How Much Is Enough?

So Nikon has officially announced their new D800 camera with a whopping (some may say ridiculous) 36 megapixels. There seem to be two camps, those who can’t get enough pixels and those who think the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. The former are praising the new camera for its large pixel count, full frame sensor and (all things considered) fairly reasonable price.

However I find myself in the second camp and find that for my own photography the disadvantages far outweigh the advantage of the pixel count. Granted, I’m a wedding photographer and don’t make my living making large landscape prints. I need some very specific things in a camera – clean high ISO, fast auto focus in dark conditions, solid build to absorb daily knocks, and relatively small file sizes. The D800 is undoubtedly well built and from what I know of the auto focus system (the same as the new D4 uses) should work well. But the other two needs are left unmet.

High ISO – Okay, I am speculating based on what I know of general sensor performance, I’ve yet to dig into any actual D800 image files. However, all else being equal, as more photosites are crammed into a fixed sensor area signal-to-noise ratio suffers. Simply, more pixels means more noise at high ISO. As a wedding photographer that shoots in the dark at or above ISO 1600 for a good part of the day, this is something I take VERY seriously.

File Size – I don’t even need to speculate here, the files are going to be huge! I may end up with 1500+ photos by the end of the day which need to be stored on memory cards, then the hard drive, backed up twice, and finally processed and enhanced. There is a very real cost to larger files in terms of both money and time.

Print Size – I still make a lot of photos with my old Nikon D2H with its four megapixels of goodness. That’s right, four (4). While I don’t use it for weddings any longer because it gets noisy at high ISOs, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to make prints of 18×24 inches. I’ve done it, and the prints look sharp and detailed, even up close. I display a 24×36 inch wedding print of the Daniel Boon Peace Chapel made with an IR converted six (6) megapixel camera. I regularly crop and print 12×24 inch album spreads from my 12 megapixel cameras I use currently with zero complaints about detail or quality.

So, seriously, just how big is someone really going to print that they need 36 million pixels? Even with a crop? Statistically speaking, the vast majority of photos are never even printed, and those that are are rarely larger than 8×10 inches. I’ve made dynamite 8x10s from two megapixels.

When all is said and done, I’m sure the D800 will sell like mad. But it’s not likely to find its way into my wedding bag. I’ll stick with my D700 high ISO marvel.

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