Digital info for serious shooters: specializing in Nikon & Canon

Megapixels: Calculating the True cost of Resolution

Nothing excites camera buyers more than leaps in resolution. Like it or not, the eye-catching and revenue generating headlines are about mega-pixels. We all know that these high-tech new machines come with a big price tag. But are you prepared for all the other money and time you'll need to spend managing your larger images?
Flash Cards: To start with you'll need more flash cards and/or a portable storage unit you can use in the field.
As a rule of thumb you should consider carrying film cards for at least two days of shooting even if you have a laptop or portable storage device. This covers you if you have an equipment failure for a day or just have an extra busy day. And more of course if you don't have a field backup device or go on long trips. As an example, if you shoot up to 100 4Mega-pixel JPEGs of about 2MB each you'd want to have at least 512MB of cards, which you can purchase for about $50. But if you suddenly switch to 100 8Mega-pixel Raw images you'll be looking at 2.4Giga-bytes of cards or nearly $300. At the extreme if you are a high-volume pro you might shoot as many as 1000 12Mega-Pixel Raw+JPEG images, or nearly 20GB per day! Cards for 2 days (40GB) would cost you $4000, or nearly as much as your camera. At that point you'll want to consider a truly reliable field storage device to keep your costs down.
Laptop hard drive (or portable storage device): If you travel with a laptop, you'll need to make sure it has enough room for your entire trip worth of shots. A two week trip with 1000 8MP Raw images is 12Giga-bytes of data. The same trip as an African safari with 5000 images is a whopping 60GB (2.5 HDD -- $120)! As a result you may well need to upgrade your laptop hard drive or carry an external drive. Alternatively you can use a device like the Epson P-2000 ($490) which stores up to 40GB of images with a large viewing screen, but costs much more than a plain hard drive. With an inexpensive case you can also add a small external drive to take with you--I carry two of them, one is a clone of my system drive and one is a backup of my images.
Laptop memory: Whatever image processing program you use, larger images mean more memory. So if you want to do any image processing in the field be prepared to shell out for more memory. My laptop with 768MB was fine for my D1X and D2H, but Nikon Capture slows to a crawl with my D2X images to I'm doubling the memory in it--not happily as it is nearly $400 for the upgrade, but it appears to be a necessary evil.
Card Reader: Those cheap PC card adapters are fine for small cards or low volume shooting, but if you're shooting a lot of high-resolution images you'll want to invest in a 32-bit adapter like the one from Delkin or a Firewire or USB2.0 card reader. Look for multi-card readers to be on the market before the year is out.
Desktop Hard Drive: Of course once you get back all your images need to be stored on your network. Hundreds of GB will start to disappear as you dump your cards from trip after trip. Even more if you make a habit of keeping TIFF versions of your images around or doing a lot of Photoshop work and keeping large resolution versions for printing. The good news is that desktop RAID can let you use several inexpensive drives as a single array. I use 3 200GB IDE drives ($120 each) to create a 400GB + failover "RAID5" array with a Promise IDE RAID controller. I can still add another drive if needed, or even increase the size of these over time.
Desktop Clone Drive: Even though my RAID array is fault tolerant, it could still fail seriously enough to lose images, so I clone the array to a 400GB external drive I built from a Seagate 400GB Internal Hard Drive ($337) and a high-performance enclosure ($60).
Desktop Memory: Fortunately desktop memory has gotten fairly inexpensive, only about $150/GB, because you'll almost certainly want 2GB on your machine if you do fancy Photoshop or Capture work on your images and then want to print them out in their full glory.
Desktop Backup: DVDs are starting to look pretty small compared to the size of D-SLR images. You'll want to invest in at least a dual-layer DVD drive if you expect to use it for backup, or go whole hog and purchase a tape backup system. Even on my DDS4 tape drive my backups are now over 20 cartridges!
Network: Most of us have more than one computer, or at least use our network to transfer images from our notebook computers. If you're stuck with 10MBits, you'll absolutely want to upgrade to 100MBit. If you use one machine for Photoshop and another for image storage consider upgrading to Gigabit Ethernet. Inexpensive cards and switches are available and often your exiting Cat 5 Ethernet cables will work just fine.
Possible Desktop / Laptop upgrade: Then there's the big question. Are your computers fast enough? In my case I seem to wind up feeling compelled to build myself a new PC around the same time I get a new camera. I'm sure part of it is impatience waiting for images to process. If your PC isn't at least a 2GHz P4, or equivalent Mac, you may need to upgrade. Note that P4-M 's are more efficient, so a 1.6GHz P4-M is similar to a 2.4GHz P4.
Your Time: Even if you write a check for everything we've talked about here you'll still be spending time configuring it, moving your data, and re-doing your workflow. Make sure you've allowed for that in your plan to transform your business with your exciting new camera!
The Silver Lining:  One piece of good news is that newer D-SLRs have incredible battery life with reliable Li-Ion batteries. You'll save money --even though each battery might be more expensive--by needing less batteries and save time by not having to be recharging them all the time.
The Bottom Line:
We've put together a chart of different types of shooting & the equipment you should consider, including some special offers from Dell on new laptops and desktops:
Type of Shooting
& added cost
100 4-6MP JPEGs
100 8MP Raw
high-volume "Pro"
1000 8-16MP Raw+JPEG
NIKON D70 --$899 or
Canon Digital Rebel -- $699
or P&S
Canon Digital Rebel XT  -- $899 or
Canon EOS 20D -- $1370 or
Nikon Coolpix 8800 -- $840
Nikon D2X or
Canon EOS-1D Mk II  - $3999 or
Canon EOS 1Ds Mk II  - $7999
DigitalFilm 512MB / $50 2.4GB / $300
Lexar 1 GB 80x -- $108 each
20GB-40GB / $2000-$4000
Lexar 4GB 80x-- $435 each
Portable Storage Device optional optional
Epson P-2000--$490 or
Nikon Coolwalker--$550
Epson P-2000--$490 or
Nikon Coolwalker--$550
Laptop Harddrive 30GB okay 60GB
Toshiba 60GB 2.5 HDD -- $120
100GB / $200
Laptop External
30GB / $100 60GB / $150
Toshiba 60GB 2.5 HDD -- $120
Aluminum External Enclosure For Laptop Hard Drives--$27
100GB / $250
Laptop Memory 512MB okay 768MB / $100 1.5GB / $250
Card Reader standard 32-bit / $60 Multi-Card reader / TBD
Desktop Hard Drive standard okay 200GB+
Maxtor 200 GB Hard Drive--$130
400Gigabyte or larger internal drives:
Seagate 400GB Internal Hard Drive - $337
Desktop Clone Drive 120GB ext / $150 200GB+
Maxtor One Touch  200 GB Hard Drive - $225
400Gigabyte or larger external
Desktop Backup DVD-Writer Dual-layer DVD / +$100 DDS tape or clone drives
Network 10/100 okay 100Mbit Gig-E + Switch / $200
Total Upgrade Cost:
(not including camera)
$300 $1210 $4800+
Un-priced Items:      

See our Special offers from Dell--Good through 3/31/05

Desktop Upgrade   P4 needed
 $500 Off Dell Home System 180x150
P4 3GHz+
 $500 Off Dell Home System 180x150
Notebook Upgrade   1GHz+ needed
 TI Computer Deals at Dell Home Systems 300x250
P4-M or better
 TI Computer Deals at Dell Home Systems 300x250


Remember, it's really all about the images, so if a camera upgrade will help you take better images or make more sales, don't let all the other issues scare you off. But make sure you go into the decision with your eyes open about the effects it may have on your workflow and your pocketbook.

DigitalPro Tip

Space saving tip: We've implemented a special command in DigitalPro 3.1 which can remove all the Raw files (Nikon or Canon) from a set of Raw+JPEG files. This may seem backwards to those who always keep their raw images, but if you only want to keep some Raw images for possible large format printing, but save the space by deleting the rest, this command is perfect for you. To download DigitalPro for Windows head to and on the Download page look for the Beta link.

Portable Storage Device Support: DigitalPro 3.1 also has an expanded Load Card Wizard to provide flexible download of images from the Epson P-2000 or other "digital wallet" products by allowing you to only copy or move images from precisely the folders you want.

Subscribe to:
DigitalPro Shooter
the newsletter!

Subscribe to DigitalPro Shooter
Enter your email to receive our newsletter on shooting digital.


All contents copyright Pro Shooters LLC. All rights reserved.
Nikon is a trademark of Nikon Corporation. is not affiliated with Nikon Corporation.




Subscribe to DigitalPro Shooter
Enter your email to receive our newsletter on shooting digital.

ND Image
All contents copyright Pro Shooters LLC. All rights reserved.
Nikon is a trademark of Nikon Corporation. is not affiliated with Nikon Corporation.