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When Will You Next Print An Image 1000mm Wide?

When did you last produce a print 1 m wide? Assuming that you ever produce prints and do not simply share things on social media or show them on your phone, most people produce prints that are approximately 150 mm wide not 1000 mm wide. But the question is an important one when it relates to the sort of megapixels that camera companies seem determined to make us use.

Despite the fact that camera manufacturers have seen their market shrink markedly as people choose to use the phone in place of a camera, they seem more determined than ever to give us large units to use in the field. They want us to quote 40 megapixels plus with files that are so large that it requires lots of storage and lots of camera power to deal with them. It sounds good but the fact is that many cameras and lenses become dust gatherers while the mobile phone continues to take center space as the camera of choice for people with disposable income.

Camera or Phone?
Leaving Cameras behind people choose mobile phones.

We would be surprised here at Lenscraft if many readers have produced a print 1 m wide during the course of the last year. We do produce prints that size and so for us megapixels are an important question. So what size of megapixel camera do we need in order to produce a good quality image 1 m wide?

Lets first of all put that in perspective by talking about how large the image is when it is mounted with a backing board and mat and frame. If the image is 1 m wide you can add 300 mm to each of the dimensions. So 1 m wide by 600 mm high means that the mounted frame is 1.3 m long and 900 mm high. On most walls it’s a reasonably substantial image.

So do we need a very high megapixel camera in order to produce an image which is both high quality as far as the image is concerned and technically to a high quality as far as detail is concerned? We can easily produce images this size using a micro 4/3 16 megapixel sensor however we generally use a full frame sensor and for this we use anything between 20 and 24 megapixels.

We can easily produce images 1000mm wide using a micro 4/3 16 megapixel sensor however we generally use a full frame sensor and for this we use anything between 20 and 24 megapixels.

Megapixels are not the whole story
Megapixels are not the only story

The camera industry would have you believe that you need much larger camera sensors. Not physically larger, although there are those that argue that we should be using medium format style sensors, but generally when they talk about larger sensors that are thinking about higher megapixels. The industry seems to be working on images with a megapixel rating of approximately 40 megapixels as the mid-range. However the reality is that it is difficult to make images that are noise free and detailed at more difficult higher ISO settings when the megapixel rating is so high. 20 to 24 megapixels is a beautiful range for producing larger prints, for conserving space on your hard drive, for handling within raw conversion and photo shop programs and for producing excellent prints with reduced noise and plenty of details. It is also an ideal size for speed.

Consider for example the Sony A9 which is a 24 megapixel speed monster. This simply amazing full frame camera produces 24 megapixel images at a rate of 20 per second if you let it go. All while focusing on the fly. Noise isn’t really much of an issue for this camera in our view up to around 6400 ISO. If you’re looking for really incredible night image quality take a look at some of the offerings from Panasonic. We recently shot with one of their latest cameras at 25,000 ISO and sat staring in amazement at the large screen at the reduced levels of noise that Panasonic are able to get out of their sensors at 24 megapixels.

24 megapixels is plenty. Let’s face it most images go on to social media where a three megapixel image is overkill. The 4K TV produces some of the crispest images you’ve ever seen and again you are looking at something around the eight megapixel mark for 4K TV with all that amazing detail. What camera manufacturers are missing is the community message – that we need smaller lighter easier to carry cameras that can go with us everywhere. Thankfully the phone companies have worked this out.

The mobile phone has taken over from much of what the camera industry is producing because the camera industry is not listening to the consumer when the mobile phone industry is listening to the consumer. It’s no wonder that camera companies will continue to see a shrinking market.

Camera companies are losing
Camera companies lose share to mobile phones and part of this is the Megapixel race.

We still remember when a company called Canon produced a mass produced camera called the Canon AE1 which took the world by storm. High quality good value and an excellent all-round camera that suited the market at that time. Of course we are going back to the 70s for this one. But it made such a lasting impression that it continues to be spoken about to this day. Then too think of the people at Kodak working on the digital sensor. Or what about the wonderful camera manufacturers that have been and gone because they did not keep up with the change in the market. Someone recently said that the 20 to 24 megapixel sensor is a sweet spot in sensor design because it allows for speed and is a good balance as far as detail is concerned. We tend to agree with that. Whether we are talking about micro 4/3 or talking about full frame sensors it really is a good size. Setting aside the megapixel war and instead focusing on what the consumer is looking for, smaller lighter more mobile cameras is perhaps too obvious. However we just read about the Leica m mount equipped camera that can take images and immediately transfer them to your mobile phone. And all we can say is that we were talking about this sort of thing 10 years ago and hoping that one day someone would do this. Hats off to this design.

It’s not about megapixels or making larger cameras and larger lenses. It’s about making cameras that get the job done and allow a person to immerse themselves in the photographic experience without needing to spend hours in front of a computer dealing with noise or fighting their way through massive files that slow down their system. Sports photographers have had it right for a long time. Take a look at the latest cameras from Canon and Nikon for that market and you’ll see that they know exactly what megapixels are needed. Some people were concerned that when Sony re-released their A9 they kept the same 24 megapixel sensor. We would say Sony got it right. And thank goodness that they made the body much more comfortable. A great redesign around a fabulous sensor.

So when someone tells you that they need a camera in the 40 megapixel size ask them the question. ‘When you are going to print images 2 m wide?’ Because that’s what you’re buying into. 40 megapixels is a lot of real estate for a lot of files that will slow down your camera. We think 1 m wide prints are enough for most people and, truth be told we’ve printed them much larger using 20 megapixel sensors as the source. The largest print we’ve ever produced in-house was nearly 3 m wide from a 20 megapixel sensor. And what a fabulous image.