What Are the Bare Minimum Specs a Camera Should Have?

What Are the Bare Minimum Specs a Camera Should Have?

We’re frequently told megapixels don’t matter, but what if they do? Photographer and industry analyst Thom Hogan makes the argument that there is a minimum baseline that camera companies are inching toward, and there’s a few that aren't meeting that bar that could be in trouble.

Hogan takes a look at the lineups of eight major camera companies and posits that the minimum entry point that camera manufacturers seem to be setting is a 24 megapixel, full-frame camera for around the $2,000 price point, with the budget option being 24-megapixel APS-C cameras at about $1,000.

Indeed, looking at the three biggest manufacturers, that watermark can get you a Canon EOS 6D Mark II, a Nikon D750, or a Sony a7 III. In many cases, you’ll often find the first two of those cameras well under that $2,000 price point during very frequent sales.

It’s strange to think about 24 megapixels as an entry point. In 2008, I was shooting with an old 3-megapixel Canon D30 and a 10-megapixel Rebel XTi just fine, but now, I often find myself not being able to enlarge much (or at all) on a 27-inch Retina display looking at files from those cameras. Even my workhorse Nikon D700 is starting to feel the pinch at 12 megapixels. For reference, if you wanted to use a still photo in a 4K video, you’d need at least 8 megapixels, or 33 megapixels for 8K. Ouch. It means that in the future even these current 24-megapixel cameras will feel constrained when it comes to cropping or viewing on large monitors.

Hogan takes a look at every manufacturer and where they sit on the scale. He points out that Micro Four Thirds are at the most serious disadvantage with this metric, although others such as Fujifilm and Pentax face some challenges as well. When you really think about it, this would even rule out cameras like a 1D X Mark II or a Nikon D5, if going strictly by the numbers. I've personally found 30-ish megapixels to be the sweet spot for me, where the files are large enough for cropping and most other applications, while not slowing down my computers for editing.

Check out his article to read about which cameras meet the bar and which don’t and read some more thoughts on the situation. Do you think he’s right about where the entry level starts? Where do you think it starts?

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42 Comments

Matt Williams's picture

I wouldn't call 24MP the bare minimum spec (for me) - hell, I still love my old D700, which I use alongside my 36MP D810.

But I would say 24MP is by far the most *common* resolution on the market. You have everything from your sub-1k cameras to some top of the line cameras (a9) with 24MP. Then you have more expensive cameras that either go beyond this (D850, a7r III, 5dsr) or a bit lower (D5, a7s, 1DX) for various specific reasons.

But a majority of cameras have settled at the sweet spot of 24MP, precisely because it is a sweet spot: looks good on paper, still allows some cropping room but not too large of files, etc.

For me, somewhere around 16MP is about the bare minimum spec resolution-wise, maybe even 12MP. Like I said, I still love my D700, and I loved the a7s when I had one, but with today's technology like BSI, I'd say more like 16-20MP. Though, for studio work or tripod work, I pull out the D810.

Michael Jin's picture

I'd put the number somewhere between 12-16MP at least until 8K screens become a common thing. Add in that I think every camera should have dual memory card slots with MATCHING FORMATS AND PERFORMANCE, and tilting screen, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and inputs for a mic and headphone.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

I remember when I shot .8 megapixels all day every day and they looked great on my 640x480 14-inch monitor. Boy do I wish I had more now. Starting to feel that way with 12 mp cameras now.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

AMEN to the last part. It annoyed me to no end how slow my 5D Mark III's SD card slot was. Made using Eye-Fi a much slower shooting experience than it needed to be. Though in current generation cameras you're not seeing that as much. Also all the other stuff too! I never knew how much I'd appreciate tilting screen, Wi-Fi, etc. until I go back to cameras that don't have it.

Michael Jin's picture

I'm just miffed that my D850 for some inexplicable reason has 1 XQD slot and 1 SD UHS-II slot... Why the hell would you design a camera to take two different memory card formats at once? Either make them both XQD or make them both SD. >.<

Just because the manufacturers are settling at certain points does not mean that is gospel.
I use both a Canon 5DsR and a mkIV but I still use my FZ1000 (20MP) and my GX7 (16MP) for some commercial jobs.
Frankly, I love how I can whip through a batch of smaller files and still get images clients find delightful.

I actually have images on billboards from the FZ and both my smaller camera have acquitted themselves well for even magazine publication and decent print enlargements up to 16x20.

John Dawson's picture

One notch above the model line of your current camera. Wait four months then rinse and repeat. :-)

Jerome Brill's picture

Any MP as long as it offers good low light and dynamic range. Those two are more important than anything else. Although if you want to print with some decent quality and have the ability to crop a little, 24mp+.

This “expert” really never makes a convincing explanation as to why 24MP should be the minimum “baseline”resolution. The real problem is that we have too many of those “experts” on the internet. Most cameras as just fine for what they are designed to do, thank you.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Thom Hogan is definitely the real deal.

Whatever deal he is, this article is completely baseless. His arbitrary minimum resolution has no technological foundation. He’s just blowing hot air ...

Might be because you read the article thinking it answered the question: "what should a camera have from a USER point of view".

The article answers the question: "what do MANUFACTURERS set as their baseline and want to push to consumers".

Not at all the same story. Don't criticise the article for not saying what it is not intended to say.

Matt Williams's picture

Thom Hogan is indeed the real deal and knows his stuff, but this particular article of his is pretty confusing and never arrives at any kind of real point.

Like I said above, 24MP is not the bare minimum spec, it is the MOST COMMON. You have speciality cameras with less (for sports, lowlight), and speciality cameras above (for those who need more resolution), but a majority of cameras fall in the middle at 24MP. Primarily because it looks good on paper, doesn't overload the average person with unnecessary resolution, doesn't tax the lenses capabilities too hard, doesn't hit diffraction limits as quickly, and is cost effective. Especially given that - aside from Canon - pretty much all companies use Sony sensors, and Sony makes a ton of 24MP sensors.

The cameras with less than 24MP are not cameras that generally appeal to the average consumer; they're specialist cameras like the a7s, Df, 1DX Mark II, D500, etc.

I think 24MP will remain the most common resolution for quite a while - it's a good sweet spot both for FF and APS-C. But this doesn't mean it is the "bare minimum" requirement for a camera.

Krzysztof Kurzaj's picture

As legit as Thom is I would guess he is mostly perceiving things from the perspective of industry/manufacturers and not from perspective of end users. We may have been told the megapixel race ended few years ago but it is actually far from that. Every new camera rumor brings more speculations as to whenever new megapixel count barier will be broken. People just have it in their blood; they cannot help themselves. Ironically plenty of those end users rarely crop their photos or publish outside of social media which is experienced mostly on small screens of mobile electronics. This means even 24MP is an overkill. But companies need to sell new cameras so even entry level DSLRs sport 24MP sensors today.

Now if we talk about actual needs of the non-pro end users (of which needs they may not be fully aware) for purpose of publishing but also editing and storing the files, I would say 12-16MP is plenty. I have a 24x36 in canva print of a photo made with 6MP Nikon D40. It looks just fine, trust me. I could probably even sell it if I wanted to.

So when Thom says that 24MP is the minimum he is really talking about minimum that companies have to maintain in order to survive in this spoiled market. Bare minimum specs for a person that actually WANTS TO PHOTOGRAPH are entirely different story :)

Absolutely: the article is about what MANUFACTURERS set as a baseline to be able to market a product.

Nobody said USERS needed 24MP.

If you read Thom on a regular basis, you've certainly read that the D3S is still sufficient for many, depending on their needs. With 12MP...

Krzysztof Kurzaj's picture

I still remember the days when D3s "The Prince of Darkness" was a wet dream of many photographers. Mine as well :)

Alexander C. Scheffer's picture

I think your right there is a minimum for people that work professional and we do need more megapixels for the new 8k medium. Now I am still happy with my 5d mark II but. In future I will looking for a 30-50 Megapixel camera.

Jacques Cornell's picture

There are many kinds of "professional" photography, and MOST of them can be done well with a 12MP D700. Very few folks are actually shooting $50,000 ad campaigns for mural-size in-store displays.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Alexander, would you kindly offer an intelligent explanation instead of just downvoting?

Matthias Kirk's picture

Shooting mostly sports, I would't want to have my RAW-files any larger than 20MP. When handling several thousand images after a typical shoot less becomes more for me.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Good point. I shoot corporate events, typically 600-2400 shots in an evening or day. My partner briefly had a D800 but replaced it with a D750 because the 36MP RAWs were choking his computer and were gross overkill.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Alexander, what's your problem with this simple statement of fact?

Hans Rosemond's picture

It’s funny, I was just going through some old weddings, looking for social media fodder, and I pulled out a few images that i had forgotten about. The quality was beautiful, and I remember printing nice, large prints from those weddings. Just out curiosity I checked what camera I was using at the time. Almost all of them we’re from a Nikon D3. 12 MP. I was floored. Going over the files with a more discerning eye, I could see that the dynamic range wasn’t quite as good as what I’m used to with modern cameras. But the overall images? Wonderful. Did the D3 get the job done? Absolutely. The camera got out of the way and let me do my job. Don’t get so tied up in specs that you ignore what really makes a photo good: you.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

I’ve had 4 mp images from a D2H plastered on the side of a bus, so there’s that, but certainly I like having the extra resolution handy!

Hans Rosemond's picture

Ha! Oh definitely. I like the modern cameras plenty. But I don’t think that makes some older cameras any less effective as a “minimum.” A 2006 Toyota will get ya there just as well as a 2018.

Lee Stirling's picture

If 24MP APS-C cameras for $1000 is the budget option price point, then why do Nikon and Canon sell so many of the 24MP APS-C entry level cameras like D3400 or T7 for $500 or less? If these entry-level options are heading toward elimination, then what it signifies is camera manufacturers willingness to raise the price bar for entry into photography. Of course you will be able to find many quality used options for well under this $1000 price barrier, if you want to dip your toes into photography as a novice, but it would show what the camera companies really think of beginners.

Matt Williams's picture

I'm not sure why he said the budget option for APS-C is around $1000. That is clearly not at all true. There are tons of 24MP models from every company under 1k brand new. Literally no idea what that statement is supposed to mean, but it is clearly not true. And I don't think those sub-1k cameras are going anywhere.

user-189304's picture

Isn't the answer to this question entirely dependant upon intended application?

Edit: +1 on the D700

12MP will produce a perfectly acceptable 20 x 30. Also, there's something to be said for a 8.4 micron pixel pitch.

No, that's the answer to a different question.

The article answers "what do manufacturers want to set as the low bar in their current camera range".

Wasim Ahmad's picture

I wish the priority of the manufacturer's matched the priority of the users a little better sometimes.

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