolete existing cameras the same way 35mm SLRs took over the mainstream in the 1970s.

Of course If someone wanted to sell me one of those Seitz 160 million pixel 6x17 digital handheld panorama cameras for less than $10000 I'd be jumping at the chance.

12:04 PM  
Blogger SEMW said...

Jim: can *you* tell the difference between a print originally 200dpi and just upscaled to 300ppi for printing, and one natively 300ppi, at normal viewing distance? I can't.

Didn't like the article much, though; (on the exact same topic) was better.

12:59 PM  
Blogger John Roberts said...

In each issue of Digital Photo Pro Magazine, a member of the staff debunks a digital myth. A couple of years ago, they tackled the "you can't make quality prints at less than 300 ppi" belief that is promoted all over the web. They printed 8x10's of the same image at 180, 200, 240, 280, 300, and 320 ppi. They gave the prints to their editorial staff, a group who is experienced at critically examining photos. They told the editors how the photos were printed, and then asked them to put the prints in the proper order from lowest to highest resolution. Even with the aid of a magnifying glass, not one editor got them in the right order.

2:28 PM  
Blogger MJFerron said...

Wait a minute. Pixels are not directy mapped to the DPI of a printer. This is from Epson itself. The DPI of a printer varies with the density of the color. 300 dpi is plenty and 200 will do you fine on a large 13x19 print.

5:05 PM  
Blogger Ken Tanaka said...

MJFerron wrote: "Wait a minute. Pixels are not directy mapped to the DPI of a printer. This is from Epson itself. The DPI of a printer varies with the density of the color. 300 dpi is plenty and 200 will do you fine on a large 13x19 print."

Exactly correct. This discussion is actually pretty humorous.

If I didn't believe this assertion before I sure do now. Earlier this year a number of my images were used in an exhibit at Toronto's Art Gallery of Ontario, Several 16.5 mp 300 dpi images were enlarged to 12' x 22'. They looked really terrific, just as sharp and smooth as the 13"x19" prints I produced. Yes, if you stood with your nose to them you could see that they were approximately 75-100 dpi. But at any normal viewing range they were terrific.

There is a relationship between source dpi and print size and quality. But within a wide boundary it's an extremely elastic relationship that's not expressible through simple arithmetic equations. There are other processes between the computer and the paper that intervene.

8:55 PM  
Blogger adrien cater said...

In the end, megapixels and dpi are one very very small part of the equation.

To begin, not all pixels are created equally. Sharpness, noise, & color accuracy, are all arguably more important than the actual number.

For instance, for an ultra-compact pocket camera (or anything light enough to not need a tripod) I'd MUCH rather have 4 million very very sharp, noise free, 16 bit, high-dynamic-range RAW pixels than any higher number of JPEG pixels.

Given the a fixed sensor size and optical quality, actual final image quality will probably always fall on the 'less but better pixels' side of the curve rather than 'more shit pixels' approach currently on the market.

The only time where the sheer number of pixels are important for me is when I'm shooting something which needs to be enlarged to something around 1 or 2 meters, in which case we're in 16-40 megapixel territory where sensor size, price, optical quality and storage space are NOT an issue -- or (more commonly) a ~600MB FlexTight scan of a 4x5" slide.

6:21 AM  
Blogger jim witkowski said...

SEMW; No, I doubt that I would be able to tell the difference between a display print made from 200 dpi or 300 dpi files from a ‘normal’ viewing position. I can however, see the difference in my prints and that’s what concerns me.

I can see differences in my prints when I change the printer settings from 28,800 to 14,400. They’re subtle and as in high-end audio, they’re hidden in the nuances. Granted, most viewers wouldn’t be able to tell, but I closely examine my images at each stage of their life. I agonize when the scan doesn’t sparkle the same as the transparency and again when the print isn’t as alive on paper as it is on the screen so I’m constantly searching to improve my work.

I often make 20 x 24 and larger prints and I want to know that they are more than ‘good enough.’ I want them to know that they are the best that I can make them. Although I can’t do much to improve my artistic abilities, I can be diligent about mastering the technical aspect of photography.

My dismay at this article was at the author’s questioning the need for more pixels. Because this article was published in a photography journal, that makes him a subject expert. In these days of MP3s being good enough, 200 ppi images being good enough, and HDTV settling for 1080 instead of the original 2000+ lines where is the demand for quality?

Why settle for ‘good enough’ when you know you can do better?

9:12 AM  
Blogger Albano Garcia said...

You don't need 300 dpi for big enlargements. When I worked in an art center and publishing house, they told me the standard now is becoming 240 dpi.
And as said, there's no direct relationship between pixels and printer dots. Thanks to viewing distance, you can make very well looking enlargements at 72 or 100 dpi. It depends on subject too, ie a smooth, simple subject is not the same than a very detailed landscape, but again, if you respect viewing distance, it will look fine.

10:14 AM  
Blogger Max said...

I just resized a very good scan of a sharp 6x9 slide, originally something like 70mp, to 4mp. That 4mp file was loaded with detail, I think it would print great even at 72 dpi with some fine tweaking.
If I get a camera that gives me 8 or 10 of those megapixels I'll be extremely happy!

5:02 PM  

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