Nikon D4 vs. Nikon D800: How much resolution is enough?

_djc9483Despite cranking up the resolution of digital cameras from 1-2MP to 15-25MP, there is still plenty of discussion about each new milestone in high-resolution digital photography. While I’m the first to applaud the nearly unbelievable resolving power of the 36MP Nikon D800, I think a lot of photographers think they need much more resolution than they do. I had a really graphic example of what a truly clean 16MP image can resolve yesterday when out photographing Alaskan Brown Bears on my photo safari….

Look at the tiny dot just over the bear’s head in the image below. Like me, you’re probably assuming it is some type of dust speck, and would be quick to zap it with one of the many tools Photoshop provides for the purpose. Fortunately, I hesitated long enough to zoom in on the speck, showing me that it was a lot more than a dust fragment…


From zooming in on the “dust” it became clear that it was one of Alaska’s least fun critters, the mosquito. What was amazing to me was the detail the Nikon D4 captured in the bug. Bodies, legs, and wings were all clearly outlined.


Flipping back and forth from the full frame and the isolated “bug” image should give you a great sense for what is possible with what today is considered moderate resolution. Hopefully you’ll take away the same point I did – that the quality of the lens, sensor, and “pixels” is just as important, if not more so, than the sheer number of pixels a camera can capture. This isn’t to knock the D800, or any other high-resolution camera, just to say that before reaching as high as you can up the resolution ladder, make sure you know why you’re doing it.

Joined: 2012-07-19
resolving power of digital ...confirmation
I'm vitally interested in the subject of how many pixels you need to resolve high detail in enlarged images. The example of a mosquito in the two bears image reminds me of enlargements I made several years ago from a 10D Canon camera. I operate a wide format printing service. I guess its true to say I've probably enlarged more digital images than most. One thing I'm continually telling photographers who get their prints from me is that it is not how many pixels you have on a sensor that makes an image 'enlargable' but the quality of the lens you used to take the image. I never had a great deal of trouble enlarging 6 megapixel images with little or no visible degradation of the image. I often wish the D7000 I currently use for a workhorse was 8 megapixel instead of the crammed sensor it has. I can't say exactly why images from dense pixel sensors don't enlarge as well as more moderate sensors but I do know it is not how many pixels are on a sensor that will produce large prints with good clarity. The best ever enlargement I've made (44" x 84") was made from an 8 megapixel camera using a Leica lens. Thanks David for taking the time to demonstrate what I've always known. I'd write more on the subject but for the workload I have. AJ
Joined: 2009-03-12
AJ--Glad you enjoyed the

AJ--Glad you enjoyed the article. I completely agree that fewer, but "better" pixels is often a better solution -- often because better means lower noise. It is a confusing topic because you also have cameras with more pixels that are also "better" pixels in some ways (the D800 does an amazingly good job given that its pixel size is the same as the D7000).


--David Cardinal Cardinal Photo

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