Cheap Camera Versus Expensive Camera, Part 2: The Prints

Cheap Camera Versus Expensive Camera, Part 2: The Prints

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article pitting the venerable Nikon D800 against a lowly Nikon D40x in a portrait shoot. The purpose of the article wasn’t to see if the D40x was as good as the D800 (it obviously isn’t), but to ascertain whether a beginner would be better off getting something cheap to start out with than starting with a behemoth of a camera.

I suspected that for web purposes, the D40x would be more than adequate. I was right. Of course the elephant in the room was, “Wouldn’t the D40x fall apart when it came to comparing prints?” I was truly shocked at the answer.

It was a resounding “meh.”

Prints of D800 versus D40x cameras

I printed out the six shots used to compare the cameras at 12"x18" using my printer of choice, ProDPI. I figured at that size I should be able to see the difference. Also, for my needs — magazine covers, headshots, model portfolios, weddings, and engagements — that size would cover 90 percent of my gigs. For the odd blown up wedding portrait, I knew that a 10-megapixel image would stand up just fine.

In a completely unscientific way, I showed the images to about 20 random people. Not one of them could say with certainly which print belonged to which camera. Most got one right, and statistically speaking that was bound to happen. By and large, though, when it came time to make their choices, most people just guessed.

What about an industry professional?

For that I turned to my colleague, Georgia Benjou. Benjou has worked in the fashion industry for almost 20 years, starting as a buyer and merchandiser for Hermes, Dolce & Gabbana, Christian Dior, and Chanel. She’s styled campaigns for Hyde Park Jewelers, The Brown Palace Hotel, and American Crew among others. She’s also the fashion editor for 5280 Magazine, one of the top five city publications in the country. Hundreds of images go through her on a weekly basis. She also receives many, many submissions every month for consideration in the magazine.

She couldn’t tell the difference.

And, here’s the important part: she didn’t care. The images were so close at that size that any difference was insignificant.

So what does this all mean? Get the camera that’s right for your budget. Don’t feel the need to save up for the be-all and end-all of cameras when you’re starting out. It just isn’t needed.


Nikon D3, bought after D800 versus D40x challenge

I really was surprised by these results. After all, the D800 was my camera. What should I do about it? I put my money where my mouth is: I sold the D800. I found a used Nikon D3 with low mileage on it, snapped it up, and haven’t looked back. My workflow has sped up, battery life is stupidly good, each file is 85 percent smaller, the camera is ridiculously fast, and I’m not choking trying to keep up with hard drive space. Life is good. If, for whatever reason, I need an ultra high megapixel camera, I’ll rent it. But for my day-to-day shooting, a 12-megapixel workhorse will do me just fine, thank you very much.

Perhaps more people need to evaluate their needs and determine if the camera they're using is really necessary. It wasn’t for me.

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Previous comments
Mitchell Sargent's picture

Maybe someone already mentioned this, but if you have a high mega pixel camera, can't you just shoot in jpeg and choose a lower quality (my A7R has 9mp, 15mp, and 36mp options)? That way the MP's are there when you want them...

Hans Rosemond's picture

oh sure, but why would you shoot in jpg? You lose a lot of the quality that you buy a D800 for...Unless you're shooting 10FPS sports, which the D800 can't do anyway. Kind of like buying a Porche and driving it at 35 most of the time.

People don't get what this article is about!!! We live in a world where bigger is always better ... Well no it isn't ... I have a d4s; d810 (for video mostly) and a D3... My favourite camera remains the D3. Yes it's lack a bit of high tech but hide the badges on the front and take some shots there is not that much between them in good light up to about 3200 them the newer camera comes into its own. Can I taken 90% of the same shots my word... Ppl get hang up with bigger is better that's why the world is so screwed. Top article Hans. Ignore the clowns. Ted

Justabeginner photographer's picture

I disagree. A cheap camera will never live up to a professional camera in terms of pixel count and dynamic range and NOISE. You didn't even post the pictures. I bet I can tell them apart. I'm a beginner which you can see by looking at my profile picture (picture was taken with a RebelT2i) and when comparing my raw files with the raw files of, say, Dani Diamond, mine lack contrast and richness. A full frame produces a creamier blur and you obviouslu have access to better and sharper lenses. Maybe the newer cameras are better but my old Rebel is not as good. And MP play a huge role even if you don't sell prints. It catches a lot more detail and when resizing it you can still zoom in all the way and see the eyes clearly. You basically made it sound like getting a professional camera is pointless.