Since the beginning of the digital era, camera manufactures have been in a race for the highest megapixel count. Megapixels are frequently listed at the top of the list of specifications for a camera. Even the sales associates at a brick and mortar store are trained to use those megapixel numbers in their sales pitch. But have you ever wondered how many megapixels are enough for landscape photography?
The answer to this question depends upon what you are trying to accomplish. Let’s take a look at the graphics of a typical digital camera available on the market today. I carry Sony A7rII with 42MP resolution as a primary camera and a Sony a6300 with 24MP resolution crop sensor as my backup camera. The resolution and print size of both these camera is shown in the image above. There are times when I prefer shooting with Sony a6300 over Sony A7rII even though Sony a6300 has lower megapixels. Why? Because I can take advantage of multiplier effect of the crop sensor when I am shooting wildlife or macro subjects and, at 24MP, my Sony a6300 gives me more than enough resolution for my needs.
Now, when you compare the resolution of the camera with the typical display devices available today you will notice that the resolution of the camera far exceeds the ability of the display devices. In other words, the images from the digital camera must be down-sized to be displayed even on a high resolution 4K monitor. But what about other mediums such as prints, magazines, and calenders?
Let’s look at typical uses and the camera resolution in megapixels that you may need for landscape photography.
Sharing on Social Media
This is by far the most common use of photos taken by photographers. Everyone wants to take a quick shot and share the photo they have captured. If you were to view social media on a mobile device (such as as smart phone or a tablet), you don’t need more then 2000-3000 pixels in the longest dimension to fill the screen. If you are a tech junkie who likes to browse the social media on a 4K monitor, a 3840 pixel resolution landscape photo easily allows you to fill the screen with the photos. So to be honest, in these use cases, a camera like Sony A6300 is more than capable of delivering enough megapixels to meet all your needs.
On Screen Presentation and Online Promotions
This use case is very similar to the one described above. Most presentations and online promotional materials are viewed on large monitors or using a projector. The current state-of-the-art resolution for these devices is the same as a 4K monitor; a super-high megapixel camera such as Sony a7rII is an overkill for this application. In most situation, we must downsize our photos to add them to the slide show.
eBooks and Videos Tutorials
We typically view eBooks and video tutorials on tablets, computers, or big-screen TVs (we have customers who stream our videos in high resolution to their TVs from their tablet). Here again, we don’t need any more resolution then what a 4K monitor can handle. Even if we have to supply high resolution files without post-processing the tutorial, there is no specific megapixel requirement. We frequently use files from our older 18MP and 21MP cameras to demonstrate a particular post processing technique.
This is by far one of the most common uses for taking photos. Even nature photographers tend to print snapshots and informal portraits from time to time. For this use case, we frequently reduce the size of each photograph to about 8.6 Megapixel (3600×2400). Most clients don’t want or need a larger file and these print beautifully as large as about 12×8 inches. Since people rarely print portraits larger than that, the size is more than enough for their needs.
Calendars and Magazines
Calendar sizes ranges from 10×8 inches to 36×24 inches or larger. The most common magazine size is 8.5×11 inches or smaller. For these smaller-sized calendars and magazines, even my Sony A6300 camera resolution is sufficient to create exquisite calendar photos with superb details.
We’ve had a few instances where our prints have appeared in large-sized fine art calendars. We would have preferred to use all images from Sony a7rII for such a large-size fine arts calendar. However, the calendar company did not care about the resolution of the photos. They picked the images based on the light, colors, seasons, weather, and other factors. The cover photo of the 2018 calendar in the photo above is from a 12 Megapixel camera that was scaled up to the right size.
Fine Art Prints
The situation is very different in the fine arts market. Many photographers believe that they need a fancy camera because a high megapixel count is absolutely essential. If I make a fine art print at 300 DPI, my Sony a7rII allows me to make prints as large as 26.5 inches with its native resolution (without having to resort to interpolation). If you were to use 240 DPI resolution, this number increases to over 32 inches.
It is important to point out that this evaluation is based on the current state of technology. As the technology advances and display, prints, and camera resolutions change, these use case evaluations may change as well.
So, the next time you buy a new camera, ask yourself how you intend to use the camera. Think about all the features on the camera. The megapixel count is just one feature. What else is important to you?
What camera do you use to take nature photos? Do you have a need for higher megapixel camera? If so why? If not why not? Feel free to comments below.