Is 50 Mega Pixels too much?

Do you need all this resolution? Why and when do you need it?


The original article was written when Zoom Studio was named Aguiar Photography.

In my commercial photography business, I always try to have the best equipment for the job and Canon has just released the Canon 5D-S with a 50.6-megapixel full-frame sensor. Firstly, I would like to say that I do not have any business relationship with Canon and I am not sponsored by Canon. I have been using Canon cameras for a long time. I used film cameras such as the Canon AE1, A1, and T90 as well as a long list of digital cameras.

A few weeks ago, I received a 5DS and a 5DS-R from Canon Melbourne (Canon Professional Services) to test and choose which model would be best for us in the studio. I selected the 5DS as it is a more versatile camera.

This post is not about the new features or the comparison between the two models. It is a practical test comparing images from a Canon 5D Mark 3 with 22 megapixels and the 5D S with 50 megapixels. The objective is to see if we have practical advantages using the new camera.

The test was to photograph a simple but detailed object using the same lens, location, angle, and exposure and only change the body of the camera from the 5D MK 3 to 5D S. The second part is to inspect both images and compare the results.

Firstly, you can see the two images without any cropping. You can click on the image to see it larger. These are 1200 px wide Jpg images.

5D MK3 Full Image
5D MK3 Full Image
5DS Full Image
5DS Full Image

Canon 5DS full-frame image

Observation 1:

Looking at these two photos, when they are reduced to a web-friendly size and JPG compressed, there is not any significant advantage from one camera to the other.

That is only true if you know that you will only need these images in relatively small sizes such as the ones currently used on the web and will not need them any significantly larger. Ever.

Let’s see these two images at 100 % view. That means the “print” size.

The Canon 5D MK III is really a great camera and you can read a lot of what is in the posters. Click on the image to see it larger.

The Canon 5D S at the same 100% view presents a larger image. Note that these two images were not sharpened.

5D MK 3 at 100 Zoom
5D MK 3 at 100 Zoom

This is the 5DS 100% View after a sharpened filter is applied. Click on the images and see if you can read the small print.

5DS at 100 Zoom
5DS at 100 Zoom

Observation 2:

The 100% view shows already the amount of extra information that the 5DS has when compared to the 5D MK 3. It means that you can have a very large, super sharp, top-quality print without any special software,

Nowadays we have very good programs that prepare small images to be printed bigger than would normally be acceptable. They work on creating pixels based on nearby pixels. The final results vary a lot from product to product and from image to image.

The “native” (300 pixels/inch) of a 5D MK 3 using all the sensors would produce a print of 32 cm x 48 cm and the 5D S would produce a print of 49 cm x 73 cm.  These sizes are only indicative and with a properly exposed image, you should be able to produce much larger images.

I do not want to go on defining how large one print can go as it depends on so many factors such as the subject, artistic interpretation of the image, paper, where it will be displayed, the distance it will be seen, sharpness applied, and so on.

Basically, big files, big prints, huge files, huge prints.

Now let’s imagine that our client wants to have a print-only poster of “The Gondoliers”. It would be such a small part of the whole frame. Could we, do it? See these images:

Observation 3:

Having a bigger resolution image gives you more crop options and gives you more future options for the images. You may decide later to enlarge only parts of one image showing more details or a different perspective.  Having big-resolution files will help your images to be useful for longer. Currently, our TVs and computer monitors are only up to 4K resolution (8 Mega Pixels) and a 20-megapixel image is approximately 1.5 bigger than the resolution of the TV. How will that image look on the TV 10 or 20 years from today?

The disadvantage of having big high-resolution cameras:

  • Price
  • Storage – Memory cards and backup disks
  • Time copying and processing files
  • Need to have top-quality lenses
  • Need to have good technique when capturing the images. Vibrations and all small problems become big problems.

There are many other technical items of the two cameras such as noise during low light conditions and high light details recovery that I have not compared. I still love and regularly the Canon 5D MK 3 and probably in a few months I will be able to give my impressions on other aspects of the 5DS body.

There are two features of the 5DS that I love. One is the “Mirror lock” at 1/8s or 1/4s. It moves the mirror up and shot after 1/4s. A great way to reduce vibration without needing to press the shutter twice as with the 5D MK 3. I wish Canon would release an update for the 5D MK3 including this feature. The second one is the USB 3 cable. It is so good to work tethered (connected directly to the computer) and have the full RAW image transferred in seconds. The cable has a plastic part that screws onto the body of the camera and keeps it all well connected.

To close this article, I have prepared the following image showing the size of the images of some popular cameras and sizes.

Sizes Compare
Sizes Compare

Please leave your comments, questions and share this post. Thank you.

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