If some is good and more is better then too much should be just right. That certainly has been the trend when it comes to camera resolution. Canon just announced a pair of new EOS 5D models with 50 megapixel sensors. Since the Canon announcement, various rumor sites have been predicting new 50 megapixel cameras on the horizon from several manufacturers.
How much is enough? I don’t intend that to come across as curmudgeonly, but a serious question. About 18 years ago I met with executives from a camera company who were showing their latest digital camera. It was early in the days of digital and the camera had a 2 megapixel sensor. At the time there were some higher pixel counts coming out and sitting in a conference room at the office we asked if there would be a higher resolution model any time soon. The answer was something to the effect of 2 megapixels is enough for most people.
That story is reminiscent of the urban legend stories of Bill Gates saying that 640K should be enough for everyone (he never actually said this, but that hasn’t stopped it from being quoted to this day). Looking back on that 2-megapixel camera and the statement that it should be enough resolution for anyone inspires one to shake their head and chuckle. But here’s the thing…at the time it was a legitimate statement. There were only a couple of higher resolution models available and they had significant problems with power consumption (batteries that lasted about 10 minutes to a charge), on-board memory (Compact Flash was new and capacities were measured in megabytes), boot-up times (it took about 30-45 seconds from switching the camera on to being ready to shoot) and more. Also, once you had filled your memory card, you would have needed a relatively new computer with the latest processors and a lot of internal memory just to open the image. With all of that in mind, 2 megapixels was MORE than enough for most people.
Technology leapfrogs ahead and I sit here today marveling at 50 megapixel Canon DSLRs which are possible because all aspects of technology have leapt ahead. At the same time, the new Canons will have the same problems, relatively speaking. How long will the batteries last as the multiple on-board processors chug through files from a 50 megapixel sensor? If you have 64GB memory cards, they will get filled fast if you’re shooting raw files. Once you’ve filled the card you’ll feel the pain slow file transfers and the spinning rainbow of death if you aren’t working with relatively new hardware.
As nature photographers we are a primary motivation for camera manufacturers to come out with higher and higher res models. We’re on a never-ending quest for more detail in our photos and, more that any other group of enthusiasts, we like to make prints…big prints. Sure, more pixels, more problems, but thinking back to that early 2-megapixel camera from where we are today, I’m looking forward to the many technological leaps that will ultimately get us to 100 megapixels and more. Resolution will only be part of the story of photography when we get there. How else will we be able to make pictures and what else will we be able to do with them? –Christopher Robinson, Publisher/Editor