As camera manufacturers continue to race for megapixels, Sony is releasing a range of 24 MP APS-C (1.5 crop factor) cameras such as the Sony A77, A65, and NEX-7, and Nikon is releasing the Nikon D800 36 MP high resolution, many of us photographers question the need for such a high-resolution sensor. Some of us are happy while others are angry with these latest trends.
Just when we thought that companies like Nikon had given up on the megapixel race, instead of seeing other companies do the same, now we see Nikon back in the game with a new product category with a large number of pixels.
Why did Nikon suddenly decide to turn the tables? Why do people seem to want more pixels thanks to better low light/high ISO performance? Is a high-resolution sensor reasonable? What are the real benefits of high-resolution sensors? In this article, I’ll give my thoughts on what I think went wrong with Nikon’s camera strategy, as well as some points about the benefits of a high-resolution sensor.
Pixel Size, Pixel Density, Sensor Size, and Image Processing Pipeline
OK, this topic is quite complicated if you don’t know anything about pixels and sensors. Before you read on, I highly recommend reading my article “FX vs DX” where I talk specifically about pixel and sensor sizes and their impact on image quality.
As you may already know, pixel size, pixel density, and sensor size all contribute to how well the camera handles low-light situations (high ISO performance) and wide viewing range.
how is the light (dynamic range) of the camera? Pixel size is a very important property of a sensor’s overall performance – in general, the larger the pixel, the better the overall performance. Pixel density is closely related to pixel size – larger pixels correspond to lower pixel density, smaller pixels correspond to higher pixel density.
This is because pixel density is measured in pixels per inch. There is a fourth, very important attribute that very few people mention when talking about pixels and sensors, which also plays a huge role; it is a software algorithm run by the image processor that analyzes sensor data and performs a series of image processing steps to reduce various artifacts, reduce noise, apply sharpening, and more again. This is often referred to as the “image processing pipeline”.
These four factors have a significant impact on the overall image quality and are closely related. A good camera should have a good balance between pixel size and density, sensor size, and image processing pipeline.
Let me give a few examples to make this a little clear. If you have two sensors of the same size – one with small pixels (hence higher pixel density) and one with large pixels (lower pixel density), all other things being equal, the previous sensor usually produces lower quality images than the second sensor, especially when it comes to noise.
The Nikon D3s, which has a much larger pixel size, performs better at much higher ISOs than the Nikon D3x (when viewed at 100%), has more pixels/resolution, and smaller pixel size. It makes sense, that’s why Nikon makes two different cameras for different needs. Now let’s take another example. If you shoot two cameras with different sized sensors, “A” is the camera with the larger sensor and “B” is the camera with the smaller sensor, which camera will perform better? It will depend on the pixel size and density and the image processing pipeline – other important variables I talked about above.
If the image processing is exactly the same and the pixel size on camera “B” is the same as on camera “A” (so “B” has a lower total resolution), then we will see a performance at the pixel level is very similar.
Now, what if camera “B” has the same resolution as camera “A”, but has a much better image processing pipeline? The pixel size on camera ‘B’ is smaller, which would technically cause camera ‘B’ to produce more noise, but its image processing pipeline is superior and therefore makes a difference separate. When you compare images from the two cameras, despite the difference in sensor sizes, you can see that the noise performance is very similar (I have obviously excluded depth of field and other differences).
for simplicity). I explained this in more detail in my Nikon 1 V1 review. Despite having a much smaller sensor than the competition, the Nikon 1 V1 boasts impressive high ISO performance thanks to a much better image processing pipeline. When people first saw that the high ISO images of the Nikon 1 V1 looked clean, many assumed that Nikon was “cheating” by adding noise reduction for high ISOs, even on RAW files. What they don’t realize is that Nikon has been doing that for a while, and so far it’s not the only manufacturer doing it.
Everyone does it these days; otherwise, the picture will be too noisy! There is absolutely nothing wrong with this type of noise reduction, as long as the manufacturer knows how to apply the noise reduction correctly without losing too much detail.
Finally, take two different cameras with identical sensors with the same size and pixel density. One may perform better than the other in terms of noise. How? Again, better in-camera image processing. Sony manufactures most of Nikon’s sensors and uses similar sensors in its Sony Alpha DSLR cameras. And yet, thanks to Nikon’s better image processing pipeline, Nikon cameras display better overall image quality, especially at high ISOs. Same sensor, different output.
There are other important variables like overall sensor quality, Bayer filter, and anti-aliasing that also contribute to overall image quality, but I didn’t add them to the mix for the sake of simplicity.
Nikon’s Change in Strategy
So why did Nikon suddenly decide to reverse course and use a high-resolution sensor on a low-end full-frame body like the Nikon D800? Because it makes sense for Nikon. Canon realized this a while back, which is why it introduced the Canon 5D Mark II with a 21 MP sensor. Nikon started with its flagship Nikon D3 series, then offered a lower-end D700 body that used the same sensor, AF, and other specs, including the image processing pipeline. As expected, the entry-level Nikon D700 started to eat away at sales of the D3.
Demand for the D700 skyrocketed, while the D3 was no longer on sale. Then Nikon launched the D3x as its flagship “high-resolution” camera.
With Nikon’s chosen pricing strategy, killed potential sales of the D3x and left it out of reach for most people. At the time, the Nikon D700 was selling well, and the D3 and D3x were suffering heavy losses. Then there’s the Nikon D3s, which offers significantly better low-light performance.
The flagship is back in the spotlight and sales figures are starting to improve – those who needed the best camera bought the D3, while anyone on a budget had to live with the D700. D3x continues to suffer, although the price has dropped. Meanwhile, Canon has done a great job with its two cameras – the Canon 5D Mark II is selling like crazy, while pros who need better low-light capabilities have got the 1D Mark IV (if only it hadn’t). Should an AF issue get in the way of the 1D line, the camera will sell even better). What happened to Canon’s 1D sales? That’s right, like the D3x, they’ve also dropped in price.
The Canon 5D Mark II is the best-selling Canon camera among photo enthusiasts and professionals. Difference? The Canon 5D Mark II is aimed at all types of photographers, from weddings/events to landscape and fashion photographers, while the D700 is primarily geared towards weddings/events and sports/wildlife with the battery MB-D10.
The last part is where Nikon made a mistake. With the MB-D10 and the right battery, the Nikon D700 can be as fast as the original D3, share most of the same features, and cost significantly less. The Nikon D3s was late in the game – sales of the D700 remained strong even after the D3s were released. We all expected the Nikon D700s with the same D3s sensor, but it never came out. Then we thought we’d get a D700x, which also didn’t come true. If Nikon released the D700, it would kill sales of the D3. If he releases a D700x, he’ll bury the D3x forever.
Now, we are about to witness a significant change in strategy, with the new generation of the low-end D800 pro lineup featuring a high-resolution sensor. Do the same as Canon – high resolution, low FPS, maybe fewer features here to distinguish it from the D4 series, so it doesn’t cut sales of the D4. Sports and wildlife photographers spend tens of thousands of dollars on expensive 600mm lenses, so obviously they can afford the D4. Anyone who can’t live with a camera can appeal to a wide audience – from the landscape, architecture, and studio photographers to event photographers who just don’t seem to care.
to a high-resolution camera. Canon released the 7D to compete with the D300s and recently introduced the 1DX to compete with the D4, why not catch them up with something that can challenge the 5D Mark II? But revenge and greater market conquest aren’t the only reasons Nikon decided to go with the 36MP sensor on the D800, in my opinion.
There are two other major factors here – high-resolution sensors made by Nikon are cheaper in the long run than low-light sensors. It sounds wrong, but Nikon spends a lot of money on R&D for its noise reduction algorithms. And after spending all that time and money, it hurts to see something like the D700 eat away at its top sales. Did you know the Nikon D3 and D3 have almost identical sensors? The difference between the Nikon D3 and D3s is mainly software – the same changes to the image processing pipeline I talked about. That’s why you don’t see any improvement at low ISOs – the Nikon D3s is only better at ISO 800.
With Sony making high-resolution sensors for Nikon, you’d better go with the line. flowing rather than continuing the same trend. Emphasizing the top-of-the-line, making it super attractive to all those who need and can afford it, and introducing the entry-level professional line for those who want a full-frame camera- the frame is high resolution but slow. Raise the price of the latter so it doesn’t eat away at the top sales and problem-solving. Nikon knows that Canon has discontinued its 1Ds range, so why bother with two flagships? We probably won’t see D4x in the future. This is my analysis of the current Nikon situation. I could be wrong, so we’ll see – time will tell.
The Benefit of a High-Resolution Sensor
By now you must have heard of the “megapixel myth” and have probably heard this phrase many times: “camera resolution doesn’t matter”. Sure. Now, before the rotten tomatoes fly at me, let me finish the sentence first: it depends on what you do with your photos. If you are only publishing your photos for the web, printing on a small home printer, or providing photos for your wedding/event clients, you will rarely need more than 10-12 megapixels.
But if you’re a landscape enthusiast or a fashion photographer looking to sell large prints, you need a high-resolution camera. Even many wildlife photographers choose to shoot with a DX camera for “range”. If I could get my hands on a 36MP sensor and potentially crop my frame to what I can get with a DX camera today for the same “range”, I’d be a happy camper. happiness. There’s a reason why there’s a demand for high-resolution cameras like the Canon 5D Mark II. If medium format digital cameras are affordable then these 40-50 MP cameras will be in high demand.
Well, most of us can easily live with a low-resolution camera. In fact, considering what most of us have to do with our photos, even compact mirrorless cameras will cover 90% of our needs. However, there are many photographers who would greatly benefit from a higher resolution camera. The megapixel myth is true, but it works both ways. The need for high-resolution sensors is as mythical as the demand for low-light sensors. I own a Nikon D3 which was the king of low light photography until the D4 came out.
How many very high ISO images above ISO 1600 do you think I have delivered to my clients compared to low ISO images? Not much. Why? Because to get the highest quality images, I avoid shooting at too high an ISO when possible. With the exception of some extreme situations like shooting wildlife at sunset or sunrise and perhaps shooting in a dark church, you’ll rarely find yourself using extremely high ISOs. If you don’t believe me, open up your Lightroom and do a quick count of the images below ISO 800 and above ISO 800 in the last year. You’d be surprised at the numbers (unless you don’t know how to film your camera and your D3s is permanently set to ISO 3200 :))
I mean a good camera has to have a good balance between sensor resolution and low light capabilities. So ultra-high resolution is not good, because the image processing algorithms wouldn’t be able to deal with so much noise nowadays. And at the same time, you won’t get much benefit from a low-light sensor if it’s too low a resolution. Finally, what is the advantage of a high-resolution sensor? The real advantage of a high-resolution sensor over a low-resolution/low-light sensor is that you have the ability to downscale/downsample your image during post-processing. Why do you want to do that? To reduce the amount of noise, of course.
With a high-resolution sensor, you have the power to capture huge images, and you can downsize them in low-light situations to reduce the amount of noise. With a low-resolution low-light camera, you can take good quality pictures directly from the camera, but you can never do a good job of increasing its resolution (as this article shows). , you’re better off making small improvements). You’ll be surprised at the small difference you’ll see if you take a photo from the D3 at ISO 3200 and compare it to a photo from the D3x at ISO 3200, downsampled down to 12 MP. Now, I’m not here to say that the D3x and D3 have equally high ISO noise because that depends on how you look at it. With a pixel size of 100%, the Nikon D3 will obviously look better.
But when both are viewed at 12 MP, meaning that the D3x image is downsampled to 12 MP to match the D3 image, the images look similar in terms of noise. You do not believe me? Go to DxOMark, put D3 and D3x side by side, then look at the SNR table under “Measurements” at the “Print” size:
These noise levels seem the same to me. If the Nikon D3x comes out after the D3s, we’ll likely see similar results in the chart above comparing the two. 36MP overkill for a full-frame sensor? Considering what Nikon has done with its noise reduction, no, it’s not overkilled. If my predictions are correct, we should see at least one point of improvement over the D700 when the D800’s image is downsampled from 12 to 16 MP. This means that at ISO 3200, the Nikon D800 should be equal to or better than the Nikon D700 at ISO 1600 when the D800’s image is downsampled to 12-16 MP. And you’ll also get a sharper D800 image (due to resizing). Nikon’s built-in noise reduction, as well as Photoshop/Lightroom software’s image reduction algorithms, make this possible. Don’t be afraid of 36 megapixels. Keep in mind that the pixel size on the D800 will be the same as on the current D7000.
If you find your lenses work well with the D7000, they should work fine on the upcoming Nikon D800, except for the corners – this is where you can see the difference. This is because the D7000 hides the corners of a full-frame lens due to its smaller sensor, while the D800 exposes them completely. But you can solve these problems in the field. Crop the corners a bit more if your lens has poor angular performance – you’ll have a lot of pixels to work with.
A high-resolution sensor will obviously also have its own limitations. Higher resolution equates to larger files, hence slower FPS (I know some might also say that post-processing is slower, but that’s debatable since computers are so fast these days) and can easily face higher CPU and memory requirements). On top of that, even a large buffer will clog up pretty quickly, so it’s not necessary to shoot continuously at 4 FPS for more than a few seconds. But that’s what D4 is for. Need to spray and pray? Scroll D4. And if buffering or image size is such an issue, shoot in DX mode. You will have this option on the D800.
Note: If you want to make some adjustments to the photo just let me know. I can do it for you at a very low cost. You can hire me to edit your photo
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