I Purchased a High-Resolution Camera: Was It Worth It?

I Purchased a High-Resolution Camera: Was It Worth It?

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?

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44 Comments

Yep, bought GFX-50S. Although I enjoy shooting with it, it's not a "must have" for me. Instead, I just jumped into MF wagon when I could afford (and not resist the temptation).

While it does provide great "crop"ability, unless you print big, it doesn't matter.

Even though it's not adding any more than X-T3 to my photography (hobbiest), it does make me smile when I pixel peep :-D

Scott Choucino's picture

That is as sound a reason as any to get involved in the high megapixels

ha ha ha... true, especially with hobbiests. However, who knows how things will evolve and maybe one day Edmonton city will request one of my best shot for some advertisement purpose :-D

user-206807's picture

The real difference you will have only using a view camera, like this one:
https://sinar.swiss/products/cameras/p3-df-en-us/

Scott Choucino's picture

That is a dream rig for my studio. One day maybe.

user-206807's picture

I wish your dream will become a reality!!

Blake Aghili's picture

I have a Sinar F1 ..... BUT on FILM ... oh well

Rk K's picture

It's not just print actually. 4k screens are fairly common already and 8k will be around in a couple of years as well. If a photo has a lot of colour variation/detail, and it's lower resolution (20-25mp sensor cropped to 16:9) it already bothers me on larger 4k monitors. The bayer cfa means 1/3rd colour resolution of course.

If you want better image quality or faster computers though - you'll just have to look at other brands.

Magnus Hedemark's picture

How do you figure? 4K TV is 3840×2160. A pretty common Fujifilm X-T3 is making 6240 x 4160 images.

Rk K's picture

I just explained the colour resolution. Then you loose a lot because the lens isn't perfectly sharp, noise reduction, post processing, keystoning, cropping, etc. It's fine if you can set up the scene, lighting and shoot from a tripod, but in anything but perfect conditions it just doesn't look anywhere near as good as a 40mp+ camera.

Also, the xt3 is the highest resolution apsc camera in existence (but has even lower colour resolution), I wouldn't say pretty common.

The only time I could justify the purchase is if I walk into a Peter Lik gallery and standing next to a 6 foot high print, suddenly get a pang of jealousy.

Magnus Hedemark's picture

We’ve been good on megapixels for years. Improvements in dynamic range have been far more impactful.

michaeljin's picture

I have had the D810, D850, A7RIII, and the Z7 so I suppose I haven't moved up to high resolution photography... What has stopped me? Apparently, not being a Canon shooter.

Eric Salas's picture

Your 42mp A7riii is considered high resolution to almost anyone.

michaeljin's picture

"For the sake of this article, I will classify high resolution as 50 megapixels or more"

LOL! Interesting place to draw the cut-off, no?

Eric Salas's picture

I’m with you on that one. 50 is a weird place considering I only know of a handful of cameras offering that many MPs.
I don’t think I’ll ever need or want anymore than what my A7riii gives me.

Scott Choucino's picture

I have only shot Canon and Phase One and 50mega pixels in the new market seems to be the starting point of high resolution for them. I think Canon offers something around 35 mp. I haven't used any other brands of cameras nor do I know the specs they offer.

michaeljin's picture

There are only two 50+ megapixel full frame cameras on the market as of this writing. Both of them are by Canon and both of them are 4 years old now.

Rob Mitchell's picture

I have the D850 and Z7 in my bag. I don't even think of resolution anymore.
Then I get the odd client who asks for full resolution files, which I cordially zip-up and Wetransfer to them. Shorty followed up by a message from them.
"Hey, WTF, I can't open them on my iPhone, what the heck resolution is that?"

I shrug, they asked for high res, they got it. Me, It's just part and parcel of daily work, very handy for monster crops too.

michaeljin's picture

According to the article, you don't have a high resolution camera. :P

Rob Mitchell's picture

Maybe I'm past all that pixel counting/peeping nonsense? I tried a GFX, was not a patch on the D850 for usability and for what, 50mp? not worth the effort over the Nikon either. Medium format high res?
I've got better and more useful things to spend my money on. Besides, I have the Gigapan rig for properly high res if needed. Funnily enough set it up today for the D850 for a job on Thursday. 14th floor whoppares of Antwerp city.

MF is different style of shooting and works for studio portraits, landscape, architecture and anything else that doesn't move quick (frame rate issues). FF is best for all the above aspects and sports. But then, unless you are in (1) fashion industry, (2) landscape or (3) enthusiast with money, MF is not a "want".

Rob Mitchell's picture

(4) Status thing.

True, brag rights... Although it's funny that some of the professional photographers I know (women mostly) didn't know about MF and so I had to explain (there goes my brag rights...)

But yeah, brag rights is one of em

Robert Teague's picture

Just because the author says 50MP, doesn't necessarily mean that 45.7MP isn't high resolution.

michaeljin's picture

I figured that part was obvious from my remarks, but thank you for putting it in plain terms.

haha noticed the same, the last years clients tend to ask for less and less resolution, because everyone seams to unlearn anything computer related and 98% of the times it will be on web and especially mobile. online galleries to discuss and select images with the client have to work 100% on an iphone will all functions.

I believe when they ask "high resolution" they are expecting HDR-like output and not really the file size. Most of em don't understand, use the photos on digital photo frames, mobile, computer and come across those terms and so they use the terms.

Rob Mitchell's picture

Best is when they say the need to print 5metres wide and need 300dpi.

michaeljin's picture

I've actually had to do this once and it was a real bitch of a stitching job and a nightmare to edit because of the file size.

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