Do we really need so much technology in cameras?

Sixty-one megapixels! Sony’s latest full-frame camera, the A7R iv, boasts the highest pixel count of any camera in its class. But do we need to spend £3,500?

Monday, 19th August 2019, 1:00 pm
Coquet Island.

An image at full resolution on a 7K screen needs fewer than 15 megapixels. For a top quality A3 print you need just eight. Posting online you drop the pixel count to speed up loading and deter image theft.

Some argue that a bigger pixel count enables greater cropping, but that increases atmospheric artefacts; getting closer to the subject is better. Attaching a camera to a high-performance telescope will benefit from a higher resolution, but not many of us do that.

On my computer I can differentiate between species of birds in the 20 megapixel photo. It’s more than enough.

Increasing resolution means bigger files. Most 20mp cameras produce raw files larger than 20 megabytes. A 60mp image is larger than 60 megabytes. That means slower processing and only 16 images will fill a gigabyte of storage.

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The new Sony camera does have a super 15 stops of dynamic range – its ability to capture detail in both highlights and shadows at the same time. A young human eye has 20 stops.

Its range is considerably broader than other cameras, but the latest Nikon D5 and Canon D1X have a range over 11.5 stops, and the Olympus OM-D E-M1ii has 12.7 stops. That’s plenty for most photography.

Photos shot with older cameras are not suddenly bad. In 2005 the Canon 5D mark 1 had 12.8mp with a dynamic range of over 11. Look at images taken with it, you will see amazing shots. Film has an even narrower dynamic range.

The current range of ISOs on cameras is more than enough. Much of my photography is carried out at the camera’s base ISO. Although I can shoot to ISO 6400 and even 12800, it’s never something I need.

Mechanically, the A7Riv has a shortest shutter value of 1/8000th second and the longest of a measly 30 seconds. To me, increasing that range would have been far more useful.

There are priorities when investing in photography.

Firstly, there are the creative skills. The most important part of any system is the eye looking through the viewfinder. Next comes the camera skills. How many shots have you lost because you had the wrong shutter or aperture settings?

Developing the image is next, getting the result you want. A close fourth is the lens, which makes a far bigger difference to quality than the camera, the least important factor.

Stick with what you’ve got and improve your skills.