Will Using a Higher-Resolution Camera Improve Your Images?

Will Using a Higher-Resolution Camera Improve Your Images?

Whether we admit it or not, we are living in the best era for photographers as the constant technological improvement undeniably uplifts the entire ecosystem, making the entire image-making process easier. Everything from capturing the moment to medium output can now be made within seconds. And with convenience comes the expectation to scratch an itch you never knew existed. One of them will be surrounding the myth of resolution. Specifically, having more resolution will somehow magically improve the quality of your images.

The journey to understanding resolution is more than a technical odyssey. It is the bridge that connects the photographer's vision to the final image output. Imagine resolution not just as a collection of pixels, but as a photographer’s capability to capture intricate details into your composition with higher resolving power. Yet, if we take a step back, an image can be made regardless of the amount of resolution we have. An image with great composition still has a great composition whether it is shot with a phone, a full frame camera, or even a medium format digital back with 100 megapixels.

That being said, a photographer should be clear about the concept and outcome of an image to decide if resolution is going to be a determining factor for the result to be different. This is because some subjects clearly do not benefit from more resolution, as they do not have much detail to begin with. For example, an image of a foggy scene or an image of clouds. On the other hand, if you have an image of a breathtaking landscape during the golden hour with an interesting interplay of light and shadow, then having a higher resolution on hand becomes your accomplice in preserving every detail in the scene.

However, like any tool in the hands of a craftsman, having higher resolution is not without its nuances. The increased file size can pose challenges for storage space and the processing power required to handle those files. Not to mention, the equipment required to harness the full potential of higher resolution may demand a more significant investment, leading to a decision point that requires thoughtful consideration. Also, if you do not have enough shoot discipline and workflow to harness the resolution properly, all you will be getting are files with silly amounts of size and the megapixels that you paid for being robbed by the blurriness of your photo due to subject blur or even a lens with insufficient resolving power.

Yes, the benefits may be tangible, and having all the resolution is fun, but deploying it in a meaningful way that improves your work can be quite challenging. Unless the output of your work is limited by the resolution of the camera you currently have, you might not need a camera with a higher resolution, as they do not help to improve your work directly.

Therefore, the next time you have the urge to get a new camera, ask yourself these questions: Can the new gear solve your current limitation? If yes, what are the new limitations it introduced into your workflow? Do you have the skill sets and shoot discipline to deploy the resolution in a meaningful way to extract all the positive gains? If not, you may probably need to upgrade your skill set first. Lastly, if your answer to the above questions is no, then ask yourself whether you are a photographer or a camera collector first.

Zhen Siang Yang's picture

Yang Zhen Siang is a commercial photographer specialising in architecture, food and product photography. He help businesses to present themselves through the art of photography, crafting visually appealing and outstanding images that sells.

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I admit it, I go for the upper end of the pixel count on my devices. It is especially because I like to crop more than change lenses. This is provided that the device produces great results at the desired crop level. I personally feel that I was able to produce decent photography at 24 megapixels but that required more lenses for greater reach and more careful or unforgiving composition. I found 18 megapixels too limiting back 10-15 years ago and really wasn't happy until I got my first 24 megapixel camera. But these days I can sometimes be happy with 12 megapixel output of an excellent smartphone camera and processing, at least for casual shots.
My current sweet spot is with my Sony 61 megapixel body or the S23 Ultra in 50 megapixel mode 4-pixel binning. Anyway, everyone here will have a completely unique opinion. Excellent pro photographers here seem quite happy with their 20 or 24 megapixel camera bodies and enthusiastically state that it is the skilled photographer and not the device that best determines quality outcomes. I guess I feel it is both. Great tools help a whole lot. Higher resolution gives you options in post-processing that low res images do not.

What a great way to sum up the entire article and you are very right. Ultimately it is up to the photographer himself that dictates the outcome. I was privilege to using a high megapixel camera throughout more than half of my career as a photographer and I always recommended it as the result looks so much more better than a 12-16mp camera which I started with. Until recently, I pop back into purchasing a 24mp camera and started loving every bit of it. Specifically relieving the stress needed for the technicality to harness all the megapixels and also the stress from the file size itself. I was also more carefree into creating experimental work with it (sort of a break from actual work). I guess at the end of the day to me what works is having a "leisure" camera with lower mp and a "proper" work camera with high mp for all the processing flexibility that comes after.

Thanks for reading and your valuable input again, Hector!

Thanks for this comment, spares me a lot of time to try and come up with close to the same result :-)

That said, my experience is that lens quality is highly underrated, even with self-acclaimed professionals. I develop debayering/demosaing software and pipeline-systems mostly for images and while I can deal with most sensor-/resolution related issues, even at higher performance, lens defects are a PITA. Brown3, which is the most common approximation for coefficients-based undistortion, never "fully gets it", if you are looking for prestine quality.
Why would that be of any interest? Because, higher pixel resolution only works in your advantage if your optics can make use of it. You gain nothing, if the higher pixel resolution only "improves" on the number of chromatic aberation errors (pixels) or gives you a "sharper misalignment".

To me, 24 Megapixel are kind of the sweet spot where even mediocre optics can work good enough, where you most often don't run into light issues (noise is another real pain) and where even some cropping is absolutely doable. With higher resolution, what I see in my profession is (felt like) 90% "better problems", not "better pictures".

I do agree, that 50 Megapixel binned gives you a lot of freedom - and the choice to not bin, if lenses allow. But if pushed against a gun, I'd go for 24-30 anytime, with 30/32 - with my amateur lenses - still showing more detail at acceptable noise rates, but often not justifying the price bump ;-)

Very true! We will most likely spend most of the time fixing issues and working among limitations just to harness a better quality images when using higher megapixels for work stuffs

Great article, thanks.

Thanks for reading Ken!

I went from a 7D to a R7. Higher resolution absolutely improved my photos. Other technology like lower light capabilites and the best AF on the planet by any brand has made a huge difference. Yes, my work is excellent but comparing 7D to R7 is night and day improvement. And resolution is at the top of the list.

yes it definitely will if resolution matters in your line of work and also if you have the skill to harness the best out of it. No doubt that technology has made the process of imaging a lot easier to produce a high quality image but ultimately the fundamentals of a good image should be build on delivering the photographers vision instead of technicality which I am sure yours are looking at how you have hold onto your 7D for so long. Amazing! Pretty sure the leap in technology will be extremely useful for you.

One thing to consider is also, the amount of resolution and clarity in the viewing screen that we all have today is so high that displaying an image with lesser megapixels makes them look inferior.. what a time to live in to be making photographs. We could almost enjoy all the megapixels even without printing out the images.