Have We Reached Peak Megapixels?

The ever-increasing megapixel count in digital cameras is a trend that continues to shape the landscape of photography. While higher megapixels offer the potential for greater detail and flexibility in post-processing, they also introduce new challenges and considerations for photographers.

Coming to you from e6 | Craig Roberts, this insightful video delves into the evolution of digital cameras, focusing on the rise in megapixel counts and its implications for photographers. Roberts reminisces about his journey from a 1.2-megapixel compact digital camera to the latest Fuji X-T5 with a 40-megapixel sensor. He discusses how earlier cameras like the Canon 5D Mark I, despite having lower megapixels, were the landscape photographers' choice due to their full frame sensors and wide angle lenses. As Roberts progressed through various camera upgrades, he observed a shift in requirements from having to upscale images for online photo libraries with the Canon 5D Mark I to downsizing them with the 5D Mark II’s 21-megapixel files.

This evolution in camera technology poses a question central to modern photography: how many megapixels are enough? Roberts points out that while higher megapixel counts allow for more cropping flexibility, they bring a lot overhead and issues. He notes that with his Fuji X-T5, he frequently crops images to his preferred formats, effectively utilizing the higher megapixel count. However, this also raises issues around workflow, as higher-resolution images demand more powerful computing resources for processing and storage.

The discussion emphasizes that while high megapixels offer certain benefits, they may not be necessary or even advantageous for every photographer. As technology continues to evolve, photographers must consider their specific needs and the practical implications of working with high-megapixel cameras, balancing the lure of technology with the essence of their craft. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Roberts. 

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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When an Art Director presents a brief that needs to be shot for 16x9 vertical social, but also be able to crop down to a horizontal 36x4 banner, there's no such thing as too much resolution.

Yes, and 99% of entusiasts here will not ever face this issue ;)

99.9% of all shooters!

20-30mpx is the sweet spot for most. Enough to crop down to 4k and not too much to be a burden for storage, processing, buffers etc. Around 50mpx is sweet spot for landscapes and some wildlife, to be able to crop in instead of heavy super teles.

24mpx suits me well at the moment.

I’m glad your happy but if you’ve examined 100mp GFX files they’re almost exhilarating, all that detail you could never see at the time, sharpness, depth, quality, colours. Let’s not deliberately limit the quality of images that we can achieve

There are so many interconnected pieces of technology preventing more megapixels being useful at the moment, as well as a political/environmental agenda.

Most digital cameras produce work which is itself viewed digitally.
So you then hit the maximum resolution of televisions and monitors. 1920x1080 or full HD is 2 megapixels, 3840x 2160 or 4K is only 8 megapixels. 7680 x 4320 or 8K is 32 megapixels.
8K televisions/ monitors are rare for reasons of a couple of pieces of technology shortfalls, one being the processing power of televisions, but arguably the biggest is currently bandwidth to transmit or stream 8K.
Then there is the political and environmental Carbon net zero drive, and the spiralling costs of energy, so reducing energy consumption is the new Mantra.

Faster more powerful processors pushing larger and larger volumes of data around to produce the same end result of a moving picture that pleases the human eye, will require more and more energy.

Given that the human eye isn’t evolving at the same rate as camera sensors pixel counts you hit diminishing returns.

So the megapixel race very much like Intels processor GHz race looks doomed to failure. Unless you think a combined Television/Toaster/room heater will find a ready market.

Megapixels is only part of it. There can be more advancements made internally but those usually aren't as market hype worthy, no numbers to advertise at least the haven't figure it out, that the layman can quantify, last year it was 4 now it's 5,so it's better because 5 is high than 4 lol

I wouldn't say 20-24 megapixels or even 40-62 megapixels is peak. But after 12-16 megapixels, most use cases for most kinds of photography have been well met. So sensor design went in other directions. We got BSI sensors, more light per pixel, and then stacked sensors (whuch are always BSI as well) for on-chip processing and faster readouts. Canon went to two photodiodes per pixel long ago for their dual pixel autofocus, and the OM-1 you mention has quad pixel autoficus, 80 million photodiodes. With a different color filter array they could have made it 80 megapixels, but advancing autofocus and improving light sensitivity over their aging FS sensors was more important.

I do think the the would allow 40 megapixels on 4/3 sensors and 100+ megapixels on full frame, but you do have to acknowlegde that's a specialty camera these days, likely making compromises in other areas.

Shooting both Sony and Olympus I have to say I prefer the size of the OM files but would like to have around 30mp instead of the 20mp in the OM1.

The 20mp files means many more shots on a 128gb SD card and faster buffer processing for video or multi shot bursts on a 256gb card plus easier / faster loading on my Mac and in PP. However it's easy nowadays to upscale those files due to the quality of modern upscaling programs, when required.

That said I'd still prefer 30 or 36MP (as per my old A7r2) over both the 20mp of the OM1 or 60mp of the A7r5 to reduce the amount of upscaling required when cropping into the smaller files. To say nothing of the smaller amount of storage space required.

I've seen this same discussion since the introduction of 10 megapixel cameras.

I happily shoot GFX at 100mp but there’s no evidence the lenses could go further. My canon R5 is downright poor on my 28-70mm f2 at 45mp at wider apertures, with the 70-200mm 2.8 doing better especially stopped down. I certainly wouldn’t buy a canon over 45mp because I don’t believe their L lenses could cope with it. Before that I had a 61mp Sony with GM primes what was okay but I wouldn’t say it was great at apertures 2.8 and wider. I agree with this articles view, my personal opinion is full frame optics aren’t up to more megapixels

It's an absurd question: too many megapixels for what format/sensor size?

You can't change physics: you need a certain amount of light per pixel to get a good/clear image in low light.

The "sweet spot" for APS-C sensors seems to be 20-25mp, full frame from 25-40mp, and medium up to 100mp.
Too many megapixels/high pixel density comes at the cost of low-light performance and noise when you inevitably have to overcompensate by boosting the signal. Too many pixels and you have larger file sizes that also limit high fps of things like fast animals/sporting events.

Panasonic's micro four thirds may be great for video in bright sunlight or well lit rooms, but many photographers stick to fast primes to compensate for low-light performance.

There's an obvious reason the flagship cameras from Nikon and Canon aren't at the bleeding edge of pixel density; clear - low light photography and FPS performance is the reason why.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III: 20mp, released in 2020
Canon EOS R3: 24mp, released 2021

Nikon D6: <21mp released 2020

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This debate is as old as digital photography. While about 15 years ago the consensus was 8 or 12 megapixels are enough, today nobody wants a camera with less than 20 megapixels. If you told somebody back then that there are gonna be APS-C cameras with 30-40 megapixels, people would've laughed. Technology moves on and brings always new tricks that allow more pixels on a sensor or lenses to resolve more resolution. We already have smartphones with 108 megapixels, so it probably won't be long until this pixel density will make it to APS-C and full frame. And as it looks 30 MP will be the new 24 megapixels, soon.