Do You Need to Upgrade Your Digital Camera?
New and improved digital cameras are continually coming on to the market, so from time to time, you will want to decide whether it is time to upgrade your camera. The notes that follow, summarise my experience with upgrading digital cameras, with particular reference to the resolution of the images captured and the size of good quality prints that can be obtained from cameras with different megapixel ratings. Please read also this page in conjunction with these notes, it deals with the conditions that are necessary for obtaining high quality large prints from your digital camera. In addition, I found the comments made in this July 2009 Dyxum forum discussion to be very interesting. This discussion is titled: "Sony A900: Do you really need 24.6 megapixels?"
I started off in the year 2000 with a 3 megapixel (mp) digital camera, which produced image dimensions of 2048 pixels x 1536 pixels (4:3 aspect ratio). I was able to make excellent quality prints up to a width of 10.24 inches at 200 pixels per inch (ppi) (2048/200 = 10.24). In particular, photographs of people and flowers etc. taken at close distances were very good, but, to be honest, the details of buildings, trees etc. in distant landscapes were a little “blotchy” when looked at from very close range, but quite acceptable when viewed from a metre or more away. With some high quality 3 mp images, I was able to make reasonable quality A3 sized prints (16.5 inches x 11.7 inches).
So, when 5 mp cameras came on to the market, I hesitated about upgrading, but I was impressed with the additional fine detail captured by these cameras. My 5 mp camera produced image dimensions of 2592 pixels x 1944 pixels (4:3 aspect ratio), so I was able to make an excellent quality print with a width of 12.96 inches at 200 ppi. Therefore, in comparison with images from my 3 mp camera, the print width at 200 ppi had increased by 26.6% from 10.24 inches to 12.96 inches. With some high quality 5 mp images, I was able to make reasonable quality A3 + sized prints (19 inches x 13 inches).
When I had the opportunity to upgrade to the 10.3 mp Sony R1 camera, which has a large 21.5 mm x 14.4 mm sensor and produces image sizes of 3888 x 2592 pixels (3:2 aspect ratio), I was pleased to see that, particularly with distant objects in landscape pictures, there was a great deal more fine detail captured by the Sony R1, than was captured by the 5 mp camera. With the Sony R1, this allowed me to make an excellent quality print with a width of 19.44 inches at 200 ppi. So, in comparison with images from my 5 mp camera, the print width at 200 ppi had increased by 50% from 12.96 inches to 19.44 inches. With some high quality 10 mp images, I was able to make reasonable quality A2 sized prints (23.4 inches x 16.5 inches).
In early 2009, I purchased the full frame 24.6 mp Sony Alpha 900 camera (and later its replacement, the Sony A99). The dimensions of an A900 image are 6048 pixels x 4032 pixels (3:2 aspect ratio), which allowed me to make an excellent quality print with a width of 30.24 inches at 200 ppi. So, in comparison with images from my 10.3 mp camera, the print width at 200 ppi has increased by 55.6% from 19.44 inches to 30.24 inches.
The resolving power of the Sony A99 / A900 is quite amazing, and the fine detail captured in images in distant landscapes is noticeably better than that captured by the Sony R1. Click here to see photographs that demonstrate the amazing resolution that can be captured in Sony A99/ A900 images. I have found that, with top quality A900 images (and from the full frame Sony A99 images), I can make a very good quality print that has a width of 40.3 inches when printed at 150 ppi.
In 2015, I purchased the 42.4 mp full frame Sony A7R II camera. This provides images that are even better than those of the Sony A99 as shown in this comparison. In addition, click here to see a selection of images that demonstrate the amazing resolution that can be captured using the Sony A7R II with the Sony Zeiss 55mm F/1.8 lens.
But, if you do not wish to enlarge your prints beyond, say, 19 inches - 23 inches, you may question the need to upgrade from a good 12mp, 16mp, or 18mp camera, to a 24 mp (or higher mp) camera. However, one advantage of higher megapixel cameras is that you can crop out quite a large area of an image and still make a very good large print from the smaller sized image. For example, click here to see a demonstration of the amazing amount of detail that you can see in this image of Oriental Bay captured by the Sony A7R II.
Perhaps the most significant factor that motivated me to upgrade to the cameras referred to above, was the increased amount of fine detail that could be captured as the number of megapixels was increased. For example, there is a huge increase in the amount of fine detail that can be captured by a 42 mp camera, compared with that of, say, a 3 mp camera. Although it may be possible to enhance / upscale the images of a 3 mp camera so that relatively large prints can be made, the original image probably never recorded a lot of the fine detail that can be seen in an equivalent 42 mp image. This applies, in particular, to detail that can be seen in landscapes, where the scene recorded is located several kilometres away from the camera.
The maximum print sizes that you wish to make, are also a significant factor in deciding whether you need to upgrade your digital camera. For example, if you want to make quality 40-inch prints at a good resolution (such as 200 ppi), then a 24 mp or 42 mp camera may be very useful.
In practice, the decision on whether or not to upgrade a digital camera is based on several factors, other than just increased resolution and larger print sizes. The cost of the upgrade, relative to the benefits obtained, will be considered closely by people who make their living from professional photography. To get the maximum benefit from a 42 mp camera, you need to buy top quality lenses, and these may cost more than the camera body itself. In addition, the video quality is now an important consideration for many "still" camera buyers.
Click here to read a more detailed discussion about the conditions necessary for obtaining high quality large prints from your digital camera.
Click here to go to an article titled "Advantages and disadvantages of cropping images to gain extra reach".
Click here to read an article about the crop factor, and the mathematical relationships between pixel density and pixel size (based on both linear and area measurements).
Click here to go to an article titled: "Why is the pixel size and sensor size of a digital camera important? Does increasing pixel count increase noise? Big pixels vs small pixels".
Click here to see some pictures that demonstrate the amazing amount of detail in images taken by the Sony A99 and Sony A900.
Click here to see some pictures that demonstrate the amazing amount of detail in images captured by the 42 mp Sony A7R II using the Sony Zeiss 55mm F/1.8 lens.