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How many pixels do we really need?


dennersten

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I am an art photographer. Landscape and nature mostly. I am doing art, books, posters, etc. 

I am sitting and working on my upcoming exhibition in Stockholm. Two pictures are from the M9 (the rest from M11). I am sitting with the 18 mp images in Lightroom Classic; right-click and choose enhance. And Poff, they are 72 mp. I edit and crop them and print them to 70cm x 100cm.

In the last exhibition, I sold nine M9 pictures for 500 - 1000 Euro a piece. So my audience liked them also. 

So the question is: How many pixels do we need in these AI days? Is the pixel race over? 

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I don't think the question can be answered that way.
For me there remains a dependency on the motif, the print size and whether a photo has a documentary or artistic character.

My digital experiences started with 5MP Digilux 3 and ended up to 60MP Sony A7 R IV.
For me there was never a reason to use 60 MP and so 1.5 years ago I decided on an M10R and got rid of all other cameras except an RX1 RII. With the 40 MP I have a certain amount of leeway. My genres are portrait, street, event, party and often backstage.
So I find 40 MP more than enough for all my needs. Some time ago I had an A7 S with 12 MP in my hand. Even if it would mean a certain change, even the 12 MP would be sufficient.
There may be applications where detail and print size are important, but not for me.

I think depending on the sensor size the race is never over. Simply because what is technically feasible is delivered and will also find its buyers.
I like to remember Anders Petersen, who took an impressive series of portraits of old people in a retirement home with a cheap compact camera and even used the internal flash.
It doesn't depend on the hardware, but rather on the photographer and what kind of emotion he wants to create.

And please keep in mind that everything was already photographed in the analogue film age and there, too, the resolution was never asked, but only the finished photo was appreciated.

Edited by M Street Photographer
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1 hour ago, dennersten said:

 

So the question is: How many pixels do we need in these AI days? Is the pixel race over? 

As many pixels as you need to render the quality of image you want, at the size you want, at the natural viewing distance for the size. Some photographers like to make intimate small prints that you can peer into, and some like to blow the doors off and make you stand back in (ever more hopeful) awe. So that old chestnut of a question 'how big can I print' is redundant if you never print to whatever size the answer is. And trying to describe an image in terms of quantity (of pixels) is generally only a digital concept anyway because film users have their own aesthetic considerations that fortunately can override pixel peeping entirely. The basic rule for me is to think in terms of communication with the viewer, I mean a good photo whether digital or film will beat any 'resolution test', and if it didn't most of the worlds best photographs through history can be discounted. 

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1 hour ago, M Street Photographer said:

I don't think the question can be answered that way.
For me there remains a dependency on the motif, the print size and whether a photo has a documentary or artistic character.

My digital experiences started with 5MP Digilux 3 and ended up to 60MP Sony A7 R IV.
For me there was never a reason to use 60 MP and so 1.5 years ago I decided on an M10R and got rid of all other cameras except an RX1 RII. With the 40 MP I have a certain amount of leeway. My genres are portrait, street, event, party and often backstage.
So I find 40 MP more than enough for all my needs. Some time ago I had an A7 S with 12 MP in my hand. Even if it would mean a certain change, even the 12 MP would be sufficient.
There may be applications where detail and print size are important, but not for me.

I think depending on the sensor size the race is never over. Simply because what is technically feasible is delivered and will also find its buyers.
I like to remember Anders Petersen, who took an impressive series of portraits of old people in a retirement home with a cheap compact camera and even used the internal flash.
It doesn't depend on the hardware, but rather on the photographer and what kind of emotion he wants to create.

And please keep in mind that everything was already photographed in the analogue film age and there, too, the resolution was never asked, but only the finished photo was appreciated.

Exactly. I've said it here on several occasions. It's the image, not the pixels. HCB never worried about ISO or file size. Or any of the digital obsessions we spend so much time debating.

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Do corporate buyers now expect Gursky like print sizing and detail ?

Is a buyer for a 8x10" print at €100 more difficult to find than a one for a meter wide print at €1000 ?

My resolution metric is that 24 Mpixels from a 35mm lens resolves everything in a landscape I can see with the naked eye.

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If you’re the Rijksmuseum in Netherlands then 717Gigapixels are needed to capture a Rembrandt!
you can zoom in on their website to save you 5.6Terabytes of disk!

https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/stories/operation-night-watch/story/ultra-high-resolution-photo


but personally I find the 24Mpixels and a good lens like the 35 Summilux ASPH FLE at f5.6 gives the same at 200% zoom as my eyes when using Ultravid 10x25 in the actual landscape. If really needed I can export as 12,000x8,000 (96Mpixels) tiff from a well captured image. I do that occasionally to stop myself wanting a high-res M10R, M11 or SL2. The SL2-s 24Mpixel low noise wide dynamic range sensor sounds good from reviews and should allow for high resolution resampling if needed. Noise and dynamic range are probably more important than megapixel count.

Lincoln

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For most "photographers" who only post photos to Instagram, or forums like this, 1600px on the long edge is plenty of resolution.  I expect that probably takes in more than 95% of "photographers."    So how much resolution is enough?  The M9's 18mp resolution was plenty for anything I ever needed.   I sold the M9 and bought a Phase One XF and Leaf  Credo 40 back.  I shot with it for several years and enjoyed the large files, except that they used a HUGE amount of hard drive storage.   Last year, I sold the Phase One/Credo gear and bought a Lumix S1 and Lumix S5 with 24 mp and it has been more than adequate.  I recently fell into an M10-P, also with 24mp.  I think 24mp is probably the sweet spot in today's market.   24mp is sufficient for any "normal" usage I can think of.  Of course if you want to shoot for billboards, there's always a Phase One XF 150mp kit.

Of course, camera manufacturers want to sell more cameras, so they need to manufacture a "need" for new features among potential buyers to continue selling new equipment.  I find all of the minutia regarding the measurement of new lenses amusing.   I'm shooting my M10-P with 1950s Canon Serenars.   Although one may prefer the "look" of one lens over another when identical prints are presented side-by-side, but no one can ever tell you what lens was used to make a particular image, and some of the most famous images ever made were made with some relatively humble equipment by today's standards.   We're in "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin" territory.   BUT Leica (indeed ALL of the camera manufacturers) needs to sell lenses to stay in business, so they need to create a market for each new lens they introduce to keep their customers buying.   We're in that same arena with cameras now.  Like personal computers before them, the first twenty years of digital camera development brought revolutionary advances.  Now the advances are merely evolutionary.  And the evolutionary developments are billed as "revolutionary" to create that market and get us to part with our hard-earned money.

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Although I agree that 18-24M pixels is usually enough in most cases that assumes you don't need to start cropping. It's quite easy to end up with a 1/4 area (6M pixel) if you zoom-in and end up with X/2 and Y/2 if you need to say straighten a horizon and crop out a foreground tree branch or dustbin or unrelated person at the corner you missed when taking the shot.

Probably only the new Back Side illuminated sensors on SL2(47Mpixel), SL2-s (24Mpixel), M11(36, 60Mpixel) are worth considering because with a higher res sensor comes smaller photo diode sites, the BSI sensors at least give better sensitivity, noise, dynamic range even if the sensor diode sites are now smaller because of the higher res. Except SL2-s 24Mpixel which has better noise, and dynamic range because of the BSI chip architecture allowing it to capture more light with the diode closer to the surface of the chip and the internal circuitry isn't in the way on a BSI sensor.

Of course as hepcat suggests the manufacturer marketing says that with the higher res sensors 47-60M pixels you now "need" to move up to the £7000 APO lenses, 50 APO and 35 APO summicrons etc. So that £15,000 for 1 camera and one lens.

The question I ask myself if I wanted to upgrade from my M10 would I go for SL2 (47M) or SL2-S (24M with better dynamic range, lower noise) and both with IBIS using M lenses and the L to M adapter? Would the higher pixel count SL2 win me over the lower noise SL2-S? But then I'd want to try the APO lenses.

I did try the 50APO-summicron-M v my 50 summicron-M on an SL1 24M pixel body at the Leica Mayfair store as it was in 2016 and I took the files home to compare in Lightroom. I really struggled to see much difference. It might have been a bright day so I might not have tested F2 on each lens but they were the sort of landscape/architecture shots I normally take rather than portraits and so for me is a fair comparison. So the 50 APO being 3x the price of 50 summicron (used) perhaps gave only a small 20-30%??? improvement on a 24M pixel sensor. I keep reminding myself of that every time I see a reasonably priced used example. I just know that if I went the SL2 or M11 route I'd end up having to get APO lenses but would be too scared to take them outside!

I'm better off just using what I have now and taking more photos to explore my existing kit and improve my techniques. 

I don't think I've ever looked at one of my photos and said, "what that needs is more pixels". I might say I needed better/different focus or composition, or aperture etc but never more pixels unless I'm doing a zoom in crop.

 

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18 hours ago, M Street Photographer said:

I don't think the question can be answered that way.
For me there remains a dependency on the motif, the print size and whether a photo has a documentary or artistic character.

 

My point was more to point out that we have extremely competent AI programs to help us with any resolution tasks.  I have printed a 200cm x 120 cm looking great from 18mp. With some help from AI then of course. 

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1 hour ago, lincoln_m said:

Although I agree that 18-24M pixels is usually enough in most cases that assumes you don't need to start cropping. It's quite easy to end up with a 1/4 area (6M pixel) if you zoom-in and end up with X/2 and Y/2 if you need to say straighten a horizon and crop out a foreground tree branch or dustbin or unrelated person at the corner you missed when taking the shot.

 

 

'Super Resolution' in Adobe Camera Raw deals with cropped images, or old P&S images, etc.

https://helpx.adobe.com/uk/camera-raw/using/enhance.html

 

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vor 1 Stunde schrieb dennersten:

My point was more to point out that we have extremely competent AI programs to help us with any resolution tasks.  I have printed a 200cm x 120 cm looking great from 18mp. With some help from AI then of course. 

I understand you. And yes, 18MP is enough for your print size. But isn't it the case that if the viewing distance is maintained, a higher resolution may make the details appear sharper, but due to the viewing distance the details are hardly or no longer visible?

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23 hours ago, dennersten said:

So the question is: How many pixels do we need in these AI days? Is the pixel race over? 

What 'race'? You should use as many pixels as your output requirements need. Its as simple as that. And yes, I still use my M9s despite having cameras with more (often wasted) pixels.

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I work as an exhibition printer. In my experience I would say that 35-50 megapixels with good lenses is enough for even very large prints (100x150cm). More megapixels will make very large prints look a bit better, but I would peg 35-50mp at low ISO with good technique to be largely indistinguishable from larger megapixels at sizes smaller than about 1 meter on the long side. In my experience, people's technique plays a larger role than megapixels at this point. For example, even though cameras can go to super high ISOs now, they still tend to lose their best pictorial characteristics above about ISO 1600...even the modern fancy ones. And more often than not people use standard zoom lenses, even fancy ones ("L lenses" for example), and they still usually have a lot of deficiencies compared to the best primes. I would also advise avoiding AI if possible. In my experience it adds many artifacts and generally looks fake, which it is. Better to just use a high quality interpolation technique, rather than AI based solutions. But I guess it gets "better" all the time.

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  • 1 month later...

I know I'm way, way, late to this topic, but from playing around with printing for display and as a very rough approximation, I worked out that all else being equal (which it seldom is) you can easily produce a good A4-size print from a 3mp image and with care can often "get away with" 2mp.

Scaling this with ISO paper sizes:

A4              3mp  (maybe 2mp)                                                                 210 mm x 297 mm
A3              6mp  (maybe 4mp)   [A3+   8mp (maybe 5+mp ish)].        297 mm x 420mm           [A3+ : 329mm x 483mm / 13" x 19"]      
A2             12mp (maybe 8mp)                                                                 420 mm x 594 mm
A1              24mp (maybe 16mp)                                                              594 mm x 841 mm
A0             48mp (maybe 32mp)                                                              841 mm x 1189 mm

Framed, behind glass, viewed from a 'reasonable' viewing distance - these approximations have worked for me (note, though, I can only print to A3+ myself so seldom print larger).

   ...Mike

Edited by mfunnell
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  • 5 weeks later...

I compared 8x10 prints from my A7S III (12MP) with my Q2 (47MP) and at closer than 12-16" I can see a noticeable difference in detail/sharpness. I'll be printing some 13x19s to compare as well and I expect the difference to be even more pronounced.

And yes, I regularly look at the pictures I print that closely :)

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16 minutes ago, anonymoose said:

I compared 8x10 prints from .....

I did this 40 years ago and compared the results visually and via MTF cascades and could see no difference between Leica and Minolta images nor find a substantial difference in the MTFs. If you can see the difference on 10x8 prints between the cameras you mention something is probably wrong with one of them.

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Posted (edited)
17 minutes ago, pgk said:

I did this 40 years ago and compared the results visually and via MTF cascades and could see no difference between Leica and Minolta images nor find a substantial difference in the MTFs. If you can see the difference on 10x8 prints between the cameras you mention something is probably wrong with one of them.

They were printed back-to-back within 5 minutes of each other. 40 years is a long time and printing technology (hell, technology in general) has come a long way, so might be worth trying it again yourself.

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14 hours ago, anonymoose said:

They were printed back-to-back within 5 minutes of each other. 40 years is a long time and printing technology (hell, technology in general) has come a long way, so might be worth trying it again yourself.

What were perfectly good prints back then are still perfectly good prints now. Printing technology has changed but in terms of detail and resolution a 10x8 viewed 'correctly' will be no better now than then.

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