As always, I would like to preface this article with a bit about my background in commercial photography as well as my technical knowledge, or lack thereof.
For 10 years, I shot with a 20-something-megapixel Canon full frame camera for 85% of my work. I was and still am very happy with the setup. When the jobs got really big, I rented a Phase One system. The smaller jobs started to slip away, and my new smallest clients wanted resolution, but they were not paying Phase One prices, so I looked into the Canon high-resolution system and picked up a secondhand body pretty cheap along with some lenses that would help resolve such a sensor. The majority of my commercial work is still life and food photography, and I think this is worth noting before you read the article.
For the sake of this article, I will classify high resolution as 50 megapixels or more, not for any real reason other than that is where the brands seem to be pitching. I am also not a gear-head, so I wont be using overly technical terms, but more talking about the realities of shooting with a high-resolution sensor.
Can You See The Difference?
In all honesty, no I can’t. The image quality in the real world, or at least my version of the real world, is just not there. There are more pixels, but that is about it. When printed as a full page advert in a magazine, you cannot tell the difference between the high-resolution sensor or my older cameras. On Instagram, you won't ever be able to tell the difference between various full frame cameras, and I assume this will go for the rest of the internet too. I did recently see a six sheet out in the real world, and I would say that this was ever so slightly better than my previous cameras used for this application, but at the same time, the colors were nowhere near what I can achieve for similar prints with even a 2005 Phase One back. In general, apart from the image being bigger, you don’t really get much more.
There are a few exceptions to this rule in my line of work. When shooting complicated flat lays with lots of little items, the higher resolution does render better clarity of the items. The two images below have been exported in the same way; one is from a high-resolution system and the other from a standard-resolution system.
Do You Need 50 Megapixels?
Probably not. Unless you are shooting for large prints, it is just a pain to deal with. However, I have since found that I even shoot web campaigns with it. I tell myself it is a just in case scenario, but in reality, it is my newest camera and I feel like I should use it, having spent so much money on it. I think the six sheet prints and point of sales prints are the only times I really get to using it to its full potential. I do also have the issue that art directors regally heavily crop into work, which I always managed in person before; now, I don’t worry about it, which is nice. I think it also has a strong application at weddings for those massive group portraits, but having seen the power my machines need to edit these files, I certainly wouldn’t want to shoot the entire day on them.
I was personally happy with 10 megapixels, and if the cameras from back then could still tether, I probably wouldn’t have upgraded, but Apple did something funny and it all stopped working. The higher resolution opens up a few doors to me commercially that really help, but it does come at a cost.
What Made Me Make The Purchase?
The decision to make this purchase was a mixture of financial gains and economy of time. Before this, I would make panoramic images with a tilt-shift lens if the client had low budget but big print aspirations; this actually saves me loads of time and effort being able to capture these clients' work with one single frame and not having to stitch them together in post. There is the added benefit of the live view being more accurate for the stylists, as they see the entire frame at once now. It also means that for jobs that sit in-between the midrange full frame DSLR and a Phase One, I can save my money and still give the client something that is suitable. For me, the purchase was purely business related. If this is your hobby and you love making massive prints or perhaps shoot wildlife and want to be able to make massive crops without losing resolution, this could also be a great investment for you. And finally, if you get pleasure out of zooming in to 100% to look at the detail and have an extra few thousand dollars burning a hole in your pocket, go get one of these cameras; you won't be disappointed.
What Are the Pros?
In my line of work, the main pros are the efficient workflow. I save a lot of time and have far fewer worries on shoots when it comes to high-resolution prints. It also saves me thousands per year in rentals of medium format systems as well as the worry of last-minute bookings where I might need a few more pixels in a pinch. The camera will become a workhorse in my studio until it either dies or a new print requirement is invented, which is pretty unlikely considering how many decades the current crop of requirements have been around in the UK for.
What Are The Cons
File size. They are obviously big, which isn’t really an issue for color-grading or general storage costs, but when you are doing some really heavy retouching, you are going to want to look to a better editing machine. My highly spec’d MacBook Pro doesn’t cut it with these files when we are about 10 layers into an edit, which isn’t something I really thought about, until it was a bit too late. The other major point to drill home here is that the image quality of Canon sensors since 2008 really hasn’t changed a notable amount. The bodies have had some improvements that in some (mostly weddings and sports) genres make a huge difference, but for me, since 2008, nothing has really changed in terms of image quality; there is just more image.
Have you moved up to the 50+ megapixel world of photography? If not, what has stopped you?