John Strohbeen, who owns Ohm Speakers, which still has exclusive rights to the wonderful Walsh loudspeaker driver, wrote in a recent blog post: "One of the marks of the serious 'phile'—be it audiophile, bibliophile or other committed enthusiast—is that we squabble about things most outside the community have rarely heard about, let alone care about."
On February 6th, Canon Inc. announced the new Canon 5DS and 5DS R, which feature 51-megapixel full-frame sensors, for 5792 x 8688 pixel resolution, the biggest images yet from a traditional full-frame or less DSLR. (Dpreview already has its First Look posted. Like the Sony A900, however, which was the first camera to achieve 24 MP, it appears the new Canons are optimized for high-res shooting and not great at high ISOs.) With these cameras, Canon has reclaimed the lead from Nikon in the megapixel race.
...Or has an upstart interloper done an unexpected end-around on the twin giants of the camera biz? Olympus's modest E-M5 Mark II has a multi-shot high-resolution photo mode for unmoving subjects. The camera takes eight separate exposures, shifting the sensor a minute amount between exposures, then merges the data for a moiré-free image claimed to have resolution equivalent to a 40-megapixel capture.
That's more than the Nikon D810, and Imaging-Resource has already done a direct comparison between the two—in which the Olympus comes out looking, if anything, slightly the better of the two.
Then again, we've had superlarge high res multi-shot options available before now, in the form of merged panos. You might remember this 64-megapixel shot of mine, made from five Pentax K-20 exposures:
I'm looking forward to the first E-M5 Mk. II vs. Canon 5DS R shootout, coming soon to a geek—er, gear—site near you. (Hint: not this one.)
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, is it really true that cameraphiles squabble about megapickles? That's starting to seem a whiff '00s to me. It was indeed something we cared a whole lot about for a while, but (while acknowledging that some people really do need bigger pictures), seems like the race has gotten a bit less important for a lot of us lately. Remember a post I wrote five years ago about The Point of Sufficiency?
The lesson of the point of sufficiency is that more is always better—until it isn't any more. The market decides. Whether the market as a whole reached that point when the D800 came out or whether that point is still far in the future, I can't guess.
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Featured Comments from:
Bryan Willman: "Don't confuse sufficiency with being most competitive at the moment. Sometimes, staying ahead of the Joneses actually does matter. Yes, for many things, saturation occurs and then development on those aspects of a device will tend to slow down or stop. But in a world where photographers in general, and landscape photographers in particular, are struggling to stand out enough to sell anything, bigger, brighter, clearer, sharper may well still matter. That doesn't go away until it is literally impossible for anybody to tell the difference between one print and the next, regardless of size. It's never about what, say, Mike or Bryan think is plenty good enough, it's about what has enough advantage to sell."
Bruce McL: "I am more familiar with the terms that the computer industry is using: going beyond 'good enough,' and then 'overserving the market.'
"On thing seems clear to me: these cameras, and in fact most cameras from the major manufacturers, are made for people who already own a camera. As you state, there is even room for debate as to how many of these experienced people can really make use of the extra resolution.
"Again, the term I am familiar with is, 'ignoring the bottom end of the market, leaving room for new entrants.' These terms are used in Disruption Theory, which gets a lot of attention in tech circles these days.
"The new entrants, of course, are smart phones and tablets. The camera companies should be very worried, but Disruption Theory predicts that they won’t take the threat seriously until too late. I think a tablet with a good 12 MP sensor and decent lossless semi-RAW processing will keep most people from ever buying a separate camera. I’d say that tablet is about two years away.
"We are in a golden age of cameras now, but in a few years, there simply won’t be enough people buying cameras for camera makers to support all of the models they offer now—as you suggested on the demise of the Olympus XZ-2.
"Oh, and I agree that arguing about megapixels is old fashioned. These days it may be easier to provoke an argument over what lens gives the best bokeh."
SV: "As a pro photog, the 5DIII was pretty much all the megapixels I feel like I'd ever need. But, the appeal of the D810 and the Sony FF is the dynamic range, which at least by DxOMark's measurement, is 3–4 stops better. This makes it all the more disappointing that the new 5DS, that will come out >3 years after the 5DIII, will have no improvement in DR. This new camera feels like a souped-up race car—it goes really fast at the expense of everything else."
GH: "As someone who rarely prints over 13x19, I've been on the fast track away from 'image quality' over the last few years. I've gone from FF sensors to APS-C to Micro 4/3, and, now, a Sony RX100III. Honestly, unless I'm shooting something that requires shallow depth of field, which is essentially never, I struggle to tell the difference between my A900 and Zeiss 24–70mm and this dinky little RX100III...outside of the fact that the RX100III might actually be a little sharper in the corners. I sure don't miss lugging those big cameras around, now that small cameras are good enough."
kirk tuck: "It's funny that this comes up today. I got a call from an ad agency and they wanted me to photograph an animal. About the size of a bread box. A bread box with feathers and lots and lots of detail. But they actually asked me what camera I would be shooting the image with if I got awarded the project. I asked them why. They told me that they were planning to use said image for trade show graphics, that they'd tried a number of stock images but none were high enough resolution. I offered to do a test shot for them so they could see how the files blow up. I put together a still life with colored pencils, yarn, a pin cushion full of pins, thread, fresh oregano stems with leaves, glass jars full of paint brushes, a few watches and some fossils. I used a fast Broncolor strobe to light the setup. I set the camera to ISO 64, used my best macro lens at ƒ/11, put the whole camera shebang on a Gitzo 5 Series Studex, locked the mirror up and triggered the camera. The files out of the camera were great. I saved the uncompressed 14-bit raw files to 16-bit TIFFs and sent them to the client. Each file was a bit over 200 megabytes. They will be able to drag the files into Photoshop and appraise them to their heart's content.
"I am one of three bidders on the projects. Could I do the job with other cameras? I think so. But I'm sure the client has already decided that the file size is critical. Was it worth it to add the D810 to my shooting inventory? When one job will pay back the investment, then yes. It makes sense. Sufficiency? For my art work, you bet. Competition? For a three bid advertising agency job, give me every advantage."
Gordon Lewis: "Having visited the Philadelphia Auto Show this past week, cameras such as the Nikon D810 and Canon 5DS strike me as being a lot like the 'muscle cars' of an automaker's lineup. They may be exciting in the abstract and a lot of fun to use, but in practical terms they are pricey, costly to maintain, and highly impractical for the average buyer. They serve mainly as a way for the manufacturer either to brag or avoid being shaded by its competitors. This is not to say that they are useless, only that very few people have a real need for them."
Mike adds, in reply to kirk and Gordon: I loved my D800 (now the D810), which I owned for half a year before selling on. The only problem I had with it is that I just didn't need it. Although I absolutely understand kirk's point. My current much smaller Fuji is "more my speed."
Ironic in that, pace Gordon's astute points, I tend to like small, "go-karty" cars with 4-cylinder engines and manual transmissions. I have no particular interest in muscle cars.
...Although I did enjoy driving the V8 Audi S5, which I considered a German Mustang GT. Aside from being ruined by numb steering, it was a fun car despite being musclebound. Whoops, are we getting off topic?
Elliot James: "Having only found your blog a few months ago, and enjoying it very much, even with off topic subjects (to a point to be sure), I am mystified as to who Ctein is. I have seen the name (name?) but don't know who it is or what he does. How about a bio of sorts?
Oh, I read somewhere that he is writing a book with John Sanford. Now, I know who he is, and his real name. But who is Ctein?
Mike replies: We're totally mystified as well. I'm half convinced he's an alien, actually—and the only reason we don't know that is because he doesn't want us to know.
Ctein replies to Elliot: If I am a mystery, I am the most Googleable mystery on the planet! Seriously, dude, The Big G is your friend.
David: "Economists (God bless 'em) have an explanation for this—it's called declining marginal utility. Getting that first palace on the French Riviera is really great; but if you've already got five such palaces, getting another one is not really that useful to you. How many pairs of designer underpants do you need? How many can you wear at once? Getting my Oly E-M5 was a major advance over my ancient 4MP Canon; I don't really know what I would have to buy to get a similar amount of improvement over the Oly. As others have noted, 15MP or so is enough for almost all purposes.
"Unlike Kirk Tuck, I doubt anyone will offer me money to produce mega megapixel images. That said, the prospect of having 40MP at your disposal to take images of scenes like the one below (mosque, Isfahan) is attractive."