Yesterday I started talking about resolution in modern DSLRs, and today I am going to continue on that theme. A few years ago, just about all the cameras on the market had 12MP sensors, which was an improvement on the previous generation of 8MP and 6MP sensors, which gave photographers an improvement in the level of detail that could be captured. At the same time we saw a reduction in the amount of noise that appeared in high ISO images, and the arrival of 35mm (Full Frame/FX) sized sensors in DSLRs.
Today, 12MP sensors are still being used by a number of camera manufactures, while others have moved on to 14MP, 15MP and 18MP sensors in crop sensor bodies. Then of course we have the 21MP and 24MP full frame DSLRs. The Canon T2i and 7D prove that there is room for improvement in crop sensors in terms of noise, while still having room to increase resolution. Canon didn't really improve noise performance, but they did manage to keep the noise levels of an 18MP sensor at the same level the current crop of Nikon 12MP sensors, which have seen a number of improvements since they started using them back in 2006. The question is, can we make lenses to take advantage of all those mega pixels? Most of the lenses designed for crop sensor cameras are being out resolved by the sensor, which means we loose detail, because the lens cannot see it!
Some photographers that I've talked to about this subject say that we need even more MP, because they need larger prints. That may be true in today's world think, but I think we'll see a decline in prints in the years to come. Digital image frames will with time replace prints all together, so we might see a shift in how we transmit images to clients, friends and family. This transition is already apparent in many middle class families, who's homes already have at least one or two digital photo frames. As the photo frames improve we'll need more resolution, but until that becomes cost effective, most photo frames will have pixel counts much lower than our cameras can output.
Another reason to want more resolution is the ability to crop an image more, and still have a printable/displayable image at a reasonable size. That is one area where having 18MP + sensors can come in handy. I know some people will say that if we frame our images better we wont have to crop, but lets face it there are various reasons why people have to crop images, so that argument doesn't hold any merit, from my point of view. I can think of a few reasons off hand why having resolution for cropping can be important. First, entry level DSLRs do not have 100% viewfinders, which means object that were not intended to be in the frame, end up being in the image. When you are looking through a viewfinder your eye gets locked into that box at times, and it can be easy to forget that the sensor may be capturing more than what you can see. Secondly, wildlife and nature photographers can never get close enough to their subjects, so having room to crop an image can be important in crafting the images they want to create.
I have more thoughts on this subject, and I'll have more to post in the near future.