Sony Alpha Rumours have made a lot of buzz the last couple of days by announcing that they’ve received some hints about the potential size of images that may be produced by the Sony A7RIII. According to their source…
a7Riii the new sensor will be between 70 – 80 Megapixels. They are working on improved IBIS as well. Although officially the new lenses per the 24-70 F2.8 GM and the others have been tested for QC at 60+ Megapixels and 6K+ Video they achieve even better results than that.
I’m not going to go on about this camera specifically, but 70-80 Megapixels. Let’s talk a little about that.
In the beginning, increasing the megapixel count of DSLRs made sense. The earliest commercially available DSLR “hybrids” (slapping a digital sensor onto a 35mm film body) like the Kodak DCS 420, weren only able to manage a little more than a single megapixel.
Even if we cast aside things like dynamic range & ISO performance, this wasn’t nearly enough resolution for most photographers. It also wasn’t practical or cost effective.
At its launch in 1994, the Kodak DCS 420 had a cost of around $12,000. This sounds expensive until you find out that one of the DCS 420’s predecessors, the Kodak DCS 100 was a staggering $30,000, shot 1.3MP images and required an external 200MB hard drive (which could only fit 156 images) that was carried over your shoulder as you wandered around shooting.
Film was still far more cost effective and also provided better results, but, those were early days, and digital has come a long way since then. It had to, or it would never have survived.
I started my digital life with a pair of Nikon D100 bodies in 2002. At 6.1MP, I always felt I wanted a little more room to grow than that, but given my needs at the time it mostly kept up for what I needed.
With Nikon’s first generation of DSLR bodies ranging from 2.7-6.1MP, their main “pro” bodies, the D1, D1h, and D1x, all had a lower resolution than the “advanced” level D100, and even the next generation D2h only had 4.2MP.
Megapixels at this time seemed to be a way to compensate for the lack of more important features in lower end bodies that working professionals demanded of the higher end, at least that’s how it was with Nikon.
Canon’s introduction of the full frame 11.4MP EOS 1Ds at the end of 2002 seemed to spark the beginning of the megapixel race. Nikon followed with the release of the, still cropped sensor, 12.4MP D2x, and Canon came back with the 16.7MP 1Ds Mark II, followed three years later by the 21.1MP 1Ds Mark III.
Then it arrived, the Nikon D3x. Nikon had entered the full frame world a short time earlier with the D3, but the D3x became many a studio and landscape photographer’s camera of choice due to the 24MP sensor, capable of outstanding results.
Now, the top of the line professional bodies had finally overtaken the entry level and advanced DSLRs when it came to resolution. It was no longer simply a gimmick to sell lower end cameras lacking in other features.
While this race had obviously been an important at the time, other features hadn’t been ignored. Autofocus systems had gotten faster, ISO performance had increased drastically, and dynamic range had also gotten much greater.
DSLRs had now well and truly hit that point where they were starting to surpass 35mm film for many photographers, and with the price gap between 35mm SLRs and DSLRs getting smaller and smaller, many were finally making the switch.
When does enough truly become enough?
DSLRs have gotten to the point now where they exceed the abilities and requirements of most of those that those that own them. Sure, some have some quirks and annoyances, and many of us have specific needs that demand a particular body, but overall, modern DSLRs are overkill for most people, including the resolution at which they shoot.
We’re able to shoot up to 16 frames per second. We can shoot 4K video at 60fps. We can upload our images over WiFi to our mobile devices and tablets the instant we shoot them, or even upload directly to online social media & sharing platforms, with mini retouching and post processing capabilities built right into the camera.
We can control our cameras remotely from our phones and tablets, seeing liveview previews through our lens wirelessly over a network with full remote control touch screen capabilities.
We’ve had all these and countless other amazing advancements in camera technology, as well as the sometimes useless & gimmicky, that couldn’t have been even dreamt of in the not-too-long-ago-days of film, but they can only be develop so far.
But with all this advancement, why do megapixels always seem to be the big point? Why do they still keep pushing more and more onto our sensors and into our hands?
Well, it’s mostly because it’s the one common denominator they can keep pushing that most consumers can easily understand.
Even the cameras in our phones are typically defined only by their megapixel count, so many just assume that when it comes to megapixels, more equals better.
The megapixel race, and the myth that it’s the single most important thing in a camera, keeps people buying new cameras every couple of years, whether they actually need it or not, because when it comes to megapixels, they believe more equals better, therefore they believe they need it.
This constant push, the 2-3 year cycle of buying a new camera and selling the “old” one means there’s a lot of very low mileage second hand equipment available for sale which, brings me around to why I love the megapixel race.
Cheap used cameras!
While I do tend to buy new for my main workhorse bodies (NPS is worth it), I don’t replace my main bodies often.
I’ve shot with the same Nikon D300s bodies since their initial release in 2009, and I never get rid of my old cameras when I do replace them.
I still have and regularly use my pair of D100 bodies, which are more than plenty for shooting behind the scenes 1080p timelapse of long sessions. They’ve both got well over a million actuations on them by now, and if they ever die, it’s only going to cost me £50 ($70) on eBay to acquire a replacement.
Even if I want to go up to shooting 4K timelapse, a used D300 can be picked up for as little as £200 ($280) at the moment, and the 12MP raw files it produces are easily sufficient for 4K video, with even a little wiggle room to spare.
A couple of D5300 bodies are on my shopping list at the moment, mostly for video, and they can also be found for as low as £200 ($280) on the used market, almost a quarter of their original new price only two and a half years ago.
While my primary purpose for these will be video, they’re still capable of producing 24MP stills and 14Bit raw files, and having had a good play with that body in the past, the images they produce more than satisfy the requirements of 18×12 prints or 3ft canvases.
In an emergency, I wouldn’t hesitate to grab one for certain sessions, and for shoots in riskier locations.
So bring on the megapixels and all the other superfluous technology that 99% of people will never need. The more they pile into new cameras, the cheaper the used market gets!
Don’t discount the used market when it comes to buying equipment. If you do your research and check seller feedback, you can pick up some absolute bargains that more than meet your needs.
Of course, it doesn’t help those who are constantly keeping updated and then selling at a massive loss every couple of years, but it sure helps the rest of us.