Tuesday, October 29, 2013

It's all about megapixels......or is it?

I am going to diverge from my usual posting of an image that sticks in my memory banks and talk a little bit about gear. I have been affected only slightly over the years by the malady known as gear acquisition syndrome, or G.A.S.
I started with an entry level Olympus SLR (OM-10) in 1978, moved to a mid-level SLR (OM-2S), then to the Olympus top of the line (OM-4T). Then, needing autofocus for high school sports, I shifted to a Nikon F100. Shortly thereafter, I shifted to digital starting with a Nikon D1, added a D1h, a D2H, D100, and a D2Hs.
Today I have sold all the DSLR gear in favor of the Fuji X-System concept as I enter retirement and want to carry less weight.
Each time I upgraded, I did so because I wanted some more technical capability. The move to the OM-2S gave me a in-camera spot meter. I used that capability, with a 18% gray card, to get a shadow and highlight reading that I manually averaged together. That allowed me to usually get detail in both shadow and highlight areas. The upgrade to the OM-4T gave me an in-camera spot meter that was capable of nine spot readings and averaging them together. That allowed me to have the camera do the averaging and I could stay in aperture preferred mode.
In 1998, when I started freelancing for a newspaper on a consistent level, I shifted to Nikon, initially an F100, in order to get autofocus and, more importantly, autofocus tracking capability for high school sports. Then came the shift to digital. I traded a pair of F100 bodies (and their motordrives) for the Nikon D1. I followed that with the purchase of the D1h as a second body which allowed me to have a wideangle zoom on one camera and a telephoto zoom on the other. For me, it just made things easier. I sold both the D1 and D1H in favor of the D2H as the latter used li-ion batteries (much lighter and longer lasting than the NiMh batteries used in the D1-series). As a bonus, I also got better high ISO response, higher frames per second, and an autofocus system that was (and is today) outstanding. I used the D2H/D2Hs combo until shifting to Fuji in 2013.
I told you all this history to talk about the megapixel race.For years, the marketing folks pushed megapixels until manufacturers started using full frame sensors. Then they started pushing sensor size AND megapixels.
The D1 was an APS-C 2.73mp sensor as was the D1h. Processing was better in the D1h but to get more megapixels you had to buy the D1x. It had a sensor that produced 5.47 megapixels.
Then came my D2H. While still an APS-C sensor, it provided a 4.1 megapixel output. This camera, and the D2Hs, were two of the finest cameras I have ever owned. The AF system was (and is) superb and, a eight frames per second, gave me the sports capability that is still outstanding today.
But, as full frame came into view and higher megapixels kept being pushed, people continued to buy newer, more technically capable cameras. During this time, as I continued to shoot with my D2H bodies, I had an opportunity to do a commercial shoot for a local real estate developer. The year was 2007. The shoot went well and I delivered the images to the accolades of their marketing department.
Almost a year later, the same developer hired me for a second project and I learned that one of the images had been used on a billboard.
I had always told people that the megapixel race was "pie in the sky". It was just what the photo manufacturers' marketers were using to continue to sell the next model like computer manufacturers do.
Now for a little show and tell. I went and looked at the billboard. The image from my D2H had been cropped and enlarged to roughly 12 feet wide. And, damn, it looked good! Here is a shot of the billboard that was on Thomas Drive in Panama City Beach, FL.

Not too shabby, eh?
So here is original image converted to a JPEG. The original image opened as a 5.44 inch by 8.213 inch image at 300dpi. A decent image with some marketing possibilities.

Remember, this is a NEF file from a 4.1mp Nikon D2H that is a 6.61 megabyte file. Very small by today's standards.
The next image shows how the image was cropped.

As much as 50-60% of the original image was discarded. And still it was enlarged to approximately 12 feet wide! Not bad for a poor little 4.1MP camera.
I hated selling my D2H cameras this year. The cameras just worked. In the end, they were an extension of my hand and eye. I instinctively knew how they would perform after 10 years.
But, after trying for over a year, it became apparent that I would never work for another newspaper. So I decided it was time to change my focus and start looking at what the next step in my photographic journey is and a pair of cameras like the D2H just had more capabilities than I would ever need again.
I have always been inspired by the likes of the original photojournalists like Atget, Doisneau, Cartier-Bresson, Capa, and others. The subject matter varied for everyday people to war but the image content was what has always caught my eye. I still have two cameras but only three prime lenses. No longer do I carry the six lenses (ranging from 12mm to 300mm) I needed as a newspaper staffer. I have a 2,0/23mm on my X100S (35mm focal length in full frame). For my X-E1, I have a Fuji 1,4/35mm (52mm in ff) and a Nikkor 1,8/85mm AF-D (127mm in ff). And I may sell the 85mm when Fuji finally releases the 1,2/56mm. So instead of a 2,8/300mm 2,8/70-200mm, 4,0/12-24mm, 1,8/35mm and the 1,8/85mm, I have just those three mentioned lenses and two camera bodies. My entire kit is probably 75% lighter than previous. And, for an old fart like me, my back and shoulders scream "thank you".
So the moral of the story is don't get caught in megapixels. Find a camera that does what you NEED it to do for your output.
If all you are doing is putting images on the web, a smartphone with its small sensor will perform admirably.
And, if you want images on a billboard, get a D2H (LOL!)!
As always, make a comment!! Let me know what you think! Until next time, keep on shooting.....


  1. Wow! A sober reality check on the megapixel pursuit. Twelve foot from 4.1 megapixels? It raises questions about my 18 megapixel camera...!

    1. I was always amazed at the capabilities of the D2H, David. The megapixel race never interested me. After some research into sensor designs, it became apparent to me that a full frame camera at 6-8megapixels would provide light gathering capabilities giving great very low noise on high ISOs. And, with the software available, enlarging is a no brainer.
      What the higher megapixels do provide is cropping ability which, with the lenses I have today, is something worthwhile. With lenses ranging from 18mm to 450mm in full frame on my D2H bodies (APS-C sensors), I was able to fill the frame so very little cropping was necessary. As in this shot, the full width of the image was used. It was cropped to give a more panoramic look for the billboard presentation.
      Like I said, I truly hated selling my D2H bodies and all the zooms. The capabilities of that equipment was everything I needed when I was a working pro. But, with retirement now here, I really did not need to carry that weight around. So I decided it was time to try and follow the footsteps of the original photojournalists like HCB, Capa, and the like. It is a challenge but I just have to stick it out until I know the Fuji X-System cameras like I came to know my Nikons.