The Bigger Picture
Camera makers pile on the megapixels.
The rapid evolution of digital mirrorless camera technology is giving photographers more choices than ever for better photographic possibilities.
One of the recent trends among camera makers is to pack more pixels into larger sensors, resulting in higher resolution images. Pixels are the “building blocks” of a digital image and are the electronic equivalent of the grain in traditional film.
Most of these newer full-frame sensors can contain anywhere from 45 million to 65 million pixels (a million pixels is a megapixel). There are even higher-resolution specialized cameras on the market in the 100 MP range, but they generally have much larger sensors and accordingly are much more expensive. For now, that 45-65 MP range with a full-frame sensor is the sweet spot for anyone needing (or just wanting) an extremely sharp photo. For video shooters, an added benefit is that most of the newer sensors can also yield high-quality 4K and even 8K video.
But how many megapixels do you really need in a camera? For comparison, most current mirrorless cameras offer something in the 18-24 MP range, and even the latest camera phones are around 12 MP — all of which is still overkill for the way most images are usually viewed, which is typically for web or social media use on a computer monitor where the average screen needs only around 2 MP of display resolution.
There are basically two reasons for moving to a larger and higher-resolution sensor. First, the added resolution plays an important role in the maximum size you can print your pictures, allowing for gorgeous enlargements, even up to wall-sized murals that still contain good detail. Second, the additional pixels allow you the flexibility of cropping into a photo (or video) to a greater degree for recomposing the image without worrying about losing detail.
However, more megapixels can bring some disadvantages. Notably, the higher pixel resolution combined with the larger sensor dimensions can result in equally larger file sizes. This not only puts a higher demand on storage, requiring larger memory cards, hard drives and backup storage, but also on the computer processing power needed to work with those files. Additionally, more megapixels usually means that each pixel has to be smaller to pack them all into the frame. As a rule, this means that the smaller pixel isn’t quite as efficient at gathering light as a larger pixel, leading to poorer low-light performance.
Here are a few of the current full-frame and high-megapixel cameras from the major companies.
CANON EOS R5 • $3,899
Canon’s EOS R5 is a full-frame mirrorless camera featuring a newly developed 45 MP CMOS sensor, offering 8K raw video recording and up to 20 frames per second silent continuous shooting with an electronic shutter. It’s the first EOS camera to feature five-axis sensor-shift image stabilization. Of particular interest to wildlife photographers is Canon’s animal-eye autofocus feature.
Sony Alpha a7R IV • $2,988
Sony’s Alpha a7R IV still reigns as the highest megapixel full-frame mirrorless camera with its 61 MP Exmor sensor and enhanced BIONZ X processor, which afford the ability to record up to 10 frames per second shooting speed and UHD 4K video. The revised sensor uses a Fast Hybrid autofocus system for notably fast eye autofocus and tracking performance as well as five-axis SteadyShot image stabilization.
Nikon’s Z7II • $2,999
Nikon’s Z7II sports a high-resolution 45.7 MP FX-format BSI CMOS sensor and dual EXPEED 6 image processors, which offer a faster 10 fps continuous shooting and up to UHD 4K 60p video. Its five-axis, in-body vibration reduction, coupled with human and animal eye and face detection, helps ensure tack-sharp images. Also, with the elimination of the traditional low-pass filter in front of the sensor, greater image detail can be achieved.
Top Earl Nottingham | TPWD; all other courtesy manufacturer