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Camera Resolution Explained




Although the megapixel race has been going on since digital cameras had been invented, the last few years in particular have seen a huge increase in
resolution we have seen everything from 41 megapixel camera phones to now 50.6 megapixel full-frame DSLR cameras. It seems like we have already
reached the theoretical maximum for handling noise at high ISOs with the current generation sensor technology, so the manufacturers are now focusing
their efforts in packing more resolution, while keeping sensor sizes the same in order to lure more customers to upgrade to the latest and greatest. In this
article, I will try to explain some basic terminology in regards to resolution and hopefully help our readers in understanding camera resolution better.

NIKON D3S @ 500mm, ISO 1600, 1/800, f/8

Before we get started, lets first talk about what resolution impacts and then we will address some of the common misconceptions.

1) Camera Resolution: What it Affects

In digital photography, camera resolution is associated with a number of different factors:
Print Size usually the most important factor. Basically, the more resolution, the larger the potential print size. Printing from digital images is




accomplished by squeezing a certain number of Pixels Per Inch (PPI). A high quality print with good details usually involves printing at around 300
PPI, so the size of the potential print is calculated by taking image width and height and dividing them by the PPI number. For example, a 12.1 MP
resolution image from the Nikon D700 has image dimensions of 4,256 x 2,832. If you wanted to create a high quality print with lots of details at 300
PPI, the print size would be limited to approximately 14.2 x 9.4 print (4,256 / 300 = 14.2 and 2,832 / 300 = 9.4). Larger prints would be possible, but
they would require you to either drop the PPI to a lower number, or use special third party tools that use complex algorithms to upscale or upsample an image to a higher resolution, which do not always yield good results. In short, higher resolution is usually more desirable for the ability to
print larger.
Cropping Options the higher the resolution, the more room there is to potentially crop images. Although many photographers avoid heavy cropping,
sometimes it is necessary to focus on the desired subject(s). For example, sports and wildlife photographers often resort to cropping, because they
might not be able to get closer to action, but at the same time do not want their final images to contain unnecessary clutter surrounding the main
subject(s). As a result, they often employ heavy cropping, which ultimately reduces resolution, which is why they tend to desire as much resolution as
possible and practical.
Down-sampling as I have previously explained in my article on the benefits of high resolution sensors, the higher the resolution, the better the
options for resizing or down-sampling images. As I will explain further down below, modern high resolution cameras have similar performance as
their lower resolution counterparts, but their main advantages are the ability to down-sample to lower resolution to decrease the amount of noise and
when shooting at low ISOs, the ability to yield larger prints.
Display Size during the past 10+ years, we have seen a significant progress is display technology. Monitors, TVs, projectors, phones, hand-held and
other devices have seen big increases in resolution and the increased space on those devices naturally led to the need to show higher resolution
images with more details. 4K monitors and TVs (over 8 megapixels) are getting more popular and common, which puts more burden on cameras to
yield images with enough details to showcase on such high resolution devices.
Judging from the above, it seems like higher resolution is always better. But thats certainly not the case, because it is not just about the quantity of pixels,
but their quality. Further down below, I will explain what this means in regards to sensor size, pixel size, lens resolving power and technique.

2) Camera Resolution: How Much More is X MP vs Y MP?

When Nikon first introduced its D800 / D800E cameras with 36.3 MP resolution full-frame image sensors, many photographers were still shooting with 12.1
MP full-frame cameras like Nikon D700 and D3 / D3s. Doing simple math, many claimed that the 36.3 MP sensor represented 3 times more resolution (12.1
MP x 3 = 36.3 MP) and some wrongfully assumed that upgrading to a camera like D800 would yield 3 times bigger prints. While the total number of
effective pixels indeed is three times larger when comparing 36.3 MP vs 12.1 MP, the difference in linear resolution is actually far smaller. Thats because
sensor resolution is calculated by taking the total number of horizontal pixels and multiplying it by the total number of vertical pixels, similar to how you
calculate the area of a rectangle. In the case of the D700, which has an image size of 4,256 x 2,832, the sensor resolution equals 12,052,992, which rounds
to approximately 12.1 megapixels. If we look at the Nikon D800, its image size is 7,360 x 4,912 and hence the sensor resolution is 36,152,320, roughly 36.15
megapixels (the discrepancy between 36.15 vs 36.3 comes from the fact that some of the pixels, such as optical black and dummy, around the edges of the
sensor are used to provide additional data).
Now if we compare the total number of horizontal pixels between the D700 and the D800, it is 4,256 vs 7,360 an increase of only 73%, not 200% as
wrongfully assumed by many. What does this translate to? Basically, if you could print a detailed 14.2 x 9.4 print at 300 PPI with the D700, upgrading to the
D800 would potentially result in a 24.5 x 16.4 print at the same 300 PPI. Hence, moving up from 12 MP to 36 MP would translate to 73% and not 3x larger
prints. Again, it is easy to confuse total area with horizontal width, so it is important to understand the difference here.
In order to yield twice larger prints at the same PPI, you would need to multiply sensor resolution by 4. For example, if you own a D700 and you are
wondering what kind of sensor resolution you would need to print 2x larger, you multiply 12.1 MP (sensor resolution) x 4, which translates to a 48.4 MP
sensor. So if you were to move up to say the latest Canon 5DS DSLR that has a 50.6 MP sensor, you would get prints a bit larger than 2x in comparison. To
understand these differences in resolution, it is best to take a look at the below comparison of different popular sensor resolutions of modern digital
cameras from 12.1 MP to 50.6 MP:




As you can see, despite the fact that sensor resolution numbers increase significantly when going from something like 12.1 MP to 50.6 MP, the actual
difference in horizontal width is much less pronounced. But if you were to look at the total area differences, then the differences are indeed significant
you could take 4 prints from the D700, stack them together and still be short when compared to a 50.6 MP image, as shown below:

Keep all this in mind when comparing cameras and thinking about differences in resolution.




3) Sensor Size, Pixel Size and Differences in Resolution

As you may already know, sensor resolution is far from being the most important camera feature and a lot of that has to do with the physical size of the
camera sensor and its pixels. You might see two cameras with the same resolution, but one might have a sensor that is significantly larger than the other.
For example, the Nikon D7100 has a 24.1 MP sensor, while the Nikon D750 has a 24.3 MP sensor both have similar sensor resolution. However, if you
look at the physical sizes of sensors on the two, the Nikon D7100 has a sensor size of 23.5 x 15.6mm, while the sensor on the Nikon D750 measures 35.9 x
24.0mm 52% larger in linear width or 2.3x larger in total sensor area. What does this mean? Despite the fact that both cameras yield images of similar
width (6000 x 4000 on the D7100 vs 6016 x 4016 on the D750), the physical size of each pixel on the D750 sensor is 52% / 1.52x larger in comparison.
Thats how the two cameras are able to have similar resolution and hence can potentially make similar size prints (more on this below).
If we divide sensor width by image width, we can calculate the approximate size of each pixel. In the case of the D7100, taking 23.5 and dividing by 6000
yields approximately 3.92 m, while dividing 35.9 on the Nikon D750 by 6016 yields approximately 5.97 m pixel size.
So what difference does pixel size make in images? In essence, larger pixels can collect more light than smaller pixels, which translates to better image
quality and handling of noise per pixel. However, there are a few caveats you need to keep in mind:
Differences are small when there is abundance of light (low ISO levels) if shooting close to base ISO such as ISO 100-400, there is usually little
difference in noise performance between pixels (for up to 2x pixel size differences, but not larger). In the case of D7100 and D750, both yield
practically noise-free images from ISO 100 to 400. However, there is a noticeable difference in performance at higher ISOs starting from ISO 800, in
D750s favor. So larger pixels tend to be more suitable for low-light environments where higher ISO levels will often be used.
If sensor size is the same but resolution is different, smaller pixels do not necessarily translate to more noise a sensor with more resolution
means you could print larger. Since noise is usually not evaluated on a per-pixel basis, but rather on equivalent print sizes, you would have to print at
the same size to evaluate noise from two different resolution sensors. For example, the Nikon D750 has a 24.3 MP sensor, while the newer Nikon
D810 has a 36.3 MP sensor. Since the D810 has more resolution, its pixel size is noticeably smaller than on the D750 (4.88 m vs 5.97 m), which
means that it is expected to see more noise if you zoom in to 100% view. However, if we were to make equivalent size prints from both, we will have
to resize images from the D810 to match the print size of the D750 by reducing 36.3 MP to 24.3 MP, which at the same print size would show similar
noise. Take a look at the below images from both cameras, with the D810 image resized to 24.3 MP (left: Nikon D750, right: Nikon D810, ISO 1600):

As you can see, both images look pretty similar in terms of noise, although the D810 is technically supposed to have more noticeable noise due to
having smaller pixels. If I replaced the D750 with the 16 MP Df or D4s, the resulting images would look similar at 16 MP.
Given the above, how would an image from the 38 MP Nokia 808 PureView camera phone compare to an image from the 36.3 MP Nikon D810 full-frame
DSLR camera? Well, there is simply no comparison, as we are talking about a small sensor measuring 13.3 x 10.67mm on the phone, versus a 35mm DSLR
sensor measuring 35.9 x 24mm a difference of 270% in sensor width or 6x in total area. So despite the fact that the Nokia 808 has technically more
resolution than the D810, its pixel size is a puny 1.4 m compared to 4.88 m on the D810, which will make images from the phone camera look like mud
when compared to images from the D810. Although the Nokia 808 PureView can potentially make larger prints, the D810 will obviously produce much better
quality prints with more detail, because the overall camera system is capable of taking advantage of the full 36.3 MP sensor, whereas the Nokia phones
real resolution is much worse in comparison. This shows that there is much more to resolution and printing than just pure megapixels. Lets now jump to
Lens Sharpness and Lens Resolving Power.




ILCE-7M2 + FE 24-70mm F4 ZA OSS @ 70mm, ISO 6400, 10/1, f/5.6

4) Lens Sharpness / Resolving Power

Big megapixel numbers on the sensor are useless, if the lens is too poor to resolve enough detail to provide data for each pixel on the sensor. The same
Nokia 808 PureView might have 38 MP resolution, but how much detail can it actually show at pixel level when compared to the 36 MP D810 with a solid
full-frame lens attached to it? Not a whole lot. So its real performance in terms of resolution is far less than 38 MP, actually closer to 5 MP in comparison,
maybe even less. It makes sense, because you cannot compare a small sensor camera with a tiny lens to a full-frame DSLR and a high-end lens with
amazing resolving power. Another problem is diffraction smaller sensor cameras will be diffraction-limited at much larger apertures, which will also
effectively reduce sharpness and effective resolution.
When comparing same size sensor cameras with different resolutions, you have to keep in mind that the camera with more resolution will always put more
strain on the lens in terms of resolving power. A lens might do quite well on a 12 MP camera, but fail to resolve enough details on a 24 MP or a 36 MP
camera, essentially throwing away the high resolution advantage. In some cases, you might be better off not moving up to a higher resolution camera to
deal less with other issues, such as the need for more storage and processing power.
Although manufacturers like Nikon and Canon have been actively releasing lenses specifically designed for higher resolution sensors, you might have to reevaluate every lens purchased in the past to see which ones will provide adequate resolving power for the high resolution sensor and which ones will need
to be replaced. In many cases older lenses will suffer from poor mid-frame and corner performance, which might not be desirable for certain types of
photography such as landscapes and architecture.




FUJIFILM X-PRO1 @ 35mm, ISO 200, 1/90, f/5.6

5) Technical Skill
You might have the highest resolution camera on the market and the best lens that is able to take a full advantage of the sensor and still end up with poorlyexecuted images that lack detail to make good quality prints. Aside from being able to take advantage of good light and carefully frame / compose the
scene, you also need to have good technical skills to yield tack sharp images. High resolution cameras essentially amplify everything greatly, whether it is
camera shake caused by poor hand-holding technique, shutter vibrations originating from the camera, poor focusing technique, unstable tripod, slight wind
or other various causes of blur in images.
So if you do decide to move up to a much higher resolution sensor, you might need to spend some time learning proper technique to capture images. You
might have to re-evaluate your minimum shutter speed for hand-holding, use of tripod, use of live view for critical focus, use of lenses and optimum
apertures and more. Because if you dont, you might be wasting the potential of your camera sensor
In the next article, we go over the question on how much resolution you truly need, by analyzing existing data and going over other considerations in regards
to moving up in camera resolution.

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About Nasim Mansurov

Nasim Mansurov is a professional photographer based out of Denver, Colorado. He is the author and founder of Photography Life, along
with a number of other online resources. Read more about Nasim here.

1) Val
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 6:16 AM

Hi, Nasim,
Thank you for the great article again. I wanted to ask a question that is slightly off topic. Since electronic shutters do not produce vibration, why dont the
camera makers switch from mechanical shutter to the electronic ones completely? There are must be a reason.
Thank you again,

1.1) Alfredo Gotay

FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 6:28 AM

Electronic shutters read the image sensor line by line and are slower. This causes problems when the subject is moving, when youre panning the camera
or when shooting under fluorescent light.

1.1.1) Val
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 7:02 AM

Thank you, Alfredo,


1.1.2) Lukasz
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 6:11 PM

Alfredo, you talk here about electronic rolling shutter that actually works very similar to mechanical shutter, it does not capture image at one time but
scans the sensor. But with electronic global shutter you capture image at one time (no scanning here). Also, in general electronic shutter can easily be
much faster than mechanical one



1.2) Rick
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 2:13 PM

Electronic shutters also had problems with blooming when strong lights and the sun were in the frame.

1.3) Lukasz
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 6:12 PM

Val, whether your camera can use mechanical or electronic shutter is actually depended on sensor readout architecture. Simply put electronic shutters
cannot sometimes be used because sensor has to be completely shielded from light during the readoutAnd you want to have readout architecture
under mechanical shutter because you get better performance of your sensor this way

2) Val
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 7:07 AM

I went through the most of these steps when I was considering between Nikon Df/610 and Olympus OMD EM1. The output media resolution bottleneck,
lens quality and ease of carrying the camera at all times made me choose the Oly.

2.1) Keith R. Starkey

FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 2:55 PM

You know, my D3200 is just great (lots of pixels and all) as long as I have a great lens on it. So, for me (broke at the moment), its all about good glass;
prints will then take care of themselves, even larger prints, if I have the glass I need.

3) hilda hallock
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 7:10 AM

I picked up a camera about a year ago and quickly discovered that I was not terribly interested in point and shoot and almost put the camera down until I
found your blog. Thank you for the time and care you put into explaining everything photography, in a clear straightforward manner.

3.1) Nasim Mansurov

FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 11:23 PM

You are most welcome! Thank you for your feedback!


4) AutofocusRoss
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 7:12 AM

Nasim, a worthwhile lesson in Megapixel appreciation.




I have owned three DSLRs in the past 5 years, moving from 12 to 16 and now 24 Mpx.
I found out that the Mpix was calculated by the product of the height x width before the first switch. My main motive for the switch was in order to crop out
the sometimes badly composed images I got. Oftentimes you notice that there is actually a picture within the full picture and the ability to crop that out,
and still be left with a high quality image, is a solid gold investment for me as a keen but part-time / fair weather landscape enthusiast.
This was only enhanced when I moved from 16 to 24 Mpix, allowing tighter crops, for the same quality end result.
I can remember Scott Kelbys book, the Digital Photographer, had a page on resolution which gave a chart showing enlargement sizes, of prints, and the
Mpix quality required to achieve them, in high quality. The bar is set surprisingly low. I think it topped out at just 8 Mpix for a 20 x 16 print. In his words,
anything higher is just wasted.
I wouldnt completely agree with that statement, but the ethos of it is sound enough. I think 16Mpix for a very large print like that is far more than enough,
and beyond this, we are into my game i.e. cropping the original image.
When you think of it, using the image from the new 50Mpix Canons, and then cropping off the top and bottom of the image, would give you the same effect
as maybe five images shot separately and then stitched.
So I guess for certain things, we can look to these higher resolutions, but otherwise, if you are getting your composition right most of the time, and dont find
you need to crop out more than 5% of the original, you are better served with the 16Mpix camera you already use, and spend the money on better glass, or
travel, or accessories etc.
Good article, as usual, very interesting for those who needed reminding of the calculation for Mpix etc. (me for one!).

4.1) Nasim Mansurov

FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 11:26 PM

Thank you for your feedback Ross!

As for the prints, it really depends on what you are looking for and what your acceptable level of detail is. As I have stated in some of the comments
above, some people want to see a lot of detail in images, so they print at very large PPI numbers. Others are not interested in looking at extreme detail at
close range and have less demands. It all depends on what one wants to see in their prints
I think 16 MP is plenty for most photographers out there, but if one chooses more, they must have their reasons for doing so :)

4.1.1) Josephine
FEBRUARY 18, 2015 AT 7:54 AM

Nasim, thank you for an excellent article. I have not found a detailed and simple article describing the process of getting our digital files ready for
print. For example, I have used Perfect Resize to process some landscape images to print at 24 x 36 taken with a D610 and was pleased with the
results. However, after reading Bettys comment above regarding Epsons native 360 PPI requirement does that mean that if I resize a file for output
and select 240 dpi/PPI given the anticipated viewing distance, and use a vendor printing on Epson hardware, that the printer will use its own internal
software to increase the files pixel density to 360? Is Epsons algorithm better/worse/no different than say PR or PSs resizing options? I ask because
given the subject matter of the subject article perhaps you can shed some light and guidance regarding the printing process.
Thanks again for your efforts.

5) Jean Daniel
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 7:14 AM

Being in the publishing business, I can add that digital cameras were useless for years after they first got available, because, in addition to being unable to
deliver satisfying IQ, they were far from the 300dpi resolution required for quality printing of decent-size images in booksactually before the 12MP
sensors, no way one could print a full page photo from a DSLR in a quality magazine or book. Thats why we had to rely for so long on scanning film
negatives or slides to print such images as we are used to seeing in, say, National Geo, or any art book. And that is the reason why many professional




photographers did not turn to digital photography at that time: they simply could not do their job.
Nowadays those limits are gone and both size and outstanding IQ are available. Even uselessly large images, I hear some say. However, being able to crop
and choose a detail in a pictureand most of the time we do cropis an invaluable asset. I dont know if 50MB sensors are this necessary, but the 36MB
are not too much in the professional world of printing.
Now, for the Internet, screen display and standard high quality prints (10x15cm [4x6] up to 25x30cm [10x12] or even more), a 12MP-16MP camera is the
best possible choice for the ones who know how to frame. The only advantage of bigger resolution sensor is related to cropping, and jamming 40MP in the
diminutive sensor of a phone camera is preposteroussorry, but that had to be said

5.1) Betty
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 7:40 AM

Like you, I switched from Nikon F5 to digital when Nikon brought out the D2x for the same reasons.
However, even then a drum scan of a transparency was still ahead by a good margin.
And even now, I can make a large print from such a scan and would challenge anyone to be able to tell the difference from a similar print from a 12-15
MP digital camera.
Yes, phone camera sensors and their optics are preposterous.
But careful, some enthusiasts out there are quite sensitive about this inconvenient truth.

5.1.1) Jean Daniel

FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 8:37 AM

Sure, Betty, some people are sensitive, but the sensible ones can tell the truth from the marketing lies, and I get on fine with sensible people :-) Apart
from that, it is true that the usefulness of a given device depends on what it is used for. For exemple, a terrible video from a dash cam can be the most
appropriate thing if it gives us footage that we would have been unable to record with a DSLR for want of time. Better something than nothing.
And true about the drum scan you mentionedI remember making 100MB+ files out of an Ektachrome 64 slide Yes, over 100MB and that was some
20 years ago. It kind of dwarfs the 50MB full frame sensor to come, doesnt it?
Reply Elvir Redzepovic

FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 4:31 PM

You are writing MB which is size of a digital file. Any digital file not just pictures. I fail to see how size of a file relates to its print ability ? Surely you
do know that file types use different form of compression so a 100MB tiff file can be saved as 20MB PNG file and still print at exaktly same size and
same quality.
Reply Betty
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 6:22 PM

I hope I am not misunderstanding, but the size of a file (amount of data and bit depth) is very relevant to print quality.
The more the merrier.
100MB for a 35mm scan sounds about right. I have 35 mm drum scans as big as 135-290MB and medium format scans of well over 800MB
which when saved with post process layers etc, top out at over 4GB!



CameraResolutionExplained Guest
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 7:15 PM

Betty you are absolutely correct when it comes to amount of data and bit depth but and this is very important, size of a file depends solely on
what file format you have used to save that file. Some formats have no compression what so ever and size of a file is huge, some formats
have loosy compresion and file size is smal (JPEG) others have non destructive compression and are bit bigger.What I dont understand is why
Jean is talking about file SIZE when article is about Megapixels (resolution) those two should not be confused.
Reply Betty
FEBRUARY 18, 2015 AT 3:33 AM

Agreed file size and file resolution should not be confused.


6) David M. Gyurko
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 7:21 AM

I think the relation of pixel pitch size and dynamic range are relevant topics that do worth the discussion.

6.1) Nasim Mansurov

FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 11:23 PM

David, I did not want to open up that discussion, since the article is mostly for beginner and intermediate level photographers and dynamic range can be a
bit too heavy to talk about.
While in theory pixel pitch has a direct relationship with dynamic range, it can get quite complex depending on how you look at it. If you down-sample to 8
MP like DxOMark does, sensors with small pixels do amazingly well. Also, DxOMark shows that sensor size does not really matter MF, FF or crop
sensor all seem to produce solid DR. Lastly, sensor technology and pipeline are key in DR performance: Canon has been falling behind in those two areas
when compared to competition

7) John Acurso
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 7:33 AM

Nice article.
I do think though that the issue of diffraction should probably be more prominent in the discussion. As the pixel count goes up, and the sensor receptors get
smaller, the effective use of smaller f-stops disappears. This is a major issue for landscape photographers where depth of field is very important. With
some of the higher MP counts out now, like the d800 and even 16mp crop sensors, diffraction is apparent even at f8 and fairly significant by f11.
The print issue is another that is a bit misleading (not just here but generally). Technically, one would never want to resample to size for a print, but that just
isnt practicalresizing is always destructive. Printing at a native resolution as you suggest will certainly yield the best print, however, I am not sure that




anyone would actually see the difference except maybe with a loop if the print is made properly. I have been making large prints since the mid-90s and with
a good resizing algorithmusing the right one in PSprint sizes equivalent to dividing 100 into the pixel dimension will turn out fabulousthat would be a 60
inch print from a 6000 pixel wide sensor (You do need to resample them up to the optimal dpi for the printer you are usingat least 200dpi for a Lambda
and preferably 360 for an Epson Large format printer) I made a couple of 50 inch prints from the 12+mp original 5D for my assistant and even flowing
strands of hair were perfectly rendered.

7.1) HF
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 9:33 AM

Diffraction is important. But using higher MP sensors and better lenses produces still better results beyond the diffraction limit (higher MTF values are
reached before diffraction takes its toll) . This is clearly explained in this Zeiss document: So stopping down to f16 on a D700 and
D810 still benefits the D810.

7.1.1) Lukasz
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 10:00 AM

Nice document, diffraction is truly fascinating phenomenon. It is not by chance that this year Nobel prize in Chemistry was awarded for practically
beating it in optical microscopes.

7.1.2) John Acurso

FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 10:44 AM

I think there are two different things working here. Resolution will be better overall, however, if diffraction is more significant on one camera than the
other, then you probably arent better off. My own tests, practical, seem to lean towards the lower MP camera doing better than the higher MP camera
at those f-stopsa visual thing ;))
Reply HF
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 1:05 PM

Interesting. The Zeiss measurements compare a 12MP and 24MP camera, with benefits for the higher MP camera. But it is highly lens dependent.
Reply Nasim Mansurov

FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 11:01 PM

John, it also depends on how you are viewing and printing those images. At pixel level, the higher resolution image will show diffraction more, but if
you down-sample it, it will not be any different



7.2) Nasim Mansurov
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 11:00 PM

John, true, diffraction does become a problem as the size of pixel is reduced and resolution goes up, but like HF stated below, there is still an advantage
on the higher megapixel sensor, especially when it is normalized / down-sampled to similar size as lower resolution camera.
As for printing, I guess it really depends on what you consider acceptable. While up-sampling can yield pretty good results, that process cannot compete
with real pixel-level data from a high resolution image. There are people out there that stitch gigapixel panoramas and print with insane detail at 720 PPI,
way more than your eye can discern, even at very close viewing distances. The amount of details in those prints is incredible and regular up-sampled
images could never compete with those. So it is truly a matter of personal preference and what you are printing. For portraiture and other day to day
work, 12 MP should be plenty. For ultra high resolution landscape work, the more pixels in an image, the better

7.2.1) John Acurso

FEBRUARY 18, 2015 AT 9:16 AM

I guess it really depends on what you consider acceptable.

Thats sort of rude, if I may say. Anyway, I think I know what a good print looks like.
We can get so over focused with these tech concerns that we actually lose perspective. I was clear in my comment that theoretically it is best to print
with native resolutions, however, as you said, at some point the eye doesnt actually see the detail. Careful up-sampled images will compare favorably
to prints at a native resolution, believe me, I have more than a little experience in this area.
Reply Nasim Mansurov

FEBRUARY 18, 2015 AT 11:37 AM

John, please do not get offended my intent was not to be rude, but to show that it all depends on how acceptable one considers details in a print. I
do not doubt your experience and I am sure you know a lot about printing. However, please do take a look at prints made at 720 ppi to understand
what I am talking about Ming Thein has been selling 720 ppi prints for a while now and you can see the immense detail in his photos right here. If
the goal is to print that detailed, then upsampling simply wont do the job, because you cannot dig through that much detail in a 8-16 MP image.
Reply John Acurso

FEBRUARY 18, 2015 AT 2:46 PM

to show that it all depends on how acceptable one considers details in a print.
And that is my same concern and what I suggest does work. But I never mention any MP parameters nor did I suggest one can make something
appear that doesnt exist.
I think we have to be careful that we dont get so enamored with tech issues that we lose focus on the real importance of our photography, to
share our view of the world. Tech matters only when those tech concerns actually limit what we are doing with our work and how we use it.
Reply Boulderghost
FEBRUARY 23, 2015 AT 6:59 AM

Photography as an art and exceptional examples of it by todays standard rely on state of the art in tech more today than ever before. Thats
the nature of photography, which after all depends on the extremely advanced tech of even the most simplistic camera/lens/sensor or film. Its
been that way since the arts inception and today the standards to rise above mediocrity are only higher: larger prints, greater dynamic range,
lower noise and greater bit depth. This is why many photographers are attracted to the medium as it continues to evolve and rewrite the
standards. Great photographers today have mastered the fundamentals of the exposure triangle, composition, color, contrast, etc. The next



level for them is beyond the limits of todays gear. To sentimentalize the nostalgia of yesterdays good enough gear is to ignore the
possibilities of tomorrow art. If stagnation is your idea of excellence then I suggest you pick up a brush and excel beyond the masters.

8) Vladimir Khudyakov
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 8:33 AM

Sorry, but I do Ctr-C Ctrl-V
Many thanks Nasim :)

8.1) Nasim Mansurov

FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 11:13 PM


9) Jn Halaa
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 8:40 AM

Thank you Nasim for the article. Just a small detail, when comparing the resolution of D700 and D800, you compare the increase in linear resolution and
pixel count difference (73% vs 300%). I think it would be better to write either 173% vs 300% (difference) or 73% vs 200% (increase).

9.1) Nasim Mansurov

FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 11:02 PM

Jan, thank you for your suggestion. You are absolutely correct and I went ahead and changed the numbers per your recommendation.

10) dragonswing
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 9:13 AM

This has been the best article I have ever read! I can now understand some of the technical aspects. Before everything was just a mumble, jumble mess of
figures I couldnt understand. Thanks!

11) Florian
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 9:44 AM

With regard to print size difference at 12MP and 36MP




Though what you say about it is right, its not wrong either to claim that the print will be three times bigger at the same DPI/PPI setting Its just that some
people talk about area size, while others talk about length of the sides.
For anyone with a basic background in mathematics, a print is a two-dimensional affair, thus the measure is area size rather than side length. (Think about
real estate: a square site is usually referred to as being four times bigger, if the sides are twice as long )
Many people will think about the side length, but keep in mind that many people interested in cameras and active on forums are often more on the technical
side of the spectrum.

11.1) Nasim Mansurov

FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 11:11 PM

Florian, thats why I stated both numbers in area and in linear width, so that one can understand it better. I just think many confuse MP numbers with
length, which happens quite often in discussions

12) Grey Chen Junyang

FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 10:39 AM

Hi Nasim, just to chime in on the sensor size/pixel size discussion.

Noise is actually more determined by sensor size than pixel size. Imagine a constant aperture and pointing at the same object. The projected image has
identical surface brightness on the sensor. A larger sensor captures more light than a smaller one, conversely the actual gain is lesser (ISO is a false
number) and therefore it appears than the larger sensor has less noise.
Pixel size only matters when things are taken more to the extremes. e.g. a 4mp phone sensor vs a 40mp phone sensor. Assuming constant pixel gap
spacing, the 40mp phone wastes a large amount of the surface area to the gaps, which isnt actively collecting light.
Another thing which pixel size affects is full well depth. effectively how much charge per pixel can hold. that directly affects the bit depth of the output
which affects the dynamic range.

12.1) Lukasz
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 11:34 AM

I might be wrong, but I think that sensor size over pixel size idea only holds if you deal with bright enough images, while when your signal level is low
(image is not bright enough) pixel size actually matters more

12.1.1) Grey Chen Junyang

FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 1:22 PM

I think its a little of both.

Imagine the same aperture and the same field of view for FX and DX. Since the surface brightness of the projected image is the same, the FX sensor
collects 1.5x more light than the DX sensor, assuming the same shutter.
To create the same output, the actual gain is pushed higher on the DX sensor. But since the ISO follows a standard, not the actual gain on the sensor,
the ISO listed is the same. This is why FX handles low light better than DX at the same ISO.




Pixel size I would think is more of a sweet spot thing. More pixel = more read noise etc = poorer image quality. Assuming same sized sensor, larger
pixels tends to win the low light race.
Reply Lukasz
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 2:46 PM

Yes, at low light read noise is big and then the more pixels in a sensor (or smaller pixels) the noisier the image.
Reply Grey Chen Junyang

FEBRUARY 18, 2015 AT 10:07 AM

Just curious. would any one of your guys be interested in a 4mp compact camera if it performs as well in low light as a APS-C camera? For travel
and leisure purposes of course
Reply Lukasz
FEBRUARY 18, 2015 AT 10:54 AM

I have a point-and-shot that nicely fits into my packet and still comes with a nice f2 lens on it (Panasonic Lumix LX3). I take it with me
whenever I do not want to carry around big bag and still take some photos. I always use it in its automatic iA mode, shoot JPEGs and never
post-process these photos. I would certainly buy it with half MP inside (but exact same, relatively new package and not a decade old bulky
digital) if I was to save money this way, but this is not how the market works unfortunately
Reply Grey Chen Junyang

FEBRUARY 18, 2015 AT 11:53 AM

what if it came with interchangeable lens, Zeiss build quality, 7x crop factor (200mm = 1400mm) and HD video?
Reply Lukasz
FEBRUARY 18, 2015 AT 12:01 PM

I already explained what for and how I use it, so what do you think?
Reply Grey Chen Junyang

FEBRUARY 18, 2015 AT 12:04 PM

probably nope lol

Reply Lukasz
FEBRUARY 18, 2015 AT 12:13 PM

But if you can strip my Panasonic of MPs and give me a $$ difference, I will probably add another Ai prime to my Nikon system.



CameraResolutionExplained Alik Griffin

FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 6:19 PM

You are correct. This is why the Sony A7s with its 12 megapixels is so much better at low light than the Sony A7r. Problem is, people will always
think more is better with megapixels. But in reality there is a sweet spot depending on what youre trying to accomplish with your camera. And
people will have to learn to use the right tools for the right job.
It will be fun shooting landscapes with that Canon 5Ds at f5.6 and focus stacking to gain depth and resolution with out dipping into the diminishing
returns of diffraction at higher apertures. It could be fun experiment for sure.
Reply Duy-Khang Hoang

FEBRUARY 18, 2015 AT 4:33 AM

Whilst you are right that it is about the right tool for the job, it doesnt tell the whole story. The A7s beats out the A7r for low light in part because it
was designed that way, it loses out at low ISO shooting as a consequence tradeoff in sensor design. Is it possible to create a high res sensor
that performs equally well (once downscaled to 12mp) as the A7s? Im not sure, but from a business point of view, it doesnt make sense to
sacrifice low ISO on a high res sensor which appeals to the landscape crowd where maximum FPS isnt as important. The Canon 5Ds(r) looks to
be even more specialised than the A7r with stronger CFA for better low ISO color separation as a design principle.

13) tom
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 12:21 PM

What about foveon sensor? (just to mess around :p!)it is said to have twice the clarity of Bayer design. Anyone has experienced?

13.1) Lukasz
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 12:35 PM

If you really want to know, I invite you to read my recent discussion with Spy Black on that topic (comments in my profile). I will only say here that Foveon
is capable of producing full resolution color images (unlike sensors with bayer filters), however Foveon senors overall performance is far from Sony
sensors for reasons Spy Black mentioned

13.1.1) tom
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 12:49 PM

Mhm I just read. I still dont get the thing entirely Ok, full color spectrum, non interpolated images, no moir neither low pass filters less DR for sure
too. But in term of equivalent I was wondering til what size you can upsize a Merrill file. Camera store review did it and found it amazingly close to
d800. Ok print size show that so yes lets say 15.3 foveon worth 30.6 but even without low pass filter still dont understand why ^^!



CameraResolutionExplained Lukasz
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 2:26 PM

3 layer stack design of Foveon sensor not only allows capturing full RGB information into each pixel but also eliminates chromatic aliasing because
colors are separated into each layer as three full resolution images so you do not need AA filter with Foveon (Foveon has only layer of microlenses
helping you to avoid artifacts). As for comparisons I do not see a point in calculating equivalents here, just enjoy advantages of both.
Reply tom
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 3:49 PM

True and agreed, however I was just discussing about the topic, bringing something different to the talk

14) Sebastian
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 12:22 PM

Ive recently read bunch of articles how great are these big numbers megapixels cameras. (even if nobody even touch them yet) and I get the feeling that
some of them are just to encourage people to buy some new fancy stuff. But lets be honest. 99,9% of photographers use their photos to publish over the
internet or to print them small or medium size (not like half the wall size). Now my screen has the resolution like 19201080 so Now how different will be
looking on my screen photo from 50mpix or 24 mpix or 12mpix camera? If the photo is properly done, the answer is THE SAME because all of them will be
displayed in resolution 19201080 not a pixel more. If you print, its not hard to get 300DPI. From 12mpix its 36x24cm and from 24mpix its 5134 cm. Its
HUGE , more than enough for wedding photographers.
All am saying is that its really hard to show difference to anyone.Not to mention difference in pixel size on a sensor makes huge difference in low light. Just
check old full frame camera and new fancy apsc. So its very important to know all pros and cons. Thats why its very nice article. Am not denying the
progress in technology, I know that in a few years we all gonna have 100mpix cameras. but I feel like we should really use our brains and decide what is
good for us. For example the biggest chart here: if you stack 4x times 12mpix you get 1 from 50mpix. Its pure math but it changes really nothing at least for
me. If i switch from 50 mpix to 12 mpix , its not like my photos will be 4 times smaller. They will just have worse resolution. I think such things should have
an explanation. To sum up its a great article with many good points and I cant wait to read next one.

15) chileheadcraig
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 12:27 PM

When will the 300 ppi myth fade? Many quality labs do not even print that high. 250 ppi is more standard IMO and you can get away with even less
depending on the medium (canvas).

15.1) Betty
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 6:37 PM

Not necessarily so.

300ppi is a good number for most inkjets but it all depends on what standard you are working to.
I use a RIP (ImagePrint) to drive my printer (EpsonPro 4900) and this prints natively at 360ppi.
If you give it a file that doesnt have sufficient pixels, it will interpolate until it does.
The results are generally acknowledged to be the best in the business (inkjet that is)
And if you print on paper made from elephant dung you can get away with almost anything.





15.1.1) Joshua
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 6:41 PM

Do you live on this website?

Reply Betty
FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 7:12 PM

Ah, it may seem so to you, but no, I pop up sporadically when I have time on my hands and a topic interests me.
.And especially when someone on the internet is wrong

15.1.2) craig s
FEBRUARY 19, 2015 AT 6:22 AM

You are right, I can probably get away with 50 ppi printing on elephant dung paper, but I was trying to stick to the real world. Printing on canvas is very
popular and does not require as high of a resolution.
Thank you for your input. You sarcasm is very much appreciated.
Reply Betty
FEBRUARY 19, 2015 AT 7:09 AM

Always happy to oblige.

By the way, elephant dung paper actually exists and is not unlike canvas well no, it is a bit rougher and doesnt smell as nice. I am not sure
whether its available both coated and uncoated though.
Also, I would question whether canvas requires less resolution.
If that were the case why do we use increased sharpening for printing on matte art papers and canvas?
It seems to me that increased resolution might be a plus and in any event is unlikely to hurt.
If youve got it why not use it?
Reply craig s
FEBRUARY 19, 2015 AT 7:22 AM

Different mediums show different levels of detail: glossy vs matte vs canvas are all different IMO. I think its important to note that in case
someone wants to print larger but does not have the resolution, you can get more acceptable product on a large canvas than you would on a
large glossy print.
Reply Betty
FEBRUARY 19, 2015 AT 10:33 AM



I agree completely with that.

15.2) Nasim Mansurov

FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 11:05 PM

It is not really a myth a lot of people print at 300 ppi still and believe it or not, but there are a few people out there that now print at much higher number,
closer to 720 ppi, which is insane amount of detail.

15.2.1) craig s
FEBRUARY 19, 2015 AT 6:20 AM

I dont mean that its a myth that printers have specs capable of printing that high, I mean that it doesnt seem to make a difference for real world
printing. I have yet to see a real world print test that shows any difference between a 250 ppi print and a 300 ppi print. I would love to see an article
from you that debunks that notion and shows that 300 ppi is really necessary.

16) Phillip M Jones

FEBRUARY 17, 2015 AT 9:36 PM

I have both iPhone and iPad and have used cameras on both about 5 times just cant hold then steady enough to take decent pictures. They are great for
view picturestaken on other devices. I dont think its a fault of Apple. It more of the form factor size and weight.

17) Ben
FEBRUARY 18, 2015 AT 2:42 AM

Hi Nasim!
It seems to me that you couldnt completely wrap your head around the concept of percent yet.
Jn Halaa already mentioned the mistakes you made when comparing the INCREASE of horizontal pixels between the D700 and the D800 which is 73% vs.
200% (and not 173% vs. 300% as you say). You said that you corrected it which you actually didnt.
A little further down in your article you basically make the same mistake again when you write the Nikon D7100 has a sensor size of 23.5 x 15.6mm,
while the sensor on the Nikon D750 measures 35.9 x 24.0mm 152% larger in linear width. But actually it is 53% LARGER in width. Yes, it is 153% THE
SIZE in width but its only 53% LARGER.
The following sentence should therefore read: the physical size of each pixel on the D750 sensor is 53% / 1.53x larger in comparison.
When you talk about differences:
If A is 100% larger than B it means that A has twice the size of B.
If A is 0% larger than B it means that A and B have the same size.
When you talk about absolutes:
If A has 200% of the size of B it means that A has twice the size of B.




If A has 100% of the size of B it means that A and B have the same size.
I hope you dont think Im a math nazi now, but I maintain a photography website myself ( and I am always greatful when people correct
me on the countless mistakes I make.
Thanks for your great efforts in providing this website and best regards,

17.1) Nasim Mansurov

FEBRUARY 18, 2015 AT 3:52 AM

Ben, thanks for letting me know. Earlier today I just went ahead and changed the numbers in front of percentages and added a 1 in front without even
re-reading the sentences. You are right, I messed it up, even the part that was originally just fine (52%).
Hope it looks better now! :)

18) Jim Morey

FEBRUARY 18, 2015 AT 4:14 AM

Since when to more megapixels give a larger field of view? Maybe you would care to rethink the use of the illustration showing megapixels superimposed
on the mountain.

18.1) Nasim Mansurov

FEBRUARY 18, 2015 AT 11:42 AM

Jim, you are right there is no change in FoV, I simply could not make a better illustration when I worked on the article. I am currently redoing that to
show the same image at different MP. Hope it will look better. Thank you for your feedback!

18.2) Nasim Mansurov

FEBRUARY 18, 2015 AT 11:53 AM

Jim, just posted the updated version hope it represents the reality better :)

19) Shane
FEBRUARY 18, 2015 AT 4:35 AM

Just a side comment I love your pika pics. I lived for 30 years in the area and never got such good photos. Of course, I never had anything longer than
200mm, either.
Now back to the MP discussions.



19.1) Nasim Mansurov
FEBRUARY 18, 2015 AT 11:41 AM

Thank you Shane, I appreciate your feedback :) Back when I captured those pikas, you could get down the trail on trail ridge road in RMNP and capture
them at very close distances I have a few samples taken at 200mm as well. But last time I had been there, there was a sign that you could no longer
walk down there

20) billy bob

FEBRUARY 18, 2015 AT 10:52 AM

That graphic is a little misleading. It seems to be implying the higher MP you have the more image in the frame, meaning the less a of cropping factor. To
my knowledge the only thing that effects the crop ratio is the size of the mirror not MP count.

20.1) Nasim Mansurov

FEBRUARY 18, 2015 AT 11:40 AM

Billy, it is a bit misleading, but I could not wrap my head around how to best present it. There is no difference in FoV, just size differences in print. Perhaps
a better way to present is to present the same photo in each print I am currently redoing that and hopefully it will look better.

20.2) Nasim Mansurov

FEBRUARY 18, 2015 AT 11:54 AM

Billy, please see the updated article hopefully the illustration shows it better now.

21) Sebastian Boatca

FEBRUARY 19, 2015 AT 1:33 AM

Excellent article. Truly useful and so detailed. It is a joy to read your analysis and insights of photography and techniques and I can share it with pleasure
with my fellow photographer friends. Fantastic work, Nasim!

22) Jim Morey

FEBRUARY 19, 2015 AT 3:36 PM

Nasim, thanks for the revised illustration and article. Good work.

23) flat D
FEBRUARY 24, 2015 AT 7:48 AM




3times is already 3times:

Dear Nasim,
i think you made a mistake, if youre posting 3times of Resolution would not be really 3times. You are right if you claim an increase of 73% or Factor 1.4 in
higher resolution inline one of the edges. But, if you calculate the whole image size youre getting the same 3times of resolution. In example, the proper
maximum of printing size for the D3 is 14.2 x 9.4, which is 133.5 square inch. For the D800 it is 24.5 x 16.4, which is 401.8 square inch. In this case, the
print is 3times bigger, simple. Not 3times on each edge but over the whole square indeed. Your example suggest, that this wouldnt be the fact, but it is.
best Regards, flat D

24) Eskil
FEBRUARY 25, 2015 AT 12:23 AM

Very nice and thorough article. Thank you!

I would just like to point out, that in the example with the DX camera Nikon D7100 and the FX D750, the FX-pixels are a factor 2,32 bigger than DX-pixels.
(35,64 square m, versus 15,37 square m). So the FX-pixel will be able to collect 232 photons every time the DX-pixel collects 100 photons. The same
approximate factor applies when comparing the area of the whole FX-sensor with the area of the DX-sensor. So there is actually quite a big difference
between FX- and DX-sensors.

25) Akay Akayemm

APRIL 12, 2015 AT 10:39 AM

Gr8 article. Depending on ones grasp and ability to proliferate the info and the links , its one huge ocean of knowledge . I am limited on both counts ;-p
Keep up the good work my friend , NASIM MANSUROV .

26) Marc Mol

SEPTEMBER 20, 2015 AT 4:21 AM

Hi Nasim,
Love the honest reviews & website, Im a semi-pro wildlife photographer that travels to Africa 3/4 times a year.
Just a quick question re. downsampling.
Have recently purchased the D810 (to use in conjunction with my D4s) on my newly purchased 400/2.8E, and wanted an opinion regarding whether its best
to use DX crop mode or shoot in FX and crop later. You mentioned that the ISO quality will improve once downsampling/resizing an image to 12/15MP, Im
gathering it WONT be the same if I use DX crop mode as a means of downsampling, as some early test shots seem to bare this out.
Needing to shoot at f/2.8 & f/4 in the dawn/dusk hours, and not wanting to use my 1.4tc where Ill lose 1 stop, my intention was to use DX crop mode (on
the D810) when required if I need to get closer during this time.
Its that old conundrum us wildlife shooters face in trying to find the best solution that will get us reach with good Hi ISO quality, my guess is to play it by ear
and assess each situation and flick between the D4s & 810.
Your thoughts?
BTW, I shoot in M mode in conjunction with Auto ISO.




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