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How many megapixels are enough?

We all want bigger, better, more amazing looking photos, right? Some times you need a different camera to take those photos, but do you consider the other side effects of having the biggest and the best? I was thinking about this yesterday, my friend Nathan and I were out on a shoot (I as his glamorous assistant) he shoots with a Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III and when we arrived home after a relatively quick shoot, I had 10gb worth of used memory cards in my pocket. When I was in school back in Australia I remember a mate buying a 1gb external drive for his Amiga 1200, it cost him $1100.00 Aussie dollars, So, if we’d come home with 10gb of photos back then, that would have cost us $11,000!…

I want to share a little bit of a press release for one of my old cameras, it was my very first digital camera and at the time, I thought it was brilliant! Sure, the images were not even close to the quality of the prints from my film camera, an old Nikon EM, but I was suddenly in love with digital!

Here’s a couple of lines from the press release at the time…

Sony MVC-FD83 Mavica 0.8MP Digital Camera with 3x Optical Zoom
1216×912 Mega Pixel; MPEG movie mode; 4x high speed floppy disc drive; Audio/Video out; Slide show mode; 2.5″ color LCD (84K pixels); Built in intelligent flash; 3x optical/6x digital zoom; Autofocus; Macro capability.

Using Sony’s interpolated imaging technology the FD83 camera can realize a 17% increase in image size, delivering a 1 million pixel image (1216 x 912). Mavica FD83 provides high quality still images by reading all of the pixels on the imager (CCD) with a single pass. This one-time pass over the imager delivers clean edges and an overall sharper picture quality. The MVC-FD83 allows you to capture up to 60 seconds of video and audio right onto a standard 3.5″ floppy disk. This is one of the fastest, easiest ways to get video and audio into your personal computer, for E-Mail, Web sites, or presentations, etc. MPEG Movie offers 2 settings: Presentation Mode, up to 15 sec. (320 x 240) and Video Mail Mode, up to 60 sec. (160 x 112).

And this is an image from that very camera! Transferred from floppy, just for you.

Sony Mavica fd83 | Technical amazement!!

Once was young

What a power house! The images were invariably magical (!) and available instantly (If you had a computer with a floppy drive handy) I’m sorry, the exif is missing, maybe it didn’t transfer that well from floppy to the various myriad of disks it’s been on over the last ten years and thirteen thousand miles…

I stepped up from the Mavica to my first in a long line of the PowerShot branded digital Canon, The Canon A5 if I remember correctly! What a little ripper. The slogan at the time was…

Canon PowerShot A5
Canon’s “Digital ELPHs” arrive – good things in small packages!”

This is a piece from Imaging Resource on the Canon A5

Canon was one of the first digital camera manufacturers to reach beyond the “VGA” resolution category, with their original PowerShot 600. At the time, the PowerShot 600 broke new ground and established a benchmark for sharpness and image quality. Since then, Canon has lain quiet for a long time, leading to much speculation about their long-term plans relative to digital photography. With the release of the PowerShot A5 (and the forthcoming PowerShot Pro 70) though, Canon has not only conclusively demonstrated its commitment to digital photography, but returned to the cutting edge of digital camera technology as well. In the A5, we find a very appealingly packaged 800K-pixel camera with a commanding set of capabilities (including an effective ISO speed reaching as high as 400)

Slightly better image quality and larger file sizes from the Canon A5 looked to be an indicator to the compact camera market of things to come. After this we saw many manufacturers releasing cameras around this quality level and within a year we’d jumped to double the resolution and pixel count – I remember being amazed at the first image out of my Canon Ixus 300 it was a self portrait with detail I’d not encountered to that point, in digital photography.

Soon after I moved across the pond to England, I wanted something with a bit more ooomph! and promptly filled that position with the then new Canon Powershot Pro1. The Pro1 was manic! by comparison to the various IXUS compacts that I’d previously seen or used! Manic in so many arenas. The storage space I used for my digital photos tripled from the IXUS 300 to the Powershot Pro1, the speed (or lack thereof) of my computer became unyieldingly obvious and my photography, being presented to me with that extra detail made it blatantly obvious that I needed to start paying attention to the technical aspects of photography if I wanted to start taking better photographs.

Yes. This is me… Powershot Pro1 in Morocco
Wild looking...

The Powershot Pro1 produced 3,264 x 2,448 which were a lot larger than the old A5! So, from the Sony to the A5 to the IXUS 300 and now the Powershot Pro1 we’ve had some fairly serious “up hill” in the file size and therefore the space used by your digital images on your computer / drives. Incidentally, my better half somehow managed to scratch the fixed lens whilst we were out in the desert… (Filter, anyone?)

The Canon PowerShot Pro 1 is a lovely camera, well, it was when I owned it! I still wanted something different! I finally understood that it wasn’t all about the megapixel count and that there were other factors that came into the making of a good image. If you take a bad, over exposed photo, it’s still going to be that bad overexposed photo at 4000x3000px and if anything, it’s going to be more obvious.

Along came my first dSLR! The Canon EOS 30D, It’s still sitting on the desk here in front of me, I was out shooting at lunch time with it. It’s biggest image is 3504 x 2336 which you will notice is pretty similar to the Canon PowerShot Pro 1 (But very different too! I won’t start about pixel density) So why did I upgrade? So I could change lenses and accessories. Still, with the EOS 30D I eventually found myself shooting nothing but RAW and could pump out an uncompressed .tiff with a HUGE filesize!

Keeping with the “Photos of me from various cameras” theme…
Afghan Boy
A photo with my Canon EOS 30D which when I was finished working with it in Photoshop CS4 was 47mb.

In addition to the Canon EOS 30D I like to have a compact for those times when I can’t take my dSLR to a venue with me, so, initially I had the Canon IXUS 65 (SD630) 6mp and a great little carry around camera with six times the resolution of my first IXUS. The last time I saw this camera was in the mosh of the Foo Fighters performance at V Festival. I can only assume it’s in camera heaven now.

I have a Canon IXUS 960is as my pocket camera now, at 12.1mp with a file size of 4000×3000 it sure pumps out an image that takes up some space!

What does this all equate to in real world terms? Well, I’ve at least doubled the drive space required for my photos every year for the last ten years, I currently have 2tb of G-Tech Drives holding them. Some of this has been due to taking more photos, sure, but photo for photo, I’ve at least doubled my required drive space. I’ve also noticed that I needed a machine with more memory to work on these larger images and more bandwidth to upload them!

So, where to from here? Well, I have my eye on the new 5D MkII
Canon EOS 5D Mark II
at 21mp I’m sure I’ll need to re-think my backup / storage strategy! A friend is toying with the new Nikon D3x 24mp beast.

Where will all this end? Will formats and pixels and cameras continue to develop and the requirements become more and more? Will MegaPixelMadness continue!

What’s your opinion on the way the digital camera market is headed?


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(aka #gtvone) is the customer support manager for dPS, and lead blogger in our Cameras and Gear Blog. He’s a Melbourne based photographer, www.gtvone.com and please feel free to follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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